Category Archives: Rudolf Steiner poisoning

Was Rudolf Steiner poisoned after all? Part 2

The post immediately before this one generated over 140 comments. I’m most grateful to everyone who contributed thoughts and I would now like to share some additional information with you, which might be overlooked if it were to be added as a comment to the previous post. So here is a new post on the same topic, which I’m calling Part 2, while the previous post is now Part 1.

As you may recall, this blog first addressed the question of Rudolf Steiner’s last illness in a posting on February 26th 2016, in which I discussed the rumour that Steiner had been poisoned at a tea party on New Year’s Day 1924. This rumour had been inadvertently started by Steiner himself, who was struck down by some kind of health emergency at the tea party and had told a young eurythmist, Ilona Schubert, who had found him alone in a corridor in a state of distress and pain, that he had been poisoned.

I had nevertheless formed the view that the causes of Steiner’s illness were not to do with a poison attack but were instead a result of three main factors: i) the arson attack which had burnt down the first Goetheanum, and which had shattered his etheric body; ii) a grave weakness in his digestion, which had been developing at least since 1923, and which meant that he found it extremely difficult to take in nourishment; and iii) according to Ita Wegman, Steiner’s “delicate physical body was left behind too much and for too long by the soul-spiritual which was working in its very own homeland. The physical body was left to its own weight and physical laws, so that it became weaker and the digestion failed.”

In my response to a comment by Tom Mellett, I cited statements not only by Dr Ita Wegman (Steiner’s main physician, colleague on the Vorstand and pupil), but also by Guenther Wachsmuth (Steiner’s secretary and Vorstand member) and Steiner himself, which contradicted this rumour.

It must also be acknowledged that people close to Steiner, such as his wife, Marie Steiner, and the eurythmist Ilona Schubert believed to the end of their days that he had indeed been poisoned. Marie Steiner’s poem in the ‘Afterword’ to Rudolf Steiner’s autobiography contains the line “They laid waste with poison and flame” and confirms that this was indeed her belief. Modern anthroposophical authors such as Sergei Prokofieff and Thomas Meyer are also convinced that this was the case. My own conclusion, however, was that this was unlikely and that the causes listed in the third paragraph above were the real reasons for Steiner’s illness.

That remained my position until I saw the account of a talk given at Dornach by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, in which he had spoken of a meeting with an occultist in the USA who claimed to have been the person who had instigated the poison attack. Full details of this are in the previous post to this one. Further information from Thomas Meyer in his book Milestones then led me to conclude “that the balance of probability is that Steiner was indeed poisoned, and that this would have worsened his already shaky health and hastened the end of his life, though it was not the direct cause of his death.”

I have now come across a very interesting conversation between Wolfgang Weirauch and Emanuel Zeylmans (author of the four-volume work, Who Was Ita Wegman?). It occurs in the book, Ita Wegman and Anthroposophy published by SteinerBooks in the USA (ISBN 978-1-62148-012-9).

“WW: The rumour that Ita Wegman poisoned Rudolf Steiner keeps circulating. What is the truth of this, and where does this rumour come from?

Emanuel Zeylmans: This rumour surfaced while Steiner was still alive. I have encountered it in completely distorted forms, and the fact that it keeps surfacing is due to a psychopath who proclaims it loudly, and has also been circulating it in written form for years. The only helpful response is laughter. As you know, I grew up in a clinic where, as my father was a psychiatrist, there were many people suffering from mental illness. They, too, wrote sick fantasies like this psychopath does. One shouldn’t let oneself be taken in – just use one’s common sense instead.

WW: Was Steiner poisoned at all, or is the whole thing a fabrication?

Emanuel Zeylmans: It is pure rumour, though in fact caused by something Steiner himself said.

WW: This rumour is tenacious and seems to be circulated intentionally. A friend of mine said that a woman told him she was the young eurythmist whom Steiner had staggered up to saying he had been poisoned. (Presumably this was Ilona Schubert)

Emanuel Zeylmans: Yes, there are a whole lot of reports about this scene. While researching the Wegman book I had to investigate this carefully, and I published my research in the addendum to volume two. Ita Wegman was Rudolf Steiner’s personal doctor, of course, so I had to find out what she herself said about this. It all fell into place.

One shouldn’t forget that the possibility of a criminal attempt to poison Steiner has a colossal, sensational impact, which, once uttered, is impossible to eradicate from history again. Marie Steiner was also quite convinced that poison had played a part. Shortly before her death she said this to an Italian woman, begging her to keep absolutely silent about it, of course. This woman (…) naturally had to go and publish the news immediately. That’s how things work. It’s pure sensationalism.

I regard the whole affair as a manoeuvre aimed to distract from the real circumstances. In fact the corrupt soul substance of members poisoned Steiner. He could no longer breathe, and it became time for him to leave the earth. This is a form of poisoning which we should examine, but of course very few people want to admit such a thing. That is why they distract attention from themselves and transpose an occurrence to a lower level, speaking of physical instead of soul poisoning.”

Hmmm. Despite Zeylmans’ certainty that Steiner was not poisoned and his strange suggestion of soul poisoning, there are still some questions to which it would be very good to have answers, eg:

Why did Steiner never refute the rumour that he had been poisoned? In the three reports he wrote for the bulletin and Newsletter, he did not deal directly with the question of whether he had been poisoned (he must have been aware that this was what was being rumoured), but instead referred to his poor state of health and said that this had been caused by the unreasonable demands of the members.

It has been suggested that Steiner did not wish to let the instigator of the poison attack know that he had succeeded, and therefore gave instructions that no-one should mention it in connection with his health problems and this is why his doctors did not give it as a reason for his illness. If this is true, why did Marie Steiner not feel constrained by this prohibition?

Why was there no autopsy after Steiner’s death? Perhaps this was not a requirement in Swiss law in 1925. There was some kind of post-mortem medical examination by Drs. Wegman, Noll and Walter, at which Guenther Wachsmuth also claimed to have been present. But presumably they did not cut Steiner open to examine his internal organs.

What are we to make of the stories put about by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and Walter Johannes Stein about the poisoner and an American connection? Were these two men fantasists? And did Guenther Wachsmuth really say that the poison “affects the ether body, and causes a crisis every Wednesday”, when in his public statements he denies that there was any poison attack?

These contradictions are both puzzling and unsatisfactory. And there, regrettably, we have to leave it, unless further evidence comes along, which seems unlikely nearly a century after Steiner’s death.

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Was Rudolf Steiner poisoned after all? Part 1

One of the most viewed of all the posts on this blog has been “Rudolf Steiner’s last illness and last verse”. It is still getting many hits each week, even though it was first posted on February 26th 2016. It seems as though Rudolf Steiner’s death is still a subject of great fascination for people around the world; though, ironically, my object in writing that post was to concentrate not so much on the manner of his death but rather on the extraordinary efforts he made in the last year of his life, despite being terribly ill, to communicate to his fellow men and women the true nature of what it is to be a human being, and the evolutionary path which the spiritual world intends for us. I quoted the last verse he ever wrote, in which he warns of the ahrimanic beings, who seek to turn us into what Steiner calls “the human thing.”

That was my main purpose but the speculations which have surrounded the topic ever since his death on March 30th 1925 continue to exercise a fascination for many people to this day. Why and how did Steiner die, and who would have wanted to kill him? Was an attempt to poison him made at a New Year’s Day “rout” or tea party on January 1st 1924, as believed by Marie Steiner and Ilona Schubert, who had witnessed him being taken ill, and heard him say that he had been poisoned? Or were Steiner’s own later denials that he had been poisoned, as published in three separate bulletins, to be believed? Was the testimony of the three physicians who attended him and carried out some kind of post-mortem examination, that he had not died from poison, their genuine view or were they denying the truth so as not to let the poisoner know that he had succeeded? Were the statements of Dr Ita Wegman (his personal physician) and Guenther Wachsmuth (his personal secretary) that Steiner had died from causes other than poisoning – was this the truth, or were they also covering up the real reason?

In my post, I came down on the side of those who denied that Steiner had been poisoned, and gave instead other reasons for his death, with particular emphasis on the testimonies of Ita Wegman and Guenther Wachsmuth. The whole topic generated nearly sixty comments, and much disagreement between those wedded to the poisoning theory and those who, like myself, were inclined to different explanations.

It seemed clear to me (or as clear as it was possible to be nearly a century after the event) that Steiner had died from highly unusual natural causes related to the shattering of his etheric body after the burning of the first Goetheanum, to which Ita Wegman added another cause:

“The question that arises again and again: what are we to understand by illness of an initiate, why speak of an illness in the case of Rudolf Steiner? That is what I want to try to answer here. Well, why did he get sick?  The delicate physical body was left behind too much and for too long by the soul-spiritual which was working in its very own homeland. The physical body was left to its own weight and physical laws, so that it became weaker and the digestion failed.”

I found these two causes convincing explanations of Steiner’s last illness and there the matter rested, at least in my own mind. But now I have recently read a book of writings by and about Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, which puts the poisoning theory in a rather different light. I reproduce below the anonymous account which appears on pp. 225-6 of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer – A Modern Quest for the Spirit, which has been compiled by Thomas Meyer and published by Mercury Press (ISBN: 978-1-935136-02-6):

The Background to the Plot for Poisoning Rudolf Steiner on January 1st 1924

(This report has recently been received (1999), from someone who prefers not to be named….)

Toward the end of the 50s, when after recovering from a serious illness Ehrenfried Pfeiffer once again came to Arlesheim and to Dornach, I was called to an internal meeting in the Grandsteinsaal (Foundation Stone Hall) of the Goetheanum. There were only a few present – approximately thirty to forty people. Pfeiffer wished to communicate what had concerned him during his illness and what he still wanted to entrust to a few people; before this he could not leave this Earth. What he said, if I may summarise it, was like a ‘general confession’ of his whole life and striving. From this, the following detail: one reason for his going to America was to contact those with authentic knowledge about mechanical occultism. One such person he found fairly quickly. A trusting relationship developed. One day they discussed various phases in the life of Rudolf Steiner. His poisoning at the tea party after the Christmas Conference (January 1st 1924) was also mentioned. There followed a surprising and dramatic statement by Pfeiffer’s confidant. He said: “Please forgive me, I must say something, alas, which will greatly shock you and could separate us again, although I would deeply regret this: I was the one charged with poisoning Rudolf Steiner! This poisoning, however was not intended to be fatal, but to bring Rudolf Steiner into a condition in which he would no longer control his high occult facilities so that they would be practically extinguished. One would then be able to point to Rudolf Steiner and say: ‘See? When you strive for an occult schooling in his sense, as he describes it, for example in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, then you will end up like this.’ ”

Ehrenfried Pfeiffer did not say whether or not he continued his connection with this macabre occultist. He only indicated that Rudolf Steiner overcame this poisoning attempt with the aid of spiritual forces. The brothers of the left hand did not succeed.

There are of course many questions that could be raised about this extraordinary account. First, why is the person who wrote it “someone who prefers not to be named”? With a topic of such vital interest, for Thomas Meyer to quote from an anonymous source does not inspire confidence in the veracity of this account. But let us suppose for a moment that this story were true – in that case, surely Pfeiffer would not have just let the matter drop?

Ehrenfried_Pfeiffer

Ehrenbrief Pfeiffer (photo via AnthroWiki)

Pfeiffer was, after all, someone who was a very special pupil of Rudolf Steiner; he was, along with Guenther Wachsmuth, the creator of the first of the biodynamic preparations, (P 500 – the cow horn manure) out of indications given by Steiner; he conducted experiments in an attempt to develop a new technology based on the selfless management of etheric energy; he developed the method of “sensitive crystallisation” for the diagnosis of cancer and other diseases, which can also be used for the determination of food quality; and he developed a compost starter and a new heat-resistant strain of wheat with increased protein content. What is more, it was Pfeiffer who, along with Edith Maryon, had stayed with Steiner during the night of the burning of the first Goetheanum – and who had sought to console Steiner, the human being who suffered and whose heart was broken in the night of the fire.

Given this, is it possible that Pfeiffer could have taken such an account of the poisoning of Rudolf Steiner with equanimity? We are told nothing further of his reaction or what he might have said or done subsequently.

reuben_swinburne_clymer

Reuben Swinburne Clymer (photo via http://www.fra.org.br)

Who might this “macabre occultist” have been? My guess, and it is purely a guess from other details in Meyer’s book, is that Pfeiffer’s conversation was with a doctor and occultist called Reuben Swinburne Clymer (1878 – 1966), who since 1905 had been the Supreme Grand Master of the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, whose headquarters are located at Beverly Hall, Quakertown, near Philadelphia. The conversation, if it indeed took place, is likely to have been in the 1940s, soon after Pfeiffer’s move to the USA.

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Paschal Beverly Randolph – see comment below from Veglio Blavijo. (photo via National Paranormal Society)

Francis Bacon begins his essay Of Truth with the words: “ ‘What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” I would gladly stay for an answer to the question of whether or not Rudolf Steiner was poisoned, and by whom, but I fear that nearly a century after the event, the truth is now unlikely to be discovered.

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Rudolf Steiner’s last illness and last verse

As far as I’m aware, the exact nature of Rudolf Steiner’s last illness has never been established. He took to his sick bed on September 28th 1924, straight after having had to cut short a lecture in Dornach because of exhaustion and physical weakness. Rather than go to his apartment in Haus Hansi, Steiner opted to be cared for in the primitively equipped studio – not much more than a wooden barracks – where he had worked with Edith Maryon on carving the statue of the Representative of Man. It was here that he had all his working papers, and his library was close at hand; but there was not much else to recommend it as a sick room. The studio had no windows, only a skylight; there was no kitchen and the boards of the wooden walls were thin and the cold of winter came through them – and he was often disturbed by the construction noise from the work on the second Goetheanum nearby. Here he was attended, mainly by Dr. Ita Wegman who stayed in a small side-room off the studio, and on occasions by Dr Ludwig Noll and others.

Steiner 1924

Dr Rudolf Steiner in 1920.

We know that his digestion was extremely delicate and had been so for some years before this. In the last months of his life, he seems to have been unable to take in anything except the smallest quantities of food. I think we can safely discount the rumour that he had been poisoned at a tea party on January 1st 1924, not least because Steiner himself tried to quash this on three occasions and the physicians attending him all said that this was not the case. I’m also inclined to discount the idea, which Marie Steiner put forward and Sergei Prokofieff subsequently developed, that Steiner had taken on the karma of the members of the Anthroposophical Society but that they had failed to respond to the opportunity given them at the Christmas Foundation Conference and had therefore somehow through the operation of an occult law brought Steiner to a premature end.

Edith Maryon, who had stood with Steiner and watched the burning of the first Goetheanum on New Year’s Eve 1922, died in 1924 after a long and painful illness. Speaking in May 1924 after her death, Steiner said this:

The seed of Miss Maryon’s illness was planted in her during the night in which the Goetheanum burned down. And from what was started with that seed during the night when the Goetheanum burned she could not be healed, not even with the most attentive and skilled care.

220px-Edith_Maryon

Edith Maryon, the English sculptor and close colleague of Rudolf Steiner

Did this also apply to Steiner himself? It seems likely. The signs of his illness had appeared some years previously and were seen by those who worked closely with him but weren’t noticed by more casual observers until the beginning of 1924, that annus mirabilis in which he achieved superhuman feats of work, despite being so ill. Many eye-witnesses attested to the phenomenon of Steiner, who looked ill and exhausted before a lecture, gaining strength and vitality as soon as he began to speak, so much so that people thought he had recovered from whatever was ailing him. Actors who have been ill before a performance often experience this phenomenon of suddenly gaining new life and energy when they go on stage – they call it “Dr Theatre”.

burning goetheanum

The smoking ruins of the first Goetheanum, thought to have been destroyed by an arsonist.

What we do know is that by the last six months of his life, Steiner had lost a lot of weight, did not have the least appetite, his physical strength was so reduced that he had to be supported when he stood up and he suffered from very painful haemorrhoids. An enlarged prostate had caused a urinary tract blockage, which must also have been very painful – particularly as I suspect he did not allow Dr Wegman to catheterise him, and so this had to wait until Dr Noll was able to visit.

But even after he had taken to his sickbed, Steiner worked incessantly. He was writing his biography, The Course of My Life, writing the Letters to Members and the Leading Thoughts, reading the daily newspapers, studying the latest scientific and literary articles, and speed-reading piles of books which his secretary, Guenther Wachsmuth, brought in for him every day. He also dealt with masses of correspondence and all the details of the construction of the second Goetheanum, as well as holding regular conferences with Albert Steffen about editorial matters for two weekly periodicals.

In the draft she prepared for a lecture about Steiner in 1931, Dr Ita Wegman, Steiner’s main physician, said the following:

Through the burning of the Goetheanum, which shattered his physical body – there was a powerful loosening of the etheric body, even a separation of the etheric from the physical – his health became ever more delicate. “In comparison to other people, I have really already died on earth,” was something he often said. “My ego and astral body direct the physical body and supplement the etheric.…”

The question that arises again and again: what are we to understand by illness of an initiate, why speak of an illness in the case of Rudolf Steiner? That is what I want to try to answer here.

Well, why did he get sick? The delicate physical body was left behind too much and for too long by the soul-spiritual which was working in its very own homeland. The physical body was left to its own weight and physical laws, so that it became weaker and the digestion failed.

wegman

Dr Ita Wegman, Steiner’s close colleague and main physician during his last illness.

Steiner seems to have believed (or at least told others) up until very close to the end, that he would prevail over the illness. He died on the morning of March 30th 1925 without having been able to resume any of the lectures or overseas visits he had planned. Two weeks or so before his death, he wrote the following verse:

 I want with cosmic spirit

To enthuse each human being

That a flame they may become

And fiery will unfold

The essence of their being.

 

The other ones, they strive

To take from cosmic waters

What will extinguish flames

And pour paralysis

Into all inner being.

 

O joy, when human being’s flame

Is blazing, even when at rest.

O bitter pain, when the human thing

Is put in bonds, when it wants to stir.

 

(Ich möchte jeden Menschen

Aus des Kosmos Geist entzünden

Daß er Flamme werde

Und feurig seines Wesens Wesen

Entfalte.

 

Die Anderen, sie möchten

Aus des Kosmos Wasser nehmen

Was die Flammen verlöscht,

Und wässrig alles Wesen

Im Innern lähmt.

 

O Freude, wenn die Menschenflamme

Lodert, auch da wo sie ruht.

O Bitternis, wenn das Menschending

Gebunden wird, da wo es regsam sein möchte.)

 

I find it intensely moving that Steiner’s last year of life was spent in working harder and harder, despite all his physical ailments, to get across to people the magnificence of what it is to be a human being and to help each person to find that spiritual flame of the true self. For those of us who love Steiner, one way we can express that is to try to help others to see the choice they have between unfolding the essence of their true being or becoming the “human thing” chained down by materialistic illusions.

Christian Morgenstern expressed it beautifully:

I have seen THE HUMAN BEING in his deepest aspect,

I know the world, down to its foundation stones.

 

Its meaning, I have learned is love alone,

And I am here to love, and ever love again.

 

I spread out my arms, as HE spread HIS,

To embrace the whole wide world as HE has done.

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