Channel 4 this evening showed a programme called 'The strangest village in Britiain' as part of 'Only Human'. It was the story of Botton a village of handicapped people run along Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophical philosophy. (It's now available here.)
At one point in the documentary it suggested that Steiner's perspective was Christian. It is anything but. I dug up some old notes of mine about the anthroposophical worldview and have posted them here. My interest in Steiner stems from the time I stayed at a Camphill community for a weekend to see my youngest brother who was living there get married (he was a co-worker, not a villager).
The four elements of a worldview: story, questions, symbols and praxis are taken from Tom Weright's excellent The New Testament and the People of God (London: SPCK, 1992)
The story of anthroposophy is tied up with Rudolf Steiner’s (1861-1925) personal story.
Steiner has had many influences on him. The most notable being: Catholicism, Goethe, Theosophy and strands of Eastern mysticism.
He was born into a poor family in Feb 1861 on the Austrian side of the Austria-Hungary border. His clairvoyant experiences divide his world in two: one he could talk about the other he couldn’t. He soon developed an interest in science.
The attraction of Goethe for Steiner was that his scientific writings had provided a bridge “between Nature and Spirit”.
Goethe The year book for the Goethe society in 1897 said of Steiner:
What he has achieved through the harmonious working together of his critical and his productive faculties, has won the acclamation of all experts. It is thanks to his self-effacing and untiring effort that we now have in our hands in a well-ordered sequence and unified form a wealth of material which assures Goethe a deeper and more complex appreciation as a natural scientist (cited in Moffat, nd: 81).Catholicism His connection with Catholicism came during his time in Vienna. Here he met writers and university professors who “gave him an insight into the spiritual traditions of the Church” (Lissau 1987: 7).
From Vienna he moved to Wiemar (1890-1897); there he came into contact with Ernest
Haekel and Freidrich Nietzsche.
Theosophy It was at Vienna he first met theosophists. Though it was at Berlin that this link developed. He eventually became the general secretary of the then recently formed German theosophical society. His links with it were severed as a result of a disagreement with Annie Besant over her view that Krishnamurti was a reincarnation of Christ. Hence on 2 February 1913 the Anthroposophical society was born.
Eastern Mysticism Anthroposophy has much in common with Hinduism, particularly the notions of karma and reincarnation. Anthroposophy though is very much a westernised version.
Steiner has also been very influential. He was not only concerned with education but also developed new approaches to art, architecture, agriculture, medicine and eurhytmy (not to be confused with eurhytmics – or even Annie Lennox!).
Who are we? Steiner’s anthropology is complex. He describes humans as many-fold entities:
Three fold as body, soul and spirit
Fourfold as four bodies: physical, ethereal, astral and ego
We are the same stuff as the earth and the universe; there are essential connections between all three
Man is not an animal to be trained. He is not an inanimate object to be processed. He is a being of body, soul and spirit, through his physical body he is related to the world of matter. He has a life force in common with the plants. Emotions and sensations he shares with the animals. In his inner core he is an individual possessed of the divine spark. Man is related to all things and is the centre of all things. His evolution is not yet complete. He has the possibility of infinite development. (Wilkinson 1975:7)
Where are we? We are in a mysterious universe, with which we have essential connections
What is wrong? One problem is that we gloss over the mystery; the advances in science have not been matched by a corresponding advance in spirituality.
What is the remedy? There needs to be a refining of the scientific method to overcome its materialism and an increasing self-knowledge. The human spirit needs a full unfolding. The purpose of education is thus the full unfolding of the human spirit.
Natural products particularly woollen garments and wooden artefacts. Very few right angles in their architecture. All reflecting a “back to nature” philosophy. Purple and mauve clothes. Much of their art is instantly recognisable.
The phrase “building alternatives” perhaps best describes anthroposophical praxis. The alternatives include Waldorf and Camphill schools, biodynamic farming, the use of natural products (particularly wood), colour therapy.
References and bibliography
Rudi Lissau Rudolf Steiner: Life, Work, Inner Path and Social Initiative (Stroud, Glos: Hawthorn Pres, 1987)
Rudolf Steiner Theosophy (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd, 1922)
Roy Wilkinson Commonsense Schooling: Based on the Initiatives of Rudolf Steiner (East Grinstead: Henry Goulden, 1975)