Category Archives: Rudolf Steiner

Under the Gaze of Uriel

 The following is the text of an address given as part of the Midsummer Festival organised by the Anthroposophical Society in Sussex, held on Sunday 23rd June 2019 at Emerson College.

 We are now at the Summer Solstice and the St John’s Festival, that time of the year when in the Northern Hemisphere we have our longest day and shortest night. Rudolf Steiner, in a lecture given on 12thOctober 1923, said that the great archangel most associated with this time of year is Uriel: and that Uriel directs his countenance and clear piercing gaze down towards the Earth and perceives disturbing shapes which continually gather and dissolve, gather and dissolve again. These shapes, Steiner says, are “human errors upon which Uriel directs his earnest gaze. Here during the height of summer, the imperfections of mankind are searchingly surveyed and contrasted with the morality implicit in the natural world. Now we see how at midsummer human errors are woven into the regular crystals which are formed in the normal course of Nature. On the other hand, all that is human virtue and human excellence rises up with silver-gleaming lines and is seen as the clouds that envelop Uriel”.

Uriel via wikimedia

Uriel directing his gaze at human errors. (Photo via Wikimedia)

So Midsummer is a time when, under the gaze of Uriel, the spiritual world looks with especial closeness at our human actions and motivations. This is a good time of year for us to do the same and look closely at what we humans are doing in the world.

Almost 60 years ago, someone who was inspired by anthroposophy wrote a book which woke up the world to the dangers of the unregulated use of pesticides. Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, which was published in 1962. Her book has been rightly acknowledged as one of the all-time great pieces of science writing, detailing the scale of the damage being done by human-applied chemicals to the environment and all its denizens.  It had a huge impact and led to awareness and legislation at least in part controlling the damage caused by pesticides such as DDT.

Rachel Carson photo via BBC

Rachel Carson (photo via BBC)

In a letter written in 1958 to a friend, soon after she began the research that would lead to her book, Rachel Carson spoke about how difficult it had been for her to believe what was happening. She said:

“Some of the thoughts that came were so unattractive to me that I rejected them completely,  for the old ideas die hard, especially when they are emotionally as well as intellectually dear to one…that the stream of life would flow on through time in whatever course that God had appointed for it …And to suppose that, however the physical environment might mould Life, that Life could never assume the power to change drastically – or even destroy – the physical world. These beliefs have almost been part of me for as long as I have thought about such things. To have them even vaguely threatened was so shocking that, as I have said, I shut my mind – refused to acknowledge what I couldn’t help seeing.”

Today, sixty years on, we are witnessing even greater threats to the web of life on Earth and it is perhaps even more difficult for us than it was for Carson to acknowledge and take on board the scale of the challenges now facing all of life. This is the first time in our history, for example, that through the activities of humankind, the entire global climate is shifting to what may be our permanent disadvantage; and we are also in the middle of what scientists are calling the Sixth Great Extinction of species, again caused by our activities.

But if that isn’t enough, there are still other challenges coming up fast to confront us. It was last year, just shortly after Midsummer, that during the annual conference of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, we were shocked by the message that Nicanor Perlas brought about the threats posed by the advent of artificial intelligence. Nicanor has written a book about this, which no doubt many of you will have read, and it has a stark and scary title. His book is called Humanity’s Last Stand and in it he estimates that humanity has about 20 years to find ways in which artificial super intelligence, (ASI) can be aligned with human values; if we are not able to do this, we are likely to be totally overwhelmed by materialistic technology. If Uriel is casting his gaze on the leading advocates for ASI, he will be observing people who believe that humans are nothing more than complex biological machines.

Perlas via Right Livelihood Award

Nicanor Perlas (photo via Right Livelihood Award)

If you believe human beings are nothing more than complex biological machines, then you open up your fellow humans to some disturbing outcomes; we can see, for example what is happening in China right now, where with the power of AI the governing Communist Party is developing extensive new tools for a comprehensive method of political and social control. They have given this a harmless sounding name – they are calling it “social credit.” But what it means is a total surveillance society, in which nothing you can do is hidden from the authorities. If the Chinese state gives you a poor social credit score, then your life becomes very severely constrained. You may be prevented from graduating, or travelling on some train lines, or buying an airline ticket, or buying a property, taking out a loan or even filling your car with fuel.

Now of course, no Western government would dare go so far as they are going in China, though no doubt some of them would like to. The irony of this is that the Chinese social-credit system is based explicitly on a familiar, Western model: the credit score, which we all know about. Data brokers trace the timely manner in which we pay our debts, giving us a score that’s used by lenders and mortgage providers. We also have social-style scores, and anyone who has shopped online with eBay has a rating on shipping times and communication, while Uber drivers and passengers both rate each other; if your score falls too far, you’re out of luck.

The Chinese genius, if you can call it that, was to take credit scoring as a tool of social discipline to its logical conclusion. They have extended their control across the entire range of interactions any member of modern society is more or less compelled to pursue by the very style and structure of contemporary life.

But of course there are many other phenomena of our time that are truly disturbing; there are so many shapes of human error for Uriel to gaze upon – but this evening I would like to focus on just one of them, which is the move to merge humankind with machines and technology.

Rudolf Steiner, of course, foresaw all of this, as far back as 1910. This is what he said in Lecture 12 of the series ‘The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric’:

(…) “the will is there to harness human energy to mechanical energy. These things should not be treated by fighting against them. That is a completely false view. These things will not fail to appear; they will come. What we are concerned with is whether, in the course of world history, they are entrusted to people who are familiar in a selfless way with the great aims of earthly evolution and who structure these things for the health of human beings or whether they are enacted by groups of human beings who exploit these things in an egotistical or in a group-egotistical sense. That is what matters. It is not a question of the what in this case; the what is sure to come. It is a question of the how, how one tackles these situations. The what lies simply in the meaning of earthly evolution. The welding together of the human nature with the mechanical nature will be a problem of great significance for the remainder of earthly evolution”.

That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? “The welding together of the human nature with the mechanical nature will be a problem of great significance for the remainder of earthly evolution”. And in our time it’s being led not by people who structure these things for the health of human beings but by those whom Steiner describes as exploiting these things in an egotistical or group-egotistical sense.

How are they doing this? It is being presented to us not as a threat to our essential humanity but as a kind of species transformation through medical science and technology. The promise is that we will become new kinds of human beings as our bodies, minds and relationships with the environment and with mechanical devices become altered in fundamental ways.

The prediction by futurologists such as Google’s Ray Kurzweil is that we human beings will become more god-like as we become more machine-like and as machines develop more god-like powers. Kurzweil says that we humans are nothing special in the animal kingdom: we have no immortal soul, there is no essential human self and our thoughts and emotions are the product of electrochemical impulses which can in the future be modelled by algorithms. Our future lies in the hands of technical experts – in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, cognitive and computer science. New tools will become parts of our bodies. We will have bionic hands, feet and eyes, while nanorobots will move through our bloodstream looking out for disease and repairing the damage of age and injury. We shall have wearable and implanted devices to expand our senses and alter our moods, while biological tools will enter our cells, remodel our genes and give us new and better flesh, blood and neurons. Does that sound wonderful to you, or terrifying?

Kurzweil via Wikipedia

Ray Kurzweil (photo via Wikipedia)

Another futurologist, Yuval Noah Harari, says it is a fact that the “last days of Homo sapiens are fast approaching, and that our species will be replaced “by completely different beings who possess not only different physiques, but also very different cognitive and emotional worlds”. Ordinary human beings will become surplus to requirements, as wars will be waged by drones and work will be done by robots: “Some economists predict that sooner or later, unenhanced humans will be completely useless”. Algorithms embedded in silicon and metal will replace algorithms embedded in flesh, which as Harari points out, is what biology and computer science tells us is all we really are anyway. Things have apparently gone so far that some in Silicon Valley already refer to human beings as ‘meat puppets’.

But things are going still further: Harari says that human beings will cease to be free agents, that their autonomy will be taken over by algorithms – written at first by human beings but ultimately by algorithm-writing machines. As this happens, liberal society will disintegrate as we will no longer be able to sustain belief in the uniqueness of the free human being as the basis of liberal social order. He says that: “We – or our heirs – will probably require a brand-new package of religious beliefs and political institutions.”

harari via wikipedia

Yuval Noah Harari (photo via Wikipedia)

This new religion will be called Dataism. It will be accompanied by the dissolution of the boundaries between humans, animals, machines and social systems, all of which will be seen as algorithmic information processing systems. The concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ will be replaced by the primacy of the free flow of information. The “cosmic data-processing system” will be what God once was: “It will be everywhere and will control everything, and humans are destined to merge into it.”

Rudolf Steiner has told us what is the true challenge of our age: he says “it is humanity’s task in this period to come to grips with evil as an impulse in the evolution of the world”. The task for the fifth post-Atlantean period, he says, is a particularly difficult one:

“As you see, a great many temptations face humanity. When the powers of evil gradually appear, it is natural that man is more likely under the circumstances to give in to this evil in all realms, rather than taking up the struggle to allow what appears to him as evil to be put in the service of the good in world evolution. Yet this must happen: the evil must to a certain degree be placed at the service of the good in world evolution”.

And it does seem as though we are indeed at a new point in world and human evolution. In this connection I remember a quotation from the late visionary poet and playwright Christopher Fry, who in his play, A Sleep of Prisoners, has one of the characters say the following:

The human heart can go the lengths of God.
Dark and cold we may be, but this is no winter now.
The frozen misery of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move.
The thunder is the thunder of the floes, the thaw, the flood,
the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now, when wrong comes up,
to face us everywhere
Never to leave us till we take the longest stride of soul
men ever took.

Affairs are now soul size,

The enterprise is exploration unto God.

So that is what we are about in this age – we have chosen to be here at this time when human beings are making a massive evolutionary shift. This is a terrifying but also really exciting time to be here on Earth; and adopting a Luddite approach to emerging technology is not the required response. Steiner tells us:

“It would be the worst possible mistake to say that we should resist what technology has brought into modern life, that we should protect ourselves from Ahriman by cutting ourselves off from modern life. In a certain sense this would be spiritual cowardice. The real remedy for this is not to let the forces of the modern soul weaken and cut themselves off from modern life, but to make the forces of the soul strong so that they can stand up to modern life. A courageous approach to modern life is necessitated by world karma, and that is why true spiritual science possesses the characteristic of requiring an effort of the soul, a really hard effort”.

Alongside courage and hard effort, we also need hope, what Steiner in one of his verses refers to as “all-sustaining hope”. So here are a few reasons why, despite everything, I’m still hopeful and optimistic.

On a personal level, I’m encouraged by listening to the speakers who come here to give talks at Emerson; we have had some wonderful speakers who are alerting us to what is going on in the world and who are giving us real pointers to the future. I was particularly impressed recently by a representative of the Youth Section from Dornach, and the work that that Section is doing on a research project into young people’s attitudes towards spirituality across 23 different countries. I’m also blessed to work on these Emerson talks with some fine young colleagues. And in Liz Attwell’s inspirational talk 2 weeks ago, we heard of her intuition that it is the young people of today who are birthing a new Christ impulse. She also said that many of the dark things we are experiencing are just the inevitable flotsam and jetsam thrown up by this new impulse – and I’m sure she’s right.

Because of all this and so much more I am conscious of how lucky we are to live here and to know that Emerson College, Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch farms, Michael Hall School, Peredur, Tobias and Nutley Hall are all here. We live in an island of sanity amongst the surrounding seas of illusion and although we have some adjustments to make so that we can look the modern world square in the face (what is happening to the Waldorf schools is a case in point here), we are nevertheless strong and resolute.

And beyond our locality, I see all sorts of hopeful developments happening. Just this week, for example, we heard that an American billionaire has given £150 million to the University of Oxford to fund a new centre to look into the ethics of artificial intelligence. His name is Stephen Schwarzman and he said: “I think the scientists agree that they want AI introduced in an ethical way, because they don’t want to experience the downsides. I think this is one of the major issues of our age, because AI is going to come, it’s really unstoppable. It’s not just AI, it’s robotics and all other kinds of computer science innovations”. That echoes what Steiner said back in 1910. And on 12th June the UK government committed us to zero net emissions by 2050, which is definite progress – and there are now 18 out of 28 EU countries which have also pledged to go carbon-neutral by 2050.

I am also amused by and take pity on the idiocies of our atheistic futurologists.  Ray Kurzweil, for example, that incredibly clever man and chief futurologist of Google, is also, rather endearingly, an idiot. He believes in cryonics, which for those of you who don’t know about it, is a technique of freezing dead bodies in the hope that science in the future may find a way to bring the corpses back to life. Ray Kurzweil has booked himself a place for when he dies with a leading American cryonics company, which charges $200,000 to deep-freeze a full body or, if you’re a cheapskate, $80,000 for just a head. The process involves getting to the patient as soon as possible after clinical death has been pronounced and then cooling the body over the next few days to bring it down to -196C using nitrogen gas. Your corpse is then placed in a shiny steel capsule with a bullet-proof viewing window and stays there until the day when science has sufficiently advanced to bring you back to life. I am not making this up – this is genuinely what cryonics is about; and Ray Kurzweil has signed up for this. The poor man doesn’t realise that he is already immortal! If he’d just read Steiner and informed himself about what a human being really is, he could have saved himself $200,000!

I comfort myself with the thought that in the final analysis, Ahriman and his minions will always lose. They always lose because they lack the capacity to love or understand those who can love. Nicanor Perlas in his book repeats a story that Bernard Lievegoed says was given by Steiner in a letter to a widow. In this letter, Steiner says he saw the image of Ahriman sitting in a cave under the earth. He works. He writes things down, counting and counting, calculating and calculating. He tries to build up a whole world out of a new mathematics (and of course AI algorithms are part of the new mathematics). There, Steiner says, Michael stands beside him waiting. For Michael knows that he will make the final addition. Michael with his sword, will make the sum. The moment has not yet come. Michael is waiting, standing by the side, waiting. He can do this when people on earth are there fighting and going with him. With Uriel, we weigh up and understand; with Michael, we act without fear on the basis of that understanding. And that is the really important point – in this present age of the consciousness soul, Michael can only act if we help him to do it. But if we do, he will in turn help us to find much more positive outcomes from the extreme technologies that are threatening our existence today. So it really is up to all of us to play our part in this huge battle.

And finally, I would like to leave you with this verse of Steiner’s:

“We must eradicate from the soul all fear and terror of what comes towards Man out of the future. We must acquire serenity in all feelings and sensations about the future.

We must look forward with absolute equanimity to everything that may come. And we must think only that whatever comes is given to us by a world-directive full of wisdom.

It is part of what we must learn in this age, namely, to live out of pure trust, without any security in existence – trust in the ever-present help of the spiritual world.

Truly, nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us. And let us seek the awakening from within ourselves Every morning and every evening”.

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Filed under Ahriman, Artificial Intelligence, Cryonics, Evil, Futurology, Rudolf Steiner, Spiritual Science, Uriel

“Do you believe in an afterlife?”

On most Saturdays, if I’m not too busy with other things, I go to a shop in our village and buy a copy of the Financial Times Weekend. I do this, not because I have any interest in the financial markets but because at the weekend the Financial Times transforms itself into the best UK newspaper in terms of its coverage of things that do interest me – politics, world affairs, the arts, book reviews, gardening etc.

One of the features I always look at is the ‘Inventory” column in the FT Weekend magazine, in which they interview a well-known person and ask them a standard set of 18 questions, eg: What was your childhood or earliest ambition? Private school or state school? Who was or still is your mentor? How physically fit are you? Ambition or talent: which matters more to success? etc. The question I always find myself turning to first of all is: “Do you believe in an afterlife?”

This week the subject was Bobby Gillespie, a musician who co-founded the band Primal Scream in 1982. His answer to the question was: “I don’t. I do believe in a universal energy – we’re all part of each other. We’re just the human race”.

The previous week the interviewee was Kate Clanchy, who is a teacher, writer and poet who was appointed MBE for services to literature in 2018. Her response to the question was: “No. Maybe only a literary afterlife – I think that’s one of the reasons to write. Your words can live on. I believe in the human capacity to remember each other and love each other”.

These two responses are fairly typical of answers to this question. I haven’t kept a tally but my guess is that around 8 out of 10 interviewees say that they have no belief in an afterlife.  I find myself vaguely disturbed by these results. Why is it that so many people who are prominent in public and cultural life seem to know so little about the reality of what it is to be a human being?

A slightly different question was asked of the great psychiatrist Carl Jung in a TV programme called “Face to Face” in October 1959 when he was interviewed by John Freeman. Jung, who was 84 at the time and was still active in his field, spoke to Freeman about education, religions, consciousness, human nature and his relationship to Freud. When Freeman asked Jung whether he believed in God, Jung’s reply was: “I don’t need to believe, I know”.

carl-jung-9359134-1-402

Carl Jung

This reply has caused something of an outcry, both at the time and in the years since; in 2006 the biologist and convinced atheist Richard Dawkins accused Jung of “blind faith”. I don’t think this is a fair accusation. Jung had worked hard on himself all his life and had worked extensively with a wide range of patients so could speak with the authority of a lifetime of inner exploration. Four years earlier, in another interview, Jung had expanded a little on this theme: “All that I have learned has led me step by step to an unshakeable conviction of the existence of God. I only believe in what I know. And that eliminates believing. Therefore I do not take his existence on belief – I know that he exists”.

Jung’s view, given in letters after these interviews, is that there is something very real and mysterious, which we all call God, but the images of God we all hold are different and inadequate. He seems to have been suggesting that we should recognise that any and all images of God are always different from the actual nature of God.

In that same interview with John Freeman, Jung said this: “We need more understanding of human nature, because the only danger that exists is man himself — he is the great danger, and we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man — far too little.” Anthroposophists of course would tend to agree with Jung; but we would also go beyond Jung in our view that we already know quite a lot about what it means to be a human being, not only during our physical incarnations but also in our soul and spiritual natures.

I sometimes wonder what I might reply in the highly unlikely event that I was interviewed and asked whether I believed in an afterlife. I should probably say: “Yes I do, and also in many ‘before’ lives as well as afterlives to come”. But this sort of conviction seems to be uncommon today, when a kind of solipsistic cynicism about anything other than the material is more usual.  A quotation from the late, great comic, Peter Cook, sums up this attitude for me: “As I looked out into the night sky, across all those infinite stars, it made me realise how insignificant they are”.

But what would Carl Jung have said if he had been asked about the possibility of an afterlife? Writing in 1934, he commented:

“Critical rationalism has apparently eliminated, along with so many other mythic conceptions, the idea of life after death. This could only have happened because nowadays most people identify themselves almost exclusively with their consciousness, and imagine that they are only what they know about themselves. Yet anyone with even a smattering of psychology can see how limited this knowledge is. Rationalism and doctrinarism are the disease of our time; they pretend to have all the answers. But a great deal will yet be discovered which our present limited view would have ruled out as impossible”.

To my mind, Jung is quite infuriating on this topic – evasive, long-winded and seemingly unwilling to state publicly his private convictions. Jung obviously decided to remain completely empirical in his public observations, confining his work to inner soul images. Jung also speaks of psychoanalysis as the only initiatory path available in the modern Western world.

This is not so, of course, and this is just one reason why for me Steiner is of much more interest than Jung: it is because Steiner has an absolutely clear understanding and knowledge of the transcendent and is able to observe the invisible spiritual realms and report what he has seen. Whereas Jung kept his work firmly in the region of the soul, Steiner was able to develop his capacities of consciousness so as to reveal the nature of the spirit – and to teach how other people can develop these capacities as well.

RudolfSteiner1911

Rudolf Steiner in 1911.

There is a danger here and that is that Steiner’s teachings, taken on their own, and without any conscious connection to one’s own soul life and inner experience, can lead one to fall into anthroposophy as though it were a religion – which it emphatically is not.  Anthroposophy, in fact, is a path of research and hard meditative work leading to various outcomes in consciousness, thinking, feeling and willing. This is quite a tall order for people living in a culture in which materialistic individualism reigns and there is no connection to the collective forces of the soul – but it is a necessary path to take if one wishes to understand the physical-soul-spiritual wholeness of the human being.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Carl Jung, Rudolf Steiner

Guest Post: The Bodhisattva Question, part 2 – some conclusions and further thoughts

 

by Hans van Willenswaard

Before I had to travel, here in South East Asia, I thought the exchanges on the Bodhisattva Question had come to an end and I intended to contribute a concluding post. On my return I found a new wave of contributions and it is not easy to catch up.

We are dealing with evaluations of the past; what the mission of the Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury might mean today in terms of evolution of humanity and our active role in it; how personal experience plays its part; how we make judgments on the viability of our own and others’ statements; and lately what our dynamic position is in the concrete socio-political constellation of today. I’ll try to react to these issues in this concluding post and then look forwards to a new Anthropopper thread to be opened by Jeremy.

One of the questions – triggered by our exchanges – that started haunting me is: Based on which experience did Rudolf Steiner initiate this vision that the Christ would re-appear in the etheric realm? How and from where did this insight arise? I found this quote:

What Paul experienced (near Damascus) as the presence of Christ in the atmosphere of the earth is what modern man may train himself to experience clairvoyantly through an esoteric schooling; this is also what single persons here and there will be able to experience through a natural clairvoyance, as I have already characterized it, beginning with the years 1930 to 1940. Then it will continue through long periods of time as something that has become entirely natural to humanity.

The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric; Lecture I – The Event of Appearance of Christ in the Etheric World, 25 January 1910, Karlsruhe (GA 118 ).

However, is this 1910 reference to the “Damascus experience” the whole story? I started searching and found new information about the past. Recent revelations by Richard Cloud in consultation with the last remaining so called Pansophists – and confirmed by Claude Philalethes in French language – point at the possibility that Steiner learned seeing the vision of the reappearance of the Christ in the 20th century from his esoteric teacher “Master M”. Steiner identified “M” in his famous Barr Document but never revealed his identity, probably as he was bound to secrecy. Is this a secret Ottmar was curious about? The intriguing Barr document written by Steiner played a role in an earlier Anthropopper post where Jeremy Smith recalled his life-changing meeting with Sir George Trevelyan at Findhorn.

In addition to professor Karl Julius Schroer, brought to our attention by Steve Hale, and the herbalist Felix Kogutzki, who, in my understanding, guided Steiner respectively to Goethe and to the perception of life forces in Nature, it may have been, according to the, for me, unknown Richard Cloud, “Master M” who guided Steiner to the phenomenon of the reappearance of the Christ, not in a physical body but in the etheric world. Who was “Master M”?

Remarkably, first Cloud – with consent conveyed to him because 100 years have passed and thus the secret can safely be revealed – identifies “Master M” as an occult teacher with the name Alois Mailander (1844 – 1905). Mailander, according to the research of Cloud, was known in esoteric circles as “M” or brother Johannes/John. He was an illiterate mystic who lived in southern Germany and had gathered around him students. Rudolf Steiner may have been one of these students.

Later Richard Cloud even postulates, to my astonishment – in an article 24 August 2018 – that Alois Mailander may have been the incarnated Christian Rosenkreutz …

http://pansophers.com/dem-m-revealed/

http://pansophers.com/alois-mailander/

Leaving this revelation without passing on a judgment for the time being (maybe Jeremy can open a post on this) the question still arises what is “Pansophy”? Where does it originate from?

Here is what Rudolf Steiner says:

Very few people today know that Amos Comenius was the actual founder of the modern pedagogy (…). A book by Friedrich Eckstein entitled Comenius and the Bohemian Brothers was recently published. Friedrich Eckstein is one of those people who was united with me in a small theosophical group in Vienna at the end of the 1880’s. [Eckstein was a known student of Mailander – addition Hans]. Then he went his own way and I had not heard of him until this book about Amos Comenius appeared. These 150 wood cuts from the original edition are given with German and Latin texts. Here you have wood cuts beginning with God, the world, heaven, the elementals, the elements, plants, fruits, animals, the human body and its members, etc., all of which was put in such a way as to appeal to the heart. This sort of presentation still appeals very much to people. Herder and Goethe loved all this in their childhood. The whole way of writing children’s books rests upon Amos Comenius. He was connected with many secret brotherhoods all over Europe and he wanted to establish what he called his “Pan Sophia”. In the beginning of our period, in the 16th, 17th century, we have in Amos Comenius a human being who knew that now is the time for a sudden change, that one must transmute all the knowledge from earlier times into the form of external intellect. You do not simply continue it in the form of the ancient tradition. This tradition rests upon that which was the Temple architecture. Amos Comenius had as his task translating (this) in his “Pan Sophia” (…). (…). And so we want to establish a school of wisdom, a universal wisdom, a “Pan Sophia” wisdom so that one can say that that which is in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, which was represented in the Wander Years, is a continuation of what Amos Comenius wanted.

Things in Past and Present in the Spirit of Man, Lecture V: Comenius and the Temple of PanSofia, Dornach, 11 April 1916, GA 167

This quote not only is most intriguing in terms of giving possible credibility to the above mentioned revelations – to be checked – from the source of the remaining Pansophists; the reference to Comenius provides, in my opinion, a welcome opportunity for positioning the Waldorf school impulse of Rudolf Steiner in both an inspiring historic as well as a universalist (albeit within the Christian tradition) perspective, beyond the often repeated framework of “German idealism”.

It’s also remarkable that Comenius (1592 – 1670), a wandering Czech free-thinker and bishop of the Bohemian brotherhood, lived for many years in the Amsterdam canal house, Keizersgracht, where more recently one of the probably most important libraries of Rosicrucian and other esoteric literature is based, the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica,now under the name of “Embassy of the Free Mind”. This library was built up piece by piece by businessman Joost Ritman and his family. One of the sons is chairman of the umbrella organization of Dutch Buddhist organisations, and active in the European Buddhist Union (EBU).

Also interesting from my personal perspective is that, as a coordinator I worked at the youth centre cum jazz club in the 70s exactly opposite, across the canal from the present building. In that time the library was not yet accessible by the public but I had been told about it by my meditation teacher and in a dream visited the attics of the library when it was still based at a much smaller house nearby.

Recently I bought in Amsterdam a copy of the Dutch translation of Via Lucis, the way of the Light, which Comenius wrote in London.

More information about Johann Amos Comenius and his “College of Light” can be found in an article of Rachel Ritman through this link:

https://www.ritmanlibrary.com/the-ritman-library-team/the-college-of-light/

From this point about resonances with the past, I would like to come back to Gauren’s very helpful critical observation, where I made the realization of the reappearance of the Christ in the etheric world conditional to humanity’s awareness of it. Here are some interesting quotes from Steiner to clarify the issue:

Christ will exist in the earthly sphere as an etheric being. It depends upon the human being how he establishes a relationship to Him. On the appearance of Christ Himself, therefore, no one, no initiate however mighty, has any influence. It will come. I beg that you hold firmly to this. Arrangements can be made, however, for receiving this Christ event in this way or that, for making it effective.

When we speak in this way, we feel what anthroposophy should and can mean to us, how it should prepare us to fulfill our task by seeing to it that a sublime event such as this not pass humanity by, leaving no trace behind. If it were to pass without leaving a trace, humanity would forfeit its most important possibility for evolution and would sink into darkness and gradual death. This event can bring light to human beings only if they awaken to this new perception and thereby open themselves also to the new Christ event.

Humanity will be granted a period of about 2,500 years in which to develop these faculties; 2,500 years will be at his disposal to attain etheric vision as a natural, universal human faculty, until human beings advance again to another faculty in another time of transition. During these 2,500 years, more and more human souls will be able to develop these faculties in themselves. (At other instances he speaks about 3000 years counted from 600 before Christ).

Humanity is called upon to develop ever-higher faculties, however, so that the course of evolution may be able, again and again, to make new leaps.

Christ will be there in order that He can be experienced also on these higher stages of knowledge. Christianity is in this connection not at the end but at the beginning of its influence. Humanity will continue to advance from stage to stage, and Christianity will also be there at every stage in order that it may satisfy the deepest requirements of the human soul throughout all future ages of the earth.

These and later quotes, if not mentioned otherwise, are from the first three lectures of GA 118: The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric

Lecture I – The Event of Appearance of Christ in the Etheric World, 25 January 1910, Karlsruhe

Lecture II – Spiritual Science as Preparation for a New Etheric Vision, 27 January 1910, Karlsruhe

Lecture III – Buddhism and Pauline Christianity, 27 February, Cologne

Whereas Steiner himself taught about it for less than two decades, he said this vision would be further announced later in the 20thcentury. Now, how culturally specific is the prediction that the Maitreya Buddha would incarnate as a ‘Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury’ announcing ‘the re-appearance of the Christ in the etheric’?

This question may lead us to exploring the possibility of an evolution in the understanding of what bodhisattvas are, in particular how the bodhisattva principle increasingly is being socialized. Can we speak of a nucleus of bodhisattvas and can it include every ones’ efforts, small and big. It would release us from the obsession to find THE Bodhisattva, without becoming uncritical. What unites us is more important than what divides us. We may, in the search to find an answer, also explore acceptance of pluriformity in our assumptions of how reincarnation actually works. Does it happen with intervals of 300 years? In a 100 years rhythm – does each century has its Maitreya Bodhisattva – ? Or can re-birth be realized a few years after death, as is the case with Tibetan lamas?

For reflections on these issues it may be helpful to identify some milestones in human evolution in the 20thcentury and relevant for our dialogue.

Ultimately we will have to settle a meaningful consensus on how to share the universality of the Christ impulse – and impulses coming from other spiritual manifestations like the Buddha – in the context of a global multi-cultural, inter-religious civil society, based on free inquiry. Is the striving for “sustainability” our common goal?

Rudolf Steiner speaks of an initial consciousness leap to take place around 1930 – 1940 with a period of 2500 years to bring it to fruition. Steiner mentioned these years were not to be taken exactly. He may not have foreseen the enormous disaster of World War II which delayed the course of events. While searching for anchor points in time I come to a possible timeframe for further research. Of course the evolution of consciousness plays out at various fronts. One of the possible areas for finding such demarcation points, in a threefold worldview (which I will address later in this concluding post), is that of governance and law.

From this governance perspective, a milestone in the evolution of humanity’s consciousness certainly is the post-War formulation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the year 1948. And one can say that this human achievement to end and prevent disaster was preceded half a century earlier by the First Hague Peace conference of 1899 (the approximate year that, according to Steiner, the ‘Dark Age’ of Kali Yuga ended): a first step towards building global governance and law materialized in the construction of the Peace Palace.

A decade after 1948 – in 1957 – another milestone occurred. The Buddhist world celebrated the “2500 commemoration of the Enlightenment of the Buddha”. It was not only the year that my wife was born in Thailand (where we live now in the year 2561), it was the first time that the Dalai Lama travelled to India to join, as a 22 year old lama, the festive commemorations in New Delhi. Two years later he had to take refuge in India. Tibet had been occupied and the revolt against China failed. The Dalai Lama remained in exile in India for the rest of his life. The year 1957 marked the unique turning point from the influence of the Gautema Buddha to that of the Maitreya Buddha to be incarnated 2500 years later. The realization of (genuine) sustainability – the reappearance of the Christ in the etheric world – may need this 2500 years’ time span to come to full fruition, if I understand Steiner well.

From the 1957 celebrations in the huge Buddha Jayanti Park that was especially laid out in New Delhi for this occasion and where the still largely unknown Dalai Lama met, as a refugee, with the enormous diversity of Buddhist dignitaries he may have silently started preparing for a role as spiritual world leader. Only in 1967, at the age of 32 years, he began travelling all over the world to spread the message of Universal Responsibility – including responsibility for Nature – complementing the freshly adopted Universal Declaration of Human Rights in two ways: emphasizing responsibilities over rights and transcending anthropocentrism.

[In October 1993 the Dalai Lama inaugurated a huge Buddha statue in the park, where I was present.]

The search for universal values inevitably evokes a sharp paradox: the realisation of universality, unity, requires free, independent, individuals. Universalization does not mean (forced) surrender to one central truth. Dynamic agreement-building based on diversity and free personal consciousness goes hand in hand with simultaneous appreciation of the (spiritual) fact of absolute inter-dependence.

Can Christ be appreciated as one (for those closely connected to him: central) spiritual entity among a diversity of entities with a common mission to constitute universal responsibility? It may require collective effort of individual human beings who cultivate freedom, in order to co-create a responsible political order and a community-driven economy.  The evolution of humanity towards due care for the Earth – the foundation for the community of life – is “a sacred trust”. That is how it is stipulated in the Earth Charter launched in The Hague – another milestone – 100 years after the First Hague Peace conference, and 50 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

http://earthcharter.org/discover/the-earth-charter/

The period of these 2500 years in the evolution of consciousness starts from the initial experiencing of “the etheric”:

A conception will arise that will see the earth not in terms of purely mineral forces but in terms of plant, or what could be called etheric, forces. The plant directs its root toward the earth’s center, and its upper part stands in relation to the sun. These are the forces that make the earth what it is; gravity is only secondary. The plants preceded minerals just as coal was once plant life; this will soon be discovered. Plants give the planet its form, and they then give off the substance from which its mineral foundation originates. The beginnings of this idea were given through Goethe in his plant morphology, but he was not understood. One will gradually begin to see the etheric, because it is that which is characteristic of the plant realm.

They will behold the etheric earth from which the plant world springs up. (…). He who possesses this science in the highest degree is the Maitreya Buddha, who will come in approximately 3,000 years (if counted from what is now identified as the beginning of the anthropocene; addition Hans). (…) This will all lead human beings to know in which direction they must go. You must undertake to transform abstract ideas into concrete ideals in order to contribute to an evolution that moves forward.

Lecture III – Buddhism and Pauline Christianity, 27 February, Cologne

Experience is essential for this conception. I am grateful to Steve and Kathy that they hinted at personal accounts of how in their life they experienced the highest etheric presence, a “bodhisattva momentum” or a Damascus event. These experiences, by the way, could be less rare than we may think. Sir Alister Hardy (1896 – 1985) made a public appeal to volunteer participation in research on spontaneous “religious” experiences and was overwhelmed by the response.

So, I owe Steve and Kathy that I try to tell something of my own experiences. I have two experiences I can try to share and they come together in what I try to advocate: “engaged Buddhism”; and “engaged spirituality” where anthroposophy leads the way. One experience is about meditation. I admitted earlier to Tom Hart Shea that I am not comfortable with the First Class mantrams or other anthroposophical exercises. They are so “Rudolf Steiner”. I love the uniqueness and personality of Steiner and feel deeply inspired to act upon the second part of The philosophy of freedom. But although I find confirmation of meditative insight in the first part of the book, for the actual meditation I resort to the more “de-personalized” approach of Vipassana Bhavana.

Around my 33rd year I did my first ten-days Vipassana retreat at a small attic of what later would become the Thai temple in a bigger building. It is hard to communicate the core meditative experiences that resulted, and it is also recommended not to do so. But I found a beautiful reference in a, to my eyes, very important article to which Steve Hale linked us in his post, 22 June 2018, for which I am very grateful. I reproduce the reference here with the comment that my insights in no way did match this level of sophistication.

In “The scientific credibility of anthroposophy” Jost Schieren summarizes parts of the work of Herbert Witzenmann (1905 – 1988), an early (often criticized) leader of the Social Sciences Section.

(…) the ontological sphere of the world has to nullify itself in the human organisation. Witzenmann describes the human neuro-sensory system as an organ for the nullification of the spirit brought about by ontological evolution. It places the human being before the nothingness of sensory perception, so that in the free act of knowing he can undertake a re-constitution of reality. It is a kind of null-pointand as such a point from which human cognition can proceed unconditionally. There are – as Rudolf Steiner points out in The philosophy of freedom – two different ways of doing this: on the one hand, through the perceptsdelivered by the sensory organization; and on the other, through autonomously generated thinking. By using meditation to practice inner observation and thus developing his ability to work with these two poles of human cognition – perceptionand thinking– the human being takes hold of a new freedom-based mode of constituting both self and world.

The scientific credibility of anthroposophy, Jost Schieren, RoSE – Research on Steiner Education, Vol. 2, 2011.

Inner observation as described here, is a required exercise to lay the foundation for scientific research that in the same time can do justice to anthroposophy as well as satisfy mainstream science, according to Schieren. Sunyata, nothingness,is also a concrete, intimate – and at my age then, life defining – meditation experience in a person’s biography.

I feel that it is scientific rigour, maybe derived from the point Witzenmann describes, which distinguishes the mathematician Elisabeth Vreede from Adolf Arenson, a merchant and composer, and makes them arrive at different conclusions on the possible shared identity of the earmarked Bodhisattva and Rudolf Steiner. Later Sergei Prokofieff fortifies Arenson’s vision in a context of modern conservative anthroposophy.

My second personal experience related to the subject came at the age of 39. Location: CREAR at Rio Limpio, Dominican Republic where I did my Emerson College rural development internship. I learned more than ever in my life in that period. I did not have a good relationship with founder and leader of CREAR Mark Feedman and working in the garden (with passionate “double digging”) in the tropical climate was hardship. One day I observed from a distance how Mark, he liked to do things on his own, sprayed the land by hand with the 503 cow manure preparation. Suddenly a strong golden glance arose from the soil and I “heard”: “this is my body” … I experienced something happening which earlier had fascinated me and had explored as transubstantiation

Given the reference Rudolf Steiner makes to the etheric, revealing itself in the “Damascus experience” of Paul in the first quote of this contribution, it is interesting to learn that modern researchers question whether the Last Supper ritual was initiated as such by Christ or later inserted by Paul.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_the_Eucharist

Christianity evokes the narrative of God the Father becoming a human being, his Son the Christ. While in our era the Christ is reappearing as body of the Earth. This is an evolutionary need to counter extreme materialism, industrialization/digitalisation and commercialisation. In its realization the transformation loses earlier gender implications, unifies with the nearly forgotten but especially in Latin American very strong “buen vivir” movement around the vivid reality of Mother Earth. Evolving into what the Earth Charter determines as “community of life” and how it can be co-created.

Rudolf Steiner gave a series of 10 lectures, March 1913, in The Hague. Later in the same year the Peace Palace would be opened. Steiner must have walked around the nearly finished building. In May he traveled to Dornach and suddenly decided to start the construction of the First Goetheanum.

In conclusion some comments on Buddhism and Anthroposophy.

A study group was initiated on this theme by Dharmacharya (authorized teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh) Ha Vinh Tho who studied eurythmy in Dornach for many years. The first meeting was attended by 11 persons, among whom my wife Wallapa and I, in the old emperor’s city of Hué, Vietnam, March 2001. Later we introduced Tho to our friends in Bhutan where he became a well-known teacher and programme director of the Gross National Happiness center.

The Bodhisattva is a Being who passes through all civilisations, who can manifest Himself to mankind in various ways. Such is the Spirit of the Bodhisattvas.

Now the mysteries always make appropriate preparation for the corresponding duty of mankind. Every age has its special task; and every age has to receive the truth in the particular form needed by that epoch.

The East in the Light of the West, 31st August 1909, Munich

Anthroposophy derived, with its assimilations, the concepts of Karma and Reincarnation from Buddhism. Contemporary understandings of Karma and Reincarnation guide “engaged Buddhism” in similar ways as in anthroposophy.

A man who has assimilated these ideas knows: According to what I was in life, I shall have an effect upon everything that takes place in the future, upon the whole civilisation of the future! Something that up to now has been present in a limited degree only — the feeling of responsibility — is extended beyond the bounds of birth and death by knowledge of reincarnation and karma. The feeling of responsibility is intensified, imbued with the deep moral consequences of these ideas.

Reincarnation and Karma, GA135, 5thMarch 1912, Berlin

In addition to Karma and Reincarnation, anthroposophists, like the former chair of the Anthroposophical Society in the Netherlands, Joop van Dam, have studied, practiced and published on the Eightfold Path. What has been less researched is the perceived resonance between the Tri Ratna or Three Jewels in Buddhism and the principle of threefolding as developed by Rudolf Steiner. (See my book The Wellbeing Society. A Radical Middle Path to Global Transformation.) The Tri Ratna is the most central, essential, spiritual entity in all streams of Buddhism. Buddhists take (everyday) refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

Since my first visit to the Goetheanum in 1976 I have been intrigued by possible similarities between threefolding and the Buddhist Tri Ratna. Only by exchanges in the context of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) with leaders of the Ambedkar movement in India, I got some external confirmation of possible resonance. Who was Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891 – 1956)? Born a dalit, an untouchable, low-cast, in a family with 14 children, he was given opportunities to study in India and abroad, and became a prominent law expert and political rival of M. K. Gandhi.

Ambedkar was of the opinion that Gandhi did not go far enough in the emancipation of the untouchables. After independence Ambedkar was given the task to draft the constitution of democratic India. Ultimately he found that becoming a Buddhist was the only way to positively liberate himself from the caste system. In 1956, just before he died, he took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and triggered a mass conversion movement among untouchables.

Upon the question how it could be that in his draft for the preamble of the constitution the three values of the French Revolution were so clearly recognizable, he replied that these were not the values of the French Revolution but it was purely Buddhism that had guided him.

I think here is a key to fresh collaboration between Anthroposophy and Buddhism. The Buddha symbolizes personal liberation and responsible freedom; the Dhamma stands for the laws of Nature and Karma to whom we all are equal; and the Sangha, in its narrow sense, the monastic order of monks and nuns, harbours in a broader sense the value of true brother- and sisterhood, the spirit of community.

A concrete affirmative response to the growing recognition of life-forces and the etheric in Nature, as an urgently needed expression of resilience vis-à-vis materialistic destruction, can be jointly shaped – in a universal context – with the help of modern insights on threefolding.

More concretely threefolding addresses: the challenges of freedom as well as responsibility of citizens; sovereignty of nation-states; and property rights in the economic sphere. All three have to be reframed.

Christopher Weeramantry, Sri Lanka (1926 – 2017), Vice President of the International Court of Justice, The Hague, himself a Christian, said about property:

(…) concepts such as ownership are often taught and conceived in Western jurisprudence as being of absolutist nature, which is the very antithesis of the Buddhist approach to these concepts. Their stress on rights overshadows the accompanying concept of duties, and the latter is what Buddhist teaching tends to emphasize. This elevated concept of duties lies at the heart of the notion of trusteeship.

C.G. WeeramantryTread Lightly on the Earth. Religion, the Environment and the Human Nature, Stanford Lake, 2014 (second print)

And the Constitution of Bhutan (2008), the last Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, stipulates:

Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations.

Earth Trusteeship implies that all global citizens are equal trustees of the Earth. A new threefold world order will be based on Earth Trusteeship.

Regressive trends of our time, like Brexit (sorry Steve), are based on the old paradigm of sovereignty of the nation-state and accompanying nationalism.

We need to turn to the new paradigm of Earth Trusteeship.

Martin Large formulates, more concretely:

Social threefolding can also help answer the question of the conditions for organisational success. For example, community land trusts (CLT) are well grounded on threefolding principles. They secure the land as a commons or right into the trusteeship of a civil society, non-profit body, whilst leasing the right to use the land to a homeowner, who owns the actual ‘house structure’ standing on the land. The homeowner is able to sell or buy the house, but not the land, to qualified buyers. CLT thinking sees the house as a commodity and the land as a commons held in trust, so that land ‘value’ is captured for community, rather than for private benefit.

Rudolf Steiner’s Vision for our Social Future: Openings for Social Threefolding by Martin Large, New View magazine, issue 81, Autumn 2016.

Jeremy may have news about the Emerson College gathering in 2020.*

* Not yet – but I hope to have some preliminary information by Spring 2019. J.

 

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Filed under Alois Mailander, Anthroposophy, Bodhisattva, Buddhism, Rudolf Steiner

Margaret Cross, Rudolf Steiner and the school at Kings Langley

Friday 13th has been regarded with superstitious dread for many years, so it is perhaps appropriate that Friday 13thJuly 2018 marked the end of the Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley. Barring unforeseen developments, the school has now closed its doors for the last time after falling foul of Ofsted, and the future of its historic site and the present school buildings are currently uncertain. As a result of the closure, parents and pupils are having to search around for any new schools that still have room to take them, and the teaching and administrative staff will be scrambling to find new jobs after being made redundant.

I worked at the school for a number of years up until 2014 and my daughter received a good education there, so naturally I am sad that the school has come to such a sorry pass. I will have more to write about all of this in a future post but first I would like to give some idea of how the school came to be founded, together with an appreciation of the rich heritage that is now being so carelessly destroyed.

The school sits on the site of the 13thcentury royal palace of Kings Langley, built by Queen Eleanor, the wife of King Edward I, between 1279 and 1281.  The king and queen had a great interest in the work of the Dominicans, and they may even have met the Dominicans’ most prominent teacher, Thomas Aquinas, during their travels in the Mediterranean, where they had been four years on crusade.

edward-ii-image

Edward II receiving the crown of England. (Image from a contemporary manuscript, copyright of the British Library Board)

Their son, Edward (who became Edward II in 1307), inherited the lands and the palace in 1302, and he established a Dominican friary there in 1308. Edward had grown up at Kings Langley and it was one of his favourite places. He was often under the influence of his court favourite, Piers Gaveston, and they may have been lovers; whatever the reason, his reign was considered to be disastrous for England and he was eventually deposed in 1327 by his wife, Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. Before this, in 1312, an assembly of barons had hunted down and killed Piers Gaveston, to the king’s great distress. Gaveston had been excommunicated and so a proper burial for his beheaded body could not be arranged until the king had arranged a papal absolution for his favourite. This happened in 1315 and Gaveston’s body and head were brought to be buried in an elaborate ceremony in the Friary at Kings Langley.

Other kings and queens of England also lived at the palace: Edward III, who used Kings Langley as his seat of government during the Black Death in 1349; his fourth son, Edmund of Langley, the first Duke of York and the founder of the White Rose faction in the Wars of the Roses, has his tomb in the parish church; King Richard II held court and issued proclamations from the palace, and his court spent Christmas at Langley. The palace at Kings Langley is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Richard II. Richard was assassinated in 1400 and his throne was seized by the man who became Henry IV. After Richard’s death, Kings Langley went out of favour as a royal palace, although Henry V spent some time there in 1414. In 1431 there was a disastrous fire that caused extensive damage, after which no kings or queens lived there. The Friary church, which was consecrated in 1312 and could hold up to one hundred friars, survived until the 1500s when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and seized their assets for himself. In 1631, Charles I sold off the palace and priory to pay off debts owed to the City of London. This ended three centuries of royal association with Kings Langley.

Today there are no visible traces of the palace and only one building that remains from the Friary, which is nowadays somewhat confusingly called the Priory. This royal and religious history was as much as I knew about the site, until one day I was visited in my office by the school’s excellent librarian, Daniel Bryan. Daniel told me that he had been walking in the churchyard of Kings Langley Parish Church and had come across an unusual and interesting grave, with a bench besides it that was obviously connected with the grave.  The grave was in a poor state and had been vandalised and was covered with litter and rubbish, but there was something about it that made Daniel want to clear it and investigate further.

grave overall

The remains of the grave of Hannah Clark in the cemetery of Kings Langley Parish Church.

This grave turned out to be the burial place of Hannah Clark (1845 -1935), one of the two founders of the first school on the site of the palace and friary. I decided to do some further research into more recent history and discovered that Hannah Clark was a pioneering teacher who had started a co-educational boarding school – this must have been a daring concept in Victorian times. Sometime in the 1890s, she was joined by another teacher, Margaret Cross (1866 – 1962), who had been educated at the University of Cambridge but, being a woman, was not allowed to graduate. (Although women entered Cambridge lecture halls slightly earlier than those at Oxford, Oxford was the first of the two to admit women to degrees and full status in 1921 and, astonishingly, it would be another 26 years before Cambridge followed suit in 1947.)

Kings_Langley_Palace_ruins

The ruins of the Priory at Kings Langley in an engraving from 1816. It can’t have looked much better in 1909 when Miss Cross and Miss Clark decided that this was where they would build their new school.

By 1899 Hannah Clark was running a school in Coombe Hill House, East Grinstead, Sussex. In 1909 Miss Clark and Miss Cross had found another site for their school, the ruins of the Priory at Kings Langley in Hertfordshire, which was being used as a farm outbuilding. They engaged the leading arts and crafts architects of the day, Parker & Unwin (also responsible for Letchworth Garden City) and got them to restore and extend the Priory and outbuildings so as to provide a home for the school, which was soon to be renamed The Priory School. The school opened in 1910 and the 1911 census records Miss Cross and Miss Clark as joint principals, living there with the 80-year old Norman Cross, Margaret’s father. At that time there were sixteen pupils, three servants and two assistant teachers.

hannah clark

A photo of unknown date, believed to be of Hannah Clark.

priory before alterations

The ruins of the Priory, before Parker & Unwin began their work.

priory after alterations

The Priory transformed by Parker & Unwin, with the addition of two wings to the older building – a most attractive and sympathetic piece of architecture in the arts and crafts style.

Miss Clark and Miss Cross were advanced educationalists and decided to run their new school on Montessori lines. In around 1920, the two women became interested in Rudolf Steiner’s new Waldorf school in Stuttgart, and in December 1921 Miss Cross was invited to join the New Ideals in Education committee on a visit to a course given by Rudolf Steiner at Dornach. The trip was organised by Millicent Mackenzie, who was a professor of education at University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, the first female professor in Wales and the first appointed to a fully chartered university in the United Kingdom. She wrote on the philosophy of education, founded the Cardiff Suffragette branch, became the only woman Parliamentary Candidate in Wales for 1918, and was a key initiator of Steiner Waldorf education in the United Kingdom.

Millicent_Mackenzie_1915

Professor Millicent Mackenzie in 1915.

Millicent Mackenzie, who had first met Steiner in August 1921, arranged for him and some of the Waldorf teachers to give a lecture cycle and supporting programme for British teachers to take place at the Goetheanum at Christmas 1921. Around forty people responded to her invitation, travelling from England to Dornach, where Rudolf Steiner held the lecture cycle Soul Economy – Body, Soul and Spirit in Waldorf Education in the White Room of the newly-built Goetheanum, that same room in which the disastrous fire was to break out just a year later.

Miss Cross knew not only Latin and Greek but was also fluent in German, so my assumption is that this is why she, rather than Hannah Clark, went to Switzerland to take part in the course. According to Helen Fox, who also attended the lecture cycle, “it was on the occasion of this Dornach course that Miss Cross, headmistress of a boarding-school at Kings Langley, offered her school to Dr Steiner, to be remodelled on anthroposophical lines.”

According to another attendee, Alexander Strakosch: “From talking with English listeners it was especially interesting to hear how little state officials in England interfere in the essentials of education and teaching. They have there a whole lot of non-state schools, and anyone who just wants to put pedagogical ideas into practice or to live out of good ideas will not have numerous difficulties put before them. At first many of these English teachers therefore had little understanding for the concept of free spiritual life. They thought (…) that in their country they already had it, for they could do what they liked. To grasp the concept of free spiritual life was hard for them.” How very ironic such a statement will seem to Steiner school teachers today…

Rudolf Steiner around 1922

Rudolf Steiner circa 1922

On her return to Britain after the lecture cycle, Millicent Mackenzie then initiated a conference on the themes of Shakespeare, drama and education in Stratford-on-Avon in April 1922,to which she invited Rudolf Steiner. Miss Cross invited Steiner to visit the Priory School on his way to this conference and thus it was that on Sunday April 16th 1922 the school at Kings Langley became the only school in the UK ever to have been visited by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner himself gave an account of this visit when he got back to Dornach:

“I and other friends took up an invitation from Miss Cross, who showed us over her school at Kings Langley. (…) We could see how a number of children are brought up and educated in a boarding school of this kind. It is extremely interesting how children are (…) brought into proximity with life out of certain ideals of the present. The roughly forty to forty-five children in the boarding-school have to do everything; there are actually no servants there. The children have to get up early and care for the whole institution themselves, as well as cleaning their own shoes and clothes. They have to make sure there are enough eggs through breeding poultry, which they also do, and various other things you will be able to think of. They clean everything themselves, cook everything themselves and look after the garden. They have themselves first grown, harvested and cooked the vegetables which come onto the table, and then also eat them. A child is thus led into life in a many-sided way and learns a whole mass of things.

During the Christmas course Miss Cross formed an intention to organise this boarding-school in the manner of a Waldorf school. This is being considered as a quite serious plan. Mrs Mackenzie, who was also one of the chief moving forces for my being invited to the Shakespeare festival, is very much in favour of our school movement, supported by anthroposophy, winning a certain terrain in England. There is now an endeavour to form a committee for organising this school from an anthroposophical background, according to our education.

This will be a very significant and important step forward. If so energetic a will stands behind it as exists in the personalities of Miss Cross and Professor Mrs Mackenzie, it can be taken for granted that after various hindrances are overcome, something of the kind will be able to come about.”

The Priory School, Kings Langley in 1922, as Rudolf Steiner would have seen it when he visited in April of that year.

The Priory School, showing the additional wings by Parker & Unwin on each side of the remains of the old Priory building. This is how the school would have appeared to Rudolf Steiner during his visit on Sunday 16th April 1922.

Millicent Mackenzie and Arnold Freeman (warden of the Sheffield Educational Settlement) then joined together to bring awareness of Rudolf Steiner’s educational ideas into English teachers’ organisations and arranged a further conference in August 1922 at Manchester College, Oxford on “Spiritual Values in Education and Social Life”.  Millicent Mackenzie also organised a public lecture by Rudolf Steiner on education on 30 August 1924 in Essex Hall, London, under the auspices of the Educational Union for the Realisation of Spiritual Values and she gave the welcoming address. Through her efforts the founders of Steiner Waldorf education in the United Kingdom were introduced to these ideas and built up the first schools.

Oxford Conference group

Almost the only photo I have been able to find of Miss Cross is in the group picture taken at the Oxford conference in 1922. Apart from Rudolf and Marie Steiner, there are some distinguished anthroposophists in the photo, including Edith Maryon, Eugen Kolisko, Harry Collison, Margaret McMillan, Millicent Mackenzie, Caroline von Heydebrand, Ilona Schubert, George Adams, Baron Arild Rosenkrantz, Juliet and Vera Compton-Burnett and several others. Miss Cross is at the top right of the picture, on the end of the 6thor 7throw, the small lady without a hat standing just below George Adams.

So as to help Miss Cross with the new direction for her school, a committee was formed to provide practical training support in Waldorf methods. A teacher was sent from Kings Langley to the Waldorf school in Stuttgart, with Miss Cross herself soon to follow. Steiner also sent to Kings Langley from the Goetheanum two English women (Juliet and Vera Compton-Burnett, sisters of the novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett) who had trained at Dornach. George Adams, who was Steiner’s translator whenever he was in England, was also a member of this committee. A little later, Adams, Miss Cross and the Compton-Burnetts were present at the Goetheanum to attend the lecture cycle on The Spiritual Communion of Man at New Year’s Eve on 1922, and thus they were present when the Goetheanum was burnt to the ground. The same group was also present at the 1923 Christmas conference, when Steiner gave the Foundation Stone Meditation – so these people took part in some of the seminal moments in anthroposophical history.

In December 1922, Rudolf Steiner sent a Christmas present to Margaret Cross. It was a verse, now known as the Kings Langley Grace:

As quicken the roots in the night of the earth,

As the leaves unfold through the power of the air,

As ripens the fruit in the might of the sun,

 

So quickens the soul in the shrine of the heart,

So unfolds man’s spirit in the Light of the World,

So ripens man’s strength in the glory of God.

 

And root and leaf and the ripe fruit’s blessing

Support the life of men on earth

And soul and spirit and the strong deed’s action

May raise themselves in gratitude to God.

 

But by August 1923, Miss Cross had somehow managed to fall out with most of her committee of helpers. Steiner wrote to Edith Maryon from Ilkley in Yorkshire, (where he was giving another course of educational lectures, presided over by the excellent Margaret McMillan) in which he said: “The committee once created to reorganise the Kings Langley School now consists only of Mrs Drury-Lavin; all the others have resigned. The plan of doing something with Miss Cross they consider hopeless. She herself is most distressed about it.”

The problem, it seems, was that Miss Cross could never quite reconcile herself to the idea of the school being run by a College of Teachers; and so it was that Michael Hall, formed in 1925 as the result of a request to Steiner at that Ilkley gathering, had the honour of being acknowledged as the first proper Waldorf school in the UK.

Miss Cross nevertheless persisted with her school along Waldorf lines, even after the death of her partner Hannah Clark in 1935. It must have been at that time that Miss Cross designed the grave and the bench, as a memorial for both Hannah Clark and her late father, Norman Cross. Both the grave and the bench bear powerful testimony to the creative and intellectual distinction of Margaret Cross. There are two name plaques on the grave, one with wording in memory of Hannah Clark, the other one is blank – perhaps Miss Cross had envisaged that the second plaque would be for herself – but I do not think that she was buried there, and I’ve not yet been able to find out where her remains now lie.

inscriptionThe wording on Hannah Clark’s plaque is:

“In Sacred Memory of Hannah Clark

February 15th 1845 – June 17th 1935

Lebe Liebe getragen und

Licht beschenke nach Oben.”

Daniel Bryan tracked these German words down to a lecture by Steiner: Der Tod – Die Andere seite des Lebens (Death – the other side of life) and translated them as follows: “Live carried by love and Blessed by light ever upwards.”

grave

cornerstone

Both the grave, or what is left of its sculptural work, and the bench, which is still complete, are striking examples of the arts and crafts style. The beauty of the wings around the inscription seem to be the wings of love as described by the quotation from Steiner. The details of the cornerstones depict four crosses, a reference to the Christian symbol and the family name.

bench

The backrest panels of the bench are of great interest as they appear to depict anthroposophically significant motifs: celestial lemniscates right and left, and on the right centre panel the tree of life, with a cocoon, a caterpillar, a butterfly and seedlings encompassed by a heart, all executed with great craftsmanship.  My assumption is that all of this was designed by Margaret Cross.

tree of life

After Hannah Clark’s death, Miss Cross continued to run the Priory School. Then in 1949, in apparent deep frustration at her unwillingness to change, almost all of her teachers broke away from her with the intention of starting a new school. This they did, buying two buildings right next door to her school, and taking with them most of Miss Cross’ pupils.  This led to a court case against them, which was reported in great detail by the newspapers of the time. Miss Cross alleged that the teachers had formed themselves into an association in 1945 which had gradually sought to obtain the control of the school from her. She claimed a declaration of her right to the ownership of the school and certain furniture, and also sought an injunction to restrain the teachers from starting a similar school in the two houses adjoining her premises.

The judge trying the case was obviously intrigued and amused by everything he was hearing and said at one point: “Steiner seems to have told the teachers how to do everything except how to get on together without a row.” He gave judgment against the teachers, or “this very peculiar body” as he called it: “What conceivable right they had to sack the head mistress passes my comprehension. They took leave not only of their manners but also their senses. In this particular case the College of Teachers got its heads so far into the clouds that it forgot or omitted to keep its feet on solid earth.”

The Daily Express was also amused by the case, reporting that “Miss Margaret Frances Cross – ‘I am over 70, but I don’t see why I should make my age public’ – (she was actually about 83 years old at the time) arrived in Kings Langley last night and surveyed the school for which she had fought and won – the Rudolf Steiner School. One hundred yards away six teachers against whom she had gone to law were arriving back at Priory House, one of two hostels they own as an association.”

How very galling it must have been for Miss Cross that these teachers had set up their new school right next door to her school, had poached most of her pupils and left her with just two teachers. Likewise the teachers must have had their difficulties with Miss Cross, who was reluctant to have a College of Teachers, didn’t pay them well, probably kept them short of necessary resources and whose style of teaching they may have found impossibly old-fashioned.

So the New School, as they rather unimaginatively called it before the name was changed to Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley, was founded as a result of disagreement and was located on a site which had seen a great deal of historical, spiritual and political turbulence. Have the energies of this place contributed to the present disastrous outcome, I wonder?

Miss Cross continued to run The Priory School with much diminished pupil numbers until 1955, and she died at the age of 96 in 1962.

priory interior 1

An interior at The Priory School, showing the simple, austere yet tasteful style adopted by Miss Cross and Miss Clark.

priory interior 2

One end of the room in the old part of the Priory which Miss Cross called the Locutorium, where her visitors would be received.

pupils in chapel

A classroom in the old part of the Priory.

pupils in barn

An art class in the Barn, one of the outbuildings at the Priory.

Although Miss Cross was an educationist of considerable standing, a highly educated and cultured woman, perhaps it could be said that in her school she wasn’t able to give expression to the full potential of Steiner Waldorf education. But she was also a pioneer of the Christian Community and one of the founders of anthroposophical agriculture in the UK, someone without whom the beginning of biodynamics in the UK could hardly have taken place. Carl Mier published some “Recollections of Margaret Cross” in the autumn 1962 issue of Star and Furrow:

“When I met Miss Cross first, she already gave the impression of an old person, old in the sense of ageless, and she hardly seemed to grow any older in the succeeding years. She was of small stature, bent, with a wrinkled face, but sparkling eyes. Her fingers were gnarled, her feet were encased in heavy shoes. One never met her but in heavy tweeds, carrying a large bag with papers and books. She lived in surroundings which seemed most befitting to her: a largish holding with many trees and bushes and shrubs, which gave at first sight the impression of neglect, until one discovered that more care was bestowed on it all than one thought. In the centre, the buildings of an old Dominican priory, modernised rather cleverly earlier this century, with farm buildings around. There was the same air of austerity in the house as one encountered in Miss Cross herself: an austerity in body-comforts, in meals, in light and warmth. And yet, it all had style. House and owner belonged together. When one opened the old-fashioned latch of her front door a spotlessly clean room greeted one, with that polish and almost loving austerity one meets in monasteries and convents. The bread she offered was home-made, the vegetables and fruit came from her own garden. All was simple, but all was the expression of Miss Cross.

She was one of the most learned and truly educated people I have ever had the privilege to meet. Her knowledge of English language and literature was profound, and alive. She was a classical scholar. And at my very last meeting with her – a few years before her death – I had a real surprise. She had broken her leg, and I asked whether I might see her to discuss a difficult matter over which in the past we had never quite come to an agreement. I was shown into her bedroom – furnished like a cell. There she was, undaunted by her age and her broken leg. She looked healthier than I had ever seen her before (it was probably the first time for years that she was warm and rested and properly nursed). She was in the most amiable mood, and our problem was settled within minutes. During a most animated conversation which made me forget her almost 90 years, I looked at the pile of books on her bed and bedside table. Next to a few books by Rudolf Steiner there was a whole collection of volumes on very advanced higher mathematics. ‘At last I have a chance of reading something about this. I have wanted to do so for a long time!’ Her eyes sparkled, and with her gnarled fingers which could hardly move she showed me some passages which had ‘thrilled’ her.

I think Miss Cross was a lonely person longing to do what this life had made difficult for her to accomplish. She was so strong a personality that co-operation with others did not come easily to her, and thus one missed in her school, for instance, that ‘College of Teachers’ which is an integral part of a Rudolf Steiner School. But she loved children so much that she taught almost to the end of her life.”

 

What Margaret Cross and the other teachers who worked so hard to establish Waldorf education at Kings Langley, and who are now in the spiritual world – I’m thinking of people like Nat, Philip and Moana Bowron, the Compton-Burnetts, John Wells, Heather Thomas – must be making of the present debacle, I can scarcely imagine. I shall be contributing my own thoughts on this death of a Steiner school in a future post.

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s in a name?

Back in 2014, at the summer conference of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain (ASGB) I was heartened to hear the then recently appointed general secretary, Marjatta van Boeschoten, announce that the ASGB Council was seriously considering a name change for the society. I was even more encouraged that the members present seemed to be overwhelmingly in favour of such a change and wanted the society to play a much more active, outward-facing role in the world.

Four years on, it’s apparent that other counsels have prevailed and that changing the society’s name was felt to be more than the members (or perhaps Dornach) would stand for. But it still seems to me that, if our intention is to help other people to find out more about what it really means to be a human being, then the word “anthroposophy”, at least in the English-speaking world, is a hindrance rather than a help.

To the ear of an English speaker, “anthroposophy” and “anthroposophical” are not only difficult to pronounce but they also sound vaguely cult-like, perhaps causing the listener to bracket us alongside Scientology or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “What’s in a name?” asked Juliet in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.  This may be true, but if the rose were called Sticky Willy, Knobweed or Nipplewort, then I doubt whether today it would be the national flower of England.

So names do matter in terms of shaping perceptions, and we should ask ourselves whether “anthroposophy” is doing us any favours.  From where did Steiner get the name? According to Wikipedia:

The term began to appear with some frequency in philosophical works of the mid- and late-nineteenth century. In the early part of that century, Ignaz Troxler used the term anthroposophy to refer to philosophy deepened to self-knowledge, which he suggested allows deeper knowledge of nature as well. He spoke of human nature as a mystical unity of God and world. Immanuel Hermann Fichte used the term anthroposophy to refer to “rigorous human self-knowledge,” achievable through thorough comprehension of the human spirit and of the working of God in this spirit, in his 1856 work Anthropology: The Study of the Human Soul. In 1872, the philosopher of religion Gideon Spicker used the term anthroposophy to refer to self-knowledge that would unite God and world: “the true study of the human being is the human being, and philosophy’s highest aim is self-knowledge, or Anthroposophy.” In 1882, the philosopher Robert Zimmermann published the treatise, An Outline of Anthroposophy: Proposal for a System of Idealism on a Realistic Basis,proposing that idealistic philosophy should employ logical thinking to extend empirical experience.” Steiner attended lectures by Zimmermann at the University of Vienna in the early 1880s, and it is therefore possible that this is where he came across the term.

From this it is clear that Steiner didn’t invent the name, nor did he think it so special that it should be kept for all time. In a lecture given in Dornach on April 15th1923, Steiner made the following remark: “If I had my way, I would give anthroposophy a new name every day to prevent people from hanging on to its literal meaning, from translating it from the Greek, so they can form judgments accordingly. It is immaterial what name we attach to what is being done here. The only thing that matters is that everything we do here is focused on life’s realities and that we never lose sight of them. We must never be tempted to implement sectarian ideas.”

And yet the irony is that anthroposophy has often been accused by some misguided or malicious “skeptics” as promoting sectarian or even crackpot ideas. “Life’s realities”, according to these people, include their beliefs that we have just one lifetime; that our consciousness is extinguished with death; that there is no such thing as a spiritual world existing alongside the physical world and that the only real things are those which are material.

Yet surely it is these materialistic ways of regarding the world which have in large part brought humanity and our planet to its present parlous state. Materialistic civilisation has led to environmental degradation on such a scale that the entire biosphere of the earth is now under serious threat. Nationalism, religious and racial hatreds and political confrontation are making the world a much more dangerous place than at any time since the Second World War. The powerful, prosperous industrial nations keep the majority of the Earth’s inhabitants in the Third World in economic dependence and abject poverty. In many dictatorships, human rights are routinely violated. But, even in supposedly advanced democracies, the dignity of the free human being is assaulted in many ways by the media, by commerce, by schooling systems and materialistic science dominated by economic interests.

Insights gained from anthroposophy show us what each of us can and should do – politically, economically and spiritually – to work effectively against these challenges and all their associated problems. Yet since 1925, the year of Steiner’s death, what has the Anthroposophical Society done to help turn the tide? Why have there been no attempts by the Society to engage in the general development of society by way of contributing to public discourse?

I’m not suggesting that the Society should be putting its opinions into the world. One of the outstanding features of the Society is that members are not asked to sign up to any opinions or articles of faith, or pledge themselves to carry out any obligations. A member’s opinions are her or his own, and they cannot hold heterodox views as there is no anthroposophical orthodoxy. This of course means that neither the national societies nor the General Anthroposophical Society in Dornach can make any pronouncements in the name of the members. But I am suggesting that where anthroposophy has real knowledge and insights to contribute, then the Society should be bringing them forward into the public realm. Anthroposophy is here not only for its members but is also (and I would say, primarily) an approach to life created by Rudolf Steiner for the transformation of consciousness both of individuals and society, thus leading to the increasing wellbeing and development of the world and its inhabitants.

What then should be the role of anthroposophy in today’s society? Is anthroposophy just something that is for individuals to pursue in quest of their own spiritual development, or is it also meant to make a vital difference to the way in which society is organised and how human beings live their lives? If the latter aim is accepted as legitimate, does anyone experience the Anthroposophical Society as a community in which current world problems are discussed openly and freely, dealt with from a position of real knowledge and insight and then communicated to the interested public?  I’m being very unfair, of course, in order to make my point that since Steiner’s death, anthroposophy hasn’t had the impact in the world that he had envisaged. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that without the leadership of a charismatic initiate such as Steiner, the Society no longer generates the same kind of intensity of response as it did when he was alive.

The history of the Society since 1925 has, on the whole, not been a happy one. The growing disagreements between members of the Vorstand after Steiner’s death, the mass expulsion of members in 1935, and a few disgraceful accommodations with Nazism in Germany and Fascism in Italy in the period leading up to the Second World War, were indicators of a movement that had lost its way. Perhaps, after all this, the spiritual world concluded that the Anthroposophical Society was no longer a suitable vehicle within which serious work could be done. The fact that the GAS has just spent part of its 2018 AGM in rescinding the expulsion of Ita Wegman and Elisabeth Vreede 83 years after the event points to a certain frivolity in their approach to what is needed today, however justified it may be to make a belated acknowledgement of that disastrous misstep.

So to whom is the Anthroposophical Society now speaking? It seems unlikely that it can now be a significant change-maker in the world, except inasmuch as individual anthroposophists can find common cause with people and organisations of goodwill throughout the world. It is the work of Rudolf Steiner that can still connect us to other people, because so much of what he brought through speaks powerfully to the dilemmas of today. Even the most dedicated materialists and skeptics are feeling the hugely pervasive disquiet seething in the collective consciousness of humanity at this time, as the true scale of environmental vandalism, economic disparity and social injustice reaches breaking point.  At these times, the wounding power of ridicule from the skeptics towards the notion that humans are in reality spiritual beings currently in physical incarnation just loses its potency; to quote Susan Raven (author of the book Nature Spirits: the Remembrance): “If you hold another human being’s eye and speak your truth with the indefinable power that infuses a human voice when it sounds out from a point of profound and undeniable experience – there will be movement. And if the listener then goes on to hear the same, or similar, information from another two sources, the shell of denial might just begin to crack – be it ever so slightly!”

To people who are now open to treading a spiritual path, to come across the work of Rudolf Steiner, a very great initiate and master seer, can be life-changing. It is Rudolf Steiner whose extraordinary life and astonishing body of work can reach out to these people, not the society with its headquarters in Switzerland and a name that is difficult to pronounce. Is it not now time to acknowledge this reality? Is now the moment, in other words, to change the name of the Society, at least in English-speaking countries, to something like the “Rudolf Steiner Association”?

Such a move would not be without its dangers. The late Rudi Lissau said that: “If we look at every statement Steiner made as a message of the spiritual world, we endow Steiner with greater authority than that assumed by the Roman Pope. It is essential to bear in mind that certain ideas of his have their root in the general climate of the time and sometimes stem from definite people. Like any other human being Steiner was, to a certain degree, shaped by his environment and, like any other human being, had certain prejudices. He had not studied everything and, as he repeatedly stated, made many of his statements to particular groups of people in unique situations never to be repeated. If we fail to remember this, we turn a real man into an idol. One can, if one is so inclined, worship an idol. A real man with all his faults and weaknesses can be loved and there are few people more worthy of love than Steiner.”

So we should remember that Steiner was a real man who also had initiate consciousness, someone who was able to bring forward huge amounts of information for us to seek to understand, to work with, to reject or accept according to our inner being, or to take forward into further research, or to apply in practical situations. Let us put no obstacle, name or otherwise, between Rudolf Steiner and those people who need to meet him.

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Don’t be evil

I don’t suppose that Rudolf Steiner’s lectures incorporate the use of the word “fun” very often. The words “serious” and “earnest” are much more common. So I was struck by the following passage in which he did use that word – but not in a cheerful context (this is Steiner, after all). Here is the passage, from Lecture Three of the series entitled The Influences of Lucifer and Ahriman:

“The fact that — to use a colloquialism — people in the future are not going to get much fun out of developments on the physical plane will bring home to them that further evolution must proceed from spiritual forces.”

Steiner’s view was that the time when human progress was possible through purely physical means is now over. Human progress will be possible in the future but only through development on a higher level than that of the processes of the physical plane. Speaking just after the First World War, he went on to say: “This can be understood only by surveying a lengthy period of evolution and applying what is discovered to experiences that will become more and more general in the future. The trend of forces that will manifest in the well-nigh rhythmical onset of war and destruction — processes of which the present catastrophe (ie the First World War) is but the beginning — will become only too evident. It is childish to believe that anything connected with this war can bring about a permanent era of peace for humanity on the physical plane. That will not be so. What must come about on the earth is spiritual development…”

In the one hundred years since he spoke, Steiner has certainly been proved right about the impossibility of a permanent era of peace for humanity – this century has been the most terrible in the history of the world. What else did he foresee?

“Just as once in the East there was a Lucifer incarnation, and then, at the midpoint, as it were, of world evolution, the incarnation of Christ, so in the West there will be an incarnation of Ahriman. …This ahrimanic incarnation cannot be averted; it is inevitable, for humanity must confront Ahriman face to face. He will be the individuality by whom it will be made clear what indescribable cleverness can be developed if they call to their help all that earthly forces can do to enhance cleverness and ingenuity. In the catastrophes that will befall humanity in the near future, people will become extremely inventive… Humanity has no knowledge of these things as yet; but not only will they be striven for, they will be the inevitable outcome of catastrophes looming in the near future. And certain secret societies — where preparations are already in train — will apply these things in such a way that the necessary conditions can be established for an actual incarnation of Ahriman on the earth. This incarnation cannot be averted, for people must realise during the time of the earth’s existence just how much can proceed from purely material processes! We must learn to bring under our control those spiritual or unspiritual currents which are leading to Ahriman.”

YBA via antroposofie en apocalypse blog

Yeshayahu Ben Aharon (photo via antroposofy en apocalypse blog)

When is this incarmation likely to occur? Tempting though it is to point to many of today’s phenomena as indicators that the incarnation has already happened, my current sense is that things are going to get quite a bit worse yet before Ahriman himself appears in physical form. I recently read an article called Empty Hearts and Technological Singularity by Yeshayahu Ben Aharon (available for download to subscribers to the Academia website) in which he describes the coming merger of the human being with infinitely intelligent machines, as predicted by Ray Kurzweil, Google’s senior futurist.

“In esoteric terms, this means that the human’s free etheric body from the head to the heart will be totally taken over by ahrimanic, infinitely brilliant, wise and powerful intelligences. I would recommend Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Near, to every body interested in the coming future, as an introduction to open your mind and eyes to see where we are going from the ahrimanic point of view. I call this the building of the kindergarten of Ahriman, in preparation for his school that he will build in the 23rd century in America. He will build a school that will work with the etheric forces taken from the rest of the body as well: the head, the heart and the whole thing. This is Ahriman’s kindergarten, the forerunner of his mature school.

The singularity people promise a new kind of immortality. Human beings will be identified with Infinite Intelligence through super computers and so on, and they will experience a sort of immortality for their earthly consciousness, an indefinite life. Your whole soul life, including everything you were thinking and remembering, which you already invested externally in the infinite virtual reality, will be preserved forever. Even if you die physically, it will be preserved and it will continue to evolve and develop through Infinite Intelligence. The idea is that people will not die physically or at least live hundreds of years, since the new technology will overcome the illnesses that medicine could not conquer. But after long years, if they still die at all, all their life will remain as a virtual personality in a tech reality, continuing as it were, a second life. But this will really become the primary life, the life of this individuality as his avatar in virtual reality. If you don’t know this world very well, it will be hard for you to create a picture of it. Look into it; the children already know all about it, they are born into the Matrix, as their parents merge them with the internet immediately. This is the ahrimanic side, because everything is accomplished through Infinite Intelligence, working through virtual reality. In the future, a huge intelligent machine will have been merged into the human body, and humans and infinitely smart, powerful, and all-knowing and all entertaining AI (Artificial Intelligence) will become one and the same…”

It is worth reading the Wikipedia entry about Ray Kurzweil, including his transhumanism (ie the belief that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves through technology into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the natural condition as to merit the label of  “post-human beings”) and his predictions for the future. Along with Yuval Noah Harari, whom I wrote about here, it is clear that Kurzweil, this highly intelligent man, is nevertheless one of the Useful Idiots preparing the way for Ahriman.

Kurzweil wikipedia

Ray Kurzweil (photo via Wikipedia)

As part-evidence for my statement that Kurzweil is an idiot, it should be noted that he has joined the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a cryonics company. In the event of his declared death, Kurzweil plans to be perfused with cryoprotectants, vitrified in liquid nitrogen, and stored at an Alcor facility in the hope that future medical technology will be able to repair his tissues and revive him. I have written more about the absurd belief and practices of cryonics and Alcor here.

It should also be noted that Kurzweil was personally hired by Google co-founder Larry Page. “Don’t be evil” was the motto of Google’s corporate code of conduct, first introduced around 2000. In Google’s IPO (initial public offering of shares) in 2004, a letter from Google’s founders included the following: “Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.”

However, surprise, surprise – following Google’s corporate restructuring in October 2015, the motto was dropped and replaced in the new corporate code of conduct by the phrase “Do the right thing”. So is AI the right thing for human beings? Is that the way we should be going?

Elon_Musk_2015 wikipedia

Elon Musk (photo via Wikipedia)

If the world won’t listen to Rudolf Steiner or to anthroposophists, perhaps they will pay more attention to a billionaire entrepreneur: Elon Musk has warned that AI is more dangerous than the threat posed by dictator Kim Jong-un’s regime in North Korea. Mr Musk, chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, took to Twitter to say: “If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea.”

He posted the comment along with an image of the anti-gambling addiction poster with the slogan: “In the end the machines will win.” Mr Musk added: “Nobody likes being regulated, but everything (cars, planes, food, drugs, etc) that’s a danger to the public is regulated. AI should be too.

Mr Musk has warned in the past that AI should be better regulated since it poses an “existential threat” to human civilisation. He has also compared developers creating AI to people summoning demons they cannot control. Exactly so.

 

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The UK’s Brexit and anti-globalisation general election

Apart from his efforts to bring about the Threefold Social Order after the First World War, Rudolf Steiner stayed away from involvement with politics. Indeed, he went so far as to say: “The Anthroposophical Society is averse to any kind of sectarian tendency. Politics it does not consider to be among its tasks.”  This is a line that many anthroposophists also take, for understandable reasons.

Despite this, I am going to write here about politics, because the forthcoming “snap” British general election, called by the British prime minister Theresa May to be held on June 8th 2017, is of such a momentous nature, with implications not just for the UK but also for many other countries around the world, that it surely deserves a wider anthroposophical perspective.

We have also just had the result of the presidential election in France, which was won decisively by Emmanuel Macron, leader of a new political party, En Marche! (On the Move!), whose name by a strange coincidence bears the same initials as his own. His defeated opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National party, had one of the most devastating lines in their televised debate, when she said: “France is going to be led by a woman, either me or Frau Merkel” but her aggressive, hectoring style led most observers to conclude that she had lost the arguments.

(As an interesting aside, a respected clairvoyant suggested to me that Emmanuel Macron is an aspect of Napoleon Bonaparte, who has reincarnated to do what he can to compensate for all the death and destruction he caused during his life as Emperor of France. A fanciful notion, perhaps, but put pictures of Macron and Bonaparte side by side and there is a distinct resemblance. I shall watch with great interest how Macron approaches his task of seeking to unite a very divided nation.)

Macron Bonaparte

Macron Bonaparte (image via the blog Conseil dans l’Espérance du Roi)

The Eurozone economic crisis, combined with the cultural and social impact of its open borders policy, has led to the rise of far-right parties not just in France but in many EU nations: the very thing which defenders of the EU say it exists to counter. But discontent with the EU is only one factor; another important one, which applies much more widely than just within Europe, is that the bankers and money-men collectively bankrupted us a decade ago – and got away with it. The resulting surge of rage across the Western world unleashed the Brexit vote in the UK; it smashed the established French party system, so that neither of the main parties there was any longer even in contention for the presidency; and in the USA it carried Donald Trump all the way to the White House. The tide in favour of national self-determination and anti-globalisation appears to be running high in many countries right now.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I voted to leave the European Union during the referendum held on June 23rd 2016, and I gave my reasons here and here. Most anthroposophists I know took a different line, and voted to remain. There has been a lively discussion about all of this in recent issues of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain’s Newsletter. I don’t intend to repeat the arguments I made last year, but will add here a few further observations.

First of all, a glance back at the history of Britain and the European project, together with a question: why was it that Conservative and Labour statesmen such as Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin, as well as the great European Charles de Gaulle, were all against the idea of Britain joining what was to become the European Union? Was it because they all understood what the European project was about and realised that Britain was not a natural part of it?

Churchill de Gaulle

Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle

The case made by those in favour of joining the European Economic Community (such as Harold Macmillan, prime minister from 1957 to 1963) was that Britain’s relative economic and actual geopolitical decline after the Second World War left joining the rest of Europe as the only viable alternative. However, after the war and in the early 1950s, most British politicians were unable to see just how difficult Britain’s position had become; or perhaps some of them could see it, but weren’t prepared to tell the British people that our imperial pretensions could no longer be sustained. It was the Suez War of 1956 that revealed just how far Britain’s economy had weakened, and how dependent it had become on the USA.

Britain after the Second World War and into the 1950s resisted the idea of joining in any moves towards European integration. True, Churchill had publicly supported the idea of a United States of Europe, notably when he made the keynote speech at the Hague Congress that created the Council of Europe in 1948; though whether he ever envisaged Britain being part of any such union is very doubtful. Certainly, he was far less sympathetic to the idea of union by the time he had returned to power in 1951. Nor was the post-war Labour government in favour of any moves towards union that might cede sovereignty in any form. In May 1950 foreign secretary Bevin said that because of links with the USA and the Commonwealth, Britain was “different in character from other European nations and fundamentally incapable of wholehearted integration with them.” In any case, measures towards political union of any kind aroused him to vigorous rejection. ‘I don’t like it. I don’t like it,’ he famously said of the idea of the Council of Europe: ‘When you open that Pandora’s Box you’ll find it’s full of Trojan horses.’

Bevin and Attlee

Ernest Bevin and Clement Attlee

Most Conservative politicians agreed with him. So Britain failed to engage in the creation of the EEC in the Treaty of Rome of 1957, and then later tried but failed to remedy what had come to be seen as a mistake. For Charles de Gaulle had never forgotten that Churchill had once told him that “if we had to choose between France and the US, Britain would always choose the latter.” So when Britain finally tried to join the EEC, first in 1963 and then again in 1967, de Gaulle vetoed our applications. Giving his reasons in 1963 for saying “Non”, he commented: “England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her interactions, her markets and her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has, in all her doings, very marked and very original habits and traditions.”

De Gaulle also believed that Britain would represent American interests: it would be the US’s Trojan horse in the EEC. He had concluded that Britain was not committed to the goals of the EEC because, having withdrawn in 1955 from the original talks that led to the creation of the EEC, Britain had then proceeded to establish its own rival customs union (EFTA – the European Free Trade Association). In addition, he found the British both arrogant and self-important. Was de Gaulle wrong about any of this? I don’t think so.

This is all ancient and unfortunate history, some might say. Eventually, in 1973, Britain managed to join the EEC – but only after de Gaulle had left office. Nearly half a century later, we’re all Europeans and global citizens now, drinking our fairtrade coffee while we wait for our flight to some agreeable holiday destination. We like the idea of being able to move to any EU country for work, and in any case, without all those helpful Eastern Europeans coming to the UK, who will look after the elderly in our care homes or serve us our skinny latte?

Despite such compelling arguments, I voted to leave on June 23rd 2016, and thus opened myself up to accusations of racism, fascism, betraying young people etc from furious Remainers. Even so, I was somewhat bemused to find myself characterised by Michael Eggert, a German blogger, as someone who was siding with “neo-nationalist reactionaries” and “reflecting the internal arguments of the UKIP supporters.” He tells his readers that if they go to the anthropopper blog they will know what to expect if they are “familiar with today’s neo-right and open-fascist conspiracy theories. The ingredients for anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are the same, albeit with the pseudo-occult bluff arguments which so many believing Steiner supporters derive from his statements of 100 years ago.”

Actually, Michael, if I were pushed to define my political position, I would say that I lean towards anarcho-syndicalism with a deep green tinge. I thought I had taken great care in my Brexit essay to set out quite a distinct and principled position from a progressive standpoint – but perhaps the argument was too nuanced to pierce the hard shell of your cultural infallibility.

Leaving the uncomprehending Egoisten aside, I still remain baffled by the poor reasoning exhibited by so many Remainers; why is it, for example, that pro-EU people on the left or Green sides of the argument are so in favour of the European Union? What are they doing, these radicals who like to think of themselves as being in the forefront of the fight against globalisation, by fighting instead for an undemocratic, unaccountable trading bloc which is backed by the world’s banks, multinational corporations, financiers, and heads of governments? To listen to these Remainers, it’s clear that the decision to leave is being treated not as an opportunity to engage more fully with the wider world, nor a throwing-off of economic handcuffs or even simply as a change that must be accommodated after due democratic process, but rather as some kind of a national disaster.

Caroline Lucas

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s only MP and one half of the party leadership

And what is the Green Party thinking of, when it supports the EU? The EU cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as green. Has Caroline Lucas forgotten the continent-wide destruction created by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy – the wiping out of hedgerows, forests and wildlife, landscape features, small and family farms, and the promotion of industrial farming and agricultural free trade – which has arguably done more damage to the rural landscapes of Europe in 50 years than any other single instrument in the previous 500? This of course is now being extended to Romania, Poland, Hungary and the other newer members of the EU, where we will once again see the destruction of the peasantry, wildlife and diverse landscapes and the introduction of monocultures and the triumph of agri-business.

As for the Labour Party, I confess I don’t know what their attitude to the EU is today, nor do I understand what their position is on Brexit. What I do know is that they have failed to provide any kind of leadership, or to show that they have any clue about what caused the vote to leave. It seems that they have already given up on any prospect of winning this general election and are now manoeuvring behind the scenes for the leadership election that seems likely to follow a heavy general election defeat for their party.

The weakness of the left and the Greens means that this general election campaign will be more or less entirely about Brexit – and if I am right about most people’s motivations for voting to leave the EU, then in some ways it is also a manifestation of anti-globalisation, as we have seen elsewhere around the world.

The ruthlessness and will to power of the Conservatives have been much in evidence ever since the country voted to leave. We saw this first of all in the leadership contest to succeed David Cameron and then in everything Theresa May has done since becoming prime minister, especially in the way she has called this general election after denying on at least six occasions that there would be any election before 2020. The chances are that we are in for an extended period of Conservative rule. This has huge consequences, most obviously for Brexit and the UK’s future relations with Europe, but also for the futures of Labour’s leadership, public services, and the constitutional outlook for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.

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Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker (photo via the Daily Telegraph)

Mrs May has of course been fortunate in her enemies; nothing is better calculated to bring voters over to her side than leaked vindictive accounts from the aides of Jean-Claude Juncker of private dinners at Downing Street, or the threat of charging British taxpayers £100 billion because we were foolish enough to want to resign from the club. This is perhaps one reason why the Liberal Democrats were not able to make any kind of a breakthrough in the British local elections held on 4th May – as the one British political party which is unequivocally for Remain, they are now seen as supporting the vindictive and venal elite of the European project.

For the European Union has always been an elite project. Since it took shape in 1992, its architects have always been reticent about putting their project to the people. Referenda were rare, and if people voted the wrong way, as they did in Ireland or in Portugal, they were told to vote again until they gave the ‘right’ answer. The unspoken but clear aim has been to diminish, if not abolish, the democratic sovereignty of European nations, and to ‘pool’ that sovereignty in the interests of creating a giant, borderless free-trade zone. Of course, it was dressed up with talk of peace, equality and brotherhood, but it was primarily an economic project, as well as an attempt to keep Germany from becoming too dominant. (I wonder what happened to that?) People were not asked to vote on any of this, for a simple reason: it was clear they would say no. People remain stubbornly attached to their national identities, as we have seen in Britain, and as we see across the continent. This has been the EU’s fatal and quite deliberate flaw: it has never carried the people with it.

Were Rudolf Steiner alive today, he would not be giving his backing to the European Union as it has evolved. Why so many anthroposophists are unable to see this escapes me, because Steiner was quite clear about what should happen. He hoped for a threefold association of European nations that would themselves be threefold societies in which the cultural, legal-political and economic spheres would be clearly separated yet inter-related, his diagnosis being that Europe’s ills were caused by the interference of the three spheres with one another: business seeking to dominate the political state and the state seeking to dominate the cultural life (e.g. education). For the European level, Steiner looked forward to a common European economic life (which the EEC had started to provide), a common supranational European cultural life (which over the last fifty years has started to emerge in many ways) but to the maintenance of national values and traditions in the sphere of rights and law. It is this last point that the European Union, in its inept attempts to become a superstate, has completely failed to understand, and this is why Brexit became a necessity.

If Macron and others could begin to help the EU to reform itself along the lines indicated by Steiner, I would not hesitate to seek to rejoin such a community – and I think this would apply to many other people as well, not just in Britain but throughout Europe.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Brexit, European Union, Rudolf Steiner

The supersensible powers of Rudolf Steiner

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?

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Rudolf Steiner, photographed when in supersensible contact with the non-physical realm

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.”

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Edouard Schure

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.

Eleanor Merry

Eleanor Merry

“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.

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Anna Samweber

“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).

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Tanis Helliwell (L) with Dorothy MacLean

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…”

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Gladys Mayer

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?’)

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Rudolf Steiner on his deathbed

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.”

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What was it like to hear Rudolf Steiner give a lecture?

I’ve sometimes wondered what it must have been like to have been a member of the audience at one of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures. “Sculpting in snow” is how Heinrich von Kleist described the art of acting in the theatre, and there is a similarly short term of life for the lecture; both the actor and the lecturer have the happiness of communication with the audience in moments of inspiration; but the lecture and the performance only exist as long as the creator is there, when he is present and speaking, when he is physically and spiritually alive.

If Steiner had lived another ten or twenty years, perhaps we would have had a recording or even some brief filmed glimpses of him – but he died in 1925, before the age of routine sound recordings, filmed newsreels etc.; so all we have are a few photographs, stenographic records of his words (“from shorthand reports unrevised by the lecturer”, as we are always told) and some recollections by people who heard him lecture.

It is from these written recollections of those who heard Steiner speak that we can gain some idea of the effect he had on his audiences. I’ve selected a few representative samples of these. Here, for instance, is Frederick William Zeylmans van Emmichoven (1893 – 1961), a Dutch psychiatrist and anthroposophist, who from 1923 until his death was chairman of the Dutch Anthroposophical Society. He recalls herehis first experience of hearing Steiner lecture; this was in Dornach in December 1920.

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A rare photo of Rudolf Steiner lecturing in the Schreinerei.

“On December 17, in the evening, I was sitting in the Schreinerei (the carpentry workshop adjacent to the Goetheanum, often used for lectures and performances) with my fiancée, who was studying eurythmy in Dornach. Happy at being together again, we were waiting for Rudolf Steiner’s lecture. Outside it was bitterly cold; Dornach lay covered in snow. Suddenly the blue curtain by the side of the stage lifted, and Rudolf Steiner went to the lecture-desk. At that moment I had the direct experience of recognition. The impression was so strong that a whole series of pictures simultaneously arose before me, pointing indeterminately to earlier situations – as if I were seeing him as my teacher through ages of time. It was the most memorable experience I have ever had in all my life. For some time I sat as though carried away and did not realise until later that his lecture had already begun. It was the first of the three lectures subsequently published under the title: The Bridge between the Spirituality of the Cosmos and Physical Man….

When I came to myself again and saw Rudolf Steiner standing at the lecture-desk, I had the strange feeling that for the first time I was looking at a Man! It is not at all easy to describe this impression. I had met many well-known and famous people, among them scholars and noted artists, and had always moved in circles where a great deal was going on – it had by no means been a humdrum existence. But now I realised: this is what Man is meant to be. I began to question myself: what is the explanation for this? You have encountered many human beings – what is it that is so significant here? I said to myself first of all that it was his whole bearing, the bearing of one who is like a tree that grows freely between earth and sky. This impression was connected not only with his straight, erect figure, but above all with the poise of the head – it seemed to hover between heaven and earth. The second feeling was profoundly moving: from this beautiful, powerful voice came forth words which lived on even after they had been spoken. And thirdly, there were the thoughts. I was obliged to confess to myself that I could not always understand them, but I realised that they were not there merely to be understood intellectually, but they had another, quite different, significance as well. Listening to professors, what always mattered was whether one understood everything they said. What mattered here was not whether I actually understood – it was something different. Today I could speak of ‘ideas’, of seed-bearing impulses and the like, but at that time I could not. I knew only that different impulses were at work here.”

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F.W.Zeylmans van Emmichoven (photo via the Ita Wegman Institut)

A different account comes from Assya Turgeniev (1890 – 1966), a Russian artist who was in close contact with Rudolf Steiner from 1912 until his death in 1925. She was married to the Russian writer, Andrei Belyi. When she and Belyi first came across the writings of Steiner in 1912, they were struggling with questions arising from some disturbing recent mystical experiences. The two books by Steiner they had read (Christianity as Mystical Fact and How to Attain Knowledge of Higher Worlds) had given them the sense that they could trust Steiner to provide answers to their questions. As soon as they had come to this conclusion, they rushed to catch a train from Brussels, where they had been staying, to Cologne, where Rudolf Steiner was lecturing. They first of all tried to meet Steiner but were rebuffed by a fierce lady, whom they came to know later as Marie von Sivers (the future Frau Dr Steiner). Instead, she invited them to attend a “members only” lecture later that day. They decided to attend this lecture, with very mixed feelings after their stern reception, particularly as neither of them spoke German. Turgeniev’s account2 continues:

“A remarkable audience assembled in a longish room decorated in blue. The majority were ladies, most of them not very young. Many were wearing peculiar shirtlike dresses with straight stoles over them, and others wore necklaces or chains with strange pendants. Even among those with some pretensions one could not discern any real style. The absence of make-up was very noticeable…

Half-bored, I watched the assembling audience. But what was that? Far off on the platform, partly covered by other people, something like a gleam of light showed. Then it disappeared and returned once more. Finally the outline of a head emerged. Dr Steiner! I knew that it was he, even though I could scarcely see him. Now he steps up onto the platform…an immense seriousness, a power which is beyond words spoke through those features…we sat there, gazed into the countenance of this person and listened to his words. That was the greatest and most important thing that had ever happened to me up till then, and something which went so deep into my very being that I could no more separate myself from it. One was immersed with such intensity into the voice with its resonance and rhythms, into the gestures and the expression of the face, that one accepted it all without question; one only knew that that in which one now lived and breathed was the original source of one’s being. Only when the lecture had come to an end did one ask oneself in amazement: “What has happened here? I did not understand one word of what was said and yet, in listening to it, I had such a deep experience, as though I had understood each word.”

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Assya Turgeniev and Andrei Belyi (photo via The Swetlana Geier Collection)

Friedrich Hiebel (1903-1989) was a personal student of Rudolf Steiner and a teacher at the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart. Later in life he became a professor of German Literature and in 1963, he became a member of the Vorstand in Dornach. He attended seventy of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures. The following account3 is a description of the first lecture he ever heard, at the congress in Stuttgart in 1921, on the topic of Agnosticism – the Destroyer of Genuine Human Nature (not available online):

“…all eyes turned to the tall figure of the man in black tails who slowly walked from backstage to the centre and then let his eyes wander over the audience.

Slowly, Rudolf Steiner walked over to the lectern. The way he walked revealed something of the balance between a soaring freedom from the body and the permeation of earth substance with will. Indeed, Rudolf Steiner’s gait was like that of a young man. His face was framed by black hair, which still showed no trace of gray at the age of sixty. Lines on the forehead and furrows around the chin and the corners of the mouth bore witness to the spiritual battles of the quest for knowledge, and in their dignity contrasted strangely with the youthful agility of his limbs…

None of the many carefully taken photographs…can fully convey the essence of his stature. For even the best pictures remain silent, and it was only in his word that the essence of his being was revealed…

Rudolf Steiner’s word now resounded in the great hall, speaking to the almost two thousand listeners. The contrast between the delicate features of his spiritualised physique and the deep resonance of his speech, resulting from breathing deeply with the diaphragm, was surprising. The deep tone of his speech rested in the larynx, vibrated in the chest, and was permeated with the warmth of the heart…

During the introductory sentences of his lecture, he seemed to keep his eyes almost completely closed, and his glance directed downwards. His posture was that of a man listening inwardly. He remained in this inwardly listening stance, gathering himself with all his will forces, for the duration of several long sentences. Then came a clearly discernible breakthrough: he opened his eyes, looked directly at the listeners, and began to reinforce his talk with a forceful and diverse language of gestures…

Here, a man stood before me who taught first how to comprehend consciously and in freedom with the head, then knew how to reach people from heart to heart, and finally was able to enter into the depths of the will…Those who were gripped by these lectures were lifted out of themselves, as it were. They received an inkling of the future image of the human being that was exemplified and fought for by the founder of anthroposophy.”

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Friedrich Hiebel (photo via Verlag Freies Geistesleben)

But what about those people who heard Steiner but did not have that sudden shock of recognition or the sense that something very important had just happened to them? Here is one such example4, this time from England. In 1922, Steiner visited England to lecture at a conference on ‘Drama and Education’, which was taking place in Stratford-on–Avon. The Times Educational Supplement carried a front-page article ‘from a correspondent’, headed ‘Anthroposophy’.

This unnamed correspondent, who refers to himself in the third person throughout the following extract, first of all described in a semi-ironical way the development of anthroposophy out of theosophy and its vast ambitions in all areas of knowledge, its philosophical approach to the occult and the building of the Goetheanum. He then described his responses after listening to Steiner’s lectures:

“It is interesting to note the effect of all this on a typical English public school and old university man who spent a strenuous fortnight in listening to lectures and demonstrations on education. His impression of the man Steiner is noteworthy. It appears that the philosopher has an imposing presence, and exercises a remarkable effect upon his audience. Our English schoolmaster found this personal influence exhausting. At first he sat immediately in front, under the speaker’s eye. But after a day or two he found the strain more than he could bear, and retreated to a seat in the background. With quite a laudable mixture of scepticism and fair-mindedness the schoolmaster gave the lecturer every chance, but remained unconvinced. He says that the lectures appeared to him to be nearly nonsense, but delivered in a fascinating way and marked by all the appearance of sturdy common sense. From any other person the hearer said he would not for an instant have tolerated the startling things set forth by the lecturer, but from him they seemed somehow or other to be at the same time entirely plausible, not to say reasonable.”

There you have a good example of solid, stolid British middle-class common sense and conservatism in the face of something strange and disturbing – yet almost in spite of himself, the correspondent noted the fascinating way in which the lecture was delivered and “the appearance of sturdy common sense”, which rendered the startling content somehow or other to be “entirely plausible, not to say reasonable.”

I will finish with some recollectionsby George Adams. He was a most remarkable man – an anthroposophist, mathematician, scientist and translator – who translated over one hundred of Steiner’s lectures, and translated for Steiner whenever he came to England. The arrangements he describes for these translations sound absolutely hair-raising: the lecture was divided into three parts by Steiner, who then spoke for 20-25 minutes, during which time Adams scribbled furiously, using his own system (he never learned shorthand) of invented signs, symbolic logic, abbreviations and capital letters. Steiner would then sit down, while Adams gave his translation. Then Steiner would give part 2 of the lecture, speaking for another 20 minutes, and so on. To the very end of his life, Steiner was unable to lecture in any language other than German.

George Adams

George Adams (photo via Forschungsstelle Kulturimpuls)

In a 1957 essay, Rudolf Steiner in England, George Adams recalled his impressions of Steiner:

“My impression … was, so to speak, of many Rudolf Steiners. There was the simple, friendly gentleman…Then there was Dr Steiner lecturing – deeply impressive and stern, vivid in characterisation, then often moving into anecdote, good-natured satire, rollicking fun and humour… there was Dr Steiner speaking in a more esoteric meeting … the initiate from timeless realms. Moreover, there was Dr Steiner as you might see him during a personal interview, when you told him of your life’s difficulties and ideals and he answered your questions – the deep, silent look in his eyes, the warm kindness and encouragement at some moments, and at others the absolute quiet, so that it was left entirely to you to come out with what you had to say, with seemingly no help from him, but silent waiting. And then again there was Dr Steiner as I saw him at the large public gatherings in Germany in 1921-22, often with audiences of two or three thousand, partly indifferent or merely curious or even hostile – the way he held them, the firmness and buoyancy of his carriage, the utter lack of compromise or any attempt to influence them. He rather put them through the mill, building up the ground of spiritual science or the stages of higher cognition with closely knit trains of thought, speaking for two hours or more and yet holding his audience completely.”

1 From ‘Rudolf Steiner in Holland’, an essay included in Rudolf Steiner, Recollections by some of his pupils. Translated from the German and published in a special issue of The Golden Blade edited by Arnold Freeman and Charles Waterman, in London, November 1957.

2 From Reminiscences of Rudolf Steiner and Work on the First Goetheanum by Assya Turgeniev. Translated from German by John and Margaret Wood. Published by Temple Lodge, 2003.

3 From Time of Decision with Rudolf Steiner by Friedrich Hiebel. Translated from the German by Maria St. Goar. Published by Anthroposophic Press, 1989.

4 Quoted on page 704 of Volume II (1922 – 1925) of Rudolf Steiner in Britain by Crispian Villeneuve. Published by Temple Lodge, 2004

5 From ‘Rudolf Steiner in England’, an essay included in Rudolf Steiner, Recollections by some of his pupils. Published in a special issue of The Golden Blade edited by Arnold Freeman and Charles Waterman, in London, November 1957.

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Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think…

Looking back at the postings on this blog, the anthropopper must ruefully admit that he takes life a little too seriously at times. This po-faced quality is one of the things I would most like to change about Me. Lighten up, I tell myself, but my default personality position seems to be set at Earnest & Responsible and this is what keeps the Inner Scintillating Me from coming to the fore. I spot my Earnest & Responsible side coming out in all sorts of circumstances and situations. As an example, a song by the late Prince Buster came on the radio and, listening to the lyrics, I found myself feeling just a tad disapproving of the sentiments expressed:

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think

Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink

The years go by as quickly as you wink

Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!

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Prince Buster, pioneer of ska music. (Photo via The Guardian)

Life is not about enjoyment, I thought, although joy can be part of the story. Nor is the implication that we have just the one life a sound concept on which to base one’s actions. No, life is about discovering and fulfilling as far as possible your purpose for this lifetime. It’s about opportunities to burn off some of your bad karma and wherever you can, helping to build up some good karma for future lifetimes through behaving with kindness and unselfishness to those whose karmic paths cross with yours. Hedonism and living for the moment, I told myself, are not compatible with Taking Responsibility for One’s Soul Development.

Well, I’m sure you can tell from this that I’m hopelessly inept at letting my hair down and having a good time; but then I started to wonder whether my default personality position has been reinforced by my interest in anthroposophy. Rudolf Steiner, after all, frequently tells his followers to become aware of the seriousness of our age – “serious” and “earnest” are two words that I always associate with him.

There’s no doubt, of course, that more than ever we do indeed live in serious and challenging times – so is it frivolous and trivial actively to seek enjoyment in life? “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” sort of thing? I’ve just seen an interview with the Buddhist Pema Chödrön, who was interviewed at her home, Gampo Abbey, in Nova Scotia:

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Pema Chodron being interviewed by Melvin McLeod (photo by Liza Matthews)

Melvin McLeod: I notice there’s a sign in the entrance to Gampo Abbey that says “Enjoy Your Life.” We don’t usually think of that as a spiritual teaching, but as we noted in a recent issue of Lion’s Roar, enjoying your life is really a transformative practice. But it’s hard for many of us to do.

Pema Chödrön: It’s a great sign to have in a Buddhist monastery. Right away, it presents a paradox: Aren’t you here to escape all that hedonism? Aren’t you here not to seek enjoyment from outer things?

The answer is yes, that is why you’re here. So in that case, what does “enjoy your life” mean, if it doesn’t mean getting your pleasure and sense of wellbeing from external things, including people and relationships as well as material goods?

You know who said it best? Leonard Cohen. He meditated all those years at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, often for twelve hours at a time. In an interview, he said his storyline just wore itself out. He got so bored with his dramatic storyline. And then he made the comment, “The less there was of me, the happier I got.”

That’s the answer to how to enjoy your life. It’s to show up and have a sense of curiosity about whatever might appear that day, including it all in your sense of appreciation of this precious human birth, which is so short. I don’t want to call it delight, although it can feel like that. It’s more curiosity. Some people say, I know what’s going to show up today—the same old thing. But it’s never really the same old thing. Even in Groundhog Day, every day was a different experience for Phil, until finally he learned that caring about people was the answer.

This is actually a big point, because the less there is of you, the more you’re interested in and curious about other people. Who you live with and who you rub up against and who you share this world with is a very important part of enjoying your life.

Sartre said, “Hell is other people,” but this is the other view of that. When people irritate you, when they get your goat, when they slander you, whatever it might be, you still have a relationship with them. It’s interesting that of all the billions of people on the earth, they’re the particular ones who came into your world. There’s respect for whatever happens, and this is only really possible if you’re not rejecting whole parts of your experience.”

Well, I can go along with that. Caring about people is the answer for anyone who has a problem in enjoying life. Rudolf Steiner, of course knew all of this and in ways far more profound than I will ever know, but I can’t help thinking a disrespectful thought: that he might have enjoyed life more (and lived longer) if he hadn’t taken life quite so seriously. Our karma determines the way our life unfolds, and enjoyment of it is usually not the point. But was it really essential for Steiner to work himself into the ground and wreck his health for the sake of his mission – which in any case it seems all too likely he didn’t manage to complete. Is there a lesson there for me? After all, each one of us has got more than just this present incarnation to get things right – or is that a cop-out?

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Enjoyment of Life, Rudolf Steiner