From time to time individuals appear on the stage of history whose genius can only be described as universal. Leonardo da Vinci was such a one. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, anatomist, botanist, astronomer, geologist, mathematician, inventor, writer and philosopher, In the eighteenth century a figure of similar stature was the great poet, scientist and philosopher Goethe.
From 1861 to 1925 there lived another personality whose accomplishments were even greater than those of Leonardo or Goethe and in whose mind dwelt apparently unbounded earthly and cosmic wisdom. This was Rudolf Steiner.
In England the name is usually associated with education, both general and special, but from time to time it also occurs in connection with agriculture, medicine, literature and the arts. However, relatively few people have heard it and those who have are a little vague as to its significance.
This is a cause of continual surprise to those who are more familiar with Rudolf Steiner’s work since there can have been few men with such gifts in the last hundred years. The reason for this apparent oversight may well lie in the fact that he is associated with a ‘spiritual’ movement, known as Anthroposophy, and ‘spiritual’, at least in England, is suspect. It may also be connected with the fact that his achievements are so manifold as to be scarcely credible.
However, he has not been entirely overlooked.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica devotes nearly a column to him but makes poor reference to Anthroposophy.
The Nazis considered his books sufficiently important to ban them and the schools in Germany founded on his indications were closed on the admitted grounds that they encouraged individualism.
Some men of standing have, however, recognized Rudolf Steiner’s greatness and may perhaps be quoted here.
The late Russell Davenport, a former editor of the magazine Fortune, would hardly be classed as other-worldly, and in his book The Dignity of Man he writes: ‘That the academic world has managed to dismiss Steiner’s work as inconsequential and irrelevant is one of the intellectual wonders of the twentieth century. Anyone who is willing to study those vast works with an open mind (let us say a hundred of his books) will find himself faced with one of the greatest thinkers of all time, whose grasp of the modern sciences is equalled only by his profound learning in the ancient ones. Steiner was no more of a mystic than Albert Einstein, he was a scientist rather — but a scientist who dared to enter into the mysteries of life.’
This view was certainly shared by the late Canon Shepherd, Dean of Worcester Cathedral, whose book, A Scientist of the Invisible, was written with the express purpose of introducing Rudolf Steiner to the English public.
In his book God is My Adventure, Rom Landau, writer and biographer, undoubtedly gives pride of place to Rudolf Steiner among the spiritual leaders he describes.
The founder of the celebrated mission hospital in the Congo, Albert Schweitzer, writes as follows: ‘My meeting with Rudolf Steiner led me to occupy myself with him from that time forth and to remain always aware of his significance…We both felt the same obligation to lead men once again to true inner culture. I have rejoiced at the achievement which his great personality and his profound humanity have brought about in the world.’ (Lambarene, November 1960.)
Naturally, there have been critics and they were particularly vociferous at the beginning of the century. Others affect a supercilious attitude.
Arnold Freeman, writer, lecturer, a one-time warden of Sheffield Educational Settlement, personally acquainted with Rudolf Steiner and an admirer of his work, writes on the cover of one of his books: ‘I once sent Bernard Shaw a loaf made out of flour grown on Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophical principles.’ Shaw wrote to me: ‘At last, something worth while from a Steinerian.’
Perhaps the most striking tribute from a well-known person is that of the great musician Bruno Walter. In his book Of Music and Music-making, he writes of a richness brought to his old age and continues: ‘It is wonderful to become a student again at my time of life. Through my entire being I feel a rejuvenation which strengthens and invigorates my relation to my musicianship and even to my music-making. But this special indebtedness of the musician becomes wholly merged in a feeling of an all-embracing gratitude to Rudolf Steiner that fills my soul and demands expression on this occasion. At an advanced age, destiny granted to me the experience of being introduced to the world of Anthroposophy and I have been able, during recent years, to engross myself in the teaching of Rudolf Steiner… There is no part in my spiritual self to which the sublime teachings of Rudolf Steiner have not vouchsafed new light and definite advancement.’
In spite of the above, it is still a fact that the name of Rudolf Steiner is little known generally, apart from in German-speaking areas. It is, therefore, all the more surprising to learn that his work has given rise to a world-wide movement known as the Anthroposophical Society which has branches and groups in most parts of the world.
Nor is that all. There are many schools working according to his indications and also homes for backward children. Working on his inspiring suggestions there are farms and gardens, clinics, artistic and study centres, laboratories for research and making medicaments.
Rudolf Steiner’s literary and lecturing output was enormous. The German edition of his collected works (he was Austrian by birth) runs to 350 volumes. In German alone total sales of five fundamental works run into hundreds of thousands each. Of these, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds: How is it Achieved? and Theosophy are the most popular. (To avoid misunderstanding, it should be pointed out that the title Theosophy does not concern itself with the Theosophical movement; the word is used in its original sense of ‘Divine Wisdom’ or ‘Understanding the Divine’.) Pocket editions have topped the million and a half mark.
There are translations of at least some of his works in all European languages as well as in Hebrew, Japanese, Hindi and Turkish. English has the greatest number but there are also many in French, Italian and Swedish. There is also an extensive literature produced by his followers.
Ever-increasing interest in the English-speaking world is evidenced by ever-increasing sales.
The Goetheanum, in Dornach, Switzerland, is the headquarters of the movement. Here there is enormous activity. Throughout the year various courses and lectures are organized by the different departments. Performances of plays, music and eurythmy are regularly given — on an average of at least twice weekly. At the festive seasons conferences are held which attract thousands of visitors.
It is the only place in the world where Goethe’s Faust is periodically performed in its entirety, a fact which, in itself, has attracted the attention of the cultural world.
These, then, are some of the results of Rudolf Steiner’s work but we also have to consider the phenomenon of his own personal achievements. The sheer quantity of what he produced — and this is not limited to literature — is staggering and, if for no other reason, should ensure him a place in history. It might, therefore, be worth while to take a closer look at this outstanding personality.
There exist already several biographies, including an autobiography, and it is not the purpose of this present book to give another but rather to call attention to his particular significance. (It should be mentioned that the autobiography is different from the usual run of such publications since it was written somewhat against his own inclinations in order to correct certain matters which had been misrepresented. It contains very little concerning the private side of his life.)
Nevertheless, a short sketch must find a place here, together with a few characterizations.
Rudolf Steiner was born in 1861 in what was then Austria-Hungary, but his birthplace is situated in what is now Croatia. He died in Dornach, Switzerland, in 1925.
In his autobiography he tells us that, as a child, he was aware of the existence of a supersensible world which to him was just as real as the physical, and which was just as full of objects and beings, but he also adds that he felt lonely and cut off from the rest of his fellows because no one made reference to this ‘other’ world.
At school and college he studied the official science course (mathematics, chemistry, physics, zoology, botany, mineralogy, geology) but at the same time taught himself the classics. He also took a keen interest in literature and the arts. His degree of Doctor of Philosophy was awarded for a dissertation published later as Truth and Science.
At the age of 23 he was asked to edit an edition of Geothe’s scientific works and he became a recognized authority on these matters. For a time he worked at the Goethe archives in Weimar and came to appreciate Goethe as a kindred spirit. He recognized that Geothe’s view of the world was ‘spiritual’ like his own.
Troubled by the prevalent one-sided view on life, that is, the materialistic conception of the world, he was convinced of the necessity for a new understanding of spiritual matters. He considered that in this lay the future welfare of humanity.
To call attention to his ideas and to the fact that the time was ripe for a new spiritual impulse, it seemed opportune to accept the editorship of a journal when it was offered. Accordingly he went to Berlin to edit the Magazin fr Literatur. At the same time he joined the staff of a working men’s college, and although he was able to expound many of his ideas in these circles he could only do it within limits.
By this time he had already written several works on Goethe and also one of his fundamental books The Philosophy of Freedom, also translated under the title of The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (1894). There followed, Christianity as Mystical Fact (1902), Theosophy (1904), Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. How is it Achieved? (1904), and Occult Science — An Outline (1910).
These books were written before the Anthroposophical Society was founded and they are still the fundamental books for study. What Dr Steiner gave later as lectures are now for the most part available in book form but it must be remembered that these were not addressed to the general public. They were given to particular audiences who had perhaps asked for that special theme and they are therefore different from the works written for the public in general. He himself did not have the opportunity to revise them and did not consider the spoken word suitable to be printed. Nevertheless, had his lectures not been taken down in shorthand and later published, this immense treasure would not have been publicly available. It is also interesting to note that the content of the lectures was often influenced by the place where they were given. Lectures given at Penmaenmawr, in Wales, contain references to the Druids and those in the west of England to King Arthur.
By the year 1900 Dr Rudolf Steiner had made a certain position for himself in the world. He was nearly 40, he felt himself to have reached a certain stage of maturity and clarity as to his task in life, and, as he tells us himself, he now had the courage to speak openly on esoteric matters.
The first opportunity came when he was invited to speak to a group of theosophists where he found much sympathy with his views. He was not, however, entirely in accord with theosophical thought, particularly in the belief that Christ would reincarnate as a young Indian boy. A number of people who recognized the lecturer’s significance decided to found a new society and asked him to be their teacher. Thus the Anthroposophical Society came into existence in 1913. It was reconstituted in 1923 with himself as president.
(It is worth noting that membership of this society is open to all creeds and colours, that it demands no endorsement of doctrine, and that the unifying principle is a striving for the knowledge of the spirit in man and in the universe.)
Together with Marie von Sivers, who later became his wife, Dr Steiner founded the monthly magazine Lucifer-Gnosis, in which many ideas were put forward which later appeared in the standard works. The publication was a flourishing success but had to be abandoned on account of pressure of work from other quarters.
He now lectured extensively, particularly on the gospels and the significance of the Christ impulse. He spoke only from his own spiritual investigation and knowledge. The necessity for a geographical centre led to the building of the Goetheanum, in Dornach, Switzerland.
Dr Steiner’s intention was to build a permanent home for anthroposophical activities, in particular a setting for the performance of his own plays which contain his world conception in the form of drama. Hence it was not to be a mere roof and walls but had to have artistic merit.
As the Egyptians, the Greeks and the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages built their masterpieces out of a spiritual impulse, so the Goetheanum was intended to represent the impulse of the new age. As fate would have it, there were two buildings. The first was a unique and original structure with two intersecting domes, the smaller one over the stage and the larger (bigger than the dome of St Paul’s in London) over the auditorium. The interior supporting columns were made of different woods; capitals and bases were carved with different motifs, each one being a metamorphosis of its neighbour. The architraves and window surrounds were also of carved wood. The whole thing was a massive architectural-plastic masterpiece, conceived and designed by Rudolf Steiner himself. This building, created at enormous cost and by prodigious effort, was destroyed by fire on 31 December 1922, by an act of malice. Its undaunted creator immediately set to work to design a second Goetheanum in a different style, to be built in ferro-concrete, but he did not live to see it completed. This building now stands on the same site as the first one.
It has already been said that, if one considers only Rudolf Steiner’s sheer knowledge and creative activity, the facts are almost unbelievable. It seems impossible that one man can have achieved so much. Yet the evidence is incontrovertible.
It exists in the extensive literature, the books and the published lecture cycles.
It exists in the fields of education, agriculture, medicine, the arts.
It exists in the building of the Goetheanum and in the formation of the Anthroposophical Society.
Last but not least, it exists in the hearts and minds of men.
Dr Steiner’s written works deal with philosophy, psychology, Christianity, Earth and human evolution, meditative practices, human destiny, sociology and education, but a far greater proportion of his output was in the form of lectures and a great many of these were in response to requests, often from experts in their own fields — hence the specialist courses.
Groups of doctors, teachers, farmers, actors, ministers of religion recognized that here was a man with new ideas and to all these people he gave lectures and practical advice. An astonishing fact is that he could meet them all on their own ground. The practical result of these meetings has been the foundation of establishments embodying the new impulse.
Apart from these specialist courses he continued to provide spiritual nourishment and guidance for members of the society and for anyone else seeking it, covering an immense range of subjects. Those personally acquainted with him received some special manna, not only through the friendship but in some cases through personal assistance in their work or spiritual striving. We of the next generation are aware of this through our acquaintance with those who knew him personally. The author was told the following by the person concerned, a doctor of medicine who wanted advice about certain treatments but was very reticent about making demands on a busy man’s time. During the social few minutes after a lecture Dr Steiner approached him, his hand held out in greeting, with the words (or to that effect) ‘Please let me know if I can help you in any way.’
This is one example of many such incidents.
One might think that this activity as ‘teacher’ would be enough for anyone but in addition Rudolf Steiner was a creative artist. We mentioned already his plays in which he presents Anthroposophy in drama form, but he was also personally engaged in the fields of sculpture and architecture. He was the founder of the new art of movement, Eurythmy.
And that is not all. Hundreds of people sought him out to ask for personal advice. When the Waldorf school was founded in Stuttgart to put his educational ideas into practice, he took personal interest in it, appointing the first teachers, guiding them and advising them in their work. It is said that he knew every child in the school.
In the summer of 1910, in Munich, he produced and presented the first of his dramas, ‘The Portal of Initiation’. He wrote it within three weeks and conjured out of his supporters (no professionals) scenery, property, costumes, lighting, music and acting. It might be thought that some hotch-potch of an amateur nature would be the result but eyewitnesses testify to a truly professional standard.
A similar story is told of Christmas plays being produced in Berlin in 1914, where he himself demonstrated how to play one of the shepherds to such an extent that he was unrecognizable.
Andrei Belyi, the Russian writer who was closely associated with Dr Steiner for a time, reports that when he saw him demonstrating the role of Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, he really had a feeling of evil incarnate. On another occasion it is reported that Dr Steiner gave lifelike impersonations of both Danton and Robespierre to demonstrate how they should be acted.
Some of the visitors who attended his lectures found that the effect was so overwhelming that they could only attend a limited number in a given period. His lecturing activity was prodigious. A list of titles is a volume in itself. He travelled all over Europe, visiting the great cities at one time or another and delivering in all some six thousand lectures. One must remember that travelling in his day was not the popular and easy pastime it is today. He crossed and recrossed Europe from Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki in the north to Milan, Bologna and Trieste in the south; from Oxford, Torquay and Paris in the west to Vienna, Prague and Budapest in the east.
To give some idea of his activity one could take a certain year or years and see what was accomplished in a particular period. For example, in 1911 (the Anthroposophical Society had not yet been founded) Rudolf Steiner visited some 40 cities of Europe and gave nearly 200 lectures. It might be thought that some of them were repeats and, although to some extent statements might be repeated, on the whole they are all different. He spoke on evolution, problems of existence, the soul nature of man, the human being in earthly and spiritual context, Christianity. For the most part these were themes on what might be called general spiritual science. He died in March 1925 but owing to illness was unable to continue his outward activity after September 1924. In the preceding years he averaged over 400 lectures annually on a wide range of themes. In 1923 he was speaking on social problems, natural science, health and illness, music, history, the seasons, Eurythmy, education and art, in addition to general Anthroposophy.
In the first nine months of 1924, he unfolded an even more phenomenal activity, giving courses to actors on speech and stagecraft; to teachers on educational practice; to clergymen on religion; to farmers on agriculture — while still cultivating and explaining Eurythmy, continuing to work on the design of the new Goetheanum, sculpting, dealing with conferences and Anthroposophical Society affairs, giving lectures and endless personal appointments.
Needless to say there was opposition from some quarters and difficulties were encountered, some of the latter caused by misunderstanding or over-enthusiasm on the part of supporters.
It is the usual thing in modern times to defer to experts, but the expert’s knowledge is usually limited to his subject. That there could be someone who apparently had expertise in innumerable fields is beyond the power of most people to grasp, and such a person is therefore dismissed as a crank or an eccentric, or greeted with cynicism, but in any case not taken seriously.
The doubters, quite rightly, put the questions:
How can a person who is not an architect design such a building as the Goetheanum?
How can a man who is not a medical doctor prescribe cures?
How can a doctor of philosophy tell a farmer how to cultivate his land?
How can anyone have such universal knowledge?
The questions can be repeated in many variations. Unfortunately, for those who would denigrate or deride, the answers provide the evidence.
The activities and achievements listed above may be impressive, but we still have to clarify the special feature, the essence — so to speak — of Rudolf Steiner. What is the source of his inspiration? And the further question: What is his mission?
The biblical words come to mind: the voice of one crying in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
To say that the world is beset with problems, that the social order is rapidly deteriorating and that crises abound in all spheres of human activities is merely to repeat platitudes. To say that Rudolf Steiner has the solutions may sound sufficiently presumptuous to make the reader drop this book immediately. Perhaps it would be better to say that Rudolf Steiner has proposals which would bring about solutions but that they need willing hearts, hands and minds.
In view of the enormous strides in technology many people today view the future with some apprehension but Rudolf Steiner was calling attention to such dangers in the first years of this century. He also offered positive antidotes.
The problems, however, are not only outward. They exist in the inner being of man although ultimately they may be identical.
When the human being comes to a consciousness of himself, questions arise as to his own being, his nature, his destiny. In an age which has lost both insight and faith and has become purely materialistic, the answers are difficult to find and problems remain unsolved in the soul — hence a possible cause for the malaise in society today.
Rudolf Steiner realized that the natural scientific age and its consequences would bring about the downfall of mankind unless counterbalanced by some other influence. He felt it his mission to point this out and to bring some counter-impulse. He considered that the turn of the century (1900) was a vital point. He was not alone in this. Many other thinkers had the same view and their number has increased with the passing years but there is a difference between what the founder of Anthroposophy advocates and what is put forward by conventional reformers. The latter see salvation in democracy, universal education, social planning, a return to past moral values, perhaps believing in divine intervention. It is a patching of the old ship. Steiner requires a new one. To be specific, he considered that the time was ripe for the knowledge of the spiritual world, the Kingdom of God, to be made public and that it should be possible for all people to attain it (eventually) not through the revelation of others as in earlier times, through initiates, but by personal experience. This means effort and it is effort which has ethical implications. Repentance in this case does not mean breast-beating and feeling regretful but changing an attitude.
When we say that Rudolf Steiner has answers to world problems, it is not implied that he has some easy remedy to cure the world’s ills. On the contrary, he calls for a heightened awareness and continual effort. He gives knowledge of things spiritual and demands spiritual activity.
It is of course easy to cast doubts on his statements. It is simple to deny any truth which one does not understand. Any mathematical, chemical or technical formula is a closed book to the one who does not understand it, but understanding can be acquired. The same arguments apply to spiritual science.
Obviously also, proof is sometimes demanded. But one has to ask what sort of proof will be accepted. In the sense of results of laboratory experiments no such proof can be given but one can see whether results, following one’s own experience, justify statements. This is not so far removed from proofs asserted in natural science and which are accepted on this basis.
It is obvious that Rudolf Steiner’s own gifts were exceptional. He had the faculty of entering a world which is closed to most of us and this he could do in full consciousness. He had spiritual vision, extended consciousness — call it what you will. He claimed to speak only of his own experiences and to give the results of his own investigations. Let us recall Davenport’s words — ‘a scientist who dared to enter into the mysteries of life’. From out of his spiritual insight, this ‘spiritual’ scientist was able to offer knowledge, guidance and a new impulse. It must be emphasized that Steiner’s way has nothing to do with so-called spiritualism or mediumship whereby certain experiences may be obtained by a dampening down of the consciousness, or where there is a phenomenon of knocks, voices or materializations. The distinctive factor is his clear, fully-conscious method of development and investigation and the manner in which the facts are recorded and related to physical phenomena. For anyone who takes the trouble to study it, the synthesis of his whole work confirms its truth.
Moreover, Steiner gives detailed instructions on how to attain the knowledge which he had and tells how, although he had a natural gift in childhood, he still had to develop his own faculties. This was achieved through years of study and meditative exercises, enabling him to investigate the spiritual worlds with the same discipline that a scientist brings towards the study of nature. There is nothing mystical or spooky about his method.
Through his spiritual faculties Rudolf Steiner was aware of the influence of demonic powers on people’s way of thinking and wished to counteract this. It is significant that in his inner struggles the Christ impulse was the sustaining factor. He states, ‘At this time of testing I succeeded in advancing further only when in spiritual perception I brought before my soul the evolution of Christianity.’ He felt that he was commissioned — so to speak — by the spiritual world to speak of spiritual matters.
Knowing the reality of the spiritual from personal experience he found it difficult to sympathize with the socio-economists who considered that only material-economic forces determine development and that the spiritual is a sort of ideo-imaginative superstructure. He was convinced that the answer to world problems was not to be found in economics or politics. Religion or spiritual knowledge has been the source of inspiration in the past and this is still the case although it now has to be acquired in a different way.
The influence of great men stretches far beyond the period of their lifetime. Looking back into history we can think not only of religious leaders but of such a personality as Aristotle, who represents the culmination of a certain development in Greek thought life, and whose influence extended for the next two thousand years. Aristotle directed thinking to sense-experience. It was a historic development of a human faculty. Now when Steiner declares that the powers of thinking shall be raised to a perception of spiritual reality, and shows the way to do it, this is an equally historic development of a human faculty. In time, perhaps people will look upon Steiner as a new Aristotle.
What Carlyle says of Goethe’s ideas could apply equally well here: ‘There is in them a New Time, the prophecy and beginning of a New Time. The Cornerstone of a new edifice for mankind is laid there.’
The late Arnold Freeman, knowing that he was approaching the end of this life, writes as follows: ‘I am convinced that Steiner had exact, detailed, comprehensive — in the fullest sense ‘scientific’ — experience and knowledge of super-physical aspects of existence; that he could speak of the Spiritual World with the same sort of confidence with which the physical scientist talks of the material things with which he is familiar. I am convinced that he has laid, unshakably, the foundations of a greater science of the future.’
Rudolf Steiner leads, through natural scientific thinking, to the spiritual world. He writes, ‘I look back to what I said between 1897 and 1900 as something that had to be said in contrast to the way of thinking at the time. I look back also at what I experienced in my most intensive spiritual probation. I learnt thoroughly where the disintegrating and destroying forces of civilization lie. And from this knowledge much strength came to me which I needed to work out of the spirit.’
This then is Rudolf Steiner’s impulse and his mission: to investigate the spiritual worlds and to bring knowledge of the spirit to earthly understanding; to give a scientific explanation which justifies the claims of religion; to create a bridge between the physical and the spiritual world. That which he gave to the world he called Anthroposophy.
You are now reading from the introduction of Roy Wilkinson’s book on Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. To read this chapter from the beginning click here
Anthroposophy and Spiritual Knowledge
There can be no simple answer to the question: What is Anthroposophy? If we had a word like the German Weltanschauung, we might describe it as such. The nearest we can get in English is ‘conception of the world’ but this sounds dry and academic. Perhaps we could first dispel a few illusions and say what it is not. It is not a system, nor a collection of theories, nor a cult, doctrine or dogma, code or sect. It is too universal.
According to the scholars the word itself is composed of Anthropos, meaning man, and sophia, meaning wisdom or knowledge. But the derivation of anthropos is of some significance. It is a word which means ‘turning upwards’. An anthropos therefore is a person who looks up into the heights. Thus the sense of the word Anthroposophy would be ‘wisdom or knowledge of the person who considers the source of his/her life to be in the heights’, i.e. knowledge of the spiritual as well as the physical human being.
Rudolf Steiner uses the word as synonymous with spiritual science. Why should he use the word anthropos (man)? It could be argued that spiritual science is divine wisdom, i.e. ‘Theos’ (God). Man is, however, of divine creation. He is one with the world. ‘Man,’ says Rudolf Steiner, ‘is the answer to the world riddle.’
Hence Anthroposophy is a body of knowledge concerning the spiritual in man and in the universe.
To get some idea of what is involved we might consider the state of mind of a child of 12 or thereabouts who begins to think about itself and the world. Questions arise in the soul. Who am I? What am I? What is life about? The questions may not be consciously formulated but they are certainly there in the background.
Fundamentally they never go away. They may recede into the background as a person becomes more and more involved in day-to-day existence. He may possibly find answers which satisfy him for a while, but to the thinking mind the quest for truth is eternal. Is there a God? Is there a meaning to life? Is there life beyond the grave? What happens after death? Whence does man originate? What is his goal? What lies hidden behind the visible form?
To understand the world, knowledge of the physical must be complemented by that of the spiritual since the physical and spiritual worlds are really but two aspects of the one. The wisdom-filled natural world is a wonderful place but knowledge of the sense-world alone does not give an answer to the riddles of existence. The human being knows this instinctively and hence the need for knowledge of the spirit arises as a need of the human soul. This knowledge is perhaps even more urgent in our present age to balance the all-pervading effect of materialistic thinking. A healthy strengthening of inner activity counteracts the exhausting effects of outer life. If a firm foundation for morality is required, the soul must have knowledge and truth.
To understand his own being is the eternal quest of every individual. Anthroposophy offers many points of view. One, for example, is to consider the human being in a certain relationship to the rest of the world. In this respect one speaks of his fourfold nature. In common with the mineral world the human being has a body composed of physical substance; with the plant he has the capacity to grow; in the feeling element he is related to the animals but as an individual he rises above the other kingdoms. Through this element in his nature he can raise himself still further. What is individual is eternal. The individual entity progresses from one incarnation to another. In the period between death and rebirth it journeys through the spheres transforming what has been acquired on Earth into capacities for the next life. It meets the higher powers, the hierarchies, referred to in the Bible under such names as Cherubim, Seraphim, Principalities and Powers.
Besides telling us the secrets of life and death Anthroposophy explains the evolution of the world and man. Originating as the product of higher beings the Earth itself has undergone various changes which might best be described as processes of densification. Man existed originally in spirit and took on a physical form in line with the Earth evolution. The relationship to existing theories of evolution and the significance of the animal world takes on a new meaning.
In ancient times human beings walked and talked with the gods. They lost this capacity and exchanged it for thinking. Thus history appears in a new light and at least one step is taken towards solving the riddle of man. But Anthroposophy also offers light on the mystery of the Fall, on the mission of the Christ, on the problems of evil, on the relationships of planets and stars to Earth and on a thousand things besides. There is however another aspect.
Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge.
The study of spiritual science itself means treading this path. The information provides food for reflection, consideration and meditation. A process of digestion induces wisdom.
In this connection it might be thought that a definite course of study might be prescribed. With most academic studies this is the case and books a, b, c, d might be recommended for reading, in that order. But Anthroposophy is not, or should not be, merely an academic study. It is a transforming substance. The information given is not of prime importance. Of greater significance is the effort made to understand it and the way it affects one’s dealings with the world. Noting the facts is not sufficient. The time has come for humanity to develop its own faculties towards spiritual perception consciously, i.e. to tap the wellsprings of eternity personally. Therefore mere reading is not sufficient. Meditation and digestion are required.
It is difficult to suggest a sequence for study. There are certain fundamental works but beyond these different people will find their needs met by different books. People with common interests may find help in group study.
Although reading, absorbing and digesting knowledge as given by spiritual science will aid development, the steps along the path can be hastened by a more conscious and active effort. This means a development of moral qualities such as patience, tolerance, honesty and equanimity of soul. In short, a transformation of the human being.
In the ancient world thoughts were considered to be realities which came to man from the spiritual world. Only in Greek times, as signalled by the beginning of philosophy, did man begin to feel that thought arose in his own mind. From this we see a connection between thinking and spiritual reality. In the meantime thinking has been directed to the material world and has been schooled there. With an extension of its activity it will be possible again to perceive the spiritual, this time in a more conscious form.
Eventually, along the path of knowledge, organs of perception will be developed through which the spiritual world will be apprehended. But it must not be thought that this is the end of the road. There is no finality to the acquisition of knowledge. The boundary is the boundary of one’s own capacity and this is capable of infinite extension. Thus when one speaks of spiritual vision it must be understood that the opening of the organs of perception is only the first step. One could compare this to learning the alphabet. The letters of the alphabet make words and a combination of words makes a sentence, but neither word nor sentence has any meaning without the faculty of understanding.
As vocabulary grows and study improves the mind, the faculty of understanding increases. The process of comprehension in the spiritual world is similar. Rudolf Steiner himself makes it clear that there is progression in these matters, progression which he himself cultivated and experienced.
A third feature of Anthroposophy is that it is a practical science, or perhaps we should say that it has practical applications in everyday activities.
At first sight it might seem unlikely that something connected with spiritual matters, with soul development, and dealing with questions of eternity, should be practical. We should remember, however, that originally all activities were directed out of a spiritual impulse, first by spiritual leaders who received their inspiration directly but which in the course of time became tradition. The principle still holds good, however, and to quote Abraham Lincoln: ‘If we would know more where we come from and whither we are going, we would know better what to do and how to do it.’
If we can, therefore, find out more about the destiny of man than is immediately apparent, then we have a guide in practical matters. Thus anthroposophical ideas have given rise to a new educational movement. The schools practising these do not teach Anthroposophy. It is a background out of which the curriculum and method of presentation and the attitude of the teacher are formed. There is a special application to curative education. Similarly there are new movements in other spheres of activity.
It is perhaps necessary here to add a note of caution, or rather two notes.
Newcomers to anthroposophical establishments or Rudolf Steiner centres will probably find much to impress them and much to their liking but they may also see or hear things which they may find very strange. This may of course be due to their meeting a fundamentally new idea. On the other hand, it could be due to some idiosyncracy of the place or people.
In the ordinary course of life it is not unknown for a person to embrace new ideas and be carried away by enthusiasm. His words and works may then bear more the mark of his enthusiasm than his understanding. This is particularly so in the world of art where there is a certain amount of controversy in any case.
This is not to pass judgement but only to pose the question as to whether Steiner’s indications are always properly interpreted and carried out, and to suggest to the visitor that he perhaps needs a little time to study and digest.
The second point concerns Dr Steiner’s books. It has already been pointed out that many of them contain the contents of lectures given under special circumstances. It is therefore understandable that not every book is suitable for the newcomer. A reader may open one and be shocked at the apparently unsubstantiated statements which he finds therein. One could, however, make a comparision. A beginner might pick up a book on higher mathematics and put it down again quickly as beyond him but his lack of understanding by no means invalidates the contents.
Most of what Steiner has to say can be understood by the application of the usual powers of common sense and intelligence. It is not required in the first place to believe it. There is also the test of experience. Do his ideas work? In the first place do they resolve problems in our own minds and satisfy our own inner needs? Further, can we observe the results of those ideas which have practical applications. We see them in the school, in the garden, in medicine and must answer ‘yes’. As a sufferer from hay fever the writer can testify to the efficacy of the remedy for that complaint. As a consumer he can recommend the garden and farm produce. As a teacher of 40 years’ standing he can commend the educational principles and, as an eternal student, endorse the opinions of Freeman, Schweitzer and Bruno Walter.
To the Reader Personally
If you have read so far you will have learnt something about Rudolf Steiner and something about Anthroposophy. Let us assume that the ideas appeal to you and that you have some wish to delve further.
You will have gathered that Anthroposophy is not an abstract science but, like Christianity, it is something to be ‘lived’ and you will be looking for practical advice.
One important thing is to cultivate a certain attitude. There are few saints in the world and most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, would have to admit that our minds are not always full of the purest and noblest thoughts and impulses. As human beings, however, the power is given to us not to have to follow these but to replace them with something we know is better. Positive thinking (and doing) is preferable to negative and is a prerequisite of development. There is nothing new in this. It is advice given by the sages of all times.
You may look at a book on Anthroposophy which may interest you, hear a lecture or engage in conversation and you will perhaps find ideas which are new to you — perhaps those of reincarnation, of experiences in the worlds which the human being traverses after death, of the development of ‘lotus flowers’.
Such matters, if they appear strange at first, should simply be considered objectively. They should be neither accepted nor rejected but given to the mind as food for thought. If you have doubts, you may say to yourself: Does it make sense? Does it help me to understand the world in which I live?
The process may be repeated the next day and the next and the day after that. One thought may live in the soul for years. With further study, other aspects will emerge and the statements will be related to other things. Digestion is essential to development. Study is rewarding in so far as the pattern of existence will become clearer.
You will come across descriptions of events which take place during sleep and of which you are unaware. You may come to a realization that sleep is not just a blank between periods of waking but that it gives an opportunity to meet higher beings. The time may come when you feel it right to take into your sleep life the thought of committing yourself to higher spiritual powers, to taking into the spiritual world the experiences of the day where they will be judged and transformed by the beings met there. On waking, you may feel uplifted but conscious of the fact that you now return to the world in accordance with the strength given and the highest ideals.
You will find references to the connections between the living and the dead and, if you have suffered loss, you will find much consolation in the ideas of mutually giving and receiving.
Beyond this there comes conscious study of a book like Knowledge of the Higher Worlds or the relevant chapters in Occult Science and Theosophy where certain advice is given to be carried out at your will and discretion. You will find indications given not only for training your thought life but also for developing a greater sense of morality. You will learn to look back on the day’s events and to judge your own actions.
If you have a philosophical mind, you might like to tackle The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity). The range of material for study is immense. At the Gates of Spiritual Science is fairly straightforward and touches on many basic ideas.
Rudolf Steiner’s works are not easy reading. They are written in such a way that reading them is in itself a spiritual exercise. Studying them is therefore essential even if you find other people’s commentaries helpful as an introduction.