Steiner is the founder of Anthroposophy. Consider a philosopher and educator in his own right; his teachings embody philosophy, the social sciences, the natural sciences, agricultural, the arts, education, psychology, and religion. Commonly Anthroposophy is said to be based on what Steiner called Spiritual Science; however, in An Outline of Occult Science (1972) in a footnote Steiner writes: “The term ‘spiritual science’ as is apparent from the context, is here synonymous with the terms ‘occult science’ and supersensible knowledge.'” (73, 101) Anthroposophy is a unique combination of Rosicrucian, Theosophy, and Christianity.
On February 27, 1861, Steiner was born in Kraljevic, then a part of Hungary and now in Yugoslavia. His parents were Austrian. His father was a railway clerk and intended his son to become a civil engineer.
By the age of eight, Steiner possessed clairvoyance awareness of the unseen. The apparition of a dead relative and the visualization of energies produced by the plant kingdom were among his experiences. When discovering geometry in school, he perceived the geometric forms as living realities.
Steiner, when fifteen, began learning the secret occult lore of plants from Felix Korgutski who eventually introduced him to an adept that was referred to as “the Master,” who spiritually initiated him. Steiner never revealed the identity of this latter individual, according to occult tradition.
The Master taught Steiner his spiritual mission in life; to develop knowledge that synthesized science and religion. To this objective he devoted the rest of his life, guided by what he called “the occult power behind me.”
In 1879 he entered the Technische Hochschule in Vienna to study mathematics and science, which, as he later acknowledged gave him a better basis for a spiritual conception of the world than he would have gained from a study of the humanities. He also studied the philosophies of Kant, Fichte, and Hegel and the natural scientific writings of Goethe. At 22 he was invited to edit a definitive edition of Goethe’s scientific writings.
In 1886 the Specht family employed Steiner to tutor their four boys, one of whom was autistic. With the help of Steiner’s exceptional tutoring this boy attended high school, college, medical school, and became a doctor.
Steiner received his doctorate degree from the University of Rostock in 1891. His thesis, Truth and Knowledge (also entitled Truth and Science) on the scientific teaching of the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte was followed in 1894 by his major philosophical work Die Philosophie der Freiheit (1894), which was later translated into English as The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and The Philosophy of Freedom.
Steiner never spoke publicly about his spiritual philosophy, or clairvoyance experience, and what he had learned from them until he was forty. In an autobiographical sketch, he said, no one should attempt to teach occultism until reaching this age. This was the intention of the Masters. If anyone did so, he was bound to make mistakes.
Steiner was at the stage of life where he had accumulated much experience in nonphysical realms. He accomplished this through profound and concentrated meditation. He learned to bridge the physical and nonphysical realms, and to test repeatedly what he learned in the nonphysical and relate it to the physical. He firmly believed in the Hermetic axiom that humankind is the microcosm within the macrocosm of Creation and within us are clues to the secrets of the universe. Such secrets are revealed by the discovery of the true nature of humankind.
Steiner claimed to be able to access the Akashic Records, which contain the history of the evolution of man and the world. He contented that at one time man was more spiritual possessing greater supersensible capabilities, but with his descent into the material plane he lost them. At the depth of human decent, Christ appearing giving humans the capability to ascend again into higher spiritual levels. For Steiner, the life, death and resurrection of Christ were the most important events in the history of humankind and the cosmos. (Author’s note: It is not certain if Steiner was familiar with the teachings of Gnosticism or not, but his teaching than man lost spirituality when entering the material plane resembles a basic Gnostic teaching. Steiner also leaned toward Gnosticism by his teachings of Christ and that humanity could reach higher worlds through study and discipline.)
Steiner had achieved a personal development that allowed him to perceived beings in other planes besides the physical one that interacted with humans. He said some of these beings encouraged humans to become more spiritual, while others wished people to remain mired materialistic and mechanistic world. Two types of beings composed this latter group: one, he referred to as Luciferian, which gave the humans their free will; two, were the Ahriman beings that resembled the Persian personification of evil.
Steiner experienced a continual struggle with evil forces within himself. He considered that personal salvation came from the immersion of oneself in the mysteries of Christ. To others, he warned, that the path to higher consciousness, though attainable by anyone who followed an ordered discipline of thought, feeling, and will, required great patience and perseverance, and the preparedness for challenging experiences that had to be confronted with great moral courage.
The Theosophical Society enthusiastically accepted his lectures. Steiner’s popularity led to his appointment in 1902 as the general secretary of the newly founded German Section of the Theosophical Society. Marie von Sievers was named secretary. She became Steiner’s second wife in 1914; his first marriage to Anna Eunicke, a widow, had previously ended in a divorce.
Steiner soon found disturbances within the organization. He was concerned over what he called “triviality and dilettantism” that he found in the Theosophical Society. He was disillusioned by Annie Besant’s championship of Jiddu Krishnamurri as the next messiah. He did not believe that it was possible to build a spiritual on Eastern mysticism, which he claimed was not suitable to the spiritual needs of the Western mind. Furthermore, he considered the cofounder Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky to have distorted occult truths.
Within the Society Steiner found an audience that favored his own esoteric research. In 1913 he left the Society with his followers to form the Anthroposophical Society as a vehicle to continue his work. Steiner described Anthroposophy as a path for spiritual growth on four levels of human nature: the senses, imagination, inspiration, and intuition.
Steiner also delivered more than a dozen lecture series on the spiritual and esoteric revelations that he gleamed from the Christian scriptures. In 1922, he responded to an appeal from German and Swiss pastors and theology students by providing the spiritual foundation for the church called the Christian Community, or the Movement for Religious Renewal. He participated in laying the structure for this Christian church, which may be described as combining the Protestant emphasis on individual conscience and the Roman Catholic emphasis on tradition and liturgy. Steiner himself composed a specific form of liturgy for the church, called “The Act of Consecration of Man,” but emphasized that the primary spiritual path for modern humanity should be Spiritual Science or Anthroposophy. With this intent Steiner, during Christmas week of 1923, he reorganized the international organization with himself as president.
Within the same year that he formed the Anthroposophical Society, Steiner designed and established the Goetheanum, a school for esoteric research, at Dornach, near Basel, Switzerland, where he intended to produce Goethe’s dramas and his own mystery plays. The Goethanum opened in 1920, but burned down in 1923. The new building, which was designed and constructed, now serves as the international headquarters for the General Anthroposophical Society.
Steiner originated the Waldorf School Movement, which is an approach to the education that developed from his spiritual-scientific research concerning child development. In his social philosophy that he advocated in 1919with the phrase “threefold social order” came the conception of three ideally equal bur separate spheres: economic, political, and spiritual-cultural. Education, Steiner said, belonged to the spiritual-cultural sphere. In 1919 he established the first Waldorf School for Boys and Girls in Stuttgart. Now there are over 500 such schools, making Waldorf the largest nonsectarian system in the world. Steiner also addressed the educational needs of the retarded children with the establishment of clinics and homes, referred to as Campbell Villages, which incorporate his methods and are highly reputed.
Stein other activities included developing agricultural methods for preparing soil inspired chemical-free, biodynamic farming and gardening. With Marie von Sievers he created eurythmy, the art of moving the body, particularly the limbs, to express the inner meanings of music and speech. His teachings of holistic medicine and pharmacology are widely followed.
Steiner wrote on the various subjects on which he taught and lectured. His writings filled more than 350 volumes. Among his most notable writings are Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften (1883-1897), his edition of the scientific writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that composed five volumes; Die Philosophie de Freiheit (1896), translated as Philosophy of Freedom (1916; rev. ed. 1964) and also as The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (1922), is an extension of Steiner’s doctoral dissertation; Die Grundfrage der Erkenntnisthorie (The Fundamentals of a Theory of Cognition, 1891, which prepared the way for the theory of cognition that characterized all of his later thought; Wie erlangt man Erkenntnisse der hoheren Welten? (translated as Knowledge of Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, 1947) and Theosophie, which along with Die Geheinwissenschaft im Umriss (1909, translated as Occult Science: An Outline, 1969 )formed the basis for his entire spiritual and esoteric teaching; Rudolf Steiner: An Autobiography, 1978, he wrote during his last year.
Steiner died at Dornach on March 30, 1925.
The Anthroposophical Society has branches worldwide. Its influence is strongest felt in Europe and Britain. (see also Members of Man) A.G.H.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. pp.574-577
Mircea Eliade (Editor-in-Chief). Encyclopedia of Religion. New York, Macmillan, 1987. pp. 1, 320-321; 14, 47-48