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Six-winged Seraph, Hagia Sophia
Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), The Legend of Saint Franciscus: Stigmatisation by a Seraphim; Basilica of Assisi.
Seraphim surround the divine throne in this illustration from the Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, a 14th-century illuminated manuscript, commissioned by John, Duke of Berry.

The Seraphim (Hebrewשְׂרָפִים śərāfîm, singular שָׂרָף śārāf; Latin: seraphi[m], singular seraph[us]; Greekσεραφείμ "kindler", "the burning one"[1]), also called Spirits of All-Love, are, as the highest of the spiritual hierarchies, exalted spiritual entities who have the immediate sight of the Godhead and never act out of themselves, but are faithful executors of the divine will. Their Hebrew designation as the burning ones is also commonly used in the Tanakh for serpents (Hebrewשָׂרָ֔ף sarap).[2]

In Isaiah 6:1–7 the Seraphim are described as fiery, six-winged angelic beings hovering around the Throne of God and continually calling out to each other "Holy, holy, holy". Similarly, the depiction in the Apocalypse of John 4:1–11. From the Trinity the Seraphim receive the goals sought in the development of a planetary systems (Lit.:GA 110, p. 81) and they at the same time provide the link to other developing planetary systems (Lit.:GA 136, p. 93f). Together with the Cherubim and Thrones they form the first hierarchy, whose physical expression is the zodiac. They are usually depicted as six-winged human-like beings, sometimes as if they consisted only of wings at all, from which a human face shines forth, as for example in the dome of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Often the wings have eyes inside and outside (Rev 4:8) and often two wings cover the feet and two the face.

The Nature of the Seraphim

The Seraphim are at the apex of the Hierarchies and their essence embraces the whole world and this also determines the particular nature of their consciousness:

„One would have characterised the Seraphim as entities in whom there is not subject and object, but in whom subject and object coincide, who would not say: Apart from me are objects -, but: The world is, and I am the world, and the world is I -; who know precisely only of themselves, and in such a way that these entities, these Seraphim, know of themselves through an experience of which man has a faint afterglow when he has, well, let us say, the experience which throws him into a fervent enthusiasm.“ (Lit.:GA 233a, p. 13)

„The first entities which are around the Godhead itself, so to speak, which, as it has been beautifully expressed in Christian occidental esotericism, "directly enjoy the sight of God", these are the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones. They now receive the plans of a new world system from the divine Trinity from which they spring. It is, of course, you understand, my dear friends, more figurative than real, for we have to express with human words such sublime activities for which human words are truly not made. Human words are not there to express such lofty activity by which, for example, at the beginning of our solar system, the Seraphim received the supreme plans of the Divine Trinity which contain how our solar system is to evolve through Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan. Seraphim is a name which has always been interpreted by all those who have understood it correctly in the sense of the old Hebrew esotericism itself, in such a way that the Seraphim have the task of receiving the highest ideas, the goals of a world system from the Trinity. The Cherubim, the next lower level of the Hierarchy, have the task of expanding in wisdom the goals, the ideas, which are received from the highest Gods. The cherubim are therefore spirits of the highest wisdom, who know how to translate into practicable plans that which is indicated to them by the Seraphim. And the thrones in turn, the third degree of the Hierarchy from above, have the task now, very figuratively speaking of course, of laying hands, so that what has been thought out in wisdom, so that these lofty world-thoughts which the Seraphim receive from the gods, which the Cherubim have thought through, may be put into reality.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 81)

„It would only be possible to get an idea of the impression which the Seraphim make on the occult gaze if we took the following comparison from life. We continue the comparison we have just used. We look at a man who, through decades, has accumulated experiences which have brought him to overwhelming wisdom, and we imagine that such a wise man, from whom the most impersonal wisdom of life speaks, out of his most impersonal wisdom of life so pervades his whole being as with inner fire, that he does not need to tell us anything, but only needs to stand before us and put into his gaze what decades of wisdom have given him, so that the gaze can tell us about the sufferings and experiences of decades and we can have an impression from the gaze that this gaze speaks like the world itself, which we experience. When we imagine such a gaze, or when we imagine that such a wise man has come to tell us not only words, but to give us in the sound and in the peculiar colouring of his words the imprint of rich life experiences, so that we hear something like an undertone in what he says, because he endows it with a certain how, and we hear from this how a world of life experiences, then we again get a feeling like that of the occultist when he ascends to the Seraphim. Like a glance that has matured in life, and from which decades of experience speak, or like a sentence that is uttered in such a way that we do not merely hear its thoughts, but that we hear: the sentence, in being uttered with such a sound, has been won in pains and in experiences of life, it is not a theory, it has been fought for, it has been suffered, it has gone through battles of life and victories into the heart - when we hear all this through an undertone, then we get an idea of the impression which the trained occultist has when he soars up to the entities which we call Seraphim.“ (Lit.:GA 136, p. 81f)

The Seraphim and the Disposition of the Human Senses on Old Saturn

The twelve senses of man

On Old Saturn the physical body of man was predisposed in its finest form as a pure body of warmth. The first germs of the sensory organs were implanted in this warmth body by the Spirits of Personality, who were then passing through their stage of humanity, and these were then made to shine by the Spirits of Fire, the Archangels of today. At that time they had a dream-like image consciousness. Man himself could not make use of these luminous senses at that time, but the Seraphim could reveal themselves through this luminescence of the sense germs.

„The human being himself, however, cannot make use of his luminous power on Saturn. The luminous power of its sense-germs would be unable to express anything through itself, but through it other more exalted beings find the possibility of revealing themselves to the Saturnian life. Through the luminous sources of the human ancestors they radiate something of their beingness down to the planet. These are sublime beings from the line of those four of whom it has been said above that in their evolution they have already outgrown all connection with human existence. Without there being any necessity for them, they now radiate something of their nature through "free will". The Christian secret doctrine speaks here of the revelation of the Seraphim, the "Spirits of All-Love". This state lasts until the middle of the sixth Saturnian cycle.“ (Lit.:GA 11, p. 167)

„If they were not there, the Fire Spirits could not have the consciousness described above. They look at Saturn's processes with a consciousness that enables them to transfer them as images to the Fire Spirits. They themselves renounce all advantages which they could have by looking at the processes of Saturn, all enjoyment, all joy; they give it all up so that the Fire Spirits can have it.“ (Lit.:GA 13, p. 166)

The Cosmic Mission of the Seraphim

„Just as human beings establish a social system through reciprocity, so there is also a reciprocity of planetary systems. Mutual understanding prevails from fixed star to fixed star. This alone brings about the cosmos. That which, so to speak, the planetary systems speak to each other through the world-space in order to become the cosmos, is regulated by those spirits whom we call Seraphim.“ (Lit.:GA 136, p. 93f)

The Revelation of the Seraphim 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 seraphim reveal themselves in the lightning and fire of volcanic phenomena.

„It would be utter nonsense if one were to see in the lightning striking from the cloud the same as what one sees when a match is lit. Entirely different forces are at work when the element that rules in lightning, the electric, comes out of matter at all. There the Seraphim rule.“ (Lit.:GA 122, p. 121)

„And the Seraphim really appear in what flashes out of the cloud as lightning, or in what comes to light as fire in the volcanic effects, in such a way that their very imperceptibility becomes perceptible in these gigantic effects of nature.

Therefore, in ancient times, when such things were seen through, men looked on the one hand to the starry heavens, which revealed to them the most varied things: the secrets of the Exusiai, the secrets of the Dynamis. Then they tried to reveal the higher secrets in what man today makes fun of: from the inside of the human bodies - as one trivially says -, from the entrails. But then they were aware that the greatest effects, which are really common to the solar system, announce themselves from a quite opposite side in the effects of fire and thunderstorms, in the earthquakes and volcanic effects. The most creative aspect of the Seraphim and Cherubim announces itself through its most destructive side, curiously enough. It is precisely the reverse side, it is the absolutely negative, but the spiritual is so spiritually strong that even its imperceptibility, its non-existence, is perceived by the senses.“ (Lit.:GA 180, p. 103f)

Rudolf Steiner's presentation in the Esoteric Teachings for the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science is somewhat different. Here it are the Cherubim who show us their tools in the lightnings, while the Seraphim reveal themselves through the heat of the world, but only as an appearance:

„And if we even ascend to the heat of the world, the Seraphim hide themselves deep within; much deeper than the Cherubim behind the tools, the lightnings. That is only the appearance, this heat of the world, only the appearance of the Seraphim. The Thrones reveal themselves by their essence; the Cherubim reveal themselves by their tools; the Seraphim reveal themselves by the glow that radiates from them.“ (Lit.:GA 270b, p. 75)


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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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 - 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.


  1. Dionysius Areopagita: Celestial Hierarchy. Translated from the Greek by Josef Stiglmayr. (Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, 1. Reihe, Band 2) Munich 1911, p. 32
  2. cf.