Steiner taught that the will is a separate human faculty, and it must be disciplined if we are to attain knowledge of the higher worlds.
In fact, Steiner spoke of “organs of will” and even “the will-brain.” Much of this is poppycock, but troubling poppycock.
Steiner’s system hinges on the development of clairvoyance, which does not exist.
In reality, what he described can best be understood as a process of autosuggestion or self-hypnosis.
You dream up something you want to believe, and then you will yourself to believe it
(all the while keeping this out of your conscious, rational mind, so that you do not realize what you are doing to yourself).*
Here are some representative Steiner quotations on the “will.”
“[I]t is not thought or reflection, but first and foremost the faculty of will that man possesses after death. Will becomes itself perception, becomes man's whole world of life.” — Rudolf Steiner, SUPERSENSIBLE MAN (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1961), p. 55.
"For normal consciousness the will is extremely baffling. It is the nemesis of psychologists simply because they view the will as something very real, but basically without true content. If you look at the content psychologists ascribe to the will, you will find this content always derives from thinking. Considered alone, the will has no actual content. It is also the case that no definitions exist for willing; to define the will is even more difficult because it has no real content. But, what is will, really? It is nothing other than the seed within us of what our spirit-soul reality will become after death ... Consider the difference between seed and picture. A seed is something super-real, a picture is something sub-real. A seed will only later become something real. It carries in it the characteristics of what will be real later. Thus, the will is, in fact, of a very spiritual nature." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 52-53.
“The Will plays the least possible part in everything that we grasp with our intellect, our understanding. When we think, when we form ideas, the Will of course plays a certain part in the formation of the ideas, but only in a very fine state. Man does not notice how the Will pulsates in his perceptions and how in other ways the Will is working within him." — Rudolf Steiner, THE COSMIC NEW YEAR (Kessinger, 2006), p. 59.
“And in the ancient Mysteries, too, it was a matter of transforming the will. In the description of the ancient Mysteries in my book CHRISTIANITY AS MYSTICAL FACT you will find that the decisive, radical difference between the ancient striving for knowledge and that of today lies in the fact that in ancient times it was necessary to prepare the will." — Rudolf Steiner, OLD AND NEW METHODS OF INITIATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1991), p. 64.
"[I]t is necessary that the student should control and dominate everything that seeks to influence him from outside. He should reach the point of really receiving no impressions beyond those he wishes to receive. This can only be achieved by the development of a powerful inner life; by an effort of the will he only allows such things to impress him to which his attention is directed, and he actually evades all impressions to which he does not voluntarily respond. If he sees something it is because he wills to see it, and if he does not voluntarily take notice of something it is actually non-existent for him. The greater the energy and inner activity devoted to this work, the more extensively will this faculty be attained. The student must avoid all vacuous gazing and mechanical listening. For him only those things exist to which he turns his eye or his ear. He must practice the power of hearing nothing, even in the greatest disturbance, if he does not will to hear; and he must make his eyes unimpressionable to things of which he does not particularly take notice. He must be shielded as by an inner armor against all unconscious impressions. In this connection the student must devote special care to his thought-life. He singles out a particular thought and endeavors to link with it only such other thoughts as he can himself consciously and voluntarily produce. He rejects all casual ideas and does not connect this thought with another until he has investigated the origin of the latter. He goes still further. If, for instance, he feels a particular antipathy for something, he will combat it and endeavor to establish a conscious relation between himself and the thing in question. In this way the unconscious elements that intrude into his soul will become fewer and fewer. Only by such severe self-discipline can the ten-petalled lotus flower attain its proper form. The student's inner life must become a life of attention, and he must learn really to hold at a distance everything to which he should not or does not wish to direct his attention." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1944), pp. 94-95.
"The finer soul-vehicles of man the central points of the three forces — thinking, feeling and willing — are connected with each other according to laws. This connection in the finer soul organism has its counterpart in the coarser physical body. In the latter, too, the organs of will are connected according to laws with those of thinking and feeling. A particular thought, therefore, inevitably evokes a feeling or an activity of will. In the course of higher development, the threads interconnecting the three fundamental forces are severed. At first this severance occurs only within the finer soul organism, but at a still higher stage the separation extends also to the physical body. It is a fact that in higher spiritual development the brain divides into three separate parts. This separation is not physically perceptible in the ordinary way, nor can it be demonstrated by the keenest instruments. Yet it occurs, and the clairvoyant has means of observing it. The brain of the higher clairvoyant divides into three independently active entities: The thought-brain, the feeling-brain, and the will-brain.
"Thus the organs of thinking, feeling, and willing become individualized; their connection henceforth is not maintained by laws inherent in themselves, but must be managed by the awakened higher consciousness of the individual. This, then, is the change which the student observes coming over him: that no connection arises of itself between an idea and a feeling or a will-impulse, unless he himself provides one. No impulse urges him from thought to action unless he himself in freedom give rise to this impulse. He can henceforth confront, devoid of feeling, a fact which before his training would have filled him with glowing love or bitter hatred; and he can remain impassive at the thought which formerly would have spurred him on to action, as though of its own accord. He can perform actions through resolutions of the will for which there is not the slightest reason for anyone not having undergone esoteric training. The student's great achievement is the attainment of complete mastery over the combined activity of the three soul forces; but at the same time the responsibility for this activity is placed entirely in his own hands.
"It is only through this transformation of his being that the student can enter consciously into relation with certain supersensible forces and beings, for his own soul forces are related to certain fundamental forces of the world. The force, for instance, inherent in the will can affect definite things and the beings of the higher worlds, and also perceive them; but it can only do so when liberated from its connection with thinking and feeling within the soul. The moment this connection is severed, the activity of the will can be exteriorized. The same applies to the forces of thinking and feeling. A feeling of hatred sent out by a person is visible to the clairvoyant as a fine luminous cloud of special coloring; and the clairvoyant can ward off this feeling of hatred, just as an ordinary person wards off a physical blow that is aimed at him. In the supersensible world, hatred becomes a visible phenomenon, but the clairvoyant can only perceive it in so far as he is able to project outwards the force lying in his feeling, just as the ordinary person directs outwards the receptive faculty of his eye. And what is said of hatred applies also to far more important phenomena of the physical world. The student can enter into conscious intercourse with them, thanks to the liberation of the fundamental forces of his soul." — Ibid., pp. 132-133.
"[N]o one merely seeking an advantage for himself will ever obtain assistance from the white occultists. Even when they do not refuse their help, he, the seeker, deprives himself on the advantage resulting from their assistance. Anyone, therefore, really following the instructions of the good occultists will, upon crossing the Threshold, understand the demands of the greater Guardian; anyone, however, not following their instructions can never hope to reach the Threshold. Their instructions, if followed, produce good results or no results; for it is no part of their task to lead to egotistical felicity and a mere existence in the supersensible worlds. In fact, it becomes their duty to keep the student away from the supersensible world until he can enter it with the will for selfless collaboration." — Ibid., pp. 152-153.
"[T]he Will-element, because it descends into the realm of the subconscious, stands towards the individual being of man in a relationship quite different from that of cognition, the realm of the Spirit ... [W]e must recognise the Will-element, and everything in another person's subconscious, as something which should on no account be intruded upon; it must be regarded as his innermost sanctuary ... Every kind of forcible working of Will upon Will must evoke an unpleasant impression ... [W]here the Will becomes so strong through Imaginations, which means by occult methods, it acquires the capacity for working directly upon the Will of another, and hence also along all the other occult paths to which such a Will can have recourse. — Rudolf Steiner, FROM JESUS TO CHRIST (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), pp. 16-26.
“You are very aware of how easy it is to activate the will. We may be standing by a tree and something at the top of it pleases our eye. If our will is warm within us our thoughts are carried to the top of the tree ... You can distinguish two kinds of will. And we shall feel that the will that carries us out into the cosmos is related to the course of the summer, and the will that carries thoughts into the head, to the winter." — Rudolf Steiner, MYSTERY KNOWLEDGE AND MYSTERY CENTRES (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 67.
“We must first have a thought, a concept; only then does the will thrust upward from the depths of soul. The thought evokes the will impulse. When the human being is awake, he is awake in thought, not in will. But occult science teaches us that when we sleep everything is reversed. Then the will is awake and very active, and thought is inactive." — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC CHRISTIANITY AND THE MISSION OF CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUTZ (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 117-118.
“It is the will that forms the basis of this desire to imitate, not the intellect. In principle, the intellect develops from the will much later. That intimate bond between one human being, the adult teacher, and another human being, the growing child, is expressed in a relationship between will and will. Thus, we can best reach the child in these first elementary school years when we are able to properly affect the will. How can we best affect the will? We cannot affect the will if during these years we emphasize outer appearances too strongly, if we turn the child’s attention too strongly to material life. It turns out that we come particularly close to the will if in these first years we allow education to be permeated by a certain aesthetic artistry." — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), p. 141.
“It is indeed a fact that by first one-sidedly analyzing the meaning of everything we can go a long way in the education of the human being’s observation of the world. But we would get nowhere in educating the will, for we cannot force the will to emerge by throwing a strong light on the meaning of anything. The will wants to sleep; it does not want to be awakened fully by what I might call the perpetual unrestrained laying bare of meaning. It is simply a necessity of life that penetrates beyond the simple truth about the revelation of meaning and gives rise to the fact that we must also do things with the children that do not call for the elucidation of meaning. Then we shall educate their will." — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 2000), p. 79.
“[I]t is not enough to say in the abstract that the will must be educated. For then people will believe that if they have good ideas themselves for the development of the will and apply them to the child by some clever methods, they will contribute something to the cultivation of the will. But in reality this is of no use whatever. Those who are exhorted to be good become only weak nervous men. Those become inwardly strong to whom it is said in childhood: ‘You do this to-day and you do that, and both of you do the same to-morrow and the day after.’ And they do it merely on authority because they see that one in the school must command. Thus to assign to the child some kind of work for each day that he can do every day, sometimes even the whole year through, has a great effect upon the development of the will. In the first place it creates a contact amongst the pupils; then it also strengthens the authority of the teacher, and doing the same thing repeatedly works powerfully on the children's will.
“Why then has the artistic element such a special effect, as I have said already, on the development of the will? Because, in the first place, practice depends upon repetition; but secondly because what a child acquires artistically gives him fresh joy each time. The artistic is enjoyed every time, not only on the first occasion. Art has something in its nature which does not only stir a man once but gives him fresh joy repeatedly. Hence it is that what we have to do in education is intimately bound up with the artistic element." — Rudolf Steiner, THE STUDY OF MAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), lecture 4, GA 293.
“When the Saturn development began, the most sublime of these beings already had attained a level of consciousness which man will reach only after his Vulcan life, that is, a high creative (supra-spiritual) consciousness. These ‘creators,’ too, once had to pass through the stages of man. This took place on heavenly bodies which preceded Saturn. However, the connection of these beings with the development of mankind lasted until the middle of the life of Saturn. Because of their sublime, delicate body of rays, in mystery science they are called ‘Radiating Lives’ or ‘Radiating Flames.’ Because the substance of which this body consisted had a remote resemblance to the will of man, they are also called ‘Spirits of Will.’" — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (SteinerBooks, 1987), p. 166.
— Compiled by Roger Rawlings
[R. R., 2010 —
based on a work by
* Steiner affirmed the value of dreams. [See "Dreams"]. But he also stressed the importance of faith and gurus. [See "Faith" and "Guru".] A more accurate description of the Anthroposophical process would be this: You submit to the guidance of a guru (usually Rudolf Steiner himself, approached through his writings, or Steiner as represented by a living intermediary). Placing great faith in your guru, you learn what you are to believe about the spirit realm and, indeed, virtually all other matters. Then, exercising your will, you begin to "perceive" the things your are meant to perceive. (Your perceptions may occur during the day, through your exercise of "clairvoyance," or at night, through your directed dreams.) Thus, through a careful but unconscious process of self-deception, you become an "initiate" — you "know" and "perceive" what Steiner has directed you to know and perceive, i.e., the doctrines of Anthroposophy. [See "Inside Scoop" and "Exactly".] You may elaborate on these and extend them through the exercise of your own clairvoyant powers, but rarely will you stray far from Anthroposophical "truth" as laid out by Steiner (to the degree that his teachings are comprehensible to you). You will yourself to remain on the true path to the maximum extent of your capacities. [See the section on "Doing Anthroposophy" in "Serving the Gods" and the statements about the white path in "Everything".]
To visit other pages in the sections of Waldorf Watch
that include "Will", use the underlined links, below.
also see "Human Nature, Human Potential"