Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) is an important occult philosopher and mystic. An Austrian, he was greatly influenced by Goethe’s works, and worked for a time at the Goethe archives at Weimer. He later became involved in the Theosophical Society, and founded a new German branch. But although obviously influenced by the Theosophical World-view (the concept of seven planes, cosmic cycles and sub-cycles, etc) Steiner’s approach and teachings differed markedly from those of the rest of Theosophists. Whereas the Theosophists, under the inspiration of Blavatsky’s orientation, looked to the East – to India and Tibet, for inspiration – Steiner was preiminantly a European mystic. He was interested in European occultism, European mysticism, European Christianity. In 1907 he was initiated into the Rosicrucians. By 1910 he was lecturing heavily on the Gospels, which gave him a popular following among the Germans he associated with.
Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published philosophical works including The Philosophy of Freedom. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he founded a spiritual movement, anthroposophy, with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy; other influences include Goethean science and Rosicrucianism.
In the first, more philosophically oriented phase of his spiritual journey, Steiner attempted to find a synthesis between science and spirituality; his philosophical work of these years, which he termed spiritual science, sought to apply the clarity of thinking characteristic of Western philosophy to spiritual questions, differentiating this approach from what he considered to be vaguer approaches to mysticism. In a second phase, beginning around 1907, he began working collaboratively in a variety of artistic media, including drama, the movement arts (developing a new artistic form, eurythmy) and architecture, culminating in the building of the Goetheanum, a cultural centre to house all the arts. In the third phase of his work, beginning after World War I, Steiner worked to establish various practical endeavors, including Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture, and anthroposophical medicine.
Steiner advocated a form of ethical individualism, to which he later brought a more explicitly spiritual approach. He based his epistemology on Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s world view, in which “Thinking … is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.” A consistent thread that runs from his earliest philosophical phase through his later spiritual orientation is the goal of demonstrating that there are no essential limits to human knowledge.
Steiner wrote only a few books, but during his period as a teacher he gave thousands of lectures on all aspects of occultism and esotericism, as well as education, music, agriculture, and economics. In this enormous corpus of work he laid out his metaphysical system, a unique but limited structure, based on elements of Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Plato, Goethe, and Christianity. Indian influence in his ideas was for all intents and purposes nil, unlike the Theosophists, and the Theosophical Sanskrit terminology which appears in his early lectures was soon replaced by Christian European terms, such as spirit, soul, etc.
Steiner claimed to have clairvoyant or occult vision; to be able to directly perceive occult realities, spiritual beings, and the Theosophists’ Akashic Record. It was on the basis of reading this akashic record that Steiner developed his cosmology, theory of human evolution, Christology, etc. He claimed to be able to actually see back in time to these ancient events imprinted on the cosmic aether.
Steiner’s current legacy lies in education and agriculture. His education philosophy made him a notable figure among progressive educators just after the First World War, and his “Waldorf schools” are still known and respected by many today (although quite understandably everyone tends to look down on his associated cosmology in a rather dismissive way). In the 1940’s and ’50’s in Australia at least the Steiner people developed the Camp Hill Communities (for example Warranala in Sydney), with curitative education of other retarded children. In many ways these were the forerunners of the modern communes, with aspects of closed monastic communities.
Steiner’s extraordinary system of agriculture, called bio-dynamics, rejects chemical fertilisers, and is based on the subtle formative forces of plant growth. With the help of his second wife, Marie von Sivers, he developed a system of flowing movement, “eurythmy”, which seems, especially in Curative Erythmy to be at least superficially camparable to Chinese disciplines such as Tai Chi, although totally independent of them (for Steiner the Greek influence was always primary).
Rudolph Steiner was certainly one of the most important thinkers of our age; a man who should surely go alongside Jung as a great visionary explorer of consciousness, even if public acknowledgment is not likely whilst the present sceptical-materialistic paradigm reigns.
Yet in spite of his great intellect and intuition of other worlds, Steiner was never really able to overcome certain limitations in his own thinking. He never changed his cosmology, which remained ridiculous; even in later lectures he would refer back to his very early book Cosmic Memory. He would have been a more successful thinker had he changed his concepts and allowed his ideas to develop and evolve, which is something Carl Jung did. Indeed, as we have seen, in the realm of psychological development, there are a number of parallels between Steiner, Jung, and Feud. All were working on much the same thing – the unknown psychic realities all around us, and the way these determine even our conscious thoughts and responses – in the same time and place.
Yet Steiner goes beyond psychology. Like other occult and gnostic teachers (e.g. the Gnostics and Kabbalists, Blavatsky, Edgar Cayce, and even Freudian and Jungian psychology) Steiner was tapping into something. That “something” goes beyond the merely human psychic. It would seem to be the intuition of the his-tory of the cosmos, not just the present physical cosmos known to science, but perhaps of other stages and cycles of evolution as well.
Excerpts from his writings:
“Love starts when we push aside our ego and make room for someone else.”
“If we do not believe within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find the strength to evolve into something higher.”
“Just as in the body, eye and ear develop as organs of perception, as senses for bodily processes, so does a man develop in himself soul and spiritual organs of perception through which the soul and spiritual worlds are opened to him. For those who do not have such higher senses, these worlds are dark and silent, just as the bodily world is dark and silent for a being without eyes and ears.”
“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.”
“You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are.”
“In order to approach a creation as sublime as the Bhagavad-Gita with full understanding it is necessary to attune our soul to it.”
“The time has come to realize that supersensible knowledge has now to arise from the materialistic grave.”
“The sun with loving light makes bright for me each day, the soul with spirit power gives strength unto my limbs. In sunlight shining clear I revere, Oh God, the strength of humankind, which thou has planted in my soul, that I may with all my might, may love to work and learn. From thee stream light and strength to thee rise love and thanks.”
“Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves.”
“That which secures life from exhaustion lies in the unseen world, deep at the roots of things.”
“Today certain definite ideas are developing out of the Egyptian ideas. What is called Darwinism today did not arise because of external reasons. We are the same souls who, in Egypt, received the pictures of the animal forms of man’s forebears. The old views have awakened again, but man has descended more deeply into the material world.”
“In the universe we have not to do with repetitions, each time that a cycle is passed, something new is added to the world’s evolution and to at its human stage of development.”
“The idea of the freedom of the human will has found enthusiastic supporters and stubborn opponents in plenty. There are those who, in their moral fervor, label anyone a man of limited intelligence who can deny so patent a fact as freedom. Opposed to them are others who regard it as the acme of unscientific thinking for anyone to believe that the uniformity of natural law is broken in the sphere of human action and thinking. One and the same thing is thus proclaimed, now as the most precious possession of humanity, now as its most fatal illusion.”
“I beg you to see this in the right light, and to combine it with the feeling about what happened through the Mystery of Golgotha, in which his actual sacrifice consisted: namely in leaving the spiritual spheres in order to live with the earth and the human beings on the earth and to consolidate the impulse he gave for further human evolution on earth.”
“He who is unwilling to trust to the power of thinking cannot, in fact, enlighten himself regarding higher spiritual facts. There slumber in every human being faculties by means of which he can acquire for himself a knowledge of higher worlds. Mystics, Gnostics, Theosophists — all speak of a world of soul and spirit which for them is just as real as the world we see with our physical eyes and touch with our physical hands.”
“To truly know the world, look deeply within your own being; to truly know yourself, take real interest in the world.”
“Live through deeds of love, and let others live with tolerance for their unique intentions.”
“Truth is a free creation of the human spirit, that never would exist at all if we did not generate it ourselves. The task of understanding is not to replicate in conceptual form something that already exists, but rather to create a wholly new realm, that together with the world given to our senses constitutes the fullness of reality.”
“Each individual is a species unto him/herself.”
“Because of their very nature, science and logical thinking can never decide what is possible or impossible. Their only function is to explain what has been ascertained by experience and observation.”
“As regards what is independent of our bodily makeup we are all individually made; each one of us is his or her own self, an individual. With the exception of the far less important differences that show up as racial or national differences … but which are (if you have a sense for this you cannot help noticing it) mere trifles by comparison with differences in individual gifts and skills: with the exception of these we are all equal as human beings … as regards our external, physical humanity. We are equal as human beings, here in the physical world, specifically in that we all have the same human form and all manifest a human countenance. The fact that we all bear a human countenance and encounter one another as external, physical human beings… this makes us equal on this footing. We differ from one another in our individual gifts which, however, belong to our inner nature.”
“Spiritual science is not something intended simply to satisfy our inquisitiveness. We are not sitting here simply because we are more inquisitive than other people about the spiritual world, but because we have some feeling for the fact that human beings in the future will not be able to live without spiritual science. All efforts which do not take this fact into account will become decadent. But life is arranged in such a way that those who resist spiritual knowledge at the present time will have the opportunity to approach it in later incarnations. But there must be outposts. Human beings who through their karma have a longing for spiritual knowledge already in the present can become outposts through this. You have this opportunity because there must be outposts, and you can be among them. Other human beings who cannot yet come to spiritual knowledge according to their karma, even though they do not reject it, will find later the longing for spiritual knowledge arising within them, more from the general karma of mankind.”
“When somebody has done something like that hurt another person, it has a certain effect on his whole life. Any action of man that hurts another being or creature or the world in general, hinders the doer in his development. This is what the pilgrimage of life means, that the primary force of the soul, as it goes from incarnation to incarnation, is set for further development. And this development progresses in such a fashion that man as it were is always putting obstacles in his own path. You must not think that man would be better off if he put no obstacles in his own way. It is only by setting himself these handicaps that he grows strong and acquires experience, for it is the very eradicating and overcoming of these hindrances that will make him the strong being he must become by the end of earth evolution. It is thoroughly in keeping with earth evolution that he puts stones in his own path. If he did not have to muster the strength to remove these obstacles he would not acquire this strength at all. Then the world would be the poorer. We must altogether disregard the good and evil connected with these hindrances and look solely at the wisdom of the world that intended, right from the beginning, that man should have the possibility of setting himself hindrances in earthly evolution so that in removing them he could acquire strength for later. We could even say that the wise guidance of the world allowed man to become evil and gave him the possibility of doing harm, so that in repairing the harm and overcoming the evil he can become stronger in the course of karmic development than he would have become had he reached his goal without effort. This is how we should understand the significance and justification of obstacles and hindrances.”
“Entrance into the spiritual world is imagined in a way too similar to an experience of the senses; therefore, what is experienced when reading about this world is considered to be much too much of the nature of thought. But if we have truly absorbed these thoughts we are already within this world and have only to become quite clear about the fact that we have already experienced, unnoticed, what we thought we had received merely as an intellectual communication.”
“When we speak on the physical plane and tell our thoughts to someone, we have the feeling that our thoughts come from our soul, that we have to remember them at this particular moment. Speaking as a true occultist and not someone who just tells his experiences from memory, we will feel that our thoughts arise as living beings. We must be glad if we are blessed at the right moment with the approach of a thought as a real being.”
“A true prayer has something to give to all of us, whatever stage of development we may have reached. The simplest person, who perhaps knows nothing more than the words of the prayer, may still be open to the influence of the prayer on his soul, and it is the prayer which can call forth the power to raise him higher. But, however high a stage we may have reached, we have never finished with a prayer; it can always raise us to a still higher level. And the Lord’s Prayer is not for speaking only. It can call forth the mystical frame of mind, and it can be the subject of higher forms of meditation and concentration. This could be said of many other prayers.
Since the Middle Ages, however, something has come to the fore, a kind of egotism, which can impair the purity of prayer and its accompanying state of mind. If we make use of prayer with the aim only of withdrawing into ourselves and making ourselves more perfect — as many Christians did during the Middle Ages and perhaps still do today — and if we fail to look out at the world around us with whatever illumination we may have received, then prayer will succeed only in separating us from the world, and making us feel like strangers in it. That often happened to those who used prayer in connection with false asceticism and seclusion. These people wished to be perfect not in the sense of the rose, which adorns itself in order to add beauty to the garden, but on their own account, so as to find blessedness within their own souls.
Anyone who seeks for God in his soul and refuses to take what he has gained out into the world will find that his refusal turns back on him in revenge.”
“The way in which the experiences here on earth are processed, is such that only a very small portion of these experiences are retained; every ability one acquires needs much more than what is retained in the end. For example, one does not remember how one has learned to write. Acquiring the ability to write was accompanied by a variety of experiences. These experiences contract, as it were, into a single power, the skill of writing. What at first is outer experience turns into a skill. In all experiences there lies such a possibility, such an opportunity: the experiences one gains in life can later on transform into abilities, talents. The conversion takes place after death. When the person is born again they will appear as talents, as capabilities. This is the basic feeling in devachan [Heaven]: that all experiences are transformed to capabilities, life-skills. That results in a feeling of bliss…. a stream of happiness permeates the people. All creative activity evokes a feeling of bliss. The relationships that have been spun in the world are much more intense in devachan than here on Earth. The limitations of space and time fall away. One can in fact penetrate other people.”
“One never learns to know people from a world view that is merely outwardly oriented. Once an viewpoint that is clouded by materialism orientates itself only on the outer appearance of a person, once the human being does not know what hides behind this physical corporality, and he thereby does not get the opportunity to look behind the scenes so to speak, he is not at all capable, really unable, to understand something about the forces that guide and direct life. That is precisely the task of spiritual knowledge. It has to be admitted that this task is not currently fulfilled in the right measure. [….] However, that is not what really matters, what is important is that which becomes possible through spiritual insight. It can be something that not only teaches us, but provides powerful schooling for our inner soul forces as well. That is what can best be brought about through spiritual knowledge, when we look at the spiritual worldview from out of the perspective of what can be developed through it.”
“The first ground rule for the study of man is that one does not have to think too much. That will seem strange at first, but you will soon understand what I mean. By thinking about something a man does obviously not learn particularly much about anything. If he only broods on what he saw, he will as a rule not make much sense of it.
Thus If one wants to learn about the world, one should not expect too much from thinking; It is not so important to think about something. When one needs to consider the facts, one must of course do that. But one must not consider this to be the main purpose. It does not bring any knowledge to brood on things afterwards. One has to look at other things, compare them and find the coherences. The more one looks for the coherences, the more one becomes aware of nature. Those who only think about nature find nothing more there than what they already knew.
If someone is a materialist, then he also talks about nature in a materialistic way, because that is how he stands in the world. He discovers nothing new. If someone talks about nature in an idealistic way, he does that because he already is an idealist. One can always find that by thinking, people find only what they already knew beforehand. Proper thinking arises only when one is led by the facts.”
“Everything that happens in the physical sense-world has its counterpart in the spiritual world. When a hand is moved, there is more before you than the moving hand seen by your eye, there is my thought and my volition: ‘My hand must move.’ A spiritual background is there. Whereas the ocular, sensible impression of the hand passes away, its spiritual counterpart remains engraved in the spiritual world and unfailingly leaves a trace there. So that, when our spiritual eyes are opened, we can follow the traces and find the spiritual counterpart of everything that has happened in the world. Nothing can happen in the world without leaving such traces. Let us suppose the spiritual investigator lets his gaze wander back to the days of Charlemagne, or to Roman times, or to ancient Greece. Everything that happened in those times is preserved in the trace left by its spiritual prototype, and can be observed in the spiritual world. This kind of vision is called ‘reading the Akashic records’.”
“People think they are free to make resolves, to think and to form ideas, but they are guided by spiritual beings behind the physical world. What men call their understanding, by which they believe they can control the course of time, is the expression of spiritual beings behind.”
“What characteristics must we specially cultivate if we wish to work in a beneficial way on our will life? Most beneficial of all in our will nature is the influence of a life directed in its entire character towards a comprehension of karma. We might also say a soul life which strives to develop, as its primary characteristic, serenity and acceptance of our destiny. And what better way can one find of developing this acceptance, this calmness of soul in the presence of one’s destiny, than by making karma an actual content in one’s life?
What do we mean by this? It means that — not merely theoretically but in a living way — when our own sorrow or the sorrow of another comes upon us, when we experience joy or the heaviest blow of fate, we shall really be fully aware that, in a certain higher sense, we ourselves have given the occasion for this painful blow of fate. […] our serenity, our acceptance of our karma in all occurrences, strengthens our will. We grow stronger in facing life with serenity, never weaker. Through anger and impatience we become weak. In the face of every occurrence we are strong when we are serene. On the contrary, we become continually weaker in will through moroseness and an unnatural rebellion against destiny.”
“Eventually all human evil springs from what we call selfishness. From the smallest human faults to the most immense crimes, when considering what we can designate as human imperfection and human wickedness, whether it seemingly originates from the soul or more from out of the bodily nature, the common basic characterization will be egotism. We find the actual meaning of evil in concurrence with human selfishness; and all striving to rise above imperfections and evil can be seen as commitment to fight against what we call selfishness. There has been much contemplation on this or that ethical principle, about these or other moral foundations; exactly this diving deeper into ethical principles and into moral foundations shows that selfishness is the common basis of all human evil. And so one can say: man works himself out of evil here in the physical world, inasmuch as he overcomes egotism.”
“The reality of the spiritual world was to me as certain as that of the physical. I felt the need, however, for a sort of justification for this assumption. I wished to be able to say to myself that the experience of the spiritual world is just as little an illusion as is that of the physical world. With regard to geometry I said to myself: “Here one is permitted to know something which the mind alone, through its own power, experiences.” In this feeling I found the justification for the spiritual world that I experienced, even as, so to speak, for the physical. And in this way I talked about this. I had two conceptions which were naturally undefined, but which played a great role in my mental life even before my eighth year. I distinguished things as those “which are seen” and those “which are not seen.”
I am relating these matters quite frankly, in spite of the fact that those persons who are seeking for evidence to prove that anthroposophy is fantastic will, perhaps, draw the conclusion from this that even as a child I was marked by a gift for the fantastic: no wonder, then, that a fantastic philosophy should also have evolved within me.
But it is just because I know how little I have followed my own inclinations in forming conceptions of a spiritual world – having on the contrary followed only the inner necessity of things – that I myself can look back quite objectively upon the childlike unaided manner in which I confirmed for myself by means of geometry the feeling that I must speak of a world “which is not seen.”
Only I must also say that I loved to live in that world. For I should have been forced to feel the physical world as a sort of spiritual darkness around me had it not received light from that side.”