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Rudolf Steiner - Written and compiled by George Knowles
Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner was a Austrian literary scholar, philosopher, theosophist and social reformer, an architect, playwright, artist and prolific lecturer on a wide range of subjects including: agriculture, the arts, education, medicine and spiritual development. He founded a ‘spiritual science’ movement called Anthroposophy, and created the first Waldorf School based on his own educational system that has since been adopted worldwide.
Born on the 25th February 1861, at Kraljeviç, Austria (now in Croatia), from an early age Steiner showed a high level aptitude for learning. However his father was a poor telegraph operator working for the Southern Austria railway and could little afford him an expensive education. He later took a position as stationmaster near Vienna, which enabled him to send his son to High School in Wiener-Neustadt.
After finishing High School in 1879, Steiner enrolled at the Vienna Institute of Technology to study Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy, during which time he supported himself as a private tutor, often to his fellow students. While there, he became immersed in the philosophical writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and in 1882 was offered a position as editor for a new edition of his scientific works.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Pic)
In his autobiography, Steiner tells us that when he was 21, while on his way home on the train from Vienna he met a gardener named Felix Koguzki, who gathered and sold herbs for a living. Koguzki spoke to him about the spiritual world, and of how he understood the language of plants, which told him what sicknesses they could heal. The gardener then introduced him to another traveller who Steiner identifies only as a “master”, but who had a great influence on Steiner’s later development, in particular, directing him to study the philosophy of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (a German philosopher who expounded a form of idealism).
Johann Gottlieb Fichte (Pic)
After his graduation in 1883, Steiner continued working as an editor and archivist, and throughout the 1880s worked on a complete edition of Goethe’s writings. In 1890 he was invited to work at the prestigious Schiller-Goethe Archives in Weimar, eastern Germany. In the following year he received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rostock, and later published his dissertation as a book Wahrheit und Wissenschaft (Truth and Science - 1892). While working at the archives he also wrote his most important philosophical work Die Philosophie der Freiheit (The Philosophy of Freedom - 1894), an exploration of epistemology and ethics upon which humans might become spiritually free beings.
In 1897 he moved to Berlin, and while working as an editor for various magazines, published and edited his own intellectual publication, the Magazine for Literature. He also began teaching two evenings a week at the Arbeiterbildungsschule (School for the Education of Workers), where he discussed his ideas of a universal education for the working classes. This led him to write a controversial article rejecting anti-Semitic ideas, which later after the 1914-18 World War, made him many enemies. In 1899 he married his first wife Anna Eunike, a lady he had lodged with while working in Weimar, but the marriage later ended in divorce.
Anna Eunike and Rudolf Steiner - circa 1900 (Pic)
Later Steiner joined the Berlin branch of the Theosophical Society, and by 1902 was made General Secretary of the Society in Germany. During his numerous lectures on theology and relativism, he began to develop his own philosophies for which he coined the term “Anthroposophy” (meaning human wisdom) to describe his own system of “spiritual science”. Among his early books devoted to Anthroposophy were Outline of Occult Science (1909) and Outline of Esoteric Science (1910).
Toward the end of 1912 Steiner had a disagreement of ideas with Annie Besant, leader of the Theosophical Society, which caused him to leave the Society, taking with him most of the members from the German section. As a result, he founded the ‘Anthroposophical Society’ to promote his own ideas. A year later he designed and began building the ‘Goetheanum’, a School of Spiritual Science in Dornach, Switzerland. Constructed mainly of wood and using the skills of local craftsman, throughout the start of World War I, volunteers from all over Europe worked peaceably side by side on the project. As work on the building progressed, in 1914 Steiner married his second wife Marie von Sivers, an actress from the Baltic, a theosophist and a devotee of his new movement.
Annie Besant - Marie von Sivers (Pic)
As war erupted across Europe, Steiner began to expand on his earlier anti-Semitic ideas, and the Threefold Social Order (or Soziale Dreigliederung), in which he advocated the separation of cultural (including educational), political and economic systems of management in society, and argued that the war showed a need for peaceful methods of conflict resolution. After the war, in 1919, he explored his educational ideas in a lecture to workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, after which he was approached by the factory owner Emil Molt, who suggested he set up a school for the factory worker’s children modelled on his ideas. As a result, the first Waldorf School was founded and named after the factory.
His ideas for social change fell mainly on deaf ears however, as the zeal for National Socialism led by Adolf Hitler began to spread throughout Germany. Indeed his ideas made him a target for extremist right-wing Nationalists, who made public threats against him and the Goetheanum. On New Year’s Eve 1922 the Goetheanum building was burned down by arsonists and all that remained was his frontispiece - a huge sculpture he had designed with the English sculptress Edith Maryon - 'The Representative of Humanity', a depiction of the spiritual forces active in the world and human beings. Undeterred, Steiner immediately began work on a second Goetheanum, but this time constructed of concrete. The new building was completed in 1928, three years after his death, and today is the main headquarters and cultural centre of Anthroposophy and its School of Spiritual Science.
The first Goetheanum - The second Goetheanum (Pic)
By the start of the 1920s Steiner had re-doubled the number of his lectures and began promoting not just his Social Reform ideas, but expanding his theories in many other areas of human endeavor. On Spirituality – his theories centred on the ‘human being’ rather than God, in that the spiritual world was accessible to a properly developed intellect. His term Anthroposophy implies “knowledge produced by the higher self in man”. According to Steiner, the innate spiritual capacity of the individual had long been suppressed by his devotion to materialism, but this can be overcome intellectually through meditation and concentration. He also believed in reincarnation, in that people are reincarnated several times before attaining complete self-consciousness.
On Education - his Waldorf teaching concepts have been adopted all over the world. The agricultural system he founded (Bio-dynamic agriculture) contributed significantly to the development of today’s modern organic farming methods. His work in anthroposophical medicine has led to a wide range of complementary medications and therapies, while his methods for teaching people with developmental disabilities are commonly used in care homes and special needs schools. His paintings and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries, and have influenced many modern artists, and his Goetheanum buildings have inspired many of today’s leading modern architects.
Toward the end of 1924 Steiner was forced to give up his lectures due to an unknown stomach illness; some even feared he had been poisoned, but no truth in this was ever found. Steiner died in Dornach on the 30th March 1925.
Man, Myth and Magic - Edited by Richard Cavendish
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First published on the 11th February 2011 © George Knowles
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George Knowles (Man in Black).
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