an alternative introduction to Steiner’s

Anthroposophy  (a fragment)

by Joel A. Wendt

An assumption of this “introduction” is that the reader is perhaps or about to become familiar with the existing (in its current edition) material already introducing this book.  All the same, that will not always be the case, and therefore the reader of this may want to downplay the material below reflecting on those writings, until such time as they have read them.  Other material below still may be useful.


I have recently begun* a belated study of Steiner’s Anthroposophy (a fragment).  I write “belated” because, while I had been hearing whispered rumors for years, I had not thought it important, being just one more writing or lecture cycle among hundreds of others, concerning which I had little time or interest in pursuing.   In a way this was a good, because I was not yet properly prepared - not yet ripe ... earlier in my life I would not have seen its real value.

*[I expect this study to last the rest of my life, should I be able to remain incarnate - I am  70 as I write this.  At the same time, via my own introspective activity I had already been incidentally studying the related experiences in my own organism - just not with the aide of Steiner’s much deeper experience and guidance as contained in this book.]

Right from the beginning of opening the book I was troubled by the Introduction by Dr. James A. Dyson and the Forward by Robert Sardello.  This says nothing against their considerable expertise in their fields of interest - the problem (as it were) is more subtle.   If I may borrow an idea from Owen Barfield’s remarkable book: What Coleridge Thought:

Barfield, in writing on Coleridge, found himself faced with a wealth of work by others, most of which he apparently tried to read.   After doing so he came to a rather interesting conclusion, suggesting that each author had discovered that Coleridge already supported what they themselves thought.  This was particularly disturbing because many of these authors had so little themselves in common.  Among each other they frequently disagreed (often with great passion and certainty), so how was it that they could each find support for their highly individualized views in one author?  Was Coleridge so universal that his thought supported all ways of seeing?

Such was not credible to Barfield’s thinking, such that he eventually came to appreciate that each writer could only see in Coleridge’s seeming universality a mirror of their own inclinations, - but not yet Coleridge himself.  I believe the same is true here of Dyson and Sardello - they see reflected, in this work of Steiner’s, confirmation of and linkages to their own specialty, - but not actually what Steiner was trying to convey.

How could this be so?

The roots of this failure of cognitive perception go deep into anthroposophical culture, where the study, by anthroposophists of Steiner’s earliest works (GA 2, 3, and 4) on the problem of knowledge, has not grasped what Steiner wished there to convey.  Mostly folks study these books in the same way they study almost all books (A Theory of Knowledge Implicit In Goethe’s World Conception; Truth and Knowledge; and The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity).  Unfortunately the usual way of studying books is not the Way of Study that Steiner wanted to encourage.

What Steiner hoped for was that these books would serve as a guide for the study of the own mind (or soul).  The subtitle for The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity was: some results of introspection following the methods of natural science.  Another way to render the German term translated as introspection is: soul observation.  Many of the sentences in these books are meant to turn the reader to their own self-observation in order to understand the subject under discussion.  If we are not self-observing our own inwardness in the moment of reading we will have no practical and exact idea of that toward which Steiner is pointing.  Only our direct experience, and the resulting knowledge of our own soul, can illuminate the essential material in these three books.

The books are a map, and the actual territory is our own soul or mind.

To repeat: All that is to be learned and understood, when traveling in this territory, is not contained in the books themselves.  The scientific reality of the own soul cannot be communicated by being described - it can only be directly experienced, and then thought.

There is also the problem that might be called: the failing to see the actual phenomena, or as described in some places in anthroposophical literature, where this same erroneous journey in true thinking is noticed, this is called the problem of: the pre-thought thought (Kuhlewind and Scaligero).  Our journey in our own soul/mind must lead us to appreciating that if we bring a ready-made idea or concept to the experience, we will not actually have the needed experience at all.  The experience (the phenomena - the percept) must come first in time.  The act of cognition (the creation of the concept - the thought - belonging to the experience) comes second*.

*[This general rule is violated during moments of actual supersensible perception, where the experience (percept) and the thought (concept) arrive simultaneously before and in the ego.   This is discussed in detail in the 3rd note at the end of the 1924 edition of GA 2.]

Very few anthroposophists have made this journey into the phenomena of the mind or soul (particularly not our leading lights such as: the members of the Vorstand, or the leaders of the Sections of the School, or the heads of the Councils in America).  Most bring to their self observation what they already think they know (their beliefs) through their reading*.  They take the meaning of the words on the page of the text, and believe that this meaning (which they have manufactured or interpreted themselves) will illuminate the experience.   The cart then is very much before the horse.

*[To someone awake here, in this new (living) thinking, its absence in others is fairly obvious given that if we do know what can be known in this realm, we end up thinking and writing in a entirely different way - especially in the sense of being far more reliant on our own thinking, and finding it less a necessity to endlessly quote Steiner.  The speech and writing of others, to the living thinking perception, bears an analogous relationship to what is observed when we place a magnet underneath a piece of paper on which rests some iron filings.   The field of the magnet organizes the iron filings.   In a similar way, the writing and speech of those who have not made the journey into living thinking reveals its absence - its presence would evoke in the living thinking perception of this writing and speech a pattern revealing the presence of the New Thinking.  In fact, a great deal of detail concerning modes of thinking and moods of emotion is latent in the writing and speech of others, all in accord with Steiner’s indications in a fragment on the senses and their perception of others.  Keep in mind that everyone is also individual (unique), so the patterns too are individual, although ofter bearing similar characteristics.]

It is no wonder then that Dyson and Sardello find in Anthroposophy (a fragment) something that fits in with the world of knowledge they have already acquired in the normal course of becoming adept in the specialty of their own choice.   They find support for what they already think (as in believe) they know. 

That said, Anthroposophy (a fragment) is still quite impressive, whatever individual response it evokes.  We are drawn toward it like a great illuminating flame, but without previously having made the journey into the territory of the mind, based on GA 2, 3, and 4, we will not always know what to actually do with this text.   We will still be tempted to see the text as the thing in itself.  The tendency then will be to try to rearrange the elaborate structure of concepts in our own mind (our individual world view) in accord with the new concepts seemingly being provided by the text, never realizing that the whole point is not the concepts evoked there via the pages of the text, but instead the experiences being pointed toward by the text - experiences which lie within our own organism.

If we have made the previous journey into the depths of real Anthroposophy (Anthroposophy is a path of cognition from the spirit in man to the Spirit in the Universe - first sentence first leading thought) [emphasis added, ed], we will know that this book, which Steiner attempted to write slightly over two seven year periods after The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, was intended to deepen our appreciation of this path - the path of Anthroposophy (thus this name for a fragment) - of scientific introspection or soul observation.

Our previous studies on this path will have taught us much about our inwardness.   Among them we will have learned the importance of sacrifice of thoughts.

Through the practice of sacrifice of thoughts (an inward moral intuition of how to create conceptions out of the formless state of consciousness prior to and during pure experience), we will know not to bring our world view with us as so much conceptual baggage (Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven).   Making the content of Anthroposophy (a fragment) fit our preexisting world view (or any other world view) is to totally miss the point of that book.

The efforts of Dyson and Sardello are nonetheless of value, for they show that deep questions of the kind that are important to modern studies of consciousness and soul life are in many places being explored and can appear to be related to a fragment.  What Dyson and Sardello do not yet seem to understand (along with most of anthroposophical culture) is how deeply embedded and ingrained materialism is in modern life.  The best non-Steiner source for such understanding is the work of Owen Barfield*, which provides us with the knowledge that most of our words can only mean what materialism assumes.   These implicit meanings then form a trap for those working in the related fields toward which Dyson and Sardello point.

*[Read Barfield’s History, Guilt and Habit for a penetrating discussion of the normative state of mind in the present - we can hardly think outside materialism, it is so pervasive even in the detailed meanings of most of the words we use to write and think with (in the mode of discursive thinking).  Only by beginning to awaken the will-in-thinking can we start to find our way out of the prison of materialism.]

Dyson falls into this trap when he describes (erroneously) Steiner as a cognitive scientist.  The modern cognitive scientists (unless they wander into the problematic - supposedly highly subjective - field of qualia) are by and large complete materialists and all their thinking is confined to the assumptions that consciousness and self consciousness are causally rooted in the material brain, and arose during long periods of purely material evolution.   Thinking, enchanted by these materialistic concepts, is not free to engage the actual experience of pure soul observation pointed toward by Steiner in GA 2 (1886), 3 (1892), and 4 (1894), as well as Anthroposophy (a fragment) (1910).

The publisher’s (in their forward) of Anthroposophy (a fragment) fall into a similar trap, when they describe Steiner’s cognitive views as a theory (Dyson has done this as well: ... “in Steiner’s theories of cognitive science and developmental psychology”).  This happens when the publisher’s forward is giving us a portion of a relevant lecture from Steiner’s The Boundaries of Natural Science (lecture seven).   In this forward to ...  a fragment ... we read: “... I attempted to clothe what can be called a theory of the human senses.”.   In Boundaries ... the same sentence uses the term science instead of theory.  Both books are from the same publisher (Anthroposophic Press), albeit with different translators.

These slips of the thinking-tongue (via discursive thinking) seem subtle and perhaps not important until we realize that in modern day science a “theory” is not empirical - that is it is not based on direct experience, observation, logical thinking and experiment.  A theory is trans-empirical and mostly a creature of the fancy.  All of Steiner’s works are quite scientific in the sense of being fully empirical and are not an effort to manufacture an Idol (Barfield) - by turning all sense experience into a thing, with a non-phenomenological theoretically (fancied) causal explanation behind the appearances of experience.

Sardello does appear to grasp the main point I am making above, when he writes: “The aim is not to interpret what is said, but to enter into it, to simultaneously enter into the activity of the sense and life processes themselves.”.  This would be fine except for the fact that Sardello then goes on to describe over and over again various ways Steiner has expressed his guidance for our observations, without Sardello ever suggesting that he has made these journeys himself and has anything to report from such personal investigations of his own soul life.  Sardello gives us a lot of Steiner-said, and almost nothing of what he has himself learned and thought.

He does suggest what he calls three levels of meditative training: extended concentration on bodily life as spirit-revelation;  focusing on what can be known of the soul by observation alone; and, focusing on the edges of soul life, where it meets spirit life.  Worthy goals, but again only the goals are stated, with no results of such meditative training being reported.

Sardello, making his living apparently by operating a School of Spiritual Psychology (with high cost courses being offered), seems to find in a fragment support for the existence of that School, but is not quite able to point to what happens if we do enter into the senses and life processes in the way Steiner and now Sardello (seemingly) suggests.  What happened to the path?  Who has traveled it, and what can they add to or confirm about what Anthroposophy (a fragment) contains?  I guess we have to have the time and money to take Sardello’s courses to find that out.

Above I remarked that: Very few anthroposophists have made this journey [via GA 2, 3, and 4] into the phenomena of the mind or soul.  Most bring to their self-observation what they already think they know (their beliefs) through their reading.  They take the meaning of the words on the page of the text, and believe that this meaning (which they have manufactured or interpreted themselves) will illuminate the experience.   The cart then is very much before the horse.

The reader should wonder what is my justification for making this statement.  I could refer to my writing on the subject, such as (but not limited to) Living Thinking in Action and American Anthroposophy, but more is here required.

In my most recent book: The Art of God, I point out certain results of my own introspective activity which discovers multiple modes of thinking, including but not limited to: figuration, reflection, theorizing (Barfield), pure, organic, discursive, associative, comparative, hot, cold, picture, abstract, concrete, thinking-about, thinking-with, thinking-within and thinking-as.  When combined with a variety of emotional moods (modes plus moods), we have then the causal element of the many different processes by which human beings develop and then express their thoughts.

No doubt these modes and moods are reflections in the mind element of the soul, where our thinking is sufficiently transparent to our own I, of the senses and the life processes, but in order to make such connections in a concrete fashion I will have to spend some considerable time on such a study.

I also discuss in Living Thinking in Action (and elsewhere) the nature of the will-in-thinking that appears to our inner experience as attention and intention.  Attention is seen in noticing and directing the will upon that which the I focuses its thinking activity - on what are the objects of our subjectivity; while the intention is the self-determined moral purpose inhabiting and directing this attention.  This intention can be fully conscious, completely unconscious (thoughtless) or some variation in between.

My introspective studies have also discovered the existence of a Second Eucharist in the Ethereal to accompany the now ongoing Second Coming of Christ.

Given that my experience is that Anthroposophy (a fragment) is the logical and natural extension of GA 2, 3, and 4, it remains then for those who have discovered living thinking to apply that in practice according to the indications made there concerning how to go about observing the 10 senses, the two boundaries (upper and lower) to those senses (for a total of 12), and the seven life processes.  However, since anthroposophical culture currently does not appreciate GA 2, 3, and 4 in the right way, what truly lives potential in Anthroposophy (a fragment) may unfortunately remain an unexperienced mystery for a long long time. 

The danger is that this understanding of the real anthroposophical path will be lost to the present, and as Barfield wrote in the magazine Towards some years ago - Steiner’s works may go the way of Aristotle’s, such that a thousand or more years will pass before humanity is able to benefit from that work.

I personally would be surprised to have enough time to engage fully in those journeys myself, although now that I have understood this potential of a fragment I will devote as much time to this quest as is available from other necessary activities.

I also believe I understand Steiner’s problem in developing this work fully and making it then available: his students were simply not ready, having by 1910 already failed to take up GA 2, 3, and 4 in the right way.  He admits to having some personal limit here and struggles (multiple changes of text) with his modes of expression.   The spirit hidden in the senses and the life processes resists opening up to his investigations and his purposes.  This research is after all basically a love affair, and we would not be too wide of the mark to see in this reluctance a vulnerability within the object of his affections (the being-reality of the senses and the life processes).  To do spiritual research is to have a desire to know, and delicate and subtle is the process by which the being-nature of what is so intimate to us, is also intimate to that which has created us.

For example, Steiner uses this term for much of the later parts of his discussion: presumed outer entity.   Something besides our own I is involved in the dynamics he wants to help reveal to our experience.  The I (my words) is inside the Divine Mystery, and in the senses and the life processes the interconnecting boundary conditions are expressed within and between our own being and the Beings of the Spiritual Worlds.   The Word lives there in these boundary conditions, and as well deeply inside our own I.  We presume the outer entity as different from us, but that is not necessarily the reality - it is very likely not different in its core essence.

It is then not enough to want to meditate upon the senses and the life process, as if they were an object over-there in the same way a material object lies across the room from us which we experience as a thing.  What is called for is the most intimate communion possible.  Let me end this then with an expression of my own contemplative processes, to give one example of how we might then explore what lies before us in the senses and the life processes in the properly respectful* way.

*[Steiner was trapped in a kind of odd situation.  His readers and listeners were still deeply into the Intellectual Soul, not the Consciousness Soul.  I suspect his struggle with language in the forms of expression of Anthroposophy (a fragment) had a lot to do with this problem - a problem of respect and love and intimacy between our I and the being-nature of the reality of the spirit, for which true intercourse the Intellectual Soul was still too distant.]

From my own practice:

Take a sitting position that is comfortable, and concerning which the outer sense impressions from our surroundings are the least interfering and intrusive.  The best time is actually in the neighborhood of 3 a.m. (which is no doubt why Catholic orders often begin their day at that time), when the liver function wakes us for a moment as it changes in its 12 hour rhythm from one kind of dynamic process to its polar opposite.   3 p.m. works as well, but usually the environment contains too much sound.

Begin with prayer.   Pray can and should include simply talking out loud to God (see Christ’s advice about prayer in the Sermon on the Mount: ”...when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you”).   We need to unburden ourselves - that is admit our most intimate troubles to God.  If we put questions out loud to the Divine at this time, our angel will speak inwardly (yet very quietly) almost simultaneously with our questions - as representatives of the Father angels already know our most intimate secrets.  What we seek here is to create an emotional  mood (a cultivated feeling).  The Lord’s Prayer is also helpful here (following the unburdening), after which I include a prayer of gratitude to all the Beings that make our life possible (these are not I prayers - these are we prayers: we say “Our Father ...”).   Generally then I follow with the Prologue (the first 14 verses) to the John Gospel - all said out loud.

Next we surrender.  This is after all a love affair.  We let ourselves become vulnerable to the Divine.  We even go so far as to be ready to die.  We become willing to give all that we are back to the Divine.  Nothing is to be held back.

While we may have an agenda (wanting to explore the senses and the life processes directly to our own experience), even this agenda must be sacrificed.  The Divine knows us better than we know ourselves (all our past and future lives, for example), and what is important in this moment of prayer and meditation (contemplation - communion) may not be our pre-conceived agenda. 

If this moment passes without something unanticipated becoming important, we may next then explore the senses and the life processes as they appear to our own experience.   It will have been necessary before this to read carefully Anthroposophy (a fragment), and to lay into our memory for the guidance of our attention and intention some concrete phrase from this book - the hint we are going to follow.   We should also be systematic (follow the order of the text), given that Steiner presented this material very systematically.

In a practical sense this is done by focusing the attention on the object of observation - the sense or life process to be experienced.  In the beginning this is not easy.  Ordinarily we are aware of all the bodily pains that affect our consciousness.  This toe hurts, that ear itches.  The purpose of the cultivated mood is let the consciousness of the attention of the I move freely among the total experiences of our organism during this moment of prayer and meditation/contemplation/communion.

All these sensations will be distracting, but it is precisely these manifold sensations that call out  to us.   If we have a particular pain, we need to learn to breath through it.    We let the intention and attention focus on the pain and imagine that area of our bodily organism in breath-like movement.  As we do this our consciousness moves into the general field of bodily awareness, including the senses and the life processes.   We are relaxing, and nearing the threshold of sleep (which is also the threshold to the spiritual world).

With our attention we explore the full complex field of bodily sensations which include sense impressions and life processes.   The map to this process of exploration is unfolded carefully by Steiner’s elaborations of this material in the text of a fragment.  Over time the ability of our attention to more and more focus on single aspects of the totality of experiences will deepen.  As our attention learns to focus more exactly and precisely on these experiences, then thought will arise almost spontaneously.   We start to freely create cognitions of the experiences, keeping in mind that the map contained in a fragment is not the actual territory of our experience.

Let me give a simple example, from my own recent work with a fragment.  Deep in meditation, with the eyes closed, I briefly opened my eyes, then instantly closed them and noted the immediate impression made.   This sudden experience of the sense of sight was highly instructive.  My inner I reached out, and simultaneously the outer world reached in.   The two gestures crossed.  Keep in mind that this is not about rearranging my concepts, but rather of generating experiences that then teach me matters I would otherwise not come to know.

It is important that we start where Steiner started, just as we are to learn to do with GA 2, 3, and 4.  We are following where Steiner himself went, and with GA 2, 3, and 4 we have worked (or are working) with the problem of knowledge itself.   This does not mean we can’t read the whole text a fragment before hand (several times in fact - given Steiner’s admonition to read one book 50 times instead of fifty books once).  Yet, when it comes time to contemplate and commune with actual experiences of the senses and of the life processes, it is important to take the path exactly  as Steiner describes it in Anthroposophy (a fragment) - one careful step at a time.

Start simply and do not hurry.  Expect to take years, for patience and consistency are essential virtues.   Remember: it is a love affair, and the Word lives in these boundary conditions which surround the I and out of which the I itself has been made.  Also remember it is a path.

What happens in that moment of communion, precipitated by the cultivated mood of prayer, and in accord with the mode of thinking we are awake to, is what happens.   There is no goal - we don’t arrive anywhere - we aren’t going anywhere.   There is only the path - the moment, the now, the event*.

*[This term: the event is a way of approaching the now, the moment, as described by some French post-modernists.]

With GA 2, 3, and 4, and now Anthroposophy (a fragment), Steiner has given us the path he discovered and then followed.   The first three books reveal what he discovered about the problem of knowledge, and the fragment takes us into where he began his spiritual research.   Since people were not taking up GA 2, 3, and 4 in the right way, he gave us Knowledge of Higher Worlds as a kind of updated Rosicrucian initiation method.  But that was not the road he himself traveled, and is not real Anthroposophy (as a path).

Steiner’s research involved the surrender and descent of his I consciousness into his own organism, and into that organism’s relationship with the surrounding spiritual environment.  We learn of the macrocosm through the narrow gate of the microcosm.  Anthroposophy is not traditional Rosicrucian practices, but something entirely new in the evolution of humanity.  Nor is Anthroposophy the content of Steiner’s spiritual research, which he labeled Spiritual Science.

Anthroposophy is the path of cognition from the spirit in the human being to the Spirit in the Universe - from and through the conscious descent of the I (the spirit in the human being) into the microcosm (the own organism) as the gateway to the Macrocosm (the Spirit in the Universe).  Anthroposophy (a fragment) is the next step following the preliminary work: one’s practical appreciation of our understanding of the problem of knowledge itself in the sense of creativity and freedom.  We read and then practice a fragment having become knowing doers (to borrow from The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity).

Out of this encounter with the experiences of the senses and the life processes the map of a fragment provides for us, we learn what we are able to learn on the path that is Anthroposophy.   Once more: we don’t arrive anywhere - we just travel the path.  Anyone can do this.

We will also discover that practice, of the kind described as prayer and meditation (etc.), plays over into moments of daily life.   While we still need to keep to the daily tasks of our biographical existence, there will be pauses - moments of rest, where we can step away from the demands of life, and turn inward for a moment, renewing in that moment our connect to the path.

Steiner has advised not to mix the two - the meditative/contemplative life needs to be keep separate from the so-called ordinary life, otherwise our intention and attention is not properly focused on the tasks of the biography.  We are not to act in the world in this state of descent into the organism, otherwise grave harm will be the result. Where soul-skills arise as permanent fixtures of our I’s unfolding new capacities, these will naturally inform the ordinary life in the biography.  Yet...

The path is like an ever renewing spring from which encounter, with the spirit via our deepening connection to our own organism, will bring alive all manner of new capacities for dealing with life itself.  The path is private and what goes on between ourselves and others in the biography is done in service to them, not as part of our own self development.  On the path  we are a bit selfish (as is necessary), while in life being selfish is clearly not what is needed of us.

We study the senses, and our sense observations of the other - the Thou - will be enriched.  Our desires to help others will be invigorated.  We study the life processes and our ability to appreciate all human existence will also improve.   We will see (as in think) more deeply and clearly into all that surrounds us.   The path is the spiritual ground on which we stand in life and life is the purpose which the path serves.  At the same time they are not the same ... if we are always drinking from the spiritual spring that is the path we become entirely unsuited for life (useless to others).

Practice is one thing, and application another.   We get a hint of this already in The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity where Steiner distinguished our moral life into three parts: moral imagination, moral intuition and moral technique.  Moral technique is application, and is an entirely different cognitive process from practice, during which we sharpen our skills in using moral imagination to lead to the  moral intuition that is needed for the biography.

Yet, this can occur in a moment.  Something happens, we pause inwardly (our attention leaves the biography for a brief moment),  discover and create the moral intuition, and then take up the task of technique or application.   We are inwardly directed in the first aspect of this process, and then outwardly directed in the second aspect of this process.   The impulse for the first (the need for moral action) comes from the outside inward (through the senses), while the impulse for the second (moral intuition incarnating  through and into  moral technique) goes from the inside outward (through the life processes leading to physical action) - crossing each other ... Barfield’s final participation - the re-ensoulment of things and the acknowledgement of their Thou reality through our own activity of will (again, see History, Guilt and Habit).

Or, Anthroposophy (a fragment), as humorous verse:

it matters to me

for matter to be

and that I

to matter

do matter