Friday 29 May 2020

Rudolf Steiner and My-kie-ell (i.e. the Archangel Michael)

Regular readers will know that I regard Rudolf Steiner as an indispensable genius for our time and task. And/but also that I have considerable reservations about a great deal of what he did and said; and even more about the Anthroposophical Society (the AS) that he founded, and which regards itself as the guardians of all-things-Steiner now and evermore (or, at least, for the foreseeable).

One of my big reservations about Steiner concerns the massive emphasis he placed upon the role of the Archangel Michael in our world - and in the life of all of us in The West.

It all begins with the name. For English speaking Anthroposophists, it is necessary to pronounce Michael as something like My-kie-ell - with three syllables. You must do this, and if you don't - well it is a kind of blasphemy (only worse).


Because on a visit to England; Steiner once, in a personal conversation (that was lovingly recorded, repeated, and taught from thenceforth) expressed an aesthetic dislike of the usual English pronunciation of this name - which he regarded as too brief, slovenly, disrespectful.

That's it!

Here we encapsulate the problem with the followers of Steiner, in a nutshell. A century-plus years ago, Steiner casually opined concerning the pronunciation of a word (not in his native language) - and because everything Steiner ever said about everything* was literally and eternally true and vital - the Anthroposophical Society immediately fell into line, and enforced this practice on all members.

This kind of literalistic, legalistic fundamentalism is normal and mandatory among the mass of Steiner's followers - with, perhaps, expectations tacitly made for the (many) instances in which Steiner said something not-politically-correct about race, nation, sex or socialism (instances of non-woke-ness are explained away, re-contextualised out-of-existence, ignored or just not-acted upon - and given the pervasive Leftism of the AS, this is tolerated without dissent). 

The pronunciation of Michael would not matter except that Steiner, in his later years, developed a version of Esoteric Christianity in which Michael takes an absolutely central and indispensable role. This centrality is based upon Steiner's assertion that Michael was personally promoted above the Archangel level in 1879 (following a war in Heaven) to take the lead in this current cultural phase; especially in opposition to the dominance of the Satanic demon Ahriman.

(Ahriman is - with some filtering - one of Steiner's great insights, and a tremendously valuable - I find it essential - concept for understanding our times. Here we see the characteristic Steiner at work - indispensable insights cheek-by-jowl with massed arbitrary assertions.) 

I have read/ listened-to some tens-of-thousands of words by Steiner on the subject of the role of Michael; and his supposed intermediary job as the 'countenance' of Christ; and how we in the West are supposed to organise our spiritual lives around him - but despite my best efforts, I find the whole Michael theme tedious, unnecessary and essentially incomprehensible.

We are all (here-and-now) supposed to be living a Michael-centred spiritual life; but I canot see why. Especially given (for example) that Jesus Christ is personally accessible to each and every one of us, everywhere and all of the time. It is rather like those extra layers of bureaucracy that managers are so keen to inflict upon the modern world.

In sum; the Michael theme in Steiner is itself an aspect of the dominance of Ahriman.

So; the subject of Michael is representative of much that I find un-acceptable and un-interesting about Steiner - and also fits my narrative that Steiner (overall) got worse throughout his adult life after his towering philosophical achievements over about a decade from the middle 1880s to middle 1890s.

There is a Great Deal of value in Steiner's later work - right up to his death, so we still need to read with care and attention; but as time goes by, the nuggets of gold become more and more swamped by the (irrelevant, tendentious and just-plain-wrong) dross.

So, the serious reader needs to mine and filter a great deal of crude ore when considering the later Steiner. This is the proper approach; rather than the Anthroposophical Society practice of regarding every grain of dross - every casual comment - from The Master as a precious and binding jewel of revelation.

*In his 300-plus books, and all his recorded chit-chat.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

This reminds me of Nabokov's weird, and stubbornly maintained, opinion that any English speaker so gauche as to call Tolstoy's famous novel by its actual name, Anna Karenina, was beneath contempt.

A said...

Thank you for sharing the insights you find, it is something I would find impossible.

John Fitzgerald said...

I've always felt an affinity with St. MIchael. Steiner's Michael seems a completely different figure to me than the one I know, believe in and pray to. I've been thinking a lot about this kind of thing lately and I'll say more in due course.

Bruce Charlton said...

@John - Maybe there is some value, therefore, in differentiating between Michael and My-kie-ell?!

Anonymous said...

The Jehovah's Witnesses think that Michael is massively important too because they say that -

"... the Bible indicates that Michael is another name for Jesus Christ, before and after his life on earth. Let us consider Scriptural reasons for drawing that conclusion."

Here is a link to the piece from which I got the quote if it interests you -


Mister Quigg said...

The 3 syllable pronunciation is German. It always annoyed me when I lived in Germany; I thought it prissy.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MQ - I'm perfectly happy for German speakers to pronounce it that way, but not for it to be imposed on us English-speakers.

A deal: I will say My-kie-ell when Germans stop pronouncing th as z! Th was so important to the English that we used to have two specific letters for it (unvoiced and voiced) - thorn and eth.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I guess I can understand Steiner's reaction. If I found myself in a country where the name Raphael was pronounced "Raffle," I would be sorely tempted to correct the locals. (Incidentally, does this tie in at all with your recent post about a puppet named "Willum"?) But of course the unreasonable thing is not Steiner's opinion itself, but the unthinking and dogmatic endorsement of it by his followers all these years later.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm "does this tie in at all with your recent post about a puppet named "Willum""

Everything is linked, ultimately...

To be specific, I don't at all object to Steiner having an opinion; I object to two things - first is his assumption that his preference will be adopted by all his followers, second that his followers conformed to Steiner's unreasonable assumption.

For various reasons, this attitude of micro-legalism and literalism always goes with completely missing the main points of importance - which, of course, also happened.

One reason is related to 'social control' - and we see the same thing in the big religions, as well as the much smaller group of Anthroposophists. It's not that Anthroposophists are necessarily worse than everyone else in this regard; nonetheless, for someone like me who is trying to get more people (outwith the AS) to read Steiner and take him seriously, such dumb fundamentalism is a major barrier that needs attention.

What is also important is that - as a matter of observation - this kind of micro-literalism has been utterly ineffectual in preventing the corruption of Steiner's legacy into Ahrimanic materialism by the usual Leftism/ sexual revolution influences - as it has been in Christianity.