Steiner and the society he founded is called the Anthroposophical Society. Our next task will be to begin to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, to distinguish the higher purposes of Rudolf Steiner from the sometimes pedestrian concerns of many of his followers.
This is not to say that his students do not produce good work. The fact is the work that flows from the well of his inspiration is quite beyond words. It is very much a matter which can only be appreciated by direct experience. And while I certainly consider myself one of his students, the problem I am alluding to is more on the order of the quality of the ideas by which the anthroposophical movement is conceived today, and the resulting self image of that movement in the thinking of the membership. The reader will find these matters gone into more fully in the appendix.
There are many excellent biographies of Steiner, which the reader may later want to read. For our purposes, at this point, we will only look at certain highlights as may be necessary for the further development of our main theme.
Steiner was born in Austria in 186l. After graduating from university, at the age of twenty-two - in the early l880's - he was selected to edit (for a hundredth anniversary edition) the scientific elements of Goethe's work. Goethe is Europe's, and perhaps Western civilization's, greatest modern artistic genius. It is crucial to appreciate what the selection of the young Dr.(Ph.D.) Steiner meant. Goethe is not widely known in America and even then only as a poet, not as a scientist. This is so even though Goethe himself considered his scientific work his most important achievement. This aspect of Goethe's work, as we have seen, has taken a path entirely outside the main trends of science.
Besides his previously mentioned work on Color, Goethe also produced wide ranging scientific works in the fields of botany and zoology. Characteristically his views were out of
the main stream and often not understood. The selection of Steiner, at age twenty-two, to edit Goethe's scientific work was then an extraordinary honor and gift of trust to place on one so young. It came about because one of Steiner's professors (Karl Julius Schroer) was a leading Goethe scholar, and recognized in Steiner one of the few minds capable of appreciating the special problems involved.
The young Dr. Steiner worked at this task for about a year and then stopped. It was necessary, he said, to construct first a coherent statement of Goethe's philosophic views, something Goethe himself had not done. This was required in order for it to be clear how and why Goethe reached suchdifferent conclusions from those of the scientific main stream.
So this point will be appreciated by the reader I feel it is necessary to make a small aside about the significance of philosophy to the field of science. Many people today feel that philosophy only concerns matters of belief, and does not represent knowledge in the same way as a hard science such as physics does. In fact in many of our universities today philosophy is seldom studied, except as a rather obscure field mostly concerned either with historical curiosities or equally obscure arguments concerning the meaninglessness of ordinary language.
The truth of the matter is that science rests upon two foundations for its certainty concerning reality. The more obvious foundation is mathematics, which because of its rigor is particularly useful as a practical matter. The other foundation is philosophy, which is really the science of sciences, as only philosophy can lead us to certainty concerning the question of whether it is possible for the human being to know anything at all. Philosophy is in fact the highest application of the faculty of reason, and it is a real tragedy of our time that people can be considered as educated who know so little of this most sublime discipline. Steiner understood this, and for this reason found it necessary to explain Goethe's implied philosophy of science, or theory of knowledge - how we can know what we think we know.
Thus it was that Steiner came to write in his early twenties what is probably the least recognized, but most significant philosophic work in recent centuries: Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's Word Conception ( Anthroposophic Press, 1978). The reader will find this book listed in the appendix, second on the list of books leading to a truly modern self education.
In this book the problem, which we have been attempting to confront beginning even in the Overture, namely the relationship between inner and outer - between word and world, is dealt with in a very straightforward and beautiful fashion.
"What is the significance of the reflection of the external world in human consciousness? What relationship exists between our thinking about the objects of reality and these object themselves?" (Theory...ibid). And then Steiner answers (again in Theory): "The world is not merely known to us as it appears, but it appears as it is, although only to thinking contemplation. The form of reality which man delineates in his knowledge is its final true form." The reader should not presume at this point to fully understand what Steiner meant here.
Yet, this book, when published, could have little immediate effect, as it comes into being at a time when the materialism of modern science was reaching a kind of peak. Even so, the implications for science, in fact for all areas of human knowledge, are also fully discussed.
Let us review again the context in which this book appears. The trends of science at that time, in that the world is seen as purely material, derives from a consciousness which we have called "onlooker consciousness". ("Every adult in our age is, by virtue of his psycho-physical structure, more or less a world-spectator". Man or Matter, E. Lehrs, ibid) Since the l5th century the human being has begun to significantly experience the world as out_there. We are, as a result, quite naturally more fascinated with examining the out_there, conveniently leaving out the in_here which is doing the examining. This means drawing conclusions about reality as if a major factor were not present, namely the observer himself. It is no wonder then that science assumes nature has no inside since the scientist forgets he has one as well. Now we should note that in the last fifty years or so physics has been more and more forced by its own discoveries to account for the existence of the observer. The problem is that in order to really return the observer to his true place, physics - the whole of science - needs to be rethought from the beginning with proper respect for the onlooker problem. This has in fact been done in Dr. Lehrs' Man or Matter and with just those radically different conclusions which we might expect.
Owen Barfield has referred to this situation with the following imaginative scheme (c.f.Saving the Appearances, on,the appendix list). First (as we noted previously), man experienced "original participation", he was part of the world, one with it. Then he experienced the "onlooker" status, this mainly since l5th century. As we have seen, this change from original participation to onlooker consciousness is why science came into being in those years. This change, which took centuries to occur, is why it appears that after eons man finally began to examine nature in the objective way science now believes best.
After our present onlooker phase, in Barfield's scheme, is to come "final participation". Original participation was a given condition; mankind was born into it. The onlooker condition frees man of this limitation, gives us a choice. Final participation will only come about if we seek it. Final participation is a state of consciousness which will only arise through the self generated activity of the participant.
The Hopi Prophecy arose at a time of original participation and recognized that the time of the onlooker would come and that this would bring wars and a time of crisis, a time of Purification. Then would come the "elder brother", the True White Brother, showing the way forward, "...the life plan for the future."*, the way to a freely chosen final participation.
Of all those advancing the cause of final participation, Rudolf Steiner ranks first. His book on Goethe's theory of knowledge arises from a full appreciation of it's relevance and timeliness. What Goethe knew to do instinctively Steiner knew how to teach others to do. This book (Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception) is the first of a life long effort to build for humanity and for human civilization permanent bridges across the abyss of the onlooker consciousness. As a result of Steiner's decades of teaching there now exists a goethean science, an embryonic science based upon the act of overcoming the onlooker separation. Its works are few (see appendix) but their qualities undeniable. Their study is indispensable to a true modern self education, and contrary to the tendency of mainstream science they are written for the lay reader, not just for a few specialists. The Being of Nature (nature's 'inside') after all wants just as much to be known and understood as we want to be known and understood by each other. Those who come to know Her then become capable of communicating Her secrets to all who approach with an open mind and a willing heart.
Like Goethe, Coleridge, and Emerson before him, Steiner experienced the ground of the world, and of man, as spiritual. Yet, even more so than these others, for Steiner was not born separated from the inner being of the world, but as a child and a youth remained one with it. Because his cultural environment did not understand the nature of his experience he kept silent about it for over half his life. He, in fact, had to struggle to bring alive in his own consciousness the kind of onlooker experience we are directed toward from birth.
At the same time Steiner recognized that the method of science, its demand for reproducability, was justified. For this reason he first built a philosophical foundation leading from human thinking to spiritual experience. Thus, about ten years after explaining the theory of knowledge implicit in Goethe's world conception, Steiner produced a second philosophic masterpiece: The Philosophy of Freedom. More scientifically mature, yet oddly less poetic then the earlier work, this later book makes possible not just the understanding of the idea of "final participation", it actually engenders it.
Reading The Philosophy of Freedom involves a struggle, not unlike climbing a mountain; yet the consequence of actually understanding this book (which for many will involve multiple readings) is to produce in embryonic form the new consciousness. One becomes pregnant with the capacity to bridge the apparent chasm between self and world, to reunite world and word. a small aside:
[This book, and its precursor - Theory of Knowledge, already have had a profound effect. These books can be likened to an intense 'sound' in the inner life of many people, such that they produce a 'resounding' in response. Two particular personalities, who are still living at the time of this writing, seem to me to have taken in these books and produced remarkable harmonic 'echos': Owen Barfield and Georg Kuhlewind.
Barfield, living more out of the typical soul questions of one born in a People tending toward materialism and pragmatism, uses the new thinking to investigate the hidden truths of language - the outer manifestation of the 'word'. Kuhlewind, on the other hand, living out of the typical soul questions of one born in a more inward seeking People, has investigated the 'word' as that appears in one's soul life - our own 'word' as that relates to the 'Word', the Logos. In a sense Steiner's work lays a seed in the soul of many personalities, who then produce additional and unique work, which yet can be seen to have been born of a certain special activity. Barfield and Kuhlewind engage in the same activity, but the questions put and the field of observation are almost opposites. I place this aside here, so that the reader (already aware of Steiner or not) can get some sense of the symmetries to be discovered.
We encounter Barfield here in the beginning, because we are working from the outside inward; and, we will encounter Kuhlewind more toward the end as we come to rest at the core of the Mystery.]
Following this (in approximately another ten years) Steiner begins to teach out of the purely spiritual experiences he has been having all his life. Again consciously accepting the demand for reproducability, Steiner establishes this teaching as Spiritual Science or Anthroposophy (the wisdom of man). In this work Steiner characterizes his activity as that of a spiritual researcher, an investigator of the supersensible. One biographer calls Steiner "A Scientist of the Invisible" (A.P. Shepard, see book of same name - Inner Traditions International Ltd., 1983). What Steiner has done here, however, is far more difficult to accomplish then the beginning metamorphosis of thinking contemplated by The Philosophy of Freedom. It is one thing to become pregnant with the new consciousness, it is another thing entirely to birth it and mature it to the level that Steiner lived it.
This mature phase of Steiner's life work has two main aspects. One is the written material, books and lecture cycles which people can read today, and which contain concepts and ideas about the "spiritual world" revealing an unimaginable richness and complexity. Each individual will have to make their own decisions regarding the meaning and purpose of this "new revelation".
The second aspect of Steiner's legacy involves the effects of his teaching on other people and what has come into being in the world as a result of it. While there were many other spiritual teachers active earlier in this century (Blavatsky, Gurdjieff et.al.) in Europe, not one of them has had as dramatic and as long lived practical effect. The Waldorf school movement, the bio-dynamic agriculture movement, the Camphill movement (we will go into these in more detail later), these and other works (as well as goethean science) have all directly flowed from the event of the life and work of Rudolf Steiner.
There are critics of Steiner's spiritual research. For the most part, however, these critics ignore the philosophical foundation upon which this work is based and as well the many practical and effective consequences. Just as materialistic science can point to its technological wonders as proof of it partial grasp of the truth, so does Steiner's spiritual investigations find validation in their obvious salutary effects.
For us who would like to deepen our understanding of the meaning of the Hopi Prophecy, in particular the "Red Symbol" and the "Sun", it is in Steiner's researches into the supersensible that the best aid will be found. This should not be surprising, since as we noted earlier, it was the original prophet's passively received spiritual experiences which generated the prophecy in the first place. In fact it is the correspondences between Steiner's actively sought after discoveries and the Hopi Prophecy which are so instructive.
But just here we enter fully into that problem which I earlier characterized as the difference between ideas of fact and ideas of faith. This is no small difficulty. I will try now to address the problem more carefully. Some readers may be familiar with Robert Heinlen's novel Stranger in a Strange Land (Berkeley Publishing Company, 1961). In there a type of service is invented/described called the Fair Witness; one who is hired to observe and report, and whose observation skills and veracity are considered legally admissable in court. In Heinlen's book, in order to demonstrate the qualities of a Fair Witness, one of them is asked to tell what color a certain house is. The Witness says (more or less): "It is white, on this side.".
This is, for me, an excellent example of the difference between an idea of fact and an idea of faith. The Witness, not being able to see the other side of the house, is only willing to state that the observable side is white. The leap of faith, the assumption that in all likelihood the whole house is white, is not made.
All of us, I believe, must recognize that we could have no social existence, much less any civilization to speak of, without numerous assumptions, numerous ideas of faith. The threshold problem is that we often forget that we have these, and just as frequently (when we find it convenient in argument) jump to point out the leaps of faith of the other. What I want is for us to make conscious our assumptions, to acknowledge our ideas of faith, yet at the same time not to use this to fall into a very weak argument. This weak argument (or chain of reasoning) takes the position that an idea of faith is just a matter of belief, and therefore one can hold any belief about the subject matter one wants. In the example above, one might say: "Well, I believe the house is pink on the other side, and my belief is just as good as yours; so there."
I've exaggerated the emotional content of course, but one encounter's this style of thinking far too often, although in many cases not so explicitly stated. The problem comes when we decide that the idea of faith cannot by some method or effort be made into an idea of fact. In the case of the house, we can in fact go see what the other side or sides look like.
When the idea of faith concerns spiritual matters, there is a tendency to proceed as if these are permanently ideas of faith, but that in itself is a kind of assumption which is testable. The whole effort of the impulse of the true white brother is that what have been up to now seemingly permanent ideas of faith are in fact testable and reducible to ideas of fact (c.f. Steiner's Christianity as Mystical Fact, Anthroposophic Press, 1972). Or, as I said in the Overture, there is a map to the 'spirit' and the problem is not one of belief any longer, but whether in the scientific spirit, one is willing to make the journey, willing to attempt the act of replication, or otherwise willing to test the hypothesis
The difficulty is that the inner laboratory of our consciousness is an entirely different kind of territory to investigate than that which we ordinarily pursue in the practice of science. Steiner's science of the spirit requires strenuous, inner participation of the investigator, which many individuals are unwilling to undertake.
In a coarse way we might say that Steiner said the house was white on the first hidden turn of the wall. Barfield and others have gone there and/or slightly further - the bringing of consciousness to the act of thinking, and for some the awakening in the ethereal realm (to many of these we shall see laters in thic chapter) (see later chapters). But beyond these lies some hills and valleys where only Steiner (and one other as we shall see later) have gone. It is rather as if a foreign land had been explored and mapped, but that those who are attempting to follow this map were yet only able to make a landing on the strange coastline and report back that yes it is there and as described. But as to the reported texture and meaning of the hinterlands, the deeper plains and mountains, of that we can not yet confirm.
What then do we do with Steiner's research? Well, what do we do with any expertise which we ourselves cannot personally confirm? Do we doubt the doctor, until we have gone to medical school ourselves? No we do not, but at the same time we temper our faith with judgment. We listen carefully to the doctor, compare his advice with what else we know and our own common sense. We also pay attention to those who are also patients (students) of the doctor, and see how this experience has affected them. Then we act, on faith, but life demands that of us constantly. Only after we act will the validity of our judgment obtain any confirmation. So it must be with the next chapters. Do not judge them as they unfold, but rather wait until the whole is presented, until the tapestry of the Prophecy is made clear in the end, and then go on and test what you can in your own life examine.
This in fact is a main element of the "life plan for the future"* of the true white brother, the bringing into alignment of the demand of science for reproducebility, and the path of spiritual life. All this does not mean, by the way, that ideas of faith are to be abandoned. Not only is this unjustifiable and dangerous in ordinary life (faith in the doctor again), but faith itself is a power - a faculty - in the life of the spirit. It is not without wisdom that Christ Jesus said: "... blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29).
Rather than thinking, feeling and willing, I want us to use the terms reason, imagination and devotion. These are, to me, the 'in the image of God' primeval capacities of the human being. Moreover, these capacities are bound up with the older conceptions of truth, beauty and goodness. From one point of view we can say that truth is the father of reason, beauty the mother of imagination and goodness the progenitor of devotion. This in the sense that these capacities in the human being are derivative, that is they owe their origin to something at once more awesome and external, yet at the same time something which has left a bit of itself within us.
Because humanity is meant to be truly free, our derived nature - our given characteristics - are only meant to be embryonic potentials. Truth gives birth in us the capacity to reason, beauty gives birht to the capacity of imagination and goodness gives birth to the capacity of devotion. It is we who must think and feel and will, and through these consciously engendered activies seek to reunite our given faculties with their primeval sources. Thus: It is because we have reason as a capacity that we are driven to find the truth. It is because we have imagination that we must create beauty, and it is because we have devotion that we yearn to do the good. Now the question can be asked: Of what use are these ideas?
Earlier in this century the novelist/physicist C.P.Snow pointed out the existence of "two cultures", the cultures of science and of humanities. These cultures did not speak the same language and did not consider the same problems. Moreover the scientists seemed to believe that only their method produced objective truth, and that the humanities only produced subjective truths. More recently, Alan Bloom (in his The Closing of the American Mind), observed that the distribution of assets (physical plant, talent and funds) in the modern university reveals the domination of the sciences; at least to governments and businesses, who provide most of the funding.
What Rudolf Steiner has brought me to realize is that Snow did not go far enough. There are, I have come to believe, three cultures (or constituent spheres to Culture): a culture of science or reason, a culture of humanities or imagination and a culture of religion or devotion. Yet, in our time civilization is dominated by the culture of reason. The form of education, the main ideas of our common world view, the process by which we seek to answer most questions, all these are dominated by just one part of human nature - our capacity to reason.
As a consequence our civilization is out of balance, and unless the balance is redressed, destruction will certainly follow. The whole ecological problem which mankind is facing is an excellent example of our onesidedness. The question comes then: How do we restore harmony?
It is this question which I think gives us a real appreciation of Steiner's life. When one comes to know it and its works, it becomes clear that in Steiner's own soul the faculties of reason, imagination and devotion were very powerfully present and themselves in considerable harmony.
Yet, those who were to hear his words were not themselves so well balanced(sounds arrogant?). The culture that had produced his listeners was itself onesided. And, while it is clear that Steiner produced work in all three spheres, it is to the pole of reason in the human soul that Steiner mainly spoke. It was reason in human existence which was excessive, and it was reason which needed to be cured of its confusion.
Many kinds of people are attracted to the work of Steiner, yet it takes but little observation to see that what is 'fed' is mainly the life of thought. Steiner's beginning works seek to cure the soul's conceptual life of the confusion engendered by the advent of the onlooker separation; to restore sanity to the soul which has grown up in the onesided world view created by materialism. And, for this reason Steiner first must shed light on the problems in philosophy, first must heal the disunity between world and word.
In our time, when the ideas we have of the world are principally formed, as Barfield pointed out, by nineteenth century positivism, it is there that Steiner plants his lever by which to move the world. Moreover, he leaves the lever in place, and through his philosophical works shows his students how they as well may take up the work. In fact, in Steiner's late in life summa of his own work (called Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), the first statement is that: "Anthroposophy is the path of cognition from the spiritual in man to the spiritual in the cosmos." When later we take a closer look at what has come into being since Steiner began the healing of the faculty of reason, it will become apparent how much has actually been accomplished. Reason, however, should not be confused with logic, or with the quality 'cold', which we often think of with respect to certain kinds of decisions and choices that people often make. Reason in the sense that I am using it refers to an essential mystery in the experience of our inner life. There are subtle discriminations to be made, and when we truly 'reason' then there is no disunity, but rather a being-with - reason and truth are united. Nor does this come about without the cooperation of devotion and imagination. The whole soul is involved in a single harmonious act. But here we are getting ahead of ourselves. There is much ground to cover before taking up the more intimate matters of the Mystery of the True White Brother.