a letter to a young anthroposophist

by Joel A. Wendt

I received an e-mail the other day, from a young anthroposophist.  As I contemplated my answer, I found living in my soul certain ideas and ideals wanting to be pointed out to many such young people.   These then have found expression in this essay.

Here we have a classic situation in a way - the young seeker in her early twenties, asking something from a virtual stranger, who it turns out is passing beyond age 63.  What can be said across such boundaries?  My life, in the sense of most of its experiences, is past.  Not only that, most of what I have experienced will not be something this young person will experience at all.  What I lived in the '50's, '60's, '70's and so forth, for example, during my late teens, twenties and thirties, are not what the young person of today will experience.  The times are vastly different.  What is even more true is that my imagination really can't take hold of the life the young are to live in the next decades.  The beginning of the 21st Century, coupled as it is to the Dawn of the Third Millennium after Christ's Death and Resurrection, will certainly be a time of great change, and great challenge, all joined to the potential for even greater folly.

The author of the e-mail that prompted this essay was responding to a poll I had written over seven years before, and published on the Outlaw Anthroposophy portion of my main website: Shapes in the Fire.  The poll was an addendum to a two essay journal, that I had created and had distributed at an anthroposophical conference in Ann Arbor in the summer of 1997, which journal was called: Outlaw Anthroposophy - the journal.  While the main two essays were quite serious, the poll was a bit tongue-in-cheek, for I wanted to leaven the previous material (the serious essays) with something containing a hint of levity.  Of the dozen or so folks that have responded to the poll over the intervening years, however, most have treated it seriously, as did this young anthroposophist.

This has made me believe my sense of humor is a bit too subtle.

In what follows, this poll should be considered part of the background context; and, for ease of reference I have appended a copy at the end of this essay.

There yet remains the question: does a 63 year old man have something to say to a young anthroposophist?  Well, there would be little point to this essay if I were to answer this question no, so let us assume that such might be possible, and I will indulge myself in what comes next with the writing down of such thoughts and feelings as arise in the soul in contemplation of such a question.

*     *     *

Between 1861 and 1925, Rudolf Steiner lived, mostly in Europe.  He was, by any standard, an unusual man.  The terms genius, great initiate, and scientist of the invisible have been spoken regarding him.  He also has his detractors (see for example: the Waldorf Critics).  He left behind a vast corpus of works: over 30 written books and 6000 lectures, the majority of which were recorded and have since been published.  In addition, he founded, or inspired, several social movements which live on beyond his death: Waldorf Schools, Biodynamic Agriculture, Goethean Science, Camphill Communties, The Christian Community, the Anthroposophical Society (with its international and national groupings),  to name but a few.   Many of those who study his life and works have themselves become quite productive - some rather famous (Saul Bellow, and Owen Barfield, for example).

Many, who take in some of this work (both Steiner's and those who follow his lead), stand in awe of it and for good reason.  I am one who stands in such awe.  The plain fact is that much of what I have been able to accomplish in life, particularly my studies of the social and political aspects of human existence, would not have been possible without Rudolf Steiner's influence and mentoring (as well as the work of many of his students).  I owe him (and them) a great debt, and to honor this debt is (and has been) one of the main motives in much of my work since my late 50's.

At the same time, there is One who stands above us all, and Who cannot be ignored if any sense at all is to be made of Steiner's life, my work, or a great deal else that appears in modern times that is progressive in a spiritual sense.  This is  Christ Jesus.  The natural scientist and the secular humanist may not appreciate this, but those who have had the kinds of direct experiences of Christ, available in the present Age, are forever changed, and can in no way forget to acknowledge that Encounter.

To aid those seeking such an Encounter is the whole point of the modern spiritual work that Steiner created and fostered. Yet, the Anthroposophical Movement, which Steiner founded, has fallen on hard times and fails anymore to promote this possibility, so that it then becomes the unavoidable responsibility of those who understand this to outline, for the younger people who are drawn to Steiner, the realities and complexities of this dilemma.

And, at the same time, we must live our own biographies.  Neither Christ or Steiner mean or want to live our lives, but rather know full well that we must live them and make the choices there to be found.  Whether to seek an Encounter with Christ, or to become a student of Steiner's - these too are choices we must make and for which we must accept responsibility.

What I write here is, as well, my own choice.

History teaches us that spiritual movements often suffer a kind of decay when the founding genius dies.   This is true also of the Church founded on the Rock that was Peter, and defined by the Heart that was Paul.  Everything that is human must endure the forces of the Fall (that is become Earthly), before they can rise again and realize their deepest possibilities.  Such are the rules of existence (including our own biographies), and the Anthroposophical Society and Movement are not free of these same realities.

Anyone who reads the history of the Movement and Society following on the death of Steiner knows this to be the case.

History also teaches that what Falls can become lifeless, and its institutional forms rigid, dogmatic and sectarian.  As the counter to this, individuals arise within such institutions who bring the forces of resurrection - who bring new life and new inspiration.  So it has been with the Church (St Francis, Luther, and so forth), and so it has been with the Anthroposophical Society.

At the same time, these forces of renewal seldom find sure purchase in the main institutional body, which really only tolerates them, for the institution itself becomes more of a home to bureaucrats and theologians (spiritual bean counters and theorists) than it does to true creative genius.  So we can see in the Anthroposophical Society and Movement a succession of personalities that come by, but yet find no true connection to the main institutional structures (Tomberg, Barfield, Kuhlewind, and Ben-Aharon to name but a few).

Yet, the fire of genius that created the original impulse lives on in such as these, far more than it does in the institutional forms and its favorite personalities.  Those young anthroposophists, who want to become current on such matters (as of 2004, the time of the writing of this essay), need to read Irina Gordienko's book: Sergei O. Prokofieff: Myth and Reality (here is a review), for the heart center of the institutional form of the Anthroposophical Society in Dornach is currently possessed with a cult of personality.  Filled then with bureaucrats and anthroposophical theologians, Dornach cannot provide either the life giving spiritual inspiration that young anthroposophists need, nor can the light of true anthroposophical insight flow out from there to take its right place in the wider world.

This last is a great tragedy, in a time of great tragedies.

[So that understanding can be clear, let me illuminate what I mean by the bureaucratic and theological impulses as they live in Dornach (and other places in the anthroposophical world were institutional processes dominate).  The bureacratic impulse sees great value in preserving all that Steiner said and wrote - it focuses on the past, and influences the institutional structures in such a way that what ought to be living and vital becomes dead and empty tradition (things are done in the present mostly because they were done in the past).  Even the smallest acquaintence with life processes would suggest that social forms should also evolve, live and die, and undergo metamorphosis.  But the bureaucratic impulse holds tight to what was done, and thus strangles that inspiration that might come from a truly living breath of spirit.  In a somewhat analogous fashion the theological impulse takes what Steiner said and elevates it to Eternal Truth.  Once elevated to this illusory state, the masters of Steiner-thought then comment endlessly on the great teacher's insights and indications, strangling in this way all current and future insight living outside the corpus (bible) of what are called the basic books.  Someone such as Prokofieff then buries his own mal-interpretations within long recitations of Steiner-thought, that become to the reader and listener a kind of sorcerous enchantment of their minds.  Where the bureaucrat kills the social forms with rigid traditions, the anthroposophical theologian kills the living spirit of their readers and listeners by promoting the idolatry of a worship of Steiner through an endless repetition of Steiner-thought.]

What then, given the empty spiritual-calorie nature of institutional anthroposophy, is a young anthroposophist to do.

Live your biography.  The moral heart of spiritual development is only found there.  Life itself is the greatest gift and the greatest teacher, for in every meeting between one's own I-am, and the I-am of the Thou lives the potential for the presence of the Third (wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there also I am).  Chirst is found most directly in life, inbetween I and Thou; and, in seeking to meet our biography, out of our own moral insight, we do the essence of the great work of spiritual development.

No text, or written work, nor the words of any teacher, can give us what is to be learned in our own biography.

Yet, if you want the best of what is written that Christ can give at this stage, then read the Gospels and, most crucially, work at applying them in practice in life.   There is no better understanding of the center of moral life than that found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, Chapters 5-7)

If you want the best that Steiner can give in aid of our soul nature (consciousness soul) in these times then read and practice the epistemological works: Truth and Science; The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception; and The Philosophy of Freedom.  Self knowledge in our time depends upon serious and brutally self honest introspection.  We must come to know both the universals of our own minds (soul-spirit nexus), and the particulars in which can be found the expression of our individuality.

What is involved in the act of thinking is the great mystery of our time, and the path to that mystery lies entirely within our own work at self knowledge.  Moreover, this cannot be rushed.  We don't learn what needs to be learned reading the books which Steiner wrote.  We only learn it by looking within - that is by reading the book of the own soul.

We read then two books: the book of life, and the book of our own inwardness.  There is no substitute for this work, and that this is not said from Dornach, over and over again, reveals clearly how little has been learned there or is taught there.

In support of such work is this admonition of Ralph Waldo Emerson: In self trust all virtues are comprehended (from his lecture: The American Scholar).

For those who feel a need to read more than just the books of their own life and mind, and who like a book you can hold in your hand, here are some other works and their relevance.

Inner Development by Valentin Tomberg.  Here we find, among much else, a discussion of the Seven Stages of the Passion of the Christ, as outlined in the Gospel of John (washing the feet; , the scourging; the crowning with thorns; the carrying of the cross; the crucifixion; the entombment and the resurrection).  The more we live a self-determined moral life in our biographies, the more the biography takes the shape of a mini-version of the Seven Stages of the Passion of the Christ.  What Christ lived during Holy Week, we will live out in the course of our many incarnations, blessed in that we only have to endure that smaller degree of suffering which arises more gently because it is spread out in these multiple lives, thus reducing the intensity of any particular experience.  This consciously chosen moral life then becomes an alchemical crucible of development that takes the same shape as the Passion of Christ.

[For some people, Valentin Tomberg is a controversial figure.  S.O. Prokofieff has even written a critical book about him (The Case of Valentin Tomberg).  The problem has to do with a book that Tomberg wrote and which he had published anonymously after his death: Meditations on the Tarot: a Journey into Christian Hermeticism.  This book, besides looking favorably on the Catholic Mysteries, and taking a quite different approach to spiritual development than anthroposophy, was also critical (in a way) of certain aspects of the anthroposophical movement.  Critics comparing the two approaches, from an anthroposophical viewpoint, found Meditations wanting in many regards.  In my view this criticism failed in that it was a comparing of apples and oranges, or to put the matter more directly, Steiner's teachings were meant for one group of human beings, for whom reason (thinking) was more important, while Tomberg's final work was meant for an entirely different group, for whom devotion (willing) was more important than cognitive work.  I could say more, but here I only wanted to acknowledge that for some Tomberg is not liked, which in my view is not really justified, this disliking being based upon a false assumption.  What Christ hopes for humanity cannot possibly be carried by just one teacher and just one stream.  His Love is too profound.  At the same time, it needs to be remembered that Inner Development was written at a time when Tomberg was a practicing anthroposophist.]

Becoming Aware of the Logos: The Way of St. John the Evangelist by Georg Kuhlewind.  Another, but beautifully different, look at some of the same problems by someone who also (as did Tomberg) is able to speak from authentic spiritual experience.

The Spiritual Event of the Twentieth Century by Jesaiah Ben-Aharon. This book serves two clear purposes.  Early on in our biography it gives us an imaginative picture of the Return of the Christ, as that has already occured in the years 1933 to 1945 - something with which we very much need to become acquainted.  As we ripen in our development (which only occurs over time), this same text can then begin to serve its truer purpose, which is as a set of instructions for meditation practice that is meant to lead us to our own direct experience and participation in this Event.  Yes, that is right: participation.  This Event, being Timeless, is always ongoing.  As more and more people learn to actually develop their thinking in the way pointed to by Steiner, this thinking then transcends its time and space limitations to become capable of becoming part of the Event.  The Light that is there then becomes richer and richer over time, as each of us learns to transcend time and offer our own thinking-light to the Event, which not only reveals the Return of the Christ and the Second Golgatha, but also reveals the participation of humanity in its unfolding.  Yes, there is a paradox here, but it is not something about which we need worry.

These then are books which help us orient our inner development within the current stage of the stream of the evolution of consciousness.  Yet, as we all know, our moral life requires our participation also in the shared social life of all humanity.  We only develop that moral character in life, in conjunction with how we meet and deal with each other, and how we met and deal with the life of nature upon whom our own existence depends.  In support of this outer social development, here then are some other texts, which might serve to help orient us in our understanding of our shared social existence.

In approaching this we need to keep in mind the modern folk wisdom found in this saying: think globally, act locally.  We need to understand the whole (think globally), in order to see how to play our part (act locally).

America's Global Responsibility: individuation, initiation, and threefolding by Jesaiah Ben-Aharon.  Clearly the modern social political world is dominated by something that has found a center and an entrance into humanity's affairs that is most strongly localized in America.  Here is an excellant consideration of modern social conditions, with some historical background.  If you want to think globally, this is a good start.

Saving the Appearances: a study in idolatry by Owen Barfield.  Here is a study concerning the nature of natural science, its historical background and the place of all of this within the ongoing evolution of consciousness.   Just as we need to appreciate the outer historical context in our thinking globally, we also need to understand how the history of ideas, and the evolution of consciousness play into that social context.

Also the books of Dennis Klocek should be considered.  Here is a link introducing his writings: http://www.steinercollege.org/consciousness.html , and here is a link to Doc. weather, an important website he created and maintains.

I am next going to refer to my own work.  In defense of the obvious charge that this is somewhat egoistic, I can only offer this:  It is a poor artisan who doesn't appreciate the true nature of his or her own skills and craft.

Being human, my work is flawed (as no doubt are others' efforts), but nonetheless there are some valid questions I have asked (and struggled to answer), and while my work is often incomplete, here are two whose structure is intended to illuminate our inner and outer social present.

My main website is Shapes in the Fire, and basically concerns the death, and the resurrection, (the metamorphosis, the dying and becoming) of Western Civilization.

The Way of the Fool: Christian Enlightenment (initiation) and the future of Christianity.  Along side the general tendencies regarding the metamorphosis of civilization, there is also an onging metamorphosis of Christianity, wherein the previous top down hierarchical form of the Church is passing away, and the next stage of development of Christianity is to appear bottom up and individualized in the Body of Christ, born out of the work of individual practioners of Christ's Teachings.  In this next stage (there will be several more), the once separated Ways of Faith and of Gnosis will re-unite within the I-am itself, as it begins to realize itself in individual acts of moral grace, freedom and love.

Here also is a recent essay of mine on the new thinking: In Joyous Celebration of the Soul Art and Music of Discipleship.

While the young anthroposophist will naturally find their own matters of interest and concern (and related books and teachers), there are some additional matters, developed by the healthier parts of the anthroposophical movement, that ought to have some attention addressed to them.

In his autobiography, Steiner pointed out that he was not able to move from the Moon Sphere of clairvoyant research onto the Sun Sphere until after he had formed an appropriate relationship to modern natural science.  While natural science is materialistic in its fundamental paradigms (points of view), it remains essentially moral in its recognition that one should only offer to another as true, that which one can also offer the means to discovering for one's self.  In the age of the consciousness soul, truth must come to us accompanied by the appropriate means by which we may ourselves replicate its discovery.  This is why, for example, that Steiner's epistemological works, with their emphasis on a careful and methodical introspective practice, are so crucial.

For this reason, those works out of the anthroposophical movement dealing with natural science and extending it (sometimes called Goethean Science) are very important.  I recommend the following:  Man or Matter: Introduction to a Spiritual Understanding of Nature on the Basis of Goethe's Method of Training Observation and Thought by Ernst Lehrs; The Plant by Gerbert Grohmann; The Nature of Substance by Rudolf Hauschka; Radiant matter: Decay and Consecration by Georg Blattmann; Man and Mammals: Toward a Biology of Form by Wolfgang Schad; Sensitive Chaos: The Creation of Flowing Forms in Water and Air by Theodor Schwenk; and Weather and Cosmos by Dennis Klocek.  These are, of course, but a few of what could be studied, but to which I add the following collection of essays: Evolution and the New Gnosis: Anti-establishment Esssays on Knowledge, Science, Religion and Causal Logic by Don Cruse with Robert Zimmer, as these essays concern a detailed study of the errors in reasoning and logic which lead to those processes by which materialism, as a paradigm, was enchanted into our shared world view.

I don't use the word enchanted merely as metaphor by the way.  The young anthroposophist will find, as they grow into a deeper understanding of the natural and social worlds, that enchantment is a very accurate word for exactly that means by which much that exists has come to be.

One last encouragement:  Rudolf Steiner led us forward in our development with his scientifically based teachings in epistemology, wherein we are shown how to have an exact and reproducable means to this deep philosophical question of introspective self knowledge.  But philosophy is itself incomplete, without an appropriate mathematics in the sense that number ratios and the like stand behind the art in nature. This means that a true earthly vision of higher worlds can be found in music and the often strange and paradoxical ways in which human social and political processes transform over time.  For us to learn to appreciate this, we need to add to our self education, to what Steiner points out for us in his philosophic studies, the study of projective geometry.

The mind (soul-spirit nexus) knows first of itself through introspection that is coupled with a philosophic discipline.  But the mind only knows part of its whole through such means.  Thomas Taylor, in his wonderful 18th Century text, The Theoretic Arithmetic of the Pythagoreans, tells us of his distress that the teaching of young minds has begun to exclude the theoreteic aspects of natural numbers, and is replacing that study with what only concerns itself with accounting and surveying - no true theory, only the practical.  This is unfortunate to Taylor, for he says that the arithmetical cannot be found in nature, and is therefore, in that it exists to our minds, only a product of our soul and spirit.  This being the case, what we then find in mathematics and geometry that is of the sublime and the beautiful is really a reflection of the true nature of the mind itself.  This means that when we study projective geometry we study that higher element of our self in which true beauty arises.

Not to make my tale longer, but again to help the young anthroposophist appreciate the importance of this, let me add the following story.  Abraham Lincoln is said, upon deciding to take up his own education, to have spent many many hours, days and months in the study of Euclid's Elements, the basic building blocks of the older geometry.  He thought thereby to train his thinking, and give it discipline.

We today have an even greater opportunity with the study of projective geometry, for here the true mathematics of life can be seen, and thus that within the mind (soul-spirit nexus) that is akin itself to life, comes before us in geometric forms and movement.  We need greatly to step beyond mere abstract concepts, to the living forces within ourselves and the natural and social worlds.  Here then is the first step: the study of projective geometry.

The best, in my view, is currently out of print, but is worth being sought out and photocopied endlessly until those responsible get off their sorry behinds and return this text to general availability: Projective Geometry: Creative Polarities in Space and Time by Olive Whicher.  Here we engage the study of projective geometry, not by the dry methods of abstract symbolism and proofs, but by the living processes of drawing and inner imagination.  There is no better training for our thinking than this study, with its exact and precise disciplines regarding the free and metamorphic movement of form in space and time.

If this is not to be found, then one can substitute Physical and Ethereal Spaces by George Adams Kaufman.  This is very introductory, but it will do in the absence of Whicher's book.

A few final words...

Everyone is engaged in spiritual development, and we dare not let ourselves suppose we know better what another person should do.  I really do not know what is best for the young anthroposophist, but rather have simply indulged myself, in the way an older man wants, in the giving of advice to the young.

Even so, I am very grateful for the e-mail correspondent whose questions led me to such expression, for it is entirely possible that one or two matters expressed here might be useful for this or that person.  And, that is all the justification such an exercise needs.

written in the season of Easter, 2004,
some small corrections added in the season of Michaelmas, 2006

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appendix - the poll at the end of Outlaw Anthroposophy - the journal:

First Reader's Poll

- twenty-five questions you have been dying to answer

about your relationship to the Anthroposophical Society -


Joel A. Wendt

Polling is a favorite American sport. This, the first, issue of Outlaw Anthroposophy must, therefore, run straight at this unique opportunity. Asking questions is also a way of communicating certain kinds of ideas, as well as cultivating and communicating a certain kind of attitude. The next issue will be completely devoted to the responses to this poll.

1. Do anthroposophists have a sense of humor about anthroposophy or Rudolf Steiner? If so, please send us your favorite joke(s).

2. Aren't you tired of the word anthroposophy? I mean, really, isn't it time we called our society and our work something which means something to people who are not members or friends? Isn't it a bit pretentious to have a name, for an organization, you have to explain?

3. Was, or is, Rudolf Steiner perfect? If not, please send in examples of flaws you think he had or has.

4. Are there any initiates now active in the Society? If you think so, send in their name (or names, as the case may be); isn't it time for such people to come out of the closet?

5. Anthroposophy has been active in America for several decades now. Being that the American has different soul capacities from the Central European, could you please send in the list of "original" anthroposophical work that you have observed in America. Not derivative work, not Waldorf Schools or any other impulse which first appeared in Europe, but that which is unique to America.

6. How important in your daily living is the guidance and lecture material that comes out of the Vorstand in Dornach? Please give concrete examples.

7. The basis for the "authority" of the school of spiritual science is the supposed natural hierarchy of real capacities. What evidence exists that there is a sufficient differentiation of capacities so that the Vorstand has a right to lay claim to this natural order?

8. If the anthroposophical society is dead, with what do you think we should replace it?

9. Do you think some effort must be made to reform the formal Society?

10. How would you suggest we go about such a task?

11. Have you noticed any of these questions making you check out your own assumptions about anthroposophy and the Society? Please share some of those assumptions with us.

12. Who would you vote for, as the future Maitreya Buddha: a) Steiner, b) Tomberg, c) me, d) your choice? Please include your basis for this vote.

13. Are you superstitious?

14. Where do you think Rudolf Steiner is right now and what do you suppose he is doing?

15. If you were on the Vorstand, what would you recommend to the membership as we enter the 21st century?

16. What question(s) do you think should have been added to this poll?

17. Is it possible to define anthroposophy in some other way than Steiner did in the First Leading Thought? Please provide an example.

18. What is your favorite Steiner idea or quote?

19. Have you read, or are you trying to read, one book 50 times (as recommended by Steiner)?

20. Which book?

21. Will you lend me some money - include how much?

22. Have you ever had the thought that the Christian Community priesthood bears on odd resemblance in its role with regard to the anthroposophical movement to that role played by the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus) in the organism of the Catholic Church?

23. In the same vein (we are now cutting very deep, so perhaps it should be an artery), doesn't it sometimes seem like the Spirit of Rome (Steiner, The Challenge of the Times) has taken over our movement and installed Steiner as a kind of invisible Pope, whose sayings are infallible? (Dornach = Rome; the Vorstand = the Curia; the Class Readers = the Cardinals; the National Society leaders = the Bishops;...does it hurt yet?)

24. What rights (or responsibilities) does (or should) the ordinary membership have in the creation of the future of the Anthroposophical Society?

25. Imagine Rudolf Steiner before you, and Archangel Michael behind him, what would he (Steiner) say? Or would he just cry?

26. Are not remorse and shame matters of moral development? Should we feel any of these emotions when we contemplate the current condition of the Society?

27. Yes, I know I said 25 questions. But, I didn't say I could count.