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The history of the occult is an interesting topic, especially for scholars of Rudolf Steiner. To someone new to esotericism who encounters Rudolf Steiner first, it may seem as if he originated everything. This is not to undervalue Steiner's substantial original contributions; however Steiner himself was the first to acknowledge that he was working in a tradition with a long history. And Steiner made many references to earlier concepts – as often to disagree with them as to declare them correct. Steiner took individual positions on literally thousands of different points within the occult tradition, which poses a considerable challenge to anyone who would like to easily pigeonhole him into an easy category of this or that type of occultist. And one path that will almost invariably go wrong is to identify one position that Steiner held, compare it to one position another occultist held, and if it is similar, subsequently conclude that they therefore must have held identical positions on every other question of major or minor significance.

Occultism is by definition an obscure topic, and one that has a long history of sensationalist publicity. When pursued as a historical subject, it demands at least the same level or rigor in sources as any other area of history. Writing rigorous, carefully documented history is tedious, but the tedium is what separates history from, say, the sensationalism of an outlet like the Weekly World News.

Now if there is one common tendency in occultism (both the legitimate and fraudulent kind) it is that of obscuring sources. The mysterious, secret source of wisdom is a common trend in most all occult revelations. And in many instances, when a careful investigator meticulously researches the claims, they can discover fraud of some sort or other. Some frauds are essentially a form of plagiarism, where one "teacher" is discovered to be teaching almost verbatim the teachings of an unrelated obscure mystic when they claim to have invented or discovered the teachings themselves. Other times gurus invent biographies, saying they were studying in Tibet during an earlier period of their lives when in fact they were studying at a Midwestern community college. In fact, Steiner is almost unique in that his biography in all its details is verifiable, and he is nothing more or less than he claims to be. Steiner is further unusual in that he repeatedly claimed that his source for his occult knowledge was only his own insight, his own clairvoyance, and no teacher, guru, master, or Great White Lodge had instructed him in either teachings or tasks. He alone assumed responsibility for everything he said and did.

When occult history is written, it is often either hagiography or exposé. The hagiographies tend to be poorly documented, the exposés meticulously so. (The one curious reversal of this trend seems to be Steiner, whose hagiographies are meticulously documented, by whose investigative exposés tend to be missing any real documentation.) A neutral history, if it is really a history, needs to be meticulously documented, because that is what is required of a historian.

This discussion brings us to an interesting website that I discovered recently, http://www.sociologyesoscience.com/esoterica/. At first glance it appears to be a goldmine of information on occult movements and trends. It ranges broadly over personalities and trends, and mentions virtually anyone of any significance. Steiner even merits a few paragraphs. And most of it seems pretty accurate. As I read through, I eagerly bookmarked it. Then I came across a point that I decided I would like to look into, and came across the problem: No footnotes! I clicked through a dozen or more articles, tens of thousands of words. No footnotes. No citations. None. In vain I looked for a references page, a list of works consulted. From a historical perspective, the site is useless. Because without citations, you can't trust a single thing the author says.

Out of curiosity I poked around until I found the author's name: Eric P. Wijnants. Clicking around some more, I found even more articles. One in particular caught my eye. It was an article on the connection between Alistair Crowley and L. Ron Hubbard, at http://sociologyesoscience.com/crowleyscientology.html. Because I had previously read something on the subject, I looked it over. Sure enough the story was quite familiar. Substantial portions were taken from Russell Miller's Bare Faced Messiah. The source pages are even on the web, at http://www.clambake.org/archive/books/bfm/bfm07.htm. Did Eric give any acknowledgement to where he got his information? No, not a word.

The irony is immense. For someone who purports to unearth the hidden truth about the occult, he is behaving exactly like the occultists he exposes. Mountains of secret truth are revealed, and all must be taken on faith, faith that Eric P. Wijnants has properly understood and presented the information that he posts in semi-anonymity (none of the occult pages have his name on them). And faith it must be, because there is no way to verify any of it.

Further, there is no way any of these articles would be accepted in an academic context, because without sources, they are all essentially plagiarized.

And finally, the probably unauthorized use of several professional quality photographs of the interior of Steiner's second Goetheanum to illustrate his esoterica page is another indication of how much respect Eric P. Wijnants has for other people's work. Neither the photographer, nor the architect, nor the place is mentioned! They are just used out of any context for the mood they convey. (See: http://www.epwijnants-lectures.com/rosen.html). How like a fraudulent occultist!

Notes on my other blogs.

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Back from a break...

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Well, I've taken some time off of this blog for the summer, and that stretched to the autumn as well. But I've been buisy with various things. Among others, I finished my site Defending Steiner. I will present a few things from there over here in the next couple of weeks.

Anthroposophy and Propoganda

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Rudolf Steiner had some interesting views on the relationship of Anthroposophy to the methods of propaganda.

"Anthroposophy - for this very reason - cannot find its way through the world by ordinary agitation or propaganda, no matter how well meant. Agitation kills true Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy must come forward because the Spirit impels it to come forward. It must show forth its life because life cannot but reveal itself in existence. But it must never force its existence upon people. Waiting always for those to come who want it, it must be far removed from all constraint even the constraint of persuasion."

Rudolf Steiner, "The Life, Nature and Cultivation of Anthroposophy." Rudolf Steiner Press: London, 1963, page 17.

Professional skeptics

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The professional skeptic makes an interesting study. A little skepticism is generally a healthy thing in this day and age. For most self-identified skeptics, it is the mood of skepticism, which borders on the cynical, that they seem to identify most strongly with. It is out of a mood that their thinking operates. The problem is that their thinking is not consistent. If skepticism is taken to it's logical extreme, it ends in nihilism or the thinker goes through the zero-point of epistemological uncertainty and comes out the other side. The professional skeptic, however, refuses to take the plunge, and circles aimlessly and illogically, spouting off cynically on every subject that catches his or her fancy. Skepticism becomes a lifestyle, not a philosophy. When such a "skeptic" encounters Anthroposophy the commentary teeters between the inane and the moronic.

An exercise in observation

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Below is something I wrote for a workshop. The assignment was to stand outside for 15 minutes and note everything that you percieved with your senses.

The loudest sound I heard was a sound between a plop and a plunk that came from my shoulders. Some of these sounds were louder than others. It was rain hitting my jacket. The larger drops made an almost popping noise as they hit the wet canvas surface of my coat. In closer to my ears was a sound of a different pitch. It sounded like droplets of water hitting urethane foam. This was the sound of water droplets hitting my fleece hat. I took my hat off for little while and there was a huge change in the soundscape. The higher pitched noises of the drops on the hat were gone. The rain hitting my hair made no sound that I could hear. But then I could feel the cold of the water; not right away but slowly, gradually, as enough of it got through the hair and down to my scalp. Eventually enough collected to start running down my forehand. At that point the water was already warmer. I put my hat back on.

I noted six separate birdcalls. They were repeated at varying intervals. Sometimes one bird called simultaneous to another (I saw several dozen birds). One bird called regularly with the same short burst of sound, repeated nearly a dozen times - then a pause. Others would call one phrase, and then wait. It was not possible to determine whether the various calls came from the same bird, or if another bird was answering or imitating. There was no larger pattern to their calling that I could discern, no identifiably rhythm or superstructure to their voices; the sounds were unpredictable.

The sound of the running water formed a background to the other noises. It was regular, almost rhythmical, except it was entirely structurally chaotic. White noise is what they call it - the differences in sound are so subtle that and so close together - with so many layers of randomness - that the ear hears it almost as a single tone. With effort it was possible to isolate one blurble or gurgle that was discernibly louder or more prominent than the others, but mostly they blended one into and over the other so that they were featureless.

Occasionally I would hear a car on the road (about 600 feet away). These were heard mostly by the sound of their tires as they moved through the water on the street; the engines were inaudible. Once I heard a truck. This I identified by the sound of the engine - a diesel - as it strained on the downshift. It was faint - mostly drowned out by the stream and the steady plop of raindrops on my shoulder - but it protruded enough to be noticed.

The wind hit my left cheek more than my right. Every once in a while it would shift for a moment, but mostly it came from my left. Even after I had been indoors for fifteen minutes, I could still feel my left cheek to be cooler than my right when I put my hand to my face. Otherwise I was comfortably warm - my three layers and down jacket saw to that, plus my wool long underwear and wool socks inside insulated boots. The wind did not blow strongly enough to be felt under my clothing, or even to move my clothing perceptibly. Only my face felt this (my hands were in the pockets of my jacket).

I did not smell anything worth noting. The air was fresh with scent rain, and my jacket gave off a certain faint scent released by being wet, but otherwise there was nothing my nose could pick up.

I did not feel much beyond the wind on my cheek. The typical effort at standing was involved, but the ground was level, and nothing disturbed my balance. My clothing stayed warm, and my hat kept the rain off my face. My hands stayed in my pockets the whole time.

I saw many things: to my left a branch was dripping. It was one of a pair. It was broken, so that the end was sudden where the branch was still fairly thick. Its twin continued, and had an upward direction towards the end. This one ended in a more general direction. Water dripped off of it at a rapid rate. No sooner had one drop fallen than immediately another would form, and this one too would fall; perhaps five or six per second. Yet the drops remained distinctly formed up to the release. A little more water, and the drops would have formed in the air as the water streamed off the branch, but this was not yet the case.

The stream was higher than usual. The ripples from the raindrops formed a complex pattern of interaction with the ripples from the submerged rocks. The whole surface was in constant motion; it was not possible to fix it conceptually even for a moment. It flowed from one shape to another in every fraction of a second. The general contours remained fixed within certain limits, but the specific shape changed continually. The water was a dirty grayish color. About half way across the stream the color of the sky was more visible than the color of the water ? a pale but intense light gray (perhaps a 10% gray in a printer's intensity chart). This color merged into the dark gray along the contours of the ripples; the closer the ripple was to the horizontal the more it took its color from the sky; the more the surface tilted to the vertical, the more it became a dark gray. Parts of the bottom of the stream were visible ? the near side where the water was shallower. Smaller and larger rocks made up about half of the surface area, and were light gray to medium gray. The soil on the bottom of the stream was partly dark brown, and partly a yellow ochre. This was muted by the gray of the water.

The dominant color of the whole scene was a reddish brown. This was the color of the trees, as well as the wet and rotting leaves left over from last autumn. There was actually very little color contrast between the various types of trees; in the rain they were all slight variations of the reddish brown. Their barks differed; some had ridges that ran more in a horizontal pattern, others more to the vertical. Some had more smooth areas, others were completely ridged. A tree to my right had water pouring down one small section, from high up all the way down to the ground. The water made a thin sheet over the bark, which was mostly smooth with some horizontal striations. The water rippled over the striated portions, and the rippling made long vertical bulges in the surface of the streaming water.

Another way of approaching the question would be to ask, "Who would Anthroposophists recognizes their own?" Those who qualify would be those who in general accept the greater portion of Rudolf Steiner's teachings, or at least are among those who don't actively reject significant portions of it. This disqualifies those who pick and choose and make their own philosophy of racial superiority out of bits and pieces of Rudolf Steiner's work, for in doing this they reject Steiner's central principles. This also disqualifies those who go through a shorter or longer phase of their life in which they are enthusiastic supporters of Anthroposophy only to reject it later, either from neglect or by actively turning against it. These can be said to have had an anthroposophical phase in their life, but the description 'Anthroposophist' cannot be applied to describe their life as a whole. This excludes Max Seiling and Gregor Schwartz-Bostunitsch, among others from the ranks of "Anthroposophists".
We have a clear and solid definition of an Anthroposophist if we limit ourselves to those students of Steiner who have exhibited an enthusiastic support for the whole (and not just a part of) Anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner's teaching from the moment they accept them up to the end of their life.
By this definition the list of historically tainted personalities becomes much shorter. Rudolf Hess is not an Anthroposophist. Ernst Uhli still qualifies, and I have to examine the facts upon which he is supposed to be a racist and Nazi more closely. I should also note that if we focus only on the small circle of personalities who are guilty of the historical sin of supporting aspects of National Socialism during their lifetimes and neglect to look at the anthroposophical movement as a whole during that time period we will build a distorted picture. Looking at just a few examples could misleadingly create the impression that there was widespread and enthusiastic support for Nazism among Anthroposophists. In reality the vast majority of Anthroposophists deplored the developments in Germany under Hitler's regime. This was the regime, after all, which banned the Anthroposophical movement and seized all its assets in 1935.

The case of Rudolf Hess raises the question of what constitutes an Anthroposophist. The first point is to consider who is applying the term and what they hope to accomplish with this. In the case of polemical authors attempting to tarnish the Anthroposophical movement as a whole by the actions of a few individuals, an excessively broad definition will serve well. Such a broad definition might define as an Anthroposophist as anyone who finds value in Steiner's work. This definition is overly broad since it would include many people who might disagree with Steiner in many areas despite finding his work valuable in some contexts. Defining as an Anthroposophist anyone who is a consumer of the practical results of Rudolf Steiner's spiritual insights is also overly broad, as it includes anyone who regularly buys Demeter brand produce or Waleda and Dr. Hauschka brand cosmetics, as well as all Waldorf parents and anyone who happens to be treated in an Anthroposophical clinic. Even if their patronage of these practical results borders on fanatical, as in the case of Rudolf Hess, I don't feel that this is sufficient to consider them an Anthroposophist.
To me an Anthroposophist is, at the very least, someone who studies Steiner's work actively. But even this is not a final definition, for a number of very hostile critics arguably also fit this criterion. Whether or not a person is an Anthroposophist is as much a question of inner attitude towards Steiner's work as it is whether or not they actively studiy it. If the reader feels a sort of warm enthusiasm when they read Steiner, then they are part of the way to meeting my definition.

Steiner's Last Words?

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In a discussion recently, someone wondered what Rudolf Steiner's last words were. The discussion started when someone remembered that someone said that Steiner's last words were on the relation of John the Baptist to Lazarus, or something to that effect, and that the attending doctors had this notarized. It seemed incorrect to me, so I did some checking. My Christoph Lindenberg biography of Steiner (1000 pages in German - usually considered the most comprehensive) states that Steiner, on his deathbed (that is, on the night he died) said nothing in the way of "last words" only a few "nice things" to Ita Wegman before closing his eyes, folding his hands and passing, in what seemed to those present a conscious manner (page 980). Present were Dr's Ita Wegman and Ludwig Noll, and Guenther Wachsmuth. It was about 5 AM, Monday, March 30th, 1925. Wegman described the passing as something that seemed decided only in the final moments. Just the day before Steiner was making plans to work on his sculpture "the representative of man" the following day. Though mostly bedridden for the previous six months, Steiner remained quite optimistic about overcoming his illness, read quite a bit, wrote a number of articles, and did work on the plans for the second Goetheanum. His passing struck many as quite unexpected.

So perhaps the "last words" came from a few days earlier. I looked back a bit. He spoke to Albert Steffen on March 28th in the evening. Earlier that day Steiner wrote his last "To the Members" article, titled "From Nature to Sub-Nature" covering "a preview of the 20th century" per Lindenberg (the article can be found in Volume 26 of the complete works, page 258). Access to Steiner was strictly controlled, since by his own diagnosis the illness was caused by exhaustion from personal interviews, so the only people he really saw were Steffen, Wachsmuth, Wegman and Noll, and of course Marie Steiner (who had been away from Dornach attending to the business of the Society since February 23rd).

In the end I am as curious as anyone to know what Steiner's "last words" were. However, the largest, most comprehensive and most recent Steiner biography (published 1997) don't speak of any last words, much less notarized last words, so I have to be somewhat skeptical of their existence. Further I have to wonder how they could possibly have been notarized. While I am not familiar with the process in Switzerland specifically, most countries require a notary public be physically present to certify that the words (usually written) are the express will of the author. At best Dr's Noll or Wegman could have their own statements notarized after the fact. These, however, would not be Steiner's words, but Wegman's or Noll's words, that are notarized. Yet as I have already stated, even these are not known to Steiner's most thorough biographer. Perhaps the mistake is considering Steiner's final lecture cycle "The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest" to be "deathbed comments." But in the end, it appears that Steiner did not die leaving any "last words" or final message.

Judging Authors

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I was discussing recently with someone how to find truth. The question was how an "ordinary" person could judge whether Steiner was likely correct or incorrect in some of his more far-out descriptions of spiritual beings. It was suggested that we could start with the things we could easily verify, namely how Steiner treats other authors. Is he fair to other authors? That is, in agreeing or disagreeing with another point of view, does he present that which he is opposing in a manner that fairly describes what the original author intended before beginning with his objections? Steiner wrote a considerable amount on philosophy and the history of philosophy (for example, his book "Riddles of Philosophy") so a person knowledgeable about philosophy in general could establish whether Steiner was generally trustworthy by how he treats other philosophers.

This type of test is useful for writers beyond Steiner as well. Take any of his critics, for example. Are they fair to other authors? That is, in agreeing or disagreeing with another point of view, do they present that which they are opposing in a manner that fairly describes what the original author intended before beginning with the objections? Do they pass this basic test of trustworthiness?

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