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Big Dipper - Copper engraving from the star atlas by Johann Elert Bode
The Pleiades

Rishi (Sanskritm., ऋषि ṛṣi, from dṛṣ "to see") refers in Hinduism to a seer or mythical sage. The sacred Hindu texts, the Vedas, were revealed to the rishis. The rishis are priests, authors of Vedic hymns, saints, ascetics, prophets and hermits all rolled into one. The rishis are credited with the ability to work miracles or cure diseases. They are often regarded as the poets of sacred texts, which they are said to have "heard" directly as divine revelation (cf. Shruti).

Various groups of rishis are mentioned:

  • Brahmarishis who were directly appointed by Brahma or are Brahmins. They are considered the founders of the orthodox Brahmin families.
  • Saptarishis (Sanskritसप्तर्षि saptarṣi), a group of seven Rishis who, according to Atharvaveda, shaped the world through their sacrifice. The seven Rishis are mentioned in the Brahmanas as typical representatives of the mythical period; in the Shatapatha Brahmana 14,5,2,6, their names are Gotama, Bharadvaja, Vishvamitra, Jamadagni, Vasishtha, Kashyapa and Atri. In the Mahabharata, Marici, Atri, Angiras, Pulaha, Kratu, Pulastya and Vasishtha are mentioned. The 7 Rishis are often associated with the seven brightest stars of the Big Dipper. Rudolf Steiner, however, also speaks of an assignment to the Pleiades.

„Let us take the seven holy Rishis. They were so initiated into the solar mysteries that the symbol of their initiation is the standing of the sun in the constellation of Taurus; and what we can see in the firmament when the sun stands in the constellation of Taurus, that indeed gives the mystery of the peculiar initiation of the Rishis, and this initiation worked through the seven personalities who were the seven holy Rishis. This is expressed by the fact that from the same place shines the Pleiades. This is the place where our whole solar system entered our universe. Thus one can express the initiation into the various kinds of solar mysteries by taking the forms of expression from the standing of the sun in a constellation.“ (Lit.:GA 124, p. 236)

  • Devarishis, who through their strict asceticism (tapas) have attained almost the same position as the gods (devas).
  • Maharishis, the great seers
  • Rajarishis, the kings who have become rishis through their continuous asceticism.

The Seven Holy Rishis

According to Rudolf Steiner, the seven Rishis or Saptarishis were chosen disciples of Manu, to whom he transferred the stored etheric bodies of the leaders of the seven Atlantean oracle sites. After the fall of Atlantis, they became the founders of the ancient Indian culture.

„It was through the Manu that that which we call the etheric body had been preserved by the great oracle sages. While otherwise, as we have seen, this etheric body dissolves as a second corpse, in certain cases it was preserved. The greatest of these oracle sages had worked so much into their etheric body that it was too valuable to be absorbed into the general etheric world. Therefore, the seven best etheric bodies of the seven greatest sages were kept until the Manu had trained the seven best of his host to such an extent that they were suitable for these etheric bodies. Only the etheric body of the great initiate of the Christ Oracle was treated differently from these others in certain respects. These seven sages, the seven great Rishis, who had received the seven etheric bodies of the greatest initiates, went to India and became the great founders of Indian culture, the seven great teachers.

This ancient, sacred culture of pre-Vedic times originated from the seven rishis who carried the preserved etheric bodies of the oracle initiates of the Venus, Mars, Jupiter oracles and so on. In them worked, so to speak, an imprint of those initiates, a repetition of their abilities. Externally they were quite plain and simple. Their great importance was not outwardly apparent. Nor did their intellect stand on the mighty height of their prophecies. They were not scholars, they did not stand as high in judgement as some others, lower even than many people today. Their astral body and I was their own, only the etheric body was given to them by those great sages. But in inspired times they were seized, as it were, by these oracle beings; the etheric body was then active, they were then only instruments through which that ancient wisdom was proclaimed - Vedas - which is far too difficult, indeed incomprehensible, for the man of today. Thus the ancient wisdom of the ancient oracles was revealed. Only the oracle of the Sun or Christ could not be fully revealed in this way. Only a reflection of the wisdom of the Sun could be handed down, for it was so high that even the holy Rishis could not reach it.“ (Lit.:GA 109, p. 16f)

The reflection of the sun-wisdom through which the Christ worked, the Rishis called Vishva Karman.


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.