where’s that group soul when you need it?

Dear Swedish Anthroposophical Society,

on so many occasions, individual members of your noble and dignified community have offered me their expert opinions on my mental defects and illnesses, and graciously suggested what treatment options I ought to pursue. (Yeah, I erased most of it, ’cause let’s face it, this world isn’t ready for spiritual truths of such dignity!) It just dawned on me that I ought to do something in return for this much needed health care advice, so selflessly provided to me by your faithful followers.

I perceive you have some issues — they maybe not pathological in nature, but slightly neurotic, if you get my drift — with your blessed group soul. The group soul can clearly have mental health issues, i e soul disturbances. Running the risk of offending you, by indirectly claiming that not everybody knows what a group soul is, I’ll explain it, an explanation you may certainly skip; Steiner wrote “Besides the separate individuals, a very real family and national group soul and racial spirit is at work in the life of a family, a people, or a race. Indeed, in a certain sense the separate individuals are merely the executive organs of these family group souls, racial spirits, and so on.” [Steiner, Knowledge of Higher Worlds, chapter X.] Antroposophia is a being in her own right: “Anthroposophia is someone who must be understood as an invisible person, as someone with a real existence, who should be consulted in the individual actions of our lives.” [Steiner, The Anthroposophic Movement.] So, now we can move on.

Well, one can clearly see how this arrangement could turn out as an intricate psychological affair. Naturally, through what I’ve learnt from current Waldorf school presentations available on internet, the collective soul life is sufficient for a child below the age of 9 or so. A small child needs to identify herself only with the group she belongs to, and not with an individual self in form of an independent entity in her own right. However, the Anthroposophical community is quite obviously not a Kindergarten class. Perhaps the treatment of individual souls — contained as they are within a big loving biodynamic soul — in an infantile manner is causing an unhealthy regression of these souls, a retreat into perpetual childhood? This particular soul predicament seems to be strikingly present in some of your less influential members who  roam around the internet screaming like babies in front of the candy shelf in the supermarket (please, do not feed more sugar, it’s not good for them).

But, more importantly, I want to speak about repression. You see, being a group soul — a soul of which you, the Anthroposophical society, is the commander-in-chief — isn’t always easy. How does it — how do you — live with all these conflicting emotions within yourself? All the passions, aggressions, cravings, needs? Because, the fact of the matter is, the individual beings and souls who make up your soul constituency, they sometimes walk to the left when you walk right, downwards instead of upwards, east instead of west (ah, sorry, German-bound), catholic instead of protestant… it’s like a eurythmy ensemble high on acid rather than on choreography. Or me playing the Choroi-flute in an orchestra. Well, I digress.

And I think that I’m on to something profound when I say wet-on-wet watercolour painting is an artistic metaphor for your mental state. It floats, uncontrollably, and it can’t define its own boundaries. It can’t decide what it wants to be, because there’s no unity, no real collective identity that individual souls (i e, people… sort of) either reject or accept. It just pretends to be One, and then, it floats. Out. You know. Splash. You intend it to hold everything, include everything, but instead it holds nothing. Or we can use eurythmy, another interesting soul metaphor. (Yeah, I know it’s the soul language of movement, blah blah, that’s a load of after-the-fact rationalizations.) I once said — if I may say so, this may be one of the wisest things I ever said! believe it or not — that eurythmy performances make you wonder whether these souls, dance-floating about in their physical bodies, are in the process of expiring (well, bluntly, dying, or as you’d more poetically and truthfully would put it, I guess, transitioning to the realm between death and rebirth) or whether they are symbolically vomiting? Or, do we here reach the true depths of existence, the essence of being: can’t they decide? Are they conflicted? Is the apparent anguish a sign of inner turmoil, when individual souls try to adjust to their own needs, to other individual souls — and to the spiritual queenbee, the group soul?

Maybe it’s Anthroposophia herself who has no inner core, no real sense of self? Whereupon adjustment to her becomes futile and frustrating.

And then, you know, each individual member is deprived of any chance to create her own self. And just like that, a member happens to rebel against the essence of anthroposophia herself — an essence as perceived by human beings, but in reality devoid of content, thus not actually an essence, but a facade.

We could speculate about what happened the other week, when an anthroposophist — a eurythmist, to make matters worse, a soul with advanced spiritual insights, not true? — very mildly, and perhaps inadvertently, put forth criticism of the Society. It was as if something from the subconscious welled up, was blurted out, and almost instantly regretted… Almost like a sudden and surprising denial of Santa Claus, immediately retracted because one doesn’t want to miss out on the Christmas gifts. The member’s soul is like a defiant child, who must submit to authority, but in whom the instinct to go his own way always lies dormant. Most of the time, repressed; but suddenly and momentarily, out in the open. Everybody feels uncomfortable.

(Let me digress again: I know very well what it’s like to be a defiant child in an authoritative setting. A child who cannot submit. Who always is, at heart, in a state of defiance, and always resisting the prerogative of a collective. I never submitted, even if I bowed down to demands and followed orders superficially speaking. But I was always so defiant — my self-confident soul always defied Waldorf, even when my self-confidence was as its lowest level — and it always showed, even when I, materially speaking, complied. (And lots of the time I was compliant, but rather openly defiant as well… and lots of the time I was the child from hell… really.) If I may use my dog as an example: sometimes he obeys because submission in co-operation is fun and rewarding in itself, but sometimes he submits only defiantly — and you can detect that desire and spiritual obstinacy in his whole being, from ears to tail — because he has no choice. Although, in his mind, he’s already chasing bunnies. You could be the Christ of dog treats, and he still wouldn’t revere you, the bunny-chaser spirit within him would be in mental opposition to any outside influence. Waldorf teachers want reverence to accompany compliance, they want submission in the child’s heart. That’s why it could never have worked. Some people could succeed anywhere. I couldn’t, and I believe that when people say waldorf works fine, it is because they didn’t happen to have child whose demeanor made the failings and errors in waldorf philosophy become apparent. A child whose defiance didn’t display intent to kill off the system itself.)

So, when a certain former Anthroposophical Society executive council member expressed a somewhat negative sentiment towards the Society, it turned out to be a much too heavy psychological burden. With disagreements suddenly out in the open, the illusion of a cuddly teddy bear anthroposophy fell. First, he announced his decision to leave the executive council and defined the tasks and aims of the society, saying it was now time for others to “protect anthroposophy and its undefended and unapprehended knowledge” which has, he claimed, benefited many. Thereupon he reminded himself of the words of a friend, who purportedly had said: “Anthroposophy today has incarnated in all human beings”, meaning that there’s no need for something or someone to exist to defend it. The spiritual — the spirit of Anthroposophia — has infiltrated the souls of every human being who doesn’t carry the emerging sign of evil on the forehead. He wrote: “The task of the Anthroposophical society today is something other than to defend or spread anthroposophy. Maybe to be a meeting place. I look forward to following its development.” He indirectly criticised the society for being too occupied with philosophical issues, when more visible accomplishments in the world are of greater importance.

Moreover […] I find it difficult to accept hierarchical systems and people who believe they are privy to deeper insights than others. A first step towards realising the sense of the supersensible is, according to Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy,–reverence rather than self-confidence.

Curiously, when challenged about this, he made a transference of the criticism: he passed it on from the Anthroposophical Society to the non-anthroposophical bystander. So uncomfortable, it seems, he had to make it appear as though the text wasn’t about the Anthroposophical Society at all — but about those pesky non-believers. The society, on the contrary, was a place of equality, respect, reverence… Hurriedly, the text containing criticism was removed from the website.

Because, why, exactly? Roger Rawlings offered his perspective on Anthroposophical crises:

Often the points at issue in faculty disagreements are minor matters of theology — things that would strike most of us outsiders as wholly insignificant. But among true believers, minutiae of doctrine loom large. And in some cases, as when my old school almost collapsed, true-believing Anthros see their entire reason for being (not to mention their livelihood — oops, I mentioned it) threatened — so they get their spiritual dander up big time.

Schisms among Anthros go way back. The problem is that different Anthros may have differing, even contradictory, “paranormal” visions, and interpretations of Steiner’s works can be widely divergent. Each seeker has his/her own visions, and since no one can confirm or even investigate another’s subjective states of mind, no one can dissuade another from deeply felt mystic convictions. [See Hansson on “intersubjectivity” — http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/Hansson.html ] The spiritual “investigations” conducted by Anthroposophists are, in the end, indistinguishable from fantasy — and, hence, they are unarguable.

We’ve heard, on this list, from various Steinerites who “do anthroposophy” or who “conduct spiritual science.” Steiner opened a can of worms when he allowed that any “initiate” might deploy “exact clairvoyance” to see what he saw — or (here’s where things get truly dicey) maybe even see more than he saw. This is all piffle, of course — but it caused troubles. One cannot investigate a nonexistent realm (“spiritland”) with a nonexistent capacity (clairvoyance) following the rules of a nonexistent “science” (Anthroposophy). [See Hansson and/or Rawlings.] Anthroposophists are victims of their guru — they buy a delusion Steiner palmed off on them. But they buy it so completely that they often devote their entire lives to it, and they may rear up in righteous anger when their “truths” are questioned.

As can easily be determined from reading various original sources, the schisms and conflicts in the Anthroposophical Society and its many enterprises have abounded from the start, well, even from before that, because basically the grain of Anthroposophy begun to grow in the conflict-fertile soil of the Theosophical Society. In Steiner’s own texts, his letters and other documents, this becomes quite apparent. Roger goes on to recapture the story of Eugene Schwartz, the Waldorf educator who found himself on a collision course with the rest of the Waldorf establishment, and who subsequently was fired:

Schwartz bravely ‘fessed up to a lot that day: Waldorf schools have a religious mission; the schools teach children a form of Anthroposophy; Waldorf schools have been practicing deception in denying the real nature of their curricula …

Schwartz had told an audience:

A religious experience. I’ll say it again: I send my daughter to a Waldorf school so that she can have a religious experience … Yes, we are giving the children a version of Anthroposophy in the classroom … Let’s face it: we’re deceiving — and worst of all, we’re deceiving ourselves … Let’s be open and honest about that. Let’s cut our losses … Do you realize how much Christianity there is in our school? Do you realize that we are thinking about these children in the light of reincarnation and karma? That’s how a teacher’s working with them.

This was a kind of honesty and openness previously unheard of. But stating these things publically contradicted the common goals of the Waldorf community. Schwartz was the one who had to pay the price — whether he was telling the truth or not. Truth was beside the point; discussing disagreements publically is what matters. A movement constantly perceiving itself to be under “attack” must stand united — not expose its vulnerabilities, its soft spots. There is no room for differing views. There is no room for truth, if truth seems to threaten the fluffy, hard-to-define borders of Anthroposophy itself. There was a silent agreement that the religious and the Anthroposophical nature of Waldorf was not to be mentioned because the world outside is hostile and not ready to be let in on these insights. Schwartz, like any other Anthropsophist audacious enough to openly hint at the conflicts inherent in Anthroposophy, is blamed, because passing the blame on is a way of preserving fragile unity of the soul of Anthroposophia. Shunning the culprit makes it possible to continue believing in the anthroposophical fantasy — every individual being able to entertain her own fantasy, at least until crisis strikes again, and the imaginary unity is shattered.

And in recent years there’s the case of Anthroposophist Judith von Halle, who bleeds like Jesus and who claims she hasn’t eaten in years. She’s so very spiritual. She could almost leave the material world behind. But such apparent freak stories naturally freak anthroposophists out too — in that they are all made to look like, well, freaks by association. Not that anyone of them dares deny the spiritual experiences of another Anthroposophist — thus, few of them are able express any doubts about von Halle’s stigmata or the claim she lives without food — they nevertheless engage in petty quarrelling.

This, again, is because they agree or disagree with something that basically doesn’t exist, and even worse, this non-existant entity is insufficiently defined. Yet Anthroposophy is a complete guide to Life and to the World and the Universe. It’s about what one should do, and not do, what happens when one does good and when one does wrong — the ramifications of every choice, every thought and state of mind and every spiritual endeavour extend beyond this present life, it determines subsequent incarnations. So it’s not exactly a small matter, and much is at stake. There is a need of interpreters of the faith, and a conflict between conformity to the teachings and desires for self-determination.

My impression is that Anthroposophia is deeply conflicted by her very nature, and that the dynamics of her inner workings, and the tensions caused by individual souls in their interaction with the higher spiritual group being itself (herself!), produce only a seeming calm and a proneness to eruptions and explosions from the slightest whiff of contradiction. And there are many things that can disturb the Anthroposophical image of the Self. The self image requires its Myths to remain intact, in order to stay afloat and remain self-confident. Reverence being, as I’ve said earlier, the other side of self-confidence — reverence and self-confidence feed on each other, reinforce each other, and create the basis of a hierarchical system, which is exactly what an Anthroposophical apologist maintains Anthroposophy is not. Mistakenly, I would say. (Especially since that was exactly what the same Anthroposophist accused the society of being, before he retracted his statements and laid the blame elsewhere.)

Maybe Anthroposophia feeds herself on Myth — after all, even Steiner said that myths were ancient wisdom and truth, not at all the fairytales we take them to be. Steiner himself seemed more than eager to propagate the myths of Anthroposophy’s importance and potential impact in the world. One way to do this was to use a grain of truth and blow it out of proportion. What can prove Anthroposophy’s greatness better than a conviction that the surrounding world harbours hostilities towards Anthroposophy? Today, we need look no further than to practically any discussion of Waldorf and Anthroposophy, to find evidence of this. To this day, Defenders of Faith exclaim with passion that Anthroposophy and the Waldorf movement are victims of acts of war, crusades, hate-speech, terrorism, and so forth.

Marie Steiner wrote that Steiner had been subjected to “unspeakable hostility” in his life, a life which he, according to her, had consecrated wholly to the sacrificial service of humanity”. Rudolf Steiner said, for example, “No one in whom anthroposophical truth has taken permanent root will be surprised to find that it awakens hostility. But it will also appear to be that individual’s bounden duty never to desist, in the face of such hostility, from presenting what Anthroposophy strives to be in the spiritual life of the human being.” He also meant that hostility, misunderstanding and contempt from the outside world were unavoidable hurdles, but that the ultimate goal of spiritual progress of mankind — over the course of many lifetimes — demanded of individuals to have courage despite opposition and to confront adversity knowing that truth will be revealed to and accepted by more and more human souls eventually. Anthroposophists since Steiner’s time have nurtured the myths of persecution. They fondly speak of the assassination attempt on Steiner, the arson of the first Goetheanum, the possible poisonings. Steiner and the Anthroposophical community are Martyrs for truth, for wisdom and for humanity.

Which is exactly what Anthroposophy wishes to be, because it reinforces the self-image and it nurtures confidence in possession of a Greater Truth. Somebody wrote that “Anthroposophists say Anthroposophy isn’t a religion. It is above religion. The only truth. Another word for Anthroposophy is ‘Spiritual Science.'” (And continued: “I assert that spiritual science is an oxymoron.” That Anthroposophists may not agree with.) Anthroposophists want to — need to and crave to — be the group ignorant outsiders wage war against, the hated philosophy, the misunderstood and persecuted few who need to protect each other and the faith, at any cost. The perceived attacks fulfill a need — their need, not the need of any supposed attacker, if indeed these attackers even exist. Because Anthroposophy’s identity is its exclusiveness. The movement psychologically craves being an outsider among humankind. From the uninitiated and those without right insights, anthroposophists expect nothing but misunderstanding and a striving to extinguish those different. (Anthroposophists are different — compared to mainstream society — but once inside, demands on conformity are just as strong, and stronger, because the unity of Anthroposophy must remain intact, dissenters have one choice: leaving or getting back in the fold.)

Anthroposophists believe that the outside world hates Anthroposophy because Anthroposophy is so important and its potential impact on the world so massive it scares people. The force of truth is with Anthroposophists, who like to think truth is what frightens people. Anthroposophy must really be true, if people hate Anthroposophy, so hatred of Anthroposophy is inferred from scant evidence. This is your problem, Anthroposophy, your magnanimous self-image is built on the persecutorial delusions of your members. This is a pathology that normally causes people to end up on medication. But you feed it and feed on it, because it’s your identity and reason for being. It’s all about power, hierarchies and positioning oneself. On your part, and on the part of individual members. There’s an imaginary conspiracy towards your collective being, because you need that conspiracy to exist, at least fictionally.

Paradoxically this leads Anthroposophists and the Anthroposophical group to appear to have low self-esteem and high self-esteem simultaneously. Anthroposophy — as well as individual anthroposophists — suffers from a mixed state of hubris and self-deprecation, and in its relationship to outsiders, it displays this mixed set of emotions, leading to confusion for all parties involved. On the one hand, Anthroposophists like to picture themselves as particularly good and fine people whom nobody could object to — an obvious exaggeration — but at the same time as the victims of hatred. One would think that true confidence in one’s own good characteristics would indicate a tendency towards reinterpreting any criticism as benign chatter. But this isn’t the case — all the time, the absolutely worst interpretation is the one preferred. The least opposition is an act of war, a fierce attack, a threat to life and limb.

And to return to an actual example: how come Anthroposophy has purportedly incarnated in every human being on earth, and yet many human beings supposedly spend time and energy ‘attacking’ Anthroposophy? Isn’t that a peculiar contradiction? What do you think? Have you incarnated in everybody, or do you really, deep down, know that it is Ahriman who has incarnated in the collective mind and soul of the human race (now that everyone’s online and all that… electrical wiring, the Ahrimanic hazard of these times!)?

But I think that Anthroposophia entertains a complex relationship to reality, and so does all her followers. Your weaknesses are your strengths. Through the weaknesses, you know you’ll all have to stay together, remain united, be as one. To show no weakness to the outside world. Your weakness justifies a certain attitude towards anybody who doesn’t subject themselves to your whims. Your constant tearing apart internally justifies transferring the responsibility onto any innocent bystander. Somebody’s got to be the scapegoat in the game of spiritual healing. Put the blame on the outsider — and you’ve got a perfect reason to unite and lick your wounds. The crux of the matter is, you will create your own crises for as long as you need these crises. (It has nothing to do with people like me.)

You’re afraid that if people see you as you really are, they will reject you. Yet the mere thought of rejection is essential to your self-image. You’re afraid that you will be victimized. Yet the mere thought of victimization is a self-esteem boost. You’re imagining hostility, and you think the imagined hostility is unfair to you. Yet you need hostility, because without it, what would you be?

Do you even know about that thing called reality? Reality doesn’t vindicate Steiner. Reality won’t bite you and eat you, either. Do you agree that the gulf between your conception of yourself and the reality of what you are is wide, too wide? And then, let’s talk about your perception of other people and what other people really are, say and believe. There’s a gulf dividing, we are worlds apart — and I believe you want that gulf to be there, because having it there satisfies egoistic needs in the short run. But it isn’t sound.

And really, the issues aren’t with the outside world, other than in a very superficial respect. The issues are all your internal issues. It’s the inability to deal with — and accept — dissent, when dissent cracks open that surface you wish to present to the world. Yet your needs are contradictory. You’re trying to have the cake and eat it too. You want to be fragile and you want to be imperious.

Your members aren’t reverent, they are dependent. Their dependence is a source of power, but also the main cause of weakness in your group soul, as it were. Because, frankly, you aren’t bees, nor are you even ants. (“The group soul of a beehive is a very high level being, higher than that of ants. It is of such a high development that you might almost say it is cosmically precocious. It has attained a level of evolutionary development that human beings will later reach …” [Steiner, Bees].) You behave in such a manner that the world sees your weak spots. Maybe your karma says you must enact the role of a megalomaniac victim — a contradiction in itself — so that you can reincarnate as a movement without any soft spots, and, unlike Balder, unreceptive to the deadly poisonous nature of any arrows of any plants in the world.

Why did Peter de Voto delete that blog post, is the question that’s bugging me. And I’m sure there’s an intriguing answer. Why are you so secluded? Why do you feel threatened? You talk about reverence, but shouldn’t you be speaking of manipulation? Anthroposophia is cranky, but who deserves blame for that?

Maybe, you know, the whole point is the questions, and not the answers. Your members bring me diagnoses and insolently demand this thing or that thing. Some of them want to have me shut up, but really, there’s no way to shut up curious people. We don’t buy that silly reverence-thing. And we don’t care about your hierarchies — because, yes, they are all your hierarchies. The buck stops with Anthroposophia.

What do you think about my questions?



One thought on “where’s that group soul when you need it?

Comments are closed.