What Steiner Actually Gave
To His Followers
Rudolf Steiner often contradicted himself. On occasion — especially when addressing outsiders — he made sensible, verifiable statements. But on other occasions — especially when addressing his followers — he took a very different tack, making statements that were utterly phantasmagoric.
For most people, this gives rise to two conclusions. Firstly, Steiner was unreliable. His statements cannot be accepted at face value. He spoke with what we might call a forked tongue. Or, to phrase the matter as his followers might, he possessed esoteric secrets. A mystic, he often withheld the "truth" from the uninitiated.
Secondly, because so many of his statements were phantasmagoric — and because these statements seemed to reflect his real views, the ones he shared with the people he trusted — his teachings were little more than occult fantasies. The deeper we penetrate the doctrines of Anthroposophy, the farther we find ourselves removed from reality. Steiner's views must strike most rational minds as delusional.
Anthroposophists reject these conclusions, naturally. Proceeding from the premise that Steiner apprehended deep, hidden truths, they puzzle over his pronouncements, seeking to reconcile the contradictions and arrive at the majestic, transcendent wisdom they believe Steiner possessed. Thus, they may walk into the basic occult trap: Training their minds to reject rationality, they “stretch” their minds to believe the unbelievable. They train their minds to deceive themselves.
Steiner compounded this labor of self-deception for his followers because sometimes when speaking to insiders he repeated the sorts of rational, verifiable statements he usually reserved for outsiders, and sometimes he favored outsiders with the sorts of wildly irrational statements he usually reserved for insiders. Further, his “rational” statements were often rational only on one point, while other elements of these same statements were quite fantastic. Steiner was quicksilver.
Let’s briefly review one example. Do the planets orbit the Sun, or do they move in some other manner? Steiner said a) They orbit the Sun, and b) They do not orbit the Sun. Reconciling his statements on this question is well nigh impossible. (I'm putting this mildly.)
A. The Planets Orbit the Sun
Here are some more or less rational descriptions (some more rational than others) offered by R. Steiner:
◊ “The planets move in orbits, and so the earth, too, moves in an orbit.” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 12.
◊ “[T]he earth is circling and men can calculate when it will reach a certain point.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE EVOLUTION OF THE EARTH AND MAN AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE STARS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1987), lecture 13, GA 354.
◊ “A very long time ago [the archangel] Michael decided to work in those planetary orbits that are preordained by the sun existence.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE BOOK OF REVELATION AND THE WORK OF THE PRIEST (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 158. Steiner included a sketch showing planets orbiting the Sun.
Sketch by Steiner showing the orbits of planets and the paths of comets.
[THE BOOK OF REVELATION AND THE WORK OF THE PRIEST (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 158.]
◊ “If you imagine a sphere with the Sun at its center, extending to the orbit of the present Mars, you have the size of the old Moon.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 87. "Old Moon" was the third of our planetary evolutions. [See "Old Moon".] It contained the entire solar system as it existed at that time. The entire system fit into a space as large as the current orbit of Mars.
B. The Planets Do Not Orbit the Sun
So far so good, yes? Some parts of Steiner's message in these "rational" statements beggar belief, but at least in each case Steiner said that the planets orbit the Sun.
On other occasions, however, Steiner said just the opposite: He said the planets do not orbit the Sun. Here are some more or less phantasmagoric descriptions (some more phantasmagoric than others) offered by R. Steiner concerning the movements of the planets:
◊ “People preferred the easy assumption that the Earth [progresses] all the while so as to move around the Sun ... [But the] Sun moves; it would outrun the Earth if the Earth simply revolved around the Sun. The Earth cannot revolve around the Sun because meanwhile the Sun would move away from it. In reality, the Sun moves on, and the Earth and the other planets follow it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOURTH DIMENSION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 128. More generally, Steiner said that the planets travel in line with the Sun. Some planets follow the Sun while others precede it.
◊ “This creates the illusion that the Earth revolves round the sun. The truth is that the Sun goes ahead, and the Earth creeps continually after it.” — Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 168.
◊ “[W]hen the Earth is here and this is the Sun [pointing at a diagram he created], the Earth follows along. But we look at the Sun from here, and so it appears as though the Earth goes around it, whereas it is actually only following. The Earth follows the Sun.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 30. Again, Steiner drew a diagram — a very different diagram. Essentially, he was trying to explain that the apparent orbital motion of the planets is an illusion cause by the Earth's position at the end of a line of planets accompanying the Sun.
The planets accompany the Sun on a twisting path through space, Steiner said.
From our perspective on the Earth, the Sun sometimes seems to be to our left,
at other times to our right. This creates the illusion that we circle the Sun, Steiner said.
"[I]t appears as though the Earth goes around it, whereas it is actually only following."
— FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 30.
Note that Steiner offered this explanation to Waldorf school teachers.
◊ “The Earth progresses, but exactly in a line behind the Sun. When the Earth is here, the observer now sees the Sun in another direction. The Sun advances still further, the Earth following, and once again the observer sees the Sun in the other direction. That is to say, he sees the Sun at one time on the right, and another time on the left, owing to the way in which the Earth follows the Sun. [paragraph break] This has been interpreted as demonstrating that the Sun stands still and the Earth revolves around it. In reality it is not so; the Earth moves along behind the Sun.” — Rudolf Steiner, MAN - HIEROGLYPH OF THE UNIVERSE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), p. 33.
◊ “[W]e can certainly speak of a daily motion of the Earth around her axis, but by no means of a yearly motion of the Earth around the Sun. For the Earth follows the Sun, describing the same path. [paragraph break] Were the Earth revolving round the Sun, we should expect her axis, which owing to its inertia remains parallel, to point in the direction of different fixed stars during this revolution. But it does not! If the Earth revolved round the Sun, the axis could not indicate the direction of the Pole-star, for the point indicated would itself have to revolve round the Pole-star....” — MAN - HIEROGLYPH OF THE UNIVERSE, p. 85. But it does not, said Steiner.
When Steiner made wholly contradictory statements,
where did he think the truth lay?
Which audience(s) did he think he was leveling with?
Which audience(s) did he think he was lying to?
Or, as he sometimes indicated, did he consider these distinctions meaningless?
Anthroposophists have expended enormous ingenuity in trying to sort all this out. They discuss the meaning of such terms as orbit, circle, ellipse, helix, spiral, lemniscate — all for naught. The editors of THE FOURTH DIMENSION list 33 occasions (March 24, 1905 to May 5, 1924) on which Steiner spoke of planetary motions. Sometimes he said the planets move in orbits, and sometimes he said they do not. The editors — all active Anthroposophists — admit that they are unable to reconcile Steiner’s statements:
“The following list includes most of the lectures and question-and-answer sessions (Q&A) in which Steiner discusses the problem of the Sun and Earth’s motion, especially the third Copernican movement (Copernicus 3), Bessel’s corrections (Bessel), and/or the problem of spiral or lemniscate (∞) movement ... Various attempts have been made to unite Rudolf Steiner’s scattered indications into a consistent interpretation but to date, no view has successfully encompassed them all.” — THE FOURTH DIMENSION, pp. 206-207.
Anthroposophists will continue racking their brains over such conundrums. You may have better things to do with your time. Call a contradiction a contradiction, call nonsense nonsense, and move on (along a spiral, lemniscatory line, or any other trajectory of your choice).
If Anthroposophists are confused, we needn't be. We needn't be deceived. Certainly we needn't deceive ourselves.
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
Steiner explained the "real" motion of the planets to Waldorf teachers more than once.
Here is essentially the same diagram of non-orbiting planets we saw, above,
although the lineup of planets is somewhat different, with Venus now leading Mercury.
[DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 168.]
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
A statement posted by a Waldorf teacher-training program: "The works of Rudolf Steiner (about 30 books written by himself or with collections of his own writings, and 6,000 lectures grouped into 270 volumes) have been published. There is absolutely nothing secret in Anthroposophy. It is not a religion and it has no cults. It is cultivated individually, in open study groups and in the institutions where it is practised." [8-9-2011 http://www.waldorftraining.com/steiner.htm]
It is true that an enormous portion of Steiner's work is now publicly available. But it is not true that Anthroposophy has no secrets. Anthroposophy is a form of occultism, and even if we define "occult" in its most benign sense, meaning "secret," we begin to realize that much of Anthroposophy consists of secret knowledge. [See "Occultism".] Outsiders are often denied various parts of the occult canon. This is most worrisome in and around Waldorf schools. Parents are often not told the real nature and purpose of Waldorf education — which is to spread Anthroposophy. [See "Here's the Answer".]
Rudolf Steiner instructed his followers to withhold secrets from outsiders; he taught them that much spiritual knowledge must be withheld from the uninitiated. [See "Secrets" and "Inside Scoop".] Anthroposophists are torn between two impulses: the desire to spread their wondrous spiritual knowledge, and the need to conceal much of their wondrous spiritual knowledge. If you doubt that Anthroposophists, and in particular Waldorf faculties, are often secretive and deceitful, see the following statements made by people who became ensnared in Waldorf schools: "Our Experience", "Coming Undone", "Moms", "Pops", "Our Brush with Rudolf Steiner", "I Went to Waldorf", etc. The very fact that Anthroposophists feel the need to deny that they are secretive should, at a minimum, alert you to a potential danger.
As for whether Anthroposophy is a religion — of course it is. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"] As Rudolf Steiner said, "[T]he Anthroposophical Society...provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 706. Anthroposophy does not have any cults; Anthroposophy is a cult. [See "Six Facts You Need to Know About Steiner Education".]
Sometimes when Anthroposophists lie, they do so consciously and intentionally. But sometimes they think they are telling the truth — they lie unconsciously, in other words, because at root they are lying to themselves. [See "Why?" and "Fooling Ourselves".] The easiest way to confirm this for yourself is to become acquainted with Anthroposophical beliefs. [See "Steiner's Blunders", "Say What?", "Wise Words", and "Steiner Static".] No rational person standing firmly on the ground of the real world could embrace these beliefs. Anthroposophical beliefs are delusions. When one embraces Anthroposophy, one wanders into the topsy-turvy realm of delusion. Sadly — and worrisomely — that is the realm where the foundations of Waldorf education are located.
We should repeat a crucial point. Steiner made bizarre, the-planets-don't-orbit-the-Sun statements during meetings he held with Waldorf school teachers. The teachers found his initial statement on the matter a bit confusing, so they asked him to explain further, and he did. This apparently satisfied them. At least, there was no mass exodus of the teaching faculty — the teachers did not rebel. Instead, they were content to be deceived or, at least, to be fed nonsense. We should ask ourselves what such teachers would likely tell their students about the starry skies.
Here is how Anthroposophical literature describes Steiner's conversations with Waldorf teachers about the movements of the planets. Conversation #1:
[DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 168.]
An introduction was presented on the fundamental ideas in mathematical geography for twelve-year-old children, with observations on the sunrise and the ecliptic ... Someone else developed the same theme — that is, sunrise and sunset — for the younger children, and tried to explain the path of the Sun and planets in a diagrammatic drawing.
RUDOLF STEINER: This viewpoint will gradually lose more and more of its meaning, because what has been said until now about these movements is not quite correct. In reality it is a case of a movement like this (lemniscatory screw-movement):
Here, for example, [in position 1] we have the Sun; here are Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and here are Venus, Mercury, and Earth. Now they all move in the direction indicated [spiral line], moving ahead one behind the other, so that when the Sun has progressed to the second position we have Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars here, and we have Venus, Mercury, and Earth over there. Now the Sun continues to revolve and progresses to here [position 3]. This creates the illusion that Earth revolves round the Sun. The truth is that the Sun goes ahead, and the Earth creeps continually after it. — DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, pp. 167-168.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 30.]
A teacher: Would you say something more about the planetary movements? You have often mentioned it, but we don’t really have a clear understanding about the true movement of the planets and the Sun.
Dr. Steiner: In reality, it is like this [Dr. Steiner demonstrates with a drawing]. Now you simply need to imagine how that continues in a helix. Everything else is only apparent movement. The helical line continues into cosmic space. Therefore, it is not that the planets move around the Sun, but that these three, Mercury, Venus, and the Earth, follow the Sun, and these three, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, precede it. Thus, when the Earth is here and this is the Sun, the Earth follows along. But we look at the Sun from here, and so it appears as though the Earth goes around it, whereas it is actually only following. The Earth follows the Sun. The incline is the same as what we normally call the angle of declination. If you take the angle you obtain when you measure the ecliptic angle, then you will see that. So it is not a spiral, but a helix.* It does not exist in a plane, but in space.
A teacher: How does the axis of the Earth relate to this movement?
Dr. Steiner: If the Earth were here, the axis of the Earth would be a tangent. The angle is 23.5?. The angle that encloses the helix is the same as when you take the North Pole and make this lemniscate as the path of a star near the North Pole. That is something I had to assume, since you apparently obtain a lemniscate if you extend this line. It is actually not present because the North Pole remains fixed, that is the celestial North Pole.
A teacher: Wasn’t there a special configuration in 1413?
Dr. Steiner: I already mentioned that today. Namely, if you begin about seven thousand years before 1413, you will see that the angle of the Earth’s axis has shrunk, that is, it is the smallest angle. It then becomes larger, then again smaller. In this way, a lemniscate is formed, and thus the angle of the Earth was null for a time. That was the Atlantean catastrophe [i.e., the sinking of Atlantis]. At that time, there were no differences in the length of the day relative to the time of year.
A teacher: Why should the celestial pole, which is in reality nothing other than the point toward which the Earth’s axis is directed, remain constant? It should certainly change over the course of years.
Dr. Steiner: That happens because the movement of the Earth’s axis describes a cone, a double cone whose movement is continuously balanced by the movement of the Earth’s axis. If you always had the axis of the Earth parallel to you, then the celestial pole would describe a lemniscate, but it remains stationary. That is because the movement of the Earth’s axis in a double cone is balanced by the movement of the celestial pole in a lemniscate. Thus, it is balanced. [FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 30-32.]
* Steiner did not always distinguish between spirals and helixes: “It is in a spiral, screw-like path that the earth follows the sun, boring its way, as it were, into cosmic space.” — R. Steiner, MYSTERY OF THE UNIVERSE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), p. 81.
Steiner's teachings on these matters are, in their way, impressive. Yet they are nonsense. And the implications for Waldorf education run deep. Pause to reflect. We have been reading transcripts from faculty meetings. The leader of the school and the teachers at that school are seriously telling each other that the planets that don't orbit the Sun, and they segue to the sinking of Atlantis, an event that they believe really happened.
Are you unsettled by any if this? Would you be comfortable knowing that the teachers at your children's school hold such discussions and embrace such beliefs? Or, turn this around. Would you be comfortable sending your children to a school where the faculty could conceivably hold such discussions and beliefs?
You may also want to mull this over: Aspiring Waldorf teachers are often assigned FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER as part of their studies. Quite early in this book — on p. 30 — they come upon Rudolf Steiner's statement that the planets do not orbit the Sun. Apparently, they make their peace with such crackpot notions. Apparently, Waldorf schools today are staffed, at least in part, by people who agree with Steiner on such points. Do you want them to teach your children?
But, you reply, it's just one little crackpot idea. Steiner was wrong about the motions of the planets. So what? We can't toss out an entire educational movement because some of the teachers accept on silly little falsehood, can we?
No, perhaps not. But here are some of the other things Steiner told Waldorf teachers, some of the other things that Waldorf teacher trainees have to grapple with. Ask yourself, at what stage would you, as a prospective teacher, decide that enough is enough and look for work elsewhere?
Fire-breathing dragons once roamed the Earth.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 26.]
Islands and continents float in the sea
and are held in place by the stars.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 706.]
Thinking does not occur in the brain.[THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE — The Foundations of Waldorf Education, p. 60.]
The heart is not a pump.
[RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 17.]
People have twelve senses.
[THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 145.]
People have three invisible bodies.
[WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2, pp. 107-109.]
Children should be classified based on whether they are
phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, or melancholic —
"temperaments" that have astrological bases.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 91.]
Class seating should be based on these four temperaments.
[RHYTHMS OF LEARNING (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 72.]
Some people are not really human beings —
they are possessed by demons.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 650.]
Atlantis really existed.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 51.]
Use of the French language corrupts the soul.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 558.]
The proper treatment for children with special needs
can be found by consulting horoscopes.
[EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS, p. 196.]
Atoms are caricatures of demons.
[RHYTHMS OF LEARNING, p. 161.]
You will injure children if you educate them rationally.
[THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 60.]
Clairvoyance is for real.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 54.]
Gravity is not a universal force, but we have to teach children about gravity
so that we won't be laughingstocks.
[PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, pp. 116-117.]
There is no such thing as what physicists call matter,
[EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS, p. 55.]
The Earth has emotions just like ours.
[DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, p. 132.]
Children will become idiotic due to left-handedndess.
[THE PROBLEM OF LEFTHANDEDNESS, p. 15.]
Karma is for real.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 625.]
Reincarnation is for real.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 18.]
Phrenology is for real.
[EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS, p. 68.]
True religion is polytheistic.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 46.]
Blacks do not belong in Europe.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 559.]
Machinery and industrialism are meaningless to Asians.
[EDUCATION AS A FORCE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE, pp. 32-33.]
White skin denotes spiritual health.
[THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION, pp. 93-94.]
Jewish thinking found in the Old Testament led to modern atheism.
[THE CHALLENGE OF THE TIMES, pp. 28-33.]
The punishment of children should emphasize pain
or at least physical discomfort.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 109-110.]
Some people can read such things and not blink. Some of them go on to careers as Waldorf teachers. They have been deceived, bamboozled, led astray. We must not follow their example. And we should think carefully before enrolling our children to be "educated" by them.
Below are Anthroposophical images
— representations of Rudolf Steiner's teachings or visions —
as intended for the Anthroposophical headquarters building,
Some of these images appear in colored glass windows
at the Goetheanum,
others are details from motifs for Goetheanum ceiling murals.
What would you say Steiner was giving his followers
when he offered them such visions?
[R.R. sketches, 2014,
based on images in
ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER
(Mercury Arts Publications, 1987)
THE GOETHEANUM CUPOLA MOTIFS OF RUDOLF STEINER
[Steiner] often formed his ideas half spontaneously while speaking, and this is why they are often contradictory and inconsistent. His followers liked to call his meandering way of thinking ‘organic'; in fact it was more associative, rich in analogies, undisciplined, and spiced with a dose of megalomania.” — Miriam Gebhardt, RUDOLF STEINER: A Modern Prophet (Verlagsgruppe Random House, 2011), from the Introduction.
The self-deception practiced by Anthroposophists is, of course, almost always unintentional and unconscious. People who believe fantasies may be said to stand somewhere on the spectrum of dissociation: To one degree or another, they have loosened their ties to reality.
Here are excerpts from two relevant pages at Wikipedia. I offer them only as food for thought. (Wikipedia is a dubious source, although it seems to be improving. Whenever you find anything interesting at Wikipedia, you should proceed to consult more authoritative sources. So look on the following merely as initial indications of potentially fruitful lines of inquiry.)
Note that some elements of the Anthroposophical approach — emphasis on imagination, redefinition of the self or "I," distrust of ordinary reality, de-emphasis of memory — appear here in a very different light.
I visited these pages at Wikipedia on May 4, 2014.
In psychology, the term dissociation describes a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis. Dissociative experiences are further characterized by the varied maladaptive mental constructions of an individual's natural imaginative capacity.
Dissociation is commonly displayed on a continuum. In mild cases, dissociation can be regarded as a coping mechanism or defense mechanisms in seeking to master, minimize or tolerate stress – including boredom or conflict. At the nonpathological end of the continuum, dissociation describes common events such as daydreaming while driving a vehicle. Further along the continuum are non-pathological altered states of consciousness.
More pathological dissociation involves dissociative disorders, including dissociative fugue and depersonalization disorder with or without alterations in personal identity or sense of self. These alterations can include: a sense that self or the world is unreal (depersonalization and derealization); a loss of memory (amnesia); forgetting identity or assuming a new self (fugue); and fragmentation of identity or self into separate streams of consciousness (dissociative identity disorder, formerly termed multiple personality disorder) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
Fantasy prone personality
Fantasy prone personality (FPP) is a disposition or personality trait in which a person experiences a lifelong extensive and deep involvement in fantasy. This disposition is an attempt, at least in part, to better describe the popular term "overactive imagination", or "living in a dream world". An individual with this trait (termed a fantasizer) may have difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality and may experience hallucinations, as well as self-suggested psychosomatic symptoms. Closely related psychological constructs include daydreaming, absorption and eidetic memory ... A fantasy prone person is reported to spend a large portion of his or her time fantasizing, have vividly intense fantasies, have paranormal experiences, and have intense religious experiences.
Steiner knew that he often contradicted himself;
he knew that his critics accused him of inconsistency.
He defended himself in various ways,
chiefly by asserting that contradiction lies at the heart of reality —
especially spiritual reality, where thoughts are living, mutating entities,
changing from moment to moment.
[See the discussion of "living thoughts" in "Thinking".]
Likewise, he argued that spiritual reality is bound up with physical reality,
which often stands in opposition or contradiction to it.
Steiner's arguments on these points do not get him off the hook,
but they are woven throughout his various lectures and books.
Here is one fairly elaborate example, taken from the sixth lecture
of Steiner's WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1963), GA 129.
Kessinger has reprinted this lecture under the title
WHY CONTRADICTIONS EXIST EVERYWHERE AND MUST EXIST.
As you read, you might ask yourself whether in the torrent of Steiner's verbosity
you find any firm grounding in either logic or reality.
Or, in reality, does Steiner give the game away unwittingly,
allowing us to see how empty his rhetoric truly is?
Steiner touches on some deep and weighty matters,
but does he offer any true illumination?
Does Steiner convince you, for instance, when he tries to twist the issue,
renouncing "abstract" logic and intellect
and the "unclear thinking" that he says arise from them?
Most centrally, are you persuaded by his embrace of contradiction —
which would overthrow the entire edifice of human knowledge?
On which side of the debate do you find unclear thinking?
(For clarification of strange terms and concept Steiner throws out,
For our present exercise, I will refrain from adding any commentary to Steiner's words.
It will be best if you encounter Steiner directly, with no middle man standing in between.)
“Abstract logic, abstract intellectual thinking, is always trying to discover inconsistencies in higher world-conceptions, and then to say, ‘This world-conception is full of inconsistencies, it cannot therefore be accepted as valid.’ The truth is, however, that life is full of contradictions, indeed nothing new, no development would be possible unless contradiction lay in the very nature of things. For why is the world different today from what it was yesterday? Why does anything become, why does not everything remain as it was? It is because yesterday there was a self-contradictory element in the state of things, and today's new state has arisen through the realisation of yesterday's contradiction and its overcoming. No one who sees things as they really are can say, ‘Falsehood is detected by proving contradiction’ — for contradiction is inherent in reality. What would the human soul be like if it were free from contradictions? Whenever we look back at the course of our life we see that it has been activated by contradictions. If at some later date we are more perfect than we were earlier, it has come about because we have got rid of our earlier condition, because we have discovered our earlier state to be in contradiction to our own inner nature, and thus have called forth a reality of our own inner being in contradiction to what was. Contradiction is everywhere at the basis of all beings. Particularly when we study the entire man, the four-fold man, as we are accustomed to treat of him in the light of occultism, do we find this contradiction, a contradiction which addresses itself not only to our reason, to our philosophy, but to our hearts, to our whole soul-nature.
"We must constantly remind ourselves of the fundamental basis of our Spiritual Science, that man as he stands before us consists of physical body, ether body, astral body and ego. Our being consists of these four members. Let us look at them as they meet us to begin with on the physical plane, in the physical world. We will for the present ignore the question as to how the human being appears to clairvoyant sight, we will just ask how the four members of the human being appear to physical eyes, for the physical world. Let us begin with the innermost member of the human being, the ego, which as you know we regard as the youngest — or better call it ‘the ego- bearer’. The outstanding characteristic of this human ego occurs at once to anyone who studies the world with even a little intelligence. However widely we search, we shall never find this ego by the exercise of our physical senses, by exercising our faculties for knowledge of the physical world. It is not visible to our eyes, nor in any way perceptible to any faculty for acquiring knowledge of the outer world. Hence when we meet another man, if we only try to study him physically, with purely physical instruments, if we do not enlist the help of the clairvoyant eye, we can never observe his ego. We go about among men, but with organs of perception for the outer world we do not see their egos. If anyone thinks he can see egos he is utterly deceiving himself. With physical faculties for acquiring knowledge of external things we cannot observe the ego as such; we can only contemplate its manifestation through the organs of the physical body. A man may be inwardly a thoroughly untruthful person, but so long as he does not utter the lie so that it passes over into the external world, we cannot see it in his ego, because egos cannot be observed with external physical instruments. Thus, however far we go in investigating with the forces of physical knowledge, we only encounter this ego once. Although we know quite well that there are many egos upon the Earth, only one of them is to be perceived, and that is our own. In the physical world, or for physical instruments of knowledge, each man has only one opportunity of perceiving the ego, that is his own ego. So that we may say that the peculiarity of this youngest and highest member of the human being is that its existence, its reality, is capable of being perceived in one example only, in ourselves. The egos of all other men are hidden from us within their bodily sheaths.
"From this ego, as the innermost, as the youngest, but also the highest member of the human being, let us now turn to the outermost member, to the physical body. As you know from things I have written or said on various occasions in recent years, the physical body can only be known in its true inner being to clairvoyant consciousness. To ordinary consciousness, to the physically based powers of physical knowledge, the physical body manifests itself only as maya or illusion. When we meet a man, what we see as his physical body is maya, illusion. But there are as many instances of this illusion of a physical body as there are men to be met with on Earth. And in this respect — as maya — our own body is just like that of other men. Thus there is a great difference between the perception of our own ego, of which only one example is given, and the perception of human physical bodies, of which we have as many examples as the people we know on Earth. We only learn to know the ego when we direct our physical faculty of knowledge upon ourselves. We have to look into ourselves with the power of knowledge which we have acquired upon the physical plane if we wish to learn to know our ego.
"I should perhaps add, because there is so much unclear thinking, that what I mean by the ego which we perceive with our physical powers of knowledge belongs entirely to the physical world. It would be idle nonsense to say that what a man's normal faculties find within him as his ego ever belongs to any other world than the physical. If anyone were to consider the ego, observed not with clairvoyant but with normal faculties, as belonging to any other world than that of the physical plane, he would be making a mistake. In the higher worlds things look quite different; the ego too for clairvoyant consciousness is something very different from what man finds within him in normal consciousness. We must not think of the ego of which ordinary psychology and ordinary science speak as belonging to anything but the physical plane; only we are looking at it from within, and because we stand within it, as it were, because we do not confront it from the outside, we are able to say: ‘Admittedly we learn to know this ego upon the physical plane only, but we do at least learn to know it in its own inner being, by direct knowledge, whereas what we know of the physical body, of which we see so many specimens in the world, is only maya.’ For as soon as the faculty of clairvoyance is turned upon the physical body it dissolves like a cloud, vanishes away, reveals itself as maya. And if we wish to get to know the physical body in its true form we have to rise, not just to the astral plane but to the highest region of Spirit- land, to Devachan; thus a clairvoyance of a very high order is needed if we wish to learn to know the physical body in its true form. Here below, in the physical world, the physical body has only a quite illusionary stamp, and it is this counterfeit image that we see when we look at this physical body from outside. Thus these two members of the human organism, the highest and the lowest, show a very remarkable contrast. Here in the physical world we see the human physical organism as maya — that is to say, it is not at all in accordance with our inmost being; but the ego we see here in the physical world is in its physical manifestation quite in keeping with our inmost being. Please take note of that, it is an extremely important fact. Let me put it in another way, half symbolically, and yet with all the seriousness which the reality demands. Half symbolically — yes, but this pictorial approach has a fulness about it which comes nearer to expressing the truth than any abstract concepts.
"Half symbolically then, but also half seriously, I ask how we have to think of Adam and Eve in Paradise before the Fall. We know that according to the Bible they were unable to see each other's outer physical bodies before the Fall, and that when they did begin to see them they were ashamed. That is the expression of a most profound mystery. The Old Testament tells why Adam and Eve were ashamed of their bodies after the Fall. It indicates that before the Fall the bodies they had were more or less spiritual bodies, bodies only accessible to clairvoyant consciousness, bodies of quite different appearance from physical bodies, bodies which expressed the ego in its true form. We see that even the Bible recognises that quite a different bodily form, one only perceptible to clairvoyant vision, was really fitted to the deepest being of man, and that the external physical body we have today actually does not measure up at all to the inner being of man. What then did Adam and Eve feel when their relation to each other was no longer one in which they did not see their physical bodies, but on the contrary, one in which they did see them? They felt that they had fallen into matter, that, out of a world to which they had formerly belonged, denser matter than had been theirs formerly had been instilled into them. They felt that man with his physical body had been transplanted into a world to which, if the true nature of his ego is taken into account, he does not belong. No more striking expression could be found to mark how little the outer expression of his being, the sensible reality, really measures up to the divine ego than this being overcome by shame.
"...Thus we see as if in a mighty occult script, the question arising of out [Greek mythology]. If this essential human ego is to manifest in a bodily form, can we expect to see it in the human form we have in the physical world? No, for this form is maya, it is not at all a manifestation of the real ego, it is truly of such a nature that the real egos in Adam and Eve were right to be ashamed of it. What we as men are confronted by today is in fact a real contradiction, and the Greek felt that too. Although it has often been said, very superficially, that he only paid attention to the outer beauties of Nature, even the Greek felt the self-contradiction in the external human form. He was not a naturalist in the sense in which modern man believes he was, but he felt profoundly that the human form as it walks the Earth today is a compromise, from no aspect does it show itself to be what in reality it ought to be. Suppose for a moment that the human form had only arisen under the influence of physical, etheric and astral bodies, suppose that no ego had entered into this human form, then it would have been fashioned as it was when it came over from the previous embodiments of our Earth, as it came over from Saturn, Sun and Moon. Then the human form would be different from what it actually is. If the Earth had not endowed man with the ego, men would be walking about with quite different-looking physical forms. Secretly, in the depths of his soul, the ancient Greek wondered what the human form would look like if earthly men today were ego-less, if men had not participated in the blessings bestowed by the Earth, had not participated in the coming into existence of the ego, had not taken Dionysos into themselves! If there were among us on the Earth men who had developed purely under the influence of the forces of physical, etheric and astral bodies, he wondered what they would look like. And the Greek — uplifted, inspired by the spirit, and moved by unutterable depth of feeling — even put to himself the corresponding question: ‘If there were only the ego, if the ego had not been drawn into the physical, etheric and astral bodies, how would it be formed?’
"It would not have a physical body such as it has now, it would have a spiritual body that would be quite different from our external human body. But this spirit-body exists only for a clairvoyant consciousness, it is nowhere to be seen in the physical world. What, then, really is the man who actually walks about the earth? He is neither the ego-less man, purely under the influence of astral, etheric and physical bodies, nor is he the ego-man, but a compromise between the two, something coming about as the result of a combination of both. The man we see before us is a composite being. The Greeks felt this and they said to themselves: ‘Since Dionysos, the younger Dionysos, is really the first teacher of intellectual civilisation, we must imagine him as not yet in a body which has already been subjected to the influence of the ego, for it is through the effect of the Dionysos civilisation that man has first to acquire the intellectual ego. Therefore Dionysos must be represented as this human ego still outside the human body.’ So when the Greeks depicted the procession of Dionysos, which I have called a march of civilisation, they could only accurately represent it on the basis that the essential ego of Dionysos had not yet entered the human body, but was just on the point of doing so; they could only imagine that Dionysos and all his followers had the kind of bodies which would inevitably come about if there were no egos in them, if their bodies were under the influence of forces emanating only from the physical, etheric and astral bodies. They said to themselves: ‘Dionysos and his rout should not look like the man of today, whose bodies are the combined result of the invisible ego and the visible body, but the invisible ego should hover as an aura over the bodily form and the body should be so fashioned as would inevitably come about under the sole influence of physical, etheric and astral bodies, that is, as a man would inevitably be formed if he had continued to develop the forces he had brought over from the Moon without taking in the Earth ego.’
"...Anyone who knows the whole story in all its ramifications, besides knowing the true development of man as revealed by the Akasha Chronicle, knows that there is nothing fantastic, nothing sentimental in what is being put before you today as Spiritual Science. The fancifulness, the sentimentality, lies in the abstract, empirical science of today, which imagines that it can dig up from the strata of the physical earth something that is not there, and can make a study of that while it ignores the wondrous script of spiritual geology which comes before us, to the rescue of human wisdom and its evolution...."
Outsiders, evaluating Anthroposophy from a distance, may see the matter quite differently. Not beguiled by Steiner, and arguably capable of objective judgment, they often express surprise that any apparently sensible person could embrace Steiner’s teachings. [See “Inside Scoop”.] Certainly, much Anthroposophical lore seems patently false; Steiner’s work is marked by a profusion of factual and logical errors. [See “Steiner’s Blunders” and “Steiner’s Illogic”.]
ANTHROPOSOPHY AND INTELLECT
Anthroposophists have an equivocal attitude toward intellect. Rudolf Steiner deprecated intellect, saying that it cannot bring us ultimate truth. [See “Steiner’s Specific”.] Intellect is cold and unfeeling, he said; it is alien to spirit, which we approach through emotion and apprehend through clairvoyance.
On the other hand, Steiner taught that today, living in the lowly physical realm, we need to develop intellectual powers. At our current level of development, we need to master intellect in order to continue our evolutionary advancement in higher, more spiritual future incarnations. White people, he said, are humanity’s intellectual pathfinders — unlike members of other races, whites lead “thinking lives” in which they make extensive use of their “forebrains”. [See “Races”.] Among whites, Steiner singled out Germans, teaching that they possess unusually great intellectual capacities. [See “The Good Wars.”]
Steiner himself was an intellectual, a man of imposing intelligence whose books and lectures are conceptually demanding. When studying his work, his followers must cudgel their brains; comprehending a Steiner text is an intellectual challenge. Analyzing such texts, and forming opinions about them, requires readers to make strenuous mental efforts. Anthroposophists who proceed to write exegeses or original extensions of Steiner’s works become shining intellectual stars in the Anthroposophical firmament.
In general, Steiner’s followers credit themselves with high levels of intellectual apprehension. They congratulate themselves on possessing wisdom that most other people have not yet attained. The word “Anthroposophy” means knowledge or wisdom of the human being. Anthroposophists believe that they, virtually alone in all the world, are endowed with this knowledge and wisdom.
Viewed in this light, the intellectual efforts of Steiner and his followers lose their claim to serious consideration. They are revealed to be vain exercises in rationalization; clever but futile efforts to erect a vast esoteric superstructure out of parts that prove to be absurdities. [See, e.g., “Say What?” and “Steiner Static”.] Only within a self-enclosed, intellectually isolated community — not to put too fine a point on it, a cult — could the fictions and fallacies of Anthroposophy be mistaken for truths.
Ultimately, Rudolf Steiner was correct when he warned his followers not to think too hard about his teachings. The intellect, he said, can destroy Anthroposophy. “A man who would receive Anthroposophy with his intellect kills it in the very act.” — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE, NATURE, AND CULTIVATION OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 1963), p. 15.
Steiner meant that cold rationality is antithetical to spiritual awareness; it cannot rise to the august heights of esoteric wisdom. But another, plainer interpretation (one that may have eluded Steiner) forces itself on us. Anthroposophy consists of falsehoods. Applying clear-sighted, objective analysis to Anthroposophy exposes these falsehoods and, in the process, causes the entire edifice to totter.
◊ "[T]he sun completes its orbit in the course of the year bringing about an increase and decrease in light....” — Rudolf Steiner, SIGNS AND SYMBOLS OF THE CHRISTMAS FESTIVAL (Anthroposophic Press, 1967), lecture 3, GA 96.
◊ "[T]he inner nature of Mars is qualified by its position outside the Sun's orbit, and that of Venus by its position within the Sun's orbit." — Rudolf Steiner, MAN: HIEROGLYPH OF THE UNIVERSE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 1, GA 201.
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◊◊◊ 10. CLAIRVOYANCE AND DELUSION ◊◊◊