Long before writing this blog post, I recall reading an account by Walter Johannes Stein of a car journey he had taken with Steiner. They were going through a town when Steiner suddenly asked the driver to stop the car outside a bookshop they had just passed. Steiner went into the bookshop and re-emerged shortly with a book, which he showed to Stein with great satisfaction, saying that he had been wanting to obtain a copy of it for some time. “But how did you know it was in that bookshop?” asked Stein. “Oh, I saw it in the window,” said Steiner. Stein knew that this was quite impossible by any normal means, because it was just before dusk and the light was poor, and the car had in any case been moving too fast for anyone to have been able to pick out a title in the bookshop window. Unfortunately, I can’t now recall where I read about this and despite googling extensively, have not been able to re-locate it. Should any reader discover it, I would be grateful to know. But what this anecdote shows is that Rudolf Steiner had some amazing abilities that are not available to most of us in our present stages of development. What were these abilities, and what use did Steiner make of them?
Édouard Schuré (1841 – 1929) was a French philosopher, poet, playwright, novelist and music critic who had known Marie von Sivers (the future Frau Dr Steiner) since the year 1900, when she had contacted him with a request to translate some of his works into German. It was Marie von Sivers who introduced Schuré to Rudolf Steiner in 1906. According to the Wikipedia article on Schuré, “he was deeply impressed and thought of Steiner as an authentic ‘initiate’ in line with his The Great Initiates. After hearing Steiner lecture in Paris for the first time in 1906, Schuré in an ecstatic state ran home and wrote down the entirety of the lecture from memory. This first lecture, and the other lectures in the series (which Schuré wrote down) were published as Esoteric Cosmology. Subsequently, Steiner and von Sivers staged Schuré’s esoteric dramas at the Theosophical Congresses in Berlin and Munich. Schuré’s The Children of Lucifer, served as a precursor of Rudolf Steiner’s own esoteric dramas.”
So Schuré was someone who knew Steiner well and had a very high regard for him. In 1910, he wrote some biographical notes on Steiner, which describe Steiner as an adept, a higher initiate, combining the powers of both mystic and occultist:
“The mystic…is one who seeks for truth, and the divine directly within himself, by a gradual detachment and a veritable birth of his higher soul. If he attains it after prolonged effort, he plunges into his own glowing centre. Then he immerses himself, and identifies himself with that ocean of life which is the primordial Force.
The occultist, on the other hand, discovers, studies, and contemplates this same Divine outpouring, given forth in diverse portions, endowed, with force, and multiplied to infinity in Nature and in Humanity. According to the profound saying of Paracelsus: he sees in all beings the letters of an alphabet, which, united in man, form the complete and conscious Word of life…
The weapons of the mystic are concentration and inner vision; the weapons of the occultist are intuition and synthesis. Each corresponds to the other; they complete and presuppose each other.
These two human types are blended in the Adept, in the higher Initiate… Rudolf Steiner is both a mystic and an occultist. These two natures appear in him in perfect harmony. One could not say which of the two predominates over the other. In intermingling and blending, they have become one homogeneous force.”
There are numerous accounts, from people who knew him well, of Steiner’s supersensible abilities. From these accounts, it is clear that Steiner always waited for the conscious co-operation of the people with whom he worked; and that he never used his powers in an egotistical or selfish way, or to bring about a particular end. The freedom of other human beings was a fundamental and absolute principle underlying everything he did and said. I have chosen here a few examples, which have particularly appealed to me, to illustrate some of Steiner’s supersensible abilities but there are many others available.
The first example comes from Eleanor Merry (1873 – 1956), an English anthroposophist and artist who studied in Vienna and met Rudolf Steiner in 1922 after becoming interested in his teachings. Eleanor Merry was one of the organisers of Steiner’s 1924 summer school in Torquay, and this account comes from a meeting she had with Steiner in Paris in May of that year to discuss some of the details of the forthcoming conference.
“I told Dr Steiner about my efforts at painting according to his methods, and as I meant to exhibit some of my work at Torquay, I wished so much he had seen them beforehand. He replied: ‘I have seen your paintings’, and I said ‘No, Herr Doktor. You haven’t seen them; they are all in London.’
He said again: ‘I have seen them.’
I contradicted him, and for the third time he repeated that he had seen them, looking at me with his intense dark gaze.
Then for the first time I realised that he had indeed seen them, but not with earthly sight.
This incident gave me still greater confidence, because his ‘seeing’ had obviously not been the usual type of clairvoyance, but something entirely different. And there was something else. I told him that one day in London I had had great anxiety about my conduct of life, and my son and daughter, and had been nearly at my wits’ end and extremely unhappy. I was walking in the Park, thinking these anxious thoughts, when I heard distinctly a voice saying to me ‘Alles Licht kommt aus der Finsternis heraus.’ (All light comes out of the darkness.) It was so clear that I was startled, and I told him I had thought he was himself speaking. He looked kindly at me and said the simple words: ‘Warum nicht?’ (Why not?)
Never again could I doubt that in spirit he could be at any moment present with his pupils, no matter where they were.”
Anna Samweber (1884 – 1969) was an active co-worker in Berlin with Rudolf Steiner and Marie Steiner-von Sivers for several years. Her anecdotes and recollections were recorded by Jacob Streit during an intensive two days shortly before Anna’s death. They contribute a warm and intimate picture of Rudolf Steiner, the man, and his work.
“Frau Dr Steiner owned a lovely diamond watch with her initials inscribed on the lid. It was broken, and I had to take it to a well-known watchmaker who lived a long way from the Motzstrasse (the house at 17 Motzstrasse in Berlin was where Rudolf and Marie Steiner lived from 1903 – 1913, and where the work of the Anthroposophical Society was carried on). It was late on a cold and foggy November evening when I made my way in the direction of Nollendorfplatz, where the building site for a subway was situated. I was walking along a long, wooden blank wall when suddenly two human shapes appeared from the dark and attacked me. I remembered that once Rudolf Steiner had told me that if ever I was in need I could call on him. So when these two attackers went for me, the one holding me from behind so that the other could rob me, I called inwardly and spontaneously: ‘Doctor, help me!’ At the same moment both fellows fell back like lightning and were gone.
When Rudolf Steiner came for breakfast the next morning he greeted me with the words ‘Good morning, Sam. What was the matter that you cried so loud last night?’ When I told him about my experience and he had listened quietly, he said simply: ‘But I did help you, didn’t I?’ “
Now here is an intriguing little story that will no doubt invite derision from some, but to my mind is highly significant. There is a book, Summer with the Leprechauns, by a Canadian author, Tanis Helliwell. In it, Helliwell describes how she went to Ireland and lived in a cottage with leprechauns (the race of elemental beings to which elves, leprechauns and fairies belong), one of whom became her particular friend and teacher about these beings. It’s an entertaining book to read and has been praised by Dorothy MacLean (one of the three founders of the Findhorn Community, well known for her work with the elemental kingdom).
In an interview, Helliwell was asked: “What is the intention of elementals, what is their role, what do they mean for us in these ecologically very sensitive times and how do you see the writings of Rudolf Steiner on elementals?” Tanis Helliwell replied:
“In my book Summer with Leprechauns: The Authorized Edition I describe a new caste of elementals. About 100 years ago Rudolf Steiner (founder of anthroposophy) met with my leprechaun friend. He asked him and other elementals coming from all different castes: leprechauns, elves, goblins, gnomes, trolls and fairies to work in partnership with the humans to help create a healthier Earth and also to learn how to use free will and learn to be co-creators. My work assists him in the process. I travel around the world to speak to interest groups to work with elementals. Wherever I go be it the Maori of New Zealand, the Haida in Canada, the Mayan in Central America or people in Germany or Ireland the traditions of these people, all of them, believe in elementals. It is in their stories, in their legends and it is also in their present because so many people have encounters with elementals in their lives.”
I’m going to finish with a lengthy extract from an article, ‘The Initiate and the Teacher’, published in 1959 in The Golden Blade by the English artist, Gladys Mayer (1888 – 1980). She first came across Steiner’s work in 1915, when she read The Way of Initiation. In April 1922 she attended Steiner’s series of lectures on education at Stratford-on-Avon, then went to the Vienna Congress in June. The following year she visited Steiner in Dornach and decided to become a painter and art teacher at the Goetheanum.
“Mine was a strange, perhaps unique, experience of him. It is of the Initiate I must write, for I came to him late in his earthly mission, and I was not permitted to speak with him in outer life, until I had recognised him, supersensibly, as my Teacher.
Shattering events in life brought me to Rudolf Steiner. I came, not for myself, but on behalf of others. I came with doubt in my heart concerning him, yet the events which made me seek his help were beyond the competence of any but an Initiate to understand. I needed the advice which I knew he could give…”
Mayer then describes how she experienced what she called “the great karmic crisis of my life”:
“On not only one occasion but three times in the space of about six weeks, I had to face madness and impending tragedy in my own immediate environment. Twice in this period, on distinct occasions and amongst unrelated people, I had to intervene when a murder seemed imminent, and once to check an intended suicide. I began to ask myself: ‘Is the world about me going mad?’
But The Way of Initiation had already begun to bear fruits in spiritual experiences which guided me through events of terrifying responsibility, from day to day, and sometimes from moment to moment. I knew the spiritual worlds as reality, and Spiritual Beings as my aid. I received pictured instruction, through which healing was brought to the madness of one friend, and through which I was able to save the life of another. At length, I received the instruction to go to Rudolf Steiner for further advice…I met him frequently for something over two weeks: each time I met him he greeted me with a smile and a warm hand-clasp. Each time I asked him, ‘May I come and speak with you?’ he put me off with the reply: ‘Frage mir nochmal (Not just yet).’ Friends in Dornach told me this did happen sometimes, and of course it had a reason…Meanwhile, my spiritual instruction was going on, but it had developed a new phase.
Every night I awoke about two hours after midnight, and was aware of a continuous experience. At first it was a Star, very distant, that was shining on me: then it was gradually coming nearer, and at length it was a man with a lamp who stood by my bed. By the light of the lamp I was aware of another, greater figure, and from this other one, though I could not see him clearly, came words instructing me in the spiritual understanding of what was going on around me. I was shown, unexpectedly, the concealed suffering in the heart of a nearby friend: it was as though I were lifted up by the unseen Teacher to learn to know, through the Light of the Lamp, what was happening behind the veils of sense appearances.
At length, after about 14 days, I became anxious to know from whom I was receiving such teaching. I had become accustomed earlier to receiving instructions from an unseen Spiritual World. I had been made aware of the reality of spiritual discarnate Beings. But this Teacher was more concrete. I could see him unclearly towering above me, too great, it seemed, to be in any way connected with a human form. I could see the great form, but not yet the face of this Being.
At last, I could bear it no longer: I felt I must know more. I seized hold of him, as it were, with all my soul forces, and challenged him, saying: ‘Who are you?’ Then, as there came no answer, I asked wonderingly: ‘Are you the Christ?’ ‘Nicht so’ (Not so). Then, because these were German words, a further thought came to me. ‘Are you, can you be, he whom we know on earth as Rudolf Steiner?’
There was an instant stillness, and then the answer came softly, ‘Eben so’ (Even so).
I was still not satisfied. It seemed impossible for anyone so spiritually great to be also a human being. So I pressed further. ‘Then show me your face,’ I asked.
Immediately away to my left, where was situated the studio in which Rudolf Steiner lived and worked, I saw a tiny distant picture of his face and form resting with eyes closed, as it seemed to me, not in sleep, but in deep meditation.
I understood now why I had been kept waiting. I had doubted, and doubt came in through a false spiritual perception. It could be put right only by my seeing and recognising him in truth, in supersensible experience, as my Teacher. I came to him joyfully the next day, and asked confidently: ‘Now can I come to see you?’
I knew what the answer would be, and was not mistaken. When we talked together, I felt that I had known him for all time. I told him of all the terrible and wonderful experiences I had gone through, where earthly disasters had been averted through spiritual enlightenment, yet had eventually left me with responsibilities I felt were too great for me to bear alone; and how these responsibilities had eventually brought me to him. He listened quietly, and one had the impression he made his whole being receptive, soul to soul. Then he explained my experiences with the simple words: ‘Dies ist eine karmische Sache (This is a karmic matter).’ I felt enormous relief. Here, at last, is someone who understands, who takes all these astounding events calmly, and is competent to give advice. This is a matter of karma.”
Gladys Mayer’s account continues with her decision to sell up all she possessed so as to move from England to Dornach to be a painter at the Goetheanum, conscious that because of Steiner’s failing health there might not be much time left. As one of his many pupils, she continued to receive answers in meditation to her questions, particularly in relation to her painting and use of colour. She received these answers at night, when she would see a painting she had done during the day as muddy and grey. When she asked how the picture should have been, she saw it transformed into radiant transparent colour.
After Steiner’s death in 1925, Gladys Mayer was one of those people who was very upset by the dissensions and splits that occurred between factions in the Vorstand and in the wider General Anthroposophical Society: “Once in those first years, I heard his voice again, in a kind of despairing wonder: ‘Aber, mein lieben Freunde, was tun si alle?’ (‘But, my dear friends, what are you all doing?’)
She concludes with an assessment of what Rudolf Steiner has brought to us all:
“As it seems to me, he has given certainty of the Spirit, guidance to the awakening faculties of spiritual seeing, and example of strength, courage and love to attempt the tasks of the New Age…But are we awake enough? The Teacher is there working with us, and through us, but he waits always for our conscious co-operation…Because humans are so very hungry for the certainty, the wisdom and the good, which this teaching, entrusted to Rudolf Steiner out of the divine worlds, can bring to our suffering Earth.”
21 responses to “The supersensible powers of Rudolf Steiner”
Thank you again! Great article!
Many thanks, Gudrun!
Dear Jeremy Thank you for this special piece which comes on Easter morning. Easter blessings to you and to Sophia. He is risen. Love Ann
Easter Greetings, Ann, to you and your family! Thank you for your kind words.
It is likely that the first supersensible experience recorded by Steiner himself is the one that occurred when he was about seven years old and living in Pottschach. He tells of it in a lecture given in Berlin on February 4, 1913, GA250. T.H. Meyer recounts it here in his book, Milestones, chapter two.
The Experience in Pottschach, chapter 2
Steiner is sitting in the railway station office in Pottschach when someone seemingly familiar to him walks in and comes over to him and pleads that he watch over her now and in the future. Then, this person walks over to the stove in the centre of the room and disappears into it. He finds out that it was his cousin, who had taken her life, and who was much beloved by his father.
This act becomes the catalyst that forces him to begin to look outward from his little self-enclosure, and begin to reckon with the world-karma he has been given. His cousin comes to him in her etheric body in order to tell him something about his mission in life; even as a little boy. I believe it to be the starting-point of seeing the “cards he had been dealt”. He tells here of what it means to be forced to look outwards for the first time from a safe enclosure. We all have to do it in the course of life.
Schuré in his sketch (1910) pointed at Steiner’s two streams of mysticism and occultism. The two paths are combined and balanced in the adept, master or magician. The occult stream (as opposed to mysticism) is also called initiation (GA 15, lecture 2), scientific/alchemistic (GA 35), ecstatic (GA 119) and esoteric (GA 125). The examples given, seem to be magical ones, because of the interference (co-operation) with the pupil’s deeds or will.
Steiner originally gave Schuré three biographical sketches written in September 1907. In part I he writes something here about his developing power of clairvoyance. This when he was fifteen, and reading Kant:
“During this period – and this is already due to external spiritual influences –
I gained complete understanding of the concept of time. This
knowledge was in no way connected with my studies and was guided
totally by the spiritual life. I understood that there is a
regressing evolution, the occult-astral, which interferes with the
progressing one. This knowledge is the precondition of spiritual
Full text of the three sketches can be found here:
Steiner could certainly refer to mysticism and occultism, as he possessed both. The occultist works from the ground of mystical [inner] experience, and then seeks to express it in an outward way. That is why Steiner is said to have pleaded: “Must I remain silent?” His goal was always pointed to an outward expression of his inner experience of the spiritual.
His counterpart, Sri Aurobindo, on the other hand, had no intention of writing or speaking about the content of his spiritual experiences. His intent was to be a pure mystic, and influence his students from a higher plane of being. He went to Pondicherry in 1910 to escape the persecution of the British, who had branded him guilty of both treason and sedition in the fight for Indian independence. There, he started an ashram as its spiritual guide. In 1914, when WWI began, he was forced to write the contents of a monthly philosophical journal when his editor, Paul Richard, was called to duty with the French army.
This is how Sri Aurobindo was compelled to write about his spiritual experiences, which he had originally intended to keep private. And this is how a mystic can become an occultist without any desire to become one, other than filling a responsible position. Aurobindo filled the role intended for Paul Richard by writing about the content of his spiritual experiences for nearly seven years in a monthly journal called, “Arya”. Herein, he wrote of the substantive content of what the mystic knows from within, and expressed until early in the year 1921. Here is a nice essay on the work of Sri Aurobindo:
Click to access v1-n2-1-mar-10.pdf
Rudolf Steiner had already begun to present the content of his spiritual experiences in 1900, and this was his imperative destiny from the outset. Sri Aurobindo was given this same task in August of 1914, with the outbreak of WWI. So, the overall imperative and demand of our age is the need to speak as concretely as possible about spiritual science.
As such, both Steiner and Aurobindo were compelled to extend themselves from mysticism to occultism in order to meet the demands of our age.
In his autobiography (1925) Steiner spoke about ‘my mental revolution’ at 35, a ‘third form of knowledge’, a ‘communion with the spiritual world’, and the development of ‘the will’ (GA028_c22):
“… this revolution in my thirty-fifth year. What now came about was meditation as a necessity for the mental life; and with this there stood before my mind the third form of knowledge. This not only led to greater depths of the spiritual world, but also permitted an intimate living communion with this world. … And the will also took over the spiritual knowledge which hitherto had been controlled almost wholly by the ideal.”
One of the very most significant chapters in the life of RS is chapter 22. Here is what he is referring to from six years earlier:
“The conceptual life and the will-life were much more closely united in former times than they are now. They will separate more and more. The conceptual life, which is absolutely all we can lay hold of with our present consciousness (the ordinary, not the clairvoyant consciousness), is nothing more than a reflection of reality; and this life of conceptions also comprises all that we can grasp of our ego. On the other hand, we experience our will-life as in sleep. A man is as unconscious of what actually pulsates in his will as he is of events during sleep; but just as he knows that he has slept, in spite of knowing nothing about himself during sleep, so he knows about his will with his ordinary consciousness even though he sleeps through everything that he wills. If you have a white surface that reflects light, with some black spots on it that do not reflect the light, you see the black spots too, even though they do not reflect the light. Similarly, if you follow your life in retrospect, not only do you see your waking periods, but the periods of sleep appear in the course of your life as black spots. It is correct to say that you know nothing of yourself in sleep; but in a survey of your entire plane of consciousness the intervals of sleep may be said to appear as black spots. A person deceives himself if he thinks he knows more of his will than he does of his sleep. Man is conscious of his life of conceptions, and into this life of conceptions slip the black spots; these are the impulses of will. But man experiences these will-impulses as little as he experiences the sleep periods.”
Crispian Villeneuve wrote a monumental two-volume work documenting Rudolf Steiner’s ten visits to Britain between 1902 and 1924. Herein, he discusses Eleanor Merry’s great contribution to arranging the lectures given in Penmaenmawr and Torquay, c. 1923 & 1924.
What has always interested me is that according to Steiner Mrs. Merry was born 75 years earlier than she should have. She should have been born in 1951, according to what Mabel Cotterell remembers Steiner saying. This is from the Preface to the book.
Some of us are born earlier than later, and some are born later than sooner, but most are born on time. Destiny applies in all three cases.
Thank you Jeremy, I very much appreciated this article! Katherine
Thank you, Katherine!
You inspired me to read the article of Gladys Mayer on google books. Touching.
Thank you for your fine article, Jeremy.
Thank you, Ottmar.
Rudolf Steiner was prevented from returning to England for nearly nine years, due to WWI. So, when he first returned in April of 1922, he met a very receptive audience of people who were rather dedicated in every way to his work. This is because the anthroposophical movement is a matter of karma, and Steiner would go on to express how it came to be that certain individuals would find their way to anthroposophy as a karmic necessity with his third volume of the Karmic Relationships. This is the volume that expresses the karma of the anthroposophical movement itself, ref.
Consider Britain in the first quarter of the 20th century. Having experienced the first world war, what would it mean if Rudolf Steiner returned in 1922 in order to continue the effort for the science of the spirit? Would they respond in the affirmative? Well, yes they did. This affirmation obviously still exists, even as the detractors also exist. Steiner felt it in his homeland, where he was vilified from pillar to post. Even Edouard Schure denounced him for many years as a “chauvinist” of the German cause, until finally apologizing in 1921.
But the Britain cause is most important. George Adams, DN Dunlop, Eleanor Merry, Gladys Mayer, Dorothy Osmond, John Davy, Charles Davy, Mabel Cotterell, Collison and all the rest. This is what helps make the legacy that exists today.
Michael Eggert was inspired by your blogpost here to write his own on Egoisten. I translated it into English and you can read it here. I copy the opening paragraph and 2 later ones below:
Those were the good old days, yes, when young anthroposophists, hippies and seekers of alternative spirituality could still be gobsmacked with anecdotes of Rudolf Steiner’s super-sensible abilities. Jeremy Smith still digs up such gems of super-sensible sensationalism on his Anthropopper blog — sometimes just homespun reports of alleged statements of Rudolf Steiner, as super-sensibly received by super-sensible ladies still in the throes of their rapture.
Take Gladys Mayer (1888-1980), for example, . . .
[ . . . ]
This is the question that Doctor Steiner may still have to deal with in the spiritual world to this very day, given the infighting between those nominalists and spiritualists, the individualists and occultists, the socially adept and the reactionaries, the practical folks and the loony mystics have all bequeathed to the movement nearly one hundred years of trench warfare and endless arguments about anthroposophical identity.
Behold the mind-numbing internal discussions: like constitutional questions about the legitimacy of the Anthroposophical Society, the significance of the Rudolf Steiner publishing house, the inheritance claims of wife Marie and many others. Not only do these have absolutely no significance for the outside world, but they also shackle energies and breed social isolation to the point that the eccentricity of the movement has kept on growing steadily all the while these “world conferences” of self-aggrandized universal significance keep happening.
How kind of Michael Eggert to draw the attention of all his readers to my distinctly niche-interest blog and to drive more traffic towards the anthropopper! I fear, however, that I am not writing for his core audience of skeptics and cynics, but trust that they will nevertheless find something here to pique their curiosity. As it happens, I am about to return the favour in my next post, which will refer to an earlier post by Michael.
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I posted your response on Egoisten and Michael Eggert replies there, taking issue with your own quite cynical accusation of cynicism against his readership. I give his German and my translation.
“Ich sehe die Egoisten nicht als zynischer Blog, sondern als alchemistisches Labor. Hier wird Schlacke weggeätzt, damit das Gold übrig bleibt, ganz im Sinne von Goethes Märchen.”
“I don’t see Egoisten as a cynical blog, but rather as an alchemical laboratory. Here the slag is etched away so that the gold remains, all in the sense of Goethe’s fairy tale.”
You are my favourite agent provocateur!
There was nothing cynical in my characterisation of Michael and his readership, but perhaps a glancing reference to Oscar Wilde’s definition of the cynic, which is someone “who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Some very interesting insights.