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Star-knowledge Old and New:
Rudolf Steiner's Observations


One of the greatest breaks in human knowledge is that between what is preserved of the old, traditional teachings about the nature of the heavens, and modern astronomical understanding of the stars and planets. On the one hand, adherents to traditional knowledge mostly accept information of which they cannot know the original sources. On the other hand, modern star-knowledge is based on the never-to-be-experienced assumption that physical laws, demonstrated in recent times in near-earth environments, extend forever through space and time. The careful student can soon find many anomalies on both hands.

Rudolf Steiner was one of few serious scientific investigators to give full credit to both the old traditional and modern astronomical views of the heavens. As part of this full credit, he places the break in knowledge noted above in its proper context as a critical feature in the evolution of human consciousness. His research into the holistic nature of the human experience had its principal public expression between 1900 and 1925, and I would like to quote two passages from early and late in this time.

In 1901, he wrote: “In the first decade of the sixteenth century, at Castle Heilsberg in Prussia, the scientific genius of Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) is erecting an edifice of ideas which will compel men in succeeding epochs to look up to the starry heavens with conceptions different from those which their ancestors had in antiquity and in the Middle Ages. To the latter, the earth was a dwelling-place resting at the center of the universe. The stars, on the other hand, were for them entities of a perfect nature, the movement of which proceeded in circles because the circle is the image of perfection. - In what the stars showed to the human senses one saw something belonging directly to the soul or the spirit. The objects and events of the earth spoke one language to men; another language was spoken by the shining stars which, in the pure ether beyond the moon, seemed to be a spiritual being that filled space . . . Through Copernicus the earth became for man a fellow creation among the heavenly bodies, a star that moved like others. Everything in the earth which appeared to man as being different, he could now attribute only to the fact that it is his dwelling place. He was compelled to stop thinking in different ways about the phenomena of this earth and about those of the remainder of the universe. His sensory world had expanded into furthest space. What reached his eye from the ether he now had to accept as belonging to the sensory world, like the things of the earth. He could no longer seek the spirit in the ether in a sensory fashion.

“All who henceforth strove for higher cognition had to come to terms with this expanded sensory world.” (Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age, 1960, pp. 220-224)

The same fact, expressed in a slightly different direction, was spoken of in a lecture on 2 Nov. 1924: “Man confronts a world that was once entirely divine-spiritual in nature, a world to which he belonged as an integral part of it. The world of his belonging was then divine-spiritual. But at a subsequent evolutionary stage this was no longer the case; the world was a cosmic revelation of the divine-spiritual, its essential being hovering behind the revelation. But that being lived, nevertheless, and was active in the revelation. The starry world was already in existence, with the divine-spiritual living and active as revelation in its shining out and in its movement. It would be accurate to say that in the way a star stood or moved was a direct demonstration of the activity of the divine-spiritual.

“Other times came. The starry world ceased to be a direct, immediate revelation of divine-spiritual activity. Rather did it live and move in continuation of such activity as had earlier been engendered in it. The divine-spiritual no longer lived in the cosmos as revelation, but only as ongoing effect. A definite split had appeared between divine-spiritual being and the universe; they were now separated.” (Karmic Relationships, Vol. III, 1977, pp. 27-28)

I have collected about 400 pages of observations Dr. Steiner made relating to knowledge of the stars and planets. This is not a comprehensive collection, but it is representative. He reports again and again, often in detail, the justification of the spiritual picture wisdom of the ancients as a true, albeit instinctive, human perception at a more creative stage of evolution. He also supports the justification of modern, calculated star-knowledge as applied to what is now “ongoing effect”, but as something that has validity only in terms of its concrete data, not in terms of its extrapolated theories.

Here, I will bring forward a not entirely subjective collection of relatively brief observations, in chronological order.

On 14 June 1906, Steiner discussed the nature of Chaldean astrology, and then went on to say: “Ptolemy's map of the heavens is usually placed next to that of Copernicus and then the former is declared false. This, however, is not true.” He then explained that Ptolemy's map is of the astral plane where the earth forms the centre and that of Copernicus is of the physical plane with the sun at the centre.

“Ptolemy's system will be rehabilitated in an epoch yet to come.” (Reading the Pictures of the Apocalypse, 1993, pg. 140

A little later, on 1 Sept. 1906, he pointed out that: “In future times yet another, quite different picture of the world will prevail. Generally we hear that Copernicus taught only two things: that the Earth revolves on its own axis and that the Earth revolves round the Sun. It is seldom noticed that he taught also a third form of movement - that the whole solar system moves onward in a spiral. For the present this fact will be left aside, but in the future humanity will return to it. Copernicus stood on a frontier, and the old outlook was strongly present in him.” (At the Gates of Spiritual Science, 1970, pp. 101-102) About a year later, on 16 Sept. 1907, this fact was further elaborated: “Modern astronomy is supported by two postulates of Copernicus, but a third has yet to be taken into account. Copernicus said that the sun also moves. It advances in a spiral so that the earth, following the sun, moves in a complicated curve. The same is true for the moon that revolves around the earth. These movements are far more complicated than is assumed in elementary astronomy. You see here how the spiral has significance for celestial bodies, and these describe a form with which men will one day identify themselves.” (Occult Signs and Symbols, 1972, pg. 57)

What is perhaps one of Steiner's most direct statements regarding our topic was made 12 Apr. 1909: “Before the Atlantean catastrophe the spiritual eye of man swept the expanses of the universe and beheld spiritual beings everywhere.

“The physical centre, however, gradually became more clearly visible. Thus, the spiritual counterpart was lost when the physical aspect became manifest. The spiritual knowledge surrounding the stars, and of the beings who dwelt in them, was preserved in the Mysteries and spoken of by the Holy Rishis . . .

“When the pupils of these Mysteries pronounced Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in their respective languages, they were referring to a sequence of spiritual beings. Today, these words refer to the coarsest physical substance of the planets, and the most important aspect is thereby omitted. (The Spiritual Hierarchies and Their Reflection in the Physical World, 1970, pp. 9-10)

From 3-14 Apr. 1912, Steiner provided some of his most extensive descriptions of the nature of the heavens, which contain the following: “The whole physical system of heavenly bodies is a testimony of past times, telling of past occurrences. Whereas we, on our earth, are contemporary with the things which appear before our physical eyes, what we see in the starry heavens is actually Maya, for it does not represent an existing condition, but had its full significance in the past, and has remained behind.” (The Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and the Kingdoms of Nature, 1951, pp. 135-136)

This observation echoes the thought of materialistic astronomy that most stars are thousands to millions of light-years away. Therefor the qualities revealed by their light shows how they were millions of years ago, and certainly “does not represent an existing condition.” However, Steiner means the comment more deeply, and includes the physical aspects of planets, moons, comets, etc.

What amounts to an indictment of the Copernican view was given 18 Dec. 1912: “Anyone who asks from the standpoint of occultism what kind of world conception can be derived from the Copernican tenets will have to admit that although these ideas can lead to great achievements in the realm of natural science and in external life, they are incapable of promoting any understanding of the spiritual foundations of the world, for there has never been a worse instrument for understanding the spiritual foundations of the world than the ideas of Copernicus - never in the whole of human evolution. The reason is that all these Copernican concepts are inspired by Lucifer. Copernicanism is one of the last attacks, one of the last great attacks mode by Lucifer upon the evolution of man. In earlier, pre-Copernican thought, the external world was indeed maya, but much traditional wisdom, much truth concerning the world and the things of the world still survived. Since Copernicus, however, man has maya around him not only in his material perceptions but his concepts and ideas are themselves maya. Men take it for granted nowadays that the sun is firmly fixed in the middle and the planets revolve around it in ellipses. In the near future, however, it will be realised that the view of the world held by the school of Copernicus and Kepler is very convenient, but as an explanation of the macrocosm it is not the truth.” (Esoteric Christianity and the Mission of Christian Rosencreutz, 1984, pp. 174-175)

We have already noticed Steiner's rebuff of the ellipse idea, with his mention of the Copernican spirals - which corresponds with information known to, but mostly hidden by, modern astronomy's publicists.

Still, the Copernican indictment deepened on 16 Nov. 1917: “A different physical view of the world prevailed in pre-Copernican times, a view that may be called erroneous today . . . This world view did not yet result in human beings becoming destructive in the earthly sphere after passing through the portal of death.

“Only with the abrupt entry of Copernicanism, with its picture that the whole world spread out in space is also subject to the laws of space, with its picture that the earth circles around the sun, only with such pictures arising in the Copernican view is the human being chained to physical-sensible existence and prevented from rising appropriately into the spiritual world after death.” (Geographic Medicine, 1986, pp. 44-45)

Several paragraphs from 1 Nov. 1919 contain this kernel: “Even with the help of accessible Egyptian and Chaldean lore, external evidence does not carry us very far back in the history of humanity . . .

“If this ancient Paganism is rightly understood, it will be found to contain sublime, deeply penetrating wisdom . . .

“This ancient star-wisdom was in no way akin to the arithmetical astrology sometimes considered valuable today, but it was a wisdom voiced by the initiates in such a way that impulses for individual action and conduct went forth from the Mysteries.” (The Influence of Lucifer and Ahriman, 1954, pp. 7-9)

On 4 Nov. 1919, Steiner emphasized: “This is something we must bear particularly in mind - The human being living on earth within the old Pagan world view felt himself membered into the whole cosmos. He felt how the forces at work in the movements of the stars extended into his own actions, or, better said, into the forces taking effect in his actions. What later passed for astrology, and does so still, is but a reflection - and a very misleading one at that - of the ancient wisdom gleaned from contemplation of the stars in their courses and then used as the basis for precepts governing human action.” (The Influence of Lucifer and Ahriman, 1954, pg. 34)

Shortly after, on the 9th Nov. 1919, the presumptive nature of a foundation of modern astronomy is noted: “You look up to the stars, saying that something is streaming from them that can be perceived by man's sense-organs here on earth. - But what you behold when you gaze at the stars is not of the same nature as what you perceive on the earth in the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms. In reality it proceeds from beings of intelligence and will whose life is bound up with those stars. The effects appear to be physical because the stars are at a distance. They are not in reality physical at all. What we see is in reality the working of will and intelligence which at a distance appears as light.” (The Influence of Lucifer and Ahriman, 1954, pg. 73)

Several details given on 29 and 30 Mar. 1920, began with the terse fact: “True, the connections of the whole universe are present in man: man is related to Saturn, Jupiter, etc.; but the relations are concealed in the depths of our organisation. At the risk of offending current modes of thought, I would suggest that the astronomical affiliations form the most deeply unconscious regions in man, they are transmuted into the most secluded of his organic processes.” (Spiritual Science and Medicine, 1989, pg. 121)

Ongoing discussions include, on 17 Apr. 1920: “There simply does not exist such a thing as mathematics calls `space'; but everywhere are lines of force, and these are not equal, they vary, they are differentiated . . .

“So when we are dealing with these various sections of space there is no sameness, for we must realise that each of these directions exerts a different influence upon us.” (Man - Hieroglyph of the Universe, 1972, pg. 68)

And on 18 Dec. 1920: “What is this Copernican picture of the Universe? - It is in reality a picture built up purely on the basis of mathematical principles, mathematical-mechanical principles. The rudiments of it began, very gradually, to be unfolded in Greece, where, however, echoes of earlier thought - for example in the Ptolemaic view of the universe - still persisted. And in the course of time this developed into the Copernican system that is taught nowadays to every child.

“We can look back from this world-conception to ancient times when man's picture of the universe was very different. All that has remained of it are those traditions which in the form in which they exist today - in astrology and the like - are sheer dilettantism. That is what has remained of ancient astronomy, and it has also remained, ossified and paralyzed, in the symbols of certain secret societies, Masonic societies and the like. There is usually entire ignorance of the fact that these things are relics of an ancient astronomy. This ancient astronomy was quite different from that of today, for it was based, not upon mathematical principles but upon ancient clairvoyant vision.” (The Bridge Between Universal Spirituality and the Physical Constitution of Man, 1958, pp. 40-45)

Perhaps the most stark expression of the change from old to new star-knowledge was given on 11 Jan. 1924: “So that to have a correct picture of the world, it has to be drawn in the old Ptolemaic sense: the Earth in the centre of the Universe, and the other stars controlled and directed in their corresponding revolutions by the Earth . . . In actual fact, however, it is not so. It is not so on account of man's sin. Through man's sin, the Earth has gone over, in an unauthorised, unjustifiable manner, into the kingdom of the Sun; the Sun has become regent and ruler of earthly activities.” (Rosicrucianism and Modern Initiation, 1982, pp. 62-63)

About a year later, on 4 Jan. 1925, we are warned about extending modern calculations into the distant past and future: “It would not have been possible to make any calculations relating to the constellations and star orbits in the ancient epoch; they were an expression of the free intelligence and free will activity of divine-spiritual beings. In the future they will again become incalculable.” (The Michael Mystery, 1984, pg. 92)

As a holistic reporter, Dr. Steiner had to present his observations as they related to the many topics of his concern. This places a great onus on investigators to collect and correlate what he says into an intelligible picture.

This sketch outline of Steiner's view of the contrast between, and natures of, ancient astrology and modern star-knowledge needs to be qualified with many more details, and to this end I append a list of pertinent references. The need of our age is to, as individuals, observe facts and draw our own conclusion in freedom. This is the reason for my form of presentation, which may seem pedantic and inartistic.

Aside from the characterisations pointed to here, Steiner offered many facts which build an essentially different star-knowledge than that available otherwise. For those practically interested in applying star-knowledge I would like to briefly list, without references, some of the major facts that I have not found current, or even elsewhere:

  • The Zodiac begins with Aries on Mar. 29 and extends with essentially equal divisions around the year, and is only vaguely related to the star patterns.

  • The four principal Zodiac signs are Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius and Taurus, with those on either side of these to be considered companions.

  • The air and water signs of the Zodiac have been reversed - Scorpio (originally the Eagle) is an air sign and Aquarius is a water sign. This has to do with the roles they played at different stages of earth evolution.

  • The names of Mercury and Venus have been reversed relative to their ancient designations.

  • Uranus, Neptune (and Pluto) “have fundamentally nothing to do with our universe.”

  • The actual planets are lens-shaped etheric masses and bounded by the orbits of the physical planets.

  • Moons can be considered “corpses” - cast-off elements from previous stages of each planets' evolution.

  • The Sun is not physical and does not generate heat, but acts as a focal point for the reflection of cosmic forces. It can be considered essentially different according to the constellation it occupies, as “Aries-Sun”, “Pisces-Sun”, etc.

Those who choose to pursue the references given below will find evidence of the details just given, and much more. Steiner always wanted his facts to be carefully tested, but anyone familiar with any of the current approaches to star-knowledge can see that even the few hints just given make for a very different approach.


An Esoteric Cosmology, 1987, Spiritual Science Library, pp. 78-79

At the Gates of Spiritual Science, 1970, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 35-36

The Influence of Spiritual Beings Upon Man, 1961, Anthroposophic Press, pg. 22

Egyptian Myths and Mysteries, 1971, Anthroposophic Press, pp. 41-42

The Being of Man and His Future Evolution, 1981, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 69-71

The Spiritual Hierarchies and Their Reflection in the Physical World, 1970, Anthroposophic Press, pp. 57-78

Reading the Pictures of the Apocalypse, 1993, Anthroposophic Press, pp. 73,74&97

The East in the Light of the West, 1986, Garber Communications Inc., pp. 180-181 & 191-199

Metamorphosis of the Soul; Paths of Experience, Vol. I, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 9-11

The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, 1983, Anthroposophic Press, pp. 130-131

The Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and the Kingdoms of Nature, 1951, Rudolf Steiner Publ. Co., pp. 95-104

Man in the Light of Occultism, Theosophy and Philosophy, 1989, Spiritual Science Library, pp. 137-138

The Mysteries of the East and of Christianity, Spiritual Science Library, pg. 71

Christ and the Spiritual World and the Search for the Holy Grail, 1963, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 74-76

The Destinies of Individuals and of Nations, 1987, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 17-18 & 235-236

The Karma of Untruthfulness, Vol. II, 1992, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 188-194

Cosmic and Human Metamorphosis, 1989, Spiritual Research Editions, pp. 65-69

Three Streams in Human Evolution, 1965, Rudolf Steiner Press, pg. 100

Spiritual Science and Medicine, `1989, Steinerbooks, pp. 125-126 & 150-152

Man - Hieroglyph of the Universe, 1972, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 70-72 & 111

Old and New Methods of Initiation, 1991, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 23 & 25

The Cycle of the Year, 1984, Anthroposophic Press, pp. 4-5

The Evolution of Consciousness, 1991, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 31-33

Rosicrucianism and Modern Initiation, 1982, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 55-56

Agriculture, 1974, Bio-Dynamic Agriculture Assoc., pg. 115

Karmic Relationships, Vol. III, 1977, Rudolf Steiner Press, pp. 88-89

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