Posted on Thursday, 8 November, 2012 | 2 comments
Columnist: William B Stoecker
During much of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe, the Church held a monopoly on religion and philosophy, burning as heretics those (like Giordano Bruno) who dissented. Nevertheless, both for good and for ill, pagans continued to exist, and alchemists continued their experiments, and heretics continued to question (secretly) the official dogma. Right under the noses of the priests and bishops, two orders of knights were established, using many of the same magical symbols: the Hospitallers (today called the Knights of Malta) and the Templars. In Renaissance Germany the Rosicrucians appeared, using many of the same symbols; they were probably a reappearance of the Templars, who had eventually been persecuted and driven underground by the Church and the King of France. And of course, Christian movements opposed to the Church of Rome appeared during the Reformation.
As the temporal power of all the churches declined, and witch burnings became less and less common, the Freemasons surfaced, initially in Scotland, then England, and then the Continent. They are almost certainly the Templars in yet another form. Their dark side is exemplified by the Illuminati, who appeared in Bavaria in 1776 and who probably were behind the bloody French Revolution. In America the nineteenth century saw the development of Spiritualism and also the rise of the Mormons, or Latter Day Saints. Then, in Europe, Madame Blavatsky created the cult of Theosophy, which eventually helped to inspire a kind of occult revival in Germany and Austria and elsewhere during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of the figures involved in this revival were, at best, ambiguous, and, at worst, sinister, even perhaps demonically inspired.
Blavatsky herself preached a doctrine about “root races” and Lemuria which is demonstrably nonsense, and there are claims that she worshipped a fallen angel she called “Lucifer,” and that Hitler read her books and was inspired by her. I have written elsewhere about her, and about the equally ambiguous occultist Gurdjieff. Among Blavatsky’s successors in the Theosophist movement, Charles Leadbeater sexually abused little boys, and Alice Bailey broke away to found the Lucis Trust, which is allied to the UN and which maintains the bizarre “meditation room” at UN Headquarters. Bailey was an anti-Semite who admired Hitler and Stalin, and stated that God is a “tyrant” and admitted to worshipping the fallen angel Lucifer. The Golden Dawn was an occult order in Britain, whose members included the celebrated poet William Butler Yeats. They appear to have been harmless enough, but one of their members, Aleister Crowley, broke away to found the OTO, or Order of the Temple of the Orient. Styling himself the “Great Beast” and the “wickedest man in the world,” he was a promiscuous alcoholic and drug addict. Rocket scientist Jack Parsons and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard were among his followers. And then there are all the half-mad anti-Semitic occultists who inspired the young Hitler, and the sinister founders of the ONT (Order of the New Templars) which more or less morphed into the German order, whose members then founded the Thule Society, which inspired and supported Hitler and almost certainly created the original Nazi Party. I have also written elsewhere about the Russian Nicholas Roerich, a brave explorer and talented artist well connected to the political elites in the US. And then there is Wilhelm Reich, a tragic but ambiguous figure. Sex-obsessed and exceedingly promiscuous, he supported abortion on demand, and sold “orgone accumulators,” a term that clearly refers to the energy also known as ki, chi, or prana (it has many names). Imprisoned for consumer fraud in the US, he died in prison and his papers were destroyed. We may never know for certain if he was a flawed but honorable and gifted man, or simply a con artist.
But at least one famous mystic of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries appears to have been a completely decent and honorable man, whether or not one agrees with his philosophy. Austrian Rudolf Steiner was a gifted artist, an architect, a philosopher, an educator, a political and economic theorist, and a pioneer in a kind of organic farming. He was a true polymath, or Renaissance man. Steiner (2/25/1861-3/30/1925) was born in what is now Croatia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a child he was partly home schooled. He believed that he had once spoken to his deceased aunt’s spirit, and claimed to have been guided by a mysterious master. He never said if this master was a living person or a spirit. Steiner studied math, science, philosophy, and literature at the Vienna Institute of Technology, and then earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Rostock in Germany, making him one of those rare people well- grounded in both math and science on the one hand and the liberal arts on the other. He believed that his master encouraged him to study the philosophy of Fichte, and he was also influenced by Goethe’s philosophy of phenomenology, which involves the study of consciousness itself, an attempt to understand objectively emotions, perceptions, and judgments which are, by their very nature, subjective.
A philosophical idealist, Steiner believed that our normally limited consciousness separates perception and thinking, preventing us from knowing the essential unity of all things, but that we can learn to combine the two and that all knowledge and understanding is accessible to us. He believed that we can only be truly free and able to think independently of all outside conditioning if we fully understand our own motives. The key to understanding, according to Steiner, is creative thought, and he believed in the evolution of consciousness and in karma and reincarnation…but also believed that, at age 38, he had in some sense encountered Christ, not as a reappearing physical messiah, but as a being with gradually increasing spiritual influence in our world. He wanted to merge science and mysticism, reason and intuition.
Influenced by the Theosophists and fascinated by the Rosicrucians, he managed to become the leader of the Theosophists’ German section in 1902…without actually joining their society. He was also, for eight years, the head of a Masonic lodge. But he disagreed with Blavatsky’s successors, Charles Leadbeater and Annie Besant, and broke away in 1912 or 1913 to found his own movement…Anthroposophy.
As a sculptor he worked with wood, a difficult medium. As an architect, his most celebrated buildings were his Goetheanums…the first one, built in Dornach, Switzerland in 1913, was largely made of wood, and was burned down by his enemies (later, they included both the communists and the Nazis). He built another of concrete. They are strikingly original buildings and cannot be pigeonholed into any conventional school of architecture. Of course, the name “Goetheanum” refers to Goethe.
His anthroposophic medicine has been called “anthroposophically extended medicine,” for he did not reject conventional medicine, but merely wanted to add such concepts as homeopathy to it, and he required that anyone calling himself an anthroposophic medical practitioner first earn a traditional MD. His biodynamic agriculture was ordinary organic farming, with no pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers, emphasizing composting, crop diversification, and local production and consumption. To this he added the practice of planting according to an astronomical calendar, and the use of certain minerals and organic compounds, which, he believed, would release unseen energies and revitalize the soil. Studies have not shown his methods to be any better than normal organic farming.
Steiner believed that there should be a threefold social order, comprised of government, the economy, and culture, all more or less independent of one another. He rejected both socialism in any form and traditional shareholder capitalism, and believed that there should be at least some limits on inheritance rights. He did not believe that corporations should be legally considered as persons.
Steiner and his associate Marie von Sivers developed a kind of dance, really a combination of dance, music, lighting, colored costumes, and role playing called “eurythmy.” The dancers are taught certain basic movements, which they are then free to combine as they see fit.
His most lasting legacy is in the field of education, for Steiner founded the Waldorf schools, which still exist today in most Western nations, including the United States. The first such school was founded in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany, and the schools, while not neglecting rote learning of facts and the development of analytical thinking, also emphasize imagination and creativity. Each school is governed, not by a principal, but by the teachers, and parents are encouraged to take an active part. For very young students, the Waldorf schools emphasize experiential and sensory learning. From ages seven to fourteen, imaginative and artistic abilities are developed, and, from ages fourteen to nineteen, intellect and ethics. Cooperation is stressed over competition. Music and crafts are taught, and eurythmy. A German study of Waldorf schools claimed that the students scored as well on standardized tests (of intellect and factual knowledge) as students in government schools, but seemed happier and suffered less from stress-related illnesses. In the United States, Waldorf students usually score higher on SAT tests than students in public schools.
People are free to disagree with Steiner’s mystical philosophy, and his ideas concerning government and economics, while intriguing, may be a bit naïve and unrealistic. His biodynamic agriculture, while effective, seems no better than conventional organic farming. It is hard to estimate the worth of his medical concepts; there does not appear to any evidence one way or the other…no double bind experiments are known to have been done. The Waldorf schools, while providing an excellent education, are not necessarily the best possible method for doing so. But his work, valuable in itself, can serve as an inspiration, a starting point, for other thinkers and reformers. And while he was undoubtedly as human and flawed as the rest of us, he stands alone among the major occultists of the twentieth century as an unambiguous force for good.Article Copyright© William B Stoecker - reproduced with permission.