we discuss the history and position of anthroposophy in relation to the
Anthroposophical Society, any such reflections have to take into account two
questions. First, why was it necessary to link the anthroposophical movement
to the theosophical movement in the way they were connected? And second, why
is it that malicious opponents still equate the Anthroposophical Society with
the Theosophical Society? The answers to these questions will only become
clear from a historical perspective. Yesterday I said that when we talk about
the Anthroposophical Society, the first thing of relevance is that of the
people who feel the need to pursue their path through an anthroposophical
movement. I have tried to describe the sense in which the souls who come into
contact with anthroposophy in order to satisfy their spiritual yearning are
homeless souls in a certain respect. There were more of them about than is
normally suspected, because there were many people who in one way or another
tried by various means to develop their more profound human qualities.
Quite apart from the reaction to modern
materialism, which subsequently led to various forms of spiritualism, many
souls sought to fulfil certain inner needs by reading the work of people like
Ralph Waldo Trine [ Note 1 ] and similar writers. They tried, one might
say, to compensate for something missing in their human nature; something
which they wanted to feel and experience inwardly, but which they could not
find on the well-trodden paths of modern civilization: neither in the popular
literature or art of a secular age, nor in the traditional religious faiths.
Today, then, I will place before you a number
of facts, and will have to leave it to the following lectures to create the
links between them.
Those who were engaged in such a search also
included people who joined the various branches of the Theosophical Society.
And if we ask whether there was something which distinguished those who
joined the Theosophical Society from others, the answer has to be yes. There
was what I might call a special sort of endeavour present. We know from the
way in which the Theosophical Society developed that it was not unreasonable
to assume that what people were looking for at the start of our century as
anthroposophy was most likely to be understood within the circles then united
by theosophy. But we will only be able to throw some light on that if the
facts are properly presented.
I would like to draw a picture of what the
Theosophical Society, which found its most potent expression in the English
Theosophical Society, represented at the time. Indeed, the latter was then
joined by what emerged immediately as anthroposophy.
If we look at the character of the English
Theosophical Society as expressed in its members, we have to look into their
souls in order to understand their thinking. After all, they gave expression
to their consciousness in the way they went about things. They assembled,
held meetings, lectures and discussions. They also met and talked a great
deal in smaller groups: at general meetings, for instance, there was always
time to have a meal together, or a cup of tea and so on. People even found
time to change dress in the intervals. It was really what might be described
as a reflection of the kind of social behaviour one might find in daily life.
In the consciousness of those people it was particularly noticeable that
there were highly conflicting forces at play.
To anyone who was not a dyed-in-the-wool
theosophist it was evident that they sought to have two conceptions of every
person. The first one was the direct impression on meeting someone. But the
other was the conception which everyone else had of each individual. This was
based on very generalized ideas about the nature of human beings, about
universal human love, about being advanced — as they called it — or not,
about the seriousness of one's inclinations in order to prove worthy of
receiving the doctrines of theosophy, and so on. These were pretty
theoretical considerations. And everyone thought that something of all this
had to be present in people walking around in flesh and blood. The naive
impressions of individuals were not really alive in the members, but each one
had an image of all the others which was based on theoretical ideas about
human beings and human behaviour.
In fact no one saw anyone else as they really
were, but rather as a kind of spectre. And thus it was necessary on meeting
Mr Smith, for example, and forming a naive impression of him, to form a
spectral idea of him by visualizing what someone else thought of Mr Smith.
Thus it was necessary to have two images of each person. However, most of the
members dispensed with the image of the real person and merely absorbed the
image of the spectre, so that in reality members always perceived one another
in spectral form. The consciousness of the members was filled with spectres.
An interest in psychology was necessary to understand this.
Real interest required a certain generosity
and lack of preconception. It was, after all, very interesting to be involved
in what existed there as a kind of spectral society. Its leaders were
perceived by the others in a very peculiar manner. Reference might be made to
a leading individual — let us call him X. During the night his astral form
went from house to house — only members' houses, of course — as an invisible
helper. All kinds of things emanated from him. The spectral ideas about
leading individuals were in part extraordinarily beautiful. Often, it was a
considerable contrast to meet these leading personalities in the flesh. But
the general ethos then ensured that as far as possible only the spectral
conception was allowed to exist and the real conception was not permitted to
A certain view of things, a doctrine, was
definitely required for this. Since not everyone was clairvoyant, although
there were many people at the time who at least pretended to be, certain
theories were necessary to give form to these spectres. These theories had
something exceedingly archaic about them. It was hard to avoid the impression
that these spectral human constructs were assembled according to old,
rehashed theories. In many cases it was easy to find the ancient writings
which provided the source material.
Thus on top of their ghostly nature these
human spectres were not of the present time. They were from earlier
incarnations; they gave the impression of having clambered out of Egyptian,
Persian or ancient Indian graves. In a certain sense any feeling of the here
and now had been lost.
These ancient doctrines were difficult to
understand, even when clothed in relatively modern terminology. The etheric
body was borrowed from medieval concepts, as was perhaps the astral body. But
then we move on to manas, kama manas and suchlike, which everybody talked
about but no one really understood. How could they, when they approached them
with very modern, materialistic ideas? These teachings were meant to be seen
in a cosmic context; they contained cosmic concepts and ideas which made it
easy to feel that souls were talking in a language not of centuries, but of
This process spread far and wide. Books were
written in such an idiom. But there was another side to all this. It had its
beautiful aspect, because despite the superficial use of words, despite the
lack of understanding, something did rub off on people. One might almost say
that, even if it did not enter their souls, an extraordinary amount adhered
to the outer garment of their souls. They went about not exactly with an
awareness of the etheric body or kama manas, but they had an awareness that
they were enveloped in layers of coats: one of them the etheric body, another
kama manas and so on. They were proud of these coats, of this dressing of the
soul, and that provided a strong element of cohesion among them.
This was something which forged the
Theosophical Society into a single entity in an exceptionally intense manner,
which created a tremendous communal spirit in which every single person felt
himself to be a representative of the Theosophical Society. Beyond each
individual member, the Society itself had what might be described as an
awareness of itself. This identity was so strong that even when the
absurdities of its leaders eventually came to light in a rather bizarre
manner, the members held together with an iron grip because they felt it was
akin to treachery if people did not stick together, even when the Society's
leaders had committed grave mistakes.
Anyone who has gained an insight into the
struggles which later went on within certain members of the Theosophical
Society long after the Anthroposophical Society had separated itself, when
people repeatedly realized the terrible things their leaders were doing but
failed to see that as a sufficient reason to leave — anyone who saw the
struggle will have developed a certain respect for this self-awareness of the
Society as a whole.
And that leads us to ask whether the
conditions which surrounded the birth of the Anthroposophical Society might
not allow a similar self-awareness to develop.
From the beginning the Anthroposophical
Society [ Note 2 ] had to manage without the often very
questionable means by which the Theosophical Society established its strong
cohesion and self-awareness. The Anthroposophical Society had to be guided by
the ideal: wisdom can only be found in truth. [ Note 3 ] But this is something which has remained
little more than an ideal. In this area in particular the Anthroposophical
Society leaves a lot to be desired, having barely begun to address the
development of a communal spirit, an identity of its own.
The Anthroposophical Society is a collection
of people who strive very hard as individual human beings. But as a society
it hardly exists, precisely because this feeling of a common bond is not
there, as only the smallest number of members of the Anthroposophical Society
feel themselves to be representatives of the Society. Everyone feels that he
is an individual, and forgets altogether that there is supposed to be an
Anthroposophical Society as well.
Having characterized the people attracted to
anthroposophy, what has been the response of anthroposophy to their
endeavours? Anyone with sufficient interest can find the principles of
anthroposophy in my The Philosophy of Freedom. I wish to emphasize that this refers with
inner logic to a spiritual realm which is, for example, the source of our
moral impulses. The existence of a spiritual realm takes concrete form when
human beings develop an awareness that their innermost being is not connected
to the sensory world but to the spiritual world. These are the two basic
points made in The Philosophy of Freedom: first, that there is a
spiritual realm and, second, that the innermost part of a person’s being is
connected to this spiritual realm.
Inevitably the question arose as to whether it
is possible to make public in this way what was to be revealed to
contemporary mankind as a kind of message about the spiritual world. After
all, one could not simply stand up and talk into the void — which,
incidentally, does not exclude a number of odd proposals having been put to
me recently. When I was in Vienna in 1918, for instance, I was summoned, by
telegram no less, to go to the Rax Alp on the northern boundary of Styria,
stand up on that mountain and there deliver a lecture for the Alps! I need hardly
add that I did not respond to it. One must create a link with something which
already exists in contemporary civilization. And basically there were few
opportunities like that around, even at the turn of the century. At that time
peoples' search led them to the Theosophical Society, and they, finally, were
the ones to whom one could talk about such things.
But a feeling of responsibility towards the
people whom we were addressing was not enough; a feeling of responsibility
towards the spiritual world was also required, and in particular towards the
form in which it appeared at that time. And here I might draw attention to
the way in which what was to become anthroposophy gradually emerged from
those endeavours which I did not yet publicly call anthroposophy.
In the 1880s I could see, above all, a kind of
mirage; something which looked quite natural in the physical world but which,
nevertheless, took on a deeper significance in a certain sense, even when
taken as an insubstantial mirage, a play of the light. If one opened oneself
in a contemporary way to the world views of that time, one was liable to
encounter something very peculiar. If we think about Central Europe, in the
first instance, the philosophy of Idealism from the first half of the
nineteenth century presented a world-shattering philosophy whose aim was to
provide a complete metaphysical conception of the world. In the 1880s there
were echoes of, let us say, Fichte, Hegel and Solgers philosophies, [ Note 5 ] which meant as much to some of their
adherents as anthroposophy can ever mean to people today. But they were
basically a sum of abstract concepts.
Take a look at the first of the three parts of
Hegel's Encyclopedia of Philosophy [ Note 6 ] and you will find a series of concepts
which are developed one from the other: the concepts of being, not-being,
becoming and existence, ending with the idea of purpose. It consists only of
abstract thoughts and ideas. And yet this abstraction is what Hegel describes
as God before the creation of the world. So if one asks what God was before
the Creation, the answer lies in a system of abstract concepts and abstract
Now when I was young there lived in Vienna a
Herbartian philosopher called Robert Zimmermann. [ Note 7 ] He said we should no longer be permitted
to think in the Hegelian mode, or that of Solger or similar philosophers.
According to Zimmermann these men thought as if they themselves were God.
That was almost as if someone from the Theosophical Society had spoken, for
there was a leading member of the Theosophical Society, Franz Hartmann, [ Note 8 ] who said in all his lectures something to
the effect that you had to become aware of the God within yourself, and when
that God began to speak you were speaking theosophy. But Hegel, when in
Zimmermann's view he allowed the God within himself to speak, said: Being,
negation of being, becoming, existence; and then the world was first of all
logically put in a state of turbulence, whereupon it flipped over into its
otherness, and nature was there.
Robert Zimmermann, however, said: We must not
allow the God in human beings to speak, for that leads to a theocentric
perspective. Such a view is not possible unless one behaves rather like
Icarus. And you know what happened to him: you slip up somewhere in the
cosmos and take a fall! You have to remain firmly grounded in the human
perspective. And thus Robert Zimmermann wrote his Anthroposophy to
counter the theosophy of Hegel, Schelling, Solger and others, whom he also
treats as theosophists in his History of Aesthetics. [ Note 9 ] It is from the title of this book, Anthroposophy,
that I later took the name. I found it exceedingly interesting then as a
phenomenon of the time. The trouble is that it consists of the most horribly
You see, human beings want a philosophical
framework which will satisfy their inner selves, which will give them the
ability to say that they are connected with a divine-spiritual realm, that
they possess something which is eternal. Zimmermann was seeking an answer to
the question: When human beings go beyond mere sensory existence, when they
become truly aware of their spiritual nature, what can they know? They know
logical ideas. According to Zimmermann, if it is not God in human beings who
is thinking, but human beings themselves, then five logical ideas emerge.
First, there is logical necessity; second, the equivalence of concepts;
third, the combination of concepts; fourth, the differentiation of concepts;
and fifth, the law of contradiction, that something can only be itself or
something else. That is the sum total of the things which human beings can
know when they draw on their soul and spirit.
If this anthroposophy were the only thing
available, the unavoidable conclusion would be that everything connected with
the various religions, with religious practice and so on, is a thing of the
past, Christianity is a thing of the past, because these are things which
require a historical basis. When a person thinks only of what he can know as
anthropos, what he can know when he makes his soul independent of sensory
impressions, of worldly history, it is the following: I know that I am
subject to logical necessity, to the equivalence of concepts, the combination
of concepts, differentiation, and the law of contradiction. That, whatever
name it is given, is all there is.
It can then be supplemented by aesthetic
ideas. Five ideas once again, including perfection, consonance and harmony,
conflict and reconciliation. Third, five ethical ideas — ethical perfection,
benevolence, justice, antagonism and the resolution of antagonism — form the
basis for human action. As you can see, that has all been put in an
exceedingly abstract form. And it is preceded by the title: Anthroposophy
— An Outline. The dedication shows clearly that this was intended to be a
You can see that it was very remarkable, in
the way that a mirage is. Zimmermann transformed theosophy into
anthroposophy, as he understood the word. But I do not believe that if I had
lectured on his kind of anthroposophy we would ever have had an
anthroposophical movement. The name, however, was very well chosen. And I
took on the name when, for fundamental reasons which will become clear in the
course of these lectures, I had to start dealing with particular subjects,
starting with the spiritual fact — a certainty for everyone with access to
the spiritual world — of repeated lives on earth.
But if I wanted to deal with such things with
a degree of spiritual responsibility, they had to be put in a context. It is
no exaggeration to say that it was not easy at the turn of the century to put
the idea of repeated lives on earth into a context which would have been
understood. But there were points where such a link could be established. And
before going any further I want to tell you how I myself sought to make use
of such points of contact.
Topinard [ Note 10 ] wrote a very interesting synopsis of
anthropological facts, facts which lead to the conclusion, acceptable of
course to everyone who subscribed to modern thinking at that time, that all
animal species had evolved one from the other. Topinard quotes his facts and
writes, after having presented, I think, twenty-two points, that the
twenty-third point is what he argues to be the transformation of animal
species. But then we face the problem of the human being. He does not provide
an answer to this. So what happens there?
Now, by taking the biological theory of
evolution seriously, it is possible to build on such an author. If we
continue, and add point twenty-three we reach the conclusion that the animal
species always repeat themselves at a higher level. In the human being we
progress to the individual. When the individual begins to be repeated we have
reincarnation. As you can see, I tried to make use of what was available to
me, and in that form attempted to make something comprehensible which is, in
any case, present before the soul as a spiritual fact. But in order to
provide a point of access for people in general, something had to be used
which was already in existence but which did not come to an end with a full
stop, but with a dash. I simply continued beyond the dash where natural
science left off. I delivered that lecture [ Note 11 ] to the group which I mentioned yesterday.
It was not well received because it was not felt necessary to reflect on the
issues raised by the sciences, and of course it seemed superfluous to that
group that the things in which they believed should, in any case, need to be
supported by evidence.
The second thing is that at the beginning of
the century I delivered a lecture cycle entitled “From Buddha to Christ” to a
group which called itself Die Kommenden. [ Note 12 ] In these lectures I tried to depict the
line of development from Buddha to Christ and to present Christ as the
culmination of what had existed previously. The lecture cycle concluded with
the interpretation of the Gospel of St. John which starts with the raising of
Lazarus. Thus the Lazarus issue, as represented in my Christianity
as Mystical Fact forms the conclusion of the lecture cycle
“From Buddha to Christ”.
This coincided roughly with the lectures
published in my book Eleven European Mystics (Mysticism in the Modern Age) and the task of addressing
theosophists on matters which I both needed and wanted to speak about. That
occurred at the same time as the endeavour to establish a German Section of
the Theosophical Society. [ Note 14 ] And before I had even become a member, or
indeed shown the slightest inclination to become a member, I was called upon
to become the General Secretary of this German Section of the Theosophical
At the inauguration of the German Section I
delivered a cycle of lectures which were attended by, I think, only two or
three theosophists, and otherwise by members of the circle to which I had
addressed the lectures “From Buddha to Christ”. [ Note 15 ] To give the lecture cycle its full title:
“Anthroposophy or the evolution of mankind as exemplified by world
conceptions from ancient oriental times to the present” This lecture cycle —
I have to keep mentioning this — was given by me at the same time as the
German Section of the Theosophical Society was being established. I even left
the meeting, and while everyone else was continuing their discussion and
talking about theosophy I was delivering my lecture cycle on anthroposophy.
One of the theosophists who later became a
good anthroposophist said to me afterwards that what I had said did not
accord at all with what Mrs Besant was saying and what Blavatsky was saying.
I replied that this is how it was. In other words, someone with a good
knowledge of all the dogmas of theosophy had discovered correctly that
something was wrong. Even at that time it was possible to say that it was
wrong, that something else applied.
I now want to put to you another apparently
completely unconnected fact which I referred to yesterday. Consider
Blavastky's books: Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. There
really was no reason to be terribly enthusiastic about the kind of people who
took what was written in these books as holy dogma. But one could see
Blavatsky herself as an exceedingly interesting phenomenon, if only from a
deeper psychological point of view. Why? Well, there is a tremendous
difference between the two books. This difference will become most clearly
apparent to you if I tell you how those familiar with similar things judged
Traditions have been preserved which have
their origins in the most ancient Mysteries and which were then safeguarded
by a number of so-called secret societies. Certain secret societies also
bestowed degrees on their members, who advanced from the first degree to the
second and the third and so on. As they did so they were told certain things
on the basis of those traditions. At the lower degrees people did not understand
this knowledge but accepted it as holy dogma. In fact they did not understand
it at the higher degrees either, but the members of the lower degrees firmly
believed that the members of the higher degrees understood everything.
Nevertheless, a pure form of knowledge had
been preserved. A great deal was known if we simply take the texts. You need
do no more than pick up things which have been printed, and revitalize it
with what you know from anthroposophy — for you cannot revitalize it in any
other way — and you will see that these traditions contain great, ancient and
majestic knowledge. Sometimes the words sound completely wrong, but everyone
who has any insight is aware that they have their origin in ancient wisdom.
But the real distinguishing mark of the activity in these secret societies
was that people had a general feeling that there were human beings in earlier
times who were initiates, and who were able to speak about the world, the
cosmos and the spiritual realm on the basis of an ancient wisdom. There were
many people who knew how to string a sentence together and who were able to
expound on what was handed down.
Then Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled appeared. The
people who were particularly shocked by its publication were those who held
traditional knowledge through their attainment of lower or higher degrees in
the secret societies. They usually justified their reaction by saying that
the time was not yet ripe to make available through publication to mankind in
general the things which were being kept hidden in the secret societies. It
was, furthermore, their honest opinion. But there were a number of people who
had another reason. And this reason can really be understood only if I draw
your attention to another set of facts.
In the fifth post-Atlantean epoch,
specifically in the nineteenth century, all knowledge was transformed into
abstract concepts and ideas. In Central Europe one of those who began with
such abstract ideas was the philosopher Schelling. [ Note 16 ] At a time when these ideas could still
enthuse others because they contained inner human emotional force, Schelling
was among those who taught them. A few years later Schelling no longer found
any satisfaction in this mode of thought and began to immerse himself in
mysticism, specifically in Jakob Boehme, [ Note 17 ] allowing himself to be influenced by
Boehme's thinking and extracting from it something which immediately took on
a more real quality. But what he said was no longer really understood, for no
one could make sense of what Schelling wrote. In the 1820s, following a lengthy
reclusive period, Schelling began to speak in a curious manner. There is a
small booklet by him, called Die Weltalter. You may feel that it is
still rather nebulous and abstract, but a curious feeling remains: Why is it
that Schelling does not advance to the stage where he can talk about what was
later discussed on an anthroposophical basis as the truths about Atlantis,
for instance, but only reaches the point at which he almost, rather clumsily,
hints at them? It is quite interesting.
In 1841 he was appointed by to teach at the
University in Berlin. That is when Schelling began to lecture on his Philosophy
of Revelation. Even that is still terribly abstract. He talks about three
potentialities A1, A2, A3. But he follows this line until he achieves some
kind of grasp of the old Mysteries, until he achieves some kind of grasp of
Christianity. Nevertheless, his is not really the appropriate way to come to
terms with the ideas which he briefly puts forward here. Schelling was never
properly understood, but that is not really surprising because his method was
a dubious one. All the same, there was something in the general awareness of
the time and we can take the above as evidence for this, too which led people
like Schelling to conclude that a spiritual world needed to be investigated.
This feeling took a different form in England.
It is exceedingly interesting to read the writings of Lawrence Oliphant. [ Note 18 ] Of course Oliphant presents his
conclusions about the primeval periods of human development on earth in quite
a different way, because the English approach is quite distinct from the
German one; it is much more physical, down-to-earth, material. The two
approaches are in a certain sense, taking into account differing national
characteristics, parallel phenomena: Schelling in the early part of the
nineteenth century with his idealism, Oliphant with his realism, both of them
displaying a strong drive to understand the world which is revealed by the
spirit. These two men grew into the culture of their time; they did not stop
until they had taken the philosophical ideas of their time about human
beings, the cosmos and so on to their ultimate conclusion.
Now, you know from my anthroposophical
explanations that human beings develop in early life in a way which makes
physical development concomitant with soul development. That ceases later on.
As I told you, the Greeks continued to develop into their thirties in a way
which involved real parallel development of the physical and spiritual. With
Schelling and Oliphant something different happened from the average person
of today. One may work on a concept and develop it further, but Schelling and
Oliphant went beyond this, and as they grew older their souls suddenly became
filled with the vitality of previous lives on earth; they began to remember
ancient things from earlier incarnations. Distant memories, unclear memories,
arose in a natural way. Suddenly that struck people like a flash. Both
Oliphant and Schelling are now suddenly seen in a different light.
Both establish themselves and begin by
becoming ordinary philosophers, each in their own country. Then in their later
years they begin to recall knowledge which they have known in earlier lives
on earth, only now it is like a misty memory. At this point Schelling and
Oliphant begin to speak about the spiritual world. Even if these are unclear
memories they are, nevertheless, something to be feared by those who have
only been through the old style, traditional development of the societies, to
the extent that they might spread and gain the upper hand. These people lived
in terrible fear that human beings could be born with the facility to
remember what they had experienced in the past and speak about it.
Furthermore, it also called into question all their principles of secrecy.
Here we are, they thought, making members of the first, second, third grades
and so on swear holy oaths of secrecy, but what remains of our secrecy if
human beings are now being born who can recall personally what we have
preserved and kept under lock and key?
Then Isis Unveiled appeared! The
notable thing about it was that it brought openly on to the book-market a
whole lot of things which were being kept hidden in secret societies. The
great problem with which the societies had to come to terms was how Blavatsky
obtained the knowledge which they had kept locked away and for which people
had sworn holy oaths. It was those who were particularly shocked by this who
paid a great deal of attention to Isis Unveiled.
Then The Secret Doctrine appeared. That
only made things worse. The Secret Doctrine presented a whole category
of knowledge which was the preserve of the highest grades in the secret
societies. Those who were shocked by the first book, and even more so by the
second one, used all kinds of expressions to describe them both, because
Blavatsky as a phenomenon had a terribly unsettling effect, particularly on
the so-called initiates. Isis Unveiled was less frightening because
Blavatsky was a chaotic personality who continuously interspersed material
which contained deep wisdom with all kinds of stuff and nonsense. So the
frightened, so-called initiates could still say about Isis Unveiled
that in it what was true was not new and what was new was not true! The
disagreeable fact for them was that things had been revealed. After all, the
book was called Isis Unveiled. They reassured themselves by saying that
the event was an infringement of their rights.
But when The Secret Doctrine appeared,
containing a whole lot of material which even the highest grades did not
know, they could no longer say: What is true is not new and what is new is
not true. For it contained a large body of knowledge which had not been
preserved by tradition.
Thus in a rather strange and, indeed,
confusing way, this woman represented what had been feared since Schelling
and Oliphant. That is why I said that her personality is psychologically even
more interesting than her books. Blavatsky was an important and notable
phenomenon of the spiritual life of the late nineteenth century.
This is the extent to which I wanted to
present these facts.
in the next issue of SCR
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