Steiner's descending ascending spiritual influences

From Anthroposophy

The 'descending and ascending spiritual influences' are underlying the whole of creation around us.

Rudolf Steiner therefore described these influences in many lectures, but from very varied perspectives, and often with a different language and in the context of the lecture. One needs the overview picture that we will sketch here, to see that he was always referring to and describing the elements in that grand scheme.

Below we give two main references only as an entry point, the purpose of this page is as part of the introduction. Further study on topic pages will expand on this.

topics to be expanded: Zodiacal influences from different angles and constellations towards the earth (incl passing through earth) + their modulation through the planets
for this we need a base understanding of the russian dolls image of the interpenetrating spheres and planetary intelligences

Zodiacal influences

The following is probably the very best starting point, from 1908-01-27-GA102

The forces from the Zodiac “rain” down continuously into the planetary existence and continuously ascend again; for that which at one time became our Zodiac must gradually ascend again. The distribution of forces in our earth existence may be conceived as follows: — on the one side forces are descending from the Zodiac and, on the other, forces are ascending to the Zodiac. Such is the mysterious interplay between the Zodiac and our earth. Forces descend and forces ascend.

This is the mysterious “heavenly ladder” upon which forces are descending and ascending. These forces are indicated in various ways in the different scriptures; you find them indicated, too, in Goethe's Faust:“What heavenly forces up and down are ranging,The golden vessels interchanging.”

As far as our human understanding goes, these forces began to descend during the Saturn-existence of our Earth and when the Earth-existence proper had reached its middle point, the stage had arrived when they gradually began again to ascend. We have now passed beyond the middle point of our evolution, which fell in the middle of the Atlantean epoch; and what human beings have lived through since then is a phase of existence beyond the middle point. In a certain sense, therefore, we may say that at the present time, more forces are ascending to the Zodiac than are descending from it.

When, therefore, you think of the whole Zodiac, you must picture that some of its forces are descending and some are ascending. We think of the forces which are now involved in the ascending line of evolution, collectively, as Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra — because they actually belong to these constellations. These seven constellations comprise the ascending forces. The descending forces are comprised, approximately speaking, in the five constellations of Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces. Thus forces rain down from the Zodiac and ascend again: seven constellations of ascending, five of descending forces.

The ascending forces also correspond, in man, to the higher members of his being, to his higher, nobler attributes. The forces which are in the descending phase of evolution have first to pass through man and within him to attain to the stage at which they too can become ascending forces.

In this way you will realize that there is interaction between everything in cosmic space, that everything in cosmic space is interconnected, inter-related. But it must never be forgotten that these operations and activities are going on all the time, that they are ever-present. At any given moment in our evolution we can therefore speak of forces which are going forth from man and forces which are coming in; forces are descending and forces are ascending. For all and each of these forces there comes, at some point, the moment when from being descending forces they are transformed into ascending forces. All forces which eventually become ascending forces are at first descending forces. They descend, so to say, as far as man. In man they acquire the power to ascend.

and further:

Since the middle of the Atlantean epoch humanity has passed beyond this middle point. And since the middle of the Atlantean epoch there have begun, for men in general, those conditions in which the ascending forces preponderate. If we were speaking of the proportion of forces descending from and ascending to the Zodiac before the middle of the Atlantean epoch, we should have to say: they were in equal proportion. We should have to speak differently of the conditions then prevailing, enumerating as the ascending forces: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo — counting Libra with the other descending forces.


How has man reached a position which makes it possible for something to stream from within him? What has happened to man that enables something to stream forth from him? He has reached this position because his ego, after long, long preparation, has steadily unfolded and developed. This I, this ego, has been in course of preparation for long, long ages. For truth to tell, the object of all existence in the Saturn-condition, the Sun-condition and the Moon-condition when the sheaths into which the I was to be received were produced — was to prepare for the I. In those earlier conditions, other beings created the dwelling-place for the I. Now, on the earth, the dwelling-place was at the stage where the I could take root in man and from then onwards the I began to work upon the outer, bodily sheaths from within. The fact that the ego is able to work from within has also brought about a surplus, a surplus of ascending forces; there was no longer a state of parity. Before the ego was able to work within man, the ascending forces gradually evolved until the middle point had been reached; and when the, ego actually entered into man the ascending and the descending forces had reached the stage where they were in ‘balance.’

At the entry of the ego, the ascending and the descending forces were in balance and it rests with man to turn the scales in the right direction. That is why the occultists have called the constellation which was entered at the time when the ego itself began to operate, the ‘Balance’ (Libra). Up to the end of Virgo, preparation was being made for the deeds of the ego in our planetary evolution, but the ego had not itself begun to work. When Libra had been reached the ego itself began to participate and this was a most important moment in its evolution.

Just think what it means that the ego had reached this stage of evolution:

From then on it was possible for the ego to participate in the work of the forces belonging to the Zodiac, to reach into the Zodiac. The more the ego strives for the highest point of its evolution, the more it works into the Zodiac.

There is nothing that happens in the innermost core of the ego that has not its consequences right up to the very Zodiac. And inasmuch as man with his ego lays the foundations for his development to Atma, or spirit-man, he develops, stage by stage, the forces which enable him to work upwards into the sphere of Libra, the Balance, in the Zodiac. He will attain full power over Libra in the Zodiac when his ego has developed to Atma, or spirit-man. He will then be a being from whom something streams out, who has passed out of the sphere of Time into the sphere of Duration, of Eternity.

The Goethe quote comes back again in 1923-11-25-GA232 where the interlinked nature of third and second hierarchy is explained:

And when in sleep we dive down with our memories and our gestures as into a flowing sea of weaving beings of Angels, Archangels and Archai, then from one side there comes another stream of spiritual beings, the second Hierarchy, Exusiai, Kyriotetes, Dynamis. If we wish to express in the outer world that which we have just described, we must say: This stream flows in such a way that the course of the sun by day from east to west marks the way the second Hierarchy crosses the third Hierarchy. The third Hierarchy, the Angels, Archangels and Archai, are as if floating up and down “offering one another the golden buckets.” In this presentation we have the second Hierarchy going with the sun, as it were, from east to west. This is not apparent, because here the Copernican world-conception does not hold good, but this stream actually does go from east to west, following the course of the sun during the day. Thus we see — i.e., if we have the ability to see — how man during sleep grows into the third Hierarchy; but this third Hierarchy is continually being graciously permeated from one side by the second Hierarchy. Thus this second Hierarchy also makes itself felt in the life of our soul.

Lecture coverage and references

Overview of RSL around the quote from Faust regarding the 'golden buckets or vessels interchanging' in a spiritual scientific explanatory context, besides the quotes that relate to the life of Goethe and his state of soul:

  • 1908-01-27-GA102 - the 'mystical lamb' lecture with zodiac streams up and down
  • 1923-10-13-GA229 – where the quote is explained as the working together of the four archangels
  • 1923-11-25-GA232 - the process in sleep with H1 and H2 (can be linked to 1924-06-27-GA236 and 1923-05-02-GA224 about the same)

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