Initiation, Goetheanism and the New Boogeyman
by Joel A. Wendt
This essay was originally written in response to an article that appeared in the Newsletter of
the American Anthroposophical Society - said article emphasizing the role of Ahriman in
determining the nature of social events. I submitted this article both to the Newsletter itself,
and to the brand new editor personally. I did not even receive an acknowledgement that it had
been received. Of course, it was never published there.
Things change. For example, it once was essential for the spiritual development of the individual that they have contact and time with a knowledgable teacher. The Age in which this was true has passed, and now the individual must make their own choices and be responsible for their own development. As Rudolf Steiner put it in his early book, "A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception":
"Man is not behaving in accordance with the purposes of the Guiding Power of the world when he investigates one or another of His commandments, but when he behaves in accordance with his own insight. For in him the Guiding Power of the world manifests Himself. He does not live as Will somewhere outside of man, He has renounced his own will in order that all might depend upon the will of man. If man is to be enabled to become his own lawgiver, all thought about world-determinations outside of man must be abandoned."
In the anthroposophical society and movement, as it is presently constituted, a great deal is made of the personality of the initiate-teacher Rudolf Steiner. The recently established English Course at the Goetheanum is a case in point - Steiner is to be studied. This is all the more remarkable given that Steiner pointed his own finger not at the "initiate", but rather at a most remarkable human being - Goethe. For Steiner, Goethe was the ur-human being, and the very building at the center of the Society was named for him.
To the extent that the anthroposophical movement over-emphasizes Steiner, it aligns itself, not with the New Mysteries, but with the Old. The initiate-teacher, the Priest, was the mediator between the Heirarchies and the neophyte in the Old Mysteries. In the New Mysteries there no longer is any intermediary, and it is the individual "I am" itself that is the source of all true and healthy developmental choices. Where the "I am" displaces its own insights and substitutes the impulses of others (regardless of their presumed stature), in that place it falls away from its spiritual future and enters the swampland of atavism.
The New can only arise where the "I am" stands on its own. Emerson saw this clearly and said in his Harvard lecture, The American Scholar: "In self trust all virtues are comprehended".
In the center of this atavistic swampland lies a new boogeyman - Ahriman. Again and again this Age is given, in anthroposophical circles, its main characteristics by reference to Ahriman, and to Ahriman's so-called intentions. But such a view cannot arise from real thinking about the actual human events occuring in the World. In an anti-Goetheanistic manner, Steiner's thought is used as a theory by which the World is colored, rather than as an inspiration for our own "I am" to penetrate with its own powers of thought to the World-thoughts. In this way, even within the anthroposophical movement, scientific materialism is triumphant.
This is so important to understand, that it bears repeating.
Scientific materialism is not just a set of ideas. It is also a thought-habit instilled in the soul through the very languages we are taught as children. It is not just a content, or a world view, but a "how" by which we are taught to think. It is the nature of this thought-habit that the world's appearences are ignored, and the mind creates a kind of seeming behind what is actually our experience. To merely substitute one world view (the lectures of Steiner) for another (scientific materialism) does not cure the defect living in the pattern by which we learned to think. We are still living in a seeming behind the appearences, and the fact that it contains gods, angels and demonic beings is of no moment whatsoever.
It was to cure this defect that Steiner wrote his philosophic works at the beginning of his life. It was to give us a model to follow that he pointed to Goethe as the one who had, out of his very humaness, taught himself how to cure this defect.
Initiation does not, in itself, cure this defect. It is possible to cross the threshold into the spiritual world on the basis of all kinds of developments in the soul life without awakening the "I am" to the need to discipline its image creating capacity away from the invention of seemings and into a true thinking of the appearences.
Now within the anthroposophical movement this uncured thinking has taken the content of the lectures and used that content to create seemings of a theorized reality behind the appearences of the social world. Events in modern life are constantly interpreted in terms of the new boogeyman - Ahriman. It is Ahriman behind the scenes that is presumed by this uncured thinking to be the determiner of world social events.
The creating of these seemings is idolatry. (c.f. Owen Barfield's: "Saving the Appearences: a study in idolatry")
This is not to say that the lectures of Steiner are true, or are not true. Their truth is irrelevant. The central point has to do with the "how" by which the individual "I am" thinks the world. This is not to say that the lectures of Steiner can't have a valid meditative use, which they certainly do. But if the lectures are used as a belief system by which the "I am" creates a seeming spiritual explanation of the social world, then this "I am" will be practicing a kind of spiritual materialism.
To a goetheanistic social understanding the interpreted seeming centered on the new boogeyman, Ahriman, is false.
If we follow the example of Goethe, the model toward whom Steiner directed us again and again, and apply ourselves to thinking the social world without inventing seemings behind its appearences, the social world itself begins to speak. We don't need to imagine spiritual happenings, or to suppose them, or in any other way confuse ourselves. Rather we need to discipline the thinking to withhold forming any kind of image, whether based on anothers spiritual reserach or otherwise, and learn to live only in the facts of social existence as these present themselves.
If we do this, we will find that it is not Ahriman that dominates the events of the Age in which we live, but rather the world community of "I am"s, who co-create the social world in order to form it into an alchemical crucible for the development of independent thinking, both as to world view and as to moral choice. This is becoming more and more self evident to these "I am"s, for in even such an odd place as the strange and violent movie Starship Troopers, we find this statement: "Figuring things out for yourself is the only real freedom anyone has."
If we are awake to this, we will find this growing self awareness, of the emerging moral freedom, everywhere in modern civilization, in dozens (if not hundreds) of forms, from Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, to the recently born What Would Jesus Do movement.
It is an understandable foolishness to think that Christ, or the Mother, would let Ahriman rule in the Age of these most crucial times of choice. But if we live into the life sphere of the social world, through an active Goetheanistic practice, we will find not a world ordered by the new boogeyman, but rather a world created and ordained by the Highest. Our decisions in this age cannot be coercied by this seeming spectre of evil, but lie truly in the realm of our own hearts. We can be tempted and persecuted by the doubles, but the social world itself is the long prepared womb and birth-hearth for our unfolding free moral possibilities.
Ahriman's described characteristics clearly provide the form and texture of the Age, but not its essence, which is the emergence of the Christ Impulse, just as clearly coming to birth in the "I am". We have had to descend into materialism, into the solid, the fixed, the numbered, the technical, the most crystaline and earthly. In this over structured and dark texture we become free of the Gods - their gift to us. The next and most powerful creative act is up to us and flows from the many moral choices the age compels (at our pre-birth intention and consent). Yes, great dangers exist, but these go with the territory - without a true possibility of a further falling into materialism and further temptations of the powers of sub-nature, there would be no real choices to be made. Even so, the essence lives in the unfolding of the potent moral authority of a truely spiritually free human being.
Somehow, in making out the initiate Rudolf Steiner to be the ideal human - the supposed goal toward which we should aspire, the anthroposophical movement has robbed itself of its true center, and heart, Goethe. We forget that Steiner was born to initiation, and forget that Goethe earned his ability to forgo the illusions of the seemings. Even more important, we forget how Steiner himself pointed over and over again to Goethe. If we, as anthroposophists, are to reclaim our true roots, we must place in front of the goal of initiation the more accessible, and necessarily precedent goal of Goetheanism.
Scientific materialism is the tool by which we were separated from the divine, so that any future relationship could be based upon our choice. This state - this thought-habit - had to arise so that we could truly be free. But to merely substitute a spiritual seeming for scientific materialism is not a free act. One has simply allowed the own "I am" to be captured by yet another conceptual frame of reference.
The age of initiates is past. In the present is the the beginning of the age of the "I am" learning to think the world in freedom. Even the Hopi Indians of America's Southwest are aware of this, for they call this dawning time, The Day of Purification.
Should we be surprised, that the beginning of the Age when all of humanity starts to cross the threshold, that the whole world becomes a social alchemical crucible of moral purification. The history we are taught in our schools does not even begin to appreciate the real dynamics of the Events upon which the course of new millennium is being forged.
Now this freedom means complete inner freedom before the concept, from either the seemings of scientific materialism or the seemings of imagined initiate knowledge. No concept is to arise in our consciousness unless our own "I am" has called it forth. If we fail to build up our world view soley out of our own thought-activity, we fail at the essence of the age. If we teach Steiner and call it anthroposophy we teach a lie.
Clearly Goethe was on the Path, and certainly we are all justified in minding our spiritual yearnings. But when we by-pass Goetheanism, we lame the soul.
Any path has a beginning, a middle and an end (in a very broad sense). We all begin with our ordinary thinking and go from there. Here is what Tomberg said in the introduction to his anthroposophical lectures, The Four Sacrifices of Christ and the Appearence of Christ in the Etheric:
"...the transition from all that is most prosaic produced by the nineteenth century to what the future holds is offered by the spiritual manifestation of Goetheanism - Goetheanism is, in fact, a bridge on which the transition can be made from the quantitative thinking of the nineteenth century to a qualitative characterizing thinking. Now where this transition leads is Spiritual Science."
To the extent that an anthroposophist, or the anthroposophical movement, fails to move thorugh the center, the goetheanistic transition realm, it falls away from the later goal of spiritual science. It is a step that cannot be skipped. The thinking must learn to enter the organic realm, the sphere of life, before it takes up the moral realm, the sphere of pure spirit. Otherwise, it lacks both a certain displine and an existential quality. We need to know how to keep the thinking from creating concepts for which it has no percepts, and how to see with an enlivened picture thinking the true nature of the social world.
For example, it is possible to see in the problems of the Waldorf movement in America the effects of these failures. The center of the problems of Waldorf there are social in nature. Waldorf teachers and administrators carry in their consciousness an understanding of the social world based upon the seemings thought to be behind its appearences. Thus, when they meet the striving "I am"s, whose world view appears to lie in opposition to the spiritual world view belief system Waldorf training inculcates, they interpret this apparent opposition as rooted in the doings of the so-called opponents, the luciferic and ahrimanic shadow beings.
But the true social facts are otherwise. Every world view held by an "I am", whether it is spiritual beliefs, or scientific materialism, is equally socially valid. The so-called anthroposophical view is not superior within the true dynamics of the social world. Yet, at these boundaries, where anthroposophical spiritual beliefs and materialistic beliefs confront each other, all kinds of terrible social mischief has been the result - from both sides.
However, were the anthroposophical movement to become informed with a goetheanistic social understanding, this apparent collision between belief systems would be seen in another light, and the anthroposophist would find the ideas and ideals of how to act in a socially healthy way. It is this healthy social action which would enable the two apparently opposite beliefs to live together; and, at the same time, it would demonstrate to the materialist that something remarkable is living in what they have been experiencing. It is this social experience that will be much more persuasive than any idea. For, as we know, every human being responds quite deeply to how they are treated.
This picture might help. The social world exists within the confines of the earthly physical realm, but is itself "inbetween" this realm (and its lower element, the sub-terranean spheres), and the heavenly, spiritual realm. This is not just an analytical concept, but the actual appearences "speak" it. The social sphere is within the atmosphere, a region poised between the dense concentrated physically solid earth, and the airless expanding environs of the cosmos.
Now granted the true spiritual is not actually physically above, but rather "within", nevertheless we are here paying attention to the form that "maya" takes. This "form" is no accident, but rather the speech-echo of the Word, as it has come to rest in our time.
The social world then is a "middle" realm, with all that this implies. It is only in this realm that we can develop and grow. What a special place this social world must be that such a miracle is possible through the Grace which has given rise to it.
The life sphere of the social world is, of course, only one aspect of its nature. But if we are to understand it, we must begin with the appearences first, before penetrating to the spiritual realities which penetrate this social life organism from within. This is a step that cannot be overlooked. It is part of our growth as anthroposophists, as we stand upon the cusp of the new millennium, to finish the incarnation of anthroposophy by enlivening our social picture thinking. Anthroposophy must disappear (die) as the presumed creature of the priest-initiate Steiner, to reappear (become in the social) in its middle stage, Goetheanism, through the disciplined activity of the individual "I am"s.
* * *
It has not been the point of this essay to suggest that more than normal human errors have arisen within the past of the anthroposophical movement. We are where we are meant to be. Our view should be forward into possibilities, not backward into recriminations. For this potential future, Goetheanism offers a most remarkable possibility for social understanding, and then through this understanding will finally arise the real earthly incarnation of anthroposophy. With these words I have hoped to encourage a deeper exploration of Goetheanism, and of the organic thinking needed to penetrate the life sphere of the social organism.
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