This is the text of an address given as part of the Anthroposophical Society in Sussex’s Michaelmas Festival, held at Emerson College in the UK on Sunday 25th September 2022.
I’m sure we can all agree that Anthroposophy is not always easy to understand; and one of the concepts that I personally have struggled to get to grips with is that of what Steiner calls the cosmic intelligence. According to Rudolf Steiner, the archangel Michael, the great Sun Spirit whose Festival we are celebrating today, was the regent of this cosmic intelligence.
As far as I can tell, what Steiner means by the cosmic intelligence is the revelation of divine thinking in this world and beyond; what he would call the world-thinking of the spiritual hierarchies that gives rise to world-thought, and which is the original source of our own thinking, our earthly-human intelligence. In other words, there is a divine ordering of everything that reveals itself through the whole cosmos. The spiritual hierarchies shape this world thinking in their interactions and in their relationships with one another. And it was the task of Michael to send this cosmic intelligence into the souls of human beings and it was the task of human beings to order life on Earth in accordance with it, as far as we are able to understand it.
Shakespeare put this very well, when he had Hamlet say to Horatio: “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” I like that image, which comes from carpentry or building, in which the shape of the divine idea survives, despite the imperfect attempts of human beings to hack it about with crude tools.
After the crucifixion of Christ, that pivotal event of world history which Steiner calls the turning point of time and the Mystery of Golgotha, Michael gradually gave up his role as regent of the cosmic intelligence. This is another idea that I find difficult: Steiner says that in those early times when a human being became aware of thoughts, that is, intelligent content, within himself, then he did not regard these thoughts as his own, but as the thoughts revealed to him through the power of the gods. I’m referring here, of course, to what Steiner called ‘living thinking’ rather than the more mundane kind of thoughts, like “What do I fancy for dinner tonight?”. Living thoughts are those which fire you up to do something or understand something, and which require you to exercise your will to bring them about. But responsibility for this living thinking, this divinely inspired thought content, gradually fell away from Michael over many centuries and came over to us human beings. This process of the descent of intelligence from the Sun to the Earth was largely completed, so Steiner tells us, between the 9th and 14th centuries AD. From that time on, people began to develop their own intelligence, and intelligence took up residence in the souls of human beings – so instead of us having the sense that the Gods had imparted their living thoughts to us, we began to feel that these thoughts were created out of our own selves. It’s not so, of course – it is a materialist illusion that we originate living thinking out of ourselves. What actually happens is that through our human thinking we bring into our consciousness the thoughts which are already part of the world because the spiritual hierarchies have already thought them into existence.
As I say, I find this concept quite difficult to understand – but what I can understand is that Michael, just like us human beings, is in an evolutionary process. He does not stand still but he evolves and progresses. Through the crucifixion of Christ, Michael himself went through a huge transformation. From Golgotha onwards, Michael became the ‘countenance of Christ’ or the face of Christ, the one who stands before Christ, the source of our spiritual freedom. We already know that through the event of Golgotha came the possibility for every human being on earth to become a free bearer of the I, that immortal part of us which goes with us from incarnation to incarnation. After Golgotha, what had previously only occurred through initiation in ancient cultures was now possible for each and every one of us. But what also occurred was that with freedom, human beings became apparently separate from the cosmic intelligence and were able to pursue not only their good ideas and benevolent intentions but also the shadow side of their desires and to follow false modes of thinking. I don’t think it’s too extravagant a statement to say that it is this freedom to follow false paths which has brought us to our present existential crisis, in which it appears that the Earth is destined to become an overheated wasteland and human beings are persuaded to live their lives in electronically generated worlds of illusion. The ecological crisis and the multiple other crises confronting humanity are at root just one crisis, that of our human consciousness. The state of the outer world is a direct reflection of the state of the human soul.
Many of us seem to have forgotten or never to have known, that the Earth, not some other planet, is the setting for the evolution of humanity and the natural kingdoms associated with it. Instead, some of our most prominent public figures are chasing entirely illusory goals, that could only come from being totally divorced from Nature and spiritual reality. There’s the American inventor, Ray Kurzweil, for example, who is Google’s leading futurologist, who has invested $200,000 with a cryonics company so that he can be frozen in liquid nitrogen as soon as he dies, in the weird belief that science in the future may be able to bring his dead body back to life. If he studied Rudolf Steiner instead, he would know that he is already immortal! And then there’s Elon Musk, who is currently throwing a network of 42,000 satellites around the world, and who believes the Earth will eventually become uninhabitable (partly due to his efforts, no doubt) so he thinks we must now make preparations to leave Earth and find another planet to live on; and to Elon Musk, Mars seems to be the best option. People who think like this, who have a vision of turning the Earth into a vast electrical machine and creating a technologically enhanced humanity that will eventually abandon this planet altogether, are clearly not in touch with Michael or the cosmic intelligence. One can imagine that their thinking is influenced by another being altogether, who works through inducing fear and whose incarnation is supposed to be imminent.
And we are all fearful now, aren’t we? Wherever we look in the world, people everywhere are living in fear. We’re fearful on both personal and planetary levels. Can we survive on an overheating planet, with pandemics, food shortages, floods and droughts, mass migration, deranged dictators, wars and the possibility of nuclear annihilation? Where do we turn? Here in the UK, our faith is failing in all the public institutions we used to look to for support to get us through crises, whether it’s the NHS, the police, government, the armed services, Post Office, or the Church.
And on a personal level, we worry whether will we have enough money to heat our homes and put food on the table. We ask ourselves whether it is fair to bring children into a world like this. These kinds of fear are what one might expect as preparations to soften us up for the incarnation of Ahriman, which Steiner tells us is due before the first third of this millennium is over. We also know that whoever emerges from all of this as a kind of solution to world problems will be the Antichrist, yet nevertheless this person will be greeted by most people as a saviour – and those of us who take leave to doubt it will be reviled and hated for it.
How did we get into such a situation? Steiner has described how what he called the “War in Heaven” took place between 1841 and 1879. This battle was waged between angels of the higher hierarchies and some of the spirits of darkness, and it ended with these spirits of darkness being cast down from the spiritual world to the earth. This made the heavens free of these beings but had the unfortunate effect of making the earth full of them. This has led on to what is surely the most terrible period in the whole of human history in terms of war, famine, genocide, climate catastrophe, unimaginable cruelties and multiple other causes of human misery.
Why did this happen? According to Steiner, these spirits of darkness wanted to be able to prevent the spiritual wisdom, which was due to be revealed from the 20th century onwards, from flowing into human souls. Only by the removal of these hindering beings from the spiritual realm could our human hearts and minds begin to open to receive from the angels the spiritual knowledge for which we are destined – but the corollary of this was that the opposing spirits of darkness are now here on earth and in fact living within the feeling, will and mind impulses of each one of us, where they make it their business to spread confusion and to prevent human understanding of spiritual truths.
It was the Archangel Michael who won the War in Heaven and I have sometimes felt that Michael has placed an appalling burden on humanity by casting down the spirits of darkness to find their new dwelling-place within human beings; but in my wiser moments, I can see that this has in fact been a necessary but very difficult chapter in the evolution of human freedom.
And I can also see that, by handing over his role as administrator of the cosmic intelligence to human beings, Michael is creating another very difficult situation for us – but he is doing this in order to progress human evolution towards our ultimate goal of becoming the Tenth Hierarchy. Our destiny, way into the future and after aeons of evolution, is to become what Steiner calls the Tenth Hierarchy of angels and, as the Spirit of Freedom and Love, to imbue the cosmos with completely new qualities. But on the way to that goal, because we are free but not necessarily wise, the failings of our lower human nature such as selfishness and greed inevitably come to the fore and our thinking and actions are therefore wrested away from our own best interests.
According to Rudolf Steiner, the goal of the Earth’s evolution is to become the Cosmos of Love, for its spiritual mission is to bring love into the world. For this it needs the human being, who here on Earth develops his independent I. For the bearer of love can only be a being that is able to give itself away of its own free will. The prerequisites for this were created by the incarnation of the Christ on Earth and the Mystery of Golgotha.
Steiner made statements about Michael from the early years of his activity – in 1907, for example, he once called participants of an esoteric school “the pupils of Michael”. But it wasn’t until July 1924, just nine months before he died, that Rudolf Steiner described the way in which such pupils were instructed centuries before in the heavenly realms. In particular, he described how in between what in our earthly time reckoning we would call the 15th and 18th centuries, Michael taught a huge number of unborn human souls and even the heavenly hierarchies. What Michael was teaching in this school was how in ancient cultures people were initiated into how to direct life on earth in the right ways.
This is the fundamental question which Michael addressed in his heavenly school. It is also the question of our time and for the future– how can human beings direct life on earth in the right ways? If you read Rudolf Steiner’s descriptions of the Michael school in the heavenly realms, it may make it possible for a spiritual memory to awaken, something like a faint realisation that we, too, were present at this Michael school in the world of spirit.
And if as anthroposophists we were indeed pupils in the heavenly Michael school, we can fill our I that is pre-destined for freedom with the great ideal of a new, renewed culture. We can do this because we will have a real spiritual knowing that what Michael teaches us is true. This gives us both the courage and the will to deal with all the fearful manifestations of evil that this age is forcing in upon us and it can also help us direct our deeds on earth so as to serve our fellow human beings and all life.
Steiner said: “Michael is a strange being (…) who does not actually reveal anything unless one brings something to him out of active spiritual work from the Earth. Michael is a silent spirit. Michael is a closed spirit within himself. (…) Michael is actually most concerned with what people create out of the spiritual. He lives in the consequences of what people have created. But Michael is not only a closed, silent spirit, Michael, by approaching man, does so with a clear rejection of much that man still lives in on Earth today.”
It’s also clear that it is now up to all of us – we cannot expect Michael or the spiritual hierarchies to intervene to save us. Because the reality is that it is human beings themselves who have taken over the cosmic intelligence and who now have to work out how to get ourselves out of the mess we have made of the world. But we are not powerless, quite the contrary. My wife Sophia recently reminded me of something that the late Nick Thomas, the former general secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, had told us. Nick said that in the Old Mysteries, the phrase “As Above, So Below” was operational, meaning that the hierarchies directed their intentions to human beings on Earth. But now, he said, in the New Mysteries mankind is in the driving seat and the phrase has become “As Below, So Above”. If we pray and act for peace, if we direct our will with the intention of seeing a planet of peace and harmony, then the hierarchies are constrained to respond positively and meet us halfway. What then emerges upwards from the earth is destined to become a wholly positive reality. This is a kind of new spiritual power that can be implemented by each of us as individuals and within groups.
We are living in unprecedented times but despite this I’m not at all pessimistic about the future. There are many, many individuals and organisations around the world who are responding positively and creatively to the challenges of our times. Whether they realise it or not, all these individuals and organisations are imbued with the Michaelic impulse. We also see this here in Forest Row, for example, which is the home of several of these initiatives that are full of future, to use a phrase from Ita Wegman. Here we are in Emerson College, which if it is able to fulfil its destiny will be an important component of an emerging global learning community where people around the world can find, share and generate connection, culture, ideas, practices, resources, wellbeing, healing and meaning, which will in turn lead us to a future worthy of human beings.
Steiner described how we should celebrate the Michaelmas Festival with fearlessness– and this, I think, is very relevant to our situation today. This is what he said:
“Human beings must learn to celebrate the Michaelmas festival by making it a festival of fearlessness, a festival of inner initiative and inner strength (…) and selfless self-awareness. Experience how in this autumn Michaelmas festival all that is to grow in you which is to develop against comfort, against timidity, but towards inner initiative, towards the free, strong, brave will in the human being, (…), a festival which renews the whole inner human being. That is what the Michael Festival must become if it is to be worthily used.”
We are of course in a Michael Age, which runs from 1879 to around 2300 AD. The special significance of the Michael Age for us is that Michael is ascending from the Archangelic rank to the rank of Archai, a so-called Zeitgeist or Spirit of the Age who can thereby stimulate a spiritual deepening of all humanity that transcends all peoples and will help in that quest to renew the whole inner human being. Steiner tells us that each of the most highly evolved archangels or Time Spirits has a regency or developmental period lasting from about 300 to 350 years’ duration. The previous age up until 1879 was that of Gabriel and the one after the present age of Michael will be that of Oriphiel. Oriphiel is also called by Rudolf Steiner the Angel of Wrath, who purifies humanity with a strong hand. He was the leading Archangel at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha and he will again be the leading Archangel after the Michael-time has completed.
Steiner says, and no doubt he is speaking here of anthroposophists and other people of goodwill: “Whoever today, under Michael’s rule, feels the urge to participate in the spiritual life, is called to serve the Archangel Michael and to learn under him, so that he may one day be mature enough to serve the terrible Oriphiel in the right way. (…) In four to six hundred years, the small group of people who are being prepared today will serve God Oriphiel, so that humanity may be saved.”
Almost one hundred years ago, on September 28th 1924 Rudolf Steiner had to end his lecturing activity because of his increasing physical illness and exhaustion. He concluded the final lecture of his life, with a verse dedicated to the archangel Michael, the guardian spirit of anthroposophy. Here is the last stanza of that verse, which is addressed to all anthroposophists:
“You, the pupils of spirit knowledge,
Take up Michael’s wise direction,
Take up the word of love of the will of worlds
Actively into your souls’ high aims.”
This was a direct instruction to us. “Take up the word of love of the will of worlds Actively into your soul’s high aims.” Steiner then spent part of the remaining six months of his life revealing astonishingly profound and diverse insights about anthroposophy and Michael. Despite his illness, Steiner wrote down these insights, in a series of weekly essays which he continued without interruption until his death, and which we can read today in the book ‘Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts’. For those of you who are members of the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science, you will know that Steiner’s death prevented him from bringing the content of the Second and Third Classes. My sense is that the content of the Second Class and maybe some of the Third Class, can be found in these Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts.
Steiner described and here he is obviously referring to himself, “Those persons who can see the supersensible world bordering next upon the visible world, perceive Michael and those belonging to him engaged in what they would like to do for humanity. Such persons see how — through the picture of Michael in Ahriman’s sphere — man is to be led in freedom away from Ahriman to Christ.” Perhaps the most significant phrase in that sentence are the two words “in freedom”. It is the free choice of each one of us to decide which path to follow.
When my courage falters, and I am overwhelmed by the state of the world, I try to remember those words, which are surely a solemn promise to all of us: Man is to be led in freedom away from Ahriman to Christ.
Thank you for listening.