Introduction to the Work of Rudolf Steiner
- Introduction to the Work of Rudolf Steiner
Many people reading this may have just recently come into contact with Steiner, and may not know a lot of the basics I'm going to put here. People who are more familiar with his work aren't always good at explaining it, so newcomers may feel lost.
Anthroposophy or spiritual science begins for most with the writings of Rudolf Steiner, so I'm going to describe them here. How I know them well is that, as a young man, I sought someone to help me understand my experiences of seeing & hearing "fairies", hearing people's thoughts before they spoke, etc. I read widely, and by the age of 21 I'd found Edgar Cayce and heard of Blavatsky & Steiner. At the A.R.E. (Cayce) library, I saw that "A Scientist of the Invisible" by A.P. Shepherd was a biography of Steiner, so I read that to get an idea of who he was & what his works were; in that book, I found out Steiner wrote an autobiography ("The Course of My Life"), so I read that next. When I read what he wrote of experiencing the spiritual world through geometry, I said to myself, "This is the man I've been looking for!"---because I'd had the same experience. I then used the A.R.E. Library, which has one of the largest collections of Steiner books in the U.S.--- and later the Steiner Library in NY ---to read just about everything he wrote, in chronological order.
Steiner lived from 1861 to 1925, and wrote dozens of books; but most of the "books" you'll see are actually notes of lectures he gave. He was always clear that there's a big difference between books & lectures: he didn't want the lectures recorded at ALL, since they were given to a particular group of people at one time & place, while he put things differently in books intended for the general public. He lectured most of the time to audiences already familiar with what he'd written, so a knowledge of his books is essential for grasping what's in his lectures. In fact, he said he structured his books to be tools of initiation, to awaken psychic faculties by the reading of them.
From the early 1880's until 1899, Steiner wrote philosophical works; about the turn of the century he joined the Theosophical Society and began writing books based on Theosophy; about 1913 the German section of the Society separated & became the Anthroposophical Society, and from then to the end of his life he was too busy to write much (until the last year, when he was dying). Most of his lectures were given from 1901 to 1924.
In his "Theosophical" period, Steiner often pointed back to his philosophical works as a foundation for his spiritual-scientific work. They were written in the vein of German philosophical idealists, not well known in America today, similar to transcendentalism. (Many of the things anthroposophists associate only with Steiner were common ideas & sentiments amongst those Old World idealists.) The central point in his philosophical writings was that the doubt about objective knowledge of the world was unfounded: Man could have such knowledge through pure thinking, he argued---because Steiner, like the great poet and scientist Goethe he studied, experienced the spirit in his thinking. His first books were essays on Goethe's scientific works (gathered together as "Goethe The Scientist"); on how Goethe showed by demonstration that there were no "limits to knowledge" ("A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World-Conception"); Steiner's PhD thesis, "Truth And Knowledge"; then his master-work, "Die Philosophie der Freiheit"(sometimes translated as the "Philosophy Of Freedom", though Steiner said "freedom" was the wrong English word). Later he wrote "Goethe's Conception of the World", "Conceptions of the World and Life in the Nineteenth Century" (now called "The Riddles of Philosophy"), and a few other works. [The older generation of anthroposophists took to heart Steiner's instruction to study the philosophic works.]
Steiner thus laid out the philosophical foundation for higher experience of the world in his early writings, particularly in his Philosophy of Freedom; then, about 1899, he described how he had a mystical "opening", and began receiving higher knowledge in the form we now know as anthroposophy. He gave a lecture on Goethe's Fairy Tale in which he first expressed himself in mystical terms, followed by lectures on famous mystics in Europe (revised & published as "Eleven European Mystics" and under some other names), then a series on ancient mystics and Christianity ("Christianity As Mystical Fact and the Mysteries of Antiquity"), which he also revised into book form. Then he wrote a basic book of Theosophical teaching, "Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man" (describing the parts of man, life after death & how reincarnation & karma work), followed by two series of articles for a Theosophical magazine, one on "Initiation" or psychic development ("Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment" and "The Stages of Higher Knowledge") and one of readings from the Akashic Records ("Cosmic Memory"). At this time, he began giving the extensive lecture-courses that are now so widely published. He gave a lecture & revised it into a book on how to use the 7 principles of Man in education, "The Education of the Child In The Light of Spiritual Science" (his only written work on what would later become "Waldorf" Education). Then, in 1909, he summed up all of what he had experienced since his 1899 "opening" in "An Outline of Occult Science", which has a section on Initiation, on the parts of man, on reincarnation & karma, and on the history of the world from the Akashic Records, from creation down to the present. This is the "Bible" of spiritual science.
From 1910 on, Steiner wrote few books: he worked with the group he gathered around him in the arts, writing & producing 4 Mystery Plays & creating the art of movement, Eurythmy; he published his "Calendar of the Soul" of meditative mantras, created a school of students whom he guided in Initiation, designed and supervised the building of the Society HQ and of course lectured daily. At the end of the First World War, he wrote a book on reorganizing society, "The Threefold Social Order", and began the Waldorf Schools; after the Society's HQ was burned down in 1922, he worked intensively to see that the Society was organized to survive after he was gone; and all the impulses in agriculture, medicine, etc., were begun and/or tended in this time. He died in 1925, leaving the Society to carry on his work.
Now, one may approach anthroposophy in ways that have little to do with books: through eurythmy, or speech, or acting, or through practical work with farming or medicine or teaching. But as far as reading goes, the fundamental works to study are:
1. Steiner's philosophical works, for instance Die Philosophy der Freiheit (The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity)
2. Christianity As Mystical Fact And The Mysteries of Antiquity
3. Theosophy : An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man
4. Cosmic Memory
5. Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment (and its sequel, The Stages of Higher Knowledge)
6. The Education of the Child In The Light of Spiritual Science
7. An Outline of Occult Science.
(Many people in the U.S. leave Christianity As Mystical Fact & Cosmic Memory off the list, merely because for many years they were not published by the Anthroposophic Press: but I consider them vital.)
These are the fundamental works of spiritual science, and any discussion of the findings of this science should begin with being grounded in them. People can read any lectures that catch their eye, but the books are essential to go back to and study again and again.
Since we are around the hundredth anniversery of the publication of these books, I'll put a little bit about them each here.