“Those who come to me
wanting to hear the truths
available through esotericism
and nevertheless refuse
to walk the path
are like schoolchildren....”
— Rudolf Steiner 
[THE STORY OF MY LIFE
(Kessinger Publishing, facsimile of 1928 edition,
Anthroposophical Publishing Co.), facing p. 320.]
WHAT A GUY
Sanctifying Rudolf Steiner
Rudolf Steiner conceived Waldorf education as well as the mystical system upon which it is built, Anthroposophy. He propounded the principles of Waldorf pedagogy, and he directed the implementation of these principles in the day-to-day operations of the first Waldorf school. Today, he remains the central figure in the Waldorf movement — he is the guiding light in what quite rightly are often called Steiner or Steiner-Waldorf schools. He is the indispensable man, the founder, the authority.
One way to comprehend his preeminent role in Waldorf education is to consult the works written about Steiner by his admirers within the Waldorf movement. Consider, for instance, the booklet RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR.  It was written by Hermann von Baravalle, an Anthroposophist and close associate of Rudolf Steiner. Von Baravalle taught at the first Waldorf school, where he participated in faculty meetings run by Steiner. Later, he was instrumental in bringing Waldorf education to America.
RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR goes well beyond hagiography; it describes Steiner as virtually a flawless individual, nearly godlike in his perfection. This, indeed, is how Steiner is often seen and described by the advocates of Waldorf education. Other books about Steiner written by Anthroposophists and Waldorf educators bear such titles as • THE ESSENTIAL STEINER, • RUDOLF STEINER: Herald of a New Dawn, • A LIFE FOR THE SPIRIT: Rudolf Steiner in the Crosscurrents of Our Time, and • A MAN BEFORE OTHERS: Rudolf Steiner Remembered.  In Waldorf schools, when teachers utter Steiner’s name, the tone is usually reverential. Discussions between faculty members often center on questions of Steiner interpretation. When a quotation from one of Steiner's books or lectures is produced and hashed out, argument tends to end: The final word has been given, and that word is Steiner's.
In RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR, von Baravalle writes, “Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the Austrian philosopher and educator, is outstanding in our age and universal in his perceptions and achievements.” 
Von Baravalle continues, “A member of the faculty of the new school [i.e., the first Waldorf school] described the opening day...September 7th, 1919, as follows: ‘The celebration lasted from morning to night. Humor and gaiety stemmed from Rudolf Steiner ... How untiring this man was in all varieties of human response! To such a man children are greatly attracted ... Parents and pupils...were present. Rudolf Steiner was constantly surrounded. He had a kind word for everyone — a different remark for each individual person. Even to the youngest he seemed to make himself understood.’” 
There is little intentional humor in Steiner’s works, and the role Steiner usually assumed — and was accorded — was that of an unchallengeable savant delivering pearls of wisdom, not a conversationalist eager to hear what others had to say. But von Baravalle would have us believe otherwise:
“One of Rudolf Steiner’s outstanding characteristics was his ability to listen to another person. And the other person, whether in conversations, in discussions or in faculty meetings, felt thoroughly understood and at ease. Workmen for whom he held special courses and discussions...as well as personalities representing many different walks of life, expressed almost identical reactions: ‘He is our kind. He speaks our language.’ Rudolf Steiner’s answers to the frequent requests for advice that came to him were the outcome of this careful listening ... His personal concerns were submerged to the point of non-existence; [his] answers were wholly unbiased simply because they arose out of the specific issues and life situations themselves. The facts spoke, not he.” 
According to this account, Steiner was both a great listener and a highly empathetic man of the people — he was "our kind." Note, however, that his role was to provide answers — he was the font of wisdom. His conversations generally consisted of questions posed by his auditors and answers supplied, as if from on high, by himself. (See, for instance, the conversations recorded in DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS and FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, both published by the Anthroposophic Press. ) It was proper for Steiner to position himself above others because he almost transcended individual existence: “His personal concerns were submerged to the point of non-existence ... The facts spoke, not he.” His answers, in other words, were transparently true. He was, in this sense, a spiritual paragon. Who wouldn't want to receive guidance from such a selfless, far-seeing source?
After discussing the stages of childhood development as posited by Steiner (RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR, pp. 22-30), von Baravalle returns to the subject at hand: Rudolf Steiner in his role as peerless educational authority. Von Baravalle pursues this aim primarily by giving quotes from Steiner. Some of them are, to non-Anthroposophists, shocking. Let's look at a few.
• Steiner: “In the Waldorf School what a teacher IS is far more important than any technical ability he may have acquired in an intellectual way. The essential thing is that the teacher not only love children, but also love the methods he uses and in fact, the whole school procedure.”  Love of children is undeniably a virtue. But what about the rest of this statement? Stressing “what a teacher IS” surely means that the teacher must possess the proper values and wisdom — which to Anthroposophists can only mean that s/he must be an Anthroposophist or at least a fellow traveler. The rest of the statement bears this out. A Waldorf teacher need not possess “any technical ability...in an intellectual way” — that is, the teacher doesn't need to have mastered much if any subject matter (i.e., the material he teaches) — but he must “love the methods he uses and in fact, the whole school procedure.” In other words, the Waldorf teacher doesn't really need to know what he is talking about when presenting material to the students, but s/he must be totally committed to the Waldorf approach — s/he must be wedded to the Waldorf system. The Waldorf teacher cannot explore other approaches, improve her/his methods, or use her/his initiative. The Waldorf teacher must unwaveringly follow Steiner’s dictums. The important thing is not what s/he knows, but what she IS: i.e., a follower of Rudolf Steiner. As Steiner once asserted, "As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” 
• Steiner: “Any attempt to improve the methods of education should consist in modifying the intellectual element which has become over-dominant since the fourteenth century ....”  The "improvement" Steiner means here is his own contribution. He "improved" modern education by essentially overturning it. Waldorf education is deeply anti-intellectual. Waldorf teachers need not master their subjects, and in their classroom work they should downplay intellect. Steiner frequently advised again "over-dominant" intellectuality or, more generally, the use of the brain. [See, e.g., "Steiner's Specific".] Waldorf education has spiritual goals, not primarily educational or intellectual goals. [See "Spiritual Agenda".] Children sent through Waldorf schools are not taught much about the real world, but they are nudged toward a path emphasizing mystical imaginings and cloudy, dreamlike visions. [See, e.g., "Thinking Cap".] By all means, Waldorf teachers should minimize "the intellectual element." Academics are consequently often weak at Waldorf schools, while arts are promoted for their supposed spiritual effects. [See "Academic Standards at Waldorf" and "Magical Arts".] Steiner was an intellectual — he made his living by peddling the products of his brainwork. But the educational system he devised de-emphasizes the importance of the brain. He taught, "[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition.” 
• Steiner: “As much as I appreciate the achievements of experimental and statistical methods in education, I also know that they are a symptom of the loss of direct inner contact between human beings. We have become alienated to what is inwardly human....”  Some of this is just Anthroposophical jargon. No one can know the inner reality of anyone else; there is no such thing as “direct inner contact between human beings.” But put that aside. Note the gist of the statement. As so often, Steiner declares his opposition to objective, scientific knowledge (“statistical methods in education”). Even more startlingly, he expresses opposition to “experimental...methods in education” (he "appreciates" such methods, BUT they are symptomatic of serious modern ills). We might observe that, in 1919, Waldorf education itself was an experiment. From an Anthroposophical perspective, however, Waldorf education is firmly rooted in the will of the gods — as relayed by Rudolf Steiner — and thus not at all uncertain or questionable. Steiner claimed to understand "what is inwardly human" — that is, the human soul and spirit — and his new form of education was meant to address this inward human essence. If he was correct about mankind's inner essence, then perhaps Waldorf schooling may be spiritually beneficial. But if he was not correct (and we have many reasons for doubting his correctness), then Waldorf schooling may be purposeless, or worse.
• Steiner: “The artist does not bring the divine to the earth by letting it flow out into the material world, but rather raises the world into the sphere of the divine.”  This is the key to the arts-based Waldorf approach that, at least initially, can seem so attractive. The arts at Waldorf schools are meant to raise children's souls into the divine sphere. But, again, note that the success of this enterprise depends on Steiner being correct about human spirituality and the divine. Waldorf schools are, in essence, churches. The teachers consider themselves priests, and they seek to guide their students toward divinity as propounded by Rudolf Steiner. [See "Waldorf Priests".] The schools usually do not openly describe themselves in such terms; families who opt for Waldorf are often surprised when, eventually, the spiritual beliefs and purposes of the Waldorf approach begin to emerge. Waldorf schools are well practiced in disguising themselves [see "Secrets"], but sooner or later the disguise may slip, and then the question for a family becomes whether to stay — whether the school you chose remains attractive to you after its real character is exposed. Your answer will largely depend on whether you can accept the occult beliefs on which the schools are based. [See, e.g., "Foundations" and "Soul School".]
Von Baravalle tries to present Steiner — the man Anthroposophists revere — in the best possible light. For von Baravalle and his fellow Anthroposophists, Rudolf Steiner was virtually flawless: a saint, a great spiritual master, very nearly a god. If you enter a Waldorf community, you will be expected to adopt this attitude or, at the very least, not challenge it.
Rudolf Steiner died in 1925, but his words live on.
There are specialty publishing houses in Germany,
the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere
that are largely devoted to repackaging and reissuing
Some general purpose publishing houses
also offer a sampling of Steiner texts.
There is considerable overlap among the many books
published in Steiner's name.
Still, his output was indeed enormous.
He wrote numerous books and
delivered literally thousands of lectures.
— including many Waldorf teachers —
these works are virtually holy texts.
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002.]
[Health Research, 1972.]
[Anthroposophic Press, 1987.]
* We are considering a nice, concise statement by Steiner. Here is a more typical example of Steiner is full flight:
[Anthroposophic Press, 1993.]
[Anthroposophic Press, 1996.]
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995.]xxxx
Steiner did not write most of the books attributed to him.
Most consist of transcripts of his lectures
and other utterances
painstakingly transcribed by his devout followers.
Waldorf schools are well practiced in disguising themselves, but sooner or later the disguise may slip, and then the question becomes whether to stay — whether the school you chose remains attractive to you after its real character is exposed. Your answer will largely depend on whether you can accept the occult beliefs on which the schools are based. Here are some examples. Anthroposophists take statements like the following quite seriously. They believe these things. Can you?
“[T]he moon today is like a fortress in the universe, in which there lives a population that fulfilled its human destiny over 15,000 years ago, after which it withdrew to the moon together with the spiritual guides of humanity ... This is only one of the ‘cities’ in the universe, one colony, one settlement among many ... As far as what concerns ourselves, as humanity on earth, the other pole, the opposite extreme to the moon is the population of Saturn.”
— Rudolf Steiner,
RUDOLF STEINER SPEAKS
TO THE BRITISH
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998),
“Buddha...became for Mars what Christ has become for the earth ... The Buddha wandered away from earthly affairs to the realm of Mars ... [T]he Buddha accomplished a Buddha crucifixion there.”
— Rudolf Steiner,
LIFE BETWEEN DEATH
pp. 72 & 207.
"[W]e see...groups of human souls in their descent from pre-earthly into earthly existence wander to regions situated, for example, in the vicinity of volcanoes, or to districts where earthquakes are liable to occur ... [S]uch places are deliberately chosen by the souls thus karmically connected, in order that they may experience this very destiny [i.e., fulfill their karma]... [They think] 'I choose a great disaster on earth in order to become more perfect....'"
— Rudolf Steiner,
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1974),
“[Science] sees the heart as a pump that pumps blood through the body. Now there is nothing more absurd than believing this....”
— Rudolf Steiner,
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990),
“There are beings that can be seen with clairvoyant vision at many spots in the depths of the earth ... They seem able to crouch close together in vast numbers, and when the earth is laid open they appear to burst asunder ... Many names have been given to them, such as goblins, gnomes and so forth ... Their nature prompts them to play all sorts of tricks on man.... ”
— Rudolf Steiner,
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995),
“With the students, we should at least try to...make it clear that, for instance, an island like Great Britain swims in the sea and is held fast by the forces of the stars. In actuality, such islands do not sit directly upon a foundation; they swim and are held fast from outside.”
— Rudolf Steiner,
WITH RUDOLF STEINER
(Anthroposophical Press, 1998),
"Within the brain there is absolutely no thought; there is no more of thought in the brain than there is of you in the mirror in which you see yourself."
— Rudolf Steiner,
WONDERS OF THE WORLD,
ORDEALS OF THE SOUL,
OF THE SPIRIT
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983),
I prefer to think that Steiner was sane. This keeps our attention on his statements, not on him as an individual. After all, we cannot really know him. He is gone, we cannot interview him, we cannot quiz him. But his doctrines are still with us. We can read his statements. We can form our opinions of those statements.
Another view is certainly possible, however. Steiner may have been sane, but then again he may have been a lunatic. Certainly his doctrines have a lunatic quality.
Steiner said he had his first spiritualistic experience when he was a young child, between five and seven years old. He claimed that the soul of a dead relative visited him. Biographer Gary Lachman writes “Although he hadn’t met her before, Steiner could tell that she looked like people in his family. She then spoke to him, saying, ‘Try now, and later in life, to help me as much as you can.’ ... It eventually came out that a close relative had committed suicide on the same day that Steiner had his vision.” 
If Steiner truly believed he had seen a ghost or spirit, then it is possible that he was cracked all his life, boy and man. In that case, his decision to turn to occultism as an adult makes a sort of antic sense — esoteric theories may have enabled him to get a grip on the visions that haunted him. Some of his biographers acknowledge the possibility that he was a bit deranged. Describing the young Steiner’s obsessiveness, Gary Lachman writes “Such unhealthy pursuits — at least from the point of view of the average person — may indeed be the start of what Anthony Storr calls a ‘schizophrenic’ personality....” 
Where does this get us? The two possibilities are that Steiner’s “clairvoyant” visions were intentional lies told by a sane charlatan, or they were the hallucinations suffered by a madman. The practical difference, for us, is slight. Steiner set forth an amazing array of nutty propositions, insisting that they are the truth. They are anything but that. They are falsehoods told by a crackpot, define that term however you like.
The only thing that really need concern us is that Steiner's occult visions form the basis of Waldorf education. Unless you find good, solid sense in Steiner's strange pronouncements, you will not ultimately find good solid sense in Waldorf schooling. To review more of Steiner's pronouncements, see, e.g., "Say What?" and "Wise Words". To consider how such pronouncements underlie Waldorf pedagogy, see, e.g., "Oh Humanity". To see how Waldorf teachers slip many of Steiner's beliefs into the lessons they teach, see "Sneaking It In".
[Astronomy, ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, 1771.]
"The Mars culture that human beings experience between death and a new birth went through a great crisis in the earth’s fifteenth and sixteenth centuries ... When these conditions came into force on Mars, the natural consequence would have been for Mars to continue sending down to earth human beings who brought Copernican ideas [like that the planets go around the Sun] with them, which are really only maya [i.e., illusion]. What we are seeing, then, is the decline of the Mars culture. Previously Mars had sent forth good forces. But now Mars sent forth more and more forces that would have led us deeper and deeper into maya. The achievements inspired by Mars at that time [i.e., Copernican ideas] were ingenious and clever, but they were maya all the same.”
— Rudolf Steiner,
AND THE MISSION OF
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000),
Here is a brief summary of Rudolf Steiner’s life: 
For a somewhat speculative portrait of Rudolf Steiner,
see the Afterword to "Steiner's Specific".
To delve into the religion from which Steiner derived
the core of his teachings — Theosophy —
[public domain photo].
Here are two thumbnail biographies of Rudolf Steiner:
First, from THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA:
Rudolf Steiner, (born Feb. 27, 1861, Kraljevi?, Austria—died March 30, 1925, Dornach, Switz.), Austrian-born spiritualist, lecturer, and founder of anthroposophy, a movement based on the notion that there is a spiritual world comprehensible to pure thought but accessible only to the highest faculties of mental knowledge.
Attracted in his youth to the works of Goethe, Steiner edited that poet’s scientific works and from 1889 to 1896 worked on the standard edition of his complete works at Weimar. During this period he wrote his Die Philosophie der Freiheit (1894; “The Philosophy of Freedom”), then moved to Berlin to edit the literary journal Magazin für Literatur and to lecture. Coming gradually to believe in spiritual perception independent of the senses, he called the result of his research “anthroposophy,” centring on “knowledge produced by the higher self in man.” In 1912 he founded the Anthroposophical Society.
Steiner believed that man once participated more fully in spiritual processes of the world through a dreamlike consciousness but had since become restricted by his attachment to material things. The renewed perception of spiritual things required training the human consciousness to rise above attention to matter. The ability to achieve this goal by an exercise of the intellect is theoretically innate in everyone.
In 1913 at Dornach, near Basel, Switz., Steiner built his first Goetheanum, which he characterized as a “school of spiritual science.” After a fire in 1922, it was replaced by another building. The Waldorf School movement, derived from his experiments with the Goetheanum, by 1969 had some 80 schools attended by more than 25,000 children in Europe and the United States. Other projects that have grown out of Steiner’s work include schools for defective children; a therapeutic clinical centre at Arlesheim, Switz.; scientific and mathematical research centres; and schools of drama, speech, painting, and sculpture. Among Steiner’s varied writings are The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (1894), Occult Science: An Outline (1913), and Story of My Life (1924).
— "Rudolf Steiner." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 21 Nov. 2012.
Next, from THE SKEPTIC’S DICTIONARY:
The Austrian-born Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was the head of the German Theosophical Society from 1902 until 1912, at which time he broke away and formed his Anthroposophical Society. He may have abandoned the divine wisdom for human wisdom, but one of his main motives for leaving the theosophists was that they did not treat Jesus or Christianity as special. Steiner had no problem, however, in accepting such Hindu notions as karma and reincarnation. By 1922 Steiner had established what he called the Christian Community, with its own liturgy and rituals for Anthroposophists. Both the Anthroposophical Society and the Christian Community still exist, though they are separate entities.
It wasn't until Steiner was nearly forty and the 19th century was about to end that he became deeply interested in the occult. Steiner was a true polymath, with interests in agriculture, architecture, art, drama, literature, math, medicine, philosophy, science, and religion, among other subjects. His doctoral dissertation at the University of Rostock was on Fichte's theory of knowledge. He was the author of many books and lectures with titles like The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (1894), Occult Science: An Outline (1913), Investigations in Occultism (1920), How to Know Higher Worlds (1904), and "The Ahrimanic Deception" (1919). The latter lecture describes his "clairvoyant vision" of the infusion of various spirits into human history and reads like the memoir of Daniel Paul Schreber. He was also much attracted to Goethe's mystical ideas and worked as an editor of Goethe's works for several years. Much of what Steiner wrote seems like a rehash of Hegel. He thought science and religion were true but one-sided. Marx had it wrong; it really is the spiritual that drives history. Steiner even speaks of the tension between the search for community and the experience of individuality, which, he believed, are not really contradictions but represent polarities rooted in human nature.
His interests were wide and many but by the turn of the century his main interests were esoteric, mystical, and occult. Steiner was especially attracted to two theosophical notions: (1) There is a special spiritual consciousness that provides direct access to higher spiritual truths; (2) Spiritual evolution is hindered by being mired in the material world.
— Robert Todd Carroll, “Rudolf Steiner”, THE SKEPTIC DICTIONARY (Wiley, 2003), http://skepdic.com/steiner.html.
It is, perhaps, worth noting that despite the enormous importance attached to Steiner by his followers, Steiner is largely unknown outside the small circle of Anthroposophy. The item I have quoted from THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA is that reference work’s entire entry on Steiner.
We might also note that there are slight disagreements about the dates of various events in Steiner's life. Further research should resolve such issues, which do not, however, seem to affect the overall picture.
A German edition of Steiner's THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM
(Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1973).
When he set out on his public career, Rudolf Steiner was a secular intellectual and author who mocked occult movements such as Theosophy. In 1893, he published THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM — a straightforward philosophical treatise, not an occult text. Steiner thought the book would establish him as the next great German philosopher. This did not happen, and soon after his disappointment, Steiner astonished his family and friends by announcing that he was now an occultist. Thereafter, he revised THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM to make it consistent with his new, mystical beliefs. Waldorf schools still like to refer to Steiner as a philosopher (it sounds so much better than "occultist"), but Steiner wrote no further philosophical texts after switching to occultism.
Today it almost seems unfair to label someone an occultist, but Steiner embraced the term. He said such things as * "We have been equipped for our task by the methods of occult science", and • "Recently in my occult research the following question arose...", and • "[W]e must turn to occult science and ask what is that which is to be discovered in the spiritual world...", and so forth. [See "Occultism".] Steiner was an occultist, and Waldorf education is built on the foundation of his occult teachings. [See, e.g., "Soul School".]
It is also important to realize that the version of PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM studied by Steiner's followers today is the heavily revised, occultist final version. Steiner's original devotion to freedom became more and more compromised as he sank further into occultism. Essentially, in the mystical teachings he eventually devised, there is little scoop for true human freedom. You can freely choose the correct, upward path to spiritual improvement (Steiner's path), or you can freely choose the suicidal downward path to spiritual ruin (the path of Steiner's foes). This is the crimped view of "freedom" that ultimately underlies Waldorf schooling. [See "Freedom".]
The mystical nature of freedom as conceived by Steiner is reflected in this publisher's statement: "[F]reedom cannot be settled for us by philosophical argument. It is not simply granted to us. If we want to become free, we have to strive through our own inner activity to overcome our unconscious urges and habits of thought. In order to do this we must reach a point of view that recognises no limits to knowledge, sees through all illusions, and opens the door to an experience of the reality of the spiritual world. Then we can achieve the highest level of evolution. We can recognise ourselves as free spirits." — Rudolf Steiner Press, description of THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM, reprint edition, 2011.
Steiner occasionally revealed himself to be quite human — which shouldn't surprise us. Despite his pretensions, he was hardly a saint. Here are just a few indicators. Make of them what you will.
◊ Steiner was a German nationalist. He was closely associated with the leader of Germany's military at the beginning of World War I. [See "Steiner and the Warlord".] His fierce devotion to the German nation led him to make a series of remarkably nasty comments about President Woodrow Wilson, who brought the USA into the war on the side of Germany's enemies. [See "Woodrow".]
◊ Steiner's racial views were, by today's standards, appalling. [See "Steiner's Racism".] He deplored French policies that allowed blacks to settle in Europe, which led to this strange outburst: “The use of the French language quite certainly corrupts the soul ... The French are also ruining what maintains their dead language, namely, their blood. The French are committing the terrible brutality of moving black people to Europe ... The French as a race are reverting.” [See "Say What?"]
◊ Steiner was concerned with how he appeared in the press, and he lashed back at his critics. [See the addendum to "Was He Christian?", in which we see Steiner expressing his annoyance at Christian and American criticism of himself and Anthroposophy.] More generally, Steiner seemed to feel besieged by critics, and he encouraged his followers to think they were surrounded by enemies. [See "Enemies".]
◊ Although he promoted the sanctity of marriage, he left his first wife. Although he warned against the use of alcohol, he drank. Although he warned of the demonic nature of modern technology, he enjoyed being driven about in automobiles. [For some of these matters, see The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia. Revealing portraits of Steiner can also be found in THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT (James Clarke & Co., 2009), FEET OF CLAY (Free Press Paperbacks, 1996), MADAME BLAVATSKY'S BABOON (Secker & Warburg, 1993), and THE SKEPTIC'S DICTIONARY (http://skepdic.com/steiner.html).]
Sane or not, Steiner was just a guy, with a full set of human foibles and flaws. Which shouldn't surprise us.
[public domain photo].
Steiner was a polymath who tried his hand
at a great variety of projects.
Above is the entrance to the first Goetheanum,
designed by Steiner.
Named for the German poet Goethe,
the Goetheanum was the Anthroposophical headquarters,
a sort of cathedral.
[See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"]
When the building — made of wood — was destroyed by fire,
Steiner designed a replacement to be made of concrete.
[R.R. sketch, 2009 — based on photo, p. 155,
Rudolf Steiner, ARCHITECTURE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003).]
Exterior detail of the second Goetheanum.
The building was begun during Steiner's life
and completed after his death.
[R.R. sketch, 2009 — from the cover photograph,
The first Goetheanum was meant to embody global forms,
the second crystal forms.
Architecture may have been Steiner's greatest talent,
although his influence in architectural circles
has been slight.
Some of Steiner's rival leaders in the Theosophical movement
proclaimed an Indian child, Jiddu Krishnamurti,
the "World Teacher" and/or the reincarnated Christ.
Steiner rejected this, and partly as a result
(other factors were also involved)
broke from Theosophy to establish Anthroposophy
as an alternative spiritual movement.
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
“The ashes that a thought leaves strengthen bones, and so people with rickets do better if they think abstractly.” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM THE CONTENTS OF ESOTERIC CLASSES, 3-14-08, GA 266.
• ◊ •
Rudolf Steiner was impressive. Ask him a question about almost anything — how people lived on the continent of Atlantis, how to know higher worlds, how to treat rickets — and he had an answer. And not just any answer, but an elaborate answer, a startling yet authoritative-seeming answer. He displayed surprisingly wide knowledge. He cited authorities, scholars, mystics, ancient savants. He poured out a torrential flood of verbiage that could sweep you far from the shores of your old reality.*
He was impressive. Read his lectures and come away stunned. Here was a brilliant man. Just think what he might have contributed to humanity if he had used his brilliance constructively! But something went wrong. We can’t know what it was. Perhaps he was an intentional con man, a fully self-aware charlatan. Or perhaps he was insane — a sort of lunatic savant, if you will. In either case, the value of his teachings is essentially nil. (Also essentially nil is the likelihood that he was what he claimed to be, an occult initiate with clairvoyant access to virtually unlimited information about just about everything.)
I’m not a betting man, but if forced to choose one of these possibilities, I’d choose Door Number One. Charlatan.
I could be wrong, of course. I could be mistaken, for instance, in thinking that abstract thought is not a plausible treatment for rickets. But whether I am right or wrong is not very important. What is important is your own opinion. Are you a gambler? Are you prepared to put you money down — or, more to the point, put your children’s lives down — in the Great Steiner Gamble? If you send your children to a Waldorf school, you are gambling that your children will be best served by teachers who think that Steiner was almost always right about almost everything.
To my mind, you would be taking a huge gamble for very high stakes. So I would suggest this: Pause. Let the flood of Steiner’s verbiage recede. And then, in the cool of the evening, think things over. Do you believe that goblins exist? Do you believe that the heart does not pump blood? Do you believe that there is an invisible celestial storehouse of wisdom hidden from you but accessible to clairvoyants? Do you believe that the continents float in the sea and are held in place by the stars? Do you believe that abstract thought is a plausible treatment for rickets? Rudolf Steiner affirmed all of these astounding propositions and a great many more. Anthroposophists believe him. Do you?
For more of Steiner’s astounding propositions, see “Steiner’s Blunders”. But there I go again. I gave that essay its title. Perhaps a less pointed title would have been better. Perhaps when reading the Steiner quotations I present in that essay, you will conclude that they are pearls of great wisdom. I doubt it. Indeed, I think the essay presents example after example of things Steiner said that are clearly, factually, well-nigh indisputably wrong. Flat wrong. Astoundingly wrong.
Here is a chronological list of the books authored by Rudolf Steiner. Other books attributed to him consist of documents such a letters and transcripts of lectures, lessons, discussions, and sundry remarks. They are extremely numerous (Steiner gave well over 5,000 lectures), and they are important for anyone studying Anthroposophy, but Steiner did not review or correct most of them for publication. The following books, on the other hand, presumably represent Steiner's carefully considered, revised and proofread opinions:
GOETHE THE SCIENTIST (1883)
THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE IMPLICIT IN GOETHE’S WORLD CONCEPTION (1886)
TRUTH AND KNOWLEDGE (1892)
PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM (1893)
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, FIGHTER FOR FREEDOM (1895)
GOETHE’S CONCEPTION OF THE WORLD (1897)
MYSTICISM AT THE DAWN OF THE MODERN AGE (1901)
CHRISTIANITY AS MYSTICAL FACT (1902)
KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLD AND ITS ATTAINMENT (1904
- expanded as A ROAD TO SELF-KNOWLEDGE in 1912)
ATLANTIS AND LEMURIA (1904 - later expanded as COSMIC MEMORY)
THE STAGE OF HIGHER KNOWLEDGE (1905)
EDUCATION OF THE CHILD (1909)
OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (1909)
PORTAL OF INITIATION (1910)
SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE OF MAN AND HUMANITY (1911)
CALENDAR OF THE SOUL (1912)
THRESHOLD OF THE SPIRITUAL WORLD (1913)
FOUR MYSTERY DRAMAS (1913 - first installment in 1910)
RIDDLES OF PHILOSOPHY PRESENTED IN AN OUTLINE OF ITS HISTORY (1914)
GUIDANCE IN ESOTERIC TRAINING (1914 - first installment in 1904)
THE CASE FOR ANTHROPOSOPHY (1917)
GOETHE’S STANDARD OF THE SOUL (1918)
TOWARD SOCIAL RENEWAL (1919)
COSMOLOGY, RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY (1922)
ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (1924)
FUNDAMENTALS OF THERAPY (1925 - published posthumously,
and thus presumably not fully revised and proofread)
STORY OF MY LIFE (1925 - published posthumously,
and thus presumably not fully revised and proofread)
Here are some books that report statements made by Steiner on educational matters (there are others, as well; and some overlap). Anyone who wants to understand Waldorf education should become acquainted with them:
DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997)
EDUCATION AS A FORCE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997)
EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005)
FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998)
THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996)
THE NEW ART OF EDUCATION (Philosophical-Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1928)
PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 2000)
SOUL ECONOMY AND WALDORF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1986)
THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004)
WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vols. 1 & 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996)
In the 1920s, in Germany, Steiner was immensely famous. Indeed, his admirers looked on him as a potential savior of the German nation. To understand this, it is necessary to remember how chaotic and down-beaten Germany was in those years. The loss of World War I was a calamity that spread its dire consequences throughout the land for many years. The Versailles Treaty had dismembered Germany and burdened it with the obligation to pay ruinous reparations to the victorious Allies. Germany indeed needed salvation, and desperate citizens cast their eyes everywhere, looking for any sign of hope.
Some turned to Steiner. Some turned to Hitler. Some turned elsewhere.
This helps explain why Hitler once attacked Steiner in print. “Who is the driving force behind all this devilishness? The Jew! The friend of Doctor Rudolf Steiner....” [Adolf Hitler, “Staatsmänner oder Nationalverbrecher?” (Völkischer Beobachter, Mar. 15, 1921.)]  Hitler's anti-Semitism was so extreme, he may well have thought Steiner a friend or dupe of the Jews. Actually, Steiner was himself an anti-Semite [see "RS on Jews"], but a somewhat muted one. Steiner associated with Jews and occasionally had good things to say about the Jewish people as a whole. Certainly Steiner never advocated the extermination of all the world's Jews — he never imagined the Holocaust. He taught that Jews should merge into other races and peoples, thereby peacefully ceasing to exist as a separate people.
Hitler became notorious for turning on his friends, conniving and even actively participating in their murder, as in the Night of the Long Knives. Steiner, as far as we know, was no friend of Hitler or National Socialism, but there were more affinities between Nazism and Anthroposophy than anyone on either side was entirely comfortable with. [See "Sympathizers?"] And Hitler would have been incensed at any suggestion that Rudolf Steiner might be Germany's savior. Hitler had someone else in mind for that job.
The American editors of an early English-language edition of Hitler's book, MEIN KAMPH, placed Steiner in an interesting context, Describing the hysteria and despair sweeping Germany after World War I, they wrote “Extraordinary phenomena...were numerous during the post-War years — e.g., the curious 'healer' of Hamburg, Häuser, who was followed by immense crowds; the Bibelforscher (Bible Students) who raised tides of adventistic emotion in Silesia and elsewhere; and Rudolph [sic] Steiner, the anthropologist [sic], who built houses resembling trees; etc.” [MEIN KAMPF (Reynal & Hitchcock, 1940 - copyright 1939, Houghton Mifflin, published by arrangement with Houghton Mifflin), footnote on p. 467.]
Steiner's followers, of course, see him in a different context. The following is from a website promoting the sort of organic gardening that Steiner advocated: "Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), founder of biodynamics, was a highly trained scientist and respected philosopher. Long before many of his contemporaries, Steiner came to the conclusion that western civilization would increasingly bring destruction to itself and the earth if it did not begin to incorporate an objective understanding of the spiritual world and its interrelationship with the physical world. Steiner's spiritual scientific methods and insights have given birth to practical holistic innovations in many fields including education, banking, medicine, psychology, the arts and, not least, agriculture." [https://www.biodynamics.com/steiner.html]
(The only "science" Steiner actually undertook was his own "spiritual science" — his professed use of clairvoyance to study the spirit realm. See "Steiner's 'Science'".)
The following also appears in "Foundations".
If you read it there, you may not need to read it here.
Does Rudolf Steiner matter? Are Waldorf schools important? How about Anthroposophy — is there any point in spending time thinking about a minor, cultish religion that denies it is a religion, bearing in mind that almost no one has ever heard of it, and fewer still can even pronounce its name? What are we doing, talking about these things? Wasting what little life we are given?
Digging into this stuff is a waste of time. Except...
One could argue that Waldorf schools are important because they constitute a fast-growing “educational”/occult movement that sucks in ever-growing numbers of children, at least some of whom may be severely damaged. Absolutely, seen in this way, Waldorf schools are important.
But there’s an even larger perspective in which, although they are minor, Waldorf schools are major: They are one manifestation of humanity’s predilection for self-deception; one instance of our willingness to buy snake oil. Not just willingness but, indeed, desperate enthusiasm. Deliver us. Show us the way! SAVE US!
Save us from what, exactly? From the wonder and beauty of life? Quarks. Muons. Galaxies. The aurora. Cheetahs. Whales. Sunrises. Wildflowers. (Okay, Cheetahs can bite. Save us from them.) Is this what we are so desperate to transcend? Life is hard, life is short, our condition is difficult, we will die. But in the meantime, here we are, alive, in the cusp of magnificent creation — it is all around us, free for the taking. Yet we desperately want to escape, to believe lies, to embrace fantasy — even though our imaginings pale in the face of reality.
We humans are a dissatisfied bunch. That's why we clawed our way to the top of the heap. If at any stage of our long history we had been satisfied, we would have sat on the bank of the stream, watched the pretty fish swim by, and been happy. But that's not our way. Human history is a dreadful succession of struggles, conflicts, wars... Our hearts are seldom light. Our dissatisfaction has been built into us by evolution: The biggest and baddest guys too often have clubbed the rest into submission, gotten the most mates, and monopolized the pick of the foodstuff. The genes of these striving conquerors have been passed on to their numerous offspring, so that subsequent generations have continued their struggling, battling ways, seeking to scratch the unending itch. We are dissatisfied. So, among other consequences, we have repeatedly fallen for the offers of illusory satisfaction held out by a long, long line of false prophets. Of course, rather than bringing us to the light, these frauds have generally led us even farther into darkness. That is the very definition of false prophecy.
Enter Steiner, his nutty religion, and his deeply flawed educational scheme. Steiner's inventions represent one particularly odd version of mankind’s rush into darkness. It’s a rush we must stop if we, and all the creatures of the Earth that are subject to our dispensation, are to survive. Steiner, and Anthroposophy, and Waldorf schools occupy one little corner of the loony bin we have built for ourselves. If we can disassemble this little corner, maybe we can move on to disassemble the rest, and maybe one day mankind can face the light unflinchingly, and the future will be bright. I hope so. I’m not confident that humankind will opt for sanity — our record so far doesn't inspire much confidence — but I do hope.
MYSTIC SEALS AND COLUMNS
by Rudolf Steiner
[Health Research, 1969].
"All his adult life Steiner participated in various secret societies and magical orders, establishing some of his own. For example, he joined the Masonic rite led by Heinrich Klein and Franz Hartman, who initiated Steiner into the 'Brothers of Light and the Rosicrucian Illuminati' (King, 1970, p. 206). He also bought a membership in 'Memphis-Misraim' from Theodore Reuss in 1905 (Koenig, http://www.cyberlink.ch/~koenig/steiner.htm paragraph 8), and used that ritual as a basis for his 'Mizraim Aeterna,' which he hoped would restore the Eleusinian mysteries. Rituals of 'Mystica Aeterna' were celebrated only in the presence of Rudolf Steiner and by members of the Theosophical Society (Koenig, paragraph 17). The mystagogue [i.e., Steiner] created an 'Esoteric School' that held closed meetings and utilized some Masonic rituals. In 1921, the 'Esoteric School' was transformed into the 'Free University for Hermeticism' (Koenig, paragraph 39).* Steiner borrowed extensively from Blavatsky's doctrine and took from the French occultist Eliphas Levi's Dogma and Ritual of High Magic (Koenig, paragraph 45). Steiner's Apocalyptic Seals are almost identical to Levi's seals pictured in the book. Steiner inspired others, like Max Heindel, to found the Rosicrucian Fellowship in Oceanside, California (Jenkins, 2000, pp. 82-83), and L. Ron Hubbard of the Church of Scientology.
"Steiner told followers of his clairvoyant abilities and other psychic powers, claiming to read the Akashic record to obtain information and channel Zarathustra. The Akashic Record is believed to be an invisible chronicle that records every word spoken and deed performed by mankind since the beginning of time. Occult believers say this record can be found in the ether and read by clairvoyants. Steiner taught believers how to read to the dead and to meditate on the deceased's handwriting in order to communicate with those that have died. He lectured profusely on topics such as reincarnation, hypnotism, occult science, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, mystery centers of the middle ages, astral bodies, gnomes as life forms, angels, karma, Christian mysticism, how to see spiritual beings, modern initiation, Atlantis, Lemuria, etc. Steiner's sermons, setting out his occult teachings, were recorded by his disciples and published in more than 350 volumes....
"During his time as General Secretary of the Theosophical Society, Steiner built Rosicrucian Temples. One lay beneath the Stuttgart House, although many of his followers who met upstairs knew nothing of its existence. In 1912, after a doctrinal rift with [Theosophist] Annie Besant over her claim that Jiddu Krishnamurti was a reincarnation of Christ, the charismatic prophet [Steiner] instigated a schism in the Theosophical Society. Steiner took most of the German and Austrian believers with him to establish his own esoteric religion, Anthroposophy, in order to be free from Besant's theological restraints and impositions. Steiner and some followers moved to Dornach, Switzerland, to build their utopia which included an enormous mystical temple known as the Goetheanum. The original intricately carved and painted wooden building burned down during Steiner's day but was replaced by a subsequent temple designed by Steiner and constructed out of concrete. The second Goetheanum remains the world headquarters and spiritual center for Anthroposophy today."
— Sharon Lombard, "Spotlight on Anthroposophy"
* Koenig, P. (n.d.). ANTHROPOSOPHY ORDO TEMPLI ORIENTIS: Theodor Reuss and Rudolf Steiner. Retrieved September, 9, 2001 from http://www.cyberlink.ch/~koenig/steiner.html
One of Steiner's basic premises is that the ancients were wise, because they had clairvoyant powers. [See "The Ancients".] Thus, the ancients' legends, myths, and "sciences" were right. Of course, the ancients stood at a lower level of evolution than we stand at today, Steiner said, so their teachings are no longer sufficient. We must move to higher, more acute spiritual wisdom. But our new spiritual discoveries will stem from the basic truths the ancients grasped (and that modern science entirely overlooks). This premise led Steiner to affirm amazing swaths of nonsense. Here's a small example: phlogiston. Before people learned better, they thought that things burn because of a substance called phlogiston. Steiner more or less conceded that there is no such material substance as phlogiston; he more or less agreed that, at one level, modern science is correct in speaking of oxygen, not phlogiston. However, Steiner said that the physical world where oxygen is found is merely an outward covering for the real universe, the etheric or spiritual realm, where phlogiston does indeed exist.
“[P]hlogiston simply belongs to the things Dante observed, whilst oxygen belongs to the things Copernicus observed. Phlogiston is the invisible principle that disperses, the ether." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM LIMESTONE TO LUCIFER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 50. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on illustration on p. 47. The purple area is "phlogiston; fire stuff".] But Steiner's statement is piffle. Neither phlogiston nor the universal ether exists — they are concepts discarded by science. Steiner affirmed them because his method was to accept virtually all "clairvoyant" knowledge while rejecting virtually all real knowledge. He reinterpreted many of the concepts he accepted, hammering them into a unified esoteric system. But he wound up accepting enormous quantities of nonsense. Gnomes, sylphs, fairies, giants, Norse gods, specters, ghosts — they all exist, one way or another, he taught.
Here is an explanation Steiner offered for plant growth. “And so we picture, from below upwards, in bluish, blackish shades the force of gravity, to which an upward impulse is given by the gnomes; and flitting all around the plant...[is] the undine power that blends and disperses substances as the plant grows upwards. From above downwards, from the sylphs, light is made to leave its imprint in the plant and molds and creates the form which descends as an ideal form and is taken up by the material womb of the earth; moreover fire spirits flit around the plant and concentrate cosmic warmth in tiny seed points. This is sent down to the gnomes together with the seed power, so that down there they can cause the plants to arise out of fire and life." — Rudolf Steiner, HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 125-126. [R.R. sketch, 2009. There is no plant in my sketch because there is none in the book's sketch.] It's good to see Steiner affirm the force of gravity, here. At other times, he said something quite different, denying that gravity is a universal force. (He said it exists on only some planets, not others.) His typical stance was to claim that modern science is either wrong or irrelevant — Truth comes not from science or the rational brain but from clairvoyance which is seated in nonphysical organs. Given the choice between modern knowledge and superstitious error, he almost always opted for the latter. On occasion, he claimed that his teachings are consistent with the findings of science, but this is obviously untrue and he often took the other tack, berating science. [See "Science".]
Steiner admitted that oxygen and gravity can be spoken of in the material universe, just as we have physical bodies in the material universe. But our realer selves exist in the realer reality, in the ether and beyond the ether. We have four bodies, he taught, three of which are invisible. Two of these bodies rise up every night and fly to our true home, the spirit realm.
“Here (outline) we have the physical body and the ether body (yellow). It fills the whole of the physical body. And here (right) we have the astral body, which is outside the human being at night (red). At the top it is very small and hugely bulging down below. Then we have the I (violet). This is how we are at night. We are two people in the night." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 102. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on image in the book. The arrows show the astral body and "I" reuniting with the physical and etheric bodies in the morning.]
The only flaw in Steiner's doctrines is that, by and large, nothing described in them actually exists. By and large, it's all fantasy. We don't have four bodies, we have one. We aren't two people; each of us is one person. There is no etheric universe. There is no ether. There is no phlogiston. IMO, anyway.
What do you think?
Steiner celebrated the human being, assuring his followers that to be human is to stand at the center of the universe. "[H]igher beings, the gods, also have a religion: they too look up to something in awe and reverence. What is this religion of the gods? What is it that the gods revere? It is man. Man is the religion of the gods." — Rudolf Steiner, quoted by Charles Kovacs, THE SPIRITUAL BACKGROUND TO CHRISTIAN FESTIVALS (Floris Books, 2007), pp. 72-73. This is a flattering idea (although some will consider it blasphemous). But before we base our lives on it, we might want to ask whether we have any evidence whatsoever to support it.
The word "Anthroposophy" means human wisdom or knowledge of the human. "Theosophy" means knowledge of God or gods. When Steiner broke with Theosophy to found Anthroposophy, he shifted the center of his focus from the gods to man. [See "The Center".]
A few more images of the human being
as described by Rudolf Steiner:
“We must be really clear about this. It is sheer nonsense to regard the human form as physical; we must see it as a spiritual form. The physical in it is everywhere present as minute particles ... If someone were to take any of you by the forelock and extract your form, the physical and also the etheric [bodies] would collapse like a heap of sand ... Man, however, still possesses his form when he goes through the gate of death. One sees it shimmering, glittering, radiant with colours. But now he loses first the form of his head; then the rest of his form gradually melts away. Man becomes completely metamorphoses into an image of the cosmos. This occurs during the time between death and a new birth...." — Rudolf Steiner, HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 208-209. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on image on p. 208; arbitrary colors.] Steiner's weird doctrines flatter the human ego. For this reason, many people are drawn to such teachings. A respect for reason, reality, and truth may lead us in a different direction. People of faith who adhere to orthodox religions may agree with Steiner on some points, but they may also find that he strains credulity (or slides into heresy) on other points. Secularists will certainly consider Steiner's teachings bizarre and, in most cases, false.
“When we place man in the universe in accordance with his true identity — on earth he is, so to speak, a miniature image of himself — we must place him in the eagle sphere as regards his head ... The lion is the representative of the animals which are in the real sense sun animals ... The lion prospers best when the planets above the sun and the planets below the sun are in a constellation where they exert the least influence on the sun itself ... [W]hat lives in the lion's gaze lives also in the organization of the human chest and heart ... [W]e must put the human being into the diagram in such a way that we place the heart and lungs in the region of this sun activity ... When we turn to the inner planets ... we have first the Mercury sphere. This has to do with the finer parts of the metabolic system ... [T]he region of Venus...is connected with the somewhat coarser parts of man's metabolic system ... We come next to the sphere of the moon. (I am drawing this in the sequence customary today in astronomy; I could also draw it differently.) There we enter the region which exerts influence on the metabolic processes, for these are connected with the moon ... [T]he facts of human earthly evolution are such that, to an ever increasing degree, eagle forces wish to concentrate one-sidedly on the human head, lion forces on he human rhythmic system, and cow forces on the human metabolism and all human activity on earth." — Rudolf Steiner, HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 23-26. [RR sketch, 2009, based on the one on p. 23.] According to Steiner, we are microcosms — we contain within ourselves the distillation and potentiality of all the high universe. We're It, the center, the berries, the cat's pajamas, the Sun and the Moon. Some of this may be seem attractive, but some of it is quite clearly an occult fantasy. "Educating" children under the influence of occult fantasy may not be best for the children individually or for mankind as a whole.
"When the child is very young, all development comes from the head. Once the second teeth have developed [around age seven], and one is therefore older, all development comes from the chest. This is why one has to be so careful about children's breathing between their 7th and 14th years ... [I]t will only be when a person has reached sexual maturity [according to Steiner, around age 21] that development comes from the whole human being, from the limbs ... We develop further in our 20s and 30s ... Coming from the 40s into the 50s, one needs to use the chest more again, and in old age one needs to use the head more again. But at that time, in old age, one should not use the physical head but the more subtle ether head." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 144-145. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on sketch on p. 144.]
"Over there in Asia, people who still had some knowledge learned to read in the world of the spirit using the Sephiroth Tree. And in the early Christian centuries people who still knew something of the world of the spirit learned to read using the Aristotelian tree of life ... Bit by bit, however, all of them — those of the Sephiroth Tree and those of the Aristotle tree — forgot what these things really were for ... [T]oday we can only gain insight into these things through the science of the spirit [Anthroposophy] ... [M]odern science no longer knows of the things people did know in the past. They have to be regained ... [P]eople simply have no feeling any longer for the way these things hang together ... [W]e have an old German word that is used primarily when people have particular dreams. When a spiritual human being oppresses them, this is called the Alp. People say something comes and possesses a person. Later Alp became Elp, and then elf — those spirits the elves. Man is merely a condensed elf ... [O]ne says: the aleph in man, the Alp in man. If you leave off the vowels, as is customary in Hebrew, you actually get alph — elf — for the first letter. Human beings say elf to speak of this spiritual entity. We talk about elves. Of course, people will now say that these were invented by the ancients, a product of their imagination, and that we no longer believe in them today. But the ancients would say: 'You only have to look at the human being and you have the alph, only the alph is inside the body and is not a subtle etheric entity in man but a dense, physical one.' But people have long since forgotten how to consider the human being." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM BEETROOT TO BUDDHISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999 ), pp. 175-177, [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on the one on p. 164.]
And here is an image of the context of human life:
This is a sketch of a set of windows
in the Goetheanum, designed by Steiner.
We see multiple gods and demons, the abyss,
animals, angelic assistance, astrological powers,
We see Steiner's occult vision,
which differs from the universe described
in mainstream religions
and from the universe revealed
by modern science.
This is the universe of Anthroposophy,
the universe Waldorf schools would like
to lure students toward.
[R.R. sketch, 2014, based on photograph on p. 17
of THE GOETHEANUM: School of Spiritual Science
(Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press, 1961.]
All such images derive from the faculty
Steiner claimed to possess: clairvoyance.
Clairvoyance, according to Steiner, is connected to feeling, subjective experience, imagination... These are states that science views askance, but Steiner affirmed them. This led him to make some remarkable statements. “[W]e need to acquire an inner feeling, an inner response to the natural world ... [T]he earth is solid rock. Materialists believe in this solid rock ... But someone who is hoping to gain higher insight develops some degree of anxiety on coming face to face with this very rock. This anxiety does not appear at all when we are in heated air ... But one can also reach a point where the heated air makes one anxious ... The more you feel at ease in it, the more does the heated air make you anxious ... But if you put up with the heat, if you stay with it, and actually feel comfortable with it, the parts I have drawn rather schematically in the air here [yellow] oddly enough begin to fill up with all kinds of images [upper white blotches] and the world of the spirit literally begins to show itself, the world of the spirit that is always present in the air though people do not feel it because they do not want to put up with the heat ... Once one has got used to seeing all these spirits that are in the air...you will gradually also begin to perceive something where the solid rock is concerned ... [Y]ou yourself slip out of your body far enough so that you'll no longer feel the stones to be an obstacle but enter into the sold ground the way a swimmer does the water." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 190-192. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on Steiner's on p. 191. The white area near the bottom is "solid" rock that one begins to penetrate, as shown in red. The red line crossing through the upper white areas is also penetration by human consciousness.]
Steiner was highly educated and highly intelligent. Many people who met him found him a compelling figure. The uses he made of his gifts are questionable, however. In developing Anthroposophy, he created what is in effect an occult theory of everything. It is an impressive edifice, structured and orderly. But is it true — does it, in fact, provide an explanation of reality?
Consider the numbers seven and twelve. Steiner insistently ranked phenomena in hierarchies, listings that range from low to high. He particularly liked to offer rankings consisting of seven or twelve stages. He taught that seven is the occult number of perfection; as the sum of three (divinity) and four (creation), it manifests in the seven "sacred planets," the number of notes in a musical scale, the number of colors in the rainbow, and other ordained phenomena. Twelve, Steiner taught, summarizes "all things that co-exist in space." As the factor of three (divinity) and four (creation), twelve is the number of "macrocosmic powers", the number of constellations in the zodiac, and the number of Christ's disciples, among other holy manifestations.
The system Steiner concocted out of such precepts — Anthroposophy — impresses some people, including some very smart people. Steiner evidently penetrated to the divine order of things — he pulled everything together and "made sense" of it by showing how it all fits together. The problem, however, is that so many of Steiner's categories are arbitrary — stretched or trimmed to suit his predetermined intention. He didn't discover real results, he simply imposed a plan of his own invention (borrowed in large part from others, but reworked to suit his purposes).
We can speculate about Steiner's motives and convictions. Did he believe what he taught? Did he convince himself (a frequent occurrence for intellectuals, who can be bowled over by their own cleverness)? It isn't important. He convinced others, who became his followers. But we need not be convinced today, so long as we're willing to keep our eyes open and to insist on real results rather than arbitrary designs created on the basis of occult fallacy.
Here's a brief example of Steiner in action:
If we are prepared to accept the existence of Atlantis, and the truth of astrology, and the esoteric significance of Norse myths — then, perhaps, the remarkable recurrence of the number twelve may strike us as meaningful, and we may therefore accept the doctrine Steiner was determined to press, that human beings are microcosmic replicas of the divine macrocosm. It's a pretty conceit. But if we pause to reflect that Atlantis never existed, and astrology is bunk, and Norse myths are mere fantasies — and that there are far more than twelve "major nerves" proceeding from the head  and that the number of archangels is debatable  — then the significance of Steiner's teaching evaporates, the mist clears from our eyes, and we have the renewed opportunity to look upon reality realistically.
Perhaps the silliest-looking building in the known universe, this is the boiler house on the Goetheanum campus. The Goetheanum itself is impressive, and some of the secondary buildings on the campus are at least defensible as works of architecture. But then there is this. When some Waldorf schoolmates and I toured the Goethanum campus in 1963 and came upon the boiler house, we could hardly believe our eyes — and the shock has scarcely lessened with the passing of the years.
Steiner himself drew up the overall concept for the boiler house, and he was proud of his work. But there's a problem.
The most eye-catching features of the boiler house, clearly, are the concrete leafs or buds decorating the chimney — an effort to make the structure seem organic and natural. The expedient fails, spectacularly — and indeed it betrays Anthroposophical falsehood. If Steiner had been true to his own teachings, there would be no mechanical contrivances such as boilers at the Goetheanum. Steiner taught that machines and technology introduce demons into human life. The boiler house, then, populates the Goetheanum campus with demons. Trying to make a chimney resemble a gargantuan vegetable does nothing to diminish this "truth." Here is Steiner on the question of machines such as steam engines: “When we build steam-engines, we provide the opportunity for the incarnation of demons ... In the steam-engine, Ahrimanic demons are actually brought to the point of physical embodiment.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Relation of Man to the Hierarchies” (ANTHROPOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT, Vol. V, Nos. 14-15, 1928). A boiler is not a steam engine (although most steam engines are built around boilers), but Steiner's concerns about modern technology and the incarnation of demons extended far beyond specific types of machines. The boiler house at the Goetheanum produces heat and electricity for the campus, and — woe betide — this only makes things worse. "[S]steam engines...are by no means the most demoniacal. Whenever electricity is used...there is far more of demon magic." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KARMA OF VOCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1984), lecture 9, GA 172.
As to the possibility that the contours of the boiler house magically disarm the demons — this just gets sillier and sillier, doesn't it? But the boiler house is not simply silly. It is an emblem of Anthroposophical truthlessness.
Steiner's ambitions, justified or not, were enormous.
Here is one of the defining Anthroposophical beliefs,
as stated by Anthroposophist Dr. Ronald E. Koetzsch:
"Human culture needs to be transformed
according to a spiritual vision of the human being.
Every domain of human thought and activity — education,
medicine, agriculture, social, economic and political life,
art, architecture, religious life, care for the elderly, and so on —
must be renewed on the basis of
a spiritual understanding of the human being
[i.e., Steiner's Anthroposophy].
Only if we do this will the development of humanity
and of the Earth continue in a positive way."
— Dr. Ronald E. Koetzsch, "Anthroposophy 101"
near the end of his life
To see more images of Rudolf Steiner,
click here: Rudolf Steiner.
Another item from the "news" page:
“Anti-Christian influence is directly visible in Moorish architecture with its arches that run up into a point instead of being rounded. This is the mark of [the demon] Ahriman. In architecture Ahriman worked as the Antichrist when he replaced rounded Romanesque arches with horseshoe and pointed arches.” — Rudolf Steiner, ARCHITECTURE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 153.
• ◊ •
Rudolf Steiner had opinions about everything. He expatiated on any and all topics. He was a polymath. The breadth of his apparent knowledge stuns his followers.
But should we be impressed? Should we join the band of his devotees? How brilliant was Steiner, really? Consider the following quotation. The view taken of pointed arches is different (the speaker did sometimes contradict himself), but otherwise...
Here we find a man capable of discoursing on an almost infinite array of subjects, spiritual and mundane, artistic and political, historical and racial, intellectual and emotional. Here we find a polymath, a man of many parts, verily a man for all seasons. Such a man, Anthroposophists assure us, was Rudolf Steiner.
There is a difficulty, however. The polymath I have quoted (“When all's said ... how lovely they are!”) is not Rudolf Steiner. The speaker here is Adolf Hitler. [See HITLER’S TABLE TALK 1941-1944 (Enigma Books, 2000), p. 9.]
Now, before Anthroposophists blow a gasket, let me quickly assure everyone that I am not saying that Steiner was indistinguishable from Hitler.* My point is that, as different as Steiner and Hitler were in many, many ways, self-approving polymaths are alike in at least a few ways: They think they know everything, or they pretend that they do. They love to hear themselves talk, and they expect respectful attention from everyone around them. In HITLER’S TABLE TALK, we find Hitler playing the polymath, just as we find Steiner playing the polymath in all of his books and lectures. Steiner’s performances were generally impressive. But our admiration diminishes when we begin to suspect charlatanry, and it disappears almost completely when we pay close attention to what Steiner actually said. When the torrent of his monologues subsides and we can think again, we find that he has given us almost nothing worth keeping. Steiner wrote and spoke incessantly, voluminously, vaingloriously, but he said very, very little of value. To a shocking degree, his teachings are pure, puffed-up, elaborated nonsense. [See, e.g., “Steiner’s Blunders”, “Steiner Static”, “Steiner’s ‘Science’”, “Steiner’s Illogic”, and “Say What?”.]
* Lest there be any confusion, allow me to stress that, although there were some similarities between the two men, there were also vast differences between them. Both were short, dark-haired know-it-alls. Both had delusions of grandeur. Both, born in Austria, were German nationalists. Both were devoted to the Aryan race, both were anti-Semites, both reveled in Nordic mythology. But Steiner was, in practice if not wholly in ideology, a man of peace; Hitler was, first and last, a man of war. Steiner didn’t outfit his followers with uniforms and send them into the streets to brawl with the opposition. He didn’t violate international treaties, amass an army, and plunge the world into war. He didn’t establish death camps where innocents were butchered and gassed. Hitler did these things. Hitler was a mass murderer, a maniac, a monster. Steiner was merely a crank.
If we have to choose between Austrian-German delusional know-it-alls, Steiner is clearly the better choice. But perhaps a better course for us would be to dispense with delusional know-it-alls altogether. How about taking guidance from philosophers, scholars, and scientists who actually know what they are talking about? That would be a start, anyway.
Although Anthroposophists and Waldorf teachers
may often be evasive
when speaking with outsiders,
the titles given to books of Steiner's work
are often quite informative.
If you become interested in Waldorf education,
you really should buy some of these books
and study them carefully.
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005.]
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 1987.]
[Anthroposophic Press, 1972.]
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2006.]
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001.]xxxx
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 1968.]
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 1976.]
[Anthroposophic Press, 2001.]
[Anthroposophic Press, 1968.]xxx
I posted the following message in September, 2011
--- In email@example.com, "petekaraiskos" <pkcompany@...> wrote:
Discussions of insanity are always touchy, perhaps never more so than when they occur in the context of Anthroposophy. It would be difficult, for instance, to argue against the proposition that Rudolf Steiner was insane. But we cannot *prove* that he was insane, and in any case the question is irrelevant. What we can know with great clarity is that Steiner's teachings are insane, and this is really all that need concern us. This, and the knowledge that Waldorf education is built on the foundation of Steiner's insane teachings.
Steiner's followers will assure you that everything Steiner said was true. Some of his statements can be made to *seem* loony, they argue, but only when these statements are taken out of context. So don't just read an excerpted sentence, read the entire lecture or book and you will see that what Steiner said was perfectly sensible. This is a standard Anthroposophical claim. Sadly, however, it is untrue. The context of Steiner's looniest statements is more of Steiner's loony statements. Not to put too fine a point on it, generally speaking each loony sentence of Steiner's comes out of a loony paragraph of Steiner's which in turn comes out of a loony lecture or chapter of Steiner's.
Nonetheless, I agree that we should not be content reading a few excerpts from Steiner's works. As I have recommended for, lo, the past many years, I urge everyone to read some of Steiner's books and lectures in their entirety. Even books that merely record Steiner's more or less casual utterances are worth study. If you are considering sending a child to a Waldorf school, I absolutely recommend that you read FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER from cover to cover. Waldorf teacher-trainees often study this book in some detail, and they tend to treat it as a sort of Bible. So, if you want to know what Waldorf teachers think and believe, this is an invaluable source.
The problem with tackling FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER is that it is extremely long — 811 pages spread over two volumes. Perhaps you would prefer to start with something less overwhelming. Okay, allow me to recommend THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD. This is a very manageable 44 pages.
Warning: THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD is both lunatic and horrid. But then, so are many passages in FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER. Indeed, the Steiner statement that I have nominated as *The Worst Thing Rudolf Steiner Ever Said* comes out of FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER. Here it is, in toto. (Steiner was addressing Waldorf teachers. At one point one of the teachers is quoted. All the rest of the passage comes from Steiner's mouth.)
- Roger (Don't Blame the Messenger) Rawlings
Steiner's death mask.
This image appears at several places on the Web.
I have reproduced it from
Steiner's followers sometimes look upon him as virtually a second Christ. Thus, for instance, after his death, Steiner's wife Marie wrote this: “His life, consecrated wholly to the sacrificial service of humanity, was requited with unspeakable hostility; his way of knowledge was transformed into a path of thorns. But he walked the whole way, and mastered it for all of humanity.”  In the Bible, Jesus is depicted as wearing a crown of thorns and carrying his cross on the arduous path — afterwards called the Via Dolorosa — to Calvary, where he died for all of humanity.
Anthroposophists may consider Steiner to be Christlike for a specific reason. Steiner taught that Christ was not so much our Savior as our role model. “Christ shows himself to him as the great human Prototype and Example.”  Steiner's followers belief that in progressing so very far along the spiritual path, Steiner fulfilled the Christ Impulse more than almost anyone else since Christ himself. Steiner's teachings are gnosis, the hidden meaning of the Scriptures. Steiner claimed to have discovered gnosis through his powers of clairvoyance, which enabled him to read the Akashic Record, a celestial storehouse of all knowledge. “This history is written in other than ordinary characters, and in Gnosis, in Theosophy, is called 'The Akashic Record.'”  Bear in mind that whenever Steiner praised Theosophy, he meant his own doctrines, which as early as 1902 he began calling Anthroposophy. The meaning of Theosophy/Anthroposophy/Gnosis is the hidden meaning of Logos, the Word of God, which Christ embodied. “This took place through the Divine-Spiritual Logos, Christ, uniting His cosmic destiny with the Earth....”  This is what Steiner brought us, or so he and his followers have assured themselves.
Steiner did not literally claim to be a god — he said that spiritually correct humans will become gods, but none of us is there yet. Accordingly, Steiner did not claim infallibility. Yet he presented himself as virtually omniscient — a pose that caused him problems, as he occasionally complained. “Numbers of individuals come to me asking questions out of the blue about this or that, and often requesting information about matters that, at the time of questioning, are remote from my concern. They demand that I give them the most exact information. People are commonly convinced that a person who speaks out of a connection with the spiritual world knows about everything it contains and is always in a position to give out any information desired.” 
Despite the inconvenience he created for himself, Steiner persisted in his pose of near-omniscience. He claimed to be the bearer of truth concerning a nearly unlimited array of subjects, a claim he underscored by peppering his statements with such refrains as "I am right." He knew so very much about so very much because of his high spiritual consciousness, clairvoyance. So he was right about just about everything. Thus: ”You will have to admit that I am right in saying that our children....”  “Consult any botanist you like and you will see that I am right....”  “Consider the characteristic nature of those great minds and you will see that I am right in what I am saying. Take Fichte, Schelling, even Goethe....” 
Especially in spiritual matters, Steiner claimed to be almost always correct. He claimed to use “exact” clairvoyance, thus obtaining exact results. “The method applied in Dornach [i.e., at Steiner’s headquarters, the Goetheanum] can be designated as ‘exact clairvoyance.’”  Steiner said that he gained increasing knowledge of spiritual matters as he progressed in clairvoyant insight. He said that his early books, such as THEOSOPHY, did not present a complete picture because his clairvoyant insights were not yet wide and deep enough. But, later, he was able to fill in the picture more and more. His original views had not been wrong — merely incomplete. Essentially, he had been right all along.
The following are some of the last words Steiner wrote; they appear in the 1925 edition of his magnum opus, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE. The original edition of OCCULT SCIENCE had appeared fifteen years earlier. Steiner died not long after penning these words: “At the time when THEOSOPHY was written the subject-matter of the present volume [i.e., OCCULT SCIENCE] could not be brought into an equally finished form. In my Imaginative perceptions I beheld the spiritual life and being of individual Man and was able to describe this clearly. The facts of cosmic evolution were not present to me to the same extent. I was indeed aware of them in many details, but the picture as a whole was lacking ... Since the Imaginations described in this book [i.e., OCCULT SCIENCE] first grew into a total picture in my mind and spirit, I have unceasingly developed the researches of conscious seership [i.e., exact clairvoyance] into the being of individual Man, the history of Mankind, the nature and evolution of the Cosmos. The outline as presented fifteen years ago has in no way been shaken. Inserted in its proper place and context, everything that I have since been able to adduce becomes a further elaboration of the original picture.”  This was written on January 10, 1925. Steiner died on March 30, 1925.
At the end of the endnotes, I give a few more examples of Steiner's insistence that he knew best about just about everything.
— Roger Rawlings
You will find additional material further down on this page.
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 13. RUDOLF STEINER ◊◊◊
 Rudolf Steiner, FIRST STEPS IN INNER DEVELOPMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1999), p. 25.
 Hermann von Baravalle, RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR (St. George Books, 1960 revised edition).
Anthroposophists often claim that they do not slavishly follow Steiner. To some degree, this is true. Steiner advocated subjectivity — he urged his followers to trust their own intuitions, their own “clairvoyance,” their own felt “spiritual insight.” This naturally leads to differences of opinion among Anthroposophists — what one person “intuits” may be quite different from the revelations produced by someone else’s “spiritual insight.” Anthroposophists may find that their inner guides actually lead them to differ from Steiner himself, occasionally. Yet there can be no question that a form of virtual Steiner-worship exists among Anthroposophists. The speculation about when he will next be reincarnated is one indicator. Others can be found in the tellingly titled book, A MAN BEFORE OTHERS: Rudolf Steiner Remembered (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993). This collection of reminiscences by Steiner’s acquaintances contains numerous gems such as the following. Merely looking upon Steiner walking across a stage filled his followers with reverence: “Slowly, Rudolf Steiner walked over to the lectern. The way he walked revealed something of the balance between a soaring freedom from the body and the permeation of earth substance with will.” — A MAN BEFORE OTHERS, p. 209. One man's mincing gait is another man's spirit-infused glide.
 Robert A. McDermott, THE ESSENTIAL STEINER (Lindisfarne Books, 2007).
Stewart C. Easton, RUDOLF STEINER: Herald of a New Dawn (Anthroposophic Press, 1980).
Henry Barnes, A LIFE FOR THE SPIRIT: Rudolf Steiner in the Crosscurrents of Our Time (Anthroposophic Press, 1997).
A MAN BEFORE OTHERS: Rudolf Steiner Remembered (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), multiple authors.
 RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR, p. 5.
 Ibid., p. 14.
 Ibid., p. 17.
 Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997).
Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998).
“Concerning Soul Life in the Breathing Process,” HEALTH AND ILLNESS, Vol. 1, Lectures to the Workmen (The Anthroposophic Press), 1981, p. 127.
 RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR, p. 31; lecture delivered at Oxford in August, 1922.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118.
 RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR, p. 33; lecture delivered in Stuttgart, April, 1924.
 Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 60.
 RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR, pp. 34-35; opening address for the Waldorf School, September 1919.
 Ibid., p. 37; no indication of when or where Steiner said this.
 Gary Lachman, RUDOLF STEINER (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2007), pp. 12-13
 Ibid., p. 15.
Anthony Storr’s book, FEET OF CLAY (Free Press, 1997), deals with many self-proclaimed visionaries and leaders, including Steiner.
 For Steiner on Steiner, see Rudolf Steiner, THE STORY OF MY LIFE (Kessinger Publishing, 2003; facsimile of 1928 edition) and Rudolf Steiner, AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Anthroposophical Press, 2006) — essentially the same book but with a useful chronology added, pp. xvi-xxix.
In addition to Lachman's biography of Steiner, mentioned above, see Henry Barnes, A LIFE FOR THE SPIRIT (Anthroposophic Press, 1997) and Peter Washington, MADAME BLAVATSKY’S BABOON (Secker & Warburg, 1993).
Rudolf Steiner, Portrait circa 1915 http://www.rsarchive.org/RSBio.php
Rudolf Steiner Timeline http://oaks.nvg.org/wm6ra6.html#bio
Waldorfcritics posting 10482 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/10482
Waldorfcritics archive http://www.waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/JanusFaceOfAnthroposophy.html
Waldorfcritics posting 10511 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/10511
These and other sources do not always agree, so the chronology presented here is not gospel.
 Steiner was a secularist before his sudden conversion to Theosophy. Here, for instance, are comments he made about the occultist movement he himself joined:
"Theosophists...gaze upon the totality of European science and merely shrug their shoulders. They smile at the sobriety of reason and intellect, while they worship the Eastern way of seeking truth as the one and only way. Oh, it is really rich to observe the demeanor of superiority whenever you engage a Theosophist in conversation about the value of the more Western ways of knowing.
"...I advise anyone who meets with a Theosophist to stand fast, look him in the eye and with total sincerity, genuinely endeavor to glean something from the revelations of such a consummate 'enlightened one' who radiates Eastern wisdom from 'his inner being.' You will of course hear absolutely nothing, nothing but hollow phrases lifted from the Eastern scriptures, without even a hint of content.
"These 'inner experiences' are nothing short of hypocrisy. After all, it's not much of a trick to pull phrases out of a profound literature and then use them to declare that the sum and substance of Western expertise is totally worthless. Yet, [in reality], how much depth, how much inwardness actually lies behind the supposedly superficial intellect, behind the external concepts of Western science, of which the Theosophists haven't the slightest idea!
"But...the mystical way in which they assert incomprehensible foreign wisdom actually seduces a fair number of their contemporaries.
"It also proves advantageous to the Theosophists that they are able to stay on good terms with the Spiritualists and other off-beat, like-minded seekers of the spirit. Oh, sure, they [the Theosophists] contend that these Spiritualists treat the phenomena of the spirit world as external; whereas, they themselves [the Theosophists] seek to experience such phenomena as strictly within as well as totally spiritual. But they are not above walking hand in hand with the Spiritualists when they deem such an alliance to help them wage war on the unfettered science, the straightforward science of the modern era, which is solely supported by reason and observation." — Rudolf Steiner, "Theosophists" ("MAGAZINE FOR LITERATURE", No. 34, 1897), translated by Tom Mellett. The essay is reprinted in STEINER, COLLECTED ESSAYS IN LITERATURE, GA 32, pp. 194-196.
Note how Steiner's comments undercut his own later views, such as the emphasis he placed on inner experiences, and his opposition to what he called "natural" science — i.e., what he here calls "Western ways of knowing" or "Western science."
 The original text had little or no occultist content; in 1918, Steiner released a significantly altered edition. Freedom was always one of Steiner's themes, and Waldorf schools flag their advocacy of freedom. It is important to understand, however, that the Steiner/Anthroposophical view of freedom is essential Germanic and renunciant: It is the overcoming of unworthy impulses, not the positive affirmation of liberty. Steiner's vision of freedom, in fact, grew less expansive after he became an occultist. In Anthroposophical doctrine, there is a white path and a black path, right and wrong, and one's only real freedom (if it can be called that) comes in choosing between them. [See "Freedom".]
 "Steiner’s published polemics against Theosophical and other occult tendencies, from the 1890s, are very explicit. Examples include: Rudolf Steiner, 'Allan Kardec, Der Himmel und die Hölle' (1891) in Steiner, Methodische Grundlagen der Anthroposophie, 493-95; Steiner, 'Das Dasein als Lust, Leid und Liebe' (1892) in ibid., 510-11, attacking a recent anonymously published book by a leading Theosophist, Wilhelm Hübbe-Schleiden, whom Steiner later came to view as a Theosophical colleague and mentor; and above all Steiner’s fundamental critique, 'Theosophen,' published in his Magazin für Litteratur in 1897 and reprinted in Steiner, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Literatur, 194-96.
"In another 1897 text Steiner expressed stark disapproval of 'Christian and mystical notions'; see Steiner, Goethes Weltanschauung (Weimar: Felber, 1897), 81. See also the published report from 1893 on Steiner’s critical lecture in Weimar on spiritism and related phenomena, in which he roundly rejected supernatural explanations and the notion of 'otherworldly beings': 'Hypnotismus mit Berücksichtigung des Spiritismus,' unsigned report originally published in the newspaper Deutschland, March 26, 1893; reprinted in Beiträge zur Rudolf Steiner Gesamtausgabe 99 (1988), 11-12. Similar sentiments appeared his 1895 Nietzsche book as well.
"As late as 1900, Steiner still flatly rejected the notion of a 'supernatural order of the world': Steiner, Haeckel und seine Gegner, 30. The epistemological position outlined in Steiner's philosophical works from the 1890s is decidedly this-worldly and makes no reference, even obliquely, to the 'higher worlds' that stand at the center of Theosophical and Anthroposophical thought." [Peter Staudenmaier http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/12190]
 He may have first used the term even earlier — at least one source indicates 1900. Others indicate 1903.
 Hitler's primary target was not Steiner but the German foreign minister, Walter Simons. Hitler tried to smear Simons by associating him with Steiner: "[Simons is] an intimate friend of the Gnostic and anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner, a supporter of the threefold social organism [a societal scheme advanced by Steiner] and whatever they call all of these Jewish methods for destroying the normal spiritual condition of the peoples." [See Peter Staudenmaier's "Between Occultism and Fascism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race and Nation in Germany and Italy, 1900-1945", 2010, p. 140.] In reality, Steiner and Simons were not friends.
 There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves and seven pairs of major peripheral nerves. See, e.g., "Spinal and Major Peripheral Nerves", http://innvista.com/health/anatomy/spinal.htm. Also see "human nervous system." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/409709/human-nervous-system>.
 Christians generally accept the existence of four archangels, although the total number may be as high as fifteen. Jewish and Islamic traditions differ. See, e.g., http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/32645/archangel and http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Archangel. "archangel, chief angel . They are four to seven in number. Sometimes specific functions are ascribed to them. The four best known in Christian tradition are Michael , Gabriel , Raphael , and Uriel ." [THE COLUMBIA ENCYCLOPEDIA, Sixth Edition, 2008.]
 Rudolf Steiner, THE STORY OF MY LIFE (Anthroposophic Press, 1928), p. 340, Conclusion by Marie Steiner.
Of course, we must make allowances for the grief expressed by a widow. Nonetheless, the portraits Marie Steiner paints of her former husband has been widely embraced in Anthroposophical circles.
 Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Anthroposophic Press, 1969), p. 272.
 Rudolf Steiner, ATLANTIS AND LEMURIA (Rajput Press, 1911), p. 4.
 ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), “A Christmas Study: The Mystery of the Logos”.
 Rudolf Steiner, CHANCE, PROVIDENCE, AND NECESSITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1988), p. 74.
 Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 45.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE TEMPLE LEGEND AND THE GOLDEN LEGEND (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997), p. 350.
 Rudolf Steiner, POLARITIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF MANKIND (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1987), p. 124.
 Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 205.
 Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), pp. 7 - 12; preface to the 1925 edition, written January 10, 1925.
This is a sketch of scenery used at
the Goetheanum to stage one
of Steiner's mystery plays.
The following doesn’t prove much. All writers present their thoughts in the belief that much, if not all, of what they say is true. You might infer, for example, that I believe that I am correct in my criticisms of Waldorf schools and Anthroposophy.
Still, if you want to form of clear picture of Rudolf Steiner, you probably should note the extraordinary position he held in his followers' eyes and even in his own. He was the font of wisdom. What he said was true. There could be no argument. He had the answers. Accordingly, he continually told everyone what to think about almost everything.
Here are some examples of Steiner claiming a remarkable purchase on the truth. A quick dash around the Internet produced these; you could find many more:
“He who can follow History with spiritual insight will find it as I have said.” — THE MYSTERY OF GOLGOTHA (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1926).
”[T]he spiritual world (which as I have said is permanent, eternal, having nothing to do with time) passes into time....” — THE EAST IN THE LIGHT OF THE WEST (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1940).
“I have shown the erroneous aspect of this train of thought....” — MYSTICISM AT THE DAWN OF THE MODERN AGE (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1980), “Valentin Weigel and Jacob Boehme”.
”I have shown that everything evolves — therefore....” — REINCARNATION AND KARMA (Anthroposophic Press, 1962).
“There is no doubt that....” — Ibid.
"I have shown how these ancient philosophers formed their philosophies....” — "Perception and the Nature of Thought" (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), GA 161.
“I have shown which direction the observation of world phenomena must take....” — GOETHEAN WORLD VIEW (Mercury Press, 1985).
“I have shown how an opinion of long standing, prevailing in natural science....” — THE SOCIAL FUTURE (Anthroposophic Press, 1945).
“I have shown how the Platonic stream and the Aristotelian worked together....” — KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS, Vol. 4, p. 262.
“I have shown — and my philological training stood me in good stead — that....” — ASPECTS OF HUMAN EVOLUTION, p. 74.
“I have shown in a public lecture that I gave recently how....” — THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR, p. 65.
“Our first task, as I have shown you....” — THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD, p. 100.
“I have shown how mysticism can err in [his book] INTUITIVE THINKING AS A SPIRITUAL PATH [sic]....” — MYSTICS AFTER MODERNISM, p. 199.
“As I have shown already in these lectures, everything that enters as....” — WORLD-ECONOMY, p. 151.
“For this reason I have given you such pictures as could....” — Ibid., p. 173.
“And the objective observer cannot fail to see that the aim was indeed the one about which I have given you a number of hints — it is only possible to hint.” — THE KARMA OF UNTRUTHFULNESS, p. 45.
“I have given you a few results of recent research into the conditions of life between death and a new birth, and I hope there will be another opportunity....” — LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH, p. 32.
“And I have given you the technique whereby....” — SPEECH AND DRAMA, p. 374.
“Now I have given you my own humble opinion [sic]....” — COMMUNITY LIFE, p. 168. (OK. We'll give him this one.)
“I have given you an idea of how you can work your way upwards to the sphere of the....” — GUARDIAN ANGELS, p. 78.
“The examples I have given you will illustrate the path our teaching must take if....” — EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, p. 57.
“Now you see, gentlemen, the whole of this explanation which I have given you allows you to see that....” — FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS, p. 248.
“And that requires the kind of background which I have given you.” — THE ANTHROPOSOPHIC MOVEMENT, p. 41.
“The revolution of the earth is the result of the ego rhythm. And this is true, however astonishing it sounds.” — THE BEING OF MAN AND HIS FUTURE EVOLUTION, p. 59.
“This is true in quite a special degree of one property of the soul that is of outstanding....” — OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE, p. 272.
“This is true not only of speech but of....” — WHAT IS WALDORF EDUCATION?, p. 64.
“This is true of all poisonous plants....” — TRUE AND FALSE PATHS OF SPIRITUAL INVESTIGATION,. p. 153.
“And this is true of everything in life. [sic!]” — SPEECH AND DRAMA, p. 142. (Zowie.)
“This is true....” — ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS, p. 103.
“This is something you must understand, or you will not get anywhere in life. [sic!]” — RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 103.
“Yes, indeed, but you must understand it correctly.” — PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, p. 29.
“...these are the sort of things you must understand....” — COLOUR, p. 203.
“You must understand how this....” — THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 39.
“And now you must understand....” — EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS, p. 178.
“You must know that Eurythmy....” — STUDY OF MAN, p. 181.
“You must know that these are questions of the most earnest spiritual research, far removed from what is imagined by the layman who stands outside this....” — KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS,Vol. 4, p. 104.
“You must know that each limb of a human being is a complete human being, but with the head and chest stunted....” — THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 211.
“You must know that the ancient initiation wisdom, which described these things quite correctly in the way I have been doing....” — THE BOOK OF REVELATION AND THE WORK OF THE PRIEST, p. 240.
“[A]s you will have understood from my book CHRISTIANITY AS MYSTICAL FACT....” — KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS, Vol. 4, p. 166. (Steiner flogged his own work over and over and...)
“[B]y taking as a basis what is set forth in my book THEOSOPHY....” — DEED OF CHRIST, lecture 2, GA 107.
“I have described it in this way in my book THEOSOPHY, in accordance with the perceptions of of the soul-organ most immediately accessible by man [i.e., his own organ of clairvoyance]....” — “The Cosmic Word and Individual Man” (THE GOLDEN BLADE), GA 224.
”In my book I have described this crossing of the threshold by pointing out....” — “The Crossing of the Threshold and the Social Organism” (ANTHROPOSOPHICAL NEWS SHEET), GA 193.
“If you look at the way in which I have dealt with the subject in my book, CHRISTIANITY AS MYSTICAL FACT ... The only possible course was to give real answers...by writing my book THEOSOPHY ... [T]he description given by its leaders could only be put in a proper context in my book THEOSOPHY....” — THE ANTHROPOSOPHIC MOVEMENT, p. 66ff.
“[A]s you will have gathered from my lectures, as well as from my book RIDDLES OF THE SOUL...” — “Elemental Beings and Human Destinies” (THE GOLDEN BLADE), GA 194.
“In my book CHRISTIANITY AS MYSTICAL FACT the Lazarus miracle among others is described in its real....“ — RELIGION, p. 83.
“In my book RIDDLES OF PHILOSOPHY I have shown that although....“ — THE SUN-MYSTERY IN THE COURSE OF HUMAN HISTORY, GA 208.
“[A]bout the use of the principle of the number seven — as you will find in my book THEOSOPHY....“ — THE INFLUENCES OF LUCIFER AND AHRIMAN, p. 69.
Perhaps that’s enough. You must understand that I have only scratched the surface. As I have told you, many more examples can be found. There can be no doubt about this. As I have shown, I am right.
[Pierre le Bourgeoys, ~1615.]
[Jacques Callot, ~1617.]
[Magazine decoration, ~ 1900.]
[Rudolf Steiner, ~1920
Steiner's vision — which strikes many moderns as bizarre — is rooted in ancient, persistent mythologies and esoteric traditions. This doesn't make it, or them, true or false, but seeing Steiner in historical context can be helpful. Here is a tiny example — unimportant but perhaps suggestive: the strange winged head atop Steiner's sculpture, "The Representative of Humanity". It has many antecedents, in both recondite and popular sources. Steiner claimed that his spiritual "knowledge" came from his own "exact clairvoyance" — a claim that would be more credible if there were any real evidence that clairvoyance is possible. But there isn't. [See "Clairvoyance" and "Exactly".] In fact, Steiner was a busy scholar of the occult and also a cultural scavenger, reading and borrowing widely. His teachings incorporate borrowings from profound religious and philosophical works cheek-by-jowl with popular legends and superstitions.
The fundamental project in Anthroposophy — tying together all religions in a single über-faith — comes out of Theosophy, which in turn was influenced by an early effort to summarize the world's religious practices: RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES OF THE WORLD, by Bernard Picart and Jean Frederic Bernard, published in folio volumes from 1723 through 1737. Much information and misinformation from this work found its way into the later efforts.
"Puzza, or the 'Chinese Cybele,' sitting on a lotus flower"
[Bernard Picart; Getty Research Institute].
Mythic beings populate the Anthroposophical universe.
Invisible beings are active all around us, Steiner insisted.
They are real and important presences.
The natural world itself,
although in many ways divorced from the spirit realm,
is alive with mythical presences that, Steiner insisted,
are perfectly real.
The four main types of elemental beings cooperate,
for example, to promote the growth of plants.
"We gaze down into the depths of the earth not to seek there below for abstract ideas about some kind of mechanical laws of nature, but to behold the roving, wandering gnomes, which are the light-filled preservers of world-understanding within the earth ... [T]he gnomes, inside the earth, are actually the bearers of the ideas of the universe, of the world-all. But for the earth itself they have no liking at all. They bustle about in the earth with ideas of the universe, but they actually hate what is earthly ... The gnomes are really that element within the earth which represents the extra-terrestrial, because they must continually reject a growing together with the earthly ... [I]t is just from what I may call this feeling of hatred, this feeling of antipathy towards the earthly, that the gnomes gain the power of driving the plants up out of the earth. With the fundamental force of their being they unceasingly thrust away the earthly, and it is this thrusting that determines the upward direction of the plant's growth ... Once the plant has grown upwards, once it has left the domain of the gnomes and has passed out of the sphere of the moist-earthly element into the sphere of the moist-airy, the plant develops what comes to outer physical formation in the leaves ... [W]e now see these water-beings, these elemental beings of the water, these undines in their connection with the leaves ... They dream incessantly, these undines, but their dream is at the same time their own form. They do not hate the earth as intensely as do the gnomes, but they have a sensitivity to what is earthly. They live in the etheric element of water, swimming and swaying through it, and in a very sensitive way they recoil from everything in the nature of a fish; for the fish-form is a threat to them, even if they do assume it from time to time, though only to forsake it immediately in order to take on another metamorphosis ... [The growing plant next comes] into another domain, into the domain of those spirits which live in the airy-warmth element ... [A]n earlier clairvoyant art designated [these spirits] as the sylphs. Because air is everywhere imbued with light, these sylphs, which live in the airy-warmth element, press towards the light ... [Sylphs] feel most in their element, most at home, where birds are winging through the air. If a sylph is obliged to move and weave through air devoid of birds, it feels as though it had lost itself. But at the sight of a bird in the air something quite special comes over the sylph ... It is because the sylph embodies something like a human wish, but does not have its ego within itself but in the bird-kingdom, that it is at the same time the bearer of wishes of love through the universe ... After it has passed through the sphere of the sylphs, the plant comes into the sphere of the elemental fire-spirits. These fire-spirits are the inhabitants of the warmth-light element. When the warmth of the earth is at its height, or is otherwise suitable, they gather the warmth together. Just as the sylphs gather up the light, so do the fire-spirits gather up the warmth and carry it into the blossoms of the plants ... Plant-fructification takes place through the fact that the gnomes take from the fire-spirits what the fire-spirits have carried into the seed bud as concentrated cosmic warmth on the little airships of the anther-pollen. Thus the fire-spirits are the bearers of warmth."
— Rudolf Steiner,
MAN AS SYMPHONY OF
THE CREATIVE WORD
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1970),
lecture 7, GA 230.
What did Steiner think he was doing? What was he up to?
He aimed to make himself a big man at the center of the coming thing: scientific occultism, anti-Enlightenment enlightenment. That's where the action was, and he wanted to be in on it. He always wanted to be the center of attention.
I have argued that Steiner was not insane. I have argued that, instead, he was a conscious fraud, advancing esoteric "truths" that he knew quite well were fabrications. This seems clear. But, of course, there are always shades of gray. To extend Steiner the benefit of the doubt, we might conclude that he was genuinely impressed by Theosophy and other occult cosmologies. He found them persuasive or at least alluring, and he cast his lot with their proponents, offering himself as a new and superior occult visionary. He read widely among mystical texts and began piecing together their teachings and doctrines, seeking to make them coherent and plausible. His lectures and books persuaded at least one segment of the yearning spiritualistic community. Did they persuade Steiner himself? Did he begin to believe his amalgamations and fabrications? Did he come to believe that he truly was what he pretended to be, a clairvoyant genius? Possibly so. But if so — if he genuinely, sincerely lost contact with reality to this extent — then I would be mistaken. Losing contact with reality is a definition of insanity. Perhaps in a subtle, clever, intellectual way, Steiner made himself cleverly, shade-of-grayishly, insane. He was certainly a fraud, but whether he knew it (and thus remained arguably sane) may ultimately remain an historical unknown.
Below is a piece that outlines the context in which Steiner worked. Making only tangential references to Steiner himself, it helps us understand the climate in which Steiner pieced Anthroposophy together. It was written by Peter Staudenmaier, an historian reviled by Anthroposophists. Staudenmaier's sin? He has done extensive research and found problems within and around Anthroposophy. You can draw your own conclusions about the value of his work.
(I have omitted Staudenmaier's long and informative endnotes from the following. If you wish to consult them, you can do so at https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/waldorf-critics/conversations/messages/25253.)
— Roger Rawlings
Esoteric Alternatives in Imperial Germany:
Spiritual Seekers, Fluid Worldviews, and the Modern Occult Revival
To many observers today, the world of occult and esoteric groups seems irreducibly alien and perhaps incomprehensible, a thoroughgoing rejection of the Enlightenment legacy. Yet for a broad cross-section of educated Germans in the Wilhelmine era, the occult and esoteric offered a powerfully appealing alternative form of Enlightenment: an approach that promised illuminating knowledge about both the farthest reaches of the cosmos and the innermost depths of the soul, providing access to hidden sources of spiritual wisdom and profound insight into the secrets of the universe. Re-working key themes of modernity, adherents and practitioners of various esoteric tendencies embraced occult worldviews as an antidote to materialism that could re-enchant a disenchanted world while extending the ideals of Bildung as a lifelong process of further developing human faculties.
Examining well-known literary and artistic figures as well as obscure occult authors, this presentation surveys some of the factors that led a range of German thinkers to favor esoteric alternatives to established and academically sanctioned modes of knowledge. The prototype that emerges is not only spiritual seekers exploring unconventional realms, but practically oriented individuals responding to scientific discoveries and scholarly innovations, often in conjunction with a commitment to traditional values and beliefs. The historical record reveals a striking fluidity of esoteric traditions in Imperial Germany, with the same figures adopting a wide array of sometimes contradictory occult viewpoints, sequentially or simultaneously, while displaying multifarious connections to the Lebensreform milieu, völkisch circles, neo-pagan currents and minority strands of Christianity, among others. In different ways, these esoteric pioneers combined universal principles and a cosmopolitan outlook with a central emphasis on the unique German spiritual mission.
I. Spiritual Seeking and Science in Transition, 1880-1920
In the decades surrounding 1900, significant sectors of the German Bildungsbürgertum were drawn to new approaches in science, philosophy, and scholarly inquiry stimulated in part through the publishing successes of efforts at science popularization as well as the rapid rate of innovations and discoveries in the various natural sciences. In a period which combined rising German economic confidence and transitional currents in the understanding of science and its relation to society, these new intellectual horizons seemed to offer grand vistas of unprecedented possibility: might we at last grasp the secrets of the cosmos and of the soul? At the same time, research in fields as diverse as biblical criticism, history, and physics unsettled traditional conceptions of knowledge. The modern German occult revival grew out of this ferment, offering a rich palette of solutions to the riddles of the era.
With the rise of the modern theosophical current, which touted “a synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy” (in the words of the subtitle of Helena Blavatsky’s 1888 book The Secret Doctrine, a central theosophical text largely composed in Germany), occultist alternatives garnered an increasing body of adherents as well as curious onlookers. Esoteric approaches proffered unprecedented awareness through the development of higher faculties, various forms of meditation, a path of initiation, or other techniques. Practitioners and promoters held that occult methods could be used for personal enlightenment, spiritual enhancement, healing, attaining higher levels of consciousness, discerning the future or past, discovering or recovering secret knowledge of the inner workings of the world and the cultivation of unseen powers of the soul. To its enthusiasts, occultism offered to reveal the correspondences between macrocosm and microcosm and unite spirit and nature in a re-enchanted world. Esoteric advocates presented their approach as a “nascent science” with respectable forebears and illustrious prospects.
These claims faced determined opposition at the time and remain controversial today. What are we to make of their historical significance? How do they figure within the colorful context of Imperial German culture? Why were they attractive to aristocrats and artists, to educated elites and unconventional bohemians, to those with academic training and those with creative aspirations, in Germany and beyond? I will argue that adequate answers to these questions require a shift in scholarly perspective toward a more critical and contextualized engagement with the occult in modern German history.
II. The Fluidity of Esoteric Worldviews in Imperial Germany
Many individuals drawn to esoteric worldviews in the Imperial era affiliated themselves not just with one perspective, organization, or tendency, but with multiple strands of occult thought and practice. Simultaneous or sequential involvement in a variety of different esoteric currents was typical rather than anomalous, and can be traced in part to two interrelated factors: the propensity of esoteric adherents to engage in ongoing spiritual seeking, experimentation, and comparison of contending alternatives; and the frequently fractious nature of the occult milieu as a whole. A further relevant factor involved the appropriation of ostensibly Eastern spiritual traditions within a Western framework. These cross-affiliations also highlighted the ability of esoteric viewpoints to transcend national borders, with several of the more prominent strands attracting substantial memberships in Austria and Switzerland in addition to Germany itself.
A case study can help illuminate these dynamics: German-Swiss occultist Karl Heise (1872-1939) was born in Berlin and moved to Zurich around 1905, becoming active in theosophical circles by 1907. In short succession Heise joined a theosophical lodge, the ariosophist Guido von List Society, and the Mazdaznan movement, then joined the Anthroposophical Society in 1916. He lived for a time in a Mazdaznan commune named Aryana, and in the late 1920s he edited the journal Gral: Zeitschrift für Sucher eines esoterischen Christentums. Heise was a student of Rudolf Steiner and corresponded with other anthroposophists. His publications borrowed heavily from Blavatsky, List, Steiner, and other figures, and were published in a wide range of esoteric venues. For Heise, becoming a member of a new occult group did not mean abandoning the previous ones, and his work presented an amalgam of esoteric beliefs drawn from an eclectic spectrum of sources. The periodicals to which he contributed offer a similarly diverse profile. The subtitle of the journal Theosophische Kultur, for example, was “Monatsschrift zur Erweckung und Pflege der höheren Seelen- und Geisteskräfte und zur Verwirklichung der Idee einer allgemeinen Menschenverbrüderung auf der undogmatischen Grundlage der göttlichen Selbsterkenntnis.” It was the organ of the International Theosophical Brotherhood based in Leipzig. The same press also published the Astrologische Rundschau, edited by Rudolf von Sebottendorf.
Such overlap was common in the Wilhelmine period and extended into the Weimar years. The journal Psyche: Monatlich erscheinende Zeitschrift für den gesamten Okkultismus und alle Geheimwissenschaften, für wissenschaftliche Erforschung der okkulten Phänomene des Seelenlebens, ferner für Indische Philosophie, Theosophie, Spiritualismus, wahre, ethische Kultur, naturgemäße Lebensweise und Sozialreform was edited by Karl Brandler-Pracht (1864-1939), a major figure in occultist and astrological circles, who also edited the Zentralblatt für Okkultismus (published by the Max Altmann Verlag, the premier theosophical publishing house). Psyche appeared with a Beiblatt, the Astrologische Blätter: Zentral-Organ für wissenschaftliche Astrologie. In addition to articles by Brandler-Pracht and regular contributions from Heise, Psyche featured pieces by Peryt Shou (pen name of Albert Schultz, 1873-1953), a supporter of theosophy and the Deutsche Neugeistbewegung; ariosophist and astrologer Ernst Ißberner-Haldane; and German-Russian author Gregor Schwartz-Bostunitsch, who was successively a theosophist, an anthroposophist, an ariosophist, an adherent of Artur Dinter’s völkisch religious movement, a self-described “Christian occultist,” and a vehement opponent of esoteric “false prophets.” Brandler-Pracht was also editor of Prana: Zentralorgan für praktischen Okkultismus, Monatsschrift zur Förderung der okkultistischen Bewegung, Organ für angewandte Geheimwissenschaften (published by the Theosophisches Verlagshaus in Leipzig) from its founding in 1909 through 1914; ariosophist Johannes Balzli took over as editor in 1915. Prana carried contributions from Balzli, Brandler-Pracht, Peryt Shou, C. W. Leadbeater, Rudolf Steiner, Franz Hartmann, Hugo Vollrath, Ernst Boldt, and many others.
Further examples of the fluidity of the esoteric milieu include Harald Grävell and Max Seling, both of whom had extensive university educations before turning to occultism. Grävell (1856-1932) was a völkisch author who combined theosophical, anthroposophical, and ariosophical themes; his work appeared in many of the publications mentioned above, as well as in books such as Harald Grävell, Aryavarta (Leipzig: Akademischer Verlag, 1905), Grävell, Die arische Bewegung, eine ethische Bewegung (Leipzig: Theosophisches Verlagshaus, 1909), and Grävell, Zarathustra und Christus (Leipzig: Baumann, 1913). Born in Berlin, he lived at various times in Straßburg, Vienna, and Breslau, as well as Belgium and England. Like many other occultists, Grävell emphasized Lebensreform principles in an esoteric context. So did his Bavarian contemporary Seiling (1852-1928), a longtime theosophist, anthroposophist, and ariosophist who turned to Catholic mysticism late in life while retaining an esoteric outlook. Like Heise, he was a member of both the Guido von List Society and the Anthroposophical Society. Seiling was also a vegetarian and animal rights proponent, active in the anti-vivisection movement, and a sympathizer of Naturheilkunde.
The convergence of disparate occult ideas in the lives and work of figures like these indicates that a significant re-assessment of the convoluted strands of the modern German occult revival is in order, fundamentally questioning any simple or straightforward division between ‘mainstream’ esoteric tendencies like theosophy or anthroposophy and ‘extreme’ variants like ariosophy. Moreover, the range of issues addressed in the writings and activities of Wilhelmine occultists went well beyond standard spiritual fare to encompass the outstanding concerns of the day, from controversial social questions to matters of personal morality and behavior to current affairs and urgent subjects of public interest, including Germany’s standing in the world and the causes and consequences of the First World War. Each of these themes was examined from an esoteric vantage point, with a view to its larger cultural implications. Even while distancing themselves from the purportedly sterile realm of academic knowledge and ‘materialist’ science and the severe limitations of merely this-worldly information and experience, occultists were often university trained men of the world, cosmopolitan and well traveled, and fully engaged with the breadth of German social life and public affairs. Claiming the mantle of science for their own worldviews, they moved readily between esoteric and exoteric spheres, between strikingly different modes of understanding, evaluation, and discourse.
III. Occultism as Alternative Modernity
In the new intellectual landscape of Imperial Germany, surrounded by technical progress, scientific achievement, and an increasingly prominent national role on the European and global stage, esoteric inclinations could seem not so much an aberration as an extension of the rapidly unfolding process of modernity. A recent influential interpretive framework maintains that since modern German occultism sought to transcend the divide between science and religion and reclaim and reconfigure scientific methods within an esoteric framework, occult worldviews and practices should be seen as a genuine form of scientific investigation which was “joined to the liberal vision of a society slowly evolving toward a more enlightened future.”
There were undoubtedly many liberal, cosmopolitan, and progressive aspects to Wilhelmine and Weimar occultism, and esoteric practitioners did indeed view their activities as an innovative type of science. But this perspective neglects the equally important strains of occultism which displayed extensive overlap not with scientific and liberal endeavors but with Lebensreform and völkisch tendencies, an element reflecting the longstanding “linkage between theosophy and the volkish world view.” That linkage was paradigmatic of a larger Wilhelmine confluence of ideas, a decisive instance of “das tiefere Eindringen lebensreformerischer, theosophischer, astrologischer und völkischer Gedanken in breite bürgerliche Schichten des deutschen Volkes.” These Lebensreform and völkisch currents were furthermore just as much a part of emerging Imperial German modernity as industrialization, parliamentary improvements, or advances in physics, and partook of the same ambivalent modernizing dynamics and their equivocal social repercussions. The notion that the modern character of esoteric thought aligns occultism with liberal, rational, and scientific trends – the supposed pillars of a modern outlook – depends on too narrow a conception of modernity, and misses the crucial efforts occultists made to formulate an alternative model of modernity.
One paradoxical factor which richly illustrates this condition is the role of racial thinking in modern esoteric movements. Though scholars who emphasize the liberal and rational facets of occultism tend to portray esoteric racial thought as a relatively insignificant throwback that was unfairly over-emphasized in earlier treatments of the subject, the racial component of esoteric worldviews represents one of their most eminently modern features. Race science was a prominent part of mainstream scientific research in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and racial assumptions suffused many liberal, evolutionary, and progressive models of society. In selectively appropriating scientific themes and liberal motifs, occultists absorbed a variety of ideas about race and imbued them with spiritual significance. Theosophical thinkers incorporated racial categories into an overarching evolutionary paradigm uniting the spiritual and physical realms, which they cast as an alternative to the allegedly materialist science of the day. This scheme of spiritual evolution, partly structured along racial lines, provided the scaffolding for multiple esoteric doctrines and anchored occult views on reincarnation, karma, the development of the soul, the evolution of humankind, and the unfolding of cosmic destiny. Race became a focal point for esoteric efforts to conjoin scientific and spiritual narratives of progress, and an emblem of the modern character of occult thought.
For German esoteric thinkers, racial themes were routinely coupled with national ones, a development encouraged by esoteric interactions with the völkisch milieu; the nationalist proclivities of German occultism came to the fore with particular force at the climactic end of the Imperial era, with the outbreak of World War I. In this sense as in others, occultists were very much products of their time, even as they endeavored to transcend the limitations of their contemporaries. So it is with the impact of racial thought on esoteric representatives. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, racial theories which seem abstruse at best today were often a sign of erudition and cultural advancement. A historically empathetic approach to esoteric racial beliefs means trying to comprehend these beliefs within their context rather than viewing them from a post-1945 standpoint regarding what is and is not acceptable in polite society. It also means recognizing that many of these beliefs were plainly racist, regardless of the lofty ideals their proponents held. Though sympathetic observers of the occult scene are generally reluctant to acknowledge it, this is an aspect of esoteric thought which has not simply disappeared in the twenty-first century, in Germany or elsewhere.
Challenges such as these have always made responsible scholarship on modern occultism a vexed undertaking. The nuances and complexities of the topic, and the contradictions built in to its history, can be difficult to elucidate adequately, all the more so when the subject continues to exert a special fascination on conspiracy theory enthusiasts and those who suspect that shadowy occult forces are surreptitiously shaping the course of history behind a veil which historians are powerless to penetrate. This situation warrants particular caution in dealing with “the grey area of publications half way between occultism and scholarly research.” It also suggests that a calm and historically informed response is in order when alarmed reports warn that occult pseudo-sciences are infiltrating the universities. And it can serve as a reminder that an appropriately empathetic approach to the subjects of our study means endeavoring to comprehend both occultists and their critics; early critiques of esoteric thought sometimes contained significant insights and merit further historical attention.
Was there an esoteric Enlightenment in fin de siècle Germany? Occult tendencies considered themselves alternatives to mainstream science, established religion, conventional forms of rationality, and the societal status quo; their esoteric aspirations expressed new aims and interests for members of a rising Bildungsbürgertum in a context of social uncertainty, political stagnation, and cultural volatility. They augured a new personal enlightenment, one partly in tension with and partly an expansion upon the principles of the Age of Enlightenment. That their efforts ended up entangled in racial and national myths was by no means exceptional in the context of the era, and attention to this entanglement is essential to making sense of the subsequent development of esoteric ideas and activities in the Weimar and Nazi periods. For German studies scholars, for cultural historians, for historians of religion and others, research on the conflicted record of occult ventures in Imperial Germany can be an opportunity for re-thinking some of the established assumptions about modernity and its others, about science and its others, and about seemingly quixotic attempts to transcend the seemingly restrictive boundaries of science, religion, and reason.
— Peter Staudenmaier
A note on sources: I have accessed Anthroposophical texts in various ways. 1) Chiefly, I have acquired books in the old-fashioned way, as physical objects. When I refer to a book I possess, I give the title, publisher, date of publication, and page number for each reference. 2) I have dipped into some books through Google Books [http://books.google.com/advanced_book_search]. I provide the same information for these volumes. 3) I have read various texts at the Rudolf Steiner Archive [http://www.rsarchive.org/Search.php]. Because the Archive does not provide page numbers, for these references I provide titles, names of publishers, dates of publication, and (where applicable) GA numbers. Be advised that Google Books sometimes gives inaccurate page numbers, and the Steiner Archive is full of typos. I have corrected these problems as well as I could, but I may have missed some instances.
You may have difficulty finding a few of the sources I cite. Anthroposophists tend to conceal various sources, and sometimes — following criticism — they remove or alter sources that they had previously displayed online.
— R. R.