Tuesday 11 February 2020

How to use Rudolf Steiner for your own good

Rudolf Steiner was a genius and one of the most important writers of the past couple of centuries; furthermore, he was someone who directly influenced other great writers such as Owen Barfield and Valentin Tomberg; and who continues to inspire some of the most important thinkers of today such as Jeremy Naydler and Terry Boardman.

But there are many serious problems about Rudolf Steiner the man and his legacy, which tend to render him beyond the pale, a 'hopeless case' for most serious Christians - even Romantic Christians.

So, here is some personal advice about how to 'tackle' Steiner in a way that does the most good - based upon about seven years of intensive study and thought concerning Steiner's work; but as an independent outsider to his movement.

Importantly, you can booth read and listen-to All of Steiner's major works (plus most of his minor work) free of charge at Rudolf Steiner Archive and Rudolf Steiner Audio.

You can start Now...

1. There are several books from you can take Steiner whole - his philosophical books and the history if ideas, where he is absolutely brilliant and fascinating. 

A theory of knowledge implicit in Goethe's world conception - 1886
Truth and Knowledge - 1892
The philosphy of freedom - 1894
Mysticism at the dawn of the modern age - 1901
Riddles of philosophy - 1914

2. Moving on from here, a different method is needed. Steiner is capable of tremendous, vital insights on a wide range of spritiual matters - especially to do with consciousness. Such gems are embedded all over the place, in the other books and the various collections from his thosands of transcribed lectures.

But these embedded gems (that you would not want to have missed) will be surrounded by a variable - sometimes a very large - amount of rubbish, nonsense, tedium; misleading and bad ideas.  And much of the bad stuff with be very complicated, dry, systematic - bureaucratic in style and tendency. I find this particularly the case when Steiner is writing about practical, applied, social questions - politics, medicine, education, agriculture and so on: this comes across to me as essentially pseudo-academic and pseudo-science.

3. When Steiner addresses individuals - one man speaking to another, across time - then he is at his best. But when Steiner addresses groups of people, or is focused upon matters of groups, or speaks as a The Doctor - leader/ guru/ administrator/ would-be man-of-action - then I think he is at his worst. Often you can tell when he switches from one mode to another.

4. Beyond the books on philosphy and history of ideas; I would therefore advise exploring - he is well worth reading. But read following Ralph Waldo Emerson's own practice, and practice skimming for 'lustres'; dance-across the text or swim-through the audio; seeking what speaks to you personally - and setting aside the rest.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

This is basically my approach to several "great thinkers" -- Aquinas, Freud, Gurdjieff, even Plato to a certain extent. I sometimes wish more thinkers had written in the style of Pascal or Montaigne or Marcus Aurelius (or, I suppose, of a blogger!) rather than trying to construct a System. So far I haven't had the patience to tackle much of Steiner, though I did give Philosophy of Freedom a once-over.

I wonder if you've ever considered putting together a mini-book anthology of Steiner's wisest bits -- or is it entirely a question of personal resonance, such that no two people are likely to agree as to which parts are the gems and which are the rubbish?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm "I wonder if you've ever considered putting together a mini-book anthology of Steiner's wisest bits"

Not my kind of thing at all. To do something like that I would have to assume that my personal responses concerning what was wise were likely to be representative of the responses of a larger audience, and that almost never is the case!

But, an example of the way I work with Steiner is "Staying connected" an anthology of lectures and exerpts on the theme of maintaining contact with the dead. I have found some really excellent things in this book - for example some general ideas about the importance of maintaining contact, and how some of the dead actually need to be thought of; but also great swathes of what strike me as nonsense (eg. about what spirits do in between incarnations, or about how dead spirits replaye their lives in reverse).

Or another book "Sleep and Dreams" in which Steiner describes it as the ego (human) and astral (animal consciousness) sheathes leaving the physical and life (etheric) bodies behind - although attached by a 'thread' to the living body in the bed. This strikes me as an accurate description of how it feels. But e.g. his description of what happens in dreaming seemed wrong.

I often pick up these books and open at random, and just browse; and quite often find something striking that then becomes the subject of some kind of reverie, meditation.

On the other hand, I seldom or never look at the ones that pruport to be detailed accounts of life in Lemuria or Atlantis, or future projects of the evolutionary phases humans will go through over the next several thousand years, or anything about the prior incarnations of famous people, or detailed accounts of the supposed initiations of mystery cults throughout history or even among modern Anthroposophists, which I regard as almost wholly fictional.

The initiation theme I find very annoying!... Steiner was discussing the detailed procedures effects of prolonged modern initiatory procedures in Knowledge of Higher Worlds, published in 1904, long before he could possibily have had experience of conducting such things with his followers. Plus he himself never experienced any such initiation - so why should others need to?

Plus procedural initiation was - I would have thought obviously - an atavistic phenomenon, harking back to earlier stages of the evolution of consciousness.

Moonsphere said...

Bruce, on the theme of recommended reading, I was wondering whether you had come across the writings of Judith von Halle.

She is one of the (rare) students of Steiner who is actually clairvoyant and since 2004 - a stigmatist. The focus of her books is on the Life and Passion of the Christ, of which she has had remarkable revelatory experiences.

It seems that true revelation always starts with the Christ Event! From there, the window can expand both forward and backwards in time.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Moons - I have come across her, and did a little reading; but this strikes me as retrograde, an example of atavistic clairvoyance; a striving backward for what Steiner would call the Intellectual Soul, or what Barfield would term Original Participation.

It's possible that for that particular individual (her personal destiny) this may be helpful or necessary; but this is not a good example of what is required for the condition of Western Man.