Anthroposophy and Theosophy
Date: Sun Feb 22, 2004 12:09 pm
Subject: Anthroposophy and Theosophy
I have noticed that in several places you
closely associate Theosophy and Anthroposophy, for example referring
to Steiner's "theosophical/anthroposophical period".
Do you see any differences between Theosophy and Anthroposophy?
Do you consider these differences important or unimportant?
From: Peter Staudenmaier
Date: Sun Feb 22, 2004 3:41 pm
Subject: Re: [anthroposophy_tomorrow] Anthroposophy and Theosophy
Hi again Daniel, you asked:
I have noticed that in several places you closely associate
Theosophy and Anthroposophy, for example referring to Steiner's
"theosophical/anthroposophical period". Do you see
any differences between Theosophy and Anthroposophy? Do you consider
these differences important or unimportant?
I definitely see differences between mainstream Theosophy and
Anthroposophy, both ideological and organizational ones. But
I also think it makes sense to view Anthroposophy as an offshoot
of Theosophy, particularly because Steiner began developing Anthroposophy
while he was the acknowledged leader of Theosophy in German-speaking
This is a fairly common position. Anthony Faivre, a French scholar
of comparative religion, speculates that Steiner might well have
called his own movement 'Theosophy' had the name still been available,
and Faivre associates Anthroposophy closely with what he calls
"the traditional theosophical current." (Anthony Faivre,
Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition: Studies in Western Esotericism,
Albany 2000, pp. 29 and 47). Maria Carlson similarly writes that
"Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophy is a refinement and redirection
of Theosophy, not a mutually exclusive movement." (Carlson,
'No Religion Higher than Truth': A History of the Theosophical
Movement in Russia, Princeton 1993, p. 33) And Helmut Zander,
who has paid more attention to Anthroposophy than most German
historians, refers to Steiner's worldview simply as "German
theosophy" and notes that after the organizational split
in 1913, the Anthroposophical Society became "the dominant
representative of theosophical ideas in Germany" (Zander,
"Sozialdarwinistische Rassentheorien aus dem okkulten Untergrund
des Kaiserreichs" in Puschner, Schmitz, and Ulbricht, Handbuch
zur 'Völkischen Bewegung' 1871-1918, Munich 1996, p. 240).
I largely share these views. One important difference between
Besant's Theosophy and Steiner's Anthroposophy, however, was
their divergent attitudes toward Christianity; in some respects
Anthroposophy is probably best understood as an amalgam of Theosophy
and a more or less Rosicrucian variant of esoteric Christianity.
What do you think?
Date: Sun Feb 22, 2004 5:46 pm
Subject: Re: [anthroposophy_tomorrow] Anthroposophy and Theosophy
The similarities and differences between Anthroposophy and Theosophy
is indeed something I have thought quite a lot about, though
not enough to write a position paper on the subject. But I can
offer a few quick thoughts.
From a distance the similarities will be the first thing a researcher
would notice. This is especially true because of the shared vocabulary.
Approaching the question from another angle, I have noticed that
Steiner repeatedly distanced himself from Theosophy. So the question
naturally arises, was Steiner attempting to rewrite history after
the split, or did he really feel that there were significant
differences from day one.
To answer this question, it becomes necessary to dig really deep
into the minutiae of Theosophical doctrine and compare it to
a large body of Steiner's work. I have been working on this for
a while, but I do not feel competent to offer the final word
on the matter.
Another thing to note is the amazing amount of similarities shared
by virutally all approaches to spiritual questions. Believers
tend to take this as a sign that all religions and other esoteric
movements are viewing different angles of the same truth. Cynics
claim that a form of literary "borrowing" lies at the
root of this. In viewing Steiner, it is possible to say, "Steiner
said many things that are similar to Blavatsky because he blatantly
ripped off her 'Secret Doctrine'." Or it is possible to
say, "Steiner looked into the spiritual world, and many
things he saw there corresponded to aspects of Blavatsky's 'Secret
Doctrine', hence the similarities." Now I haven't had a
chance to do a detailed comparison, but having looked at Blavatsky
recently, I am actually amazed at how many things are in 'The
Secret Doctrine' that are not in Steiner. The question "why?"
naturally presents itself. An explanation is offered by Steiner:
Buddhism was soon recognized as of the work of the spiritual
dilettante, a compendium of old, badly understood esoteric bits
and pieces. But it was less easy to find access to a phenomenon
of the period such as Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine. For this
work did at least reveal in many places that much of its content
had its origins in real, powerful impulses from the spiritual
world. The book expressed a large number of ancient truths which
have been gained through egotistic clairvoyance in distant ages
of mankind. People thus encountered in the outside world, not
from within themselves, something which could be described as
an uncovering of a tremendous wealth of wisdom which mankind
at once possessed as something exceptionally illuminating. This
was interspersed with unbelievable passages which never ceased
to amaze, because the book is a sloppy and dilettantish piece
of work as regards any sort of methodology, and includes superstitious
nonsense and much more. In short, Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine
is a peculiar book: the great truths side-by-side with terrible
Rudolf Steiner. "The Anthroposophic Movement."
Bristol: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993. Page 23. Translated by Christian
von Arnim. (Lecture of June 10th, 1923).
This criticism of Blavatsky is from 1923,
that is, after the split. But it was hardly new for him. Writing
for Eduard Schure in 1907, Steiner said:
The Theosophical Society was
first established in 1875 in New York by H.P. Blavatsky and H.S.
Olcott, and had a decidedly Western nature. The publication "Isis
Unveiled", in which Blavatsky revealed the large number
of esoteric truths, has just such a western character. But it
has to be stated regarding this publication that it frequently
the great truths of which it speaks in a distorted or even caricatured
manner. It is a similar to a visage of harmonious proportions
appearing distorted in a convex mirror. The things which are
said in "Isis" are true, but to how they are said is
a lopsided mirror-image of the truth. This is because the truths
of themselves are inspired by the great initiates of the West,
who also inspired Rosicrucian wisdom. A distortion arises because
of the inappropriate way in which H.P. Blavatsky's soul has received
these truths. The educated world should have seen in this fact
alone the evidence for a higher source of inspiration of these
truths. For no one who rendered them in such a distorted manner
could have created these truths himself. Because of the Western
initiators saw how little opportunity they had to allow the stream
of spiritual wisdom to flow into mankind by this means, they
decided to drop the matter in this form for the time being. But
the door had been opened: Blavatsky's soul had been prepared
in such a manner that spiritual wisdom was able to flow into
it. Eastern initiators were able to take hold of her. To begin
with these Eastern initiators had the best of intentions. They
saw how Anglo-American influences were steering mankind towards
the terrible danger of a completely materialistic impregnation
of thinking. They these Eastern initiators wanted
to imprint their form of spiritual knowledge, which had been
preserved through the ages, on the Western world. Under the influence
of the stream the Theosophical Society took on its eastern character,
and the same influence was the inspiration for Sinnetts
"Esoteric Buddhism" and Blavatsky's "Secret Doctrine".
But both of these again became distortions of the truth. Sinnetts
work distorts the high teachings of the initiators through an
extraneous and inadequate philosophical intellectualism and Blavatsky's
"Secret Doctrine" does the same because of her chaotic
The result was that the initiators,
the eastern ones as well, withdrew their influence in increasing
measure from the official Theosophical Society in the latter
became an area of all kinds of occult forces which distorted
the great cause. There was a short phrase, when Annie Besant
entered the stream of initiators through her pure and elevated
mentality. But this phase came to an end when Annie Besant gave
herself up to the influence of certain Indians who developed
a grotesque intellectualism derived from certain philosophical
teachings, German ones in particular, which they misinterpreted.
This was the situation when I was faced with the necessity of
joining the Theosophical Society.
Rudolf Steiner and Marie Steiner. "Correspondence
and Documents: 1901-1925." New York: Rudolf Steiner Press,
1988. Pages 17-18. (Translated by Christian and Ingrid von Arnim).
This was written while Steiner was still General
Secretary of the German section of the Theosophical Society,
and would continue to be for another 6 years. Pages 61-64 of
the same book also contain a discussion of Blavatsky from a letter
written in 1905. It appears that Steiner's opinion of Theosophy
was more or less unchanged from 1902 up to his death, and is
hardly unflattering. There are a large number of other references
to the subject, but I don't have them handy.
Potentially confusing to the researcher is
the fact that Steiner was very hesitant to indulge in criticism,
generally favoring a tendency to emphasize the positive aspects
and remain silent on what he considered negative traits. Most
of his direct criticisms such as the one above come from private
correspondence. This silence on negative traits has lead a number
of people to misunderstand Steiner's relationship to Haeckel,
for example. Steiner gave his reasoning for this in the following
"An affirmative attitude
is always enlivening, while negativity is exhausting and deadening.
Not only does addressing the positive aspects of the situation
require moral strength, but positivity always has an enlivening
effect as well, making the souls forces independent and strong."
Rudolf Steiner. "First Steps in Inner
Development" Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1999. Page
Steiner recommended positivity for his students
in a number of places, and generally followed this himself. When
he did feel it necessary to stake out a position different from
mainstream Theosophy, he tended to be quite subtle, as the following
example will illustrate:
Leadbeater wrote in his book "Clairvoyance"
(published in 1903) about the Akasha Chronicle in great detail:
"When the visitor to
[the mental, a.k.a. Devachanic] plane is not thinking specifically
of them in any way, the records simply form a background to whatever
is going on, just as the reflections in a pier-glass at the end
of the room might form a background the life of the people in
it. It must always be born in mind that under these conditions
they are really merely reflections from the ceaseless activity
of a great Consciousness upon a far higher plane, and have very
much the appearance of an endless succession of cinematographs,
or living photographs. They do not a melt into one another like
dissolving views, nor do a series of ordinary pictures follow
one other; but the action of the reflected figures constantly
goes on as though one were watching the actors on a distance
stage. But if the trained investigator turns his attention special
especially to any one scene, or wishes to call it up before him,
an extraordinary change at once takes place, for this is the
plane of thought, and to think of anything is to bring it instantly
before you. For example, if a man wills to see the record of
that event to which we before referred the landing of
Julius Caesar he finds himself in the moment not looking
at any picture, but standing on the shore among the legionnaires,
with the whole scene being enacted around him, precisely in every
aspect as he would have seen it if he had stood there in the
flash on that autumn morning in the year 55 B.C. Since what he
sees is but a reflection, the actors are of course entirely unconscious
of them, nor can any effort of his change the course of their
action in the smallest degree, except only that he can control
the rate which the drama shall pass before him can have
the event of the whole year rehearsed before eyes in a single
hour, or can at any moment stop the movement altogether and hold
the particular seen in view as a picture as long as he chooses."
C.W. Leadbeater. "Clairvoyance."
Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1903. 13th Reprinting,
1978. Pages 141-142.
Throughout the book Leadbeater speaks of clairvoyance
as one who has studied it as a subject, but not as one who has
experienced it for himself. When Steiner described reading the
Akasha Chronicle in a 1907 lecture he said:
What is the Akasha Chronicle?
We can form the truest conception of it by realizing that what
comes to pass on our earth makes a lasting impression upon certain
delicate essences, an impression which can be discovered by a
seer who has attained Initiation. It is not an ordinary but a
living Chronicle. Suppose a human being lived in the first century
after Christ; what he thought, felt and willed in those days,
what passed into deeds this is not obliterated but preserved
in this delicate essence. The seer can behold it not as
if it were recorded in a history book, but as it actually happened.
How a man moved, what he did, a journey he took-it can all be
seen in these spiritual pictures; the impulses of will, the feelings,
the thoughts, can also be seen. But we must not imagine that
these pictures are images of the physical personalities. That
is not the case. To take a simple example. When a man
moves his hand, his will pervades the moving hand and it is this
force of will that can be seen in the Akasha Chronicle. What
is spiritually active in us and has flowed into the Physical,
is there seen in the Spiritual. Suppose, for example, we look
for Caesar. We can follow all his undertakings, but let us be
quite clear that it is rather his thoughts that we see in the
Akasha Chronicle; when he set out to do something we see the
whole sequence of decisions of the will to the point where the
deed was actually performed. To observe a specific event in the
Akasha Chronicle is not easy. We must help ourselves by linking
on to external knowledge. If the seer is trying to observe some
action of Caesar and takes an historical date as a point of focus,
the result will come more easily. Historical dates are, it is
true, often unreliable, but they are sometimes of assistance.
When the seer directs his gaze to Caesar, he actually sees the
person of Caesar in action, phantom-like, as though he were standing
before him, speaking with him. But when a man is looking into
the past, various things may happen to him if, in spite of possessing
some degree of seership, he has not entirely found his bearings
in the higher worlds."
Rudolf Steiner, Theosophy of the Rosicrucian,
London 1981, p. 40.
Notice that nowhere is Leadbeater mentioned.
The differences between Leadbeater's version and Steiner's opinions
may seem like minor points, but I would argue that they are rather
fundamental in understanding how Steiner differed from mainstream
Theosophy. And by "how" I mean the method as well as
the details of doctrine. In the end, I find in this and many
other examples much to substantiate Steiner's claim that he discovered
Anthropsophy entirely out of himself, and used only the vocablary
of Theosophy where it suited his purposes.
I realize that these examples are hardly sufficient
to make a convincing case, but they might be seen as a start
on a line of inquiry. That a number of scholars see the two as
fundamentally the same does not settle the issue for me. There
are plenty of scholars who have stated that Steiner belonged
to Reuss's OTO, but that does not make it true. It is necessary
to go into the details to separate fact from fiction. With Anthroposophy
this is admittedly difficult, as you are no doubt aware, due
to the large amount of primary source material. Calling Anthroposophy
a "refinement and redirection" of Theosophy is certainly
not untrue, nor is it unfair to describe it as "German Theosophy."
But neither description fully explains the differences.
In summary: There are many similarities between
a variety of spiritual streams. There is a significant overlap
between Anthropsophy and Theosophy on a number of points, and
this is especially evident in the terminology. But there are
very significant differences in the meaning of common terms,
so researchers need to be careful not to confuse an understanding
that is valid for Theosophy as applying equally in Anthropsophy,
even if the same word or phrase is used. This is true of such
basic phrases as "astral body" and "akasha chronicle",
and even more so in other areas.
Does this seem to fit with your research so
far? Or do you perhaps have another perspective?
PS: I will be away from my computer for the
next two days, and look forward to resuming our conversation
From: Peter Staudenmaier
Date: Sun Feb 22, 2004 9:14 pm
Subject: Re: [anthroposophy_tomorrow] Anthroposophy and Theosophy
thanks, that was very informative. I'm not sure how much we agree
or disagree, it may be more a matter of emphasis. You wrote:
From a distance the similarities will be
the first thing a researcher would notice. This is especially
true because of the shared vocabulary.
I concur, though I do think there were conceptual continuities
involved, not merly terminological ones.
Approaching the question from another angle, I have noticed
that Steiner repeatedly distanced himself from Theosophy.
Yes, that sounds accurate to me.
So the question naturally arises, was Steiner attempting to
rewrite history after the split, or did he really feel that there
were significant differences from day one.
I don't think he tried to rewrite history. I simply see a lot
of continuing parallels between his post-1913 work and the basic
theosophical canon. Have you seen the compilation I just mentioned
to Tarjei, a collection of Steiner's statements about Blavatsky?
It contains lots and lots of material to support both viewpoints.
It appears that Steiner's opinion of Theosophy was more or
less unchanged from 1902 up to his death
That I think I'd disagree with. It's worth checking out the other
side of this question, too, namely the work of those German Theosophists
who did not side with Steiner in the split. On that score, there
are several very interesting tidbits in Norbert Klatt's 1993
book Theosophie und Anthroposophie: Neue Aspekte zu ihrer Geschichte,
which is based primarily on the papers of Wilhelm Hubbe-Schleiden,
a prominent Theosophist who parted ways with Steiner during the
split. Klatt singles out Steiner's autobiography in particular
as a text that needs to be checked againts the contents the Hubbe-Schleiden
archive, pointing especially to Steiner's contention that he
had been an Anthroposophist from the beginning of his Theosophical
activity. According to Klatt, the documents contradict this claim,
showing that in fact Steiner developed gradually from a Theosophist
into an Anthroposophist. (See pp. 10-11; on a side note, related
to our earlier discussion, Klatt also quotes a 1911 letter from
Hubbe-Schleiden's daughter which indicates that other Theosophists
were irritated by Steiner's supposed favoring of his Jewish followers.)
I realize that these examples are hardly sufficient to make
a convincing case, but they might be seen as a start on a line
of inquiry. That a number of scholars see the two as fundamentally
the same does not settle the issue for me. There are plenty of
scholars who have stated that Steiner belonged to Reuss's OTO,
but that does not make it true. It is necessary to go into the
details to separate fact from fiction.
An eminently reasonable point.
With Anthroposophy this is admittedly difficult, as you are
no doubt aware, due to the large amount of primary source material.
Calling Anthroposophy a "refinement and redirection"
of Theosophy is certainly not untrue, nor is it unfair to describe
it as "German Theosophy." But neither description fully
explains the differences.
I think that's true. An adequate account of the differences would
probably take us too far afield at this point, but I do think
they are worth keeping in mind. As it happens, I think that the
"Jewish question" was one area where Steiner partially
disagreed with Blavatsky, and if I ever dig myself out of this
mountain of posts, I'll try to address that topic. Thanks again
for sharing your views,
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