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Michaelmas – the Festival of Fearlessness

This is the text of an address given as part of the Anthroposophical Society in Sussex’s Michaelmas Festival, held at Emerson College in the UK on Sunday 25th September 2022.

I’m sure we can all agree that Anthroposophy is not always easy to understand; and one of the concepts that I personally have struggled to get to grips with is that of what Steiner calls the cosmic intelligence. According to Rudolf Steiner, the archangel Michael, the great Sun Spirit whose Festival we are celebrating today, was the regent of this cosmic intelligence. 

As far as I can tell, what Steiner means by the cosmic intelligence is the revelation of divine thinking in this world and beyond; what he would call the world-thinking of the spiritual hierarchies that gives rise to world-thought, and which is the original source of our own thinking, our earthly-human intelligence. In other words, there is a divine ordering of everything that reveals itself through the whole cosmos. The spiritual hierarchies shape this world thinking in their interactions and in their relationships with one another. And it was the task of Michael to send this cosmic intelligence into the souls of human beings and it was the task of human beings to order life on Earth in accordance with it, as far as we are able to understand it. 

Shakespeare put this very well, when he had Hamlet say to Horatio: “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” I like that image, which comes from carpentry or building, in which the shape of the divine idea survives, despite the imperfect attempts of human beings to hack it about with crude tools.

After the crucifixion of Christ, that pivotal event of world history which Steiner calls the turning point of time and the Mystery of Golgotha, Michael gradually gave up his role as regent of the cosmic intelligence. This is another idea that I find difficult: Steiner says that in those early times when a human being became aware of thoughts, that is, intelligent content, within himself, then he did not regard these thoughts as his own, but as the thoughts revealed to him through the power of the gods.  I’m referring here, of course, to what Steiner called ‘living thinking’ rather than the more mundane kind of thoughts, like “What do I fancy for dinner tonight?”. Living thoughts are those which fire you up to do something or understand something, and which require you to exercise your will to bring them about. But responsibility for this living thinking, this divinely inspired thought content, gradually fell away from Michael over many centuries and came over to us human beings. This process of the descent of intelligence from the Sun to the Earth was largely completed, so Steiner tells us, between the 9th and 14th centuries AD. From that time on, people began to develop their own intelligence, and intelligence took up residence in the souls of human beings – so instead of us having the sense that the Gods had imparted their living thoughts to us, we began to feel that these thoughts were created out of our own selves. It’s not so, of course – it is a materialist illusion that we originate living thinking out of ourselves. What actually happens is that through our human thinking we bring into our consciousness the thoughts which are already part of the world because the spiritual hierarchies have already thought them into existence.

As I say, I find this concept quite difficult to understand – but what I can understand is that Michael, just like us human beings, is in an evolutionary process. He does not stand still but he evolves and progresses. Through the crucifixion of Christ, Michael himself went through a huge transformation. From Golgotha onwards, Michael became the ‘countenance of Christ’ or the face of Christ, the one who stands before Christ, the source of our spiritual freedom. We already know that through the event of Golgotha came the possibility for every human being on earth to become a free bearer of the I, that immortal part of us which goes with us from incarnation to incarnation. After Golgotha, what had previously only occurred through initiation in ancient cultures was now possible for each and every one of us. But what also occurred was that with freedom, human beings became apparently separate from the cosmic intelligence and were able to pursue not only their good ideas and benevolent intentions but also the shadow side of their desires and to follow false modes of thinking. I don’t think it’s too extravagant a statement to say that it is this freedom to follow false paths which has brought us to our present existential crisis, in which it appears that the Earth is destined to become an overheated wasteland and human beings are persuaded to live their lives in electronically generated worlds of illusion. The ecological crisis and the multiple other crises confronting humanity are at root just one crisis, that of our human consciousness. The state of the outer world is a direct reflection of the state of the human soul.

Many of us seem to have forgotten or never to have known, that the Earth, not some other planet, is the setting for the evolution of humanity and the natural kingdoms associated with it. Instead, some of our most prominent public figures are chasing entirely illusory goals, that could only come from being totally divorced from Nature and spiritual reality. There’s the American inventor, Ray Kurzweil, for example, who is Google’s leading futurologist, who has invested $200,000 with a cryonics company so that he can be frozen in liquid nitrogen as soon as he dies, in the weird belief that science in the future may be able to bring his dead body back to life. If he studied Rudolf Steiner instead, he would know that he is already immortal! And then there’s Elon Musk, who is currently throwing a network of 42,000 satellites around the world, and who believes the Earth will eventually become uninhabitable (partly due to his efforts, no doubt) so he thinks we must now make preparations to leave Earth and find another planet to live on; and to Elon Musk, Mars seems to be the best option. People who think like this, who have a vision of turning the Earth into a vast electrical machine and creating a technologically enhanced humanity that will eventually abandon this planet altogether, are clearly not in touch with Michael or the cosmic intelligence. One can imagine that their thinking is influenced by another being altogether, who works through inducing fear and whose incarnation is supposed to be imminent.

And we are all fearful now, aren’t we? Wherever we look in the world, people everywhere are living in fear. We’re fearful on both personal and planetary levels.  Can we survive on an overheating planet, with pandemics, food shortages, floods and droughts, mass migration, deranged dictators, wars and the possibility of nuclear annihilation? Where do we turn? Here in the UK, our faith is failing in all the public institutions we used to look to for support to get us through crises, whether it’s the NHS, the police, government, the armed services, Post Office, or the Church. 

And on a personal level, we worry whether will we have enough money to heat our homes and put food on the table.  We ask ourselves whether it is fair to bring children into a world like this.  These kinds of fear are what one might expect as preparations to soften us up for the incarnation of Ahriman, which Steiner tells us is due before the first third of this millennium is over. We also know that whoever emerges from all of this as a kind of solution to world problems will be the Antichrist, yet nevertheless this person will be greeted by most people as a saviour – and those of us who take leave to doubt it will be reviled and hated for it.

How did we get into such a situation? Steiner has described how what he called the “War in Heaven” took place between 1841 and 1879. This battle was waged between angels of the higher hierarchies and some of the spirits of darkness, and it ended with these spirits of darkness being cast down from the spiritual world to the earth. This made the heavens free of these beings but had the unfortunate effect of making the earth full of them. This has led on to what is surely the most terrible period in the whole of human history in terms of war, famine, genocide, climate catastrophe, unimaginable cruelties and multiple other causes of human misery.

Why did this happen? According to Steiner, these spirits of darkness wanted to be able to prevent the spiritual wisdom, which was due to be revealed from the 20th century onwards, from flowing into human souls. Only by the removal of these hindering beings from the spiritual realm could our human hearts and minds begin to open to receive from the angels the spiritual knowledge for which we are destined – but the corollary of this was that the opposing spirits of darkness are now here on earth and in fact living within the feeling, will and mind impulses of each one of us, where they make it their business to spread confusion and to prevent human understanding of spiritual truths.

It was the Archangel Michael who won the War in Heaven and I have sometimes felt that Michael has placed an appalling burden on humanity by casting down the spirits of darkness to find their new dwelling-place within human beings; but in my wiser moments, I can see that this has in fact been a necessary but very difficult chapter in the evolution of human freedom. 

And I can also see that, by handing over his role as administrator of the cosmic intelligence to human beings, Michael is creating another very difficult situation for us – but he is doing this in order to progress human evolution towards our ultimate goal of becoming the Tenth Hierarchy. Our destiny, way into the future and after aeons of evolution, is to become what Steiner calls the Tenth Hierarchy of angels and, as the Spirit of Freedom and Love, to imbue the cosmos with completely new qualities. But on the way to that goal, because we are free but not necessarily wise, the failings of our lower human nature such as selfishness and greed inevitably come to the fore and our thinking and actions are therefore wrested away from our own best interests.

According to Rudolf Steiner, the goal of the Earth’s evolution is to become the Cosmos of Love, for its spiritual mission is to bring love into the world. For this it needs the human being, who here on Earth develops his independent I. For the bearer of love can only be a being that is able to give itself away of its own free will. The prerequisites for this were created by the incarnation of the Christ on Earth and the Mystery of Golgotha.

Steiner made statements about Michael from the early years of his activity – in 1907, for example, he once called participants of an esoteric school “the pupils of Michael”. But it wasn’t until July 1924, just nine months before he died, that Rudolf Steiner described the way in which such pupils were instructed centuries before in the heavenly realms. In particular, he described how in between what in our earthly time reckoning we would call the 15th and 18th centuries, Michael taught a huge number of unborn human souls and even the heavenly hierarchies. What Michael was teaching in this school was how in ancient cultures people were initiated into how to direct life on earth in the right ways. 

This is the fundamental question which Michael addressed in his heavenly school. It is also the question of our time and for the future– how can human beings direct life on earth in the right ways? If you read Rudolf Steiner’s descriptions of the Michael school in the heavenly realms, it may make it possible for a spiritual memory to awaken, something like a faint realisation that we, too, were present at this Michael school in the world of spirit. 

And if as anthroposophists we were indeed pupils in the heavenly Michael school, we can fill our I that is pre-destined for freedom with the great ideal of a new, renewed culture. We can do this because we will have a real spiritual knowing that what Michael teaches us is true. This gives us both the courage and the will to deal with all the fearful manifestations of evil that this age is forcing in upon us and it can also help us direct our deeds on earth so as to serve our fellow human beings and all life.

Steiner said: “Michael is a strange being (…) who does not actually reveal anything unless one brings something to him out of active spiritual work from the Earth. Michael is a silent spirit. Michael is a closed spirit within himself. (…) Michael is actually most concerned with what people create out of the spiritual. He lives in the consequences of what people have created. But Michael is not only a closed, silent spirit, Michael, by approaching man, does so with a clear rejection of much that man still lives in on Earth today.” 

It’s also clear that it is now up to all of us – we cannot expect Michael or the spiritual hierarchies to intervene to save us. Because the reality is that it is human beings themselves who have taken over the cosmic intelligence and who now have to work out how to get ourselves out of the mess we have made of the world. But we are not powerless, quite the contrary. My wife Sophia recently reminded me of something that the late Nick Thomas, the former general secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, had told us.  Nick said that in the Old Mysteries, the phrase “As Above, So Below” was operational, meaning that the hierarchies directed their intentions to human beings on Earth. But now, he said, in the New Mysteries mankind is in the driving seat and the phrase has become “As Below, So Above”. If we pray and act for peace, if we direct our will with the intention of seeing a planet of peace and harmony, then the hierarchies are constrained to respond positively and meet us halfway. What then emerges upwards from the earth is destined to become a wholly positive reality. This is a kind of new spiritual power that can be implemented by each of us as individuals and within groups.

We are living in unprecedented times but despite this I’m not at all pessimistic about the future. There are many, many individuals and organisations around the world who are responding positively and creatively to the challenges of our times. Whether they realise it or not, all these individuals and organisations are imbued with the Michaelic impulse.  We also see this here in Forest Row, for example, which is the home of several of these initiatives that are full of future, to use a phrase from Ita Wegman. Here we are in Emerson College, which if it is able to fulfil its destiny will be an important component of an emerging global learning community where people around the world can find, share and generate connection, culture, ideas, practices, resources, wellbeing, healing and meaning, which will in turn lead us to a future worthy of human beings. 

Steiner described how we should celebrate the Michaelmas Festival with fearlessness– and this, I think, is very relevant to our situation today. This is what he said:

“Human beings must learn to celebrate the Michaelmas festival by making it a festival of fearlessness, a festival of inner initiative and inner strength (…) and selfless self-awareness. Experience how in this autumn Michaelmas festival all that is to grow in you which is to develop against comfort, against timidity, but towards inner initiative, towards the free, strong, brave will in the human being, (…), a festival which renews the whole inner human being. That is what the Michael Festival must become if it is to be worthily used.”

We are of course in a Michael Age, which runs from 1879 to around 2300 AD. The special significance of the Michael Age for us is that Michael is ascending from the Archangelic rank to the rank of Archai, a so-called Zeitgeist or Spirit of the Age who can thereby stimulate a spiritual deepening of all humanity that transcends all peoples and will help in that quest to renew the whole inner human being. Steiner tells us that each of the most highly evolved archangels or Time Spirits has a regency or developmental period lasting from about 300 to 350 years’ duration. The previous age up until 1879 was that of Gabriel and the one after the present age of Michael will be that of Oriphiel. Oriphiel is also called by Rudolf Steiner the Angel of Wrath, who purifies humanity with a strong hand. He was the leading Archangel at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha and he will again be the leading Archangel after the Michael-time has completed. 

Steiner says, and no doubt he is speaking here of anthroposophists and other people of goodwill: “Whoever today, under Michael’s rule, feels the urge to participate in the spiritual life, is called to serve the Archangel Michael and to learn under him, so that he may one day be mature enough to serve the terrible Oriphiel in the right way. (…) In four to six hundred years, the small group of people who are being prepared today will serve God Oriphiel, so that humanity may be saved.”

Almost one hundred years ago, on September 28th 1924 Rudolf Steiner had to end his lecturing activity because of his increasing physical illness and exhaustion. He concluded the final lecture of his life, with a verse dedicated to the archangel Michael, the guardian spirit of anthroposophy. Here is the last stanza of that verse, which is addressed to all anthroposophists:

“You, the pupils of spirit knowledge,

Take up Michael’s wise direction,

Take up the word of love of the will of worlds

Actively into your souls’ high aims.”

This was a direct instruction to us. “Take up the word of love of the will of worlds Actively into your soul’s high aims.” Steiner then spent part of the remaining six months of his life revealing astonishingly profound and diverse insights about anthroposophy and Michael. Despite his illness, Steiner wrote down these insights, in a series of weekly essays which he continued without interruption until his death, and which we can read today in the book ‘Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts’. For those of you who are members of the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science, you will know that Steiner’s death prevented him from bringing the content of the Second and Third Classes. My sense is that the content of the Second Class and maybe some of the Third Class, can be found in these Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts.

Steiner described and here he is obviously referring to himself, “Those persons who can see the supersensible world bordering next upon the visible world, perceive Michael and those belonging to him engaged in what they would like to do for humanity. Such persons see how — through the picture of Michael in Ahriman’s sphere — man is to be led in freedom away from Ahriman to Christ.” Perhaps the most significant phrase in that sentence are the two words “in freedom”. It is the free choice of each one of us to decide which path to follow.

When my courage falters, and I am overwhelmed by the state of the world, I try to remember those words, which are surely a solemn promise to all of us: Man is to be led in freedom away from Ahriman to Christ.

Thank you for listening.

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My failures as an anthroposophist

I started this blog in 2014 and have been writing an average of around one post a month on anthroposophical and other related themes ever since. My original purpose in writing was partly to help my own understanding of anthroposophy, through having to research and study particular topics, and partly to share my discoveries with people around the world, because I’m convinced that anthroposophy as a path for spiritual awakening and development is vital for all our futures.

Just lately, however, I have started to feel that in some respects I have failed as an anthroposophist and in this post I will set down why I think this is so. Of course, it has been good to share through this blog some of Steiner’s ideas that I’ve found really helpful; and in my personal and working lives it has also been good to be involved with biodynamic farms, anthroposophical trusts and educational bodies; but I’ve come to realise that the essential core of anthroposophy is really about studying and working with exercises to gain access to higher forms of knowledge and insight, so as to deepen ourselves as human beings. My approach up until now has been both an intellectual and an emotional path but this has not enabled me to develop the capacities for ‘living thinking’, nor to open up any latent abilities for spiritual insights (though I do have moments of intuition).

I have always had a blockage when it comes to meditation and feel that I lack the basic ability to do this, despite having tried hard on various occasions with various teachers and writers about meditation over the years. This inability to meditate is a serious stumbling block on the path to spiritual development, which means that I fall at the first hurdle and have no access to working with the mantras of the First Class or the exercises in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. This also means that the experiences and images Steiner describes when preparing to ‘cross the threshold’ between the physical/sense world and the non-visible worlds beyond are for me a closed book. Nor do I find The Philosophy of Freedom an easy work to engage with, though this is the book that Steiner said could be used like his Occult Science or Theosophy to produce an understanding of anthroposophy.

After years of reading Steiner’s lectures and books and writing about them on this blog, I feel that I can hold my own in conversations about most topics of anthroposophy, but I cannot claim to have developed any spiritual abilities whatsoever – no clairvoyance, no guidance from spiritual sources, no encounters with elementals or awareness of angels (apart from one encounter many years ago when I was in deep despair). So I remain stuck in what is primarily an intellectual worldview of anthroposophy but am making no progress in what should be the core, which is the development of new spiritual capacities.

If I were seeking excuses for my inadequacy, I might point out that many anthroposophists are in a similar position and that generally we are paying far too little attention to what Rudolf Steiner had to say about the importance of this schooling for ‘initiation’ and the meditation it demands. Study groups, in my limited experience at least, tend to concentrate on reading and discussing lecture cycles or books, which can be enjoyable and useful things to do – but shouldn’t we also be holding meditation groups or groups to discuss and share spiritual experiences? In such groups we could learn to work together, to be socially active and to get feedback from one another in our task of capacity building.

Steiner’s view was that: “Humanity must become a partaker of the spirit in order to carry its revelations into the physical world. Human beings must transform the earth by implanting in it what they have ascertained in the spiritual world. That is their task. It is only because the physical world is dependent upon the spiritual, and because human beings can work upon the earth, in a true sense, only if they are participators in those worlds in which the creative forces lie concealed – only for those reasons should they have the desire to ascend to the higher worlds. No one approaching esoteric training with these sentiments and resolved not to deviate for a moment from these prescribed directions (ie in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, from which this quotation is taken), will have the slightest danger to fear. No one should allow the prospect of these dangers to keep them from esoteric training; it should rather act as a strong challenge to one and all, to acquire those faculties which every true esoteric student must have.”

If that is our task, I now need to begin anew. I probably need to find a good teacher, or teachers, and groups to belong to where I can find help to discipline myself to do the exercises – again and again and again. As I now consider myself unqualified to write about some of these core aspects of anthroposophy, I will not be writing any more posts on this blog unless they are clearly from the perspective of a learner. I will keep the blog available on the web for the time being as it has many worthwhile topics on it and I know many people in many countries around the world have found it useful. Thanks to those of you who have shared this journey with me so far – I hope one day to be able to write again, from a place of authentic experience.

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Maintaining human values in the time of Covid-19

Several of my recent blog posts have tried to express what I feel about the net that is slowly but surely enmeshing us all as we proceed into the 21st century. The dominant themes are clear enough by now – the ongoing war on culture and shared values, climate breakdown, the lack of international solidarity, the subversion of truth and morality, the deliberate inculcation of fear and division, a pandemic which has prompted governments around the world to dismantle existing civil liberties, GMO and gene editing, artificial intelligence, the merging of humans and machines and – gradually emerging from the shadows – the ongoing project by the ‘Ruler of This World’ to build a hyper-real replacement for life itself. Whatever it is, we can see it rising, and we will see it closer and more clearly during these next few years, in all its malevolent manifestations.

The divisions caused by Covid-19 are making the arguments about Brexit seem like a vicarage tea party. The unvaccinated, for example, are fast becoming a global underclass, with a two-tier society opening up between what you might call the jabbed and the jabbed-nots. Let us also not forget the arrogance and greed of the elites, who as it appears from this article are plotting to leave the rest of us behind. 

I cannot fight this any longer – force majeure is in operation. I have to live in the world as it is and I have to share the karma of humanity. For example, this means that I have had to bow to government diktat and to have the first Covid jab, or lose my job. I will have the second jab before the government deadline of 11th November. I am trying to regard this as a sacrifice on the altar of the collective. But what I really feel is that this has been a bitter demonstration of my powerlessness in the face of manifest injustice. This is epitomised for me by the fact that, as a worker in a care home for adults with learning disabilities, I must get the consent of a resident or their family before I am able to administer a paracetamol for a headache; but I am not allowed any say and have no right to consent or refuse when the government demands that I take into my body an experimental vaccine that has not yet completed its trials. This absolute principle of consent, which must be applied with complete rigour not only to vulnerable people such as those with learning disabilities but anyone in the normal course of medical treatment, does not now apply to me or other care workers because in our case the government has changed the law. Our only choice is to have the jabs or lose our jobs. The health minister in England, Sajid Javid, is said to be now thinking seriously about sacking 106,000 staff in the NHS (including doctors) who are refusing the Covid vaccines. 

All this has shocked me out of my naïve assumption that those of us who live in the countries of the West are somehow freer than the populations of China or Russia. This is a lie, which is fed to us during our education and through all the media – but it is a lie, nonetheless. The objective reality is that wherever we live, we are subject to tyrannies of various kinds, and although the degrees of tyranny may vary, in our lives within physical bodies the fact remains that we are unfree. This can never apply, thank goodness, to the non-material aspects of our being.

But I feel that I have paid enough time and attention to these negative phenomena. If we focus too hard on Ahriman, he and his minions will focus on us. “No man can concentrate his attention upon evil, or even upon the idea of evil, and remain unaffected,” wrote Aldous Huxley in The Devils of Loudun. “To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous. Every crusader is apt to go mad.” Wise counsel indeed, and I am trying to take it to heart. In that same book, Huxley also said: 

“Possession is more often secular than supernatural. Men are possessed by their thoughts of a hated person, a hated class, race or nation. At the present time the destinies of the world are in the hands of self-made demoniacs – of men who are possessed by, and who manifest, the evil they have chosen to see in others. They do not believe in devils; but they have tried their hardest to be possessed – have tried and been triumphantly successful.”

These possessed souls are eating us alive but it is surely not inevitable that all of us will become prey. What looks right now as though its triumph is a foregone conclusion may not be as strong and solid as it appears, because as we know from the past, despite many victories in battle along the way, in the end Ahriman always loses the war. He will lose this time as well because there is a resilience in human life and the natural world which, when allied with our knowledge of the absolute and total love of Christ for each one of us, gives certainty that truth and real human values will outlast and survive the worst that can be done to us, or that we can do to ourselves.

Rudolf Steiner had a deep confidence in humanity and human beings, a belief that some of us have from time to time struggled to share, given all the disappointments we are currently experiencing. Steiner knew, however, that freedom is fundamental to genuine human evolution as “willed by the gods” and this means that, in their free actions, human beings are going to make many grievous errors.

So in this post I want to look at ways of moving beyond our present situation: how to reclaim our humanity, redeem Ahriman, and begin to sow the seeds of some kind of human-scale world again. In particular, I want to focus on the initiatives that each of us can take in our daily lives, that when allied with countless other small initiatives across the world, will turn the tide in favour of humanity and real human values.

Here, I think, it is relevant to quote what Rudolf Steiner had to say in the Karmic Relations lecture given in Dornach on 4th August, 1924:

“All this makes it necessary for the anthroposophist to pay heed to one condition of his karma — a condition that is sure to be present in him to a high degree. Much can be said, — and we shall still have to say many things — about the reasons why one or another character or temperament is drawn to Anthroposophy (…). But all these impulses, which bring the individuals to Anthroposophy, have one counterpart, which the Spirit of the World has made more strong in them than in others. All the many possibilities that are there with respect to the most manifold things in life, demand initiative from the anthroposophist — inner initiative of soul. We must become aware of this. For the anthroposophist this proverb must hold good. He must say to himself: ‘Now that I have become an anthroposophist through my karma, the impulses which have been able to draw me to Anthroposophy require me to be attentive and alert. For somehow or somewhere, more or less deeply in my soul, there will emerge the necessity for me to find inner initiative, — initiative of soul which will enable me to undertake something or to make some judgment or decision out of my own inmost being.’ Verily, this is written in the karma of every single anthroposophist: ‘Be a person of initiative, and beware lest through hindrances of your own body, or hindrances that otherwise come in your way, you do not find the centre of your being, where is the source of your initiative. Observe that in your life all joy and sorrow, all happiness and pain will depend on the finding or not finding of your own individual initiative.’ This should stand written as though in golden letters, constantly before the soul of the anthroposophist. Initiative lies in his karma, and much of what meets him in this life will depend on the extent to which he can become willingly and actively conscious of it.”

This is a wonderful lecture and there is so much in it that is well worth reading. I am struck by the emphasis Steiner gives to the additional difficulty that anthroposophists have in finding their way in the world; and also to the pain they feel when trying to connect with others who have no access to anything other than the material realm. All my experience cries ‘Yes’ to these words. So given the dire state of the world and given the additional hindrances that anthroposophists face, what can we do to find the centres of our being, the sources of initiative which are key to making life worth living?

Each person must of course answer this for themselves. My own answer includes concentrating on those areas of life where one can make a difference, rather than wasting time and emotion on problems which are way beyond my capacity to influence. Is there something in one’s life which holds a promise for a better future, a seed which has been planted for worthwhile human developments and which can support real human needs? As one small example, long-time readers may recall this article in which I wrote about Pixton Third Age, an initiative to provide a co-housing scheme for older people at Emerson College. After years of hard work and effort, this project has at last received planning consent and by the end of March 2022 we should know whether we have enough people interested to make it a success. If all goes according to plan, the building conversion work will begin in Autumn 2022 and the first residents will be able to move in at Spring 2024.

Each of us is now being called upon to do all that we can to help in the evolution and progress of human life. In the face of the current massive onslaught which is seeking to re-define what it means to be a human being, any project which concentrates on true human needs and values is a worthwhile antidote to the poison of our times. People are trying to help in their own myriad ways: artists through their creative work, teachers and parents through educating and bringing up children, activists through changing policies and laws, and any of us through our encounters in daily life. If we can be people of initiative, rather than passive sponges soaking up whatever is done to us, humanity will survive the incarnation of Ahriman.

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The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Great poets are able to encapsulate the truth of their times in poetic images. W.B.Yeats in his poem, The Second Coming, has done this for the 20th and 21st centuries. Written during the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, Yeats might just as well have been writing today, since he describes our time and our appalling dilemma as we await the incarnation of the “rough beast, its hour come round at last.” Instead of the second coming of Christ, Yeats discerns something far worse heading towards us. (An analysis of the poem can be found here.)

Anthroposophists will of course have their own understanding of what Yeats may have sensed was on its way. According to Rudolf Steiner, during our time huge efforts will be made “to lead people away from the Christ who has passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, and to assign to another being dominion over the earth. This is a very real battle, not an affair of abstract concepts; a real battle which is concerned with setting another being in place of the Christ-Being for the rest of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, for the sixth epoch and for the seventh. (…) And it will be essential for people to learn to distinguish between the true Christ, who will not this time appear in the flesh, and this other being who is marked off by the fact that he has never been embodied on the earth.”

It seems clear that, if humanity is to escape the fate which has been so carefully planned for it, then many more of us must develop an awareness that we are spiritual beings currently living in physical bodies. Traditionally, it has been the role of the churches to remind us of our spiritual origins. But as we all know, churchgoing is less and less a part of the culture of our times and most people regard Christianity as irrelevant or mere unscientific superstition.

In this connection, I was startled but not surprised to read that, according to the 2011 UK Census, between 2001 and 2011 the number of Christians born in Britain fell by 5.3 million – about 10,000 a week. (Lord knows what the recent 2021 Census will reveal.) With a continued rate of decline at this level, the number of UK-born Christians would reduce to zero by 2067.

The British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS) indicates that Anglicanism is declining faster than any other major denomination. With the current rate of decline, it would be set to disappear from Britain by 2033 – just twelve years away.

So it would seem that Christianity in the UK is in a kind of terminal death spiral. I’ve no reason to think that the situation is any different in other Western countries. Why has this decline happened? And why does it matter so much?

To understand how we got to this state of affairs, we need to go back to the early centuries of the Christian religion. As the Christian teaching spread through Europe and Asia Minor in the centuries after the crucifixion, it became mixed up with many local religions and cults and took over many of their rites and festivals and some of their beliefs. The greatest confusion was over what people believed concerning Jesus – who he was, how far he was human being and how far he was God.

Eventually so many diverse doctrines were held by so many different groups all over the Roman Empire that the leaders of the Church called a series of councils to standardise Christian belief. In 325 CE at the First Council of Nicaea, the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus was established – extraordinary as it may seem, this was determined by majority vote. This decision had the effect of separating the Church from the teaching of the Ancient Wisdom concerning the Cosmic Christ and also led to much distortion and misunderstanding of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. 

We could add that this process was continued by the 8th Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in the year 869 which, as Rudolf Steiner has pointed out, abolished the idea of the “trichotomy” of the human being (ie the reality that each of us consists of body, soul and spirit) and reduced us to beings of body and soul only, thus introducing a further very serious distortion into the teachings of the churches and laying the foundation for our present predicament. 

There is a fascinating passage in the final chapter of St John’s gospel, after the occurrence of the miraculous draught of fishes, when St Peter asked Jesus what was to be the future work of St John the beloved, the author of the Book of Revelation. Jesus replied: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.” My sense of this is that here Jesus was in effect telling Peter to get on with his task of building the Church and not to bother about John, whose work would continue sub rosa until the Second Coming, when it would start to assume more and more importance.

The role of Peter was to “feed my sheep”, to shepherd the people by presenting to them a version of Christianity that would meet their needs but would not be beyond their capacity to understand at that stage of their development. This was to be the purpose of the Church of St Peter – to bring the message of loving one’s brother as oneself and to set humanity on course for the next stage of its journey.

John’s role, by contrast, was to maintain the idea of the Christ as a cosmic Being, the Christ who experienced for three years what it was to be a human in the physical body prepared for him by the master initiate, Jesus. This was to be done through small, secret communities until the second coming of Christ. According to Rudolf Steiner, this second coming was not to be expected as a physical incarnation but was due to happen from 1933 onwards, in the etheric body of the Earth. Before anthroposophy, which brought these teachings much more into public consciousness, the few people who were able to understand such concepts remained in small and hidden Rosicrucian groups under the guidance of St John.

But even today the churches have not felt able to acknowledge, let alone share and communicate the perspective of St John, which is surely the only one which nowadays can reach out to the unspoken spiritual needs of so many people. In Matthew 7:9, Christ Jesus says: “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?”

Yet by denying the people the knowledge of the Cosmic Christ, the churches are in effect giving us stones rather than the spiritual bread we crave – the times are crying out for the message of St John rather than the simplicities of St Peter. We are living at a time when even the Archbishop of Canterbury – an intelligent and humane man who is also the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion – does not, for example, understand why Easter has to be a moveable feast

This is significant, because if the head of the worldwide Anglican communion does not have a sense of the spiritual realities behind Christianity, then he has no access to the true wisdom which could revitalise his Church and regenerate our culture.

There are some priests, such as the late Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who have a greater instinct for cosmic Christianity and who have tried to reconcile science with spirituality; but unfortunately for Teilhard and the church, Rome banned his books, ordered him not to attend international congresses and forbade him to write or teach on philosophical subjects. 

The failure of the churches to bring us spiritual nourishment for our times has meant the absolute triumph of the power of money, which now rules the world. Our gods today are people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who recognising that they and their kind have trashed our home planet, are now doing all they can to set up Mars as the future location for human beings.

But human beings need to believe in a transcendent reality, in a truth greater than themselves. It doesn’t have to be Christian, it could be Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim or something else. If there is no higher meaning to human life, then the famous phrase of Nietszche: “Nothing is true and everything is permitted” comes into common consciousness, with the results we see all around us. G. K. Chesterton put it slightly differently: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

Paul Kingsnorth expressed our situation like this: “When a culture kills its sovereign, the throne will not remain empty for long. Dethrone Christ if you like – dethrone any representative of any sacred order on Earth. But when you do, you will understand that the sovereign, however imperfect his rule, may have been the only thing standing between you and the barbarians massing outside – and inside – your gates.”

Is there an antidote to this poisonous mix of consumer capitalism, nihilism and money worship that is destroying us, our planet and our culture? The old Christendom is not coming back – and nor should it. But as Joan Hodgson in her book Why on Earth has written: “As the influence of the Aquarian Age grows stronger, the mystical Christianity of St John will gradually replace the outworn orthodoxy of the church of Peter. It will lead humanity to ‘an upper room’ – a higher state of consciousness or comprehension – where true communion with the Cosmic Christ will come to all who earnestly seek. It will lead the seeker to the Holy Grail which brings healing for all sorrow and pain. As understanding of this true communion becomes universal, the light of the Cosmic Christ shining through men’s hearts and lives will glorify the earth itself. This is the promised second coming of Christ, foreshadowed in the gospels.”

During this pandemic we have seen how easy it is for populations to be ruled by fear and group-think imposed from above. It seems to me that this has been a rehearsal for, and a demonstration of what is likely to happen when the false Christ, the Anti-Christ, appears in the guise of the great deliverer who will save us from all our troubles.  Most people will be taken in by the impostor and, what is more, they will turn on those of us who have a different view. 

What is to be done in such dire circumstances? Perhaps the climate crisis can be a blessing in disguise, which is forcing us to look after Earth, our home. It might also encourage us to practice kindness and compassion towards all beings and things. If you have a garden, however small, or even a window box and some pots, try to care for a patch of earth and living, growing things. The temple of nature helps us to reconnect with a greater intelligence which is holding everything in a coherence beyond our understanding. It is there you will be able to commune with the Cosmic Christ, who is within the etheric body of the earth and is waiting for human beings to find their way to him.

In Yeats’ poem, I take the falcon to be a symbol of humanity, going further and further away from home until we can no longer hear Christ the falconer, who despite our waywardness is waiting patiently for us here on Earth. 

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Suffer the little children

When I have asked anthroposophical doctors about vaccinations and Covid-19, I find there is an extreme reluctance to make any public statements. No doubt this is because the whole subject of vaccination and some of what Rudolf Steiner had to say about it is so controversial that these doctors have a great fear of what may be heaped upon their heads by the orthodox medical bodies, were they to be so unwise as to put these heads above the parapet. And yet, the cautious, almost anodyne statements put out by the Medical Section at the Goetheanum hardly reflect the gravity of the Covid-19 crisis, surely the major public health issue of our time. In these worthy and rather bland responses, one misses the emphasis that Rudolf Steiner gave to “the courage to heal.”

I, of course, am not a medical doctor and have no reputation to lose. Nor am I an epidemiologist, virologist or immunologist so I am completely without relevant knowledge or expertise. I am, however, a human being who tries to pay attention to what is going on in the world and who is disturbed by many aspects of what I see. Right now, I am very concerned by proposals that younger and younger children should be vaccinated against Covid-19. 

The UK regulator has just approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children aged 12-15, saying it is safe and effective in this age group and the benefits outweigh any risks. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulations Agency (MHRA) said it had carried out a “rigorous review” of the vaccine in adolescents. The UK’s vaccines committee will now decide whether children should get the jab.

China has just approved Covid-19 vaccinations for children as young as three years old.

And in the USA they are now giving Covid-19 vaccines to children as young as 6 months’ old…

Am I the only one who thinks that this is completely mad? Does it make any sense whatsoever to give children a brand-new vaccine with no long-term safety data for a disease that barely affects them?  The people doing this do not even have the pretence that it is for children’s own safety. It is because adults caught up in our safety-at-all costs culture think it is morally acceptable to give children a medicine, which may cause them harm – so as to protect other adults, most of whom have been vaccinated already. 

Actually, I know I am not the only one who thinks that this is both mad and ethically very dubious. A long and distinguished list of doctors, professors of medicine, paediatricians etc has recently signed an open letter to the chief executive of the MHRA, which begins as follows:

“We wish to notify you of our grave concerns regarding all proposals to administer COVID-19 vaccines to children. Recently leaked Government documents suggested that a COVID-19 vaccine rollout in children over 12 years old is already planned for September 2021, and the possibility of children as young as 5 years old being vaccinated in the summer in a worst-case scenario.”

“We have been deeply disturbed to hear several Government and SAGE representatives calling in the media for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to be “turning to children as fast as we can”. Teaching materials circulated to London schools contain emotionally loaded questions and inaccuracies. In addition, there has been disturbing language used by teaching union leaders, implying that coercion of children to accept the COVID-19 vaccines through peer pressure in schools was to be encouraged, despite the fact that coercion to accept a medical treatment is against UK and International Laws and Declarations. Rhetoric such as this is irresponsible and unethical, and encourages the public to demand the vaccination of minors with a product still at the research stage and about which no medium- or long-term effects are known, against a disease which presents no material risk to them.”

I urge you to read the whole of this very important and significant letter.

As I’ve said before, I am not an anti-vaxxer but I am against stupidity and tyrannical group-think. On a related matter, just take a look at the NHS schedule of vaccinations and when to have them – it really is quite extraordinary. Babies up to the age of 16 weeks are recommended to have no less than 8 vaccinations; and children aged between 1 year and 15 years old should have a further 10 vaccinations. Who really thinks this is a good idea, to overload young immune systems with so many vaccinations and re-vaccinations? 

Which brings me to what Rudolf Steiner had to say in his lecture on October 7th 1917. He might have been talking about our situation today.

“Let us not be deceived: we are facing a movement which has very definite aims. Just as at the Council of Constantinople the Spirit was abolished, that is to say, the dogma was established that man consists of body and soul only and to speak of spirit is heretical, attempts of a different character will be made to abolish the soul, man’s life of soul. And the time will come, perhaps in a future by no means far distant, (…) when it will be said: if a man thinks at all of spirit and soul, that is a pathological symptom: those individuals who speak only of the body, they alone are healthy. It will be regarded as a symptom of illness if a human being develops in such a way that he can conceive of the existence of a spirit or a soul. Such people will be considered to be ill. And – of this you may be sure – the corresponding medicament will be discovered and used. On that past occasion the spirit was abolished. The soul will be abolished by means of a medicament yet to be discovered. A “healthy outlook” will lead to the discovery of a vaccine which will be injected into the human organism in earliest infancy, if possible immediately after birth, to ensure that this human body never has the idea that a soul and a spirit exist.”

“This indicates the sheer contradiction between two conceptions of life. The adherents of one will have to reflect how to develop concepts and ideas able to keep pace with reality, with the reality of spirit and soul. The others, the followers of the modern materialists, will seek for the vaccine said to make the body “healthy”, that is to say, affects its constitution in such a way that man no longer speaks of such twaddle as soul and spirit but speaks, from a sound attitude, of forces working in machines and in chemistry and producing planets and suns in the cosmic nebula. This attitude of mind will be induced by bodily procedures. Materialistic doctors will be entrusted with the task of driving souls out of human beings.”

(Rudolf Steiner, “The Crumbling of the Earth and the Souls and Bodies of Man” given in Dornach October 7, 1917.) 

There are three accounts in the Gospels of Christ Jesus’s attitude when his disciples tried to prevent parents bringing their little children to him. Here is the one from Luke, 18:15-17, in the King James version:

“And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” 

“Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” But if the faculty of receiving the kingdom of God has been taken away from you by umpteen vaccines – what then?

If I were a doctor injecting experimental vaccines into very young children, not for reasons to do with their own medical needs but to try to reduce upward medical transmission from schools to older adults, then I would be wary of another of Christ’s sayings, this time from Matthew 18:6

“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Steiner indicated what is really behind this, and all the other dark phenomena of our time:

“All these methods (…) have finally one single purpose — to lead people away from the Christ who has passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, and to assign to another being dominion over the earth. This is a very real battle, not an affair of abstract concepts; a real battle which is concerned with setting another being in place of the Christ-Being for the rest of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, for the sixth epoch and for the seventh. (…) And it will be essential for people to learn to distinguish between the true Christ, who will not this time appear in the flesh, and this other being who is marked off by the fact that he has never been embodied on the earth.”

If that is too extraordinary a notion for anyone but anthroposophists to take on board, let us finish with another quotation from the letter sent by doctors and scientists to the head of the MHRA. After setting out a detailed list of both short-term and long-term safety concerns, they say this:

“There is important wisdom in the Hippocratic Oath which states, “First do no harm”. All medical interventions carry a risk of harm, so we have a duty to act with caution and proportionality. This is particularly the case when considering mass intervention in a healthy population, in which situation there must be firm evidence of benefits far greater than harms. The current, available evidence clearly shows that the risk versus benefit calculation does NOT support administering rushed and experimental COVID-19 vaccines to children, who have virtually no risk from COVID-19, yet face known and unknown risks from the vaccines. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child states that, ‘the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care,
including appropriate legal protection’. As adults we have a duty of care to protect children from unnecessary and foreseeable harm.” 

“We conclude that it is irresponsible, unethical and indeed, unnecessary, to include children under 18 years in the national COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Clinical trials in children also pose huge ethical dilemmas, in light of the lack of potential benefit to trial participants and the unknown risks. The end of the current Phase 3 trials should be awaited as well as several years of safety data in adults, to rule out, or quantify, all potential adverse effects.”

“We call upon our governments and the regulators not to repeat mistakes from history, and to reject the calls to vaccinate children against COVID-19. Extreme caution has been exercised over many aspects of the pandemic, but surely now is the most important time to exercise true caution – we must not be the generation of adults that, through unnecessary haste and fear, risks the health of children.” 

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