Anthroposophy in the Light of America:
- what the American Soul needs from
the Anthroposophical Movement -
In March of 1997, I gave a poorly attended talk (I am not a recognized personality within the Anthroposophical Movement) in San Francisco, with the above title. The talk consisted of two parts: one: the shadow side of the Anthroposophical Movement; and, two: the Mystery of America. As there are certain themes which were expressed there, that are not expressed elsewhere in my anthroposophical writings, I have recollected them as best as possible from my notes and my memory, and given a short version below.
In creating the above title for the presentation, it was certainly on my mind to reverse the usual relationship of certain ideas, namely that subjects are often placed in relationship to anthroposophy (as in: World History in the Light of Anthroposophy - lectures by R. Steiner; and, The Other America: the West in the light of Spiritual Science - writings of Carl Stegmann) rather than the opposite. In the case of this talk, it was my intention to speak of Anthroposophy as it could be seen by the forces of the American Soul, bathed in that light, rather than the reverse, which is the current habit of thought within the Anthroposophical Movement.
In writing the following I have added a few small matters as seemed appropriate, that were not in the original presentation (other matters have also been left out, both due to the different modus of expression - speech vs. writing - and, the simple fact that they have been forgotten).
a meditation on the shadow
In the talk I gave, I mentioned four characteristics of the shadow, first establishing that it exists as a series of temptations within individual members of the anthroposophical society/movement, and this shadow accomplishes its work on the larger scale, because so many of the membership are asleep in these matters, thus the individual effects are multiplied and reinforced.
The first is the temptation/tendency to deify Rudolf Steiner. The most serious consequence of this is the failure to develop within ourselves those capacities which would arise if we were to exercise our own judgment, rather then defer to Steiner.
The antidote to this temptation is to form a true picture of Steiner, through inner work. For example one can contemplate inwardly the moment, when at about the age of twelve, Steiner shared in an essay his experience of being able to follow, into the spiritual world, a favorite teacher who had recently died. This sharing was rejected. Those around him could not appreciate Steiner's youthful clairvoyance, and thus begins his silence about his inner life, not broken until his forties, when he begins to participate in the life of the theosophical society. There are other matters that should be contemplated, as well.
For example, at the end of his life, either Ita Wegman or Marie Steiner, came into Steiner's room (he would die in the next day or two) to ask his advice about some matter of concern. He did not respond, and turned his back. We should contemplate how often he was asked to give advice, and how frequently that asking was derived from a failure to be willing to be responsible on the part of others. This is a mirror image of "the doctor has said" impulse still so strongly alive today; except that at that time, it was his life forces that were exhausted by those unwillling to use their own insight.
The second tendency is the denial of Valentin Tomberg, the refusal to recognize that the spiritual world offered another initiate to the Society, following Steiner's death. The most serious consequence of this, is the failure to understand the religious impulse in the soul (exemplified by Tomberg) as well as to fail to appreciate the relationship of this religious impulse to the scientific impulse (exemplified by Steiner).
The antidote to this temptation is to contemplate the question of whether, in the time of the Etheric Return of the Christ, only one individual would offer service to the working of the Christ in the modern age. Working inwardly with this question leads one to an appreciation that Steiner's clairvoyant view was from spiritual heights, while Tomberg's spiritual view was from spiritual depths, from within the Passion, not outside it, observing it. These two different cosmic experiences lead to different paths and tasks in life, and from this flows all those differences between Steiner and Tomberg that are so clearly justified, once this is understood. A further implication of this understanding is the recognition that there yet remains to reveal itself, another view, a third encounter with the Christ - that of breadth. Will the one who experiences this view have a cosmic experience, or will it necessarily be purely earthly - an artistic expression of the Christ Impulse within modern life?
The third tendency is the subversion of the impulse to community brought about by the too close relationship between the membership of the Society and the Christian Community, and the failure to sufficiently foster the reverse cultus as the needed antidote to the dangers involved. The most serious consequence of this is the encapsulating of Society social structures; their closing themselves off from the outside world, and becoming increasingly inbred in their thought structures, because they are so incestuously focused on only the thoughts of Steiner.
The antidote to this temptation is to be found in the contemplation of the complete rightness of non-anthroposophical views. This is not a rightness as against any supposed absolute spiritual facts, but rather an existential rightness, due to the fact that the views of others are in accordance with their karma and individual needs. This contemplation will lead to an appreciation of the need of the anthroposophist to kneel before the views of others and offer service, rather then to stand superior, or to have a more correct view. Only such an attitude will remove the catastrophic dogmatism and sectarianism that presently pervades the interface between anthroposophical and mainstream culture.
The fourth tendency is the colonization of America, what I also called the impulse to spiritual imperialism, which has turned the working centers in America into basically poor imitations of anthroposophically textured central European cultural life. The most serious consequence of this is that the America Soul is unable to bring the unfolding of its treasures within the anthroposophical movement, which would greatly benefit the world wide impulse.
The antidote to this temptation is the contemplation of the threefold nature of the world, and how that soul differentiation is musical in nature, requiring of us an appreciation of the individual gifts of each folk. When this contemplation focuses on the American Soul, without prejudging this naturally intuitive will, understanding can arise as to the social and temporal tendencies of modern life, which allows a renewal of the anthroposophical impulse to be carried outward into the wider world on the shoulders of the natural social genius of this intuitive will.
The redemption of the shadow would bring about the following: Overcoming the deification would result in the soul's possessing clear thinking. Overcoming the denial would result in the soul's possessing the devoted heart. Overcoming the subversion would result in the opening up of the closed circle - the will now directed outward and including the rest of the world. The overcoming of the colonization - imperialism, would bring anthroposophy before the whole world in the most healthy way, for it is the social genius of the American Soul which knows how to bridge the gaps between individuals, peoples and cultures.
a meditation on the mysteries of America
The American Soul is not so difficult to come to knowledge of, if one is careful not to bring previously arrived at ideas to the table. Within anthroposophical work in America, certain themes stand out for their not being investigated. Given that anthroposophical work in America is captured by the forces of the central European Soul, it is not the work which is done in anthroposophical circles in America that should draw our attention, but rather the work that is not done.
When was the last time the Western, as a cultural artifact, was examined within anthroposophical circles. It has not, yet just in this - the Western - is the great Myth, the deep intuition of the America Soul, laid bare and explored over and over again. At the most, the tendency has been to study the transcendentalists, such as Emerson; or to study Emily Dickinson, or Melville. Yet these are studied because they still honored (to varying degrees) the cultural life of the old world: essays, poetry and novels. Only the Western, especially in film, is purely a new world invention, and carries within itself the open secrets of the American psyche.
Consider John Wayne: Imagine him standing, with that sideways slant of shoulders, thumbs tucked in his pistol belt, uttering the classic Western line: "A man's gotta do, what a man's gotta do." What could this mean? What might be hidden there, in plain sight? To answer this question we need to consider the plot of the Western: What is it, as an archetype?
First we have a community, and in that community the presence of Evil. Second the community is unable or unwilling to act. This creates necessity for the moral individual. His/her choice is simple. Cowardice, or courage; self centeredness or self sacrifice (after all, death can be the result of any action - this fear of death is what paralyses the community.
The statement, seen often as a cliche, can be more clearly written: "A man has to do, what a man has to do". The repeated parts are not actually repetitions, because each aspect means something slightly different. The first part refers to the moral imperative: the choice - a man (someone) has to act, or fail before his/her own conscience. The second part refers to the act needed, which is determined by necessity. One has to do (in order to live with conscience) that which is needed (necessity) to be done. [subsequent to this being on the internet, a correspondent wrote a rather remarkable, and much deeper, examination of this seeming cliche'. It is well worth reading and can be found here.]
Combining these ideas we can see that the Western is an exploration of the theme of the dilemma of individual conscience in the face of Evil in the social world (the community). What better description could we have for the social conscience and generosity characteristic of the American Soul?
The greatest modern investigator of this theme is Clint Eastwood. His films, both Western and Cop movies (which are just Westerns in modern times), continually explore this problem, the relationship between individual conscience and the presence of evil in the community. The films run from the clearly mythical (Pale Rider) to the existential (Unforgiven) to the light hearted (Bronco Billy). When his work is studied at Rudolf Steiner College in Sacramento California, we will have begun to come to terms with the shameful misrepresentation of the America Soul, by central European anthroposophists.
The American Soul sleeps, but not so deeply it does not dream. I implied this in my essay: Waking the Sleeping Giant. I would now like to look a little bit at television, to discover what mysteries lay there, again as an open book for those willing to look with an unprejudiced heart.
Consider Star Trek. Two and third years of one hour dramas produced during the 1966, 1967 and 1968 television seasons. Then cancelled. Now a cultural giant. Two present series on television at present (Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager). A third, Star Trek: the Next Generation, ran seven years, and is now in syndicated repeats in every market. Eight or nine feature length films (I've begun to loose count). Conventions, books, websites, thousands of comerial products. Is this just space opera run amok? Or was a cord struck? Did something touch the dreaming American Soul?
The first series had three main characters: Captain Kirk (actor William Shatner), the alien science officer Spock - he of the pointed ears (actor Leonard Nimoy) and the doctor, McCoy (actor Defoest Kelly). All three were part of the crew of the starship Enterprise as it explored the universe, "going where no man has gone before".
Each show ended with a conversation between the three, often humorous, a lighthearted commentary on the drama just undergone. As the show developed its characters (a typical television literary necessity) over time, each became a distinctive voice, representative of a specific approach to the problems each episode brought. Kirk was the man of action, ready to rush in, to do what needed being done. Spock was the thinker, contemplative, rigorous of logic, refusing of emotion. McCoy was the empath, he saw the other side of things, what lay at the heart.
Later, when the seasons were over, and many conventions with fans had come and gone, William Shatner was to remark, in getting ready to direct the fifth feature length Star Trek film (The Final Frontier), that what the fans told them they most liked was the relationships between the three, but beyond that no one had a clue as to the reason for the series popularity.
Yet, with anthroposophical sensitivity it is clear. Spock-thinking, McCoy-feeling, Kirk-willing. The threefold soul, laid bare by the dreaming American Soul in a cooperatvie work of television drama. To verify this all one has to do is watch a good selection of reruns (a single episode is not adequate), and you will see the inner dialogues of the soul, as to how to relate to the problems each episode presents, spoken outwardly in the discussions between the three leading characters.
As would be expected, this being an American dramatic series, the Will man, the man of action, is the leading character, while the Thinker, the man of logic alone, is his primary support. The weakest character is the heart man, the doctor, consistant with the underdevelopment in the America Soul of the life of Feeling. [As an aside, it should be noted that this underdevelopment began to be corrected by those changes introduced into popular psychology in America during the 1960's. Thus, future generations are not the same, although this kind of change occurs very slowly. Here lies a whole other story, however.]
Consider Star Trek: the Next Generation. Seven years of dramas, two important themes woven in.The first theme, a matter generally explored in every episode: What does it mean to be a human being. Again and again this is explored, sometimes quite expressly.
There was an episode: The Measure of a Man, which approached the question of whether the regular character, Data, an android, was sentient. If he was just a machine, then he could be experimented on. The issue, dramatised as a trial, turned not on proving or disproving Data's sentient character, but whether the humans, who were deciding the issue, gained or lost something from their own humanity, by treating Data as a lesser form of existence, a potential class of slaves.
There was another level to this question (what does it mean to be human), which was posed right in the first episode (Encounter at Farpoint), in which a god-like character is introduced: "Q". This character appeared in several episodes, and again in the last (All Good Things). As an archetype, "Q" is Mephastopholies to Captain Picard's Faust (Picard, played by English actor Patrict Stewart, is Captain of a new version of the starship Enterprise). This "captain" is no longer a man of action, but a new renaissance man, cultured, a natural diplomat.
In the final episode (All Good Things), Picard has one last confrontation with "Q". As the scene is played, Picard is sitting, and "Q" is standing over him. "Q", first pointing off into space says to Picard (something on the order of): "You know mon capitan, what you are searching for is not going to be found out there, the real adventure is in here." at which point "Q" pokes his finger at Picard's chest. [I have recently discovered that this is not quite accurate, but haven't had the chance to examine a video tape of the performance to reconsider what was just written - therefore the reader is advised, for the time being, to read the above with the proverbial grain of salt.] An interesting idea, wouldn't you say, for a series that seems to be all about outer space on the surface, but turns out (once one gives up one's biases) all about inner space, instead. Consciously? No, remember, the America Soul sleeps and dreams.
More could be said, however, it is my hope that with these words, the reader might begin to see that American culture, the expressions of the American Soul, is not spiritually empty, as so many believe of that which is original to the new world. Rather it simply sleeps and dreams, and from this sleeping dreaming, intuitions of deep truths percolate to the surface, revealing small, yet significant, glimpses of the Mystery that is America.
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