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The four evangelist symbols bull, lion, eagle and man united to form a tetramorph represent the four leading cherubim (Fresco, Meteora, 16th century)

The Cherubim (Hebrewכְּרוּב cherub; plural כרובים, cherubim "fullness of knowledge", "outpouring of wisdom"[1], also called Spirits of Harmonies, are exalted spiritual beings who, like all beings of the first hierarchy, have the direct sight of the Godhead and directly execute its will. They are at the same time the actual zodiacal beings. They are usually depicted as four-winged animal beings. This distinguishes them from the Seraphim, who are usually depicted with a human body.

The four leading Cherubim are also depicted as tetramorphs with three animal heads (bull, lion, eagle) and a human face, comparable to the Sphinx. Their dominion extends far beyond the borders of our solar system and together with the Thrones and Seraphim they belong to that region whose outward expression is the zodiac. The Cherubim have the mission of expanding in wisdom the developmental goals of a planetary system, which they receive from the Deity. This is a completely supra-personal wisdom, which they gather in the millions of years of the becoming of the world and then radiate in sublime power.

The Nature of the Cherubim

„We gain at most a comparison for the qualities of those beings to which we then ascend as the beings of the second category of the first Hierarchy, we gain a possibility of characterising them if we so rightly allow to work upon our minds that to which serious, worthy people have attained who have used many steps of their lives to accumulate wisdom in themselves, who after many years of rich experience have accumulated so much wisdom that we say to ourselves: When such people pronounce a judgement, it is not a personal will that speaks to us, but the life that has accumulated in these people through years, through decades, and through which they have become impersonal in a certain way, speaks to us. People who make such an impression on us that their wisdom seems impersonal, that their wisdom appears like the blossom and fruit of a mature life, evoke in us a feeling, even if only a foreboding one, of what affects us from our mental, from our spiritual surroundings, when we move up to this level of clairvoyance of which we must now speak. In occidental esotericism this category is called the Cherubim.“ (Lit.:GA 136, p. 80)

„Such wisdom, which is not gathered in decades, like the wisdom of outstanding men, but such wisdom, which is gathered in millennia, in millions of years of the becoming of the world, flows towards us in sublime power from the beings which we call Cherubim.“ (S. 81)

The Cherubim as Creators of Eternity

As Rudolf Steiner described in detail in his lectures on "The Evolution from the Viewpoint of Truth", the Cherubim are also the actual creators of eternity. After the Thrones had sacrificed a part of their being on the Old Saturn and the Cherubim had accepted this sacrifice, the heat substance and at the same time also the essential time in the form of the Archai had come into being (Lit.:GA 132, p. 9ff). However, the whole world was thereby also torn into transience, into temporality. Then a part of the Cherubim developed the spiritual virtue of creative resignation and renounced accepting the sacrifice of the will of the Thrones. Thereby they snatched themselves from temporality and founded the region of duration, eternity. Beginnings of this renunciation can already be found on the Old Saturn, but it only becomes clearly noticeable in the transition from the Old Sun to the Old Moon. Another consequence of this resignation, however, was that the rejected sacrificial substance of the Thrones was grasped by the adversary powers, which finally led to the Fight in Heaven, in which the primordial mystery of evil is founded (Lit.:GA 132, p. 41ff).

The Cherubim as Zodiacal Beings

The Cherubim were significantly involved in the formation of the first beginnig of the animal kingdom on the Old Sun. First of all, during the evolution of the Old Sun, the air element came into being through the giving virtue of the Spirits of Wisdom. At the same time, the Archangels emerged, who passed through their humanity stage on the Old Sun, i.e. developed their I. They received what the spirits had given them. They received what the Spirits of Wisdom gave away from their being, but they did not simply keep it for themselves, they radiated it back as an image, but not immediately, but with a time delay at a later point in time - and thus the light came into being. The light is the wisdom of the Kyriotetes radiated back by the Archangeloi with a time delay (Lit.:GA 132, p. 33). At the same time, space came into being, although not yet in the three dimensions we are accustomed to, but two-dimensionally as "inner" and "outer", in that the inner being of the Kyriotetes was radiated back to them from outside.

„This produces something very special, which you can only imagine correctly if you think of the image of an internally closed sphere, where something is radiated from the centre, which is given; this radiates to the periphery and from there radiates back to the centre. On the surface, inside the sphere, are the Archangels, who radiate it back. You don't need to imagine anything on the outside. - So we have to think of what comes from the Spirits of Wisdom starting from a centre: it is radiated out on all sides, is caught by the Archangels and radiated back. What is that which radiates back into space, this radiated gift of the Spirits of Wisdom? What is the wisdom radiated back into itself? - That is the light. And thus the Archangels are at the same time the creators of light.“ (Lit.:GA 132, p. 33)

Now, as the Archangels strove towards the cosmic circumference in order to reflect their wisdom being back to the Kyriotetes as light, the Cherubim came to meet them from the zodiacal region.

The Cherubim as Zodical Beings (Lit.:GA 110, p. 71)

„These spiritual beings that have come to meet the Archangels from the spiritual realm and have welcomed the Archangels, we call them Cherubim. This is a particularly sublime kind of spiritual beings, for they have the power, so to speak, to receive the Archangels with open arms. When these Archangels spread out, the Cherubim come to meet them from the universe. So we have around the old solar ball the approaching Cherubim. Just as, if I may use the comparison, our Earth is surrounded by its atmosphere, so the Old Sun was surrounded by the realm of the Cherubim for the benefit of the Archangels. So these Archangels, when they went out into the space of the world, looked at their great helpers.

And how did these great helpers meet them, what did they look like? Of course, only the clairvoyant consciousness reading the Akashic Chronicle can determine this. These great universal helpers presented themselves in very specific ethereal forms. And our ancestors, who still had an awareness of this significant fact through their tradition, depicted the Cherubim as those peculiarly winged animals with differently shaped heads: the winged lion, the winged eagle, the winged bull, the winged man. For indeed, from four sides at first the cherubim approached. And they approached in such forms that they could indeed be depicted afterwards as they have become known to us as the forms of the Cherubim. And therefore the schools of the first initiates of the post-Atlantean period have designated these Cherubim, approaching from four sides to the Old Sun, with names which have then become the names Bull, Lion, Eagle, Man.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 71f)

The Cherubim had a highly invigorating effect on the Archangels and this made it possible for them to stay longer in the realm of the spirit that surrounded the Old Sun than would otherwise have been possible for them. Now the Old Sun was not yet a permanently outwardly shining star, as is our Sun today. The Old Sun showed a pulsating glow, with sunny days alternating with sunny nights.

„On those beings of the Old Sun who had, so to speak, ascended to the light element, who knew how to live in the light element, they had the effect described above. But this element of light could only be acted upon during a sunny day, while light was streaming out into the space of the world. But there were also sunny nights when light was not streaming out, and yet the Cherubim were also in the sky. At that time, when the Sun's planet was darkened, it was merely heat-gas, not luminous; heat-gas was flowing within the Sun's ball. Now the Cherubim were all around and sent down their effect: Now they worked into the dark gas. So when these Cherubim could not act on the Archangels in the normal way, they worked in on the dark smoke of the Sun, on the dark gas. Whereas on the Old Saturn, therefore, effects were exerted on the heat, now effects were exerted from the space of the world on the condensed heat, on the gas of the Old Sun. It is due to this effect that on the Old Sun, out of the solar nebula, the first seed was formed for what we now call the animal kingdom. Just as on Old Saturn the first beginning of the human kingdom was formed in the physical human body, so on the Sun the first beginning of the animal kingdom was formed out of the smoke, out of the gas. From the heat the first seed of the human body was formed on Old Saturn; on the Old Sun, through the cherubic figures reflected in these solar gases, the first physical animal body were formed, moving like smoke.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 73)

Thus, bird-like creatures first emerged in these moving air masses. When this process was repeated in a shortened way during the development of the Earth, as it is described on the 5th day of creation in Genesis, birds (Hebrewעֹ֤וף oph) emerged as the first animals. With an artistic eye, one can see that the bird, even in its present form, does not consist of a trunk and limbs, but that its entire body is actually a remodelled head. The more or less spherically shaped head is a direct image of the cosmos, still barely distorted by earthly influence.

„This is the original meaning of the zodiac. On the Old Saturn humanity is first formed, in that the substance which it now has in the physical body is poured out from the thrones, sacrificed. The first animal kingdom is formed on the Sun, when the first animal forms are conjured out of the heat substance compressed into gas by the reflecting figures of the cherubim. And so the animals first become solar images of the zodiac. This is a real inner relationship between the zodiac and the animals becoming on the sun. Our animals are caricature-like successors of those animals becoming on the sun.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 74)

Now there are not four Cherubim who work in this sense, but each of them has two companions and thus there are twelve zodiacal beings in all.

„"Now you may notice that only four names of the zodiac are written here. These are only the main expressions for the Cherubim, for basically each Cherubim figure has a kind of offspring or companion to the left and right. If you think of each of the four cherubic figures as having two companions, then you have twelve powers and forces around the Sun, which were also present in a certain hint in Old Saturn. We have twelve such powers, which belong to the realm of the Cherubim and which have to fulfil their task, their mission in the universe, in the way we have now said.

Now you might ask, what about the ordinary names of the zodiac? We will speak a word about that in the next few days. For there have been some changes in the order of the names. One usually starts counting with Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, then comes Virgo, Libra. Due to a later transformation, the eagle had to put up with the name Scorpio - for very specific reasons. And then the two companions Sagittarius, Capricorn. Man is called Water Man or Aquarius for certain reasons, which we will get to know later. And then the Pisces. - So you see, as it were, the real form from which the zodiac has arisen, only still shining through in Taurus, in Leo, a little still in the human being, who in the ordinary exoteric designation is called the water-man or Aquarius.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 74f)

The Revelation of the Cherubim in Nature

The highest spiritual beings, the Cherubim and Seraphim, are imperceptible to such a high degree that, paradoxical as it may seem, this very imperceptibility is in turn perceived. In natural events, the Cherubim reveal themselves in such a way in the gathering thunderclouds and in the volcanic forces.

„The Cherubim appear not only symbolically, but quite objectively in what takes place in the thundercloud, in what takes place when a planet is dominated by volcanic forces.“ (Lit.:GA 180, p. 103)

Rudolf Steiner's account is somewhat different in the Esoteric Teachings for the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science. Here he describes how the Cherubim show us their tools in the lightnings, while in other passages he describes the lightnings as a revelation of the Seraphim:

„We look up to the lightnings. Oh, the Cherubim are already more veiled. With the thrones one can feel them weaving in the clouds themselves. The towering clouds give forth the substance of the thrones. The Cherubim do not make it so easy for us to look at them. They hide themselves more than the Thrones. They do not show us themselves in the formations. They show us their tools in the flashes. They are behind their tools. They do not show us their being in the flashes, only their tools.“ (Lit.:GA 270b, p. 75)


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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  1. Dionysius Areopagita: Himmlische Hierarchie. Aus dem Griechischen übersetzt von Josef Stiglmayr. (Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, 1. Reihe, Band 2) München 1911, S. 32)