Up and Walking
"The Ego can rise." - Rudolf Steiner
Rudolf Steiner's most prodiguous feat was to stand up and walk, he told. His biography also reflects how. His spirit science teaches how to develop in many areas.
In psychoanalytic thinking, the ego is an integral part of yourself. Your egohood is your sense of "I". Better try to make it serve you through much and savoury realism, and preserve the freedom you have. A decent ego ("I"-sense) should be tended to; thereby skills may develop. Steiner's views on how to do it can work well. Realism is aligned to the "I" also.
One spring day in 1860, the autocratic Hungarian Count Hoyos, who owned several large estates in Austria, dismissed his game-keeper Johannes Steiner, because Steiner wanted to marry Franziska Blie, one of the count's many housemaids. Johannes Steiner had to look for another occupation, and became a trainee telegraphist and signalman by the recently opened Austrian Southern Railway. He was given his first job in an out-of-the-way request stop called Kraljevic (now Croatia), and there his first child, Rudolf, arrived on February 27 1861. According to some it was about 11.14 p.m.
The sickly child was taken at once for an emergency baptism in the neighbouring village of Draskovec, and the entry still can be read as of one Rudolfus Josephus Laurentius Steiner. "Thus it happened," Rudolf Steiner writes in his autobiography, "that the place of my birth is far removed from the region where I come from."
In later life Steiner frequently made the point that the most prodigious feat any human achieves at any time is accomplished by him in the first two or three years of his life, when he lifts his body into the upright position and learns to move it in perfect balance through space, when he forms a vital part of his organism into an instrument of speech and when he begins to handle and indeed to fashion his brain as a vehicle for thought. In other words: when the child asserts his human qualities.
This initial achievement of the boy Rudolf took place on the outskirts of a vast plain, the Puszta, where fields of maize and potatoes extend in every direction interspersed by lines of tall poplars flanking straight roads domed over by the high and blue Puszta sky. That's where the boy Rudolf learned to stand, to walk, to speak and to think, "in the simplest circumstances in order that nothing should impede his perfect unfolding."
When the boy was two years old the family moved into "the Burgenland" that comprises the foothills of the eastern Alps. It is one of the most idyllic parts of Austria. It takes its name from many Burgen, castles, which had been built on nearly every hill throughout history.
Father Steiner was moved as stationmaster to several small stations south of Vienna, so that the eldest son was able to attend good schools as a day student, and finally in 1879 could matriculate at the Technical University of Vienna. It was one of the most advanced scientific institutions of the world at the time. Rudolf had to support himself by means of scholarships and tutoring.
In his first year at the University, while Rudolf Steiner still was an undergraduate, on the train he often met a herb-gatherer who understood the language of plants: they told him what sicknesses they could heal. The herb-gatherer was also able to listen to the speech of the minerals: they told him of the natural history of our planet and of the Universe. Later Steiner immortalised the herb-gatherer in his Mystery Dramas, in the figure of "Father Felix." "Father Felix" was instrumental in bringing Steiner together with a still more important and mysterious personality.
"Felix was only the intermediary for another personality," Steiner tells us in his autobiography. "This excellent man was as undistinguished in his daily job as was Felix."
At the same time another very consequential relationship developed too. The Technical University of Vienna provided a chair for German literature, which was held by Karl Julius Schröer, a great Goethe enthusiast. Schröer anticipated that Rudolf Steiner might be capable of doing some original research in Goethe's scientific writings. Steiner was then twenty-one years old.
The young Steiner wrote introductions and explanatory notes to the many volumes of Goethe's scientific works while he was poor. The family lived in two rooms. In a part of one of them the young Steiner worked as in a monk's cell. A Viennese celebrity of the time refers to him as one "who looked like a half-starved student of theology."
This first literary success led to Steiner's call to the central Goethe Archives at Weimar. Despite his youth he now became one of the editors of the great Standard Edition (Sophien Ausgabe) of Goethe's Complete Works. His occupation with Goethe lasted for seven years in Weimar, from 1889 to 1896, and had a profound effect on Steiner's philosophical awareness.
During these years Steiner's fundamental philosophical works were conceived and written. In 1886 he published An Epistemology of Goethe's World Conception. In 1891 his small concentrated thesis on Truth and Science earned him his Ph.D. During this period Steiner also carried many ideas into the field of ethics. His book The Philosophy of Freedom summed up the ideas he had formed to deal with the riddles of existence that had so far dominated his life.
In the 1890s Steiner began to be looked upon in Germany as "the coming philosopher." Then, in 1897 Steiner moved to Berlin to serve as editor of the weekly Das Magazin für Litteratur, founded in 1832. He wrote the leading article and the dramatic reviews, occupying in Berlin a position somewhat similar to that of George Bernard Shaw (who was five years his senior). This assignment brought Steiner into contact with the intellectual and artistic elite of Berlin at the time, in an exciting and often amusing period.
Hankering gives feelings, and many feelings crystallise into ideas, wright or rong -
The further away "things" are - in time, in space, in culture - the more difficult they may be to ascertain. So when Rudolf Steiner and others repeatedly say there was a Lemuria, an Atlantis, and describe these continents, it might be wise to hold on to: "Maybe yes, maybe no, but what do I know?" The rule of the thumb: "The farther away, the harder to find out of and verify."
Keeping it well in mind through speeches of alleged, lost continents of Hyperborea, Lemuria, and Atlantis and so on means refraining from believing foolishly, and it is for our own good, eventually [Kalama Sutta].
In Berlin, Steiner seemed willing to speak to any group, but after 1899 he started to give talks regularly to the members of the Theosophical Society, and became head of its German Section in 1902. Now he estranged himself from the other groups. The German Section grew rapidly under Steiner's leadership.
By 1904, Steiner was appointed by the Theosophy leader Annie Besant to be leader of an Esoteric School for Germany and Austria. Steiner made it clear that this school would teach a Western spiritual path harmonious with other Theosophical paths. Yet at the Theosophical Congress in Munich in 1907 – organized by Steiner – its focus on artistic expression was a sharp departure from Helena Blavatsky's Theosophy. A great portion of the old members of the Theosophical Society from various European countries were not pleased with it.
Steiner's lectured on. From 1909 and onwards he spoke well of Christianity - the way he saw it. Helena Blavatsky on the other hand had been somewhat hostile against Christianity. The relationship between the Theosophical Society and its remaining German section became increasingly strained as new strains of Steiner's teaching became apparent. Steiner was a popular lecturer, and was active in Switzerland, Holland, Norway, Austria and other countries. Besant tried to restrict him, but to no avail. At the end of 1912 most German-speaking Theosophists broke away to found a new Anthroposophical Society, as a result of growing tensions. Steiner was at the head of it.
Steiner, for years the head of the German Section of the Theosophical movement, later claimed that he never had considered himself to be part of the Theosophical movement [!] and claimed he had been completely independent of philosophical thought and esoteric teachings from the Theosophical Society's esoteric path, and that the Theosophical Society for years had been marked by oppressive narrowness - so that it was a great relief for him to be excluded!
This Steiner claim is marred by the many correspondences between his teachings and many of Blavatsky's - of outlooks, terms, and approaches to this and that. The basic structural skeletons of Steiner's cosmology and of his description of the human being as composed of various physical and spiritual aspects are based on Blavatsky's schema, and he acknowledged his debt to it too. Steiner's elaborations of these (in his Theosophy and Outline of Esoteric Science) diverge from other theosophical presentations in style and in substance, though.
Who was Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), who Steiner owed so much to, and what was the Theosophical Society that she co-founded in 1875 to advance certain spiritual principles and brotherhood among humans, and search for Truth?
The Theosophical Society was founded in New York City in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who formally became a Buddhist in 1880; Henry Steel Olcott, who formally became a Buddhist in 1880, he too - and who noted that they had previously declared themselves Buddhists while still living in America. William Quan Judge and others took part in founding the Society too.
Blavatsky posited that humanity had descended from a series of non-human "Root Races". The first humans were pure spirit, in the second they were sexless, in the third they were sexually reproducing giants in Lemuria, and so on. Blavatsky named the fifth root race - of seven - the Aryan race. The idea was that each new Root Race was more evolved than the previous one. Great evidence of Helleboreans, Lemurians, and Atlants - such root races - has not been forthcoming. Helena believed that the Aryans originally developed on the continent of Atlantis - and that Aryans (most modern humans) would eventually be superseded by a more spiritual Root Race, the sixth, to develop on a reemerging Lemuria.
Blavatsky - and the Theosophical Society in her time - also said there exists a Spiritual Hierarchy that seeks to help humanity in evolving. Planets, solar systems, galaxies, and the cosmos itself are regarded as conscious entities. Spiritual units of consciousness may manifest as angels, human beings or in various other forms, and humans and others reincarnate. Blavatsky also teaches the human soul has seven constituents, and the material body is one of its interpenetrating "sheets". Within the gross body are more energy-like envelopes of the soul, it is taught. Thus:
The so-called New Age movement was to a considerable extent derived from teachings of Blavatsky, and also Alice Bailey, who channelled a series of books from a Tibetan. She said that most of her wide-ranging works had been telepathically dictated to her by a "Master of the Wisdom", initially referred to only as "the Tibetan", "Djwhal Khul." Her writings were influenced by the works of Helena Blavatsky and have much in common with them, and the same goes for works and several basic outlooks of Steiner.
After Blavatsky's death in 1891, the society underwent schisms. Steiner's Anthroposopical Movement is a result of one of them.
Things Steiner teaches
From 1890 to 1897, at the Goethe and Schiller Archives in Weimar, Steiner was engaged in editing virtually the whole of Goethe's scientific writings. During this period he also took his Ph.D. at Rostock University. The initiate of Rosicrucian esotericism, the Goethe-studied Steiner, also became personally attracted to the camp of the dogmatic naturalist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) a philosopher of Monism who taught that the universe is a differentiation of a single type of substance. Steiner wrote in a letter of 1907 that there was "no better scientific foundation to esotericism than Haeckel's teaching". However, even though Steiner valued Haeckel's work in several contexts, and Haeckel's efforts in general, he did not subscribe to all of Haeckel's views. In a preface to his book An Outline of Esoteric Science Steiner wrote it was possible to appreciate Haeckel without agreeing with him.
Rudolf Steiner had begun to operate from pure thought, and thereby detected living thoughts filling the Universe, he tells. Thereby Steiner was bent on putting force and life into thinking, through thinking, within thinking [!]. His basic philosophic works, especially the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, and many exercises he devised, are directed to strengthen the thinking faculties in man till thinking works itself on and up and gets free from the brain system. [!] This is called a most disturbing experience.
Its consequence is a condition which Steiner describes thus: "Thinking itself becomes a body which draws into itself as its soul the Spirit of the Universe."
After reaching this stage of "independent thinking", Steiner discovered that this "living thinking" could awaken parts of him from "above". Thought that had risen into subtility, could even impart life to a dormant spiritual perception in Steiner, his claim was. From about 1900 Steiner began to pursue this path with determination, and gradually came to discern three forms of higher knowledge:
Equipped with a view of imagination, inspiration, and intuition, Steiner developed a substantial body of spiritual and practical knowledge up to his death in 1925. He gave it the name "Anthroposophy". Anthroposophy literally means wisdom of man or the wisdom about man. In his later years, however, Steiner also interpreted it on occasion as "an adequate consciousness of being human".
One of the first things Steiner did after the rocky relationship with Anne Besant had stranded in 1913, was to build a temple for his new movement in Dornach, Switzerland. When the First World War ended, his greatest popularity came. He launched a plan to reconstruct Europe, called The Threefold Commonwealth. An anti-Steiner campaign arose too, and there were at least two attempts on his life. His temple burned to the ground in 1922. After a year, Steiner announced plans for a second temple in Dornach. It is made of concrete.
Steiner's work branched out. The first Steiner school was established in Stuttgart in 1919. Steiner's educational ideas earned him deserved renown. Steiner in time became most famous for his ideas about education, a network of "Steiner Schools," or Waldorf schools. Prolific biodynamic agriculture and gardening come through Steiner too.
Steiner further voiced grave doubts about the growing pace of technological development assisting the great power of short-sighted, debasing materialism.
His work consists of some 170 books and published transcripts of nearly 6,000 lectures, where he kept telling about Atlantis, among many other things.
After many years of intense activity, wearing himself out, he died on March 30, 1925. Along with his public and private lectures and his practical work as a teacher, architect and agriculturalist, Steiner had made himself available to any who needed his counsel - a constant stream of visitors.
Since his death, more than 1,000 schools around the world work with Steiner's pedagogical principles, not to mention the many "special needs" schools, working along lines developed by Steiner. There are also hundreds of 'bio-dynamic' farms that make use of Steiner's agricultural insights, developed decades in advance of our present-day interest in ecology and organic foods.
"What was Rudolf Steiner like? - In the first place there was nothing in the least pompous about him. He never made one feel that he was in any sense extraordinary." - Alfred Heidenreich
Easton, Stewart C. Rudolf Steiner: Herald of a New Epoch. Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1980.
McDermott, Robert, ed. The Essential Steiner: Basic Writings of Rudolf Steiner. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984.
Steiner, Rudolf. The Story of My Life. Edited by H. Collison. New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1928. wn.rsarchive.org/Books/tcoml.index.html
Wachsmuth, G. The Life and Work of Rudolf Steiner from the Turn of the Century to His Death. 2nd ed. New York: Whittier, 1955.
White, Ralph. "The Truth about Rudolf Steiner." The same article with a different heading: "Rudolf Steiner: Neglected Spiritual Genius." Lapis Magazine. 2008. www.newtimes.org/issue/0305/steiner.htm or www.lapismagazine.org/rudolf-steiner-neglected-spiritual-genius-by-ralph-white/
Wikipedia, "Rudolf Steiner," "Waldorf education," "Theosophy," "Theosophical Society," "Helena Blavatsky," "Henry Steel Olcott," "Alice Bailey," and "Djwal Khul".
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