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The Work of the Angels In Man's Astral Body

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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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The Work of the Angels In Man's Astral Body

Schmidt Number: S-3572

On-line since: 28th March, 1999

A Lecture By
Rudolf Steiner
Zurich, 9th October, 1918
Bn 182, GA 182, CW 182

Translated by D. S. Osmond with the help of Owen Barfield

Translated from a shorthand report unrevised by the lecturer. The original text is included in the volume of the Complete Edition of the works of Rudolf Steiner entitled: Der Tod als Lebenswandlung. (Bibl. No. 182). The volume contains the texts of seven lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in different places between 29th November, 1917 and 16th October, 1918.

This English edition of the following lecture is published by permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

Copyright © 1960
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The following lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner to an audience familiar with the general background of his anthroposophical teachings. He constantly emphasized the distinction between his written works and reports of lectures which were given as oral communications and were not originally intended for print. It should also be remembered that certain premises were taken for granted when the words were spoken. “These premises,” Rudolf Steiner writes in his autobiography, “include at the very least the anthroposophical knowledge of Man and of the Cosmos in its spiritual essence; also of what may be called ‘anthroposophical history,’ told as an outcome of research into the spiritual world.”


ANTHROPOSOPHICAL understanding of the spirit must not be a merely theoretical view of the world, but a leaven, an actual power in life. Only when we manage to investigate this view of the world so fundamentally that it really comes alive in us does it properly fulfill its mission. For by linking our souls with this anthroposophical conception of the spirit we have become custodians, as it were, of very definite and significant processes in the evolution of humanity.

Whatever their view of the world, men are generally convinced that thoughts and ideas have no status in it except as the contents of their own souls. Those who hold such views believe that thoughts and mental pictures are “ideals” which will be embodied in the world only to the extent that man succeeds in ratifying them by his physical deeds.

The anthroposophical attitude posits the conviction that our thoughts and ideas must find other ways of taking effect besides the way through our deeds in the physical world. Recognition of this essential principle implies that the anthroposophist must play his part in watching out for the signs of the times. A very great deal is happening all the time in the evolution of the world; and it is incumbent upon men, particularly the men of our own time, to acquire real understanding of what is going on in the evolutionary process in which they themselves are placed.

In the case of an individual human being, everybody knows that account must be taken of his stage of development, not only of the outer facts and occurrences around him. Think of it quite crudely for a moment. Outer, physical happenings are going on around human beings of five, ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, seventy years of age. But nobody in his senses will expect the same reaction to these happenings from the five-year-olds, the ten-year-olds, the twenty-year-olds, the fifty-year-olds, the seventy-year-olds! How human beings may be expected to react to their environment can be determined only by taking account of their stage of development. Everybody will admit this in the case of the individual.

But just as there are definite stages in the evolution of the individual human being, just as the nature of his powers and faculties differs in childhood, middle life and old age, so too are the powers and faculties possessed by humanity in general constantly changing in the course of evolution. Not to take account of the fact that the character of humanity is different in the 20th century from what it was in the 15th century, let alone before and at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, is to sleep through the process of world-evolution. One of the greatest defects, one of the principal sources of aberration and confusion in our time, is its failure to pay heed to this, as well as the prevalent notion that it is possible to speak of man or of humanity in terms of abstract generalisations, that there is no need to regard humanity as being involved in a continuous process of evolution.

How can a more exact insight into these things be acquired? As you know, mention has often been made of an important phase in the evolution of humanity. The Greco-Latin epoch of civilisation, lasting from the 8th century B.C. to approximately the 15th century, was the period of the development of the Intellectual Soul, or Mind-Soul; the development of the Consciousness-Soul (the Spiritual Soul) has been in progress since the 15th century. This is a factor in the evolution of humanity which essentially concerns our own times. The paramount force in human evolution from the 15th century until the beginning of the fourth millennium, is the spiritual Soul.

But in true Spiritual Science we must never stop at generalisations and abstractions; everywhere and at all times it must be our endeavour to grasp concrete facts. Abstractions are, at the highest, useful to curiosity in the most ordinary sense of the term. If Spiritual Science is to become the very leaven and essential force of life, earnestness must outweigh curiosity and we must not stop at abstractions such as those of which I have just spoken. It is both true and important that because we are living in the epoch of the Spiritual Soul we must take account of its development; but we must not stop there.

To arrive at a clear conception of these things, we must above all consider in greater detail the nature of man himself. In the sense of Spiritual Science, the members of man's being, beginning from above downwards, are: Ego, astral body, etheric body — which latterly I have also called the body of formative forces — and physical body. The Ego is the only one of these members in which we live and function as beings of spirit-and-soul. The Ego has been implanted in us by the Earth-evolution and the spirits of Form who direct it. Fundamentally speaking, everything that enters into our consciousness enters it through our Ego. And unless the Ego, as it unfolds itself, can remain connected — connected through the bodies — with the outer world, we have as little consciousness as we have during sleep. It is the Ego that connects us with our environment; the astral body is the legacy of the Moon-evolution, the etheric body of the Sun-evolution, the physical body, in its first rudiments, of the Saturn-evolution.

But if you study the description of these bodies given in the book, An Outline of Occult Science, you will realise by what a complicated process this fourfold constitution of man came into being. It is not evident from the facts presented in that book that Spirits belonging to all the Hierarchies participated in the formation of the three sheaths of man's being? Is it not evident that our threefold sheath composed of physical body, etheric body, astral body, is extremely complicated? It is not simply that these sheaths owe their origin to the co-operation of the Hierarchies; the Hierarchies are still constantly working within them. And those who believe that man is merely the apparatus of bones, blood, flesh and so forth, of which natural science, physiology, biology and anatomy speak, have no understanding of his nature.

If we genuinely study these sheaths of man, we realise that spiritual Beings of the higher Hierarchies are working together with wisdom and set purpose in everything that takes place, without our being conscious of it, in our bodily sheaths. From the brief outline I have given in Occult Science about the co-operation that took place between particular Beings of the Hierarchies in order that man should come into existence, you will have realised how intricate the details must be. Nevertheless if man is to be understood, these things too must be studied more and more concretely.

In this domain it is extremely difficult even to formulate a concrete question, because of the tremendous complexity of all such questions. Suppose for a moment that someone were to ask: What is the Hierarchy, let us say, of the Seraphim or of the Dynamis (Mights) doing in man's etheric body in the year 1918 of the present cycle of evolution? For we can certainly ask this question, just as we can ask whether it is raining or not raining in Lugano at the present time. Neither question can be answered by mere reflection or theorising, but only by ascertaining the facts. Just as we should have to find out, by means perhaps of a telegram, whether or not it is raining at Lugano, so it is necessary to investigate the facts themselves, in order to get the answer to a question such as: What is the task of the Spirits of Wisdom or of the Thrones in the etheric body of man during the present cycle of evolution? Only, this latter kind of question is indescribably complex and we can never do more than make an approach to the domains where such questions arise. Good care is taken that man shall not soar too far aloft and become arrogant and supercilious in his endeavours to attain knowledge of such things.

Roughly speaking, it is the prospects nearest to us — those that directly concern us — of which we can get a clear view. But such a view we must get, if we are not to remain asleep at our stations in the evolution of humanity.

I will therefore speak about a question that is less vague and indefinite than the question as to what the Dynamis or the Thrones are doing in our etheric body. I will speak of another question that is of immediate concern to men at the present time. It is the question: What are the Angels — the spiritual Beings nearest to men — doing in the human astral body in the present cycle of evolution?

The astral body is the member nearest to the Ego; obviously, therefore, the answer to this question will vitally concern us. The Angels are the Hierarchy immediately above the Human Hierarchy itself. So the question is not unduly arrogant and we shall see how it can be answered. What are the Angels doing in man's astral body in this present epoch which began in the 15th century and will last until the beginning of the fourth millennium?

What is there to be said in the general sense when it comes to answering a question such as this? It can only be said that spiritual investigation, when earnestly pursued, is not a matter of juggling with ideas or words, but works its way into the actual sphere where the spiritual world becomes perceptible ... but this question can, in reality, be fruitfully answered only in the age of the Spiritual Soul itself.

You may think that if this question had been asked in other epochs, an answer would probably have been forthcoming. But neither in the epoch of atavistic clairvoyance nor in that of Greco-Latin civilisation could this question have been answered, because the pictures arising in man's soul from atavistic clairvoyance obscured his observation of the deeds of the Angels in his astral body. Nothing could be seen of this, precisely because he had in him the pictures given by the atavistic clairvoyance. And in the Greco-Latin period, thought was not as strong as it is today. Thought has been strengthened as the direct consequence of natural science. Hence it is in the epoch of the Spiritual Soul that such questions can be the subject of conscious study. The fruitfulness of Spiritual Science for life must be shown by the fact that we do not just browse on theories but know how to say things of incisive significance for life.

What are the Angels doing in our astral body? Conviction of what they are doing can come to us only when we have achieved a certain degree of clairvoyance and are able to perceive what is actually going on in our astral body. A certain degree at least of Imaginative Knowledge must therefore have been attained if this question is to be answered.

It is then revealed that these Beings of the Hierarchy of the Angels — particularly through their concerted work, although in a certain sense each single Angel also has his task in connection with every individual human being — these Beings form pictures in man's astral body. Under the guidance of the Spirits of Form (Exusiai) the Angels form pictures. Unless we reach the level of Imaginative Cognition we do not know that pictures are all the time being formed in our astral body. They arise and pass away, but without them there would be for mankind no evolution into the future in accordance with the intentions of the Spirits of Form. The Spirits of Form are obliged, to begin with, to unfold in pictures what they desire to achieve with us during Earth-evolution and beyond. And then, later on, the pictures become reality in a humanity transformed.

Through the Angels, the Spirits of Form are already now shaping these pictures in our astral body. The Angels form pictures in man's astral body and these pictures are accessible to thinking that has become clairvoyant. If we are able to scrutinise these pictures, it becomes evident that they are woven in accordance with quite definite impulses and principles. Forces for the future evolution of mankind are contained in them. If we watch the Angels carrying out this work of theirs — strange as it sounds, one has to express it in this way — it is clear that they have a very definite plan for the future configuration of social life on earth; their aim is to engender in the astral bodies of men such pictures as will bring about definite conditions in the social life of the future.

People may shy away from the notion that Angels want to call forth in them ideals for the future, but it is so all the same. And indeed in forming these pictures the Angels work on a definite principle, namely, that in the future no human being is to find peace in the enjoyment of happiness if others beside him are unhappy. An impulse of Brotherhood in the absolute sense, unification of the human race in Brotherhood rightly understood — this is to be the governing principle of the social conditions in physical existence.

That is the one principle in accordance with which the Angels form the pictures in man's astral body.

But there is a second impulse in the work of the Angels. The Angels have certain objectives in view, not only in connection with the outer social life but also with man's life of soul. Through the pictures they inculcate into the astral body their aim is that in future time