What next after capitalism?

After the results of the UK election, held on 8th June, one thing became very clear: young people have started to lose faith in the way our present society runs, particularly in our current model of capitalism. The situation is even more stark in the USA; Naomi Klein has analysed it brilliantly here.

It is not hard to understand some of the economic pressures which have led young people to conclude that capitalism is not working for them. A study by the Resolution Foundation last year found that people born between 1981 and 1985 are earning £40 a week less in today’s terms than were, at the same age, people born a decade earlier – making the current under-35s the first generation since the industrial revolution to suffer such a reversal. Meanwhile, the cost of housing has gone beyond their reach. Over the past five years, according to the Nationwide Building Society, the rate of home-ownership among 30-34 year olds has plunged from 49.3 per cent to 43.1 per cent – while older people have enjoyed higher rates of home-ownership.

Moreover, high rents have prevented many young people from putting aside any kind of savings. If they cannot win a stake in the capitalist system, in spite of working hard, why should they support it?  Add to that some of the many other issues that Theresa May’s government is either supporting or which are resulting from its policies, eg fracking, foodbanks, stealth privatisation of the NHS and other public services, student tuition fees, constant austerity for ordinary people but not the rich, etc., and it is no wonder that so many young people voted in such numbers for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

For many older people, capitalism was associated with freedom. But there is little reason today for young people to feel the same way, when they are confronted on a daily basis by large, tax-dodging corporations and bankers who wrecked the economy, who escaped without punishment and yet who carried on skimming off vast bonuses. What they see instead are the failures of Conservative industrial policy, such as over-priced trains run by private companies, which have ruthlessly exploited the private monopolies granted to them, in what was surely the most flawed of all the privatisations.

It will not be possible for the Conservatives to continue to preach the benefits of the free market if it is patently not working in favour of an entire generation. By the next election the current generation of under-35s will comprise nearly half the population. If they have a sense that the economic system is rigged against them, they will revolt against it – and so they should.

But it’s even worse than just a system rigged against the young; those of you who are regular readers of this blog may be aware that from time-to-time, I’ve expressed grave doubts as to whether this planet and all the species living on it will be able to survive the consequences of our present system of economics.

Our current model of capitalism, with its emphasis on constant growth and its elevation of money to something which trumps every other argument, is leading us inevitably towards what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction in the history of our planet. The Holocene epoch, the past 12,000 years of stable climate in which agriculture, settled communities, and great civilisations first appeared, has come to an end, and a new epoch has begun. The term “Anthropocene” was coined in the 1970s to describe this new epoch, in which we are seeing significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems.

Another and in some ways better term for the present epoch has been coined even more recently by those who want to focus attention on the role of capitalism in bringing us to this crisis in Earth’s existence, and this is the “Capitalocene”.  We are living in a new and dangerous epoch in Earth history, as identified in overwhelming detail by scientists. It is characterised by the violation of critical planetary boundaries, the unprecedented disruption of our planet’s life-support systems with potentially catastrophic results, including climate chaos, mass extinctions, acidified oceans, poisoned rivers, rising sea levels, over-population and more.

Whatever one calls this new era, it’s clear that most people (with the possible exception of Donald Trump and those who share his attitudes) are prepared to accept that the Earth System as a whole is experiencing unprecedented negative changes caused by recent human action (from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards). The concept that perpetual, constant, infinite growth without limits is leading us directly to disaster is one that is probably accepted by most sane people these days. The question is: what can be done about it? Who is going to tell voters in a democracy that there are limits to growth? Who will tell a Premier League footballer or a rock star that there should be a limit to the number of Ferraris they own? More to the point, is there any politician with the courage to say to people like me that two cars per family is quite enough?

No doubt most people can see the connection between unlimited numbers of consumer goods and ecological destruction – but which of us is prepared to accept that the limits to growth have to start with you and me?

Rudolf Steiner identified the economic, social and cultural aspects of the problem a century ago and put forward Threefolding as an alternative to our headlong pursuit of disaster. These ideas still need to be brought to the world’s attention but my assumption is that there will not be any cut-through to political and public notice by anthroposophical concepts alone, unless they are also accompanied by additional ideas and solutions propounded by other people of goodwill. Sadly, anthroposophy is too strange a word, its ideas are too remote from common attitudes today, and its historical baggage is too cumbersome to enable it to make the necessary difference on its own.

That is why I am proposing, along with a few colleagues, to organise a conference at Emerson College in 2019 to look for a new story, a new narrative about what has to pass away, and what has to come into being, if we are to survive as a species on our beautiful blue planet – and I invite you to help “crowdthink” this conference into a form that will enable it to be most useful. Here are a few ideas to get us started, and I would be most grateful for your own input, such as suggestions for speakers, themes, alternative ways forward and who should be invited to attend and participate. Please send in your thoughts and ideas via the Comment button below.

Conference working title: What next after capitalism?

Conference venue: Emerson College, Forest Row, East Sussex, UK

Proposed date: Around Easter 2019

Basic premise: The world is hurtling towards disaster because of the way we treat the planet and people and this is a direct result of our current economic systems. We are not living with love for one another and the world. Does the conference accept/agree with this? Does the conference accept/agree the concept that the problem is our present model of capitalism?

Duration: 3 days

Day 1: THEME – What’s broken?

Establishing what’s not working and why, using examples from around the world. 20-minute “Ted type” talks on identifying what is broken.

Day 2: THEME – Alternatives

Looking at alternatives from around the world – examples of success and failures

Day 3: THEME – Call to Action

Leaving with determination, purpose and a clear set of realistic actions for each of the 3 themes.

Underlying structure: 3-fold. Cross-cutting themes throughout conference, including Economic, Cultural and Rights spheres, and taking in topics such as the impact of our present model of capitalism on the environment, global economy, banking, agriculture, medicine, company structures, shareholder system, developing countries and relations between people, etc

Our ideal will be to find a backer who will fully fund the conference so that attendance can be by invitation only. Our aim will be to put together a stellar group of keynote speakers and leading thinkers, and to invite top civil servants, social entrepreneurs, pioneers who are already doing the alternatives, academics, influencers and opinion-formers to attend.

I would be very grateful to receive via the Comments below your own thoughts, ideas and suggestions to develop this proposal – please suggest speakers, topics and a structure for each day of the conference. It would be a magnificent achievement if this conference could be a result of “crowdthinking” in action!

 

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Capitalism, Emerson College UK

Childish things

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11, King James Version)

The writer C S Lewis, in his On Three Ways of Writing for Children, extended this thought of St Paul’s a little further:

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

The anthropopper finds that, as he gets older, he thinks more and more often of his childhood. Just lately, I have been remembering the first class in my first school, when I was 4 years old; and in particular I remember two children’s hymns that we sang then, perhaps because I find them to be as meaningful for me now as an adult as they were when I was a little boy.

Our class teacher was Miss Butterworth, whom I adored and intended to marry when I was a grown-up. I can still recall my bitter disappointment when the headmaster told us she had married a Frenchman and become Mrs Gillette.

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Class 1, Firs Farm Primary School, London N13 in 1955. Miss Butterworth is on the right and Miss Atkins on the left. The anthropopper is 4th from the left in the middle row.

Outside the house, the sun is shining and on the lawn the daisies and buttercups are strewn in profusion, like silver and gold stars among a grassy firmament. Inside, as I gaze out of the window at the garden, I can also see the classroom assistant, Miss Atkins, who is playing the piano, while Miss Butterworth teaches us the words:

Daisies are our silver,

Buttercups our gold;

This is all the treasure

We can have or hold.

 

Raindrops are our diamonds

And the morning dew;

While for shining sapphires

We’ve the speedwell blue.

More than sixty years later, I remember it all clearly, and sing the words to myself, conscious of moist eyes. You can hear the music, a hymn tune called Glenfinlas by K G Finlay (1882 – 1974), played on a church organ, here.

The hymnbook we used at my first school was called Songs of Praise, and I have wanted for some time to own a copy; so I was delighted on a visit to St David’s Cathedral in Wales to find it, including the music, on sale in the cathedral shop. From the list of credits, it is clear that the people behind Songs of Praise were very distinguished: the Words Editor was the Revd Canon Percy Dearmer (1867 – 1936), an ecumenist, socialist and advocate for the public ministry of women; while the Music Editors were the composers Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) and Martin Shaw (1875 – 1958).

percy dearmer

The Revd. Canon Percy Dearmer

Christopher Howse, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said that “It was brave of Dearmer to recruit the genius of Ralph Vaughan Williams … since the composer was formally an atheist, though he heard even in an errand boy’s careless whistling ‘nothing else than an attempt to reach into the infinite’ ”.

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Ralph Vaughan Williams in the 1920s (photo by E A Hoppe)

It was Martin Shaw who, during his work on Songs of Praise, came upon the traditional Gaelic hymn-tune Bunessan while researching in the British Library and then used it to set the words of Morning is Broken, which he had commissioned specially from his old friend Eleanor Farjeon. This tune and Farjeon’s words became a No. 1 hit for Cat Stevens in 1972.

 

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Brothers and composers – Geoffrey and Martin Shaw

Dearmer, Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw brought some of the best of their contemporaries into the hymnal project, including composers such as: Arnold Bax, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, John Ireland, Arthur Somervell and Herbert Sumsion; and writers including : Laurence Binyon, Robert Bridges, G K Chesterton, Edmund Gosse, Laurence Housman, Rudyard Kipling, John Masefield. They also commissioned many new hymns using verses from various great writers such as: Matthew Arnold, John Bunyan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Donne, Goethe, Robert Herrick, John Milton, Christina Rossetti, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Walt Whitman and Wordsworth.

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Jan Struther

One of these contemporaries was Jan Struther, who wrote Daisies are our Silver and several other hymns that were included in the revised 1931 version of Songs of Praise. Her literary name was a compression of her real name, Joyce Anstruther. Joyce had an interesting, rather tragic life and under her married name of Mrs Maxtone Graham was a member of the special committee formed in 1929 to support the work of enlarging the first version of Songs of Praise. During the 1939/45 war, she had much success (that later came to haunt her), with her creation of the character Mrs Miniver, which became a film of that name starring Greer Garson. The film depicted the everyday life and preoccupations of a middle class British family in wartime and was credited with helping to change public opinion in the USA about joining Britain to fight in the Second World War.

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Lizette Woodworth Reese

Martin Shaw’s brother, Geoffrey, was also a composer; and it was Geoffrey Shaw (1879 – 1943) who wrote the music to words by the 19th century American poet Lizette Woodworth Reese (1856 – 1935), Glad that I live am I, which is the second hymn I remember learning with Miss Butterworth and Miss Atkins:

Glad that I live am I,

That the sky is blue;

Glad for the country lanes

And the fall of dew.

 

After the sun the rain,

After the rain the sun;

This is the way of life

Till the work be done.

 

All that we need to do,

Be we low or high,

Is to see that we grow

Nearer the sky.

Such simple words are suitable for a child’s understanding, but also contain sufficient layers and compression of meaning to satisfy an adult’s need for truth. And who is to say that this is not good poetry? I am glad that it still seems to be meaningful for teachers and pupils today: you can hear Oaklands School in Loughton, Essex, singing it on YouTube at their school prizegiving in 2015.

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The UK’s Brexit and anti-globalisation general election

Apart from his efforts to bring about the Threefold Social Order after the First World War, Rudolf Steiner stayed away from involvement with politics. Indeed, he went so far as to say: “The Anthroposophical Society is averse to any kind of sectarian tendency. Politics it does not consider to be among its tasks.”  This is a line that many anthroposophists also take, for understandable reasons.

Despite this, I am going to write here about politics, because the forthcoming “snap” British general election, called by the British prime minister Theresa May to be held on June 8th 2017, is of such a momentous nature, with implications not just for the UK but also for many other countries around the world, that it surely deserves a wider anthroposophical perspective.

We have also just had the result of the presidential election in France, which was won decisively by Emmanuel Macron, leader of a new political party, En Marche! (On the Move!), whose name by a strange coincidence bears the same initials as his own. His defeated opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National party, had one of the most devastating lines in their televised debate, when she said: “France is going to be led by a woman, either me or Frau Merkel” but her aggressive, hectoring style led most observers to conclude that she had lost the arguments.

(As an interesting aside, a respected clairvoyant suggested to me that Emmanuel Macron is an aspect of Napoleon Bonaparte, who has reincarnated to do what he can to compensate for all the death and destruction he caused during his life as Emperor of France. A fanciful notion, perhaps, but put pictures of Macron and Bonaparte side by side and there is a distinct resemblance. I shall watch with great interest how Macron approaches his task of seeking to unite a very divided nation.)

Macron Bonaparte

Macron Bonaparte (image via the blog Conseil dans l’Espérance du Roi)

The Eurozone economic crisis, combined with the cultural and social impact of its open borders policy, has led to the rise of far-right parties not just in France but in many EU nations: the very thing which defenders of the EU say it exists to counter. But discontent with the EU is only one factor; another important one, which applies much more widely than just within Europe, is that the bankers and money-men collectively bankrupted us a decade ago – and got away with it. The resulting surge of rage across the Western world unleashed the Brexit vote in the UK; it smashed the established French party system, so that neither of the main parties there was any longer even in contention for the presidency; and in the USA it carried Donald Trump all the way to the White House. The tide in favour of national self-determination and anti-globalisation appears to be running high in many countries right now.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I voted to leave the European Union during the referendum held on June 23rd 2016, and I gave my reasons here and here. Most anthroposophists I know took a different line, and voted to remain. There has been a lively discussion about all of this in recent issues of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain’s Newsletter. I don’t intend to repeat the arguments I made last year, but will add here a few further observations.

First of all, a glance back at the history of Britain and the European project, together with a question: why was it that Conservative and Labour statesmen such as Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin, as well as the great European Charles de Gaulle, were all against the idea of Britain joining what was to become the European Union? Was it because they all understood what the European project was about and realised that Britain was not a natural part of it?

Churchill de Gaulle

Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle

The case made by those in favour of joining the European Economic Community (such as Harold Macmillan, prime minister from 1957 to 1963) was that Britain’s relative economic and actual geopolitical decline after the Second World War left joining the rest of Europe as the only viable alternative. However, after the war and in the early 1950s, most British politicians were unable to see just how difficult Britain’s position had become; or perhaps some of them could see it, but weren’t prepared to tell the British people that our imperial pretensions could no longer be sustained. It was the Suez War of 1956 that revealed just how far Britain’s economy had weakened, and how dependent it had become on the USA.

Britain after the Second World War and into the 1950s resisted the idea of joining in any moves towards European integration. True, Churchill had publicly supported the idea of a United States of Europe, notably when he made the keynote speech at the Hague Congress that created the Council of Europe in 1948; though whether he ever envisaged Britain being part of any such union is very doubtful. Certainly, he was far less sympathetic to the idea of union by the time he had returned to power in 1951. Nor was the post-war Labour government in favour of any moves towards union that might cede sovereignty in any form. In May 1950 foreign secretary Bevin said that because of links with the USA and the Commonwealth, Britain was “different in character from other European nations and fundamentally incapable of wholehearted integration with them.” In any case, measures towards political union of any kind aroused him to vigorous rejection. ‘I don’t like it. I don’t like it,’ he famously said of the idea of the Council of Europe: ‘When you open that Pandora’s Box you’ll find it’s full of Trojan horses.’

Bevin and Attlee

Ernest Bevin and Clement Attlee

Most Conservative politicians agreed with him. So Britain failed to engage in the creation of the EEC in the Treaty of Rome of 1957, and then later tried but failed to remedy what had come to be seen as a mistake. For Charles de Gaulle had never forgotten that Churchill had once told him that “if we had to choose between France and the US, Britain would always choose the latter.” So when Britain finally tried to join the EEC, first in 1963 and then again in 1967, de Gaulle vetoed our applications. Giving his reasons in 1963 for saying “Non”, he commented: “England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her interactions, her markets and her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has, in all her doings, very marked and very original habits and traditions.”

De Gaulle also believed that Britain would represent American interests: it would be the US’s Trojan horse in the EEC. He had concluded that Britain was not committed to the goals of the EEC because, having withdrawn in 1955 from the original talks that led to the creation of the EEC, Britain had then proceeded to establish its own rival customs union (EFTA – the European Free Trade Association). In addition, he found the British both arrogant and self-important. Was de Gaulle wrong about any of this? I don’t think so.

This is all ancient and unfortunate history, some might say. Eventually, in 1973, Britain managed to join the EEC – but only after de Gaulle had left office. Nearly half a century later, we’re all Europeans and global citizens now, drinking our fairtrade coffee while we wait for our flight to some agreeable holiday destination. We like the idea of being able to move to any EU country for work, and in any case, without all those helpful Eastern Europeans coming to the UK, who will look after the elderly in our care homes or serve us our skinny latte?

Despite such compelling arguments, I voted to leave on June 23rd 2016, and thus opened myself up to accusations of racism, fascism, betraying young people etc from furious Remainers. Even so, I was somewhat bemused to find myself characterised by Michael Eggert, a German blogger, as someone who was siding with “neo-nationalist reactionaries” and “reflecting the internal arguments of the UKIP supporters.” He tells his readers that if they go to the anthropopper blog they will know what to expect if they are “familiar with today’s neo-right and open-fascist conspiracy theories. The ingredients for anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are the same, albeit with the pseudo-occult bluff arguments which so many believing Steiner supporters derive from his statements of 100 years ago.”

Actually, Michael, if I were pushed to define my political position, I would say that I lean towards anarcho-syndicalism with a deep green tinge. I thought I had taken great care in my Brexit essay to set out quite a distinct and principled position from a progressive standpoint – but perhaps the argument was too nuanced to pierce the hard shell of your cultural infallibility.

Leaving the uncomprehending Egoisten aside, I still remain baffled by the poor reasoning exhibited by so many Remainers; why is it, for example, that pro-EU people on the left or Green sides of the argument are so in favour of the European Union? What are they doing, these radicals who like to think of themselves as being in the forefront of the fight against globalisation, by fighting instead for an undemocratic, unaccountable trading bloc which is backed by the world’s banks, multinational corporations, financiers, and heads of governments? To listen to these Remainers, it’s clear that the decision to leave is being treated not as an opportunity to engage more fully with the wider world, nor a throwing-off of economic handcuffs or even simply as a change that must be accommodated after due democratic process, but rather as some kind of a national disaster.

Caroline Lucas

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s only MP and one half of the party leadership

And what is the Green Party thinking of, when it supports the EU? The EU cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as green. Has Caroline Lucas forgotten the continent-wide destruction created by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy – the wiping out of hedgerows, forests and wildlife, landscape features, small and family farms, and the promotion of industrial farming and agricultural free trade – which has arguably done more damage to the rural landscapes of Europe in 50 years than any other single instrument in the previous 500? This of course is now being extended to Romania, Poland, Hungary and the other newer members of the EU, where we will once again see the destruction of the peasantry, wildlife and diverse landscapes and the introduction of monocultures and the triumph of agri-business.

As for the Labour Party, I confess I don’t know what their attitude to the EU is today, nor do I understand what their position is on Brexit. What I do know is that they have failed to provide any kind of leadership, or to show that they have any clue about what caused the vote to leave. It seems that they have already given up on any prospect of winning this general election and are now manoeuvring behind the scenes for the leadership election that seems likely to follow a heavy general election defeat for their party.

The weakness of the left and the Greens means that this general election campaign will be more or less entirely about Brexit – and if I am right about most people’s motivations for voting to leave the EU, then in some ways it is also a manifestation of anti-globalisation, as we have seen elsewhere around the world.

The ruthlessness and will to power of the Conservatives have been much in evidence ever since the country voted to leave. We saw this first of all in the leadership contest to succeed David Cameron and then in everything Theresa May has done since becoming prime minister, especially in the way she has called this general election after denying on at least six occasions that there would be any election before 2020. The chances are that we are in for an extended period of Conservative rule. This has huge consequences, most obviously for Brexit and the UK’s future relations with Europe, but also for the futures of Labour’s leadership, public services, and the constitutional outlook for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.

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Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker (photo via the Daily Telegraph)

Mrs May has of course been fortunate in her enemies; nothing is better calculated to bring voters over to her side than leaked vindictive accounts from the aides of Jean-Claude Juncker of private dinners at Downing Street, or the threat of charging British taxpayers £100 billion because we were foolish enough to want to resign from the club. This is perhaps one reason why the Liberal Democrats were not able to make any kind of a breakthrough in the British local elections held on 4th May – as the one British political party which is unequivocally for Remain, they are now seen as supporting the vindictive and venal elite of the European project.

For the European Union has always been an elite project. Since it took shape in 1992, its architects have always been reticent about putting their project to the people. Referenda were rare, and if people voted the wrong way, as they did in Ireland or in Portugal, they were told to vote again until they gave the ‘right’ answer. The unspoken but clear aim has been to diminish, if not abolish, the democratic sovereignty of European nations, and to ‘pool’ that sovereignty in the interests of creating a giant, borderless free-trade zone. Of course, it was dressed up with talk of peace, equality and brotherhood, but it was primarily an economic project, as well as an attempt to keep Germany from becoming too dominant. (I wonder what happened to that?) People were not asked to vote on any of this, for a simple reason: it was clear they would say no. People remain stubbornly attached to their national identities, as we have seen in Britain, and as we see across the continent. This has been the EU’s fatal and quite deliberate flaw: it has never carried the people with it.

Were Rudolf Steiner alive today, he would not be giving his backing to the European Union as it has evolved. Why so many anthroposophists are unable to see this escapes me, because Steiner was quite clear about what should happen. He hoped for a threefold association of European nations that would themselves be threefold societies in which the cultural, legal-political and economic spheres would be clearly separated yet inter-related, his diagnosis being that Europe’s ills were caused by the interference of the three spheres with one another: business seeking to dominate the political state and the state seeking to dominate the cultural life (e.g. education). For the European level, Steiner looked forward to a common European economic life (which the EEC had started to provide), a common supranational European cultural life (which over the last fifty years has started to emerge in many ways) but to the maintenance of national values and traditions in the sphere of rights and law. It is this last point that the European Union, in its inept attempts to become a superstate, has completely failed to understand, and this is why Brexit became a necessity.

If Macron and others could begin to help the EU to reform itself along the lines indicated by Steiner, I would not hesitate to seek to rejoin such a community – and I think this would apply to many other people as well, not just in Britain but throughout Europe.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Brexit, European Union, Rudolf Steiner

The supersensible powers of Rudolf Steiner

Long before writing this blog post, I recall reading an account by Walter Johannes Stein of a car journey he had taken with Steiner. They were going through a town when Steiner suddenly asked the driver to stop the car outside a bookshop they had just passed. Steiner went into the bookshop and re-emerged shortly with a book, which he showed to Stein with great satisfaction, saying that he had been wanting to obtain a copy of it for some time. “But how did you know it was in that bookshop?” asked Stein. “Oh, I saw it in the window,” said Steiner. Stein knew that this was quite impossible by any normal means, because it was just before dusk and the light was poor, and the car had in any case been moving too fast for anyone to have been able to pick out a title in the bookshop window. Unfortunately, I can’t now recall where I read about this and despite googling extensively, have not been able to re-locate it. Should any reader discover it, I would be grateful to know. But what this anecdote shows is that Rudolf Steiner had some amazing abilities that are not available to most of us in our present stages of development. What were these abilities, and what use did Steiner make of them?

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Rudolf Steiner, photographed when in supersensible contact with the non-physical realm

Édouard Schuré (1841 – 1929) was a French philosopher, poet, playwright, novelist and music critic who had known Marie von Sivers (the future Frau Dr Steiner) since the year 1900, when she had contacted him with a request to translate some of his works into German. It was Marie von Sivers who introduced Schuré to Rudolf Steiner in 1906. According to the Wikipedia article on Schuré, “he was deeply impressed and thought of Steiner as an authentic ‘initiate’ in line with his The Great Initiates. After hearing Steiner lecture in Paris for the first time in 1906, Schuré in an ecstatic state ran home and wrote down the entirety of the lecture from memory. This first lecture, and the other lectures in the series (which Schuré wrote down) were published as Esoteric Cosmology. Subsequently, Steiner and von Sivers staged Schuré’s esoteric dramas at the Theosophical Congresses in Berlin and Munich. Schuré’s The Children of Lucifer, served as a precursor of Rudolf Steiner’s own esoteric dramas.”

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Edouard Schure

So Schuré was someone who knew Steiner well and had a very high regard for him. In 1910, he wrote some biographical notes on Steiner, which describe Steiner as an adept, a higher initiate, combining the powers of both mystic and occultist:

“The mystic…is one who seeks for truth, and the divine directly within himself, by a gradual detachment and a veritable birth of his higher soul. If he attains it after prolonged effort, he plunges into his own glowing centre. Then he immerses himself, and identifies himself with that ocean of life which is the primordial Force.

The occultist, on the other hand, discovers, studies, and contemplates this same Divine outpouring, given forth in diverse portions, endowed, with force, and multiplied to infinity in Nature and in Humanity. According to the profound saying of Paracelsus: he sees in all beings the letters of an alphabet, which, united in man, form the complete and conscious Word of life

The weapons of the mystic are concentration and inner vision; the weapons of the occultist are intuition and synthesis. Each corresponds to the other; they complete and presuppose each other.

These two human types are blended in the Adept, in the higher Initiate… Rudolf Steiner is both a mystic and an occultist. These two natures appear in him in perfect harmony. One could not say which of the two predominates over the other. In intermingling and blending, they have become one homogeneous force.”

There are numerous accounts, from people who knew him well, of Steiner’s supersensible abilities. From these accounts, it is clear that Steiner always waited for the conscious co-operation of the people with whom he worked; and that he never used his powers in an egotistical or selfish way, or to bring about a particular end. The freedom of other human beings was a fundamental and absolute principle underlying everything he did and said. I have chosen here a few examples, which have particularly appealed to me, to illustrate some of Steiner’s supersensible abilities but there are many others available.

The first example comes from Eleanor Merry (1873 – 1956), an English anthroposophist and artist who studied in Vienna and met Rudolf Steiner in 1922 after becoming interested in his teachings. Eleanor Merry was one of the organisers of Steiner’s 1924 summer school in Torquay, and this account comes from a meeting she had with Steiner in Paris in May of that year to discuss some of the details of the forthcoming conference.

Eleanor Merry

Eleanor Merry

“I told Dr Steiner about my efforts at painting according to his methods, and as I meant to exhibit some of my work at Torquay, I wished so much he had seen them beforehand. He replied: ‘I have seen your paintings’, and I said ‘No, Herr Doktor. You haven’t seen them; they are all in London.’

He said again: ‘I have seen them.’

I contradicted him, and for the third time he repeated that he had seen them, looking at me with his intense dark gaze.

Then for the first time I realised that he had indeed seen them, but not with earthly sight.

This incident gave me still greater confidence, because his ‘seeing’ had obviously not been the usual type of clairvoyance, but something entirely different. And there was something else. I told him that one day in London I had had great anxiety about my conduct of life, and my son and daughter, and had been nearly at my wits’ end and extremely unhappy. I was walking in the Park, thinking these anxious thoughts, when I heard distinctly a voice saying to me ‘Alles Licht kommt aus der Finsternis heraus.’ (All light comes out of the darkness.) It was so clear that I was startled, and I told him I had thought he was himself speaking. He looked kindly at me and said the simple words: ‘Warum nicht?’ (Why not?)

Never again could I doubt that in spirit he could be at any moment present with his pupils, no matter where they were.”

Anna Samweber (1884 – 1969) was an active co-worker in Berlin with Rudolf Steiner and Marie Steiner-von Sivers for several years. Her anecdotes and recollections were recorded by Jacob Streit during an intensive two days shortly before Anna’s death. They contribute a warm and intimate picture of Rudolf Steiner, the man, and his work.

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Anna Samweber

“Frau Dr Steiner owned a lovely diamond watch with her initials inscribed on the lid. It was broken, and I had to take it to a well-known watchmaker who lived a long way from the Motzstrasse (the house at 17 Motzstrasse in Berlin was where Rudolf and Marie Steiner lived from 1903 – 1913, and where the work of the Anthroposophical Society was carried on). It was late on a cold and foggy November evening when I made my way in the direction of Nollendorfplatz, where the building site for a subway was situated. I was walking along a long, wooden blank wall when suddenly two human shapes appeared from the dark and attacked me. I remembered that once Rudolf Steiner had told me that if ever I was in need I could call on him. So when these two attackers went for me, the one holding me from behind so that the other could rob me, I called inwardly and spontaneously: ‘Doctor, help me!’ At the same moment both fellows fell back like lightning and were gone.

When Rudolf Steiner came for breakfast the next morning he greeted me with the words ‘Good morning, Sam. What was the matter that you cried so loud last night?’ When I told him about my experience and he had listened quietly, he said simply: ‘But I did help you, didn’t I?’ “

Now here is an intriguing little story that will no doubt invite derision from some, but to my mind is highly significant. There is a book, Summer with the Leprechauns, by a Canadian author, Tanis Helliwell. In it, Helliwell describes how she went to Ireland and lived in a cottage with leprechauns (the race of elemental beings to which elves, leprechauns and fairies belong), one of whom became her particular friend and teacher about these beings. It’s an entertaining book to read and has been praised by Dorothy MacLean (one of the three founders of the Findhorn Community, well known for her work with the elemental kingdom).

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Tanis Helliwell (L) with Dorothy MacLean

In an interview, Helliwell was asked: What is the intention of elementals, what is their role, what do they mean for us in these ecologically very sensitive times and how do you see the writings of Rudolf Steiner on elementals?” Tanis Helliwell replied:

“In my book Summer with Leprechauns: The Authorized Edition I describe a new caste of elementals. About 100 years ago Rudolf Steiner (founder of anthroposophy) met with my leprechaun friend. He asked him and other elementals coming from all different castes: leprechauns, elves, goblins, gnomes, trolls and fairies to work in partnership with the humans to help create a healthier Earth and also to learn how to use free will and learn to be co-creators. My work assists him in the process. I travel around the world to speak to interest groups to work with elementals. Wherever I go be it the Maori of New Zealand, the Haida in Canada, the Mayan in Central America or people in Germany or Ireland the traditions of these people, all of them, believe in elementals. It is in their stories, in their legends and it is also in their present because so many people have encounters with elementals in their lives.”

I’m going to finish with a lengthy extract from an article, ‘The Initiate and the Teacher’, published in 1959 in The Golden Blade by the English artist, Gladys Mayer (1888 – 1980). She first came across Steiner’s work in 1915, when she read The Way of Initiation. In April 1922 she attended Steiner’s series of lectures on education at Stratford-on-Avon, then went to the Vienna Congress in June. The following year she visited Steiner in Dornach and decided to become a painter and art teacher at the Goetheanum.

“Mine was a strange, perhaps unique, experience of him. It is of the Initiate I must write, for I came to him late in his earthly mission, and I was not permitted to speak with him in outer life, until I had recognised him, supersensibly, as my Teacher.

Shattering events in life brought me to Rudolf Steiner. I came, not for myself, but on behalf of others. I came with doubt in my heart concerning him, yet the events which made me seek his help were beyond the competence of any but an Initiate to understand. I needed the advice which I knew he could give…”

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Gladys Mayer

Mayer then describes how she experienced what she called “the great karmic crisis of my life”:

“On not only one occasion but three times in the space of about six weeks, I had to face madness and impending tragedy in my own immediate environment. Twice in this period, on distinct occasions and amongst unrelated people, I had to intervene when a murder seemed imminent, and once to check an intended suicide. I began to ask myself: ‘Is the world about me going mad?’

But The Way of Initiation had already begun to bear fruits in spiritual experiences which guided me through events of terrifying responsibility, from day to day, and sometimes from moment to moment. I knew the spiritual worlds as reality, and Spiritual Beings as my aid. I received pictured instruction, through which healing was brought to the madness of one friend, and through which I was able to save the life of another. At length, I received the instruction to go to Rudolf Steiner for further advice…I met him frequently for something over two weeks: each time I met him he greeted me with a smile and a warm hand-clasp. Each time I asked him, ‘May I come and speak with you?’ he put me off with the reply: ‘Frage mir nochmal (Not just yet).’ Friends in Dornach told me this did happen sometimes, and of course it had a reason…Meanwhile, my spiritual instruction was going on, but it had developed a new phase.

Every night I awoke about two hours after midnight, and was aware of a continuous experience. At first it was a Star, very distant, that was shining on me: then it was gradually coming nearer, and at length it was a man with a lamp who stood by my bed. By the light of the lamp I was aware of another, greater figure, and from this other one, though I could not see him clearly, came words instructing me in the spiritual understanding of what was going on around me. I was shown, unexpectedly, the concealed suffering in the heart of a nearby friend: it was as though I were lifted up by the unseen Teacher to learn to know, through the Light of the Lamp, what was happening behind the veils of sense appearances.

At length, after about 14 days, I became anxious to know from whom I was receiving such teaching. I had become accustomed earlier to receiving instructions from an unseen Spiritual World. I had been made aware of the reality of spiritual discarnate Beings. But this Teacher was more concrete. I could see him unclearly towering above me, too great, it seemed, to be in any way connected with a human form. I could see the great form, but not yet the face of this Being.

At last, I could bear it no longer: I felt I must know more. I seized hold of him, as it were, with all my soul forces, and challenged him, saying: ‘Who are you?’ Then, as there came no answer, I asked wonderingly: ‘Are you the Christ?’ ‘Nicht so’ (Not so). Then, because these were German words, a further thought came to me. ‘Are you, can you be, he whom we know on earth as Rudolf Steiner?’

There was an instant stillness, and then the answer came softly, ‘Eben so’ (Even so).

I was still not satisfied. It seemed impossible for anyone so spiritually great to be also a human being. So I pressed further. ‘Then show me your face,’ I asked.

Immediately away to my left, where was situated the studio in which Rudolf Steiner lived and worked, I saw a tiny distant picture of his face and form resting with eyes closed, as it seemed to me, not in sleep, but in deep meditation.

I understood now why I had been kept waiting. I had doubted, and doubt came in through a false spiritual perception. It could be put right only by my seeing and recognising him in truth, in supersensible experience, as my Teacher. I came to him joyfully the next day, and asked confidently: ‘Now can I come to see you?’

I knew what the answer would be, and was not mistaken. When we talked together, I felt that I had known him for all time. I told him of all the terrible and wonderful experiences I had gone through, where earthly disasters had been averted through spiritual enlightenment, yet had eventually left me with responsibilities I felt were too great for me to bear alone; and how these responsibilities had eventually brought me to him. He listened quietly, and one had the impression he made his whole being receptive, soul to soul. Then he explained my experiences with the simple words: ‘Dies ist eine karmische Sache (This is a karmic matter).’ I felt enormous relief. Here, at last, is someone who understands, who takes all these astounding events calmly, and is competent to give advice. This is a matter of karma.”

Gladys Mayer’s account continues with her decision to sell up all she possessed so as to move from England to Dornach to be a painter at the Goetheanum, conscious that because of Steiner’s failing health there might not be much time left. As one of his many pupils, she continued to receive answers in meditation to her questions, particularly in relation to her painting and use of colour. She received these answers at night, when she would see a painting she had done during the day as muddy and grey. When she asked how the picture should have been, she saw it transformed into radiant transparent colour.

After Steiner’s death in 1925, Gladys Mayer was one of those people who was very upset by the dissensions and splits that occurred between factions in the Vorstand and in the wider General Anthroposophical Society: “Once in those first years, I heard his voice again, in a kind of despairing wonder: ‘Aber, mein lieben Freunde, was tun si alle?’ (‘But, my dear friends, what are you all doing?’)

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Rudolf Steiner on his deathbed

She concludes with an assessment of what Rudolf Steiner has brought to us all:

“As it seems to me, he has given certainty of the Spirit, guidance to the awakening faculties of spiritual seeing, and example of strength, courage and love to attempt the tasks of the New Age…But are we awake enough? The Teacher is there working with us, and through us, but he waits always for our conscious co-operation…Because humans are so very hungry for the certainty, the wisdom and the good, which this teaching, entrusted to Rudolf Steiner out of the divine worlds, can bring to our suffering Earth.”

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What was it like to hear Rudolf Steiner give a lecture?

I’ve sometimes wondered what it must have been like to have been a member of the audience at one of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures. “Sculpting in snow” is how Heinrich von Kleist described the art of acting in the theatre, and there is a similarly short term of life for the lecture; both the actor and the lecturer have the happiness of communication with the audience in moments of inspiration; but the lecture and the performance only exist as long as the creator is there, when he is present and speaking, when he is physically and spiritually alive.

If Steiner had lived another ten or twenty years, perhaps we would have had a recording or even some brief filmed glimpses of him – but he died in 1925, before the age of routine sound recordings, filmed newsreels etc.; so all we have are a few photographs, stenographic records of his words (“from shorthand reports unrevised by the lecturer”, as we are always told) and some recollections by people who heard him lecture.

It is from these written recollections of those who heard Steiner speak that we can gain some idea of the effect he had on his audiences. I’ve selected a few representative samples of these. Here, for instance, is Frederick William Zeylmans van Emmichoven (1893 – 1961), a Dutch psychiatrist and anthroposophist, who from 1923 until his death was chairman of the Dutch Anthroposophical Society. He recalls herehis first experience of hearing Steiner lecture; this was in Dornach in December 1920.

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A rare photo of Rudolf Steiner lecturing in the Schreinerei.

“On December 17, in the evening, I was sitting in the Schreinerei (the carpentry workshop adjacent to the Goetheanum, often used for lectures and performances) with my fiancée, who was studying eurythmy in Dornach. Happy at being together again, we were waiting for Rudolf Steiner’s lecture. Outside it was bitterly cold; Dornach lay covered in snow. Suddenly the blue curtain by the side of the stage lifted, and Rudolf Steiner went to the lecture-desk. At that moment I had the direct experience of recognition. The impression was so strong that a whole series of pictures simultaneously arose before me, pointing indeterminately to earlier situations – as if I were seeing him as my teacher through ages of time. It was the most memorable experience I have ever had in all my life. For some time I sat as though carried away and did not realise until later that his lecture had already begun. It was the first of the three lectures subsequently published under the title: The Bridge between the Spirituality of the Cosmos and Physical Man….

When I came to myself again and saw Rudolf Steiner standing at the lecture-desk, I had the strange feeling that for the first time I was looking at a Man! It is not at all easy to describe this impression. I had met many well-known and famous people, among them scholars and noted artists, and had always moved in circles where a great deal was going on – it had by no means been a humdrum existence. But now I realised: this is what Man is meant to be. I began to question myself: what is the explanation for this? You have encountered many human beings – what is it that is so significant here? I said to myself first of all that it was his whole bearing, the bearing of one who is like a tree that grows freely between earth and sky. This impression was connected not only with his straight, erect figure, but above all with the poise of the head – it seemed to hover between heaven and earth. The second feeling was profoundly moving: from this beautiful, powerful voice came forth words which lived on even after they had been spoken. And thirdly, there were the thoughts. I was obliged to confess to myself that I could not always understand them, but I realised that they were not there merely to be understood intellectually, but they had another, quite different, significance as well. Listening to professors, what always mattered was whether one understood everything they said. What mattered here was not whether I actually understood – it was something different. Today I could speak of ‘ideas’, of seed-bearing impulses and the like, but at that time I could not. I knew only that different impulses were at work here.”

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F.W.Zeylmans van Emmichoven (photo via the Ita Wegman Institut)

A different account comes from Assya Turgeniev (1890 – 1966), a Russian artist who was in close contact with Rudolf Steiner from 1912 until his death in 1925. She was married to the Russian writer, Andrei Belyi. When she and Belyi first came across the writings of Steiner in 1912, they were struggling with questions arising from some disturbing recent mystical experiences. The two books by Steiner they had read (Christianity as Mystical Fact and How to Attain Knowledge of Higher Worlds) had given them the sense that they could trust Steiner to provide answers to their questions. As soon as they had come to this conclusion, they rushed to catch a train from Brussels, where they had been staying, to Cologne, where Rudolf Steiner was lecturing. They first of all tried to meet Steiner but were rebuffed by a fierce lady, whom they came to know later as Marie von Sivers (the future Frau Dr Steiner). Instead, she invited them to attend a “members only” lecture later that day. They decided to attend this lecture, with very mixed feelings after their stern reception, particularly as neither of them spoke German. Turgeniev’s account2 continues:

“A remarkable audience assembled in a longish room decorated in blue. The majority were ladies, most of them not very young. Many were wearing peculiar shirtlike dresses with straight stoles over them, and others wore necklaces or chains with strange pendants. Even among those with some pretensions one could not discern any real style. The absence of make-up was very noticeable…

Half-bored, I watched the assembling audience. But what was that? Far off on the platform, partly covered by other people, something like a gleam of light showed. Then it disappeared and returned once more. Finally the outline of a head emerged. Dr Steiner! I knew that it was he, even though I could scarcely see him. Now he steps up onto the platform…an immense seriousness, a power which is beyond words spoke through those features…we sat there, gazed into the countenance of this person and listened to his words. That was the greatest and most important thing that had ever happened to me up till then, and something which went so deep into my very being that I could no more separate myself from it. One was immersed with such intensity into the voice with its resonance and rhythms, into the gestures and the expression of the face, that one accepted it all without question; one only knew that that in which one now lived and breathed was the original source of one’s being. Only when the lecture had come to an end did one ask oneself in amazement: “What has happened here? I did not understand one word of what was said and yet, in listening to it, I had such a deep experience, as though I had understood each word.”

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Assya Turgeniev and Andrei Belyi (photo via The Swetlana Geier Collection)

Friedrich Hiebel (1903-1989) was a personal student of Rudolf Steiner and a teacher at the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart. Later in life he became a professor of German Literature and in 1963, he became a member of the Vorstand in Dornach. He attended seventy of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures. The following account3 is a description of the first lecture he ever heard, at the congress in Stuttgart in 1921, on the topic of Agnosticism – the Destroyer of Genuine Human Nature (not available online):

“…all eyes turned to the tall figure of the man in black tails who slowly walked from backstage to the centre and then let his eyes wander over the audience.

Slowly, Rudolf Steiner walked over to the lectern. The way he walked revealed something of the balance between a soaring freedom from the body and the permeation of earth substance with will. Indeed, Rudolf Steiner’s gait was like that of a young man. His face was framed by black hair, which still showed no trace of gray at the age of sixty. Lines on the forehead and furrows around the chin and the corners of the mouth bore witness to the spiritual battles of the quest for knowledge, and in their dignity contrasted strangely with the youthful agility of his limbs…

None of the many carefully taken photographs…can fully convey the essence of his stature. For even the best pictures remain silent, and it was only in his word that the essence of his being was revealed…

Rudolf Steiner’s word now resounded in the great hall, speaking to the almost two thousand listeners. The contrast between the delicate features of his spiritualised physique and the deep resonance of his speech, resulting from breathing deeply with the diaphragm, was surprising. The deep tone of his speech rested in the larynx, vibrated in the chest, and was permeated with the warmth of the heart…

During the introductory sentences of his lecture, he seemed to keep his eyes almost completely closed, and his glance directed downwards. His posture was that of a man listening inwardly. He remained in this inwardly listening stance, gathering himself with all his will forces, for the duration of several long sentences. Then came a clearly discernible breakthrough: he opened his eyes, looked directly at the listeners, and began to reinforce his talk with a forceful and diverse language of gestures…

Here, a man stood before me who taught first how to comprehend consciously and in freedom with the head, then knew how to reach people from heart to heart, and finally was able to enter into the depths of the will…Those who were gripped by these lectures were lifted out of themselves, as it were. They received an inkling of the future image of the human being that was exemplified and fought for by the founder of anthroposophy.”

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Friedrich Hiebel (photo via Verlag Freies Geistesleben)

But what about those people who heard Steiner but did not have that sudden shock of recognition or the sense that something very important had just happened to them? Here is one such example4, this time from England. In 1922, Steiner visited England to lecture at a conference on ‘Drama and Education’, which was taking place in Stratford-on–Avon. The Times Educational Supplement carried a front-page article ‘from a correspondent’, headed ‘Anthroposophy’.

This unnamed correspondent, who refers to himself in the third person throughout the following extract, first of all described in a semi-ironical way the development of anthroposophy out of theosophy and its vast ambitions in all areas of knowledge, its philosophical approach to the occult and the building of the Goetheanum. He then described his responses after listening to Steiner’s lectures:

“It is interesting to note the effect of all this on a typical English public school and old university man who spent a strenuous fortnight in listening to lectures and demonstrations on education. His impression of the man Steiner is noteworthy. It appears that the philosopher has an imposing presence, and exercises a remarkable effect upon his audience. Our English schoolmaster found this personal influence exhausting. At first he sat immediately in front, under the speaker’s eye. But after a day or two he found the strain more than he could bear, and retreated to a seat in the background. With quite a laudable mixture of scepticism and fair-mindedness the schoolmaster gave the lecturer every chance, but remained unconvinced. He says that the lectures appeared to him to be nearly nonsense, but delivered in a fascinating way and marked by all the appearance of sturdy common sense. From any other person the hearer said he would not for an instant have tolerated the startling things set forth by the lecturer, but from him they seemed somehow or other to be at the same time entirely plausible, not to say reasonable.”

There you have a good example of solid, stolid British middle-class common sense and conservatism in the face of something strange and disturbing – yet almost in spite of himself, the correspondent noted the fascinating way in which the lecture was delivered and “the appearance of sturdy common sense”, which rendered the startling content somehow or other to be “entirely plausible, not to say reasonable.”

I will finish with some recollectionsby George Adams. He was a most remarkable man – an anthroposophist, mathematician, scientist and translator – who translated over one hundred of Steiner’s lectures, and translated for Steiner whenever he came to England. The arrangements he describes for these translations sound absolutely hair-raising: the lecture was divided into three parts by Steiner, who then spoke for 20-25 minutes, during which time Adams scribbled furiously, using his own system (he never learned shorthand) of invented signs, symbolic logic, abbreviations and capital letters. Steiner would then sit down, while Adams gave his translation. Then Steiner would give part 2 of the lecture, speaking for another 20 minutes, and so on. To the very end of his life, Steiner was unable to lecture in any language other than German.

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George Adams (photo via Forschungsstelle Kulturimpuls)

In a 1957 essay, Rudolf Steiner in England, George Adams recalled his impressions of Steiner:

“My impression … was, so to speak, of many Rudolf Steiners. There was the simple, friendly gentleman…Then there was Dr Steiner lecturing – deeply impressive and stern, vivid in characterisation, then often moving into anecdote, good-natured satire, rollicking fun and humour… there was Dr Steiner speaking in a more esoteric meeting … the initiate from timeless realms. Moreover, there was Dr Steiner as you might see him during a personal interview, when you told him of your life’s difficulties and ideals and he answered your questions – the deep, silent look in his eyes, the warm kindness and encouragement at some moments, and at others the absolute quiet, so that it was left entirely to you to come out with what you had to say, with seemingly no help from him, but silent waiting. And then again there was Dr Steiner as I saw him at the large public gatherings in Germany in 1921-22, often with audiences of two or three thousand, partly indifferent or merely curious or even hostile – the way he held them, the firmness and buoyancy of his carriage, the utter lack of compromise or any attempt to influence them. He rather put them through the mill, building up the ground of spiritual science or the stages of higher cognition with closely knit trains of thought, speaking for two hours or more and yet holding his audience completely.”

1 From ‘Rudolf Steiner in Holland’, an essay included in Rudolf Steiner, Recollections by some of his pupils. Translated from the German and published in a special issue of The Golden Blade edited by Arnold Freeman and Charles Waterman, in London, November 1957.

2 From Reminiscences of Rudolf Steiner and Work on the First Goetheanum by Assya Turgeniev. Translated from German by John and Margaret Wood. Published by Temple Lodge, 2003.

3 From Time of Decision with Rudolf Steiner by Friedrich Hiebel. Translated from the German by Maria St. Goar. Published by Anthroposophic Press, 1989.

4 Quoted on page 704 of Volume II (1922 – 1925) of Rudolf Steiner in Britain by Crispian Villeneuve. Published by Temple Lodge, 2004

5 From ‘Rudolf Steiner in England’, an essay included in Rudolf Steiner, Recollections by some of his pupils. Published in a special issue of The Golden Blade edited by Arnold Freeman and Charles Waterman, in London, November 1957.

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Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think…

Looking back at the postings on this blog, the anthropopper must ruefully admit that he takes life a little too seriously at times. This po-faced quality is one of the things I would most like to change about Me. Lighten up, I tell myself, but my default personality position seems to be set at Earnest & Responsible and this is what keeps the Inner Scintillating Me from coming to the fore. I spot my Earnest & Responsible side coming out in all sorts of circumstances and situations. As an example, a song by the late Prince Buster came on the radio and, listening to the lyrics, I found myself feeling just a tad disapproving of the sentiments expressed:

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think

Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink

The years go by as quickly as you wink

Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!

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Prince Buster, pioneer of ska music. (Photo via The Guardian)

Life is not about enjoyment, I thought, although joy can be part of the story. Nor is the implication that we have just the one life a sound concept on which to base one’s actions. No, life is about discovering and fulfilling as far as possible your purpose for this lifetime. It’s about opportunities to burn off some of your bad karma and wherever you can, helping to build up some good karma for future lifetimes through behaving with kindness and unselfishness to those whose karmic paths cross with yours. Hedonism and living for the moment, I told myself, are not compatible with Taking Responsibility for One’s Soul Development.

Well, I’m sure you can tell from this that I’m hopelessly inept at letting my hair down and having a good time; but then I started to wonder whether my default personality position has been reinforced by my interest in anthroposophy. Rudolf Steiner, after all, frequently tells his followers to become aware of the seriousness of our age – “serious” and “earnest” are two words that I always associate with him.

There’s no doubt, of course, that more than ever we do indeed live in serious and challenging times – so is it frivolous and trivial actively to seek enjoyment in life? “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” sort of thing? I’ve just seen an interview with the Buddhist Pema Chödrön, who was interviewed at her home, Gampo Abbey, in Nova Scotia:

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Pema Chodron being interviewed by Melvin McLeod (photo by Liza Matthews)

Melvin McLeod: I notice there’s a sign in the entrance to Gampo Abbey that says “Enjoy Your Life.” We don’t usually think of that as a spiritual teaching, but as we noted in a recent issue of Lion’s Roar, enjoying your life is really a transformative practice. But it’s hard for many of us to do.

Pema Chödrön: It’s a great sign to have in a Buddhist monastery. Right away, it presents a paradox: Aren’t you here to escape all that hedonism? Aren’t you here not to seek enjoyment from outer things?

The answer is yes, that is why you’re here. So in that case, what does “enjoy your life” mean, if it doesn’t mean getting your pleasure and sense of wellbeing from external things, including people and relationships as well as material goods?

You know who said it best? Leonard Cohen. He meditated all those years at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, often for twelve hours at a time. In an interview, he said his storyline just wore itself out. He got so bored with his dramatic storyline. And then he made the comment, “The less there was of me, the happier I got.”

That’s the answer to how to enjoy your life. It’s to show up and have a sense of curiosity about whatever might appear that day, including it all in your sense of appreciation of this precious human birth, which is so short. I don’t want to call it delight, although it can feel like that. It’s more curiosity. Some people say, I know what’s going to show up today—the same old thing. But it’s never really the same old thing. Even in Groundhog Day, every day was a different experience for Phil, until finally he learned that caring about people was the answer.

This is actually a big point, because the less there is of you, the more you’re interested in and curious about other people. Who you live with and who you rub up against and who you share this world with is a very important part of enjoying your life.

Sartre said, “Hell is other people,” but this is the other view of that. When people irritate you, when they get your goat, when they slander you, whatever it might be, you still have a relationship with them. It’s interesting that of all the billions of people on the earth, they’re the particular ones who came into your world. There’s respect for whatever happens, and this is only really possible if you’re not rejecting whole parts of your experience.”

Well, I can go along with that. Caring about people is the answer for anyone who has a problem in enjoying life. Rudolf Steiner, of course knew all of this and in ways far more profound than I will ever know, but I can’t help thinking a disrespectful thought: that he might have enjoyed life more (and lived longer) if he hadn’t taken life quite so seriously. Our karma determines the way our life unfolds, and enjoyment of it is usually not the point. But was it really essential for Steiner to work himself into the ground and wreck his health for the sake of his mission – which in any case it seems all too likely he didn’t manage to complete. Is there a lesson there for me? After all, each one of us has got more than just this present incarnation to get things right – or is that a cop-out?

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Trump, Ahriman and paranoid speculation

In the month after the end of the First World War, Steiner gave a lecture at Dornach in which he said that “the view of spiritual science cannot be the giving of social criticism, but rather, only the pointing-out, without pessimism or optimism, of that which is” (GA 186, December 1st 1918). He was referring to the events which had led to the war, but his comment is a reminder that we should not allow the emotions engendered by overwhelming events to stop us from seeing as objectively as possible what the reality of any given situation is, and the causes which lie behind it.

Without Steiner’s peerless clairvoyance, however, we have to fall back on our own thinking and reasoning capacities; and it is difficult for most of us to avoid feelings of alarm or despondency, or to refrain from social criticism, in the face of disturbing current events.

Take, for example, the newly installed 45th President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. There are certainly a few things about Trump and his background and business interests which are bound to upset our objectivity and sang-froid. According to Sidney Blumenthal in a recent essay in the London Review of Books, Trump’s father Fred was arrested for participating in a violent Ku Klux Klan rally in 1927. Fred also had ties to the Mob and quite openly discriminated against blacks when renting out housing. In more recent times, it seems that the Donald’s own business was dependent almost from the start on racketeers:

“There was Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, and Paul ‘Big Paulie’ Castellano, boss of the Gambino crime family, who owned the company that provided the ready-mix cement for Trump Tower, used in place of the usual steel girders. There was John Cody, the boss of Teamsters Local 282, who controlled the cement trucks and was an associate of the Gambino family. There was Daniel Sullivan, Trump’s labour ‘consultant’, who in partnership with the Philadelphia crime boss Nicodemos ‘Nicky’ Scarfo’s financier, sold Trump a property in Atlantic City that became his casino. There was Salvatore ‘Salvie’ Testa, ‘crown prince’ of the Philadelphia Mob, who sold Trump the site on which two construction firms owned by Scarfo built the Trump Plaza and Casino. There was Felix Sater, convicted money launderer for the Russian Mafia, Trump’s partner in building the Trump SoHo hotel through the Bayrock Group LLC, which by 2007 had more than $2 billion in Trump licensed projects and by 2014 was no more. There was Tevfik Arif, another Trump partner, Bayrock’s chairman, originally from Kazakhstan. Bayrock’s equity financing came from three Kazakh billionaires known as ‘the Trio’, who were reported to be engaged in racketeering, money laundering and other crimes. And so on.

There was no art to these deals. Trump’s relationships with the Mob weren’t just about the quality of cement. In his defence it was said that doing business with the Mob was inescapable in New York, but the truth is that there were prominent developers who crusaded against the sorts of arrangement that Trump routinely made. From beginning to end, whether Cosa Nostra or the Russian Mafia, Trump has been married to the Mob.”

Now in all fairness it should be pointed out that Sidney Blumenthal is a former aide to the Clintons, so may be seen as someone with an axe to grind; but since I have not yet heard any rebuttal of the information he presents, it seems entirely possible that the President of the United States has close ties with the American Mafia (and possibly the Russian Mafia too), while his opposite number in Russia, Vladimir Putin, is head of a state run by that same Russian Mafia. (Not that such skulduggery is anything new in American politics – eg, see here for details of Joseph Kennedy’s criminal links with the Mob that ensured the election of his son John F. Kennedy as president in 1960. The USA has always been the best democracy that money can buy.)

In such an extreme situation, how can one simply point out “that which is” and not find one’s feelings pulling one away from objective observation? Several people I know have speculated as to whether Donald Trump is the incarnation of Ahriman. Personally, I don’t think this is likely – my view is that Ahriman would not choose to be incarnated in the figure of someone with a fake orange tan (one which a sudden gust of wind revealed does not even extend up to the Trump hairline), let alone someone who since his inauguration as 45th President of the USA has found himself the laughing stock of the worldwide web.

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Trump’s fake tan-line clearly visible (Photo via Elite Daily/REX/Shutterstock)

No, it seems more probable that Trump and the rest of his coven of billionaires and brigands are simply extreme examples of the corruption endemic to the American political system, although it may well be reasonable to regard them also as indicators of the impending incarnation – preparers of the way, if you like. I have written of this elsewhere, so will give here only brief quotations from Steiner:

“As truly as Lucifer walked on earth and Christ walked on earth objectively in a human being, so will Ahriman walk upon the earth with enormous power to manifest earthly intellectual capacity.” (GA 195, 25/12/1919) And again:

“…just as there was a bodily incarnation of Lucifer, and just as there was a bodily incarnation of the Christ, so will there be, before even a part of the 3rd millennium AD will have elapsed, in the West a real incarnation of Ahriman: Ahriman in the flesh.” (GA 191, 01/11/1919)

Steiner has enjoined us to be vigilant and to stay awake so as to spot what is going on. But lacking Steiner’s initiate consciousness and spiritual insight, there is a danger that the times we live in might tempt some of us to fall all too easily into paranoia and conspiracy theories. I recently found an example of this in the Russian anthroposophical writer, G A Bondarev, who in his book Events in the Ukraine and a Possible Future Scenario wrote this:

“…everywhere in the mass media – on television, in newspapers – one can see politicians and the powerful in finance, etc., making a certain gesture with their hand which means the number 666 spoken of in Revelation as the ‘number of the Beast.’ Many make this gesture in order to show that they are initiated into the secret and also to give evidence of their ‘chosenness’…Others, by showing this gesture when they appear publicly, want to call out, as it were, to the participants at certain functions: ‘What are we arguing about? Why are you disagreeing with us? This is it! This is happening!’ – or at least something of this kind. An exact interpretation is not possible, as the meaning of this gesture is kept secret.”

What Bondarev is referring to is the “A OK” gesture, in which the tip of the index finger is placed on the tip of the thumb to form an ‘O’ shape, and the remaining three fingers are splayed out. Donald Trump makes this gesture all the time when he is speaking and it is very easy to find examples of many prominent public figures doing the same. A quick search of Google Images using the term “hand gesture 666” brings up photos of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Tony Blair, Jean-Claude Juncker, Nicolas Sarkozy, Pope Jean-Paul II, Colin Powell and many other famous public figures from politics and entertainment all making this gesture – but to Bondarev and others who think like him, it therefore follows that they must all be members of the Illuminati signalling their allegiance to one another. Err… no, I really don’t think so.

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(Photo via Illuminatisymbols.info)

clinton

(Photo via IlluminatiRex)

juncker

(Photo via answering-christianity.com)

But despite the occasional absurdities, Bondarev also has some interesting ideas. Referring to Steiner’s pointing-out of the years AD 666, 1332 and 1998 as having special significance, he speculates that 1998 was the year of incarnation of Ahriman:

“…the year in which the body was created into which Ahriman steals. Its creation was obviously not a simple matter – after all, Ahriman is the god of death! Rudolf Steiner also speaks of this. In a lecture of 4th November 1919, he points to that special field of technological progress in which knowledge is used of the connection of the material realm with the human spirit: ‘…through a given application of these things, certain secret societies will…prepare that through which the Ahrimanic incarnation will be able to be here on the earth in the right way.’ (GA 193)

One can assume that they were able to combine the most up-to-date technological procedures with the means of black magic in order to create a body with the capacity to bear within it for a number of years the Ahrimanic monad. (Could it be three years?) Thus, it is in no way unjustified to assume that the incarnation of Ahriman is well under way. And according to an entry in a notebook of Rudolf Steiner…Ahriman will reveal himself to the world at the age of 18. Here it is probably more correct to speak of 18 and one-third years, which corresponds to the so-called lunar node or Metonic cycle. It follows from this that humanity needs to be ready by early 2017.”

So in early 2017 I leave you with that happy thought and invite your own comments on these speculations, paranoid or otherwise.

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Filed under Ahriman, Donald Trump, Rudolf Steiner