Anthroposophy and Theosophy

 

From: at
Date: Sun Feb 22, 2004 12:09 pm
Subject: Anthroposophy and Theosophy

Peter,

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?

Daniel Hindes

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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 Europe.

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?

Peter

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From: at
Date: Sun Feb 22, 2004 5:46 pm
Subject: Re: [anthroposophy_tomorrow] Anthroposophy and Theosophy

Peter,

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:

"… Sinnett's Esoteric 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 rubbish."

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 Sinnett’s "Esoteric Buddhism" and Blavatsky's "Secret Doctrine". But both of these again became distortions of the truth. Sinnett’s 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 soul.

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 manner:

"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 52.

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?

Daniel Hindes

PS: I will be away from my computer for the next two days, and look forward to resuming our conversation on Wednesday.

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From: Peter Staudenmaier
Date: Sun Feb 22, 2004 9:14 pm
Subject: Re: [anthroposophy_tomorrow] Anthroposophy and Theosophy

Hi Daniel,

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,

Peter

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