THE SUMMIT OF ACHIEVEMENT
THE ANNUS MIRABILIS OF 1924
It is difficult for anyone to imagine, and impossible for a biographer to describe with any real hope of being faithful to reality, how Rudolf Steiner was able to sustain the enormous load of work that he undertook in the last nine months of his public career. As early as New Year’s Day, 1924, he gave the first recognizable signs of the illness with which he was already afflicted, and that was to prove fatal to him in March, 1925. He had no intention of letting the illness get the better of him while he still had so much work to do, but what the efforts to master it must have cost him, and what prodigious efforts of will it must have required to enable him to carry through his self-imposed programme, while scarcely ever giving any outward visible signs of his sickness, can only dimly be imagined by the rest of us. None of his younger and more healthy collaborators could keep up with the sixty-three year old Steiner, suffering, as he was, from a terminal illness, one consequence of which was that all food acted on him like a poison, until in his last months of life he could hardly eat at all.
Steiner must certainly have been sustained by spiritual forces that most of us are unable to tap, and this alone can account for the prodigious amount of work he was able to do in the fifteen remaining months of his life. For the illness constantly gained upon him, if gradually, and in the end he was forced to yield to it, at least to the extent of no longer being able to appear in public. He had then to remain in his sickroom, almost always in bed, and unable to stand. Yet even in these conditions he continued to write his autobiography, and spent every unoccupied minute in reading. He created forms for eurythmy, gave instructions to Marie Steiner on the arranging of the eurythmy tours she and her troupe were undertaking, he handled all of his correspondence, dictating letters daily to his tireless secretary Guenther Wachsmuth; and as a crowning work he produced a series of letters to the members of the Society that are the most spiritually concentrated writings of his entire life. These became for those members perhaps the most widely studied of all his teachings, containing, as they do, the very essence of all that he had tried to give forth during his lifetime. As if these were not enough in themselves, he also appended to each letter a ”guide-line,” or ”leading thought,” for meditation on the subject of the letter, which took its content still further than he had been able to do when he wrote the slightly less concentrated sentences of the letter itself. These letters, collectively known as The Michael Mystery, constituted his last legacy to the members, and the circumstances of their writing are seldom if ever forgotten by those of his legatees who, more than fifty years after his death, continue to work with them.59
Even if we take into account the tremendous productivity of some of his earlier years, 1924 stands out as the most productive of all, culminating in September with an extraordinary three week period after his return from his last journey abroad, which was to England. During that period he gave no fewer than seventy lectures, usually at least four per day, as well as granting countless private interviews. Steiner spoke later of these private interviews as if they were the most serious of all the threats to his health; and Marie Steiner did not mince her words as she tried to persuade him to cut down on the number he accorded, insisting that at least some of them were unnecessary, and all were cutting into the slender reserves of strength that he still possessed. When he lectured, even if a few minutes earlier he had appeared so ill that he would never be able to give the lecture, he seemed suddenly to spring to life as he reached the podium and began to speak. When he lectured he naturally knew in advance just what strength would be needed for the task, and he could open himself to whatever new force might flow to him from the spiritual worlds while he was speaking. But when he conversed with people who had asked to speak with him privately, he could not know in advance just how much would be asked of him, and so could not make preparations to husband his strength; and though all who spoke with him were unanimous in recording that his understanding and counsel had never before been so sure and so immediate, it remains true that these members occupied the time that he might have used between his lectures to recuperate in quiet solitude—a solitude that he could find now only when everyone else had retired to bed. But until the very end of his public appearances it continued to be his expressed wish that those who felt a need to present their problems to him should be allowed to do so; and when Marie Steiner once asked him if it was not possible for him to spare himself and do at least a little less than he was doing, he replied: ”Do less? But I should be doing four times as much!”
From the work accomplished by Steiner during the nine months following the Christmas Conference, it is clear that he had certain aims in mind, though to the best of my knowledge he never spelled them out to anyone. Two of them appear to have been crucially important to him. On the one hand he wished to provide those who wished to engage in practical anthroposophical work with as many potentially fruitful impulses as he could, while on the other he wished to deepen the understanding of the members, and as far as possible help them in their inner development, fitting them, as far as he could fit them, to carry on the anthroposophical impulse when he was gone. Almost certainly from the apparently inexhaustible spiritual knowledge available to him he could have given much more than he did, but what he gave was dependent necessarily on the numbers and quality of those who received. Those who asked for his help and were prepared to work with what he gave them received in ample measure. Numerous suggestions made by him for the first time in 1924 were put to practical use only after many years. Some have not yet been used at all for lack of the qualified researchers able to make use of them.
During the nine months following the Christmas Conference Steiner gave no fewer than twelve complete courses on subjects for which workers were already available. Three were in the educational field, a Section having been reserved in the newly founded School for the Science of Spirit for this subject. This Section Steiner had reserved for himself. The three courses were given in three different countries: in Stuttgart, Germany he gave The Essentials of Education; in Berne, Switzerland The Roots of Education; and in Torquay, England The Kingdom of Childhood. These courses were of special value because Steiner was able to include in them the conclusions he had drawn from the five year experience at Stuttgart.
In Marie Steiner’s Section for Speech and Music, he also gave three courses. The two courses in eurythmy, Eurythmy as Visible Song (February) and Eurythmy as Visible Speech (July) brought together at one time all the separate indications he had given over the years since 1912 when he had first brought this new art into being, and he added more that would be of immense value for the future. The third course in Speech and Drama (September 5th to 23rd), a series of nineteen lectures illustrated by Steiner himself and Marie Steiner, was in all essential respects a new course as far as its auditors were concerned, though some of the material was known since it had been developed over the years by Marie Steiner from indications given by Rudolf Steiner. It is a veritable treasure-house of ideas and insights, which, under the direction of Marie Steiner and her successors, have been responsible for dozens of initiatives both at the Goetheanum and elsewhere during the last fifty years.
In Dr. Ita Wegman’s Section three courses were also given, the first of which began immediately after the Christmas Conference. This course was given in response to a request from a number of young physicians and medical students, who were looking for a kind of medicine very different from the medicine then in vogue, based as it was on the materialistic and mechanized science of the day. In reply to this request Steiner gave them a full course lasting a week on the subject of Ethics and Practice of Medicine, which succeeded in arousing among his young hearers a passionate interest, showing itself in endless discussions in the Sonnenhof after the course was over. All those who could stay on in Dornach and did not have to return to their work continued the discussions for an entire day and half the following night, trying to clarify for themselves and to draw forth the full consequences for their profession of what Steiner had said. In later life these young people constituted the nucleus of the anthroposophical medical profession, not only in Central Europe, but wherever they took the impulse, not least in England.
The second course given in Dornach to practicing physicians (April 13th to 17th) deepened and widened the information already imparted in earlier years, while the third course was in some ways the most original, and in all respects one of the most extraordinary in Steiner’s life, given at the same time as the equally extraordinary course on Speech and Drama (to say nothing of the concurrent course on the Apocalypse for theologians). This third September course, given not only to physicians, but to priests of the Christian Community, is entitled Pastoral Medicine, a subject that is scarcely ever regarded as worthy of serious consideration in the training of physicians, though some clergymen, perhaps especially in the Roman Catholic Church, do make some effort to help the sick and even give some advice on matters of health, apart from their more widely accepted duty to provide as much spiritual consolation as they can. Usually clergymen suffer from an almost total ignorance of medicine, as a result of which they leave so much of their task to doctors, who may be equally ignorant of the teachings of religion. In this course Steiner spoke of the fact that both professions, though separate, are devoted to the service of God, and their practitioners should always work together and be aware of what members of the other profession are trying to accomplish. For a pastoral medicine of the future a knowledge of reincarnation and the biological and psychological development of human beings at different ages is, as Steiner emphasized, essential; physicians and clergymen should also know in what respects the human being is free, at what epoch in his life, indeed, he is capable of making truly free choices, and when, as with young children, he is too young to accept real responsibility. Materialists, he said, cannot comprehend the true nature of man, and so the medicine based on materialism is bound to be one-sided and often very harmful. Physicians and clergymen, even if they lack direct spiritual knowledge, should be aware that illnesses may come from previous karma, or may be paving the way for a next life of great importance for mankind. In concluding Steiner spoke of the Christ as the Healer and Helper of men, and compared the physician, who must know the path that is to be traversed through illness to possible death, with the priest, who must know what comes afterwards.60
This course, it is worth remembering, was given at a time when Rudolf Steiner himself was facing death, and suffering from an illness which proved to be terminal; only ten days after completing this course he gave the last lecture he was ever able to deliver (September 28th), that he did not have the strength to complete. It is also worth noting as an illustration of the mastery Steiner had acquired over his physical organism that a young physician who had noticed earlier in the year that Steiner was ill although no one spoke about it, was present at this course on pastoral medicine, and after observing Steiner closely, came to the conclusion that he must have entirely recovered from his illness! ”He was fresh and apparently quite unburdened,” he reported. ”There was nothing unusual to be noticed. The question seemed rather to be: How can we endure all that is offered us? In unfathomable fulness the Spirit streamed forth. Every domain which Rudolf Steiner touched became fresh as dew. Every aspect was completely new; there was no repetition, either in the formulating or in the train of thought. An overflowing spring poured out its blessings for us. We drank, and did not guess that we were seeing our Teacher for the last time in his earthly body.”61
Of the other three courses one was given to the theologians of the Christian Community and so did not come within the framework of any Section of the School for the Science of Spirit. The other two courses require a rather more detailed description. They represent the beginning of two of the most fruitful of all the anthroposophical fields of practical work—Curative Education, which has found a considerable following in all the countries where Anthroposophy is established, and Biodynamic Agriculture, which has spread far beyond the still restricted circles of anthroposophists, perhaps too far, since for a truly effective practice of biodynamic farming a much more accurate knowledge of the relationship between the physical and etheric worlds is needed than the ordinary working farmer possesses!
It is, or should be, clear to everyone that physically or mentally handicapped children, especially those who have been handicapped since birth, present certain problems to mankind that cannot be resolved without some knowledge beyond the ordinary conventional and materialistic scientific knowledge available in our day, and equally beyond the conventional teachings of religion. Among these problems is the question of why children should be born with abnormalities, especially the Mongol child who can never ”recover” from his Mongolism; what purpose, if any, these abnormal children serve in the world (and indeed why they should not be quietly ”put away” as a burden to their parents and society), and what should be done for them in this life by the vast majority of men and women who are clinically normal. If reincarnation is a true teaching, then it must follow that in this realm, more than in any other, any answer that does not take reincarnation into account is bound to be inadequate. The child who never becomes fully conscious in this life and often dies prematurely cannot be understood in terms of this single life. According to anthroposophical teaching he comes into this present life bearing a karma from his former one, and he will be born again with a karma modified through the fact that he has undergone one life as an abnormal child. Few of those who look after children and adults in the homes and villages which have come into existence as a result of the pioneer work done by pupils of Rudolf Steiner, can perceive the previous or future lives of their charges, and can have little inkling of their karma. But they always have to be aware of their karma. For this reason their moral attitude is and must be different from that of others, and it is surely because of this attitude that Homes run by anthroposophists are looked on with some favor by authorities almost everywhere. The beautiful name chosen by Rudolf Steiner for these children expresses perfectly the attitude that he hoped anthroposophical curative teachers would achieve in relation to their charges—”Children in need of special care of the soul” (Seelenpflegebedürftig). Though the physical organism of these children is often weak also—and Steiner had numerous suggestions as to how this could be helped by special treatments and medicaments—it is indeed essentially the soul that is in need of special care. Treatment should therefore, in Steiner’s view, be directed especially towards the feeling and willing, since the thinking capacity so often cannot be reached.
In Chapter 11 we discussed briefly the founding of the Clinical Therapeutical Institute in Arlesheim by Dr. Ita Wegman in 1921. Some of the first patients sent there for treatment were children, and among these some were in need of special care or quite severely handicapped. Dr. Wegman and her colleagues nevertheless undertook to treat them, following in each case advice given by Rudolf Steiner. In due course a building was acquired which later was given the name it still bears—the Sonnenhof—but as late as 1924 this work was regarded as part of the regular medical practice of the Clinic, and Steiner had not as yet given a systematic course on curative education, each case being treated on an ad hoc basis.
Late in 1923 a few young anthroposophists, none of whom was a medical doctor (two were teachers in a state home for backward children and the third was a university student in psychology), decided that they would like to devote their lives to working with abnormal or handicapped children. As all were anthroposophists they decided to call upon Rudolf Steiner for aid, since they were agreed that no one in the state Home seemed really to know very much about the proper treatment that the children should receive. Nor did the psychology of the day contain much that appealed to them. After listening to what they had to say Rudolf Steiner proceeded to test their patience and persistence for a while. Then he invited them, in spite of their ignorance of medicine, to be present at his course for young medical doctors, after which he encouraged them to ask their own questions. As a result of this first discussion the enthusiasm of the three young men reached close to boiling point, but they still had no money—it was just after the stabilization of the German currency which left millions of Germans without any financial resources—nor was the time propitious for obtaining loans or gifts. But they did hear of a large house in Lauenstein which had suddenly become vacant, whose owner was willing to let it on a long lease. It now became a question therefore of raising the money for a rental rather than a purchase so, with Steiner’s warm support and encouragement, they went forth on a fund-raising expedition, which was moderately successful. At all events they were able to find a few months’ rent, and were able to buy enough second hand furniture, much of which they repaired themselves, so that by May 1924 they were prepared to accept their first children.
A month later, immediately following the Agriculture Course given at Koberwitz Rudolf Steiner, accompanied by two members of the Vorstand, paid a private visit to the new Home to see what the three friends, and another who joined them with no more experience than they, were doing. By this time they had five children and knew of others who wished to come. Rudolf Steiner met them all and spent the entire day (June 18th) with them, giving advice on each child, and, as one of the friends expressed it afterwards, on that day Steiner gave the tone to the entire curative work. As he left he promised them that he would give them a full course on curative education as soon as he could find time for it. The course was eventually given in Dornach from June 25th to July 7th to about twenty persons, including the doctors from the Clinic and the members of the Vorstand. From this course, which is worthy of careful study if only as an example of the kind of living, imaginative, thinking and close observation that Steiner had now developed to a peak of perfection, have stemmed the more than a hundred Homes for backward, handicapped, and delinquent children managed by anthroposophists in all countries where Anthroposophy has taken root. The well-known Camphill Movement, with its many homes, schools, and ”villages” was founded just before World War II by Dr. Karl König and was likewise inspired by Rudolf Steiner.
Perhaps the most surprising of all the activities that have their roots in Anthroposophy is the Biodynamic Movement. From 1920 onwards Rudolf Steiner had given indications to several of his pupils on how to work with the etheric formative forces. These have been briefly discussed in Chapter 11. In the course of 1922 and 1923 several farmers who were also anthroposophists approached Rudolf Steiner with questions regarding the increasing sickness of the land as they themselves were experiencing it, and in particular regarding the apparent degeneracy of modern seeds. Others asked him for medical advice on animal diseases, while Count Karl von Keyserlingk, who had a large estate at Koberwitz, near Breslau, in Eastern Germany, asked him about plant diseases. The answers he gave whetted their appetite, as it seemed clear that he had as much knowledge of the invisible world in this sphere as he had in others, and his advice invariably was practical and proved to be efficacious. In 1923 he told Dr. Wachsmuth and Ehrenfried Pfeiffer how to produce a preparation that would help to ”dynamize” the soil. They followed his instructions to the letter, and the precious material was ready just in time to be exhibited during the Koberwitz course. Time for this course was finally found in June, 1924, and it was given to about sixty persons gathered together on Count Keyserlingk’s estate. This number included, to the surprise of many, the eurythmy troupe from Dornach, whose members were also concerned, if in a different way, with the etheric formative forces, and who perhaps, in Steiner’s opinion, ought to learn something about the earth to balance the preoccupation with the celestial inherent in their art!
The course consisted of only eight lectures, plus the answers given by Steiner to a number of key questions from his audience, most of whom were practical farmers or landowners. But in these eight lectures are to be found the seeds of everything that has since come to be known as ”biodynamic” agriculture (the name was not given by Rudolf Steiner). They contain at the same time a wealth of esoteric information about the relation between man and the cosmos and how this relationship must be taken into consideration by the farmer. However, most of the information in these lectures was eminently practical, dealing with such subjects as how to make a truly dynamic compost, how to ”dynamize” farmyard manure, how to control noxious weeds and insect pests, although Steiner also had much to say on the utility of many other plants regarded today as weeds. Human nutrition was incidentally touched upon, since in his view much human malnutrition is due to the consumption of plants that lack the proper cosmic forces. In drawing special attention to the relationship between man and the plant world, Steiner explained how the plant, as he put it, is like a man standing upside down, with its ”head” system in the earth (the roots), its ”rhythmic system” in the stalk and leaves, and its ”metabolic system” in the flower and seed. This remarkable observation, according to Steiner, is the key to correct nutrition, since each of our ”systems” is nourished by the corresponding part of the plant.
Every word in these lectures has been worked over, and there have been countless experiments carried out, not least by Lily Kolisko, who was entrusted by Steiner with the task of proving in a scientifically acceptable manner the correctness of the practical indications given by him in this course. A circle of experimental farmers and gardeners was formed in Germany immediately after the course, and in the years since 1924 similar circles have been formed in almost all Western countries. E. Pfeiffer, after working with biodynamic farming in Europe for many years, and undertaking numerous experiments, eventually moved to the United States, where he became the pioneer teacher of most of the American biodynamic farmers, and where in the later years of his life he also established a research laboratory. His advice was very much sought after, and even industrialists in the United States listened to him respectfully, men who would never have anything to do with Anthroposophy and who knew no other anthroposophists. Pfeiffer, who had been a personal pupil of Rudolf Steiner in his youth—Steiner even directed his choice of studies while he was at the university—received official recognition from the Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia when it granted him an honorary doctorate, a degree that he had never found the time to earn.
During 1924 Rudolf Steiner took very seriously his role as president of the newly formed Society, and made a special effort to maintain liaison with all the national Societies, though his schedule was too tight to enable him to visit more than a few of them. When he made his visits he always spent a part of his time in explaining to members just what was going on at Dornach, and how he envisaged the new Society. Often also he gave lectures and classes similar to those he was giving at the same time in Dornach, so that members would feel that they really had a share in what was being done there. Conversely, he reported not only to the Vorstand, but also whenever possible, to the Dornach members, telling them of his experiences during his foreign lecture tours. He also published his reports in the Newsletters of the Society, which were distributed in all the countries where Societies or groups were established. It was possible from these reports to appreciate the particular atmosphere of these foreign centers as Rudolf Steiner himself experienced them, and this too helped to bring the scattered members together in spirit. His first foreign tour of the year to the Czech capital of Prague he reported in a specially warm and enthusiastic manner, while after his August visit to England he shared his experiences at King Arthur’s Castle near Tintagel in Cornwall with the Dornach members on his return. From December, 1923, he was also, as we have noted in an earlier chapter, writing his autobiography which was published week by week in Das Goetheanum, seventy instalments in all.
On January 30th, and thereafter for every week’s issue for some months, he wrote a letter to the members giving advice on how to conduct group meetings, the kind of atmosphere that should, if possible, be created in them, and many related questions. These letters originally published in the Society Newsletter have been collected together in a volume with the title The Living Being of Anthroposophy and its Fostering, translated into English under the simplified title of The Life, Nature, and Cultivation of Anthroposophy. These letters demonstrate in a remarkable manner Steiner’s constant care for even the smallest details of anthroposophical work.
Before the end of January he embarked on a cycle which may be thought of as introductory, and indeed it was called Anthroposophy, an Introduction. But this title does not mean that the cycle was intended for beginners, nor even for the ordinary public, however well informed in a superficial way. It was given in Dornach to the members and intended as a kind of summing up of the essential elements of Anthroposophy as Steiner now viewed them from the vantage point of his sixty-three years of life, and as he expected members to understand them. Described with the utmost precision and economy, these fundamental teachings are nowhere else presented in such a luminous manner, either in his books or his lectures—and it was evidently Steiner’s intention to persuade members to begin their life in the newly formed Society with a re-thinking of all they had studied hitherto. At Easter and Pentecost Steiner also tried to give to the Dornach members a deeper insight into these two Christian festivals. Indeed, at Easter he gave no fewer than four lectures, linking this festival to the Mysteries of antiquity, especially those of Ephesus, once more showing clearly how Christianity fulfills the ancient Mysteries and supersedes them, while the single Pentecost lecture, The Whitsuntide Festival: its Place in the Study of Karma, draws together in one mighty Imagination all the three great festivals, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, showing how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together in human life, thus illuminating, as he indeed told his auditors, what he was simultaneously teaching them on the subject of karma.
These lectures that Steiner gave on karma to the members at intervals throughout 1924 constitute his principal work for the members, aside from the specialized courses not intended for all of them. At this time in his life it first became possible for him to penetrate into spiritual mysteries which, as he informed his listeners, had been partially closed to him in earlier years. After a few lectures intended to deepen their understanding of karma itself and its many nuances, into none of which had he entered so profoundly before, he began to speak in February and March, and then again all through the spring, about individual personalities whose lives through several incarnations he had now investigated. Most of these personalities are well known in history in at least one incarnation, but some of the sequences of these lives are most unexpected. Certainly none would have been likely to have been predicted by persons without Steiner’s supersensible faculties; but his concise descriptions of the most striking features of these lives make clear indeed how karma worked in these particular cases. This kind of information would of course be utterly useless, and conveying it to members would have been gratuitous, if it had not been that it illustrates certain general principles of metamorphosis from one life to another, and these principles are of the profoundest interest and importance. Steiner’s grave and measured presentation of these facts of human destiny was totally devoid of sensationalism, but the significance of what he said cannot be grasped at one hearing or one reading, and perhaps not for a very long time. The different civilizations into which one individuality incarnates, and why these civilizations should have been chosen by that individuality in order to fulfill his tasks, always supplementing in a different way what had been begun before—such material must be pondered over long and carefully, and other information must usually be brought to meet it from one’s ordinary knowledge, if the full meaning of these revelations is to be fathomed.
Most of these lectures on Karmic Relationships were given in Dornach, but some of them were repeated in slightly different form elsewhere, occasionally with supplementary information. Four lectures, for example, were given on Steiner’s visit to Prague at the end of March, three in Paris in May (his first visit to that city since the war), nine were given in Breslau during the agricultural course held on the neighboring estate at Koberwitz, and six were given in England (Torquay and London). Three were given on the occasion of three separate visits to Stuttgart, and three more were given in various Swiss cities. Although it was certain that transcripts of the Dornach lectures would soon become available for members in other cities, Steiner nevertheless thought it important to give virtually the same lectures in other areas whenever opportunity presented itself and he had the strength to give them. The English lectures, as we shall see when we discuss Steiner’s last journey to England, were of a different character from the others. So also were three outstanding lectures that he gave in July in the small Rhineland resort town of Arnhem in Holland at a moment in his life when he was so ill that Marie Steiner begged the local group leader, the young physician, F. Zeylmans van Emmichoven, to cancel the lecture on the day of his arrival. Steiner too expressed himself as willing to abide by Zeylmans’ decision, but made it clear that he believed he was physically able to give it. Zeylmans, bearing in mind his responsibility also toward the audience which had assembled from all over Holland and from abroad, decided against his medical judgment that Steiner should give it, and the result was three of the most crucially important lectures that he delivered that year, totally different from anything he had yet given on the subject of karma except the lectures he had just begun to give in Dornach. These Arnhem lectures, indeed, supplemented and clarified in several respects those he had already given in Dornach.
At the beginning of July Steiner had embarked on something entirely new, even for him, by speaking of the spiritual background of the Anthroposophical Movement and Society. He explained how preparations had to be made in the spiritual world long in advance if it were to be possible for certain individualities to incarnate at the same time as others, as was necessary, for example, when such a spiritual movement as Anthroposophy had to be introduced into the world. Obviously the content of these lectures cannot be discussed here, but they are mentioned only to illustrate Steiner’s apparently limitless sense of responsibility for the Society and his determination to do everything in his power, while he still had the strength, to impress his own sense of responsibility on the members. Aware as they became through his lectures of this year from what different karmic streams they had come, and of how spiritual beings, especially Michael, stood behind their work, they could not help but feel that they must devote all that they had in them to the furtherance of this work. If, after Steiner’s death, when he was no longer there to hold together so many varied individualities, with such different pasts behind them in previous lives, they did in fact find it difficult to hold together, this failure can scarcely be laid at Steiner’s door, so mightily did he strive to prevent it as long as he was alive.
The three lectures on karma given by Steiner at Arnhem in July, 1924, were by no means the only lectures he gave in Holland on that occasion. Indeed if Dr. Zeylmans had not arranged for two series of public lectures on education and medicine, he would surely not have given his consent to his lecturing at all, but would have insisted that he go to bed. As it turned out the two public lectures were among Steiner’s best on both topics. But, according to Zeylmans, it was only while he was lecturing that he sprang to life. Then, as he put it, he was ”as always, sparkling with fire, full of life and vitality. One could hardly realize this was the same man.” At other times he could not conceal his weariness, and to a doctor’s eye he appeared emaciated as well as utterly exhausted. When he went to England, again to a resort town where a full conference had been scheduled (Torquay), a further few weeks had passed, and the illness had taken a further toll of his dwindling physical resources. But he carried the long programme, both in Torquay and London, through to its end, and insisted on making the trip also to Tintagel, which in a sense completed his experience of Celtic Britain begun the previous year at Penmaenmawr.
Dr. Wachsmuth reports in his biography that Rudolf Steiner was already seriously ill while he was in England, and was never able to take more than a very little food. But he was insistent that no one except the members of the Vorstand who accompanied him should be allowed to know, and that no public attention should be paid to his illness. Wachsmuth and Dr. Ita Wegman tried to help as much as they could by giving him various medicaments in the intervals between his lectures and during mealtimes; and it seems that none of the audience noticed anything amiss.
The packed programme at Torquay would have taxed a man in perfect health and in the prime of life. Steiner had been asked to speak on truth and error in spiritual research, and how this kind of research differs from the search for knowledge in ordinary science. No doubt the English members were especially anxious to hear Steiner talk on such a subject because of the widespread interest in spiritualism in England, the efforts to bring supersensible knowledge within the framework of ordinary external science through the medium of such organizations as the uniquely English Society for Psychical Research, and the known existence in England of secret brotherhoods devoted to occult pursuits. Steiner responded to this request with a tremendous cycle of eleven lectures, published in England under the title of True and False Paths in Spiritual Investigation, and in America under the title Initiate Consciousness. Both these titles are appropriate enough, since Steiner devoted much of his time in the early days of the course to giving a detailed account, scarcely to be found anywhere else in his published lectures, of how the modern initiate acquires supersensible knowledge. He then devoted almost two full lectures to spiritualism, explaining exactly what supersensible perception reveals as taking place during spiritualistic seances, and how mediums damage themselves by allowing their ego to slip out, thus permitting the entrance of an Ahrimanic elemental being who takes the place of the medium’s own ”I”. Then this being, supremely clever as all such beings are, is able to deceive the listeners. Amid much else in this important cycle Steiner drew special attention to the possibilities inherent in the use of supersensible knowledge in the practice of medicine. He and Dr. Ita Wegman, he told his audience, were in the process of collaborating in a book which should draw the attention of the world to these possibilities and what had been achieved thus far. The book, which had been begun in mid 1923, was finally published after Steiner’s death, but he had the opportunity to correct its proofs just before his death, and to know that the work, entitled in English Fundamentals of Therapy, would soon be appearing. In her preface to the first edition (September, 1925), Dr. Wegman wrote that it had been their intention to write several collaborative works on the medicine of the future. This one would therefore have been only the first of many.
While he was giving his cycle on True and False Paths Steiner also gave on the same days seven lectures to a newly formed college of teachers which was planning to open a Waldorf School in London (The Kingdom of Childhood). Wishing also to keep the English members informed on everything that he had been doing for the last months he lectured to members the day after his arrival in Torquay on the significance of the Christmas Foundation of the Society, following this with the first of three lectures on karma. In this first lecture he spoke about the character of the present age from the time that Michael became the time-spirit in 1879, explaining at the same time why he had hitherto spoken so little about Michael in spite of his transcendent importance. Certain Ahrimanic beings, he told his audience, had been able to seal his lips, thus preventing the knowledge of Michael from becoming known. But his lips were now unsealed and he was able to speak as freely as he wished without any hindrance from them. The letters of the last six months of his life are an eloquent testimony to his new freedom.
The third lecture in this series, given on August 21st, bears an altogether different character from the others, the result of a visit to Tintagel on the north coast of Cornwall, the traditional site of King Arthur’s Castle. As had happened the previous year at Penmaenmawr, Steiner had a direct clairvoyant experience of what had in the far distant past taken place at the Castle, and he related it to his enthralled listeners, among whom was Dr. Guenther Wachsmuth, who includes it in his biography. He was able to describe exactly where the Castle had stood, even the layout of the rooms, and the inner experiences of the Knights of the Round Table as they sat, each with a symbol of one of the signs of the Zodiac above him. He spoke also of Merlin and his teachings and his knowledge of the cosmic deed of Christ, and he explained why it was that such places as this were chosen for the kind of initiation necessary for King Arthur and his Knights. When he gave his lecture on August 21st Steiner was still full of the Tintagel experience of the previous Sunday, and here his actual words characterizing the natural setting of the castle should be quoted directly:
”There, in a comparatively short time, one can perceive a wonderful interplay between the light and the air, and also between the elemental spirits living in light and air. One can see spirit-beings streaming to the earth in the rays of the Sun, one can see them mirrored in the glittering raindrops, one can see that which comes under the sway of earthly gravity appearing in the air as the denser spirit-beings of the air. Again, when the rain ceases and the rays of the Sun stream through the clear air, one perceived the elemental spirits mingling in quite a different way. There one witnesses how the Sun works in earthly substance—and seeing it all from such a place as this, one is filled with a kind of pagan ”piety,” not Christian but pagan piety, which is something altogether different. Pagan piety is a surrender of heart and feeling to the manifold spiritual beings working in the processes of nature.
”Amid the conditions of modern social life it is not, generally speaking, possible for men to give effect to the processes coming to expression in the play of nature forces. These things can be penetrated only by Initiation-knowledge. But you must understand that every spiritual attainment is dependent upon some essential and fundamental condition . . . In the days of King Arthur and those around him, special conditions were required in order that the spirituality so wondrously revealed and borne in by the sea might flow into their mission and their tasks.”62
Steiner then went on to speak of the mission of King Arthur and his Knights and contrasted it with the mission of the Knights of the Grail, whose task lay in southern Europe, making clear how each group was aware of the Christ and sought him in its own way. At King Arthur’s Court, he said, a ”pre-Christian Christianity” prevailed. He returned to this subject once more when on August 27th he gave his last lecture to the English members, the third of three lectures on the subject of karma, similar to those he was giving at the same period in Dornach. This lecture he concluded with the following words of farewell: ”We know too that we remain united even when divided in physical space. We shall remain united in the signs that can reveal themselves to the eye of spirit and to the ears of soul, if what I have said in these lectures has been received in full earnestness and has been understood.”63
After this last lecture to members Steiner still had some public engagements to fulfill before he left London, including two on education and two to physicians on the new anthroposophical impulse in medicine. When at last he was free to leave England, however, he did not at once return to Dornach, where more than a thousand members had assembled, eagerly awaiting the series of courses and lectures that had been promised, a larger assemblage even than had been present for the already overcrowded Christmas Foundation Meeting. Steiner’s physical condition was such that he agreed at last to accept Dr. Ita Wegman’s advice, and went to Stuttgart for a few days’ rest. As a result he was able for the last time to recuperate enough to carry through his enormous program, described earlier in this chapter. Since he arrived later in Dornach than had been expected Marie Steiner had to work for a few days by herself with the many students who had come to Dornach to be present at his promised course on Speech and Drama. This course had originally been intended for professionals only, but after a few exceptions had been permitted, the floodgates were opened, and dozens more were eventually allowed to attend.
On the day of his return, September 5th, Steiner gave his introductory lecture to this course, as well as the first of his lectures to the theologians of the Christian Community on the Apocalypse. The same evening he resumed his lectures to the members on karma that had been interrupted by his journey to England. Thus, starting with a mere three lectures, during the course of the next three weeks he progressed on some days to four, and even five, if we count the talks he gave to those working on the new Goetheanum. Of the three courses given to restricted audiences, those on the Apocalypse and on Pastoral Medicine have not been made publicly available. But it is possible from the published Speech and Drama course to detect without difficulty how much Steiner must have enjoyed himself as he was giving it, even going so far as to recite whole scenes from various dramas, playing every part himself, strongly and without apparent hesitation. He kept this up right until September 23rd, giving a lecture each day as part of this course, as well as all his others. How much of his dwindling strength the course used up we can only imagine—according to himself none at all, as he could receive power while speaking to these audiences, losing it only in his private interviews.
There can be no doubt at all that in these last weeks of his lecturing life he attained the culmination of his powers, and that all the knowledge he had won for himself over the last decades was now at his free disposal, so that he was more truly eloquent than at any previous time in his career. All those who were present have spoken not only of the unfailing flow of his inspiration but of the goodness, the kindliness, that shone from his eyes during these last courses of his life. Dr. Zeylmans van Emmichoven, from whom we have quoted before, was present at the course on Pastoral Medicine, and he painted an unforgettable picture of what it was like to be present at the course especially when he knew as a medical doctor how ill Steiner was, in spite of his ability to triumph over his illness when he was lecturing.
”All of us who went to Dornach to attend the new courses in September 1924,” he wrote, ”felt that we were lifted into other spheres, high above our ordinary consciousness; our very faces changed, we were seeing and hearing beyond the range of our own capacities. As we looked at one another we asked ourselves inwardly: Is that really so-and-so? It was something quite unbelievable and indescribable. We were already living in a spiritual world that was by no means within our grasp. There were moments during the last lectures of the course on Pastoral Medicine when only love and spirit radiated from Rudolf Steiner—with such intensity that it was almost difficult to listen to what he was saying. But the audience was, of course, one to which he could allow his whole being to speak. . . .
”That same afternoon, one or two doctors among us, together with Frau Dr. Wegman, had been with him. He lay on his couch with a rug over him and gave us a last injunction. I had then to return to my work in Holland. On 30th March, 1925, his death summoned us to Dornach.”64
The lectures and courses all came to an end on September 23rd—the last lecture on karma dealing, with an appropriateness that can scarcely have been accidental, with the destiny and former lives of Steiner’s first and favorite teacher of German literature in Vienna, Karl Julius Schröer, who for reasons connected with his personal karma, had devoted so much of his life to Goethe, but had been unable ”to carry Goetheanism forward into Anthroposophy,” thereby leaving this task to be performed by his pupil, Rudolf Steiner. In letters written to Marie Steiner after his collapse Rudolf Steiner told her that he could now see that it might have been wiser to forego these intensive weeks of September, as Dr. Wegman had constantly urged him. ”From a purely personal point of view,” he wrote, ”it would have been more sensible to listen to Wegman earlier; she wanted me to take a rest but, as you know, I had a feeling that I owed it to higher powers to hold those September courses.” It is also true, as these letters show and as will be discussed briefly in the next chapter, that Steiner did not believe he was as ill as he proved to be, nor as yet did Dr. Wegman believe he was in any real danger of death. She thought only that it was absolutely necessary as a matter of urgency that he take the rest he had so long refused.
At last, on September 27th, she was able to persuade him not to give the lecture to members that had been scheduled, and a notice was posted to this effect on the bulletin board of the Schreinerei. The members who had climbed up the hill read the notice with stupefaction. No one could remember any occasion in the past when Rudolf Steiner had cancelled a lecture, not even when he had pleurisy! Most of them had not even known that he was ill, though many knew he was on a strict diet. The doctors at the Arlesheim Clinic had been anxious, and their anxiety was naturally shared by its head, Dr. Ita Wegman, who was so often with him. So the crowd of members milled around, reluctant to go home, talking about this unexpected end to the wonderful September feast of Anthroposophy. But few indeed could even imagine that there was anything seriously amiss—least of all that his lecturing days were almost over. So it was with great relief that they heard the next day that Rudolf Steiner would begin the Michaelmas Festival with his lecture, as scheduled.
He arrived, as always, perfectly on time, but many afterwards spoke of their perception that he was indeed suffering, and mentioned that his voice was softer and slightly less resonant than usual. At a moment when he would ordinarily have been about half way through his lecture, when he had in fact spoken about a deeply esoteric subject in a manner that cried out for further elucidation (perhaps wishing to let the members think further about it for themselves), he led his auditors over to Michael and the Michael stream, on which he had spoken briefly at the beginning of his lecture, telling them how important it was that ”the Michael activity will be shed abroad in the future among mankind.”
”Because this is so,” he went on ”I have made the effort today to rise up and speak to you, if only in these short words. My strength is not sufficient for more today,” and after a few more sentences he concluded his lecture with a four verse meditation on Michael, which provided a kind of keynote for the remaining work which he was still to do on earth—as will be discussed in the next and concluding chapter. Almost the last form Steiner ever gave in eurythmy, shortly before his death, was the eurythmy form for these meditative verses.
As the words died away, Rudolf Steiner left the podium, and walked slowly from the improvised lecture hall to the room in the same building that had been fitted out as his studio and bedroom, in which stood the still unfinished carved Group, with the Christ, the Representative of Mankind, holding in balance the powers of Lucifer and Ahriman.
Everyone in the hall stood up and watched in silence as their teacher, who would never again be seen in his earthly life by the vast majority of them, passed from the hall. His steps died away as he entered his studio bedroom which he would never again leave in his lifetime.
Rudolf Steiner: Herald of a New Epoch