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Steiner, Rudolf

Category: Mystic

Rudolf Steiner (25 February 1861– 30 March 1925) was an Austrian  philosopher, literary scholar, educator, artist, playwright, social thinker, and esotericist.  He was the founder of Anthroposophy,  Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture and anthroposophical medicine and the new artistic form of Eurythmy.

He characterized anthroposophy as follows: “Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe…. “

And he was also a mystic.

Steiner had much the same beliefs as all mystics seeing the universe as essentially an indivisible unity of spirit, but that our 5 senses divides it into the sense-perceptible world, on the one hand, and the spiritual world accessible with our mind - through our Higher spirit. He saw that thinking itself can be strengthened and deepened sufficiently to penetrate all that our senses do not reveal to us. Steiner thus explicitly rejected all justification for a division between 'faith' [that revealed via the Higher spirit] and 'knowledge' [that revealed via our 5 senses].

 

He believed that the apparent duality we experience of physical and non physical is conditioned by the structure of our consciousness, which separates the 5 senses and  perception on the one hand, and memory and reason on the other, but these two set of functions give us two complementary views of the same world; neither has primacy and the two together are necessary and sufficient to arrive at a complete understanding of the world. In thinking about memory and reason (the path of science) and perceiving the process of perception (the path of spiritual training),  it is possible to discover a hidden inner unity between the two poles of our experience.

 

Steiner believed in Darwin’s and Haeckel’s evolutionary theories but extended this beyond its materialistic consequences.  He believed that evolution included the evolution of spirit - function, as well as the form based world we see with our 5 senses.  He also believed it was not possible to fully understand the process of evolution without an understanding of the spiritual underpinnings of the form based universe, as 'chance' mutations could not account for the changes that took place.  As function and form are closely interwoven, a change of function necessitated a change of form - function change drove form based change.  Or to provide a simple example, if you want to 'fly' [function] you need wings [form].

Steiner believed that through freely chosen ethical disciplines and meditative training, anyone could develop the ability to experience the spiritual world, including the higher nature of oneself and others. He believed that such discipline and training would help a person to become a more moral, creative and free individual - free in the sense of being capable of actions motivated solely by love.

Background

 

Steiner graduated from the Vienna Institute of Technology, where he studied mathematics, physics, and philosophy, he also earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Rostock in Germany.  But according to his autobiography, at 21, on the train between his home village and Vienna, he met a simple herb gatherer, Felix Kogutski, who spoke about the spiritual world "as someone who had his own experiences of it...." This herb gatherer introduced Steiner to a person that Steiner only identified as a "master", and who had a great influence on Steiner's subsequent development.

In 1899 Steiner experienced what he described as a life-transforming inner encounter with the being of 'Christ'.  Previously he had little or no relation to Christianity in any form. Then and thereafter, his relationship to Christianity remained entirely founded upon personal experience, and thus both non-denominational and strikingly different from conventional religious forms.

The fruits of these influences first appeared publicly in an article published in 1899 that Steiner wrote for  Magazin für Literatur, titled "Goethe's Secret Revelation", which described the symbolic nature of Goethe's fairy tale, The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily.

From this point on Steiner, until his death in 1925, articulated an ongoing stream of experiences of the spiritual world. His objective became that of applying his training in mathematics, science, and philosophy to produce rigorous, verifiable presentations of those experiences.

The  Anthroposophical Society 

Steiner Waldorf school in Stavanger

Steiner for a while followed the Theosophical movement, but the Anthroposophical Society was founded when Steiner and the majority of members of the German section of the Theosophical Society broke off to form a new group.  Despite the major convergences between Theosophy and his own system,  Steiner stated that his movement had different aims and that his philosophy was “an integrated whole that came from direct spiritual insight."  And indeed the movement did develop along very different lines driven by Steiner's vision.

Steiner was particularly influenced by Goethe.  He developed his studies of Goethe’s ideas in several books, including The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World-Conception (1886) and Goethe's Conception of the World (1897). 

Eventually Steiner's ideas gelled around the six main activities that are still active today.  The concept was an integrated one, all would be spiritually driven and complement one another.  To be spiritually open and creative, one needed to be healthy thus medicine formed one key plank but also plants, as his farming methods were based on what we would now term sustainable organic farming of plants that heal through their nutrient value and boost the immune system.

The education aspect of his approach was also intended to be close to that which I have described in Home schooling, in other words, learning how to learn and observe and using project based methods to teach a cross section of skills. In effect one learns from practical application and problem solving. 

Melbourne's Steiner school

His educational ideals have received a constant battering from educationalists keen to instill their own ideas and beliefs in the young, and there have been compromises over the years, but much still remains.  What has probably been lost is the system whereby belief systems were constantly questioned.  In an exam based education system, questioning the veracity of what one is taught does not help!  One of the major and important things to be retained, is the use of Beauty, music and art as well as Communing with nature in all age groups, not just the young, as a means of opening up creative thought and promoting relaxation.

Eurythmy was intended to be a sound and movement approach that both healed through music and healed through keeping the person fit. It was not really intended for performance, but had similar aims to Gurdjieff's sacred dances.

The architecture arm was geared towards creating a sacred geography, sacred spaces aligned with nature that gave people a greater sense of belonging and peace, as well as providing a reminder of the universal symbol system and trying to recreate 'heaven on earth'.

The final plank was that of 'Social good', which put in its simplest form is simply practicising LOVE as opposed to HATE!  In essence Steiner was advocating Suppression based activities and his thinking and approach have been a very big influence on how I have organised this site.

The  School of Spiritual Science

During the Anthroposophical Society's Christmas conference in 1923, Steiner founded the School of Spiritual Science, intended as an open university for research and study. This university, which has various sections or faculties, has grown steadily; it is particularly active today in the fields of education,  medicine,  agriculture,  art, natural science, literature, philosophy, sociology and economics.

Below: Linuwel Steiner school

Biodynamic agriculture 

Biodynamic agriculture, or biodynamics, comprises an ecological and sustainable farming system, that includes many of the ideas of organic farming (but predates the term).

In 1924, a group of farmers concerned about the future of agriculture requested Steiner's help; Steiner responded with a lecture series on agriculture. A central concept of these lectures was to "individualize" the farm by bringing no or few outside materials onto the farm, but producing all needed materials such as manure and animal feed from within what he called the "farm organism".

Other aspects of biodynamic farming inspired by Steiner's lectures include timing activities such as planting in relation to the movement patterns of the moon and planets and applying "preparations", which consist of natural materials which have been processed in specific ways, to soil, compost piles, and plants with the intention of engaging 'elemental forces'.

Steiner believed that the introduction of chemical farming was very detrimental. Stating "Mineral manuring is a thing that must cease altogether in time, for the effect of every kind of mineral manure, after a time, is that the products grown on the fields thus treated lose their nutritive value. It is an absolutely general law."

Even as far back as the 1920s , Steiner was warning about the dangers we faced from the way we were using pesticides and insecticides and wrote a prophetic book on bees warning that what we were doing would eventually kill bees and would have utterly catastrophic results.

Anthroposophical medicine

From 1910, Steiner worked  with doctors to create a new approach to medicine. In 1921, a group of pharmacists and physicians under Steiner's guidance created the Weleda pharmaceutical company, which now distributes natural medical products worldwide. At around the same time, Dr. Ita Wegman founded the first anthroposophic medical clinic in Arlesheim, Switzerland (now called the Wegman Clinic).

Steiner also created, as part of the Anthroposophical medicine movement  a broad range of supportive therapies. Homes for children and adults with developmental disabilities based on his work (including those of the Camphill movement) are widely spread.

The principle of his medical approach was largely based on homeopathy - tiny doses to get people back in balance and only short term treatment because the intention was  to heal.  In effect it was true medicine designed to treat causes of illness not symptoms - see Healing yourself.

Waldorf schools

As a young man, Steiner supported the independence of educational institutions from governmental control. In 1907, he wrote a long essay, entitled "Education in the Light of Spiritual Science", in which he described the major phases of child development and suggested that these would be the basis of a healthy approach to education.  In 1919, Emil Molt invited him to lecture on the topic of education to the workers at Molt's factory in Stuttgart. Out of this came a new school, the Waldorf school. During Steiner's lifetime, schools based on his educational principles were also founded in Hamburg, Essen, The Hague and London; there are now more than 1000 Waldorf schools worldwide.

Eurythmy 

 

Together with Marie Steiner-von Sievers, Rudolf Steiner developed the art of Eurythmy,  sometimes referred to as "visible speech and visible song". According to the principles of Eurythmy, there are archetypal movements or gestures that correspond to every aspect of speech - the sounds, or phonemes, the rhythms, the grammatical function, and so on - to every "soul quality" - laughing, despair, intimacy, etc. - and to every aspect of music - tones, intervals, rhythms, harmonies, etc.

Steiner also founded a new approach to artistic speech and drama.  Various ensembles work with this approach, called "speech formation" (Ger.:Sprachgestaltung), and training exists in various countries, including England, the United States, Switzerland, and Germany. The actor Michael Chekhov extended this approach in what is now known as the Chekhov method.

Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School

It is worth adding that this form of music and movement has been found to also have great healing potential and a number of Pubmed papers exist which show the beneficial effects. 

I have included some of these papers on the site linked to this section, as by classifying them under the PubMed heading they would have got lost.

 

 

Plays

As a playwright, Steiner wrote four "Mystery Dramas" between 1909 and 1913, including The Portal of Initiation and The Soul's Awakening. They are still performed today by Anthroposophical groups.

Titirangi  Early Childhood School

Art 

His paintings and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries, and he influenced Joseph Beuys and other significant modern artists. As a sculptor, his works include The Representative of Humanity (1922). This nine-meter high wood sculpture was a joint project with the sculptor Edith Maryon; it is on permanent display at the Goetheanum in Dornach.

Architecture

Steiner designed 17 buildings, including the First and Second Goetheanums. These two buildings, built in Dornach, Switzerland, were intended to house the University for Spiritual Science. Three of Steiner's buildings, including both Goetheanum buildings, have been listed amongst the most significant works of modern architecture.  Other anthroposophical architects have contributed thousands of buildings to the modern scene.  Examples of the designs for schools are in this section.  Steiner was keen to incorporate into all his designs the ideas that form should mirror function, and that it should always be a Safe House [or its equivalent] - a threat free environment.

First Goetheanum

Other activities

One of first institutions to practice ethical banking was an anthroposophical bank using Steiner's ideas.

 

Spiritual Path

Steiner’s spiritual path is described in Knowledge of Higher Worlds (1904/5).  In the book, he describes his conception of a path of spiritual development, detailing many principles of life (openness, positivity, respect for others), spiritual exercises (control of thought and will, directed imaginations) and experiences likely to arise on this path (trials and spiritual perceptions).

The techniques

Many of Steiner’s techniques are encapsulated in his book How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation (1904-5)

The book may make confusing reading for someone used to direct instructions and obvious step by step methods.  This is because Steiner’s approach is not based on ‘one-off’ techniques, it is a way of life and thus incorporates many approaches which some may regard as ‘moral stuff’ when in fact they are essential ‘spiritual stuff’.

He uses no drugs and very few of the techniques one might associate with spiritual experience – no staring at objects, no sex, no severe deprivation. He was particularly against the use of drugs.

 

How to Know Higher Worlds – Rudolf Steiner
[they] cannot lead to anything positive, but will only undermine health, happiness, and peace of mind.  If we do not wish to entrust ourselves to dark powers, whose true nature and origin we do not know, we shall do well to leave [these other] approaches alone.

His system is a system for life, you live it and thus the techniques have to be workable on an on-going basis capable of being used as part of your way of living as opposed to one-off techniques.

How to Know Higher Worlds – Rudolf Steiner
These practical rules are not arbitrary.  They are based on age-old experience and wisdom.  They are given in a similar manner wherever ways to higher knowledge are taught.  All true teachers of spiritual life agree upon the content of these rules, though they may not always express them in the same words.  Any apparent differences are only minor and are due to facts we need not discuss here.
No true teacher of spiritual life exercises dominion over other human beings by means of such rules. 
Such teachers do not seek to restrict anyone’s autonomy.  Indeed there is no better judge and guardian of human independence than a spiritual researcher

 

But, he emphasises time and again that all the techniques can be learnt by anyone………….

How to Know Higher Worlds – Rudolf Steiner
In actuality, inner knowledge is no different from other kinds of human knowledge and ability.  It is a mystery for the average person only to the extent that writing is a mystery for those who have not yet learned to write.  Just as, given the right teaching methods, anyone can learn to write, so too anyone can become a student of esoteric knowledge, and yes, even a teacher of it, if he or she follows the appropriate path.  Ordinary knowledge and ability differ from esoteric knowledge in one respect only.  A person may not have the possibility of learning to write because of the cultural conditions or poverty he or she is born into, but no one who seeks sincerely will find any barriers to achieving knowledge and abilities in the higher worlds.

One of the difficulties with his system is that he wrote so much [see references] that one never knows whether one has captured all the mechanisms and techniques he did espouse, but I hope in the cross references I have provided that I have described the main ones.  Of the techniques some are worthy of especial mention…………….

The Steiner school in Melbourne, Australia

Dreaming

Steiner is one of the few more modern teachers to emphasise the usefulness and validity of Ordinary dreaming…………

How to Know Higher Worlds – Rudolf Steiner
We cannot perceive anything in our waking state because the [spiritual] impressions made upon us in that state are weak.  The reason for this is similar to why we do not see the stars by day.  Namely, their light is too weak when compared with the powerful light of the sun.  In the same way, the weaker impressions of the spiritual world count for very little when compared to the powerful impressions of the physical senses.
When the doors of the outer senses are closed during sleep, these impressions from the spiritual world light up at random.  As they do, so we then become, as dreamers, aware of experiences in the other world. 
At first, of course, these experiences consist of no more than what the sense bound mind imprints on the spiritual world….. But our dreams [after some time] lose their meaningless, disorderly and disconnected character and begin to form an increasingly regular, lawful and coherent world.  As we evolve further, this new dream born world not only becomes equal of outer sensory reality with regard to inner truth, but also reveals facts depicting, in the full sense of the word, a higher reality

Steiner understood the importance of cutting down on our objectives and obligations and becoming more introspective,  but on the whole he was not too prescriptive about how it should be achieved.

Steiner Litle Yarra school

How to Know Higher Worlds – Rudolf Steiner
This consists in our learning to surrender ourselves less and less to the impressions of the outer world and develop instead an active inner life.  If we chase after amusements and rush from one sense impression to the next, we will not find the way to esoteric knowledge.  Not that .. students should become dull or unfeeling toward the outer world; rather, a rich inner life should orient us in responding to impressions.

Steiner’s is a good system.  It is kind and workable, capable of being sustained, but it is very short of prescriptive descriptions.  He understood the aims and the mechanisms, and he is good on the ‘what’ but not very good on the ‘how’.  And at 350 volumes, reading up on what he said and did is a lifetime’s work.

Newcastle waldorf school

For example, dreaming is good – but how do you dream productively, how can you tell a learning dream from a memory formation dream?  The Steiner schools should help, but for those who want to forge their own path, this may not be what they want, for those willing to immerse themselves in one philosophy it is a very good option.

I have done my best to distill his ideas on this site, but there is inevitably going to be something I have missed.

References

Readers of the Berkshire Record have voted Great Barrington
Rudolf Steiner School (GBRSS) the best school in the Berkshires

The more than 350 volumes of Steiner's collected works include about forty volumes containing his writings as well as over 6000 lectures.   Steiner's collected works include books, essays, plays ('mystery dramas'), mantric verse and an autobiography.

His collected lectures make up another approximately 300 volumes.  Notable books include: 

 

 

  • Philosophy of Freedom (1893) (also translated as Philosophy of Spiritual Activity): his chief philosophical work.
  • Theosophy: An Introduction (1904), in which he sets forth his ideas of the body-soul-spirit constitution of the human being, reincarnation, and the unity of the spiritual and sense-perceptible ("as two sides of a single coin").
  • Knowledge of Higher Worlds (1904/5), in which he describes his conception of a path of spiritual development, detailing many principles of life (openness, positivity, respect for others), spiritual exercises (control of thought and will, directed imaginations) and experiences likely to arise on this path (trials and spiritual perceptions).
  •  
    An Outline of Esoteric Science (1910), in which he describes a vast panorama of cosmic evolution, the spiritual hierarchies that guide this evolution, and the path of spiritual development that leads to such perceptions.
  • Truth and Knowledge doctoral thesis, (1892)
  • Mysticism at the Dawn of Modern Age (1901/1925)
  • Cosmic Memory: Prehistory of Earth and Man (1904)
  • How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation (1904-5)
  • The Education of the Child, (1907)
  • Four Mystery Dramas (1913)
  • The Renewal of the Social Organism (1919)
  • Reordering of Society: The Fundamental Social Law (1919) (article)
  • Fundamentals of Therapy: An Extension of the Art of Healing Through Spiritual Knowledge (1925)
  • The Story of my Life (1924-5) (autobiography)
  • Nature Spirits – collected lectures on the topic

Observations

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