Tag Archives: Ita Wegman

Was Rudolf Steiner poisoned after all? Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rudolf Steiner’s last illness and last verse

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

Steiner 1924

Dr Rudolf Steiner in 1920.

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

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

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

220px-Edith_Maryon

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

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

burning goetheanum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wegman

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

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

 I want with cosmic spirit

To enthuse each human being

That a flame they may become

And fiery will unfold

The essence of their being.

 

The other ones, they strive

To take from cosmic waters

What will extinguish flames

And pour paralysis

Into all inner being.

 

O joy, when human being’s flame

Is blazing, even when at rest.

O bitter pain, when the human thing

Is put in bonds, when it wants to stir.

 

(Ich möchte jeden Menschen

Aus des Kosmos Geist entzünden

Daß er Flamme werde

Und feurig seines Wesens Wesen

Entfalte.

 

Die Anderen, sie möchten

Aus des Kosmos Wasser nehmen

Was die Flammen verlöscht,

Und wässrig alles Wesen

Im Innern lähmt.

 

O Freude, wenn die Menschenflamme

Lodert, auch da wo sie ruht.

O Bitternis, wenn das Menschending

Gebunden wird, da wo es regsam sein möchte.)

 

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

Christian Morgenstern expressed it beautifully:

I have seen THE HUMAN BEING in his deepest aspect,

I know the world, down to its foundation stones.

 

Its meaning, I have learned is love alone,

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

 

I spread out my arms, as HE spread HIS,

To embrace the whole wide world as HE has done.

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