THE GENERAL ANTHROPOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
It has often been asked why Rudolf Steiner, with his supersensible faculties, was unable to foresee and guard against the burning of the Goetheanum. His answer to this question was categorical: Supersensible faculties, which are a gift from the spiritual worlds, may not be used for personal ends, not even to save one’s life; and the safeguarding of a building he himself had so largely created might be thought of as a personal end. Moreover, as Steiner was to explain later, the question shows a misapprehension about the nature of his clairvoyance. It was not a diffuse kind of omniscience as some people apparently believed, but was a directed clairvoyance. He would have needed to direct his spiritual gaze upon the Goetheanum as it would appear several years ahead, if he were to have foreseen the fire. If, as Marie Steiner thought was the case (see page 192 above), he did indeed foresee disaster at the moment when he first saw the site on which the Goetheanum would be built, such a prevision would not be the result of consciously exercising his spiritual faculties, but rather, we must suppose, it would consist of a kind of presentiment such as almost all of us sometimes experience. It would not have given him a clear intimation that the Goetheanum, which was not yet built or even designed, would eventually be destroyed by fire. It should always be recognized that Steiner was not a magician, but a seer, and he practiced neither white nor black magic for good or evil ends.
Like all those who had worked on the building with him, and like all anthroposophists who had contributed so selflessly and to whom it had come to mean so much, Steiner was grief stricken beyond words by the fire; and even when he spoke about it on December 31st, 1923, on its anniversary, he remained scarcely less moved than on the day after it. It was clear from the beginning that the fire was the work of one or more incendiaries, and it represented therefore the culmination of the many campaigns of hatred that had been directed against Steiner and the Goetheanum. For the moment his enemies had triumphed; they had succeeded in destroying the fruit of more than ten years’ devoted work. A building whose purpose had been not merely to serve as the center of the Anthroposophical Movement, but to help mankind, all mankind, to experience the spiritual through art as well as through the acquisition of knowledge, a building through which also beneficent spiritual beings could approach closer to man—this building had overnight been transformed into a still smoking ruin; and those, including Steiner, who had truly loved the Goetheanum, were necessarily filled with a sadness from which many of them, perhaps also including Steiner, never fully recovered. All the important newspapers in Europe reported the fire, some objectively, some with compassion. It is scarcely believable today that several newspapers in Germany and Switzerland nevertheless openly gloated over it as though they shared in the ”triumph,” as perhaps they did. And it is true that it seemed in the weeks and months that followed as if the enemies were closing in for the kill. The attacks never slackened, nor were their authors any more concerned with telling the truth than they had been before. One example Steiner drew to the attention of the members in a lecture at Stuttgart, in case those who had not been present might even believe the calumny. It was said that the anthroposophists during the fire simply watched and meditated in the belief that the fire would put itself out, whereas the truth was that every able-bodied person toiled through the night without stint, constantly entering and reentering the burning building to save as much as could be saved, while others manned the volunteer fire brigades. They did not leave the building to its fate until Steiner gave the order to do so, just before the domes collapsed. He himself and most of the others stayed all night until the entire wooden part of the building had been burned, and the concrete foundations were cracked and blackened. In Dornach there was perfect accord during the fire and immediately afterwards. Only later, and in other places than Dornach did recriminations begin; and though Steiner set himself against recriminations, he did urge all members everywhere to use the opportunity to examine themselves and their personal attitudes toward Anthroposophy and the Society, and towards the Movement, and he himself took the lead in reminding them of their history. As far as the inquest into the causes of the fire was concerned, he insisted that no prosecutions should be started and no effort be undertaken to find the incendiaries and their abettors. Since the authorities came to the definite conclusion that the anthroposophists bore no share of blame for the fire, and that as a consequence full insurance was due to them, Steiner expressed himself as satisfied and turned his attention to the future.
As we have seen in the last chapter, Steiner at the turn of the year was in the middle of a course on the origins of natural science; a performance of a medieval Three Kings Play had also been scheduled for New Year’s Day. Never at any moment does Steiner seem to have contemplated abandoning his work, nor even of modifying the immediate programme as scheduled. Since the Goetheanum was no longer available, he gave instructions for the preparation of the Schreinerei for the play, and for the remainder of the lecture cycle; and promptly at 5 p.m., as usual, he entered the Schreinerei with Marie Steiner, ready to give his customary introduction to the play. In this introduction he included some fairly brief remarks on the fire, and on the need for continuing the work in spite of the disaster. Then the play began and it was carried through to the end, although the actress who played the part of the angel and who gave the first speech could hardly utter her lines. In the evening Steiner again gave a short address before continuing the course on the natural sciences.
Thus no alteration in the planned schedule of events was permitted, but everyone who has written about that day has referred to the unusual heaviness in Rudolf Steiner’s step which contrasted with his usual light springy tread—though his voice was as deep and strong as ever. In the end not a single item of any program that had been scheduled was dropped.
Looking back now more than fifty years later on that crucial year of 1923 with the benefit of hindsight, it seems clearer than perhaps it seemed at the time that the entire Anthroposophical Movement was gravely endangered by the fire, and that its enemies may indeed have been close to triumph. The members, Rudolf Steiner of course most of all, had made a tremendous material and spiritual investment in the Goetheanum. Although the insurance would cover only a fraction of the costs of rebuilding, the material investment could no doubt be replaced in the course of time, if there were the will to rebuild, and, more important still, if there were in the Society enough human resources to keep the new building going, with enough spiritual substance to fill it when Rudolf Steiner would no longer be there. It should nevertheless be recognized that the problem was not a new one, and that it had existed before the fire. Financial support for Anthroposophy was already falling off, and even if the fire had not occurred, some reorganization of the Society would have been necessary, and some way of obtaining funds would have had to be found.
All this is clear from an urgent appeal made by Rudolf Steiner in the Hague just after he had given a deeply esoteric lecture there to members. He was never at any time an alarmist, but this appeal, made on November 5th, 1922, just eight weeks before the fire, speaks of the Goetheanum as ”unfinished,” and that ”we shall not be able to continue with the building of the Goetheanum unless we receive abundant help on the part of a greater number of our friends, and this Anthroposophical Movement, which has been active these last years at all possible points of the periphery, will then be without a center.” After criticising the Society as badly organized, especially by comparison with its opponents, he went on to point out how much could be done at Dornach, in, for example, the field of medicine, if support were forthcoming, but ”this depends on the existence of the center in Dornach. The moment the Dornach center breaks down, everything breaks down, and it is this that I want our friends to be conscious of, for it has in many instances disappeared from their consciousness. And I must say, it has really become an extremely heavy burden for me, a crushing burden.” Finally: ”All can be said in one sentence: Help me to think, my dear friends, how we shall be able to go on with the Dornach Goetheanum; for within a very few weeks we shall have come to the end of our means.”58
It is entirely understandable that an urgent appeal for funds should in particular be addressed to the Dutch members, since, unlike the German and Austrian currencies, the Dutch guilder was still sound; and Holland had remained neutral during the war, as had Switzerland, thus making it possible for these two countries to contribute more. It is also understandable that after the first great rush of enthusiasm immediately before the war, and the renewal of contributions after it was over, members were no longer as willing to make contributions as before, especially since most of them were inclined to think that the Goetheanum was in all essential respects completed, the organ having been installed, and lectures and eurythmy performances now being given in the great auditorium. After the destruction of the Goetheanum, it must, in January, 1923, have seemed virtually impossible to Steiner even to contemplate rebuilding unless the Society and Movement were placed on an entirely different basis than hitherto. For a man nearing his sixty-second birthday the prospect might well have seemed daunting, and it seems likely enough that the many calls that he made to the members to take stock of their attitudes, and his frequent discussions with members and delegates of the organized groups on the subject of the history of the Movement and Society from 1901 to 1923 were in a sense also addressed to himself. For it was in part his anomalous relationship to the Society that was responsible for its current weaknesses.
When the Movement for Religious Renewal, later the Christian Community, was founded in 1922 Steiner drew attention to the fact that this Movement was in no sense the religious branch of Anthroposophy, and that it should not drain off the limited funds available for the support of Anthroposophy. Nor should support for any of the enterprises stemming from Anthroposophy lessen that given to the center without which, Steiner insisted, the periphery could not continue to exist. After the fire he returned to this problem, mentioning specifically the Waldorf School and the various enterprises connected with the movement for the Threefold Social Order. All were in their way admirable, he said, but not if they flourished at the expense of the Anthroposophical Society and its work. He also reserved some criticism for members who initiated a project with enthusiasm, and then failed to see it through to completion. How could members now be persuaded to see a huge new building project through to completion, having already failed to provide enough support to complete the First Goetheanum?
Steiner could, of course, be quite certain of winning the verbal approval of members for the rebuilding, even if a few members, especially from Germany, would prefer to see the new Goetheanum elsewhere. But such a formal approval would be only the first step, and he was unwilling to make a decision until there had been both a thorough heart searching on the part of the members, and a major reorganization of the Society. It seems likely that his decision on the reorganization, indeed a total refounding, was gradually arrived at during the course of 1923, and that the form the new Society was to take was not fully present in his spirit until nearly the end of the year.
The Society at this time (January 1923) was headed by a committee of only three active persons, and its headquarters was Stuttgart, the German city where the Waldorf School was situated, which had in recent years become by far the most active center for Anthroposophy in Germany. In some respects Stuttgart had been spared the great postwar upheavals, the former kingdom of Württemberg of which it had been the capital having quietly dissolved itself at the end of the war. Several of its leading industrialists were anthroposophists, and others were sympathetic to the Movement. But within the Society everything was far from harmonious, and the existing leadership was contested, especially by younger and more active members. Moreover there was some resentment that Dornach had now become the center of the Anthroposophical Movement, in spite of the fact that there were far more members in Germany than in Switzerland or any other country.
The executive committee of three in Stuttgart did not include among its members either Rudolf or Marie Steiner. The latter had been a member of the executive committee until fairly recently but Steiner himself was not even a member of the Anthroposophical Society. Though he could naturally exercise his influence on the Society by addressing the Committee and members, as a rule he preferred to leave them free to make up their own minds without interference from him. Since he lived in Dornach and largely concentrated on his work there, the Committee did as a rule more or less as it pleased, much to the disgust of many of the younger members who felt that the Committee and the Secretariat wasted far too much of their time and energies on what appeared to be unproductive bureaucratic tasks.
During the postwar period there had been a considerable increase in the membership of the Society. Interest in Anthroposophy was also increasing abroad, but all who wished to become members had to submit their applications to the Stuttgart Committee, which had no way of distinguishing among the applicants. The only criterion for membership was readiness to accept the three very general principles inherited from the old Theosophical Society that had remained unchanged when the Anthroposophical Society was formed in 1913. As in the Theosophical Society, members could form local groups, but these had no official status, and could form and dissolve at will. In early 1923 there were as yet no nationwide societies, nor was much anthroposophical literature available either to members or to the public. Steiner’s major books were kept in print in German, but lectures, when available at all, were mimeographed, and only members had access to them. Some foreign members had made themselves responsible for publication of the books within their own countries, as, for example, Harry Collison, who later in 1923 became the first General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain. A company called the Anthroposophical Literature Concern started business in 1922 in Chicago with a list of several books and a couple of brochures by Rudolf Steiner. But, on the whole, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the entire Anthroposophical Movement was underorganized in 1923, and that Steiner was quite right when he came to the conclusion that if a second Goetheanum were to be built, its construction should he approved by as many representative anthroposophists as possible. Above all that the will to go ahead with the building should be fortified by a more solid organization, capable of raising funds systematically, and seeing to it that the building was completed and not left to languish half-built for lack of will and funds to complete it.
Such, then, was the material side of the enterprise, and at least one important decision was taken early in the year looking toward the future. Steiner recognized, and mentioned the matter several times in his lectures, that a kind of ”federal” system would be a great improvement on the present situation. This would necessarily mean that local societies would have to be organized, which would later be ”federated” with the central Society in Dornach. Throughout the year these local ”national” societies came into being, usually led by the outstanding personality of the particular country, as long as he or she was prepared to accept the necessary responsibility. This person then assumed the title of General Secretary. By the time of the Christmas Foundation Meeting for the new General Anthroposophical Society there were fifteen national societies, with the title the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, Finland, Norway, and the rest, and each had a General Secretary. The only country that had two societies, each recognized by Rudolf Steiner, was Germany, where the breakaway Society, known as the Free Anthroposophical Society, had been unable to reconcile its differences with the older Anthroposophical Society in Germany, with headquarters in Stuttgart, and, with Steiner’s acquiescence if not active approval, had been permitted to constitute itself as a Society. Most of the younger members, at least in the Stuttgart area, associated themselves with this new separate Society.
As far as Rudolf Steiner was concerned these arrangements were necessary, but formed in themselves no basis for the founding of a spiritual society. He was concerned with the spiritual substance, and the form was subsidiary. Indeed, if the new Society possessed this substance and it had agreed on its tasks the most suitable form for it might well be expected to reveal itself. At the end of February, 1923 delegates from all over Germany assembled in Stuttgart to form the new Anthroposophical Society in Germany. Steiner used this opportunity to give two important lectures on the subject of unity within the Society. He began by speaking of the fire, emphasizing that the grief and pain of members at the loss of their building ”can be turned into strength to support us in everything we are called upon to accomplish for Anthroposophy in the near future,” gaining a new unity from the need to face a common disaster. He tried in these two lectures to instill into the delegates the need to experience a feeling of community, of recognition that all anthroposophists were engaged in a common task and were bound together by their karma. He explained with great care why it is that there may well be less, rather than more, brotherliness in a society dedicated to spiritual development. The gist of his explanation was that egotism in the members of such a society will increase if a serious effort is not made to overcome it. Each individual in his search for the spirit must be alone, sunk within his own self. By contrast, if one is engaged in pursuing external aims, a man has necessarily to cooperate with other men, and with some of these at least, he may cultivate a fraternal relationship. The danger for anthroposophists is that they may become isolated and shut up within themselves, convinced that they are right, that their point of view is the only valid one, and that even their fellow-anthroposophists do not understand Anthroposophy as they should. Thus it follows that a view opposed to their own is not only wrong, but spiritually wrong, and it becomes a spiritual duty to take issue with it. This attitude is extremely damaging to Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner insisted. The most essential quality for an anthroposophist is tolerance, to which he must educate himself. As a result of cultivating this quality, Steiner added, no doubt with a humorous glint in his eye, it may even become a pleasure to hear something foolish said, because what at first hearing sounds foolish is often very wise, much wiser than we clever ones are willing to admit. So, he concluded, even if we are tempted to interrupt a speaker, we might bear this possibility in mind and refrain!
Steiner was of course fully aware of the difficulty human beings experience when they strive to unite together in a society, even if it has aims shared by all its members. This is especially true of a society that has spiritual aims. Such societies are particularly vulnerable to the spirit of dissension, and it is not easy to prevent them from falling apart as soon as an important controversy arises. It seems to me that especially in his lectures of 1923, the theme of unity was never very far from him, even though he seldom made it explicit. What seems to have preoccupied him was this question of how the members could learn to work together in confidence in spite of differences, what they could share together that would not serve also to divide them.
I think that the many lectures he gave during this year on the subject of the great festivals, on how to experience the changing of the seasons in such a way as to penetrate to the spiritual reality behind the earthly phenomena, may well have been given so that members could share a common spiritual experience. In April he gave a series of five such lectures, translated under the title of The Cycle of the Year, explaining how in earlier ages men, under the guidance of their initiates, were led to experience the relationship between earth and cosmos at different seasons, recognizing how the earth breathes out during the spring and summer and breathes in again in autumn and winter. In ancient times festivals were held to celebrate each season: the Christians took over Christmas and Easter for their own festivals, and often also celebrated midsummer with a festival in honor of St. John’s Day. But the creation of a Michaelmas festival was something that was greatly needed in our time, Steiner said. This should be a festival ”of courage of soul, of strength of soul, of activity of soul.” Although it would be held at the time of the falling of the autumn leaves, and thus it appeared that there was nothing in outer nature to be celebrated, just for this reason a festival created by man himself was especially necessary.
This theme was taken up again very strongly in Vienna later in the year in a cycle called Anthroposophy and the Human Gemüt, and then in Dornach in a deeply esoteric cycle devoted to imaginations of the four leading Archangels, each presiding over one season of the year, Michael in autumn, Gabriel at Christmas, Raphael at Easter and Uriel at midsummer. It is probable that one of Steiner’s hopes when he gave this cycle was that members would unite together in spirit at certain times of the year to re-imagine for themselves the work of these Archangels in connection with our planet.
This cycle on the Archangels was followed by one of his most comprehensive and original cycles, translated under the title of Man as Symphony of the Creative Word, in which Steiner revealed much about the true relationship between man and the other kingdoms of nature, and with the elemental world, and this was supplemented in a remarkable way by a short cycle given at the Hague on the occasion of the founding of the Anthroposophical Society in Holland, in which he spoke in extraordinary detail about man as he is viewed by supersensible beings living in the spiritual world. This cycle, called simply Supersensible Man, places man in his true position as a supersensible being among other supersensible beings—whereas the previous cycle Man as Symphony had placed him among the invisible nature beings, as well as among the visible birds, butterflies, and animals, whose true being, like man’s, is also invisible because it is supersensible and lives in the spiritual worlds.
By far the longest stay abroad during 1923 was in Great Britain where the Steiners spent almost the whole month of August. The first part was spent in the small resort town of Ilkley in Yorkshire, where he had been asked by some eminent educators to give a course on education preparatory to the founding of a Waldorf School in England, an event that occurred two years later. Here Steiner was extremely well received, as was the eurythmy, presented by Marie Steiner and her pupils. The summer conference which followed the course of lectures at Ilkley, had been scheduled to take place in Penmaenmawr, a Welsh seaside resort. This little town greatly impressed both Steiners, as well as Dr. Ita Wegman, Guenther Wachsmuth, and the eurythmy troupe accompanying them. Many participants in this conference, in which Steiner lectured on The Evolution of the World and Humanity (now published under the title The Evolution of Consciousness) have published their reminiscences of the lecture hall within earshot of the waves, the rain and the wind and the many leaks in the roof—in short a British summer as it has so often been experienced by natives, but somewhat rarely by continentals.
To compensate, if compensation was necessary, there was the magnificent scenery and the proximity of the Druid circles on Penmaenmawr Mountain. Marie Steiner, determined as ever in spite of her lameness, was drawn up the steep slope in a cart and apparently enjoyed the trip in spite of inclement weather. Steiner himself, accompanied by Wachsmuth, made the climb on foot, Steiner surprising his companion and biographer by his agility and his ability to climb at least as fast as Wachsmuth, and with no visible signs of fatigue at the close. While on the mountain within one of the stone circles, he began to speak about Druids and the ceremonies that had been performed there, about the shadows and the sunlight, evidently from a direct clairvoyance as he was experiencing it again at that moment. The experience made such a deep impression on him that he spoke about it on several occasions, and he included information about the Druids in many subsequent lectures.
It will be clear from the range of Steiner’s activity in 1923 that the enemies of Anthroposophy who kept attacking him in brochures and pamphlets, in the hope, as Steiner explained it, that he would be so much occupied in replying to them that he could no longer engage in direct spiritual research, were disappointed. It is true that he lectured scarcely at all in Germany during the year but this was in part due to the enormous difficulties involved in visiting and working in Germany as the result of the uncontrolled inflation. The anthroposophical publishing enterprise had also finally to be moved from Berlin to Dornach in 1923, and Marie Steiner undertook the task, in spite of her infirmity. She has left a vivid account of the difficulties she and the devoted Johanna Mücke, who was responsible for the day to day management of the Press, had in packing up all the books and getting them into Switzerland at a time of such chaos. Steiner gave very few public lectures during the year, usually only one during the course of each foreign visit. There was no regular program of public lectures such as there had formerly been in the German cities, especially Berlin. On the other hand he gave regular lectures to workmen engaged in clearing the site of the Goetheanum preparatory to the new construction, and he continued these lectures until he had to give up lecturing altogether in the autumn of 1924. As a rule he answered questions that he was asked by these workmen, devoting each lecture to one or two questions. He crowned this activity with the workmen with nine lectures on bees which in their way completed the material he had given in his cycle to members, Man as Symphony of the Creative Word—though, as might have been expected, the lectures on bees are couched in a colloquial style evidently much appreciated by this special audience.
By July, 1923, Steiner was satisfied that the means would be forthcoming for the rebuilding of the Goetheanum, and a meeting of delegates was held in Dornach from July 20th to 23rd. At this meeting it was unanimously agreed that a new Goetheanum should be built, and Steiner was asked once more to assume the responsibility for designing it. At the Christmas Conference of 1923 he presented a drawing of the proposed new building, and completed a plasticine model of it in the first months of 1924. It was from this model that the architects worked, and the new Goetheanum had already begun to rise over the foundations of the old one before Steiner died. As he lay on his sick bed he often referred to the familiar noises of construction in the Schreinerei and on the building itself. Opened in 1928, it was in most respects a strong contrast to its predecessor. Instead of fitting gently into the landscape, the new building, constructed of reinforced concrete, stands almost defiantly on the earth. It is a building of great dignity and grandeur, and much larger than the old building, as was indeed made necessary by the growth in membership and the many new tasks that would be carried out in it. If it lacks the intimacy of the First Goetheanum, it was also of great interest to architects, especially for the imaginative use it made of its resistant material and the sculptural form of the building as a whole, by contrast with the sculptured interior of the First Goetheanum, which was not repeated in the Second—and indeed could not have been in the quite different circumstances of the 1920s.
Although the decision to rebuild had been taken, the other problems connected with the Society were by no means solved by July, and it seems likely that Rudolf Steiner had not yet come to any definite conclusions himself. But a study of the lectures he gave during the year strongly suggests that he knew that the year’s work would reach a climax by Christmas. His own spiritual powers were constantly being enhanced, perhaps even in part as a result of the tremendous testing of his spiritual fortitude represented by the destruction of the Goetheanum. Those who were closest to him at this time have described how sometimes they were awed by him, as they used not to be in earlier years, though in his intervals of relaxation he was as light-hearted and full of good humor and fun as he ever was. We have noted how Wachsmuth was with him on Penmaenmawr Mountain when Steiner spoke directly out of an immediate experience of what had taken place on that spot so many centuries earlier, and this immediacy of experience he had not always possessed. What seems to have been revealed to him fully in 1923 for the first time was his own historical role, the work that he had to do and that still needed to be completed, and the role that would fall in due course to his co-workers. Although there was as yet no outward sign of illness, the experience of the previous New Year’s Eve had certainly taken its toll of his forces. He undoubtedly realized that his days were numbered, and that what he had to do must be done quickly or not at all.
The delegates’ meetings in Stuttgart early in the year, when the personal weaknesses of the members, and their inability in so many instances to place Anthroposophy always first in their considerations, became so woefully apparent, certainly brought home to him how great was the danger that all his work might eventually come to nothing. In one of his reports to the Dornach members about a Stuttgart meeting, he even told them that at one point in the meeting he had been ready to abandon the Society altogether and find some other way of spreading Anthroposophy. He himself was aware, and had always been aware, of his own responsibility to the spiritual worlds, and to Michael, in whose service he had placed himself. But he knew now, as perhaps he had not fully realized before, that he must do much more than simply acting as a teacher and revealing the results of his own spiritual research. He must also take the responsibility for providing his anthroposophical co-workers with a new and different kind of Society to enable them when he was gone to continue working, and even doing research in those fields which he with his unique capacities had opened up for them.
Several times during the year he drew the attention of the members to the changes in consciousness that men had undergone during the various post-Atlantean epochs, and the role played by higher beings in the process, and how these beings had actually made it possible for man to think as he now does, with his present wideawake consciousness. As the year drew to its close he began the last cycle he was to give before the Christmas Foundation Conference; and indeed many of his auditors had already arrived in Dornach for that conference. The subject was Mystery Knowledge and Mystery Centers, and in it he spoke in detail about the various ancient Mystery Centers where the initiates had taught, and where under their guidance the neophytes had in turn been initiated into the teachings handed down from antiquity, at a time when direct clairvoyant insight was in the process of disappearing. Then these ancient Mysteries fell into complete decadence and nothing arose to replace them or give them new life. But after Christ had passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, thus in his person fulfilling all the Mystery teachings, human beings acquired the possibility of becoming free, and of achieving a knowledge of the natural world and everything that was in it.
The first new Mysteries which took account of this change of consciousness were the Rosicrucian Mysteries at the beginning of the age of the consciousness soul (fifteenth century onwards). After the Christmas Conference Steiner at once took up again the subject of Rosicrucianism in a cycle entitled Rosicrucianism and Modern Initiation, but for the Conference itself he gave a cycle which was a culmination of all he had been teaching during the year, published under the title of World History in the Light of Anthroposophy. Here he spoke of the development of humanity as a whole, stressing the different epochs and what they had brought to mankind, showing how, with the loss of all direct knowledge of the spiritual worlds during recent centuries, and the rise of what he called a ”God-estranged” civilization, men have now reached the point where it has become a vital need for them to receive new spiritual revelations, which can be proclaimed for all men and not only for initiates. Thus he made it clear to this special audience assembled for the founding of the new Society, that Rosicrucianism had now been brought up to date with the new Mystery knowledge that he himself had given, for which they themselves would in future be responsible. It would be for them to determine the future of the world. Characteristically he did not spell out this message, but left them free to draw the only possible conclusions from what he was telling them.
As late as November, 1923 when he was present at the founding of the Anthroposophical Society in Holland, Rudolf Steiner was still speaking of an ”International” Anthroposophical Society which was expected to come into being at Christmastide, and said that the ”International Society must arise on the basis of the national societies.” It was therefore generally assumed by members that the newly founded Society would be a kind of federation, and that a central executive committee would be chosen by the delegates to the proposed Christmas meeting. This would carry responsibility for the work in Dornach, leaving all the newly founded national societies to manage their work independently. Nothing had as yet been said by Steiner about his decision to become president of the Society himself; and such a move when it came was totally unexpected. When he did present his proposals it was to a small group of collaborators whom he himself had chosen, and who thereupon agreed to become the first Executive Committee (or Vorstand, the name by which it is usually known, even by English speaking members). The entire plan for the new Society was presented as a whole to these members, with all necessary explanations, and the discussions that followed were in essence clarifications by Rudolf Steiner of the ideas that had been embodied in this archetype.
This procedure was in full keeping with Steiner’s conception of the Society as a body of individuals who wished to join together to carry out a common aim on a completely free basis. Nothing was required of these members except that they should be of the opinion that a true science of spirit exists, and that an organization such as the School for the Science of Spirit at the Goetheanum, a school that was founded at the same time as the new Society, was justified. Initiative, however, rested with Rudolf Steiner and his chosen Vorstand, and it was they who were founding the Society, not the members. No one was elected to office, but the Society would come into existence only if the members accepted Steiner and the Vorstand as their leaders. Only in this way could the freedom of the founders be assured, in Rudolf Steiner’s view. The national societies would enjoy the same freedom, except that their statutes must be in accord with those of the General Society. Although they would fix the dues payable by their members, a definite sum of money per member would be sent by them to the Goetheanum to help defray its expenses. Each member of the Vorstand would be in charge of a ”section” of the School for the Science of Spirit, and it was in these sections that the actual work of the School would be accomplished. One section was placed in the hands of the sculptress, Edith Maryon, but she was not at the same time a member of the Vorstand. It was assumed that other sections would be formed later in accordance with whatever talent was available; and in fact when Miss Maryon died the following year her section was for the time being discontinued as no one suitable was available to head it. Early in 1924 a new section was formed with the title ”Section for the Spiritual Striving of Youth.”
As soon as the preliminary discussions with the members who were to comprise the Vorstand had been completed, an invitation was inserted in Das Goetheanum to all national societies and to all members to come to Dornach for the foundation conference scheduled to begin on December 24th. Such a vast number of members signified their intention of coming that the Schreinerei had to be temporarily enlarged to accommodate as many as possible of them, but those members whose acceptances of the invitation arrived last were urged by the secretariat not to come, as there would be no accommodations available for them. As it was, facilities were strained to the uttermost, and the Schreinerei, (especially its new additions) was often most uncomfortable, as the heating system could not be expanded to meet the need at such short notice. However, the whole Conference must have been a soul-warming experience for everyone present. Even those members who could not be there participated in the event, since Rudolf Steiner laid the new Foundation Stone not in the earth but in the hearts of all the members.
The fundamental purpose of the new foundation was to unify the Society and the Movement, which had hitherto been separate; or, to use Rudolf Steiner’s own words, the Anthroposophical Movement was in the future to have its sheath in the Anthroposophical Society. Rudolf Steiner, who had not even been a member of the old Anthroposophical Society, was to be the president of this one, and he thus united his personal destiny with it, while accepting responsibility for everything that went on in it. Entry into the Society was made as easy as possible, and by entering the Society no obligations at all were accepted. But entry into the School for the Science of Spirit with its different sections carried with it certain freely accepted obligations, and members were accepted into it only after they had been approved by the leader of the School—in effect, during Rudolf Steiner’s lifetime, by himself. One of the sections of the School had Rudolf Steiner as its head; this was not a specialized section, but a ”section for general Anthroposophy,” and its members received special esoteric instruction from him. For this reason it was made obligatory for members to have belonged to the society for a certain period of time before they could be accepted into the School.
It was Rudolf Steiner’s expectation that there would be a continuous circulation of information and ideas between the Vorstand and the national societies, and that the General Secretaries of these societies would be encouraged to take part in the meetings of the Vorstand whenever they were in Dornach. However, members of the Vorstand itself would necessarily have to be resident in Dornach. During 1924, after returning from his journeys abroad, Rudolf Steiner always reported back orally to the Vorstand and to Dornach members concerning his own activities, and the Goetheanum News contained these reports also, so that all members could be kept informed as to what was going on. Such intercommunication had been a conspicuous lack in the old Society. All applicants for membership in the Society would be expected to apply through their national society if one existed, and the application would be forwarded to Dornach by the General Secretary of that Society. However, membership in the national or local society was not obligatory; all members belonged as a matter of course to the General Anthroposophical Society and might or might not belong to a group within it. Rudolf Steiner regarded this aspect of membership as so important that, in spite of the numerous demands made upon his time and energies, he himself as President personally signed all the new membership cards. Since there were at this time some 12,000 members throughout the world, all of whom needed new cards, the task that he thus set himself was no sinecure.
All books and cycles of lectures would be made available in the future through the Society bookstores. But the cycles of lectures given to members, and never hitherto made available to the public, would in future include a notice to the effect that the cycle in question had been printed for the School for the Science of Spirit and that ”no person is held qualified to form a judgement on the contents of these works who has not acquired—through the School itself or in an equivalent manner recognized by the School—the requisite preliminary knowledge.” This seemed at the time the best compromise that could be made. The Society in future must be a public one, and it would be out of keeping with its new nature for some cycles to be reserved for members only—especially if these cycles were in any event circulated clandestinely and in garbled and inaccurate form, as had been the case too often in the past. But it should also be possible for Rudolf Steiner and his close collaborators to tell critics who quoted passages out of context, and with little or no previous knowledge of Anthroposophy, that they did not propose to be drawn into futile arguments, which would have been unnecessary if the critic had acquired the relevant knowledge before beginning the argument.
In Chapter 8 we described in some detail how Rudolf Steiner laid the foundation stone of the First Goetheanum in a solemn ceremony on a wildly stormy night in the presence of a mere handful of members. This physical foundation stone was still embedded in the lowest foundations of the building which had survived the fire. The new Goetheanum therefore needed no new physical foundation stone. On Christmas Day, 1923 Rudolf Steiner again laid a foundation stone in the presence of close to eight hundred members in the enlarged Schreinerei. But this Foundation Stone he laid in the hearts of the members, all the members, present and future, of the Society, and the ceremony was no less solemn than the earlier one. A week later when he closed the Conference during which the Society had received its new form, he told his audience that ”on this Foundation Stone we will erect the building of which the stones will be the individual work done by us severally, in all our groups, as we go out into the wide world.”
What then was this Foundation Stone? According to Steiner himself, as he told the members in his address, it was, like the other, the physical stone, a dodecahedron, and he was laying it in the hearts of all those members who were willing to receive it, and to try to make it alive in them. It was, in fact, a meditative verse, but was unlike all the others that had been brought down from the spiritual worlds by Rudolf Steiner, in that it contains within it the deepest secrets of the nature of man and of his relationship with the nine hierarchies and the Holy Trinity. Only through working with this meditation can it come alive, and slowly and gradually reveal ever more of its meaning. Obviously no one present at the Christmas Conference could conceivably grasp this treasure at once, or ever fully realize its manifold nature. But if, as Rudolf Steiner wished, it was received as deeply as possible into the souls of the members, present and future, then from this joint working together the newly founded General Anthroposophical Society might survive as a free society of human beings spiritually united for the same purpose—or, as the last words of the verse read:
That good may become
What from our Hearts we would found,
And from our Heads direct
With single purpose.
Such, at all events, was Rudolf Steiner’s hope, and numerous members subsequently made clear that they too had the same hope after experiencing this most solemn week of their lives. The Conference and the transmitting of the Foundation Stone represented Rudolf Steiner’s supreme effort to bring together the disparate streams of the Anthroposophical Movement into a single united Society. During the course of 1924 he was to explain to many different audiences of members in the most profoundly moving lectures of his life what preparations had been made for centuries in the spiritual worlds in order that a Movement such as this could at last come into being—a Movement that had only become possible since Michael had taken over the guidance of mankind in 1879, and since the Age of Light had replaced in 1899 the Age of Darkness, or Kali Yuga, in which the world had slumbered for five thousand years, while all direct knowledge of the spiritual worlds had gradually died away.*
*These bald paragraphs represent all that should, in the present author’s view, be given here regarding the General Anthroposophical Society as it was founded at Christmas, 1923. They deal, of course, exclusively with the form of the Society, and purposely say nothing about the true substance, nor the significance of Rudolf Steiner’s deed in uniting himself directly with the Society as its president, an external task that is ordinarily never undertaken by spiritual leaders. It is simply not possible to discuss the esoteric nature of the Society in a book intended for public circulation, nor to attempt to show the historical significance of Rudolf Steiner’s act at this particular moment of time—nor even why the form taken by the Society was chosen by Steiner for esoteric reasons rather than because of any external considerations. Least of all can anything meaningful be said here about the Foundation Stone meditation.
It is highly unlikely that any of the members present at the meeting understood at all adequately what was being done, even though they felt its tremendous significance, and knew that they had been present and participated in something that was far beyond their capacity to understand. In the years since 1923, however, many members have devoted the most intense thought to the effort to understand the Christmas Foundation and its true significance, and some writings have even been published with the purpose of aiding members to comprehend. Perhaps the most substantial of these is a book by Rudolf Grosse, the present (1980) head of the General Anthroposophical Society, which bears the title Die Weinachstagung als Zeitenwende (The Christmas Congress—a Turning Point). In due course no doubt the book will be available in English, but only members who have already done much thinking of their own on the subject are likely to understand, at least at first, much of what Herr Grosse has written. On the Foundation Stone itself a little book published in English as long ago as 1963 will be found most helpful by many. This is F.W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven, The Foundation Stone (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1963).
Rudolf Steiner: Herald of a New Epoch