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Steiner, Rudolf


STEINER, RUDOLF (18611925), who wrote more than 350 volumes on philosophy, science, and the arts, was the originator of an esoteric form of spiritual teaching called anthroposophy, which he defined as meaning both "knowledge of the human being" and "human knowledge." Steiner was born in Kraljevec on Murr Island, Hungary, on February 25, 1861. He was educated in Austria, lived in Germany in his middle years, and lived in Dornach, Switzerland, during the last twelve years of his life. From 1900 to 1924, in virtually every major city in Europe, he delivered over six thousand lectures, some to an audience of a dozen and others to several thousands.

From an early age, Steiner experienced access to spiritual realities, including experiences of the dead; the inner, or "etheric," forces of the plant world; and the living power of symbolic forms. At age twenty-two he was appointed editor of the natural scientific writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which were published in five volumes (18831897).

Beginning in 1900, at the age of thirty-nine, Steiner began to teach a Western Christian-Rosicrucian esotericism. He served as the head of the Berlin branch of the Theosophical Society from 1902 to 1911. He continued to speak about H. P. Blavatsky (18311891), the founder of the society, with great respect, but in contrast to the primarily Hindu-Buddhist orientation of the Theosophical Society, Steiner emphasized both the central role of Christ in the evolution of consciousness and the importance of thinking for the karma of the West. Steiner's doctoral dissertation, published as Truth and Knowledge (1892), in combination with The Philosophy of Freedom (1894), prepared the way for the theory of cognition that characterizes his later thought. In 1904 Steiner published two of his foundational esoteric works: How to Know Higher Worlds and Theosophy. The third foundational text from that period was An Outline of Esoteric Science (1909). Collectively, these three works present Steiner's fourfold theory of human nature (physical, etheric, astral, and Ego), his detailed account of the evolution of earth and humanity, guidance on the path of initiation, and his description of the workings of karma and rebirth. Some of the ideas in these basic anthroposophical texts can be found in Hindu and Buddhist scriptures and in the esoteric teachings of Blavatsky, but Steiner sought to establish them in the Western, specifically Christian, tradition.

In response to requests from his followers for guidance, Steiner delivered more than six thousand lectures on disparate topics in the sciences, the social sciences, the arts, education, and on many of the founders and leaders of different religious traditions. In the tradition of Goethe, Steiner showed how imaginative seeing can illuminate the natural world, especially plants and the world of color. He generated myriad insights into the inner dynamics of the natural world, including metals, crystals, plants, soil, and particularly the human body. He described in detail the effects of spiritual, astral, and etheric forces on planetary bodies, the earth, and human beings.

Steiner bequeathed a host of insights concerning color theory, painting, sculpture, and architecture. Many of his contributions in these areas are exemplified in the two Goetheanum buildings in Dornach that he designed. The first Goetheanum, for which construction began in 1913, was nearly finished when it was destroyed by fire in 1922. The second Goetheanum serves as the spiritual center for the General Anthroposophical Society. In the years 19101914 Steiner taught several courses on speech formation that were based on his esoteric knowledge of the human larynx, and he wrote and directed four dramas in which he attempted to use those innovations in speech to express the inner realities of human and spiritual beings. In 1912 Steiner began teaching a series of lessons for a discipline of his own invention called eurythmy. Using his knowledge of language and sound, he showed how the human body, particularly the limbs, can express in visible form the varied meanings of consonants, vowels, and musical notes.

Steiner posited three principal divisions of society: the economic, the political, and the spiritual-cultural. He argued that these three realms should be regarded as separate but related and of equal importance. This social theory has profound implications for Steiner's approach to education, which he placed in the spiritual-cultural sphere, essentially removed from economic and political (including governmental) influence. Steiner's attempt to develop an approach to education that would be modern, spiritual, and centered on the needs of the child dates to his lecture series of 1907, The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy, and it finds full expression in the Waldorf approach to education.

Waldorf Schools (named after the school in Stuttgart that Steiner founded in 1919 for the children of workers in the Waldorf-Astoria tobacco factory) employ a curriculum based on what Steiner saw as the seven-year cycles through which a child develops and on the cultivation of the child's scientific and artistic imagination. On Steiner's recommendation, Waldorf teachers strive to "receive the child in reverence, educate the child in love, and send the child forth in freedom."

Steiner delivered more than a dozen lecture series on the spiritual and esoteric revelations that he gleaned from the events depicted in the Christian scriptures. Although he emphasized that the primary spiritual path for modern humanity ought to be spiritual science, or anthroposophy, in 1922, in response to an appeal for help from German and Swiss pastors and theology students, Steiner provided the spiritual foundation for a church called the Christian Community. During Christmas week in 1923, Steiner reorganized the Anthroposophical Society with the Goetheanum as its spiritual and physical center. He died at the Goetheanum on March 30,1925.

See Also

Anthroposophy; Blavatsky, H. P.; Rosicrucians; Theosophical Society.


More than two hundred volumes by Steiner and an equal number concerning anthroposophy by other authors, including Christopher Bamford, Owen Barfield, Sergei Prokofieff, M. C. Richards, and Valentin Tomberg, are available from Anthroposophic Press/Steiner Books at The following books are published by Anthroposophical Press/Steiner Books, Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Bamford, Christopher, ed. Spiritualism, Madame Blavatsky, and Theosophy. Great Barrington, Mass., 2001.

Barnes, Henry. A Life for the Spirit: Rudolf Steiner in the Crosscurrents of Our Time. Hudson, N.Y., 1997.

Prokofieff, Sergei. Rudolf Steiner and the Founding of the New Mysteries. East Sussex, U.K., 1986.

Steiner, Rudolf. An AutobiographyChapters in the Course of My Life: 18611907. Translated by Rita Stebbing, Herndon, Va., 1999.

Robert A. McDermott (1987 and 2005)

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