for members on the Anthroposophical Society
The Unveiling of Spiritual Truths
Dornach, 11 June 1923
When 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 related? 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 nor 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 theosophical circles. 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 minds 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 intrude.
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 millennia past.
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 that 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. [ Note 4 ] 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 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 ideas.
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 abstract concepts.
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 major project.
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 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, [ Note 13 ] forms the conclusion of the lecture cycle “From Buddha to Christ”.
This coincided roughly with the lectures published in my book Eleven European Mystics 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 Society.
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 afterward 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 them.
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 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, 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, the 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.
Translation: Christian von Arnim
Continued in the next SCR.
Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive