Spirits of Time

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The Spirits of Time, Time spirits, Epochal spirits or Spirits of the Ages (GermanZeitgeister) belong to the hierarchy of the Archai (Primordial Angels). In the Genesis account of creation they are called Jom (Hebrewיום "day"); gnosis calls them Aeons. They stand as exalted spiritual beings far above man and have already completed their humanity stage, i.e. the development of their I-consciousness, on Old Saturn. From the beginning of the planetary stages of world evolution they are closely connected with all temporal events. In a certain sense, they are the essential time itself.


Johann Gottfried Herder coined the term "Zeitgeist" in 1769

The term "Zeitgeist", first coined by Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) in his "Kritische Wälder oder Betrachtungen, die Wissenschaft und Kunst des Schönen betreffend, nach Maßgabe neuerer Schriften" (Critical Forests or Reflections Concerning the Science and Art of Beauty According to Recent Writings) published in Riga in 1769, is based on a spiritual reality. The Spirits of Time, the so-called "Zeitgeister", guide the development of many by taking over the spiritual leadership of the different cultural epochs and regulating the relationship of the different culture-bearing peoples and their folk spirits to each other. The duration of the individual cultural epochs is determined by cosmic conditions and corresponds in each case to 1/12 of the Platonic World Year (~ 2160 years). Our present post-Atlantean age is divided into seven such cultural epochs. At present we are in the 5th post-Atlantean cultural epoch (Anglo-German culture):

  1. Primeval Indian culture (7227 - 5067 B.C.)
  2. Primeval Persian culture (5067 - 2907 B.C.)
  3. Egyptian-Chaldaic culture (2907 - 747 B.C.)
  4. Graeco-Latin culture (747 BC - 1413 AD).
  5. Anglo-German culture (1413 - 3573 AD, our present epoch)
  6. Slavic culture (3573 - 5733 AD)
  7. American culture (5733 - 7893 AD)

In a limited sense, the 7 leading Archangels also act as inspiring time spirits for certain smaller periods of time in human cultural development. These periods last about 350 years, but are not sub-periods of the cultural epochs, but follow an independent rhythm, in the succession of which the 7 most outstanding Archangels take over from each other in their regency (see → Archangel regencies). Rudolf Steiner gave the following information on this (Lit.:GA 245, p. 171):

Oriphiel (Saturn) 200 BC - 150
Anael (Venus) 150 - 500
Zachariel (Jupiter) 500 - 850
Raphael (Mercury) 850 - 1190
Samael (Mars) 1190 - 1510
Gabriel (Moon) 1510 - 1879
Michael (Sun) November 1879 - ca. 2300

The Primordial Angels acting as Spirits of the Ages

„Now we come to the order of the Primordial Forces. These are even more sublime beings whose consciousness does not even reach down to the animals. When the initiate rises to commune with the Primordial Forces, he does not communicate to them from his human consciousness what the forms of the animals on Earth are like. For they themselves only reach down with their consciousness to the human beings. Then they know the kingdom of the Angels, the kingdom of the Archangels and their own kingdom; to themselves they say "I", and it is men whom they perceive last. What the stone, the mineral kingdom, is for man, that is man for the Primordial Forces: the lowest kingdom. This already says that they guide the course of humanity from a very high level. People sense here and there that there is something like a kind of "Spirit of the Ages", which is so different according to the different epochs. People feel that there is a "Spirit of the Ages". We have often spoken here of the Spirit of the Ages. We have said, for example, that in the first culture of the post-Atlantean period, in the ancient Indian people, the spirit of the epoch consisted in the fact that people had the consciousness that they longed again for the old Atlantean times, where they perceived higher realms around them in a twilight way. This developed into the yoga system through which they wanted to ascend again to the higher worlds. Connected with this old consciousness was the fact that people thought little of the outer reality, of the physical plan. Maja, the physical plan became an illusion for people. The ancient Indian culture had, so to speak, very little interest in the physical plan. It will seem strange to you, but it is really true: if the ancient Indian culture had remained, there would never have been railways, telephones and such things that exist today on the physical plane; for it would not have seemed so important to concern oneself so much with the laws of the physical world in order to populate this physical world with all that presents itself to us today as cultural achievements.

Then came the spirit of the Persian epoch. Through him, man became acquainted with a resisting element in matter which he had to work on. He united with the good spirit Ormuzd against the spirit of matter, Ahriman. But the Persian was already interested in the physical plan. Then comes the spirit of that epoch, which lives itself out in the Babylonian-Assyrian-Chaldean culture on the one hand, and in the Egyptian culture on the other. Human science is founded. Geometry is used to make the Earth suitable for human beings. Astrology and astronomy were used to find out the meaning of the course of the stars, and what happened on Earth was arranged according to the course of the stars. In ancient Egypt, social life in particular was very much guided by the course of the stars. What was discovered as the secrets of the stars, that is what was followed. If the ancient Indian tried to eavesdrop on the path to the gods by diverting his attention entirely from external reality, the Egyptian studied the laws that prevailed in external reality in order to investigate how the will and the spirit of the gods were expressed in the laws of external nature. That was another epoch again. Thus you have a certain spirit for each epoch, and the development on Earth comes about through the fact that one spirit of the epochs replaces another spirit of the epochs. This is the case in detail. Men swing themselves up to the views of the ages, but they do not know that behind this whole course of the ages stand epochal spirits; and men do not know that here on Earth, in order to express the spirit of their epoch, they are, so to speak, only the instruments of these spirits of the epochs standing behind them.“ (Lit.:GA 102, p. 145f)

„And then we come up to the entities which we call Spirits of Personality, Primordial Beings, Primordial Forces, Archai. These are even higher beings, they have an even higher task in the context of humanity. They basically regulate the earthly conditions of the whole human race on Earth, and they live in such a way that they change through the waves of time from epoch to epoch in a quite definite time, taking on, so to speak, a changed spiritual body. They all know something which is a mere concept for the abstract people of our present-day education, but which is a reality for those who look into the spiritual reality: it is what one could call, in a rather ugly expression of our time, the Spirit of the Age. They have to do with what is the meaning and mission of an epoch of mankind. Just think of the fact that we can describe the meaning and the mission, for example, in the first millennia immediately after the Atlantic catastrophe. These Spirits of the Age encompass something that goes beyond the individual people, beyond the individual race. The spirit of an epoch is not confined to this or that people; it crosses the boundaries of nations. That which is in reality called the spirit of the time, the spirit of an epoch, is the spiritual body of the Archai, the Primordial Origins or Spirits of Personality. It is due to these Spirits of Personality, for example, that for certain epochs quite definite human personalities appear on our Earth. You understand that earthly tasks must first be solved by earthly personalities. In a certain epoch this or that epoch-making personality had to appear. But there would be a strange confusion in the whole development of the Earth if everything were left to chance, if Luther or Charlemagne were placed in any epoch. This must first be thought of in connection with the whole development of humanity over the Earth; the right soul must appear, so to speak, out of the sense of the whole development of the Earth in a certain epoch. This is regulated by the spirits of personality, this is regulated by the Archai or Primordial Beginnings.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 94f)

„If you look over the period of time that we reckon from the great Atlantic catastrophe, which changed the face of the Earth to such an extent that the continent that existed between today's Africa, America and Europe perished at that time, you can distinguish the periods of time in which the great peoples worked, in which the post-Atlantean cultures emerged: the ancient Indian, the Persian, the Egyptian-Chaldean, the Greco-Latin and our present culture, which after a time will pass into the sixth cultural epoch. We also notice that various inspirers of peoples have worked in it one after the other. We know that the Egyptian-Chaldean culture continued to work long after the Greek culture had already begun, and that the Greek culture continued to work long after the Roman culture had already begun. So we can look at the peoples side by side and one after the other. But in everything that develops in and with the peoples, something else develops.It is a progress in human development [...] The different people come out of the realm of the most diverse folk spirits, and yet there is something in which they understand each other. In a similar way, the different peoples understood each other and were able to understand each other in those days, because in every age there is something which overlaps the national soul, which can bring the different national souls together, something which is more or less understood everywhere. This is what is called by the rather bad but common German word "Zeitgeist" or also "Spirit of the Epoch". The Spirit of the Epoch, the Zeitgeist, is different in Greek times and different in ours. Those who grasp the spirit in our time are driven towards Theosophy. This is what transcends the individual spirits of the people out of the spirit of the epoch. At the time when Christ Jesus appeared on earth, his forerunner, John the Baptist, described the spirit which might be called the Spirit of the Age with the words: "Change the condition of the soul, for the kingdoms of heaven are at hand."

Thus one can find the Spirit of the Age for every epoch, and this is something that weaves itself into the weaving of the people's spirits, which we have thus at the same time characterised as the weaving of the Archangeloi. For the materialistic man of today, the Spirit of the Age is something quite abstract without reality, and still less can we expect him to see a true being in the Spirit of the Age. Nevertheless, behind the word "Zeitgeist" hides a real entity, no other entity than one that stands three levels above the level of humanity. Behind it are concealed those Beings who already on Old Saturn, the most distant epoch of the Earth's development, went through their stage of humanity, and who today from the spiritual circle of the Earth are working on the transformation of the Earth and in so doing are going through the last phase, so to speak, of the transformation of their physical body into a spiritual man or Atma. We are dealing here with high beings, with beings whose qualities make people feel dizzy. They are those entities which we could again call the actual inspirers - or we must say in this field, if we want to speak with technical terms of occultism - the intuitors of the spirit of the time or the spirits of the time. They work in such a way that they take turns and, as it were, one reaches out to the other. From epoch to epoch they pass on their task to each other. The spirit of the epoch that worked during the Greek period passes on the mission to the one that works later, and so on. So they take turns. There are, as we have seen, a number of such spirits of the time, such spirits of the personality, who work as the spirit of the time. They are a higher order of precedence than the popular spirits, these spirits of personality, these intuitors of the Spirit of the Age. In each age one works preferably and gives this age its overall signature, gives its orders to the people's spirits, so that that which is the overall spirit of the epoch becomes specialised, individualised according to the people's spirits. Then it is replaced in the coming epoch by a different spirit of the time, a different Spirit of Personality, a different Arché.“ (Lit.:GA 121, p. 28ff)

The Ascension of Michael to a Time Spirit

The special significance of the present Michael Age lies in the fact that Michael is ascending from the Archangel rank to the Primordial Angel rank of a "Zeitgeist" and can thereby stimulate a spiritual deepening of the whole of mankind that transcends all peoples.

„When we speak of the Hierarchy of the Archangeloi, we can say that they do indeed take turns as I have said. But the highest in rank, the supreme, as it were, is the one who begins to rule in our age, is Michael. He is one of the Archangeloi, but he is in a sense the most advanced. Now there is a development, and the development embraces all beings. All beings are in an increasing evolution, and we are living in the age when Michael, the highest of the Archangeloi nature, is passing into the Archai nature. He will gradually pass into a leading position, become a leading entity, become the spirit of the time, the leading entity for all mankind.

That is the important thing, the tremendously important thing of our age, that we understand that what was not there in all previous epochs, what was not there for the whole of humanity, can now be, must become a good for the whole of mankind. What has hitherto occurred among individual peoples - spiritual deepening - can now be something for the whole of mankind.“ (Lit.:GA 152, p. 60)


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.
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.