Ahrimanic and Luciferic Evil

Bruce Charlton has recently written interesting things about what he calls Ahrimanic Evil.  Ahriman is the spirit of darkness in the Zoroastrian theogony, but Charlton uses the term in the specialized sense it was given by the anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner.  Like Zoroaster, Steiner saw that Ahriman hates the light, but Steiner refined this idea by identifying light with the creative evolution of the human spirit.  Steiner’s Ahrimanic Evil is therefore present in every effort to prevent creative evolution of the human spirit by keeping men and women in the dark about spirit.

In Steiner’s day materialist philosophy was the most potent expression of Ahrimanic Evil.  Materialist philosophy included Newtonian physics, Darwinian biology, and the “dismal science” of political economy—most especially Marxism.  Regular readers know that I like to put this under the heading of “Pig Philosophy,” Thomas Carlyle’s name for the doctrine that the universe is a sty, men are swine, and our highest aspiration is to have larger troughs and more plentiful supplies of swill.

Charlton’s notion of Ahrimanic Evil takes all of this in, but is more especially concerned with the way in which Carlyle’s universal pig sty has become an “Iron Cage of totalitarian bureaucracy.”  I take this to mean that Ahriman is not content that men outwardly conform to life in the sty, oinking when we wallow in the mire and squealing when we jostle for our swill.  Ahriman hates the light, and is therefore bent on destroying even the memory or hope that we might be something more than swine.

I believe this is what Charlton is getting at when he writes about the

“despair-inducing, soul-destroying, utterly-demotivating Iron Cage of totalitarian bureaucracy—where all is a single system and all Men are merely cogs to serve it.”

A bureaucrat has been wholly absorbed into his office, which is to say his function, and his function is entirely controlled by impersonal techniques, procedures and routines.  He is forbidden to exercise personal judgment, considers it a sin to be “arbitrary” or “biased,” and would shrink in horror at the suggestion that he be creative.  Thus a bureaucrat is reduced to an instrument that has no use for reason or will, but rather behaves (like a body in Newton’s universe, or like “a cog in a machine”) according to prescribed laws and in response to external stimuli.

As a professor, I still have considerable freedom to conduct my classes as I see fit.  This means that I still exercise personal judgment and creativity, and that I am not yet an instrument performing a function controlled by impersonal techniques, procedures and routines.  But I have considerably less freedom than I had even fifteen years ago, and there are powerful forces at work to lock me in the Iron Cage of a “standardized syllabus” and “best practice pedagogy.”  In other words, my job is not altogether bureaucratized, but Ahrimanic Evil is seeping in on every side.

Political correctness is the most recent triumph of Ahrimanic Evil, since political correctness reduced thinking to a bureaucratic function, forbids the exercise of personal judgment (which it calls “hate”), and teaches us to shrink in horror if anyone is creative.  This was the stinging insight of the recent NPC meme that depicted the politically correct as mere cogs without reason or will.  Bonald just posted an excellent reflection on THE FEAR of Ahrimanic Evil that now haunts everyone who remembers or hope that we might be something more than swine.

* * * * *

Ahriman hates the light, and Ahrimanic Evil therefore seeks to destroy the memory and hope of light.  Steiner’s system proposes a second sort of evil that he calls Luciferic, naming this after Lucifer the “light-bringer.”  As one of Steiner’s disciples wrote, two grave dangers threatened to bring about the “downfall of the Western world,” and these were “known in the language of Spiritual Science as the ‘Aharimaic and Luciferian dangers.’”*

Charlton has written interesting things about Luciferic Evil, which he identifies with the passions and sees expressed in ruthless gratification of personal lusts.  Thus, Charlton writes that it is:

“instinctive, short termist, selfish and psychopathic—for example the lust which desires other people merely for sexual exploitation, or the sadism that desires torture, or the power that desires to humiliate and crush.”

This is certainly a form of evil, and it is at least superficially opposed to the cold and impersonal bureaucracy of Ahrimanic Evil.  Indeed, I was very interested in what Charlton had to say about the way this Luciferian Evil serves to justify expansion of Ahrimanic Evil, and then this expansion of Ahrimanic Evil serves to provoke even more outrageous orgies of Luciferian Evil (otherwise known as the Devil’s dance of “anarcho-tyranny”).

But I wouldn’t call this evil Luciferian because it is not particularly concerned with light.

In Steiner’s anthroposophism, Luciferian Evil is, moreover, the danger that “comes out of the East.”  Ahrimanic Evil is the danger that “comes out of the West.”* Now if you bear in mind that Steiner was writing primarily for central Europeans, it becomes clear that Ahrimanic Evil is the materialism of the French and English in Western Europe, and that Luciferian Evil therefore has something to do with “the wisdom of the East.”

This “wisdom of the East” included the eclectic Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky, but Steiner’s Luciferian Evil encompassed any teaching that originated with what Blavatsky called a “Master of Ancient Wisdom.”  Steiner was an apostle of spiritual evolution who believed that digging up the bones of old sages killed spiritual creativity just as surely as the Ahrimanic Evil of materialism.

Thus, as the disciple recently quoted wrote, the tell-a-tale mark of Steiner’s Luciferian is “to retrogress, and to act in opposition to the laws of spiritual evolution.”*

The term Luciferian comes from Steiner’s peculiar demonology, where it denotes the lowest class of defective angels who failed to evolve.  Although failed as angels, these “Luciferic Spirits” are still vastly superior to humans, and were therefore sent to earth to act as teachers, guides and masters.  Many of these Luciferic Spirits were “able to incarnate in human bodies,” and some became the founders of races and religions.  Steiner mentions Cadmus, Cheops, Pelops, and Theseus.

Steiner believed that these Luciferic Spirits were “light bringers” in their own time, but as an evolutionist he also believed they caused nothing but mischief once their time had passed.  They became, as it were, religious relics.  Here is Steiner:

“We shall be able to watch a later period of civilization in which beings sent to be guides are certainly there to direct the normal progress of evolution, but in which, at the same time, other beings are intervening who were left behind at an earlier stage.”**

For Steiner, Luciferian Evil was a religious relic (or relic religion) intervening in the spiritual evolution of mankind after its time had passed.  His argument is the same as the one Christians made against residual Judaism, Protestants made against residual Catholicism, and Liberal Protestants made against residual Puritanism.  Steiner’s Luciferian Evil is the veneration of dead churches, or, to speak in Christian idioms, it is to make a sham religion out of old wineskins and trees that no longer bear fruit.

And nothing helps Ahrimanic Evil like the preposterous superstitions of sham religions.

This is, of course, the argument of the modernists, and although hardly so fresh and attractive as it was one hundred years ago, it is one that we traditionalists must take seriously.  I don’t admit to venerating dead churches, old wineskins, or barren trees, but I do admit to being the sort of man who might be tempted to do so.


*) Ernst Boldt, From Luther to Steiner, trans. Agnes Blake (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1921).

**) Rudolph Steiner, The Spiritual Guidance of Man and of Mankind (Bethlehem, Pa.: Times Publishing Co., c. 1915).

25 thoughts on “Ahrimanic and Luciferic Evil

  1. materialist philosophy was the most potent expression of Ahrimanic Evil.

    Okay but Bruce believes that God is composed of matter and has a human-like body. What is the point of fighting any other materialism when you already concede this?

    As a professor, I still have considerable freedom to conduct my classes as I see fit.

    Do you oppose any restraints on what can be taught? Surely a Christian society would put significant restrictions on what professors could teach, albeit different from those now in force. Your argument seems to be the rhetorically libertarian one but the reality is that any social order sets parameters on what can and cannot be taught.

    • I think professors should teach their subject, and should not use classes to talk about whatever they like. I developed this opinion as an undergraduate, when I had a few undisciplined professors. This principle is hard to apply or enforce, but I would suggest as a rule of thumb that an educated adult should be able to recognize 75% of the course content as clearly falling within the discipline offering the course and the name of the course in the catalogue. A standardized curriculum would be 100% PC Leftism.

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  3. @JWS – Thanks for this! I hope other people find the Ahrimanic concept as useful as I have in detecting and understanding the mainstream of demonic evil in these times.

    As you have noticed, I have not stuck closely to Steiner’s exact usage – because that was linked to his (IMO mostly-wrong and over-systematised) scheme of world history. For example, Steiner said that Lucifer was incarnated in the Far East about 3000 BC, and that Ahriman was incarnated in The West about 20 years ago, around 2000 AD – and will be taking a place on the world stage very shortly.

    (Steiner was (IMO) a first rank genius, and perhaps indispensable to understanding our times and conditions – but he was mostly wrong, most of the time…)

    But in a broad sense I took the idea that Luciferic evil is the ‘old fashioned’ evil – that most people recognise as such.

    It is the mainstream modern (Ahrimanic) evil that people misidentify as ‘neutral’, or not evil at all – for example, (IMO) bureaucracy is *intrinsically* evil, voting likewise, committees too. Weber’s ‘Iron Cage’ of bureaucracy had it right.

    I also strongly reject Steiner’s idea (and more so in his followers) that it is desirable to attain some kind of a ‘balance’ between Luciferic and Ahrimanic, and that Jesus Christ is the expression of this balance. Steiner was a Christian, but *extremely* unorthodox and heretical, and his understanding of Jesus is not one I share – but then I don’t really share my understanding of Jesus with anyone else, so far as I know… More to the point, it is not an understanding that *you* would share!

    WIth such caveats – the broad Ahrimanic-Luciferic division has been for me an invaluable tool in understanding the dominant nature of evil, here-and-now.

    BTW – The spelling is Charlton, as in Heston – without an ‘e’!

    • Sorry about the misspelling. I see that I got it wrong about half of the time, but have no put everything straight. It is hard to know what to make of Steiner’s history, but I read it as mystical mythology. I’m not even sure that I know what I mean by mystical mythology, but I presume that mystical experience is hard to describe and odd figures of speech must therefore be employed. I think C. S. Lewis said that this is like trying to describe a color to a blind man, and describing red as a trumpet blast.

      The young people in my department are all Leftists. That goes without saying. But they are also very “corporate” and very respectful towards institutions. Many appear to believe that life will be wonderful if only we revise our bylaws and get the committee structure right. They really believe in “the system” and attribute evil to bad eggs and wreckers.

  4. I confess that I was never able to read more than about twenty pages into any of Steiner’s books; on the other hand, I read Owen Barfield voraciously, and Barfield participated actively in Steiner’s Anthroposophy. Thanks to Barfield I have some indirect knowledge of Steiner. The Ahrimanic power hates light, but adopts the self-denomination of Enlightenment, whose “reason” produces the universal bureaucracy that reduces the person to a function. In Barfield’s late, short novel Night Operation, set in a dystopian future, the remnant of humanity has retreated into the sewers. The young are initiated into a total materialism under which they think of themselves solely in terms of function – to the extent of contemplating their bowel movements as though they were art. There is no art, of course, in Barfield’s underworld. Art would be light and the reigning subscendence prefers to dwell in perpetual dusk.

    • @Tom – Did you try the early Truth and Knowledge (his PhD thesis – can be read in just a few hours) or Philosophy of Freedom (in Wilson’s translation)? These were powerfully formative for me – and are ‘straight’ philosophy but with profound implications. Both can be read or printed free from the Rudolf Steiner Archive web pages, or listened-to on Rudolf Steiner Audio.

      I feel that Steiner went down the wrong path by becoming a Theosophist (then founding his own society of Anthroposophy) – it might have been better if he had emigrated to (e.g.) England or the US, and become a philosophy professor.

      NIght Operation has uncannily predicted the way that the sexual revolution unfolded, and the way it may well proceed. This prediction was probably derived from Barfield having translated an amazing lecture of Steiner’s from 1918 in course of which he makes the only truly convincing prophecy I have ever encountered:


      I have analysed this lecture extensively on my blog, e.g.:


      • Thanks, Bruce. I’ll give Steiner another try over the Christmas break. I’ll read the two linked documents this weekend.

      • Dear Bruce: With your claim that Steiner’s 1918 lecture contains a startling prediction, which must have struck people at the time as incomprehensible but which has, in fact, come to pass – I fully agree. You might know my general thesis – that a large body of literature exists going back as far as the turn of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Maistre, for example, and much later, Weber, Spengler, Ortega, Guenon — and, as I have recently documented here at The Orthosphere, Rosalind Murray) that extrapolates the trends of the time and points to their probable consequences, including what I usually refer to as a general retraction of the horizons of consciousness. On that score, I would add Steiner to my coterie of the clear-sighted and far-sighted, but with one or two qualifications. Steiner, in his lecture, constantly urges his audience to think in terms of specifics, but he never himself, most frustratingly, cites any specifics. Idiosyncrasy burdens his language, which by the repetition of the eccentric terms acquires an allegorical character. Reading the lecture reminded me of reading Iamblichus or Proclus or The Great Pymander. There is a certain pleasure in idiosyncrasy, just as there is a certain pleasure in allegory, but the pleasure can be violated by too high a degree of either. You must be right, by the way, that Barfield’s Night Operation derives from Steiner’s lecture even though the temporal interval between them is several decades long. Sincerely, Tom

  5. But what if it isn’t really a choice but some kind of historic determinism is driving it? For me as a European it is very easy to spot one: the logic of the arms race. Culminating in WWI when every resource had to be totally mobilized in the most possibly “rational” and efficient way in order to try to gain an advantage over the enemy. Efficiency in what, asked Chesterton. During the Great War nobody would ask that. It is not more swill, it is more ammo. That’s the same, just even worse. Who had time for philosophy? It was all or nothing.

    Okay, in America it was different, neither the two world wars nor the cold war required such a total mobilization and rationalization of resources.

    But maybe Europe just infected America with Ahrimanic Evil?

    Because the authentically American evil is IMHO the Luciferian one, the Puritan turned Abolitionist turned SJW who is on a holy spiritual crusade against what he considers evil, except he is wrong about that.

    • I can’t remember if I read it in Steiner or his disciple, but the statement was that the United States was maximally Ahrimanic and Luciferic at the same time. In other words, it was materialist at heart, but decorated with all sorts of frothy idealism. This strikes me as true. Your argument reminds me of the conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet, who blamed World War I for beginning the American megastate.

  6. Perhaps he means Luciferic is “light bringing” in the same sense as Prometheus stealing the fire of civilization, or (by analogy) Eve eating from the tree of knowledge. It seeks short term gain (lust, civilization, knowledge) at the expense of our divine gift (disorder, torment, original sin).

    • Steiner saw Prometheus as Christlike and seems to have rejected the notion that some angles were fallen. As I say in the post, he saw some as superannuated or obsolete. Their inspiration and instruction was beneficial at an earlier stage of man’s development, but its time had passed and it now retarded advancement.

  7. Thank you JMSmith for the article. Steiner’s meanings are obviously not easy for most of us to grasp, but in my experience, the effort of understanding itself develops virtue and strength in a person’s thinking.

    I think it is best to think of Lucifer and Ahriman in the light Ephesians 6:12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Lucifer is the principality that draws people into inner self-absorption in their own souls, as in a dream; Ahriman is the power that draws people into materialism so that they forget they have souls, so they become parched and prosaic.

    A stereotypical example of a Luciferic impulse is Indian yoga (i.e. as distinct from its commercialization in the West) or Theosophy, and a stereotypical example of an Ahrimanic is J. S. Mill or Sam Harris or any other vapid rationalist-Utilitarian who probably thinks AI can be intelligent because his own thinking is so like a computer. Neither Lucifer nor Ahriman is categorically bad, since art depends on Lucifer and science/technology on Ahriman. Steiner saw the Christ as what confers on the individual the wakefulness to continually balance these two temptations. It is almost as though Lucifer is an inspiration (i.e. a drawing inwards of the pneuma), Ahriman is an expiration (i.e. a rejection of it) and Christ is the respiration that gives life.

    I also appreciate reading Bruce Charlton’s take on Steiner, though it is very idiosyncratic and quite often has very little to do with what Steiner or any other anthroposopher would say. Of course, Bruce is free to write whatever he wants, but sometimes he interpolates his own opinions into Steiner’s terminology in a way I find misleading.

    Best regards to all.

    • Like many people here, I came to the shore of Steiner by way of Owen Barfield. That was many, many years ago, and I couldn’t make much sense of him. I actually don’t have much of a head for metaphysical speculation, so it helped me to have clear and limited objectives this time round. I am painfully aware of what he is talking about when he speaks of dead forms, but at the same time paralyzed by a dread of the ghastly spiritual innovations that might be substituted for those dead forms. Modernism makes sense in theory, but it seems to yield nothing but ugliness and sentimentality when put into practice. I’ve also come to think that mystics make poor teachers. We can take their babbling as evidence they experienced something, but we should not take it as a description of what they experienced.

      • Barfield’s Poetic Diction is still worth reading nearly a century on. His great insight is that the “literal” and “metaphorical” meaning of words is detached by grammatical analysis from an ancient unity of meaning.

        It is, I believe, a key to understanding how supersensibles can be described meaningfully.

      • Poetic Diction was a key text in my Master’s thesis, although I don’t think I understood it very well at that time. Barfield is right about many very old metaphors, but new metaphors are based on accidental resemblance.

      • To a certain extent, the literal/metaphorical sense is obscured in English; often a loan-word is borrowed exclusively in one sense. “Comprehend” is as metaphorical as “grasp” (someone’s meaning). In fact it has the same range of meaning in Latin. Likewise, “traumatized” for “(emotionally) scarred.” “Spirit” and “psyche” are obvious examples (the metaphor is the same in both – to breath or to blow)

        Milton’s “involved in rising mist” was a bold recovery of the literal sense.

  8. ML is correct – i am not a good guide to ‘what Steiner believed’ because I regard him as a source of specific brilliant insights, but embedded in a mistaken and over-elaborated world view. The Lucifer Ahriman idea is a good example.

    As ML describe’s Steiner’s view: “Neither Lucifer nor Ahriman is categorically bad, since art depends on Lucifer and science/technology on Ahriman. Steiner saw the Christ as what confers on the individual the wakefulness to continually balance these two temptations. ”

    This is close to what I understand of Steiner – but I would regard it as false. By my understanding; art does Not depend on Luciferic demons, nor science on Ahrimanic demons. On the contrary, I regard art and science as primary aspects of God’s creativity. Lucifer and Ahriman’s influence is as evil perversions of the good of creation – art corrupted into mere novelty or manipulation of instincts, science corrupted into bureaucracy and careerism.

    I regard Steiner’s view as a false reconceptualisation of the way that God is able to ‘turn evil to good’ – but the good certainly does not come *from* the evil.

    Yet, without Steiner (or Steiner via Barfield) I would not have seen the valuable distinction between old-style and modern evil. I regard Steiner as someone who generates many valuable insights of this kind – but I would regard it as a serious error to ‘believe’ and live-by Steiner (or anybody else) – he is *a* source of teaching, not *the* spiritual guide for life.

    WIth only a few exceptions (such as Terry Boardman); those who regard Steiner as The Guide (ie Anthroposophists) are spiritually unimpressive, and lacking in discernment – almost all modern Anthroposophists I have encountered are deeply (I would say primarily – even to the distortion of Steiner’s views) wedded-to the mainstream dominant globalist leftist agenda (world government, climate change, antiracism, the sexual revolution etc).

    • I was also repelled by Steiner’s notion that the Ahrimanic and Luciferic must be kept in some sort of balance. Both evils strike me as perversions of something good, not merely excesses. The dualism can obviously be compared to Nietzsche’s dualism of Apollonian and Dionysian, except the later is susceptible to balance and excess. As you say, Steiner is a writer where the whole is less than the sum of the parts and some components are worth more than the system,

      • How would you tell the difference between a perversion of something good and an excess of it? An excess by definition means “too much” so it’s not good anymore. It’s true that the dualism could be compared to Nietzsche’s insofar as it is a dualism, but the principles are different.
        Bruce, what happens with fanatic artists or materialistic scientists if not an excess of the same essence that in its proper application is divine?

      • Satyriasis is an evil of excess, bestiality is an evil of perversion. The first shows a lack of temperance, the second a failure to aim at the proper object. I cannot think of an artist who has been evil because excessively artistic, but I can think of artists who perverted their art by making it a means to wealth, fame, power. Likewise the scientist. He can no more be excessively scientific than a sprinter can be excessively fast. But he can use his gift to the wrong end.

      • Thank you, I see what you mean. Still, I think that in almost every situation, in regard to a good, there are at least two ways to go wrong and they are more or less opposites, though not always of measurable excess and deficiency.

        I regret having used the word “balance” because I think it was misleading. Perhaps the “balance” is best thought of as a relation of qualities and not quantities. Light and darkness could be conceived as an excess and deficiency of the same quality, but they could also be conceived as separate qualities. Both are necessary conditions for us to exist with life and consciousness, but only the darkness “articulating” or “structuring” the light is a sufficient condition. Either of the necessary conditions alone would spell the end of our existence. But when the two are brought in conjugation, it gives us life.

        I think someone who is excessively scientific has no imagination and someone who is excessively artistic cannot form clear concepts. I think the greatest scientists must also be artistic and vice versa. One obvious example of the first is Einstein (imagining the light beam on a train while playing the violin–maybe it’s apocryphal) and of the second is Da Vinci.

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