Spiritual hierarchies and their eigenperiods

From Anthroposophy

The term 'eigenperiod' is used to denote the typical rhythm and time span for the influence characteristic for a being of a particular spiritual hierarchy. The term is inspired on mathematical terminology of eigenvector, or eigenfrequency (natural frequency).

When we quantify this, eg in years, the concept only makes sense as long as the conditions that define time are stable enough for the unit of time to be stable enough (as it is linked to the balance of Earth between the Sun and the Moon influences). For our current concept of time as we measure and use it today, we know this has only been the case since about the middle of the Atlantean epoch.

What matters is not the exact length of time, but rather that we have a 'technical' term that we can use generically, that is: for whatever spiritual hierarchy in whatever stage of evolution. Therefore, rather than the human earthly unit of 'year', the zodiac clock and the Platonic year are used for the different evolutionary periods such as epochs and cultural ages.

  • The Archai underlie the cultural ages or periods of civilisation (prev. called subraces in the earlier epochs), they are also called Spirit of the Age (or zeitgeist). Steiner and Harrison map these periods of cultural ages of about 2160 years to the effect of the precession of the equinoxes and the Archai.
  • One level below, Archangels - some are called Folk Souls - rule a period of three to four centuries, an average of 354 years is used.
  • The hierarchy above the Archai, the Spirits of Form (SoF), are mapped to the epochs corresponding to a 'root race'. For our Current Postatlantean epoch that period is also referenced by the Platonic year of approx. 25.920 years.
  • The Spirits of Rotation of Time (SoRT) regulate the rhythms of nature as related to the daily and yearly cycle on Earth.


  • this situation is in continuous evolution, it is far from static. Therefore there are gradient transitionary effects and influences that are underlying what happens in the history of humanity.
  • Archai do not incarnate and die, their lifecycle is not interrupted by birth and death. Its body becomes weaker and meanwhile a second new one is building up. See also Overlapping evolutionary periods.


Schema FMC00.239 shows the archangelic rulers of approx 354 periods for the current cultural age (plus and minus a cultural age). Rudolf Steiner uses this period to describe the nature of current Michael age and the future Oriphiel age.


Schema FMC00.169 illustrates the principle of Overlapping evolutionary periods. While an earlier (red) is morphing into the current (green), the future is already developing(blue). This is also related to the symbol of the spiral: evolution does not proceed in linear fashion but takes evolutionary 'jumps'.


Lecture coverage and references

More references: 1907-04-22-GA104a, 1908-01-27-GA102, 1918-01-08-GA180, 1921-07-09-GA205

Note Rudolf Steiner does not always use the same terminology consistently, see the different terms below. In 1905-08-14-GA091 the term 'Rassengeist' is used for the Archai (could be confusion because it's really about a 'subrace' and not a root race). In GA121 Volksseelen is used for the Archangels, but the term Soul instead of Spirit is to make the link with how their influence lives in the soul of a People.

Note this situation is in continuous evolution, it is far from static. Therefore there are gradient transitionary effects and influences. The evolution of archangels to archai (or 'promotion') is described in 1910-06-12-GA121. In GA152, the evolution of the spiritual entity known as archangel Michael to the order of the Archai is described.

Archangels (or Folk Spirits): 354 years

For more info, see cycle GA121 - The Mission of Folk Souls.

Seven 354 periods correspond to the sequence of alternative reigning archangels. Most sources reference this as describes by Johannes Trithemius in 1508 in his book: 'De Septem Secundeis' (Seven Secondary Intelligences/Causes).

Interestingly, seems Trithemius was not the first to write about this cycle, as we find a similar description dating back already from three centuries earlier in the work of  Pietro d'Abano (1257-1316). You can read for yourself online on pages 894 to 897 in the book 'History of magic and experimental science' published in 1923 by Lynn Thorndike (1882-1965),

In 1915-05-13-GA159 (SWCC)

If we consider the development of the earthly humankind in such a way that we go back to the foundation of the ancient Rome, about eight hundred years before the Mystery of Golgotha, we find that there a certain spirit of the ages started his development. Another spirit of the ages was leading and steering the destiny of the earth before. This spirit of the ages who took over the leadership of the spiritual earthly development in those days was leading up to the 16th century. A spirit of the ages leads the destiny of the earth for such a period.

The spirits of the ages regulate this whole course of the human destiny through their subordinates, the archangels. Such archangels govern in subordinated positions for a much shorter time than the spirits of the ages.

While the spirits of the ages rule for a cultural age, eg from the foundation of Rome up to the 16th century, the spirits of the hierarchy of the archangels rule only for three to four centuries. They alternate in such a way that about six or seven come one after the other, while a spirit of the ages is ruling. So that we have that archangel we call Oriphiel in the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. Then Anael, Zachariel, Raphael, Samael, Gabriel rule successively; and now since 1879 we have the government of that archangel we call Michael. So we have, if we look at the spiritual worlds, the higher government of the spirits of the ages and subordinate to them, the successive governments of archangels.

See also in 1918-11-21 to 30-GA194 called The Mission of the Archangel Michael. A PDF version can be found here, it includes the Trithemius text and (see last page), even some scribblings from Steiner's notebook.

And in 1924-08-18-GA243 a number of personalities are described for the periods of Raphael (850-1190, Mercury) and Gabriel (1510-1879, Moon).

Archai (or Spirits of the Age, or Spirits of cyclic periods): cultural ages

In 1909-06-17-GA107, (SWCC)

The Archai represent something which from the point of view of our human world conception we call an abstraction: the spirit of the age. The Achai or spirits of the age move through the various cultural ages. When we look back into ancient times, the Indian, Persian, Chaldean-Babylonian, Greco-Latin times and right into our own time, we find that apart from the nations and apart from all the other differences among men, what we call the spirit of the age is always changing. People thought and felt quite differently five thousand years ago than they did three thousand years ago and from the way they do today. And it is the Archai or spirits of the age who change. These Archai are going through their evolution in the super-sensible world just as the human race is going through its evolution in the sense world. But all that the human race develops of a super-sensible nature is food and drink for these Archai, and they benefit from it. If there were an age in which men were to spend their lives without developing any treasures of thought, without pleasure or displeasure, nor any feeling for duty beyond the limits of karma — in such an age the Archai would have no nourishment and they would become emaciated. Such is our connection with the beings who are invisibly interwoven with our life

While 1910-06-07-GA121 (WCC) also gives a hint about the cyclic repetitions that happen in evolution (see Recapitulation and rememberance)

Nevertheless behind the word Zeitgeist, or ‘Spirit of the Age’, there is concealed a real being, and indeed none other than one three stages above the stage of humanity. The Beings concealed behind this word are those who went through their human stage on the old Saturn, at the earliest epoch of the earth's evolution, and who at the present day are working at the transformation of the earth from its spiritual atmosphere, and in so doing are going through the last stage of the transforming of their physical body into Spirit-man or Atma.

We are here dealing with exalted Beings, the contemplation of whose attributes could well make man dizzy. They are the Beings who may be described as the actual inspirers — or we should here say, if we wish to use the technical expressions of occultism — the ‘intuitors’ of the Spirit or Spirits of the Age.

They work in such a way that they relieve one another in turn and extend the hand to one another as it were. From epoch to epoch they pass on their task to the next one.

In each age we have one such Spirit of the Age; then at the end of the age he passes on his office to his successor, who again passes it on to the following one, and so on. The foregoing ones are in the meanwhile going through their own evolution, and then that one who has been longest absent, takes his turn again; so that, in a later age, while the others are then proceeding with their own evolution, the same one returns again as Spirit of the Age and gives to the progressed humanity, by means of intuition, that which he himself has in the meanwhile acquired for his higher mission. We look up to these Archai, to these Beings who may be called by the otherwise meaningless name of Spirit of the Age, and may say: ‘We human beings go from incarnation to incarnation, but we very well know, that while we are ourselves passing on from epoch to epoch, that when we look into the future, we see ever different Spirits of the Age, regulating the occurrences of our earth.’

But our present Spirit of the Age will return too, we shall meet him again. On account of this attribute of these Archai, of their describing cycles, as it were, and returning again to their starting-point, and of working in cycles, they are also called Spirits of Cyclic Periods.

These higher spiritual Beings who give their orders to the Folk-spirits, are also called Spirits of Cyclic Periods.

We refer to those cyclic periods which man himself has to go through, when age after age he returns to earlier conditions and repeats them in a higher form. Now you may be struck by this repetition of the characteristics of earlier forms. If you examine carefully into the stages of the evolution of man on the earth according to spiritual science, you will find these repetitions of occurrences in many different forms.

Thus there is a repetition in the fact that there are seven consecutive cultural ages following after the Atlantean Catastrophe; these we call the post-Atlantean stages of civilization.

The Græco-Latin stage or age of civilization forms the turning-point in our cycle and therefore it is not repeated. After this comes the repetition of the Egyptian-Chaldæan epoch, which is taking place in our own time. After this will follow another epoch, which will be a repetition of the Persian epoch, although in a somewhat different form; and then the seventh epoch will come, which will be a repetition of the primeval Indian civilization, the epoch of the Holy Rishis; so that in that age certain things of which the foundations were laid in ancient India will re-appear in a different form. The guidance of these occurrences devolves upon the Spirits of the Age.

1905-08-14-GA091 is described how Archai - unlike human beings - do not incarnate and die. Their lifecycle is not interrupted by birth and death, but their body becomes weaker and meanwhile a second new one is building up. In this way they gradually morph from one into another. Their body consists of the individual people of a 'subrace' or cultural age.

Spirits of Form

In 1910-12-31-GA126 the importance of the year 1250 is described, and there is described how the SoF can work externally on nature, changing the face of the earth, or internally on Man's inner constitution. After describing the changes related to the ice ages and atlantean catastrophe (see more in Vreede, reference below):

Thus when the Spirits of Form were working powerfully to revolutionise the physical, they had less time to work also upon the spirit of man, with the result that the physical vanished as it were from under man's feet. But an the other hand it was precisely during the time of the Atlantean catastrophe that men were transported most completely into spiritual realms and only gradually found their way again into the physical world in the Post-Atlantean epoch. Now when you picture that at this time — six to eight thousand years before the Christian era — the least influence was exercised upon the human spirit and the strongest influence on the physical conditions of the earth, it will not be difficult for you to conceive that there may be another point of time when the opposite situation comes about: when those who are cognisant of such a matter experience the reverse of these conditions — namely, the least influence upon the physical and the greatest influence, precisely of the Spirits of Form, upon the human spirit. Hypothetically you can conceive that there may he a point in history where the reverse of the great Atlantean catastrophe applies. Of course it will not be so easily noticeable, for the Atlantean catastrophe, when parts of the very earth were blotted out, is bound to be a very striking event for people of our Post-Atlantean epoch, with their strong leanings to the physical. When the Spirits of Form are exercising a powerful influence on the human personality and have only a little influence upon what is taking place in the external world, the impression will be less vivid. The point of time when this condition — in the nature of things, less perceptible to men — set in, was the year A.D. 1250

Spirits of Motion

1912-04-13-GA136 (SWCC)

Now in human evolution there is something which goes beyond the character of the mere Spirits of the Age; more important for collective humanity than the sphere of the individual Spirits of the Age. The Spirits of the Age (Archai) work upon the earth for a definite period of time; but there are spiritual developments in the evolution of humanity as a whole which embrace wider spheres than that of the Spirits of the Age. These great epochs of humanity which extend beyond the influence of the Spirits of the Age, have as their Regent the normally-developed Spirits of Motion.

These so reveal themselves in their activity in the process of the growth of humanity that they stimulate the great impulses of civilisation. If we now survey the history of man, the history of human civilisation, we see that individual men are guided by the Angels , nations and peoples by the Archangels; certain periods of civilisation (or cultural ages) are guided by the Spirits of the Age or Archai, and also certain spheres (as we shall see) by the Spirits of Form.

Then, however, we have the collective course of the different civilizations in human evolution; so that for certain long periods of time, much longer than those ruled by a Spirit of the Age, the Spirits of Motion are inspiringly active in great spheres; one Spirit of Motion working down from one planet at one time, another working down at another time from another planet. Thus these normally developed Spirits of Motion so work down from the planets that they succeed one another in the process of human evolution, and reveal themselves in the great civilisation impulses in the evolution of the earth which reach out beyond the sphere of the Spirits of the Age.

and in the same lecture 1912-04-13-GA136 the difference between SoW versus SoM is pointed out with the example that the Seven Holy Rishis preserved and brought the ancient Atlantean knowledge.

.. the normal SoW we must seek upon the sun, in the same sense we have to seek for the normal SoM as working from the planets, though they too have their real habitation upon the sun. We have to seek the impulse of the normally-developed SoW as coming directly from the sun.

.. in the civilisation of ancient India, the Seven Holy Rishis spoke of that which each one of them had to give to humanity from their occult foundations. They were conscious of having preserved that which, through seven long periods of civilisation, had been directed by the Spirits of Motion. It was just as though seven successive periods of time were all at once to unite in the evolution of the earth, and were so to work that they represented a College of great Individualities.

.. these seven successive activities of the Spirits of the Planets came to light in that which the Seven Holy Rishis had to say to humanity; each one speaking what he himself knew. They did not assert that what they had to give was the direct outflow of a Spirit of Motion, but they said that it was like a recollection in the soul of each of what had been given earlier by the Spirits of Motion.

For the exalted wisdom which the Holy Rishis gave to humanity was the great recollection of the ancient Atlantean civilizations, only in a new form. At the same time, these seven Holy Rishis said: “above them which we have to give as the civilizations of the seven successive periods of time, lies something else which exists beyond our sphere.” That which lay above their sphere, the Holy Rishis called Vishvakarma. Thus they alluded to something which lay beyond their sphere, and which comprised a greater earth-sphere than that of the separate SoM. As it was with the spheres of the Archai (Spirits of the Age), so did the Holy Rishis point to epochs of civilisation which lie beyond the sphere of the individual SoM.

Quote from GA122 about 'Die wesenhaften Äonen, von denen in der Gnosis oft gesprochen wird, entstammen der Hierarchie der Urengel.'

Da möchte ich Sie zuerst hinlenken auf eine alte Lehre, die im Sinne der Gnostiker vorhanden ist. Da hat man gesprochen von Mächten, welche sich an der Entwickelung unseres Daseins beteiligen, die nacheinander in diese Entwickelung unseres Daseins eingreifen, und man nannte diese Mächte, diese Wesenheiten Äonen. Man sprach von den Äonen im Sinne der Gnostiker. Mit diesen Äonen sind nicht Zeiträume gemeint, sondern Wesenheiten. Das ist gemeint, daß ein erster Äon wirkt und das, was er zu wirken vermag, auswirkt, dann von einem zweiten abgelöst wird und dieser, nachdem er mit seinen Kräften gewirkt hat, wiederum abgelöst wird von einem dritten und so weiter. Solche die Entwickelung leitenden, aufeinanderfolgenden, einander ablösenden Wesenheiten meinten die Gnostiker, wenn sie von Äonen sprachen, und nur sehr spät ist der rein abstrakte Zeitbegriff mit dem verbunden worden, was das Wort Äon ursprünglich bedeutet. Äon ist etwas Wesenhaftes, etwas lebendig Wesenhaftes. Und in demselben Sinne lebendig Wesenhaftes, wie es Äon ist, ist auch das, was mit dem hebräischen Worte jom bezeichnet wird. Da hat man es nicht zu tun mit einer bloßen abstrakten Zeitbestimmung, sondern mit etwas Wesenhaftem. Jom ist eine Wesenheit. Und wenn man es mit aufeinanderfolgenden sieben solcher jamim zu tun hat, dann hat man es mit sieben einander ablösenden Wesenheiten oder meinetwillen Wesensgruppen zu tun

Change in velocity


I have often mentioned, and you will find it brought out in the first of my Mystery Plays, The Portal of Initiation, that as at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha men stood facing the turning-point of the fourth post-Atlantean age, the year 333, so we today are facing a turning-point.

The time is rather shorter because the movements of the higher Spirits change in velocity; we cannot reckon that today we have 333 years again before the turning-point. It changes somewhat in the course of time, this speed with which the various separate Spirits of the higher Hierarchies move on.

Thus today, in the first third of the twentieth century, we are facing the approach of an important event for mankind.

Transitions between cycles

C.G. Harrison (1855-1936) links the cycles to the hierarchies, and makes the connection to the precession of the equinoxes and the ice ages.

In the last of his six lectures delivered in 1893, he describes the 'law of cataclysms', that is .. why each epoch cyclically ends in a major discontinuity:

... they occur at the end of every 'root race' because the Principalities (or angels of periods) [editor: Spirits of Time, in Steiner's nomenclature] of the succeeding one are then evolving at their minimum rate, having completed one-half of their minor cycle. At such times, the centripetal resistance to the attraction of the Eight Sphere is at its weakest. These periods coincide with the precession of the equinoxes, the last was the end of the glacial epoch in the northern hemisphere, and is preserved in the memory of a universal flood in the traditions of all nations.


  • evolution of spiritual entity known as archangel Michael to Archai (GA152)

Related pages

References and further reading

  • Elisabeth Vreede: 'Astronomy and spiritual science'