I am grateful to have been offered the opportunity to put into a magazine circulating among anthroposophists a few thoughts from the perspective of a lifetime in anthroposophy largely spent outside the context of the [Anthroposophical] Society.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in a U.K. publication. It should also be noted that it was written for people who have knowledge of anthroposophy and the Anthroposophical Society.
Like all inspired spiritual impulses which enter a world which is hell-bent on survival by acquisition and destruction, anthroposophy has a tragic destiny. Tragedy (salted of course by a touch of comedy at the right moments!), is fine and necessary. I once heard Hermann Poppelbaum say in a lecture that if one is to pursue a life in the promotion of anthroposophy it is necessary to develop an entirely new relationship to failure. Had the path of anthroposophy run its course smoothly and successfully into the world of euphoric expansion which prevailed between the wars it could only have taken a luciferic form.
Actually that is a contradiction in terms, since the essence of the luciferic is formless expansion and dissipation. But its luciferic character would still have been apparent as it strove to find a voice in the same euphoric style as was current in the world around it. Instead of this happening anthroposophy remained largely concealed, and for this, ironically enough, we have to thank the fact that a great part of its energies were dissipated in internal battles and polemics. Once again, these were fine and necessary. To quote Julian of Norwich: - "Sin is behovely". Dark energies take people to the threshold of awareness and redemption.
Many of those in the forefront of anthroposophical affairs were great and powerful souls with fine talents for the development and expression of the spiritual impulse which had nurtured them. But many of them were loaded as many of us are with heavy karmic involvements. We need very often to deploy a great deal of karmic energy in conflict before we are ready to heal it through love. The impact of anthroposophy on these souls enormously accelerated this process. Instead of pursuing their karmic problems towards resolution, as many of us have to do, in personal relationships and the battles in worldly affairs, the karma of these pioneer souls worked itself out in a more or less complete polarisation within the Society itself.
For the first forty years after Steiner’s death in 1925 the so-called ‘split’ dominated the development of anthroposophy in the Society and contributed greatly to its lack of visibility in the world at large. It even blinded anthroposophists to the world of esoteric movements which burgeoned in western society after the second world war. For most of that time Rudolf Steiner was the one significant name universally absent from the indexes of the large number of esoteric and esoterically inspired books published here and in
after the war. Astonishingly, this still remains to a great extent so. This vacuum can be attributed partly to the publishing policy which developed round Steiner’s written work and published lectures, which also arose, this time out of splits within the ‘split’. But this was only one factor in the conspiracy of silence which surrounded Steiner and the movement. America
I believe it would be helpful to people whose life in anthroposophy has largely developed during the time when only echoes of those early struggles remain audible, to look also at some of the factors which shaped the path of anthroposophy in the way it took. In the busy life of anthroposophically inspired work it is not always possible to put such matters into perspective. It may even be regarded as a waste of time. Sometimes, however, raking over old ashes may uncover treasures. There are also some uncomfortable facts about anthroposophy among the treasures which people don’t always like to look at.
Perhaps the most important of these facts is that, even in terms of the lifetime of Rudolf Steiner, who was in all respects the most important figure in the birth of a new, unique, and unprecedented age in the spiritual path of humanity – even in those terms – when we look at anthroposophy we are looking at an incomplete structure, an unfinished Temple. I sometimes compare this to the stone tablets on which the stories of Sumeria or Egypt come down to us, with great chunks of stone which in places appear to leave out vital facts or stages in the account, missing from the structure; or to the Nag Hammadi scrolls, partly used by a peasant woman to cook her supper. A line was drawn under the archive of the structure while there were still gaping holes in the end wall, so to speak.
Not only had the principal building been destroyed but the
was left with the students sitting in an empty classroom with their pens poised waiting for words which were never to come. If these pictures seem fanciful they may also serve to underline the inevitability of a split where ‘those behind cry Forward and those in front cry Back’. Rudolf Steiner was nudged out of physical incarnation in my estimation seven to ten years before the expectable stones in the Schoolof Spiritual Science planned in the spiritual world were in place. Less than a third of the lessons in the Temple had been given, and no one felt able to complete them on Steiner’s behalf. What this amounts to is that we have been working for three-quarters of a century in a spiritual space where the final act of apotheosis in a visible, physical sense never took place. Schoolof Spiritual Science
Why do I say ‘seven to ten years’? Rudolf Steiner was not physically present on the planet to greet the reappearance of the CHRIST in the etheric aura of the planet Earth in the mid-thirties. It is possible to ask what difference it would have made to the flowering of Nazism and the emergence of Hitler into history if Steiner had still been alive. The year 1933 was the same year in which Steiner’s forecast of the CHRIST event was due to manifest. The dark powers which crippled Steiner’s achievement appear to have triumphed in definitive fashion. There are even some who claim that the expected CHRIST event itself failed to manifest or was deferred. But it is also possible to ask whether a time-slip, a gap in cosmic consciousness took place to which subsequent events have given us unforeseeable access. These are matters to which we need now to give ever more urgent attention and I hope to have the opportunity to pursue them further in a later contribution.
Meanwhile it is hardly surprising that the structure, full of creative-destructive tensions, which Steiner left behind when he died burst apart like a coiled spring. I believe there were in reality sufficient great souls around him then to have carried the esoteric school forward to a more than formal completion, something which could have stood head and shoulders above the partly backward looking though more dramatically expressive movements which overtook anthroposophy in the attention of the spirit-seeking public. But courage and vision failed them. ‘Quiet members’ and busy manifesters divided the garment between them. This was the level of failure to which Hermann Poppelbaum was referring in the quotation I recalled above. The truth is that it is through failure that we achieve the necessary pain, and it is through pain that we become aware of doors we would not otherwise have seen. Moreover we are in a position to open those doors when both we and the world have moved forward to a more promising level of ripeness.
I will conclude this section by saying that although the outward form of the original split was healed, largely by the unremitting efforts of Cecil Harwood, the split is clearly very much alive in the membership. While the wholeness continues to elude us, a division between an almost frenetic activity in anthroposophically inspired work will remain in conflict with the seeking of spiritual nourishment in a
which remains incomplete. Only we can complete it. The question as to whether this is what we should actually be doing remains open. These events emerged into human history just over a century ago with Rudolf Steiner’s first philosophical work. Steiner himself is no longer Steiner. He has moved on to other matters and these we shall be looking at. Meanwhile, many of us still look at each others’ efforts as if Lucifer and Ahriman were listening behind the door to all we say and do. Wholeness is only a whisper away but it continues to elude us. Maybe we should move on. Temple
Lucifer and Ahriman back on course
In order to look a little more deeply into the problems which face the future development of anthroposophy we need to glance again at the atmospheric differences which characterised the two main currents which emerged after Steiner’s death in 1925. We shall also look at two more individually motivated currents among a number of such streams which identified themselves during that time.
Although we can find some analogies in these phenomena between the kind of left-right polarisation that happens in politics, the divisions between the two sides of the Society which we have referred to were not nearly as clear cut as they usually are in politics. Even there there is no absolute division as the emergence of so-called New Labour has clearly shown. Many Tories show a spirit of renewal and reform at a time when left-wingers are institutionalists to the core. So in the classical divisions of early anthroposophy some of the Dornach supporters were full of active practical zeal at a time when members of the breakaway national societies were deep into personal development and the restatement of esoteric formulation.
Broadly speaking, however, it was clear that the General Anthroposophical Society in Dornach was always more temperamentally linked with the inner life and particularly with its expression through the arts, notwithstanding the establishment of sections at the Goetheanum dedicated to Science in terms of research. In a conversation after the war with Charles Gaze, who led the ‘English Section’ of the General Society at the time, he told me that his deepest commitment was to the needs of what he called ‘the quiet member’. When in the seventies I had a brief involvement with such a group of quiet members, mainly in their seventies and eighties, who had been meeting every week for thirty or more years sitting quietly reading and discussing the books and lectures of Steiner week by week, just as they had been doing when first inspired by them decades earlier, I could not help remembering Gaze’s words.
Who is to say that this essentially devoted if somewhat innocuous activity was not radiating as much transformative power into the environment as was contributed later on by the busy, equally devoted application of Steiner-derived notions at the
down the road? When I was asked by a younger member to come in and help to ‘modernise’ things a bit my efforts unknown to me were being systematically sabotaged behind my back! In retrospect I think this was just as well. ‘Disturbing the dust on a bowl of roses’, T.S.Eliot might have called it. There is a sweet savour about the work of those who contemplate together in serenity which is not to be replaced when other equally important necessities are addressed. Waldorf School
By contrast the national societies in
Great Britain, Hollandand Germany, nurtured after Steiner’s death by Ita Wegman and her followers at the Klinik in Arlesheim and by the scientific researches of Pfeiffer, the Koliskos, Sucher and others in the were zealously pursuing the application of scientific research especially in medicine and agriculture. Again this was not a total difference from Dornach because although Pfeiffer, for example, was denied space to pursue his priceless research in biology in the aura of the Goetheanum, much equally valuable depth thinking about the implications of Steiner’s revelations about the ethers was carried out by Guenther Wachsmuth at the Goetheanum itself. Wachsmuth was fully integrated there as a founder member of the so-called ‘Vorstand’. The ironies of some of the tragi-comic situations which must have arisen as people who never spoke to each other pursued parallel research in premises a stone’s throw away in the beautiful Swiss countryside may evoke astonishment now but they were all too real to the participants at the time. U.S.A.
In addition to the greater part of the scientific, medical and agricultural work most of the educational initiatives, both for ‘normal’ children and for those ‘in need of special care’, (Steiner insisted on this term rather than the more demeaning designations ‘backward’ or ‘defective’) sprang from the activities of members who had learned their anthroposophy outside the aura of the Goetheanum.
At this point it is important to say that some of the most powerful work, specifically in relation to souls in need of special care, was initiated by Karl König, who was very much of a King, as his name powerfully indicates, a loner in every sense, and deeply versed in anthroposophy. It was he who founded the Camphill Movement, which may well have done more to spread Steiner’s name world wide than any other branch of the work. König virtually set up his own spiritual school which, as it were, budded off from the being Anthroposophia in a kind of mitotic division. This kind of independent initiative is what gave Steiner the most hope for humanity, when people start to enter into the freedom of their own spiritual authority. Mistakes are inevitable when you do this, so it is vital when you teach that you never allow people to make your authority a substitute for their own. You cannot always prevent them from doing this, but you can make a start by the opposite path of never when you learn from people make believing what they say a substitute for your own learning process. I believe König recognised this judging by the powerful group of independent spirits he gathered round him. But he was a real king! As a brash youngster I once asked him how, in view of Steiner having built his entire process on the basis of spiritual freedom, he justified his own very authoritarian regime. He didn’t answer me directly, but he looked at me very kindly instead of turning me out of the room and said enigmatically: - "It can happen". His authority was a role-model for others to develop their own!
Very different, but equally a lone wolf, was Walter Johannes Stein, who was elbowed out of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, in Park Road, (some would say he made it too hot to hold him!), and set up his own venue in West London. To be fair he was certainly not an easy element to incorporate into anything institutional. He was irritated by the conventions of a society and needed his own venue in which to develop his particular genius, which was considerable. He was an enormously attractive and charismatic individual, but he was no lightweight and his general scholarship was as formidable as his intuitive grasp of anthroposophy. His lectures were demanding and unforgettable; in fact I still remember something of the content of the first lecture of his I heard, which was also my first contact with the movement.
At that time the average run of ‘anthropops’ often had barely any contact with what they thought of as ‘the outside world’, after all, why would you need it?! Not W J Stein, however! He had friends in all sorts of places. Consequently he sometimes had a direct effect on the course of historical events. It was he, along with Wellesley Tudor Pole, who interested Winston Churchill and even King George VI, in W.T.P.’s brilliant notion of what became known as the Big Ben Silent Minute during the second war. Knowledge of and participation in this magical impulse affected millions of souls who sent prayer, (i.e. supportive love), as Big Ben struck to announce the BBC Nine-o’clock News, to every person on both sides of the conflict who had been killed in the fighting that day. So powerful was this daily event that even Adolf Hitler, who was no slouch when it came to occult perception, became aware that his enemy had some sort of secret weapon which his own secret service never managed to identify. Hitler’s fear of this became a significant factor in his ultimate defeat by the allied powers.
Steiner himself loved Walter Stein, his enthusiasm and headlong commitment, and regarded him as a very special pupil. He was like the naughty boy in the class whom teacher has a soft spot for. Walter Stein also had a special pupil who was equally naughty and got into lots of trouble. This was Trevor Ravenscroft, who shocked the movement rigid by writing a book called The Spear of Destiny. This was a powerful novel which taught people a lot about anthroposophy but was also extremely misleading about certain facts in Steiner’s life, in fact flatly untrue in certain instances. This was of course Trevor’s responsibility, but he was bullied by his publisher not to be too specific about where truth ended and fiction began, as he proposed to put it out as a straight non-fiction title. Trevor knew it was fiction and said so. But Trevor had an Achilles’ Heel. He was an alcoholic and he needed the money. The publisher prevailed and Trevor concurred. As a result the book was a lot more successful than it would otherwise have been and they both made a lot of money.
There is no doubt that on important levels dark forces can enter a spiritual movement when wild and talented personalities with a weakness darken the clear brilliance of truth to make it more glamorously attractive. As a result the pictures catch fire and spread both truth and error among far more people. It is Lucifer’s Way. The opposite path is taken when thousands of dull boring persons with a tentative and half-committed interest in spirit, teeter along in a timid fashion taking in each other’s spiritual washing, giving the impression that they are mutually protective groupies without the gumption to stand on their own spiritual feet. It is Ahriman’s way. It equally spreads the word in diluted form to a great many folk who would otherwise never be aware of spirit, just because it is so much less threatening. Luciferic impulses terrify the conformists and dull conformity bores the firebrands to extinction. Instead of hiding behind the door or under the bed, Lucifer and Ahriman come out and do the spirit’s work by inadvertence in pursuit of their own aims
There is still no way of balancing these forces, even when Lucifer and Ahriman come out of hiding and are recognised on course in human life, without recognising and pursuing a third way. It is possible to steer a course between these extremes and many do so, but without a third factor this all too easily becomes a sort of tight-rope walk with Lucifer on one side and Ahriman on the other.
The ‘Representative of Mankind’ in Steiner’s wooden statue at the Goetheanum, if superficially regarded, appears to be doing just that. But to look at it in this way is to take consciousness back to Greek times, and the picture of Odysseus trapped in a watery abyss between Scylla and Charybdis, unable to encounter one of them head-on without falling backwards into the arms of the other. This is not at all what Steiner’s sculpture portrayed.
The statue is often referred to as ‘the CHRIST statue’, but this is a misnomer. This is an archetypal Human Figure, a kind of Adam Kadmon, an alpha and omega of the Human Being, both before it became a planetary entity and also after it emerges from the unconsciousness implicit in physical embodiment, reaching out towards the Point of Light when the Human Being and the Planet Earth become one, and the planet itself becomes a Star. At that Point of Light the whole of humanity is fully Christed and every individual is an Atman, a Spirit Man/Woman and a Christ. Only in this ultimate sense is it a Christ-statue, a prophetic sense. One can see this destiny in Steiner’s wooden figure, who doesn’t walk a tight-rope between Scylla and Charybdis but incorporates them into its outer environment and equally in a different form into its inner nature, where the fall of humankind is reinstated as the Path to the Star.
The representative of mankind treads very lightly over the ground. Levity and Gravity are so balanced in it that it relates to the Earth in a kind of secret levitation, a posture which is equally at home flying with ‘the CHRIST-will in the encircling round’, or identifying with the Metatronic Light at the planet’s core, as it is ‘treading easily the path of Earth’, on the familiar surface. We need to talk about this statue again when we come to give an account of Rudolf Steiner’s life after death and his entry into a new Earth-related condition. For the present, two thoughts may prevail. One is that he used Wood for both Goetheanum and Statue. The other is that he is no more Steiner now than Steiner was Thomas Aquinas, or Aquinas was Aristotle or Aristotle was Enkidu. At the same time he is all of these. We will return to this.
Meanwhile let us end this chapter by closing the account of the mischief wrought by Trevor Ravenscroft and how he redeemed it. This I have no doubt he did in private ways before he died, but he also redeemed it in his next book, which he called The Cup of Destiny. It is no accident that he gave it this title for there is a polarity between the cup and the spear. The Cup of Destiny brings into modern comprehensible form and language Wolfram von Eschenbach’s tale of Parzival and how he won through to the Holy Grail. No need for fiction here; it is a straight account of a key chapter in the path of humanity towards the essence of the Christ experience, the path which the Representative of Mankind walks. I suggest you read it, if you haven’t already.
Ahriman, and the matter of going off at half-cock
I referred earlier to the value of raking over old ashes if this results in the discovery of jewels on the one hand, and uncomfortable facts which are seldom looked at on the other. The first uncomfortable fact we explored was the incomplete nature of the original presentation of spiritual science. I think it will be a long time before we stop calling spiritual science ‘anthroposophy’, although I have a feeling that as it becomes more visible in the world it will lose its sharp outlines. We no longer treat science itself as the special province of scientists since it is accepted in the world as having universal application and significance. The same will happen to spiritual science when the reality of the spiritual world is more generally accepted. At that time the word anthroposophy will in general no longer be necessary, though we will still need the name Anthroposophia to designate the high spiritual entity who stands behind the emergence of a spiritual dimension into the world of Science itself.
The second uncomfortable fact that we need to look at is the distinct possibility that the application of anthroposophy to outward activities will prove to have been premature, to have entered the practical world too soon. Let us deliberately put this in an extreme way as a question. Is the principal reason why anthroposophy is relatively so little known simply that it went off at half-cock? Would it have been better known and more effective in changing the whole way in which humanity perceives itself and the world, if more members had devoted themselves to completing the
first? This is an extremely sensitive and difficult question to which there is no easy answer. Temple
To start off with, everybody involved felt that they did what they had to do in what appeared to be impossible circumstances. Nothing is gained by judgements which are simply wise after the event. Secondly, the balance between those who feel profoundly the need to deepen their insights and those who feel with equal urgency the need to change the world is never felt as something people can control at the time. A great deal of it is a matter of temperament and karma operating in the mid-flight of life experience. However, the splits that took place were not just conflicts between different types of people, or even solely the result of unresolved karmic involvements striving to emerge into consciousness. Even more important were the profound differences between the various paths upon which people’s deepest impulses led them to seek knowledge of themselves and the world.
It is remarkable enough that destiny leads people from decisions made before birth, perhaps centuries earlier, into circumstances where they actually meet the people they need to work with and the great teacher who is to guide them. But all this has to happen in a setting where a great deal also ‘goes wrong’ in the sense that there are fortuitous elements and even dark powers at work aiming to frustrate the profound purposes of high spiritual currents in human destiny. In another sense of course nothing ever goes wrong. We need all these frustrations and difficulties in order that the necessary strength is developed to climb higher. "Reculer pour mieux sauter". The result is that over and over again one can hear totally incompatible statements about what is the prime necessity if one is to enter into a true anthroposophical life.
Let us list a few of these statements in as unjudgmental a way as one can. They start to reveal that anthroposophy is not a single school of esoteric wisdom, comparable to the schools whose methods and insights derive from the occultism of the past. Anthroposophy is altogether broader in scope than any of these, valuable as they are to certain groups of souls whose karma with older mysteries still has a way to go before they are ready for a universal spiritual science.
FOOTNOTE: I am speaking here of such spiritual currents as Blavatski’s theosophy, Alice Bailey’s theosophy, Gurdjieff’s and Ouspenski’s occultism deeply linked with first-century monasticism represented now in the Mount Athos schools, the Neo-platonic school of the eighteenth century christian neo-platonist Thomas Taylor now active in the ‘Shrine of Wisdom‘ movement, modern forms of Rosicrucianism, contemporary Sufism emerging from esoteric Islam, Cabalistic aspects of Judaism. These perhaps are the best known, but there must be many others. In all these movements past spirituality is working itself out in souls for which they are still needed, and all are in some way or other carrying their followers towards the threshold crossing into the New World which Steiner forecast for the end of the current millennium.
But Anthroposophy is of a wholly different order from any of these. Steiner rightly claimed that anthroposophy had no accumulations of karma to work out. It was a wholly new departure which would have been impossible at any earlier moment of history. His infuriated critics frequently tried to prove the contrary regarding his claims to anthroposophy’s uniqueness as insufferable arrogance. But Steiner knew that the moment for such a universal science of the spirit had arrived. So comprehensive did this prove to be that no single path of development in it was appropriate for the wide variety of souls which was ready to follow it. Our list of incompatible claims reflects this.
Claim One. It’s all there in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. Fundamentally that’s all anyone needs. Without that the rest of anthroposophy simply burdens the mind with ‘[lecture] cycle knowledge’.
This simplistic view appears to be saying, like the Red Queen to ‘
’, you start at the beginning, you go on until you get to the end, then you stop. You’ve arrived. The rest is simply information, wonderful irreplaceable endlessly applicable information, but still basically spiritual methodology. Without following the path by which knowledge of spiritual realities becomes one’s own possession, information is all that the rest of anthroposophy remains. Steiner has designated this path, so what’s the problem? Alice
Well, actually the situation isn’t quite as simple as this seems to indicate. Let’s consider the following. Steiner himself appears to have realised the difficulty, because he wrote another highly concentrated little book called A Road to Self-Knowledge. This book makes an immediate appeal to people who are of a logical, philosophical bent. It opens doors for them which gives them an immediate awareness that they are getting somewhere. The feeling of monastic inturned heaviness which such people feel when faced with, say, the Buddhist Eightfold path no longer assails them. This is an excellent example of the way in which anthroposophy indicates its universality. Here are two books, utterly different in tone, both of which start on a path by which anthroposophy leads from information to knowledge, and by which two kinds of human being of very different mind-set can both make headway into a universal spiritual science.
Steiner was the first to insist that the path to the spirit was not to be pursued without effort. But unlike, say Tibetan monks or mediaeval flagellants, he categorically repudiated the notion that temperamental or physical resistance to certain kinds of effort is to be overcome by self-inflicted hardship. We are not to use the body to attain knowledge either by indulging it or by suppressing it. We have reached the age of what he called ‘willed thinking’, and for this process the body is our theatre of operations, our Temple in fact, and unique to each individual, chosen before birth and intended to indicate the most suitable route by which to raise the level of consciousness and serve the cosmos. Having found it we are to follow it indefatigably. Some of these routes appear not to include the book ‘Knowledge of Higher Worlds’. There are other ways in plenty.
Claim Two. Here’s another even more frequently heard statement. "Oh! I can’t read The Philosophy of Freedom. That’s far beyond me. I need to experience spirit in action in the world."
This is in some ways more difficult to help people with than problems over the path to self-development, because although there are many ways to open doors of the soul towards a more effective will for change and also to a more insightful and even ecstatic feeling life, the numbers of paths by which we can reach what Steiner calls Metanoia are much more limited.
What is Metanoia? It’s the word used by John the Baptist for the quintessential necessity if one is to recognise that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand!", and is usually translated by the word ‘repentance’ However, repentance is an idea badly distorted by christianism in so far as it has misunderstood the nature of the fall of man and its connection with the notion of sin. John the Baptist didn’t mean this at all. He was using the Aramaic word which in its Greek form Metanoien means ‘Change your Thinking!’ Not ‘you aren’t behaving morally’ but ‘you aren’t thinking straight’
Now here I may be up against real limitations in my own anthroposophical experience, because personally I don’t know of any other way to put straight the almost totally distorted picture the philosophy since Kant, and the materialist scientific picture of the world wholly built upon it, has given us about how perception and thinking give us our picture of ourselves and our world, than to arrive somehow at an actual understanding of what Steiner really said in the first half of that book, The Philosophy of Freedom. If there are other ways, please my dear readers will somebody tell me what they are, because for me it is the principal tragedy of anthroposophical life that such a high proportion of followers of Steiner’s teaching have not experienced for themselves what this change of thinking is. As a consequence while giving lip-service to Steiner’s picture of ‘willed thinking’ they are still unconsciously thinking about anthroposophy in an intellectual way instead of thinking it into existence in a willed way.
Why do I think this is so tragic? It is really very simple. Until we find some way of turning our attention onto what actually goes on in us and also in the world when we perceive something, including the thinking itself, and then start to think about it – until this happens we have no way of waking up to the fact that our habitual experience of what goes on in ourselves and in the world is an illusion. And this, my dear friends, also includes our habitual experience of anthroposophy. No wonder I call it tragic.
Now I know this is a devastating statement to make to all the people, i.e. most of us, who take for granted that everybody has at least some idea of what is real and what isn’t. To be told that virtually everything we think of as real is a load of old cobblers is a shock to the system to say the least. In fact, can it really be true? Have I not exaggerated a little? No, I have not exaggerated. It is literally true that large numbers of people have entered the world of anthroposophical ideas and have started to "apply" them to their own circumstantial world with thoughts and perceptions largely untransformed in the way which Steiner himself regarded as the essential prerequisite. It is an undoubted fact that for Rudolf Steiner himself the Philosophy of Freedom, preceded by his graduation essay Truth and Science was his basic starting point. Anthroposophy as it subsequently developed would have been unthinkable without it.
Equally unavoidable is the realisation that hundreds of anthroposophists over the years have been busy pouring enormous quantities of rich, new anthroposophical wine into the very old bottles of untransformed thinking. This has resulted in the invidious practice of ‘applying’ anthroposophy as a methodology to life situations as they are seen to be through old pre-anthroposophical eyes. Am I saying then that the majority of the efforts made on behalf of Rudolf Steiner’s world impulse have been an illusory waste of time? Thank heavens, indeed I am not. If I were, then indeed we would really be in the dark. But anybody who has met anthroposophy and studied with some of those great souls who carried Steiner’s impulse into the world after his death knows full well from deep personal experience that basic transformations of life have indeed taken place in the world through anthroposophy.
Most of those souls have led less spectacular lives in the movement, in the society, and in the esoteric school than some of the people who have carried the movement out into practical life. They have been the quiet teachers, lecturers and writers on whom the ‘quiet members’ Charles Gaze spoke to me of have depended in order to be able over the years to spread anthroposophical insights by word of mouth to friends. A remarkable essay on the art of conversation was once current in the movement by Marjorie Spock, daughter of the famous educationalist, in which aspects of this theme are wisely developed. But I think you will find that most of those people had a very thorough understanding of how essential those early philosophical insights of Steiner were, and that anthroposophy would not have been born on earth without them. Otherwise a great deal of what is done in the name of Steiner’s teaching remains very much on the surface.
What are we to do about this? One thing that could happen is that the book could be rewritten in a style that is readable and comprehensible to modern minds which are in many ways utterly different from those Steiner was addressing a century ago. Much would be lost by doing this. The book as it stands is a work of genius. It would be virtually impossible to avoid bowdlerisation, and God forbid that we should appear to be talking down to people. But I believe the truths it enshrines could now be expressed in a way which suddenly wakes a lot more people to the fundamentals of what he is saying. We could even do this by starting where he himself started. I also believe that in these much more sophisticated and technological days it would draw people towards anthroposophy who would otherwise never come within a mile of it. That, it seems to me, is more than anything what is needed. It would certainly address a great deal of what caused me gradually to drift away from the movement, the society and even the class thirty odd years ago, which was more than anything else a sort of claustrophobia about STYLE! It was a feeling, partly unconscious at the time, that there were simply too few KINDS of people in anthroposophy, and I knew that this was nothing to do with the nature of anthroposophy itself. What it was to do with has I feel a lot to do with the problem we are addressing here.
Because, what, when it comes down to it, was Steiner’s starting point for this whole wonderful enterprise called anthroposophy? Steiner was quite specific about this. He insisted that he owed his facility in understanding the basic transformations that were urgently needed in the life of thinking to the fact that destiny led him to a wonderful geometry teacher when he went to school. This was a very remarkable statement. How it seems to me to be was that he needed this geometry teacher because through him he made the discovery that he knew how to find his way about in inner space. He had a sort of natural ’bump-of locality’ there. And it is in this inner space that thinking and perception actually start. There he could actually see these processes. He could perceive thinking. It was not so much a matter of understanding something difficult as the much simpler and more familiar experience of waking up to something, like waking out of a dream. The fact is that the ordinary way of thinking and perceiving things is a dream. The little girl in class who can’t learn her tables needs to wake from a particular dream, which is why her Waldorf class-teacher gets her to stamp round the classroom shouting ‘three is one three, six is two threes’ etc. Willed thinking! The Philosophy of Freedom is a process of waking from Ahriman’s dream about thoughts and things, which Immanuel Kant said, could never meet. They do meet in The Philosophy of Freedom.
But the book does more. It enables you to see the way errors arise in thinking through trying to grasp abstractions instead of moving in inward visualisation from one picture to another and experiencing how one inward picture, clearly grasped, inevitably leads to the next. In the ordinary sense Steiner didn’t use arguments at all, he simply led you along a path and awakened the picture-forming process so that you found your own way from one step on the road of clear thinking and perception to the next. By practicing this till you could find your own way in it you reached a point where the entire picture was still and clear, and you could trace it again at any time and show it to others. Unless you come into the experience of thinking and perception as the organisation of inner space and the ability to find your way about in it, it is difficult to experience any sure-footed way of relating one piece of anthroposophical information to another in such a way that it becomes you own inner territory. It remains something that you accept, albeit intuitively, as true, but on the authority of Rudolf Steiner (der Doktor hat gesagt), instead of a free space of authority of your own. You remain bound to anthroposophy instead of moving within it as a free space. That is one reason why Steiner called it a philosophy of freedom.
Rudolf Steiner made a clear issue of pointing out where previous errors were made by the philosophers who preceded him, not in order to put them down, (indeed he was equally meticulous in pointing to their greatness as pioneers along the philosophical path), but in order to show where the correction of these errors led to further clarity. He particularly applied this to Immanuel Kant, who was one if the world’s great thinkers, but, because he was not able to observe his thinking as having an objective existence in his inner world of observation, he discounted the part it played in observable reality. So he isolated his other observations in a world to which he believed his thinking had no access (’ding an sich’). Kant was a living example of Steiner’s contention that thinking on its own does not lead to a knowledge of truth. Kant’s thinking was impeccably logical, but his errors of observation resulted in the establishment of impeccably logical errors, errors which played an important part in the philosophy of science which has dominated our materialist science ever since his time.
How are we to use perceptions like these to help the little girl at school who can’t do arithmetic to overcome her fear of numbers, which is really a fear of abstractions? Because this would also be the way to help all the anthroposophists (not all of them little girls by any means!), who go on by-passing Steiner’s first principles. We do it by making logical sequences concrete in the form of linked pictures, whose connection as a series is immediately apparent to her, and then bringing the pictures into some sort of relevant action in which the impulses of her own will are involved. My friend Elana, learning to use a computer says: - "It’s no use explaining to me how it works. I need to sit in front of it and actually do it, then I’ll remember". Little girls and feeling anthroposophists are not stupid, but they need to work upwards from the realm of the earth-mother energies, via the ‘becoming’ energies of the CHRIST, into the thinking realm of the Father. Otherwise they feel disoriented and scared.
Returning to the theme of ‘new wine in old bottles’, anthroposophically derived ideas applied like stickers to situations which have arisen in lives whose direction has not been transformed karmically by inner change are not actually anthroposophical at all. You can’t adapt anthroposophy to act as a methodology. In reality the only ideas in you which are truly anthroposophical have arisen spontaneously in you as a result of ‘metanoia’. They are your ideas, not Steiner’s. The new bottle the wine goes into is you.
Claim Three. "The reason I was drawn to anthroposophy was that there at last I found a comprehensive description of the origin of the universe and mankind which could stand firm against the total imprisonment of mind and soul in modern materialism. This was a world in which I could breathe, a world where hope was restored and things once more had meaning. For me most of it is there in the books Occult Science, Theosophy and in the two Celestial Hierarchies Courses in
1909 inDüsseldorf and . For me these are pure poetry. There is nothing I can’t relate to them, and I need to read them more often than I do." This third claim is that the true nature of anthroposophy can’t be grasped without its cosmology. Oslo
I think this is a point where it might be helpful to talk in a discursive sort of way about threefoldness. We live in such an indurated condition of duality in our world. Everything is either/or whether in politics, relationships, science or sex. For me the most fundamental change that has taken place through anthroposophy is that thinking in threes has become second nature, to such an extent that there is always a middle way, even between totally mutually exclusive alternatives, provided one can achieve the perspective of the third position. Up to that moment all third positions have the nature of compromise, which is never a genuine solution to incompatibility.
The Third Position, the Christ position between Lucifer and Ahriman, starts in An Outine of Occult Science, with the First Hierarchy. It starts with the ultimate pain implicit in the Seraphim’s perpetual cry to GOD, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts, Heaven and Earth are full of Thy Glory, Glory be to thee O Lord Most high." Out of that pain comes the ultimate sacrifice of the Thrones whereby their actual substance was given so that a universe could come into being and the isolation of the Seraphim could find a pathway for LOVE. The incompatibility of ‘no universe’ in the Seraphim and ‘universe’, in Seraphim/Thrones was the first unhealed situation, the wound of the presence of a universe in a divine world without one. So were born the Cherubim, the first healers, the spirits of Harmony, the singers of the music of the spheres, the first music. It was this music that made the pathway for the Christ into the universe and ultimately through Jesus into human presence on Earth.
None of this is comprehensible without the ninefold picture of the hierarchies and their genesis out of the trinity, the threefoldness in Occult Science and the lectures which sprang from it.
As an amusing footnote to this I am recalling what turned out to be the first time I ever heard of all this during my adolescence. The daughter of some friends of my parents had just left
in the days when it was still in Streatham, and she was heard dancing up and down the house at home singing "No more threefold man! No more threefold man!" No wonder Rudolf Steiner warned teachers that it was not their job to teach the children anthroposophy! (We used to sing "no more Latin, no more French". O tempora! O mores!). Michael Hall School
For people who find it virtually impossible to read long complex books and lectures, or even to take them in when they are slowly shared sentence by painful sentence in study groups, we need to turn to a fourth claim.
Claim Four. "In the last resort neither books about the meditative path, nor about the philosophy of science, nor about the cosmology of the spiritual world, do anything but delay the moment when one needs to face oneself in inner nakedness as one really is..."
Yes, indeed. But that inner naked self doesn’t stay the same. It changes and develops. And anthroposophy is one of the things that changes it. Of course there more than anywhere else one can only speak from one’s own experience, one’s own truth. I have no doubt myself at the age of 81 that however much anthroposophy one has read, lectures attended, anthroposophical tasks undertaken, lectures and talks given, conversations of a helpful life-changing nature listened to, counsellings given, and so on, there is only one experience of anthroposophy that finally proves to one that it is real and that is the following.
In my early and middle fifties I used to work in the centre of
and for some years I went in and out by train. I took to walking up and down the platform at the station waiting for the train to come and I used to speak the Foundation Stone Meditation aloud, sometimes even shouting it if no-one was in hearing. Going through it in this way became such second nature that missing it was like not going to the toilet. A sort of constipation set in! Later on I used to drive in, though I missed the walking up and down bit! Looking back I think the habit lasted pretty well five years. Then suddenly one day I realised that it didn’t mean anything any more, and I stopped it. Many years later I found myself sadly recollecting this experience, and I searched in my memory and started to recite it through again.. Birmingham
To my total astonishment it had changed! It was no longer the same thing at all. It is difficult to describe, but it was somewhat as if a two-dimensional picture had become a three dimensional scene. It was solid! Moreover I could see how clumsy, almost crude, some aspects of the wording was. I felt it belonged to me so I started to work on it, changing the order of some phrases, making it more ‘English’ somehow, even changing some of the words to make them more expressive of what it meant to me. Later on I read the fresh translation Michael Wilson had done and was pleased to find that some of the changes were the same as I had made, though mine were more radical. I had spoiled the poetry, but the meaning was far clearer.
This was when I began to realise what a huge difference it makes to the reality of words when they literally start to work plastically on your own ether body and change it into something more substantial, more able to carry your feeling life, your astrality, and ultimately your actual self, your soul and spirit.
The point of these remarks as a commentary on Claim 4 is that it is, of course, true that anthroposophy only becomes real when it is actually your own possession. But it is difficult to achieve this without following one or two of Steiner’s suggested paths at least some way down the road. But there comes a point when you have made enough of it your own to take over on your own responsibility. At that point he may very well release you from school, society, movement, the lot.
And so to the next step
One of the things that happens when you enter your eighties is that you begin to wonder occasionally how much more time you’ve got in full possession of your faculties. Short term memory plays you up, (as Steiner warned it would. He also showed you how to prepare for it, which I didn’t!). It then becomes a temptation to pour out all the things you always meant to say in too hurried and condensed a fashion in case you never get to say them at all. Of even more importance is the realisation that though the expression of these thoughts is of great importance to you personally it may not necessarily be in the best interests of the hearers. I am bearing this in mind particularly in communicating with you now.
This is where the whole question of what used to be called ‘guidance’ comes in. Latterly it has more often been called ‘channelling’, and since this gets confused with ‘mediumism’, (which Steiner warned against. Some anthroposophists don’t trust ‘channelling’ either), those of us with some experience of all this are stumped for a word to define what really goes on. Actually ‘guidance’ is as good a word as any; because once one becomes clear about ‘mediumism’, (and that is principally a matter of being prepared to take full responsibility for your own consciousness and for the instrument the gods have provided you with to express it), the word ‘channelling’ does also become a bit compromising.
The main fact to grasp is that in responsible activity of this kind one is not normally shoved out of the way inside one’s own conscious field (though there is one exception which I describe below). So, when super-sensible teachers push people aside in this way there is usually something going on between the source-intelligence and the medium or channel, perhaps of a karmic nature which still needs working out. It is not that the resultant teaching is necessarily wrong, though I sometimes feel it may be displaced. The exceptional case I referred to is when, as in the case of Seth and his medium, Jane Roberts, in the seventies, one can ask whether any of this remarkable teaching would have been needed if we had really listened to Rudolf Steiner earlier on. I am not at all saying that Jane Roberts could have done anything differently, though Seth himself repeatedly warned her that her total mediumism, alternating almost from minute to minute with a very full and intelligent consciousness, was playing havoc with her health. In the end her body seized up and she died. It was partly a conscious sacrifice. A vast amount of information and insight needs to pour through from the spiritual world, and if we fail to make the conscious effort someone may suffer in a mediumistic or channelling way.
But I still haven’t made the point. There is a situation which transcends both mediumism and channelling, and that is that conscious spiritual work on anthroposophical or other lines expands one’s inner space. It does so to the point where from time to time other beings can share the space in a quite undamaging way. One can have the experience that one’s own consciousness expands and becomes capable of expressing thoughts and feelings way beyond its normal capability. This can happen alone or with others, even sometimes in talks and lectures, without any need to make a hoo-hah out of channelling. Moreover these words are quite recognisable sometimes by their style as emanating from a source one can identify as one would another person.
Now, I have to affirm quite strongly that this is not what people mean by channelling, and it is certainly not mediumistic. I will take the risk of affirming that this is what Rudolf Steiner did all the time. Moreover it is something that can rub off on people, both when they work with anthroposophy and when they work with others who have learned to expand their inner space in this way. I have an idea that this is on the increase and may well be part of the inner changes that are occurring as we approach the millennial threshold. These descriptions are all in preparation for other things that now need saying. It is important that people realise that these are things which more and more people are now able to take part in. There is nothing elitist about them.
It must be apparent to readers of what I have written in the last two news-sheets that there is an integrated theme running through it.
(1) In the first place I have been advocating a very thorough review of the Society, and have raised the question of whether the Society is needed at all in the post-millennial age. I have been ‘having a go’ at what I call ‘stylistic anthroposophism’, indicating that it was a germinal stage, appropriate between Christmas 1923 and, say, the early sixties, but increasingly irrelevant at a time when the seedling movement, sown in a spiritual greenhouse, should long ago have been planted out in the garden. It needed to harden off in the harsh world as a healthy plant among all the other contenders for a New World View. To be fair, I could equally well have said this about ‘stylistic christianism’ or ‘theosophism’, or, for heaven’s sake, even more strongly about ‘stylistic scientism’, in many ways the most damaging of all.
(2) In the second place I have been begging that people identify their particular bent in anthroposophy, often identifiable by a particular art or science or social task, and to take individual responsibility for that in the world, independently of the Society. I believe this is even more important when people identify in themselves a pedagogic facility for expounding anthroposophy itself, especially when it is someone like the girl behind the till at Safeways or the man who mends your car who get talking about life. The conversation will seldom bear much resemblance to the style of the study-groups we are all used to.
I do not believe it was ever Steiner’s intention that the Society should be more than a provisional structure, a GOOD IDEA for anyone who wanted to join it while the being of Anthroposophia rooted itself in the world, but certainly not a permanent container, a guarantor of authenticity, or a reference point. Please, I beg you, especially you younger students of these things, realise that when your mind, heart, soul and Spirit are touched by mystery-wisdom ,even to the slightest degree, something lights up in you which is visible to people you meet, and especially to people who love you and who you love, and that you are responsible for this. Spiritual reality cannot be in any way beholden to institutional style, however much newcomers feel supported by it. It is unique to you, and thrives best in a natural karmic environment, which you begin then to modify by your very presence in it. Do not, above all, allow your self-image to be defined by any sort of consensus, however spiritual its origin.
(3)Thirdly I have been saying that one cannot overestimate the unique, apocalyptic importance of Steiner’s remarks about "humanity crossing the threshold at the end of the century". At the risk of being boring one needs to reiterate all the time that "apocalypse is now". The inner and outer spiritual parameters are utterly different, not only from year to year, but at times even from day to day. In this context the institutional grandiloquence of talking about the co-ordination of world-wide anthroposophical groups, as is done in the new first edition of Anthroposophy Worldwide, perilously approaches the frivolous. The whole mood of Paul Mackay’s introduction carries something of the pleased urbanity of the Millennial Dome at
. The analogy has often been made of people occupying the minutes as the liner ‘Titanic’ went down by re-arranging the deck-chairs. When the whole world is limbering up for the kind of transition which sometimes happens at the beginning of vast geological eras, on whatever level one interprets the present threshold crossing, it hardly seems appropriate to start enthusing about an institutional clean-up. Okay. I overstated that. I acknowledge warmly that anthroposophists world-wide will greatly value the possibility of human communication on a less ahrimanic level than the world-wide web. But I sometimes wonder what kind of a reality they live in. It seems to be a blander one sometimes than I find possible. Greenwich
Why does all this need saying now?
To sum up:-
(1) Self-recognition is able to receive the Beings directly into awareness without mediumism.
(2) Pre-millennial institutions and societies are becoming irrelevant.
(3) Responsibility for the radiance of wisdom others perceive in you is paramount.
(4) There must be a sense of proportion about priorities at this threshold-crossing time.
Suppose one reaches a certain balance in all that, what are the implications? Well, in the first place no-one approaching initiate knowledge for the first time will be denied human as well as super-sensible help and support, though, in the absence of the Society, it is more likely to be through the loving recognition of individuals than through formal study-groups with official auspices. But there is something more. We have a
. It was set up under the old dispensation, and it has remained incomplete. Anthroposophy didn’t transform the mind-set of the pre-millennial western world, though it had a profound hidden effect upon it. Have you thought, as a member of that school, that it might be possible, in drawing a line under it, to graduate from that school? Perhaps no-one would get first-class honours. But have you thought that Rudolf Steiner, who with Ita Wegman, is now intensely occupied with his next world task, and longs to be released from the tragic karma of anthroposophy, might, if asked, happily give pass degrees to those who ask, and release both himself and the rest of us from what may otherwise become an esoteric blind-alley? There is so much love in the Schoolof Spiritual Science New World. We could all go on and join them.
Or don’t you believe me? Do you think everything will go on as before? Listen! If not to me then to Dr Poppelbaum.
It’s over. It failed, and even then it performed a miracle which set angels weeping with joy. But it’s over. We go on to the next thing, as Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman always did after each of their world-changing joint incarnations. The work won’t stop. But it will be on the other side of the threshold.
I don’t propose to share with you in this setting what, to the very best of my knowledge and belief, Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman did next, only that it would be a vast relief to them to be released from anthroposophy in the way I have tried to suggest. Then we can change gear and join them in the fundamental task humanity has to do in the post-threshold world. I have the task of opening these things up to you, but I am only one consciousness, even if other awarenesses sometimes speak beside me. Like you I am a very one-sided intelligence, but it is of the kind that can perhaps puncture your intuition to make a 180° turn into a new reality. You will lose nothing of anthroposophy. On the contrary it will metamorphose under your hands into your priceless instrument for the post-anthroposophical world. I am happy to share all I know of this with any who care to ask, secure in the knowledge that many who do ask will turn out to know as much or more about it than I do, being one-sided in a different way and able to release more knowledge also from me.
I will forestall any accusations of secretiveness by saying that all this is heart-knowledge in Steiner’s sense, not sensational information in a ‘new-age’ sense, so it needs the protection that heart-sharing will give it.
I shall not for now offer any more contributions to the news-sheet till we all see how it develops. Keep in touch! Love and blessings.
Stanley Messenger (1917 - 2013) was a philosopher and metaphysician dedicated to the healing of perception. He lived in Glastonbury, England, with his partner Gudrun.
With an esoteric background in Anthroposophy, he was well known as an individualistic thinker in this and all areas of interest he pursued. He had worked in the theatre and in teaching, and in more recent decades, apart from Glastonbury, he has lived in Languedoc, France and the Scots Highlands, making periodic visits to the USA.
He is amongst other things a cereologist, with many profound observations on the nature of the crop circle phenomenon, serving as a mainstay speaker at the Glastonbury Symposium. He spent decades studying butterflies, seeing them as very special representatives of the elemental kingdom. His understandings of history, the natural world, human society and the cosmos are erudite and enlightening to all who heard his discourses.
For more of his written work, see The Archive of Stanley Messenger.