centennial

vastmannag

On january 31, 1913, a number of swedish theosophists and anthroposophists-to-be gathered in the apartment of lieutenant-colonel Gustaf Kinell, former general secretary of the Theosophical Society, to form the new Anthroposophical Society; that is, they were theosophists who chose to follow Steiner rather than to remain with theosophy. It was one of the first national societies to be formed. Gustaf Kinell had announced that he wanted to resign from his post in the Theosophical Society already around new year. On january 26, he held a lecture in which he attacked Annie Besant, which upset her fans, who subsequently demanded his resignation as the society’s president. Both Kinell and the Society’s vice president chose to resign after a meeting a couple of days later. They, and the other members, who had chosen to leave, then convened in a meeting at Kinell’s apartment to constitute the Anthroposophical Society in Sweden and at the same time to elect a board of directors (Kinell became its president). 39 members were present at the constitution and by the end of the year, the Anthroposophical Society numbered around 70. The first annual meeting was held in Stockholm that summer, in june, with Steiner present.

In 1926, writing in the Anthroposophical Society’s newsletter about the occurrences of 1912/13 and the split between theosophy and the new anthroposophical movement, Kinell echoed Steiner when he tried to explain the motivations that guided his decision to leave the theosophists behind: ‘What good is it to say: “We are not a sect”, if we behave as though we were a sect.’ He didn’t want to be in a cult, so that was why he chose to leave theosophy, believing, one must assume, that Steiner’s new movement would be something better. Actually, I think he must either be quoting Steiner directly or paraphrasing him strongly. (I took notes from the old magazines for another purpose — a project of which nothing has come so far — and it was long ago, can barely decipher what I’ve written, and the only information I can derive from them is that Kinell included this in an article in 1926! Translation from swedish is my own. It might be appropriate to change ‘sect’ to ‘cult’.) Kinell was an interesting man, who had turned a theosophist in the 1880s; he had a career in the military, he taught mathematics (and wrote books on mathematics and geometry), and was also an activist for incineration. He served many years as a general secretary of the Anthroposophical Society, translated Steiner’s works from german to swedish and wrote articles in the Society’s journal.

If you wonder what the significance of that image is. None, really, except it shows a glimpse of Västmannagatan 69, near Odenplan (Odin’s place!), where Kinell lived, and where the anthroposophists met on january 31, 1913. It used to be something of a headquarters for the Society, and it was its official address, during the early years. The photo was taken today, in rain and dirt, because I had an errand to take care of at Odenplan. I’m looking north on Västmannagatan and if my calculations are correct, number 69 is the second building after Hotel Oden. (There’s first one building clad in multi-coloured bricks, and then we have number 69.) Here’s an old photo, from 1914, of the same street, and to the right is the church I was standing next to while taking my picture today. Now, keep your eyes steady around the fourth floor of that building, on my photo, focus your attention, and you will soon be able to notice some suspicious ghost-like beings hovering outside, above the street and in relentless rain. They look rather haunted, don’t you think? I strongly suspect one of them is Kinell, who keeps chanting, unheard and somewhat desperately by now, ‘you weren’t supposed to make it into a cult!’

dining with seers — culinary considerations for life among clairvoyants

On the internet, I had heard a rumour about a certain article in Das Goetheanum. To my delight, the municipal library subscribes to this weekly journal from the Anthroposophical Society. I don’t know why, but they do, I discovered. The article is written by Franziska Schmidt-von Nell, who claims Rudolf Steiner ruined her appetite for asparagus. This is why (I had to type by hand and am now trying to decipher my own handwriting and transferring the quotes to the computer; I’m sure there are numerous errors, for which I apologize in advance):

Meine Freundin hat mir erzählt, dass ihr eine Freundin erzählt habe, dass ihr jemand gesagt hatte, dass Rudolf Steiner gesagt habe, dass, wenn man spargeln […] esse, einem für den Hellseher sichtbare Zotten aus dem Mund wüchsen, so wie ein Art Bart, aber aus Flechten, oder so moosartig. […] Selbst wenn für die gewöhnliche Mitesser diese Zotten unsichtbar bleiben, ist doch die Vorstellung der Möglichkeit allein schon ekelig. Und was, wenn ein Hellseher am Tisch sitzt? Für dem muss es erst recht quälend sein!

It is a very entertaining read, very humourous, and if you have access to the journal, I can but recommend it. And, in an eminently satirical way, which isn’t that common for this journal (or for anthroposophical publications in general), it manages to criticize one aspect of anthroposophical culture.

Obviously for me — as a mushroom lover; if possible, I love mushrooms even more than asparagus — the news about mushrooms is quite troubling (no, I didn’t know this… or I knew, but had conveniently forgotten). Apparently:

Alle echte Anthroposophen wissen, dass man Leute, die Pilze gegessen haben, daran erkennt, dass ihr Astralleib ständig wie eine Schere auf- und zugeht.

Is this a bad thing or perhaps a good thing? Is it better or worse than the supersensible asparagus beard? I don’t know. Bad if you move in anthroposophical circles and want to conceal your predilection for mushrooms, naturally. Though it makes you wonder how well they’d do in a proper test situation — if they could distinguish those who had eaten mushrooms from those who hadn’t! It made me think, too, about what a splendid possibility is offered by this supposed ability of seers: that of carrying out objective tests on supersensible perception. (Any shroom-spotting clairvoyants volunteering?) Nevertheless, as far as the consequences for the astral body are concerned, I wouldn’t be too bothered about them. I mean, I eat lots of mushrooms, because I love mushrooms. I figure that, if indeed I have an astral body, it enjoys mushrooms too. Despite the bizarre scissor-like effect.

Wild mushrooms in preparation, last September. Interference with the astral body is an unavoidable consequence of autumn walks in the forest and subsequent feasts!

Continued:

Tja, da muss man sich eben fragen: Soll ich das riskieren oder esse ich besser keine Pilze mehr? Melonen machen wohllüstig, Reis isst man am besten montags, Hafer hingegen freitags (wegen der Planeten), Tomaten sind Nachtschattengewächse (‹Nacht› und ‹Schatten› — da kann man ja gleich davon ausgehen, dass man den Teufel im Salat hat!), Kartoffeln machen materialistisch.

A salad with something devilish in it, that’s just my kind of food! Surprisingly — to some people, I imagine — I don’t eat a lot of potatoes; maybe my materialism is caused by tomatoes which are said to have a similar effect. I love melons, but unfortunately in me they seem to lack some of the indicated effect. And there are further considerations to be made (some of what follows explains the prevalent waldorf school hysteria pertaining to certain activities).

Kaugummikauen verklebt die Seele, Fussballspielen zerstört das Verhältnis zum Kosmos, denn der Ball ist rund und der Kopf des Mensch auch. Und Letzterer ist ein Abbild des Kosmos. Und der Ball wird — daher ja der Name — mit den Füßen getreten. Verstehen sie?

The anthroposophists have to keep all this in mind, while making sure they eat in conformity with the planetary constellations and continuing to work on their spiritual development; they have to do it all, while working on karma, acknowledging elemental beings, perparing the future, she writes.

Das ist ja auch ganz schön und gut, aber leider leben wir in der Gegenwart, und das nicht jeder für sich alleine, sondern in einer Gesellschaft mit anderen Menschen zusammen, die nicht unbedingt diesen Wissensschatz mit uns teilen (wollen). Was für die einen‹normal› ist, scheint den anderen unmöglich: Ein Mobiltelefon benutzen — oh weh! E-Mail schicken!! Fernsehen!!!

And how to explain to a (non-anthroposophist) dinner host that, due to concern over one’s astral body, one would rather avoid eating asparagus?

Schmidt-von Nell writes that when Steiner is referred in order to provide a guarantee that some supposed fact is true, all this knowledge about what he said becomes an obstacle to everyday life (rather than a source of helpful guidance and inspiration; in my interpretation).

Wir fallen auf, wir fallen raus aus dem sozialen Zusammenhang und werden Sekte.

Well, that seems to sum it up quite neatly.

Vor lauter Sorgen wird unsere Welt eng und fade aus einem Übermaß an Bewusstsein. Wir überprüfen und kontrollieren, wermeiden und organisieren. Und so wird es regelrecht schwierig überhaupt unbefangen die Gegenwart erleben zu können.

All die Angaben und Vorgaben beschrenken und beschneiden, wenn sie als totalitäre Lebensanweisungen eins zu eins umgesetzt werden.

She goes on to say that sometimes when learning about some advice or another — which supposedly had been given by Steiner — you double-check the gesamtausgabe and, lo and behold, the particular wisdom is nowhere to be found. More likely, it is something someone once heard, and it’s been carried from one generation to another, as one piece in the puzzle of anthroposophical folk lore. It contributes to ‘den wolkigen Märchenschatz der scheinbar schönen anthroposophischen Welt.’

The article finishes with a Rudolf Steiner-quote, and the wish that this kind of advice should be heard more frequently than advice about asparagus consumption (et cetera, i e, the concrete stuff of practical nature… which makes everyday life unpractical to live). I hunted down the English translation for you.

One should not in any way disregard, at any particular stage of life, one’s previous experiences. One should judge what one experiences in the present by one’s experiences of the past. This is placed upon one scale of the balance; upon the other, however, must be placed the inclination of the student continually to experience the new. Above all, there must be faith in the possibility that new experiences may contradict the old. [Steiner, R. GA 13.]

See Das Goetheanum, 7 • 2011, pp 6-7.

travelling lightly

If anthroposophy is a journey, it may be advisable to purchase return tickets.

Anthroposophy is a journey, not a codified, inert body of knowledge. Its insights are intended as an inspiration and guide for the traveler, not as an encyclopedia for the curious.

I’m worried, though, that just as there is no map for the curious, there aren’t any flights back to reality. You may never return from this journey, but instead risk remaining perpetually stuck on a supersensible airplane accompanied by gnomes and archangels. And possibly a eurythmist or two — do they at least play board games to pass time? What a trip!

Finally, one’s journey leads to the complete loss of personal ego and the realization of the universal self, which permits one to live as one with the spiritual realities and beings of the cosmos.

Without a bistro and a bar, not to speak of comfortable chairs, this spiritual travelling may soon prove unbearably tedious. Also, I think I prefer to keep my personal ego — if I have one: it’s probably a lower, unsophisticated model — and my boundaries intact. Even among beings of the cosmos, I want my particularity. Besides, in the ethereal kiosk, spiritual reality is a superfluous concept. However, we firmly believe in the reality of champagne, cheese and bunnies. First things first.

Goetheanum Meditation Initiative.

totally normal

Wolfgang Held speaks to Bodo von Plato and Walter Kugler in the latest edition of Goetheanum Magazin [pdf].

Wunsch für 2011? Rezepte?
Bodo von Plato: Die Wolfsburger Ausstellung hat mein Arbeitsbild modifiziert. Die Öffentlichkeit sucht eine Normalität im Verhältnis zu Rudolf Steiner, bewundert ihn, nimmt ihn ernst, kritisiert ihn. Ganz normal.

I would say so, yes, it is really quite normal. Problem is, for lots of anthroposophists, it is not; it is not considered ‘totally normal’ or something that should be tolerated (much less something that could possibly be desired). Moreover, they don’t want normality in their (and others) relationship to Rudolf Steiner. Normality — or just a sensible approach — is impossible, if you treat Steiner as a god-like figure, a super-human beyond reproach. Perhaps the brainier anthros over at the headquarters, at least those with a sense of civility intact, can deal with differing opinions. Some others, however, cannot. Continue reading “totally normal”

essentials of waldorf education (hague conference 2009)

Can waldorf schools ditch ‘spiritual science’ and still be waldorf schools? Can they ditch what Rudolf Steiner taught and still call themselves waldorf or steiner schools? It’s question which has been discussed over and over again, here on this blog and elsewhere. (Only yesterday I wrote this, but I think I’ve written better and more in dept elsewhere.) Now I’m reading another newsletter from the pedagogical section of the Goetheanum. It’s available here [pdf]. On page 12 and onwards, this document describes the consensus — on what waldorf steiner education is — arrived at by a conference in Hague 2009. And it makes quite clear that waldorf cannot be just anything its proponents (or happy, but clueless parents) wish it to be:

Irrespective of their name and their rich, cultural diversity, they are all unified through several essential characteristics which are described below. Schools or kindergartens which do not reflect these characteristics don’t belong to the worldwide movement of Waldorf schools or Waldorf kindergartens.

The first characteristic mentioned is this:

The basis of Waldorf education is a study of human being and developmental psychology presented by Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) in his volume of lectures entitled “A General Knowledge of the Human Being” or “Study of Man”.

Continue reading “essentials of waldorf education (hague conference 2009)”

how to contact the dead (and other events at the rudolf steiner house london)

I’ve been enjoying reading the spring program [pdf] of the Rudolf Steiner House in London, where the UK Anthroposophical Society has its base. Some alarming news first: ‘In Danger of Extinction: Our twelve senses and why we need to care for them’ (a few of these senses have already gone extinct in me, I’m afraid). That’s a lecture in March (there’s also a study group looking at the twelve senses and the scientific research behind — should be exciting, especially the science part). You will be thrilled to learn that Nick Thomas, who will give a lecture on Rudolf Steiner in the UK in February, is ‘engaged in research to develop a new spiritually based scientific paradigm.’ Dr John Lees — anthroposophic therapist and researcher at Leeds Uni — will talk about Steiner’s ‘contribution … to meeting the challenges of the future’:

As we enter the heart of the consciousness soul we will be able to unfold ever greater degrees of insight and love for each other. However, we will also face many challenges.

Insights and love, yes. Easy to talk about. Practice is another matter, not true? Continue reading “how to contact the dead (and other events at the rudolf steiner house london)”

‘the incorporation of the “I” into the body’ (teachers conferences)

I’m reading a document I found a while ago at the website of Goetheanum’s pedagogical section. It’s a newsletter [pdf]. You almost get the impression that the Goetheanum worries about waldorf schools not being fundamentalist enough:

Is it possible that elements have crept into the lessons which are alienated from the study of man? [p 3]

Oh no! What if something crept in that has not been directly derived from the study of man (as it was devised by Steiner… that’s the only way to know it isn’t alienated from the origin, after all!). Apparently they aren’t concerned about stagnation or the inability to meet contemporary demands. (They should be.)

To reassure you, let me mention that in 2012, two important conferences will take place at the Goetheanum. One for kindergarten teachers and one for school teachers, both addressing ‘the relationship of our Ego to our physical body’.

The article I’m most intrigued by is the last one in the newsletter, which happens to be a presentation of these 2012 conferences. On p 21 a ‘theme’ is mentioned which must be, it is said, carried through and ‘transformed into meaningful practice’ in kindergarten and in schools:

This has to do with the incorporation of the “I” into the body. Expressed in other words: what dynamic relationship between the true I (self) and the body is created through education? Continue reading “‘the incorporation of the “I” into the body’ (teachers conferences)”

initiation-science exacts its price…

‘Initiation-science’ may not be for waldorf teachers. Because

initiation-science exacts a price for the deeper satisfactions its revelations promise: an accelerated encounter with the veiled consequences of our own actions.

Note: encounter with the consequences of actions. This is the description of a lecture series arranged by the Anthroposophical Society, or an east coast branch of it in Chestnut Ridge, NY. The text continues:

By cultivating a responsive appreciation for all one’s surroundings, anthroposophical self-development leads its practitioners into closer relations with others. Such deepened engagement entails harsh meetings with imperfection, both theirs and our own. Fruitfully resolving the resulting conflicts requires enhanced powers of endurance to accompany refined sensitivities.

I’m don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I’ll settle for the former. Most of all, I find the language hysterical and the pretentions quite comical. This is the topic for the session on February 6:

Why are we at a loss for meaning in our sufferings and satisfactions?
Consequences in social life through karma and reincarnation studies: Understanding the laws of metamorphosis turns inside-out our superficial interpretations of social events.

recruitment

It’s one thing that waldorf schools don’t teach anthroposophy. (I believe they should. I believe people who spend their childhood and youth in a waldorf school has a right to know sufficiently about the beliefs system behind it so as to be able to identify it.) It’s there, of course, but it isn’t taught. It’s everywhere. But is it entirely true that the anthroposophical movement does not take any active steps towards recruitment of young people? It’s not. The Anthroposophical Society has what is called the Youth Section, its international headquarters situated in Dornach. Another activity targeting young people just out of waldorf high school is the Youth Initiative Program (YIP), an international ‘education’ with its base at Järna, the Swedish village dominated by anthroposophy. YIP wants to ‘to create a positive social change in the world.  – A course in how to bring your own initiative into being.’ What it actually manages to do is unclear. The curriculum seems fluffier than the worst waldorf schools. (It could be summarized as ‘fluff about and feel like you’re doing something tremendously important’. Sorry, but that’s my impression.) YIP doesn’t conceal its commitment to anthroposophy, though it doesn’t flaunt it either. If you browse around on their website, you will find a subsection of it devoted to anthroposophy. But even without this, it’s a blatantly anthroposophical projects. I think it’s worth noting what they say about anthroposophy though.

It is one of the unique traits of our period in history that, just at the point when the human species has created very serious challenges to the future of humanity, the same humanity has uncovered very powerful cognitive frameworks and practical approaches such as, but not limited to, Anthroposophy, that have the power to move humanity to a new, more profound level of evolution. YIP, by its very nature and striving, seeks to connect to these diverse streams of genuine efforts in humanity.

Note, in particular: ‘the power to move humanity to a new, more profound level of evolution’. Through anthroposophy. (Don’t imagine for even a second that they really accord equal importance to other worldviews or brands of spirituality… or to rationalism or science for that matter.) Continue reading “recruitment”

the megalomania of spiritual aristocracy

There’s more to next year’s Steiner celebrations than a train journey. Unfortunately, those who travel in Steiner’s footsteps by rail will miss out on the 150th birthday conference at the Goetheanum: ‘Rudolf Steiner in the spiritual history of humanity’. The conference runs from February 25th (Steiner’s day of birth) to February 27th (his baptism). You can download the flier [pdf] from Goetheanum’s website.

This conference will mark the occasion that will encourage participants, by appreciating [Rudolf Steiner’s] unique personality and spiritual character, to come closer to his individuality. Understanding anthroposophy rightly depends on this. Continue reading “the megalomania of spiritual aristocracy”

press conference in dornach (ii)

Reading the NNA’s report from the pressconference.

In Presseberichten über die Konferenz z.B. in der Badischen Zeitung und dem Züricher Tagesanzeiger wurde die Bereitschaft der anthroposophischen Bewegung zum Dialog mit der Außenwelt positiv bewertet. Dass auf dem Podium am Goetheanum auch erfolgreiche Unternehmer (Götz Werner) und engagierte Europapolitiker (Gerald Häfner) ihren Platz gefunden hätten, dokumentiere, dass anthroposophisches Denken nicht weltfremd sei und auch in pragmatischen Zusammenhängen auf Interesse stoße. Unbestreitbar, so die Zeitungen, sei Rudolf Steiner einer der einflussreichsten Reformer des 20. Jahrhunderts, der bis heute Künstler, Unternehmer und Wissenschaftler inspiriere.

I would question both their appraisal of Steiner’s influence on the world and the statement that anthroposophic thinking does not lack thisworldliness. As far as the dialogue with the outside world goes — it’s not very visible, is it?

Bodo von Plato — of the executive council — spoke, and the report reads:

Andererseits enthalte Anthroposophie, wie jedes Ideal, auch Schattenseiten, etwa wenn manche ihrer Anhänger zum Sektierertum neigten. Es könne heute nicht mehr darum gehen, nur eine Erfolgsstory zu erzählen. Steiners Werk könne nur lebendig werden, wenn auch die Schattenseiten erwähnt würden.

Well, indeed. But why is this so difficult to acknowledge and put into practice then?

There were several group talks, one of which dealt with alternative medicine, and the ‘necessary paradigm shift of medicine’. The conclusion being that alternative and anthroposophical medicine must be promoted politically.

Read!

it’s that thing called reality

Goetheanum’s latest newsletter (October 29, pdf) message from the Anthroposophical Society’s executive council deals with financial reality. Or, as it’s obscurely put in the caption for the illustration (a photo of the Goetheanum building), anthroposophy is ‘[b]ecoming increasingly visible without matching income’. Strangely, being short in cash seems to ground even the anthroposophists. Presumably the Higher Worlds have cancelled the Goetheanum’s copper card due to overspending (the copper card is the spiritual equivalent of the AmEx gold card, I’ve heard).

Over the last ten years it has become apparent that the gap between revenues and expenditures at the Goetheanum has become too large. Continue reading “it’s that thing called reality”

press conference in dornach

As other blogs have noted and commented on already, a press conference took place at the Goetheanum a little more than a week ago. On the Goetheanum’s website, there’s a report (named ‘Where there’s much light…’) of the event. It seems unlikely that many non-anthroposophic media representatives turned up, if any at all. Nontheless, the report is worth reading, for its display of exaggerated self-esteem, if nothing else. Funnily, in his closing words, Bodo von Plato (of the Anthroposophical Society’s executive council) mentions secterian and dogmatic strands within anthroposophy, and somehow manages to connect this phenomenon to ‘mystery’; the explanation, partly self-evident and definitely non-mysterious, being that where there’s light there’s also shadow. Continue reading “press conference in dornach”

‘to understand is not to make oneself blind’

‘He who would be a true member should strive in the deepest places of his soul for inner tolerance towards his fellow-men. To understand one’s fellow-man ― even where he thinks and does things which one would not like to think and do oneself ― this should be the ideal.

‘It need not mean an uncritical attitude to weaknesses and faults. To understand is not to make oneself blind. To a human being whom we love, we may speak of his faults and mistakes. In many cases he will feel it as the greatest service of friendship, whereas ― if we lay down the law about him with cold indifference of judgment ― he recoils from our lack of understanding and consoles himself with feelings of hatred which begin to stir in him against his critic.

‘In many respects it would become disastrous for the Anthroposophical Society if the intolerance of other men and failure to understand them ― so widely dominant in the outer world today ― were carried into it. Within the Society, such qualities grow in intensity through the very fact that men come nearer to one another.’ (Steiner, GA 26.)