"Avatar, Sanskrit avatāra (“descent”), in Hinduism, the incarnation of a deity in human or animal form to counteract some particular evil in the world. The term usually refers to the 10 appearances of VishnuMatsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (half man, half lion), Vamana (dwarf), Parashurama (Rama with the axe), Rama (hero of the Ramayana epic), Krishna (the divine cowherd), Buddha, and Kalkin (the incarnation yet to come). The number of Vishnu’s avatars is sometimes extended or their identities changed, according to local preferences. Thus, Krishna’s half brother, Balarama, is in some areas included as an avatar. One formulation of the doctrine is given in the Bhagavadgita when Krishna tells Prince Arjuna:

"'Whenever there is a decline of righteousness [dharma] and rise of unrighteousness then I send forth Myself. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of righteousness, I come into being from age to age.'" — "Avatar", ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, December 23, 2019

Most of Steiner's teachings are strange.  
Some are stranger still: They are downright bizarre. 
For instance:

“[T]here are also other individualities — other beings — who have not gone through various incarnations...in the course of human evolution ... [I]t can happen that such a being appears; if we test it clairvoyantly in regard to the soul, we cannot say, as we can of other human beings, that we trace it back in time and discover it in a previously fleshly incarnation, then trace it farther back and find it again in another incarnation, and so on ... Such a spiritual being who descends in this way into a human body in order to intervene in evolution as a human being is called an ‘avatar’ in the East ... To repeat — an avatar being can enter a human body just once or several times in succession; but when it does, it is then something different from any other human individuality.

“The greatest avatar being who has lived on earth, as you can gather from the spirit of our lectures here, is the Christ — the Being whom we designated as the Christ, and who took possession of the body of Jesus of Nazareth when he was thirty years of age.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE PRINCIPLE OF SPIRITUAL ECONOMY (Anthroposophic Press, 1986) lecture 2, GA 109.

The greatest avatar, 

according to Steiner. 

This is Christ 

as depicted in the monumental sculpture 

at the Goetheanum, 

the worldwide headquarters 

of Anthroposophy. 

“The greatest avatar being who has lived on earth, as you can gather from the spirit of the lectures given here, is the Christ, that Being Whom we designate as the Christ, Who took possession of the bodies of Jesus of Nazareth in the thirtieth year of his life. This Being, Who first came in contact with our earth at the beginning of our era, Who was incarnated for three years in a body of flesh, and Who since that time has been connected with the astral sphere, the spiritual sphere of our supersensible world — this Being is of unique significance as an avatar being. We should seek the Christ Being quite in vain in an earlier human embodiment, whereas other, lower avatar beings can be found to be embodied more than once. They incarnate repeatedly but obtain no benefit from their earthly embodiments for themselves. They only give; they take nothing from the earth. If. you want to understand these things perfectly, you must distinguish between such a lofty avatar being as the Christ and lower avatar beings who can have the most varied missions, and so as not to flounder about in speculation, we shall give a concrete instance to illustrate such a mission [Shem] ... Through the descent of an avatar being the essential soul-spiritual members of the individual who is the bearer of this avatar being are multiplied and transmitted as copies to other human beings. This fact assumes special significance through the appearance of Christ on earth. Because the Avatar Being of Christ lived in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, it became possible for his etheric body to be multiplied innumerable times. This was true as well of the astral body and even the ego; that is, the ego as an impulse, as it was kindled in the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth when Christ entered his threefold sheath. First, however, we will take into account the fact that through the Avatar Being the etheric and astral bodies of Jesus could be multiplied.” — Rudolf Steiner, CHRISTIANITY IN HUMAN EVOLUTION: Avatar Beings (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), a lecture, GA 109.

“You will remember a personality mentioned in the Bible: Shem, a son of Noah and progenitor of the Semitic people. Occult research confirms that there is an individual behind Shem that must be regarded as the tribal individuality of all Semitic peoples. When a number of human beings are to descend from a particular progenitor, a special provision must be made for this in the spiritual world. In the case of Shem, the provision was that an etheric body was specially woven for him from the spiritual world, which he was to carry. This enabled him to bear in his own etheric body an especially exalted being from the spiritual world, a being who could not otherwise have incarnated on earth because it was incapable of descending into a compact physical body. This being was capable of incarnating only by virtue of the fact that it could now enter the etheric body of Shem. Since Shem had his own physical, etheric, and astral body, as well as his ego, he was first an individual in his own right. Beyond that, however, he was an individual whose etheric body was interwoven with the etheric body of another high being of the spiritual world, specially prepared for the purpose of founding a nation, as characterized above. If clairvoyant perception had confronted Shem, it would have seen Shem himself, but with a second entity extending out of him like a second being, yet still united with Shem's etheric body. This higher being was not Shem, but it incarnated in Shem — the human being — for a special mission. Unlike ordinary human beings, this higher being did not undergo various incarnations, but descended only once into a human body. Such a being is called an avatar. An avatar does not feel at home in the world as a human being would; he descends but once into this world for the sole purpose of carrying out a certain mission.

“The part of a human being that is indwelled by such an avatar being acquires a special character in that it is able to multiply. When a grain of seed is sown into the ground, the stalk grows from it, and the grain is multiplied into the ears of grain. In the same way, the etheric body of Shem multiplied into many copies, and these were woven into all his descendants. That's what happened, and thus the copies of the etheric body that had been specially prepared in Shem as the prototype were woven into the etheric bodies of his direct descendants.

“But this etheric body of Shem was later used in yet another way. How this was done can best be placed before our souls by the visualization of an analogy. You may be a highly cultured European, but if you want to acquaint the Hottentots with your culture, you simply must learn their language. By analogy, the exalted beings that descend to earth to guide humanity must weave into themselves the forces by which they will be put into a position to communicate with human beings on earth. Now in the later phase of the evolution of the Semitic people, it became necessary that a very exalted being descend to earth in order to communicate with them and provide an impetus to their culture. Such a being was the Melchizedek of Biblical history who, as it were, had to ‘put on’ the preserved etheric body of Shem — the very etheric body that was still inhabited by an avatar being. Once it was woven into him, Melchizedek was able to transmit to Abraham the impulse necessary for the continued progress of Semitic culture. Here, then, we have become acquainted with another unique way in which an etheric body develops in a particular human being and is subsequently allotted to a specially selected individuality for the fulfillment of a mission.” — THE PRINCIPLE OF SPIRITUAL ECONOMY, lecture 3.

“As long as the ‘I’ of man, with its physical expression in the blood, was not seized by an impulse to be found on the earth, the religions could not teach of the force of self-redemption in the human ‘I’. So they describe how the great spiritual Beings, the Avatars, descend and incarnate in human bodies from time to time when men are in need of help. They are Beings who for the purpose of their own development need not come down into a human body, for their own human stage of evolution had been completed in an earlier world-cycle. They descend in order to help mankind. Thus when help was needed, the great God Vishnu descended into earthly existence. One of the embodiments of Vishnu — namely, Krishna — speaks of Himself, saying unambiguously what the nature of an Avatar is. He Himself declares who He is, in the Divine Song, the Bhagavad Gita. There we find the sublime words spoken by Krishna in Whom Vishnu lives as an Avatar:

‘I am the

    Spirit of creation, its beginning, its middle and its end;

    among the stars I am the sun, among the elements — fire;

    among the seas — the cosmic ocean; among the serpents —

    the eternal serpent. I am the ground of the worlds.’

“The all-powerful Divinity can be proclaimed in no more beautiful or more sublime words than these. The Godhead seen by Moses in the element of fire, Who not only weaves and surges through the world as a macrocosmic Divinity, is to be found, too, within man. Therefore in all beings who bear the human countenance, Krishna lives as the great Ideal to which the innermost essence of man develops from within. And when, as was the goal of ancient wisdom, man's breath can be spiritualised through the impulse given by the Mystery of Golgotha — this is the redemption that is achieved by what now lives within ourselves. All the Avatars have brought redemption to mankind through power from above, through what has streamed down through them from spiritual heights to the earth. But the Avatar Christ has redeemed mankind through what He gathered out of the forces of mankind itself, and He has shown us how the forces of redemption, the forces whereby the Spirit becomes victor over matter can be found in ourselves.

“Thus, although through the spiritualisation of his breath he had made his body incorruptible, even Kashiapa [the incarnate teachings of Buddha] with his supreme enlightenment could not yet find complete redemption. The incorruptible body must wait in the secret cave until it is drawn forth by the Maitreya Buddha [successor to Buddha; analog of Christ].* Only when the ‘I’ has spiritualised the physical body to such a degree that the Christ Impulse streams into the physical body, is the miraculous cosmic fire no longer needed for redemption; for redemption is now brought about by the fire quickened in man's own inner being, in the blood. Thus the radiance streaming from the Mystery of Golgotha is also able to shed light on a legend as wonderful and profound as that of Kashiapa.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1956), lecture 7, GA 109.

— Compiled by Roger Rawlings

* “The utterances of the Maitreya Buddha will be permeated in a miraculous way with the power of Christ. Occult investigations show us to-day that in a certain respect even the external life of the Maitreya Buddha will be patterned on the life of Christ. In ancient times, when a great Individuality appeared and was to become a Teacher of humanity, signs indicating this showed themselves in the early youth of the child in question, in special talents and qualities of soul. There is however a different kind of development in the course of which a complete change in the personality becomes apparent at a certain point in his life. What happens is that when this human being has reached a certain age, his ego is taken out of his bodily sheaths and a different ego passes into his body. The greatest example of this is Christ Jesus Himself, of whom in his thirtieth year the Christ-Individuality had taken possession. All the incarnations of the Bodhisattva who will become the Maitreya Buddha have shown that in this sense his life will resemble that of Christ.” — Rudolf Steiner, "Buddha and Christ" (ANTHROPOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY, Autumn, 1964), a lecture, GA 130.

A sidelight:

"[T]he Spirits of Personality came down to earth, as Spirits of Venus, in ancient Lemurian times. And we can say, that the distinctive features of these messengers from Venus — such as the human countenances of that time could wear — signified something quite new with regard to the whole Universe. If we take their cosmic significance, it reaches as far as Venus, and their actions had a meaning, an influence on the whole concatenations of the Solar System. They could lead the people from one place to another, for they knew the connections that can only be known by those, who are acquainted with the surroundings of the earth, and not only with the Earth itself.

"The development of humanity progressed further. The necessity arose that Archangels, spirits of astronomical Mercury, should act upon the human development. These were now obliged to ensoul and give life to that which dwelt below upon earth. This was principally in Atlantean times. At that time the Archangels, or Spirits of Mercury descended upon earth, and inspired the physical and etheric bodies of the men of that period. So in Atlantis there were also men who were not outwardly very different from the others, but whose physical and etheric bodies were ensouled by an archangel. And if you remember what was said yesterday, that the Archangels have the task of directing whole nations, you will understand that a man who had an Archangel within him could actually give to the whole Atlantean race those laws which he received directly from heaven. The great leaders of old Lemurian times, when it was still necessary to act much more generally, were ensouled by Spirits from Venus. Those who, in Atlantean times had to direct smaller masses of people, were ensouled by Archangels. Those who are called the priest-kings of Atlantis, were in truth — Maya. They were not at all what they outwardly appeared to be. An Archangel lived in their physical and etheric bodies, he was the real active agent.

"If we go back to Atlantean times, we can seek out the secret stations of these leaders of mankind. From these hidden centres they worked, there they investigated the mysteries of Space. One might ascribe the name of ‘Oracle’ to what was investigated, and commanded from those ancient Atlantean places of the Mysteries, even though this word originated in later times. The name ‘Place of the Oracles’ is quite suitable to these centres of instruction, and government. From them the great teachers worked, so that others might there be trained to become priests and servants of men.

"It is important that one should know that there were men in ancient Atlantis who in reality were Archangels, bearing an Archangel incarnated within their physical and etheric bodies. If such a man had been seen by someone endowed with clairvoyance, the latter would in fact have seen a physical man and behind him an enormous figure, rising high above him, and losing itself in indefinite regions — the figure of the inspiring Archangel. Such a personality was of a two-fold nature, as if behind the physical man, growing out of indefinite Space, was the inspiring Archangel. When such men died, the physical body was destroyed according to the laws of Atlantis. That physical body, which had been naturally ensouled by the Archangel, dissolved, but the etheric body did not dissolve. There is a spiritual economy which demands exceptions to the general truths expounded by Anthroposophy. We say — and in general it is correct — that when a man dies, he lays aside his physical body and after a certain time also his etheric body, which dissolves with the exception of an extract. But this is only generally the case. There is an enormous difference between an etheric body like that of the Initiates of the Atlantean Oracles, which was permeated by an Archangel, and an ordinary etheric body. Such a precious etheric body is not lost, but is preserved in the spiritual world. In the first place, the great leader of the Atlantean Oracles preserved the seven most important etheric bodies of the seven great initiators of these Oracles. These ether bodies were originally built up through being inhabited by Archangels, who, at their death, naturally returned to the higher worlds. Such things are certainly not preserved in boxes, but according to spiritual laws. The Atlantean Initiate of the Sun-Oracle is no other than Manu, who has been often mentioned, and who guided the remnant of the Atlantean nation over to Asia to establish the new post-Atlantean civilisation. He took his little handful of people with him and led them over to Asia. He trained the people through generations, and when the seven most adaptable ones had been bred and educated sufficiently, he wove into their individual etheric bodies the substance of the seven preserved etheric bodies, which had been woven by Archangels in ancient Atlantis. Those seven, who were sent down by the great Leader, to lay the foundation of the first Post-Atlantean civilisation, were the seven holy Rishis of ancient India; they bore within their etheric garment, the etheric bodies of the great Atlantean Leaders, who had themselves acquired these bodies through the Archangels. Thus the past, the present, and the future acted in harmony. Those seven men who are called the holy Rishis would have appeared to you as simple people, for with their astral body and their Ego, they had not reached the height of their etheric bodies." — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1928), lecture 7, GA 110.

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, 
use the underlined links, below.


Ahriman : one bad dude


evil ones : Asuras, Sorat, Mammon, Satan, the Devil...

gnomes : and Steiner and Waldorf

guardians : of the threshold

Lucifer : good and bad...

Michael : and the dragon

planetary spirits : beneath our feet

Sun God : the Christ you didn't know

supermen : help from above

The formatting at Waldorf Watch aims for visual variety, 
seeking to ease the process of reading lengthy texts on a computer screen.