Ahriman and Lucifer in the Teachings of
John F. Nash
This article discusses Ahriman and Lucifer, as depicted in the esoteric Teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner claimed that Lucifer incarnated some five thousand years ago, and Ahriman will incarnate sometime in the future. Their polar-opposite influences, mostly evil but occasionally favorable to human development, have been felt throughout history. Steiner’s thesis was that the dualism of Lucifer and Ahriman is mediated and balanced by Christ.
The article recalls the long history of Ahriman and Lucifer in scriptural and other writings and the links between them and the personages in Steiner’s work. It also discusses the various types of dualism, often depicted in human or animal forms, and the moral choices they pre- sent. The biblical Behemoth and Leviathan, which may be considered early models for Steiner’s personages, are selected for special comment.
Steiner’s teachings on Lucifer and Ahriman raise many questions, including their relation- ship to the trans-Himalayan teachings and the very nature of evil. The two entities personify dualistic evil, or at best moral ambiguity; but mediated by Christ, they seem to become agents of Divine Purpose.
Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), alone among modern esoteric teachers, except for his own followers, spoke of Ahriman and Lucifer as beings with polar-opposite qualities and in- fluences. Dualism of that kind is unknown in Christianity but appears in other religious and philosophical writings. Important examples can be found in Buddhism and the Kabbalah.
Although Ahriman and Lucifer are generally depicted as evil, their influence was sometimes favorable to human development. Steiner went so far as to regard them and Christ as comprising a trinity, in which Christ balances the polar-opposite influences and builds upon what- ever good they had to offer.
According to Steiner both Ahriman and Lucifer have influenced humanity’s development throughout history. Lucifer’s influence in- creased during the post-Atlantean epoch, be- came dominant when he incarnated in physical form, some three millennia before Christ, and slowly declined through the early centuries of the Common Era. Ahrimanic influence remained low for several millennia but has be- come dominant in modern times and is ex- pected to peak when he incarnates sometime in the next several centuries. The precise timing of Ahriman’s incarnation and the damage it will cause are said to depend on human action.
This article places Lucifer and Ahriman in the context of earlier religious and philosophical writings. Ahriman was an evil Zoroastrian god, while Lucifer was the product of a medieval legend that interpreted—or misinterpreted— passages in scripture to create a fallen angel and arch-demon. “Lucifer” became another name for Satan. But the two characters did not step unmodified into Steiner’s esoteric teachings. In fact Ahriman did not even feature in Steiner’s early work but substituted for another character whom Steiner explored and discard- ed. The way Lucifer and Ahriman evolved immediately prior to and during Steiner’s teachings makes an interesting story in itself.
The article identifies, but does not seek to answer, important questions raised by the discus- sion of Steiner’s Lucifer and Ahriman. One question concerns the worrisomely small over- lap with trans-Himalayan teachings. None of the trans-Himalayan teachers discusses Lucifer and Ahriman as dualistic entities. And the anticipated incarnation of Ahriman is hard to reconcile with the Master Djwhal Khul’s prophecies of the reappearance of the Christ and externalization of the Hierarchy.
Other questions concern the very nature of evil: whether it is monistic or dualistic, wheth- er it is necessarily personified in “beings,” and whether evil—despite its usual connotation— may play an essential role in the unfoldment of human consciousness: whether in fact it can be considered an instrument of Divine Purpose.
Dualism and Moral Choice
Dualism was a conspicuous feature of many ancient religions and philosophies. In Hinduism Indra was locked in eternal com- bat with the evil serpent Vrtra. Zoroastrianism taught that the good god Ohrmazd would battle his evil brother Angra Mainyu, or Ahriman, until the end of the age. Christianity and Islam declare that God will finally defeat Satan on the Last Day.
Eastern religions, Platonism, Gnosticism, and even mainstream Christianity taught that the spiritual world was good and the physical world either worthless or evil. The Apostle Paul wrote: “[T]he flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.”1 The desert ascetics, the stylites of Syria, the Culdees of Ireland, and the sadhus of India believed that the physical body was the root of evil and sought holiness through self- mortification.2 Meanwhile, notions of a stark choice between good and evil surfaced many times in Christian history: in the era of the martyrs, in the Inquisitions, in the Great Awakenings in America, and in their offshoot, evangelical fundamentalism.
Good evil dualism is easy to understand and presents a straightforward moral choice; the right course of action is to embrace good and resist evil—no matter what wily schemes an evil intelligence might devise to entrap unwary victims.
More complex situations exist where a single god exhibits ambiguous characteristics— perhaps even complementary or necessary to each other. The flooding of the Nile, the re- sponsibility of the god Hapi, was beneficial, so long as it was not too severe; moderate drought would allow crops to ripen instead of rotting. The Roman god Janus had two faces, which, among much else, symbolized war and peace, neither of which was considered attainable in isolation. We might even envision dualistic gods that are themselves ambiguous or dualistic. In such religious or philosophical systems the necessary level of cognitive understanding is greater, and moral choice becomes more difficult.
The Bhagavad Gita illustrates a difficult moral choice. Arjuna stood between opposing armies on the field of Kurukshetra, reluctant to fight because of the horrors of war and because he would be attacking some of his own kinfolk. Krishna persuaded him that conflict was inevitable and necessary, and Arjuna eventually went into battle. Great symbolism has been read into Arjuna’s dilemma and the ensuing battle, and an example will be cited later.
The right course of action may be to balance opposing forces or ideals. A classic example is the Noble Middle Path of Buddhism. In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the first ser- mon preached after his enlightenment, the Buddha warned his followers to avoid ex- tremes of lifestyle:
Monks, these two extremes should not be followed by one who has gone forth as a wanderer. What two? Devotion to the pleasures of sense . . . [and] devotion of self-mortification, which is painful, un-worthy and unprofitable . . . . By avoiding these two extremes the [Buddha] has gained knowledge of the middle path which giveth vision, which giveth knowledge, enlightenment [nirvana].3
Later the Middle Path was applied to many other pairs of opposites and became a corner- stone of Buddhist teachings.
The Chinese concept of yin and yang describes how seemingly opposite forces may be inter- connected and interdependent. Many natural dualities, such as male and female, light and dark, life and death, are4regarded as manifestations of yin and yang. Neither is inherently evil, but when one dominates the other the result is war, bad government, sickness, or spiritual decline. The opposites must be brought into balance to restore harmony. The concept found applications in many branches of Chinese philosophy, medicine, martial arts, and exercise.
The Kabbalah illustrates the resolution of opposites in a higher synthesis. Pairs of opposing sephiroth on the Tree of Life: Chokmah and Binah, Chesed and Geburah, and Netzach and Hod, represent, from different perspectives, contrasting manifestations of Deity, cosmic forces, or challenges on the spiritual path.5 The opposites are neither good nor bad, but they are unbalanced. Spiritual growth is to be attained by experiencing the pairs of opposites and then bringing them into equilibrium on the Middle Path. The kabbalistic system of polarities will be discussed in more detail later.
The “Chariot” card in the Tarot—variously taken to depict Indra, Krishna, Jupiter, or the planetary ruler of Leo—shows a masculine figure steering a chariot, drawn by a white and a black sphinx, without reins. A popular interpretation is that the charioteer, or the quarant, is bringing a pair of opposites into balance by the power of will.6 Tension between the opposites cannot be resolved on their own level—in this case the physical—but resolution is possible at a higher level or by invoking a higher force.
Behemoth and Leviathan
Behemoth and Leviathan, that embody he Hebrew Bible presents twin monsters, evil dualism and may be regarded as early models for Steiner’s Ahriman and Lucifer. God introduced the land monster Behemoth to the hapless Job in chapter 40 of the Book of Job:
Behold now Behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox. Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly. He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together. His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron.7
“[W]hich I made with thee” is usually interpreted to mean that Behemoth was created at the same time as man. God endowed Behemoth with many qualities and powers: “Be- hold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth. He taketh it with his eyes: his nose pierceth through snares.”8
Leviathan, a sea monster, is mentioned six times in the Hebrew Bible. The most extensive account appears in Job, immediately following Behemoth’s debut. Leviathan is a terrifying sight: “Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.”9 He is impervious to man’s feeble armaments: “The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.”10 God taunted Job that he would be powerless when Leviathan confront- ed him: “Will he make many supplications unto thee? Will he speak soft words unto thee? …Wiltthouplaywithhimaswithabird?Or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?”11 Job 41 concludes with a warning to the proud: “Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.”12
Behemoth faded from the scriptural scene as quickly as it appeared. But Leviathan was ex- pected to play its terrifying role for a long time. Brief references are found in Psalms 74:14 and 104:26. And Isaiah tells us that Leviathan will be with us until the end of the age, when “the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the pierc- ing serpent, even leviathan that crooked ser- pent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.”13 One of Behemoth’s rare appearances in later Jewish writings is in the medieval liturgical hymn, the Akdamut. Customarily chanted at the festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost, it prophesies that Behemoth and Leviathan will kill each other in a great battle, whereupon the righteous will hold a banquet and feast on their flesh.14
Fascination with Behemoth and Leviathan spread from Judaism to Christianity. In his Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas spoke of them as optional names for the devil or, alter- natively, as fallen angels.15 John Milton’s Paradise Lost mentions Behemoth and hints at Leviathan:
Scarce from his mould
Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved His vastness: Fleeced the flocks and bleat- ing rose,
As plants: Ambiguous between sea and land
The river-horse, and scaly crocodile.16
Behemoth and Leviathan were purely evil, but no attempt was made to link either with the serpent in the Garden of Eden. In the Bible evil was allocated among a variety of different entities. Neither was any attempt made to depict them as morally ambiguous; they were less complex than Steiner’s Ahriman and Lucifer.
Behemoth’s and Leviathan’s duality lay in the fact that one was a land monster, symbolizing the element of earth, and the other was a sea monster, symbolizing water. Behemoth was always referred to by the masculine pronoun. The Hebrew Bible used the male pronoun for Leviathan, but Rabbinic legend often regarded it as female. The two monsters were presented one at a time, and Job had to overcome both; their duality was subsumed in a larger good-evil moral system. There was no sense of a middle ground in which their respective powers could be reconciled or transcended. Some Jewish legends acknowledged a third monster, the great bird, Ziz, which symbolized air, and was masculine, but Ziz was never viewed as a mediator between the other two.
In a recent article Zachary Lansdowne argued that the Book of Job describes ordeals to which Job was subjected in preparation for the third initiation.17 To that end Job had to overcome maya and glamour, to use terms familiar in trans-Himalayan teachings. In Lansdowne’s account Behemoth is interpreted as world ma- ya and Leviathan as world glamour, though the case could also be made that they symbolized individual maya and glamour. In any event, his conclusion was that Job was able to learn from his tests and successfully surmount the crisis of the third initiation.
The Book of Job is one of the oldest Judaic texts; it is variously dated from the beginning of the second millennium to the sixth century BCE,18 and its stories may be older still. At that time esoteric knowledge was communicated through symbols, and initiation rites were psychodramas, heavy in symbolism.19 Behe- moth and Leviathan, along with their counter- parts in other cultures, were terrifying images that impressed initiands with the power of God—and perhaps also with divine whim. God unleashed them in order to accomplish his pur- pose but reined them in when that purpose was accomplished.
Behemoth and Leviathan, along with several of the examples of dualism discussed earlier, were personifications of forces of nature, influences on behavior, or challenges on the spir- itual path. Such personification can easily be dismissed as a figment of a superstitious past. Yet art, literature, and the entertainment indus- try are not shy in creating godlike figures in our own day. Personification can make complex philosophical or moral concepts comprehensible and can give them compelling force and immediacy.
Ahriman and Lucifer in Western Tradition
The oldest Zoroastrian texts, or hymns, the Gathas, were written in the Avesta lan- guage and probably date from the second millennium BCE. Attributed to Zoroaster (Zara- thustra) himself. They spoke of the angra mainyu as an evil force, or moral choice. The force came to be personified in a later series of texts known as the Younger Avesta, which historians date to the first half of the first millennium BCE. Angra Mainyu—or Ahriman as the name was rendered in Middle Persian— became an evil god. Ahriman and his good brother Ohrmazd were twin sons of the high god Ahura Mazda.20
A story in one text bears striking similarity to the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Ahriman promised Zoroaster sovereignty over the whole world if he would turn away from the religion of Ahura Mazda. Zoroaster rejected the offer, whereupon Ahriman attacked him, unsuccessfully it turned out, with legions of demons.21 Another text prophesied that Ohrmazd would ultimately defeat Ahriman and become the high god.22 Ahriman was usually depicted as depraved, ugly, and evil-smelling. Though cunning, he was also stupid, making possible his final defeat. Iconography optimis- tically showed him crushed under Ohrmazd’s feet.
The Roman essayist Plutarch incorporated the story of Ahriman into his Isis and Osiris. There we read:
Areimanius [Ahriman], engaged in bringing on pestilence and famine, shall by these be utterly annihilated and shall disappear; and then shall the earth become a level plain, and there shall be one manner of life and one form of government for a blessed people who shall all speak one tongue.23
Zoroastrianism went into decline as Islam spread throughout the Persian heartland. No other major religion saw fit to adopt Ahriman, and he languished for 1,300 years until his de- but in Steiner’s teachings. More recently Ahriman has become a character in novels, plays, and video games.
Ahriman’s history—like Behemoth’s appear- ance in scripture—was rather limited. By con- trast, Lucifer’s story in western culture is long and colorful. Christian tradition portrays Luci- fer as a fallen angel, identical with the Devil or Satan. But that portrayal is questionable, stemming as it does from a conflation of images found in texts that not only lack clarity but may be unrelated to one another.
The name “Lucifer” appears only once in scripture. The King James Bible boldly de- scribes Isaiah’s taunt of the fallen “king of Babylon”:
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt mythroneabovethestarsofGod…. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.24
Scholars are uncertain, however, whether the passage refers to a fallen angel or to the death of an unpopular earthly king. Moreover, “Lucifer,” which appears to be a proper noun, is the translation of the Hebrew word helel, which could mean “shining one,” “morning star,” or the planet Venus; its Greek form is heosphoros or phosphorus. The word lucifer (“light bearer”) first appeared in the Latin Vulgate, and there it was left in lower case. Capitalization became common only after the fourth century CE, when the legend of Lucifer was beginning to take definite shape.
The legend drew upon the passage in Isaiah, but it also incorporated texts which either did not name the character under discussion or even identified the character as someone else. The apocryphal Second Book of Enoch, con- ventionally dated to the first century BCE, re- fers to an unnamed angel who sought to place himself equal to God:
And one from out the order of angels, having turned away with the order that was under him, conceived an impossible thought, to place his throne higher than the clouds above the earth, that he might become equal in rank to my power. And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless.25
In the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke records that the returning seventy disciples were able to cast out devils, whereupon Jesus told them: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.”26 The Book of Revelation describes the conquest of Satan:
I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thou- sand years, And cast him into the bottom- less pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him.”27
At the end of the thousand years Satan would be released from his prison and allowed to “deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth.” Finally, the “devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”28
Over time these various images coalesced and were embellishment by homilies, fiction and art to produce the Lucifer of popular imagination. Lucifer was the most beautiful of the archangelic host, but pride overcame him, and he sought to place himself above his fellow archangels and equal to God. The archangel Michael—or in some accounts Christ— challenged him, and a great battle took place in which Lucifer was cast out of heaven. Thereafter he roamed the deep as the evil serpent, ever ready to ensnare humanity in his clutches. He was the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Satan, the Devil, the cosmic bogey man.
Lucifer appeared in Arthurian and Grail legends. In Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur Lu- cifer assumed the guise of a beautiful woman and tried to tempt Percival to have sex with her. She claimed that she was a “gentlewoman that am disinherited.” She had “dwelled with the greatest man of the world, and he made me so fair and clear that there was none like me, and of that great beauty I had a little more pride than I ought to have had.”29 In the nick of time, Percival glanced at the emblem on his sword and made the Sign of the Cross, whereupon he saw the woman for what she was and preserved his virginity. Lest anyone should fail to associate the gentlewoman with Lucifer, a “good man” explained to Percival: “Our Lord Jesus Christ beat him out of heaven for his sin, which was the brightest angel of heaven.”30
Rosicrucian writer Corinne Heline described Lucifer’s appearance in a Grail legend:
[A]s Lucifer was cast headlong from heav- en the glorious emerald of his crown fell in- to the abyss. It was rescued by angels and from it was formed the Cup of the Last Supper in which the Savior pledged His blood to His disciples and in which it was caught by Joseph of Arimathea on Golgo- tha.31
In this account the jewel in Lucifer’s crown was called Morning Star. The jewel’s signifi- cance, Heline explained, was understood differently by people at different levels of con- sciousness: “By the multitude [the jewel] was taken to mean Venus. By the initiated it was understood to signify Mercury, which is also a Morning Star, but one which is almost invisible to the naked eye and must be sought for diligently in its bright place close to the sun.”32
Links with Steiner’s Teachings
Before discussing Ahriman’s and Lucifer’s roles in Rudolf Steiner’s teachings, it will be instructive to examine links between his characters and the Ahriman and Lucifer of ear- lier traditions.
Steiner never cited literary precedents for his Ahriman and Lucifer. Nor did he acknowledge communications from sources in the Planetary Hierarchy, though Rosicrucian Max Heindel declared that he and Steiner were instructed by the same “Elder Brothers.”33 Instead, Steiner claimed the ability to read and understand the Akashic Records, an ability conventionally associated with an “Initiate,” the second of the three grades of initiation in the western esoteric tradition, the others being “Clairvoyant” and “Adept.” Heindel explained the three initiatory grades thus: “[T]he Clairvoyant is one who sees the invisible world; the Initiate both sees the invisible world and understands what he sees, while the Adept sees, knows and has power over things and forces there.”34
Steiner may have gleaned all his information on Ahriman and Lucifer from the Akashic rec- ords. But intriguing clues suggest that he also acquired relevant knowledge from more mundane sources.
Steiner was appointed head of the newly constituted German section of the Theosophical Society in 1902. Helena Blavatsky had published her monumental work, The Secret Doc- trine fourteen years earlier. Contrary to western tradition, she portrayed Lucifer as the very antithesis of a fallen angel. He was “the angelic Entity presiding over the light of truth as over the light of the day.”35 Blavatsky placed him with Eve in the Garden of Eden but described the scene very differently than did the Hebrew Bible: “[T]he Serpent of Genesis [was] the real creator and benefactor, the Father of Spiritual mankind. For it is he who was the ‘Harbinger of Light,’ bright radiant Lucifer, who opened the eyes of the automaton created by Jehovah.”36
“Jehovah” was the crude, but then-current, rendition of YHVH, the unutterable Hebrew name of God (the more modern rendition is “Yahweh”). Blavatsky’s portrayal of Jehovah as the creator of human automata reflected Gnostic teachings, where YHVH was often depicted as the incompetent or evil demiurge that created the world. Even mainstream Christians have expressed dismay at the apparent vindictiveness and callousness of the Old Testament God.
In addition to his involvement in Theosophy, Steiner took an interest in Freemasonry. Whether he was ever initiated into the Craft is disputed, but we do know that, in 1905, Steiner sought and received warrants from Theodore Reuss to perform rites under the Memphis-
Misraïm Rite.37 By then a substantial body of Masonic literature was available in the public sector, and Steiner was already lecturing on topics related to Freemasonry.38
In the mid-1890s French journalist Marie Joseph Jogand-Pagès, who wrote under the pen name Léo Taxil, wrote a series of books claim- ing inside knowledge of Satanic activity in Freemasonry. A key statement purported to come from a high-level Mason referred to Lu- cifer:
Yes, Lucifer is God, and unfortunately Ad-onai is also god. For the eternal law is that there is no light without shade, no beauty without ugliness, no white without black, for the absolute can only exist as two gods; darkness being necessary for light to serve as its foil as the pedestal is necessary to the statue, and the brake to the locomotive . . . . Thus, the doctrine of Satanism is a heresy, and the true and pure philosophical religion is the belief in Lucifer, the equal of Adonai; but Lucifer, God of Light and God of Good, is struggling for humanity against Adonai, the God of Darkness and Evil.39
The statement was eagerly seized upon by Freemasonry’s enemies as ammunition in anti- Masonic polemic. But esotericist Arthur Waite stoutly defended the Craft and attacked Taxil for the poor quality of his work, citing its logical errors and inconsistencies.40
The content of the statement also calls for comment. To view Lucifer—again contrary to western tradition—as the benevolent “God of Light” was not without precedent in Freema- sonry. Nineteenth-century Masons Albert Pike and Albert G. Mackey spoke of the “Luciferian path” and the “energies of Lucifer” in reference to the morning star, the light bearer, and the search for light.41 The statement’s alleged author might well have participated in efforts to counter Lucifer’s demonization in popular western culture—efforts that continue in esoteric circles today.
The identification of the God of Darkness as Adonai, however, is puzzling. The title Adonai (“the Lord”) was always treated with great reverence. It was commonly used in the He- brew Bible as a substitute for the unutterable YHVH, and in the New Testament Paul ap- plied its Greek form Kyrios to Christ. It would have made more sense to demonize YHVH/Jehovah under his own name, as the Gnostics and Blavatsky had done.
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About the Author
John F. Nash, Ph.D., is a long-time esoteric student, author, and teacher. Two of his books, Quest for the Soul and The Soul and Its Destiny, were reviewed in the Winter 2005 issue of the Esoteric Quarterly. Christianity: The One, the Many, was reviewed in the Fall 2008 issue. His latest book: The Sacramental Church was published in 2011. For further in- formation see the advertisements in this issue and the website http://www.uriel.com.
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