Taking his cue from Theosophy, Steiner taught that all religions essentially agree. Here is an illustration: statements Steiner made about Osiris, Buddha, and Christ. By interpreting (or misinterpreting) various myths and traditions, Steiner imposed an apparent consistency on them. Specifically, in this instance, he claimed that ancient Egyptian teachings and Buddhism were precursors to Christianity. This works pretty well, if we overlook the ways Steiner distorted the religions he discussed — including his extraordinary distortion of Christianity. [See “Was He Christian?”]

Steiner’s remarks revolve around the concepts of “mystery wisdom” and “initiation.” These are interlinked. Mystery wisdom is the hidden, secret, occult information that is revealed only to insiders. These insiders are called initiates: They have gone through an initiation process that makes them qualified to receive mystery wisdom.

Steiner’s argument is that deep underlying spiritual streams run through apparently different religions — connections that may be known to initiates but that are hidden from everyone else. You can decide whether Steiner’s argument is surprising, convincing, or dubious (or preposterous) from your own perspective. If you are a Christian, for instance, do you see truth in the worship of Osiris and in the reverence for Buddha (a “world-redeemer” comparable to Christ)? If you are a Buddhist, can you accept Christ as a greater figure than Buddha? If you are a rationalist, what do you make of the talk about mystery wisdom and initiation? These and many other questions come to mind. Steiner claimed that the patterns he pointed out lead to undeniable conclusions. Oddly, perhaps, some of us deny this.

All of the following quotations come from Steiner’s “Egyptian Mystery Wisdom”, which Robert A. McDermott selected for THE ESSENTIAL STEINER (Lindisfarne Books, 1972), p. 177ff, which is meant to be a collection of Steiner’s most accessible and compelling work. Thus, what you are about to read represents Steiner at his best.

[Lindisfarne Books, 1972.]

"Of the various deities worshiped in different parts of Egypt, Osiris [1] gradually became the favorite and most universally acknowledged. In him the ideas about the other divinities were summarized. Whatever the Egyptian populace may have thought about Osiris, the BOOK OF THE DEAD [2] indicates that according to the ideas of priestly wisdom he was a being which could be found in the human soul itself."

"[A]ccording to such a conception...the highest life man can lead must consist in changing himself into an Osiris. In the true man an Osiris must already live as perfectly as possible during mortal life. Man becomes perfect when he lives as an Osiris, when he experiences what Osiris has experienced. In this way the Osiris myth receives its deeper significance. It becomes the example of a man who wishes to awaken the eternal within him."

"If we could look into the temples of initiation where people were subjected to the transformation into Osiris, we would see that what happened there represented microcosmically the creation of the world. Man, who is descended from the ‘Father,’ was to give birth in himself to the Son. The spellbound god [the inner Osiris], whom he actually bore within him, was to be revealed in him. The power of earthly nature suppressed this god within him. First this lower nature had to be buried in order that the higher nature might rise again. From this it becomes possible to interpret what is told of the processes of initiation. The candidate was subjected to secret procedures. By means of the latter his earthly nature was killed and his higher nature awakened ... He [the initiate] could say...I died to earthly things. I was dead. As a lower man I had died; I was in the netherworld...I have nothing more to do with transitory nature. My transitory nature has become permeated by the Logos. [3] I now belong to those who live eternally, and who will sit at the right hand of Osiris. I myself shall be a true Osiris, united with the eternal cosmic order, and judgment over death and life shall be placed in my hand."


"Whoever wished really to understand [initiation] must have awakened within himself powers which would enable him to reach a higher stage of existence. He had to prepare the whole course of his life in order to approach these higher experiences. However they might take place in individual lives, these prepared experiences always had a quite definite, typical form [i.e., all initiates undergo a similar training] ... [A]n individual personality could be characterized only as being on the way toward the divine if he had gone through these definite, typical experiences. As such a personality the Buddha lived with his followers; as such a personality Jesus at first appeared to his community. Today we know of the parallels which exist between the biographies of Buddha and of Jesus. Rudolf Seydel has pointed out these parallels strikingly in his book, BUDDHA AND CHRIST. We need only follow up the details to see that all objections to these parallels are futile."

"The birth of Buddha is announced by a white elephant who descends to Maya, the queen ... In Luke's Gospel is written: '... to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her and said, ‘Hail thou that art highly favored' ... The Brahmin Asita says of Buddha, 'This is the child which will become Buddha, the redeemer, the leader to immortality, freedom and light.' Compare this with Luke 2:5: 'And behold there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon... and the Holy Ghost was upon him ... And when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.' It is related of Buddha that at the age of twelve he was lost, and was found again under a tree, surrounded by minstrels and sages of ancient times, whom he was teaching. This corresponds to Luke 2:41–47: 'And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem, and Joseph and his mother knew not of it ... [A]fter three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.' ... After Buddha had lived in solitude and had returned, he was received by the benediction of a virgin ... In Luke 11:2–28 is written: 'And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice and said unto him, "Blessed is the womb that bare thee"’ ... In the course of Buddha's life the tempter approaches him, promising him all the kingdoms of the earth. Buddha will have nothing to do with this ... Jesus answers the same temptation in the words: 'Get thee hence, Satan...' (Matthew 4:10,11) ... The life of Buddha ended sublimely. During a journey he felt ill. He came to the river Hiranja, near Kuschinagara. There he lay down on a carpet spread for him by his favorite disciple, Ananda. His body began to shine from within. He died transfigured, a body of light, saying, 'Nothing endures.' The death of Buddha corresponds with the transfiguration of Jesus: 'And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistening.'” [4]

"The conformity in the lives of these two redeemers leads to an unequivocal conclusion. What this conclusion must be, the narratives themselves indicate. When the priest sages hear about the manner of the birth they know what is involved. They know that they are dealing with a divine man. They know beforehand what conditions will exist for the personality who is appearing. Therefore his career can only correspond with what they know about the career of a divine man. Such a career appears in their Mystery wisdom, marked out for all eternity. It can be only as it must be. Such a career appears as an eternal law of nature. Just as a chemical substance can behave only in a quite definite way, so a Buddha or a Christ can live only in a quite definite way. His career cannot be described as one would write his incidental biography; rather, it is described by giving the typical features contained for all time in the wisdom of the Mysteries. The legend of Buddha is no more a biography in the ordinary sense, than the Gospels are intended to be an ordinary biography of the Christ Jesus. Neither describes an incidental career; both describe a career marked out for a world-redeemer. The patterns for both must be sought in the traditions of the Mysteries, not in outward physical history. To those who have perceived their divine nature, Buddha and Jesus are initiates in the most eminent sense."

"The life of Jesus, however, contains more than the life of Buddha. Buddha's life ends with the transfiguration. The most significant part of the life of Jesus begins after the transfiguration. In the language of the initiates, Buddha reaches the point where divine light begins to shine in man. He stands before the death of the physical. He becomes the cosmic light. Jesus goes further. He does not die physically at the moment the cosmic light transfigures him. At that moment he is a Buddha. But at the same moment he enters upon a stage which finds expression in a higher degree of initiation. He suffers and dies. The physical part of him disappears. But the spiritual, the cosmic light does not vanish. His resurrection follows. He reveals himself to his community as Christ. At the moment of his transfiguration, Buddha dissolves into the hallowed life of the universal Spirit. Christ Jesus awakens this universal Spirit once more to present existence in a human form."

"What had descended upon the mystics within the Mystery temples in earlier times thus descended upon the community of Christ through the 'Mystery of Golgotha'  [the mysteries involved in Christ's presence on Earth]. And initiation gives the Christian mystic the possibility of becoming conscious of this content of the 'Mystery of Golgotha,' while faith causes mankind to participate unconsciously in the mystical current which flowed from the events depicted in the New Testament and has been permeating the spiritual life of humanity ever since."

Of course, you cannot form an adequate assessment of "Egyptian Mystery Wisdom" based on these excerpts and a few hints from me. You need to read the entire text, and I urge you to do so. In addition to appearing in THE ESSENTIAL STEINER, it is available in Steiner’s CHRISTIANITY AS MYSTICAL FACT (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1961), GA 8.

— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings


[1] Osiris : "[O]ne of the most important gods of ancient Egypt. The origin of Osiris is obscure; he was a local god of Busiris, in Lower Egypt, and may have been a personification of chthonic (underworld) fertility. By about 2400 bce, however, Osiris clearly played a double role: he was both a god of fertility and the embodiment of the dead and resurrected king. This dual role was in turn combined with the Egyptian concept of divine kingship: the king at death became Osiris, god of the underworld; and the dead king’s son, the living king, was identified with Horus, a god of the sky. Osiris and Horus were thus father and son. 

"...Osiris was not only ruler of the dead but also the power that granted all life from the underworld, from sprouting vegetation to the annual flood of the Nile River. From about 2000 bce onward it was believed that every man, not just the deceased kings, became associated with Osiris at death. This identification with Osiris, however, did not imply resurrection, for even Osiris did not rise from the dead. Instead, it signified the renewal of life both in the next world and through one’s descendants on Earth." — "Osiris." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 10 Mar. 2010.

[2] Book of the Dead : "[A]ncient Egyptian collection of mortuary texts made up of spells or magic formulas, placed in tombs and believed to protect and aid the deceased in the hereafter. Probably compiled and reedited during the 16th century bce, the collection included Coffin Texts dating from c. 2000 bce, Pyramid Texts dating from c. 2400 bce, and other writings. Later compilations included hymns to Re, the sun god. Numerous authors, compilers, and sources contributed to the work. Scribes copied the texts on rolls of papyrus, often colourfully illustrated, and sold them to individuals for burial use. Many copies of the book have been found in Egyptian tombs, but none contains all of the approximately 200 known chapters. The collection, literally titled 'The Chapters of Coming-Forth-by-Day,' received its present name from Karl Richard Lepsius, the German Egyptologist who published the first collection of the texts in 1842." — "Book of the Dead." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 10 Mar. 2010.

[3] Logos : "[I]n Greek philosophy and theology, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning. Though the concept defined by the term logos is found in Greek, Indian, Egyptian, and Persian philosophical and theological systems, it became particularly significant in Christian writings and doctrines to describe or define the role of Jesus Christ as the principle of God active in the creation and the continuous structuring of the cosmos and in revealing the divine plan of salvation to man. It thus underlies the basic Christian doctrine of the preexistence of Jesus." — "logos." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 10 Mar. 2010.

[4] This is the linchpin of Steiner’s argument. Mull it over. How compelling is this evidence? Does it force your acceptance? Or do you see parallels along with significant differences? In brief, has Steiner proven anything? Do you agree that he has made all objections "futile," producing an "unequivocal conclusion"? (If you are unsure, you might take a look at "Steiner's Illogic".)


Steiner treated other religions much as he did the ancient Egyptian faith and Buddhism: He reworked them so that they may seem consistent with his scheme of spiritual evolution and with "Christianity" (by which he meant his reworked account of Christ, which is deeply inconsistent with mainstream Christianity — see "Was He Christian?").

A Hindu god on whom Steiner put stress is Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu.

"In THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BHAGAVAD GITA, Steiner depicts Krishna as that being who has been working since the eighth century B.C. to make the human organism capable of entering the epoch of self-consciousness. Steiner also indicates that although Krishna was able to guide individuals (such as Arjuna of Gita) to self-consciousness of their divine natures, it remained for the Christ to lead the whole of humanity to this possibility ... As a result of his own clairvoyant perception, Steiner describes the sublime mystery by which the Christ took Krishna as his own soul sheath ... [I]n experiencing the light enveloping the Christ, the spiritual message and power of the [Bhagavad] Gita streamed from the resurrected soul of the Christ into Paul and thereby into Christianity ... [Steiner depicted] the intricate relationships among Krishna, Buddha, and Christian figures such as the Christ, John the Evangelist, Paul the Apostle and St. Francis. All of these figures, as well as Moses, Zarathustra, and others are woven throughout Steiner's many volumes of lectures on the gospels." — Robert A. McDermott, THE ESSENTIAL STEINER (Lindisfarne Press, 2007), p. 379.

“The Krishna-revelation is directed to one individual, but in reality applies to every man if he is ripe to tread the upward path prescribed to him by the Lord of Yoga; we are more and more reminded of the primeval ages of mankind, to which we always, according to Krishna-teaching, return in spirit.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE BHAGAVAD GITA AND THE EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL (Anthroposophic Press, 1971), lecture 5, GA 142.

“There is no need to keep secret what Krishna revealed in an external way, to lock it up in a safe, so that it stays 'occult'; it remains occult for no other reason than that too few people rise to the heights to which they must rise if they are to understand it. However widely such revelations as those of Krishna are disseminated among the people and put into their hands, they still remain occult. For they can be brought out of the realm of the occult not by disseminating them among the people, but only when there are souls who can rise high enough to be able to unite with them. It is true that such revelations hover above us at a certain spiritual height, yet they speak to us as if from a high point of spirituality. Anyone who simply picks up the words that are contained in such revelations should by no means believe he understands them, not even if he is a learned man of the twentieth century. It is entirely comprehensible that it is widely asserted today that there is no occult teaching. This is understandable because those who say such things do indeed possess the words, and with them think they have everything. But it is in the very nature of occult teaching that they do not understand what they possess.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. MARK (Anthroposophic Press, 1986), lecture 5, GA 139.

“Yesterday [see the quotation from lecture 5, above] an attempt was made to give you an idea of Krishna's revelation and its relation to what entered later into human evolution, the revelation through the Christ. It was especially noted how the revelation of Krishna can appear to us as the conclusion of the clairvoyant, the primitive clairvoyant epoch of human development. If we once more place before our souls from this point of view the understanding we obtained yesterday about the revelation of Krishna as a conclusion, we may say that whatever was gained through this revelation is still present in human evolution, but in a certain way it has reached an end and can go no further. Some teachings handed down at that time must be accepted during all subsequent evolution just as they were given then.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. MARK, lecture 6.

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.


A look back, plus

Mystical thinking, realistic thinking


Reports and advice from parents whose children attended Waldorf schools

A report by a mother who was drawn to a Waldorf school but left disillusioned

Talking it over

Had enough?

Describing the near-collapse of the Waldorf school I attended

Deprogramming myself after Waldorf

Who the heck am I?

Doom and deliverance

Short and sweet

Can you trust me?