Polytheism







The cosmology underlying Waldorf schools is polytheistic — Rudolf Steiner described a universe teeming with gods. Many of these gods focus much if not all of their attention on us: They assist us in our spiritual evolution. 


Most of the gods are themselves evolving. They are much like us, having themselves been “human” in the past — that is, they passed through a stage of development comparable to our present stage. They are more advanced than we are now, but we will proceed upward in their wake, becoming gods ourselves — and eventually we will outrank the gods who outrank us now.


Steiner's primary system for classifying gods is a variant of the traditional Biblical ninefold ranking of the angelic hosts. Steiner taught that there are nine main ranks of gods, extending from those who are just a bit above us to those who are nearest to the ultimate divine essence, the Godhead. In an even more fundamental sense, everything actually consists of the thoughts of the gods. The gods are spirits, their thoughts are spirits, and this is the essential reality. All else is maya or illusion.



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Here is what we might call the celestial mainline, ranking spiritual beings from the mysterious Godhead downward to ourselves. Thus, for instance, the Spirits of Love are the gods standing closest to the Godhead, and the Sons of Twilight — who stand only a bit above us — are the gods farthest from the Godhead. There are nine ranks of gods between the Godhead and ourselves as we exist at our present level of spiritual development.





Steiner departed from Biblical tradition in many ways. The beings in the ninefold order are, he said, not simply the attendants of God — they themselves are gods. Moreover, Steiner accepted as real various gods that, in Judeo-Christian tradition, would be considered mere idols or false gods. He assigned as many of these as he could to the nine ranks in his scheme. Gods such as Thor, he said, are real. Steiner worked from the premise of Theosophy: that all religions are essentially alike, so their teachings can be reconciled. This, for many, is one of the chief attractions of Theosophy and/or Anthroposophy.


In Steiner’s teachings, the ninefold pattern is not neatly all-encompassing. Powerful spiritual beings, who are themselves gods, may be found outside the ranks or, at a minimum, they may stand between ranks, blurring the lines of demarcation. “Abnormal” gods who ought to have a certain rank may function as members of other ranks. Moreover, there are "composite" gods who consist of spiritual essences derived from multiple ranks. (We will discuss various deviations from the ranks, below.)









In the list, above, I have used the names for the gods that Steiner himself often used. But he also sometimes used names more consistent with Biblical tradition, and his followers sometimes prefer these names. Below is a list that includes Biblical names as well as still more names given or used by Steiner from time to time. Sometimes the differences in names reflect real differences between types of spirits, but sometimes they do not. (Sometimes they simply arise from differing translations.) And sometimes similar or identical names are used for gods of differing ranks.


The nine ranks of gods can be divided into three “hierarchies.” There are three ranks of gods in each hierarchy. Thus, for instance, the "First Hierarchy" consists of Spirits of Love (the highest rank below the Godhead), Spirits of Harmony (one rank lower than Spirits of Love), and Spirits of Will (one rank lower than Spirits of Harmony.) 


Note that in Anthroposophical usage, the term "hierarchy" is sometimes used to designate rank, and sometimes it is used to designate major subdivisions of the ranks, as shown in the following list. Thus, sometimes there are said to be nine hierarchies (ranks), and sometimes there are said to be three hierarchies (subdivisions of ranks). More generally, Anthroposophists also use the term “hierarchies” as a synonym for “gods.” Thus, they may speak of the celestial hierarchies, meaning all of the gods in the celestial spheres, or they may speak of the hierarchies doing this or that, when they are describing the activities of gods.







Complicating things further: Steiner sometimes taught that the gods cannot truly be ranked; they exist in a circle, as it were, with no absolute divisions marking some gods as higher than others.


In general, we may say that — according to Steiner — the distinctions, definitions, and terminology we humans use to discuss divine matters are inadequate. Things in the spirit realm flow together and constantly change or evolve — or at least so it may seem to us. And the higher we try to lift our gaze, the less adequate our comprehension becomes. Thus, when we try to discuss the Godhead, our efforts are miserably inadequate. So, you will find contradictions and inadequacies in Steiner's statements as well as, necessarily, in my paraphrasings of Steiner's statements. According to Steiner, we just have to accept such circumstances — they come with the territory.


All that having been said, still, in most Anthroposophical texts — including Steiner's work — the gods are usually considered to occupy higher and lower positions relative to one another and relative to ourselves. Faulty as the concepts may be, Anthroposophists generally speak of gods occupying nine ranks, subdivided into three hierarchies. I will generally stick with this formulation here.




















The gods, as described by Steiner, 

reside beyond ordinary depiction.

Steiner said that the spirit realm 

"has no spatial forms or lines, [but] it does have 

color intensities, color qualities. 

[It] is a soul-permeated, spirit-permeated 

world of light, of color, of tone; 

a world of qualities not quantities; 

a world of intensities rather than extensions.”

— Rudolf Steiner, THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION 

(Anthroposophic Press, 1964), p. 23.


[R.R. sketch, 2014, approximating the wet-on-wet art 

produced in Waldorf schools.

Such art suggests the spirit realm without, 

of course, truly depicting it.

All art produced in the physical realm 

must have lines, forms, and extensions 

to some degree.]










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