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The Mission of Rudolf Steiner

by Dr. Ernst Katz
an essay derived from an address given at
the American Anthroposophical Society's Annual General Meeting, November, 2004.

Special thanks to Dr. Katz for allowing us to reprint this essay.

Dr. Ernst Katz is an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Michigan. He and his late wife, Katherine, have fostered the growth of anthroposophy in Ann Arbor and in America for almost sixty years. His contribution on The Mission of Rudolf Steiner brings the fruits of many years of work with anthroposophy; it was presented as the keynote address at the American Society's Annual General Meeting in November, 2004. His talk was greeted with great enthusiasm, and Dr. Katz has been kind enough to share it here with our readers.

 Diagram 3
Ernst Katz (in 1992)
Click image for large view

In this essay I want to give a personal description, not very scholarly, of the mission of Rudolf Steiner. What was this mission? We have no direct mission statement from his own hand. We have of course all that found external expression of his mission, all the practical applications of anthroposophy, in education, in medicine, in agriculture, in the arts, in the architecture of the Goetheanum and of many other buildings, in poetry and in drama, in jewelry making, and especially in eurythmy, but also in philosophy and in the guidance of inner development, and more. But to find what his mission actually was we should realize that it was a spiritual mission, an esoteric mission, which we can only find by contemplating what may be called his “esoteric biography.” There one finds revealed how Rudolf Steiner's life was guided and inspired by a lofty spiritual being, the world encompassing spirit of our time. In Western esotericism this being bears the name St. Michael. Rudolf Steiner can be seen as the human, earthly, Ambassador of St. Michael, who is the spiritual Ambassador of the divine Christ Being.

Significant markers of the guidance and inspiration by St. Michael can be clearly discerned in the circumstances surrounding Rudolf Steiner's life at its very beginning as well as at its untimely end.

At the beginning we note the following unusual circumstances: Rudolf Steiner was born shortly before midnight on February 25, 1861, in the tiny village of Kraljevec. (see Note 1) Owing to negligence of the midwife the child was bleeding almost to death. It was questionable how long it would survive. If this birth had been normal the child would have been baptized a few days later in the church of Kraljevec, but now an emergency baptism was called for. However, the schedule of the church of Kraljevec could not accommodate this emergency. So the child was carried two miles through wintry February cold and snow to the church of Draskovec, a neighboring village. There it was baptized on February 27, and named:

Rudolfus Josephus Laurentius Steiner

or, as we would say:

Rudolf Joseph Laurence Steiner.

It is significant that the church of Draskovec was dedicated to St. Michael. It was a St. Michael Church! Apparently destiny had arranged circumstances so that St. Michael would stand guard, as it were, like a god-parent, at this human being's entry into the physical life on earth.

Toward the end of Rudolf Steiner's life, from Christmas 1923 to March 30, 1925, St. Michael is in evidence like the final chords of a great symphony. The esoteric lectures of the School for Spiritual Science, which Rudolf Steiner gave in 1924, were a direct inspiration of Michael. The closing sentence of the last of these lectures reads: “Thus may be confirmed the content of the present Michael communication.” And the last words of the very last lecture that Rudolf Steiner was able to give, known as “The Last Address,” on September 28, 1924, describe in imaginative poetic words St. Michael as the Messenger of Christ. (see Note 2) In addition, the essays which Rudolf Steiner wrote weekly for the newsletter Das Goetheanum, during the last months of his life, from his sickbed, are known as The Michael Mystery. (see Note 3) They are his Michael legacy.

In this way Rudolf Steiner's life was bracketed by a relationship to St. Michael, by his baptism and by his last lectures. To understand more concretely how this relationship became his mission in the course of his life we need to outline two basic themes. First, the place of St. Michael in the hierarchy of spiritual beings. Second, how spiritual beings guide human life.

About Angels and Archangels

Associated with each human being is an Angel who accompanies the same individual soul through all successive incarnations, and leads it to circumstances of destiny that give it opportunities to compensate imbalances from previous incarnations. On the other hand, the angel evolves through our deeds.

Likewise, an Archangel is associated with each cohesive group of human beings. This may be a large group, such as a country or a city; it may be a church congregation or a business corporation, even a very small group such as a family. Not all Archangels are of the same rank. The Archangel of a family is of course of a lower rank than the Archangel of a city. There are seven leading Archangels. They take turns in guiding the evolution of humanity by leading a particular civilization to prominence.

According to a treatise, written in 1508 A.D. by Johannes Trithemius, a learned abbot in Sponheim, Germany, each leading Archangel in turn guides human evolution for 354 years and four months. His timetable sets the autumn of the year 1879 A.D. as the beginning of a Michael age. It is remarkable that this was known already in the early sixteenth century. (see Note 4) Rudolf Steiner confirms that this indeed happened in late November of that year. And he added that the Archangel St. Michael, one of the original seven leading Archangels, received at that time what one may call a promotion. He was to lead a civilization that would, for the first time ever, encompass all of humanity. Therefore, in 1879 St. Michael became the supreme being whose rank towers above all other Archangels. This rank is often referred to as “time spirit.” This exalted, illustrious being, St. Michael, the guiding spirit of our time for all of humanity, the Ambassador of the Christ Being, is of primary importance in the life and mission of Rudolf Steiner.

How Archangels Exert their Guidance

The way Archangels exert their influence is subject to evolution. In ancient times it differed from the way it is today. For the Archangels of lower ranks the difference is not very great. They inspire their influence into the feeling life of human beings subconsciously while they sleep, as feelings of belonging to their group. But in ancient times the higher Archangels interacted with human beings in a more conscious way. This took place at the Mystery Centers. There spiritual beings, usually Archangels, gave guidance to specially developed human beings, the “Initiates,” the teachers. The initiates would then guide the population for which they were responsible, in accordance with the inspirations they received from the beings of the spiritual world. In that way, influences from the spiritual world could penetrate into the human environment. And vice versa, things of the human world could be observed, and in a way digested by spiritual beings. Through their contact with the spiritual world the initiates of the Mystery Centers exerted absolute power over their population.

It is important to realize that the Mystery Centers worked always behind closed walls. One could not apply for admission to become an initiate, like one applies today for admission to a university. Candidates were chosen, and then had to undergo years of cloister-like training, secluded from the outside world by confining walls. In such a setting the student would become very dependent on his teacher. The initiation wisdom of the teachers was strictly secret. Its betrayal drew the death penalty. That system functioned for long ages. There were Mystery Centers in many, many places. They were of different ranks, and were led by initiates of different ranks. There were what I would call little Initiates and Great Initiates. Initiates of a certain rank would receive guidance from Archangels of a corresponding rank, so their guidance affected smaller or larger groups of people. There were seven leading Initiates. Each of these exalted individualities in turn gave guidance to an entire civilization. One of the greatest among these seven was Zarathustra, who guided the ancient Persian civilization. Other ones did likewise at different times for other civilizations.

It is difficult to convey an adequate impression when one speaks of these Great Initiates. They excel in insight, goodness, and creativity. The noted French author Edouard Schuré wrote a wonderful book, The Great Initiates, with beautiful, sensitive descriptions of their lives and works. Though written almost a century ago, this book is still a classic, and highly recommended reading.

In the course of time, the Initiates in the Mystery Centers found that gradually it became more and more difficult to maintain the contact with the spiritual world. The Mystery Centers started gradually to peter out, to degenerate. A number of them actually closed. Why did this happen? It was the result of the evolution of human consciousness. At the time when the Mysteries flourished, people's consciousness differed markedly from ours. They possessed an ancient kind of dreamlike clairvoyance. We are much more awake in the sense world. They were more dreamy, but that did not prevent them from doing their work. This kind of dreaminess with the associated spontaneous clairvoyance was a condition for the Initiates in the Mysteries. Gradually the consciousness of people around the world started to change. They became more and more awake. Not right away as much as we are today. If one reads the Greek literature, one can see that they were still far removed from what we have today, not only regarding the content, but the whole way of looking at the world. A milestone in this gradual awakening process is the work of Aristotle (c. 350 B.C.). Then in the Roman time the consciousness became more similar to what we have today. At present we are more awake in the sense world than even the Romans were, and this process of awakening is likely to continue further into the future. But our awake consciousness is


with the ancient form of clairvoyance. As people's consciousness became more awake the contact with the spiritual world became more and more tenuous. There was a real danger that the contact with the spiritual world would cease completely. We should recognize that this evolution was necessary in order to introduce the possibility of human spiritual freedom. But the complete loss of contact with the spiritual world would have meant a horrible future for mankind and for the earth.

At this season of spiritual darkness a turning point of time occurred. A new cosmic spirit-light entered into the earthly stream of evolution: the Mystery of Golgotha, the life, death, and resurrection of the divine Christ Being. This is the greatest of all Mysteries, for its impulses were offered not only for one civilization, but for all of humanity. Thus the Mystery of Golgotha obviated the ancient Mysteries that were concerned with one civilization only. Moreover, unlike the ancient-Mysteries which took place in seclusion and secrecy, the Mystery of Golgotha took place in public. It opened the possibility of a new kind of contact of human beings with the spiritual world, by a new kind of Initiates. This kind of contact is entirely


with fully awake human consciousness, such as we have at present, and may expect to have even more in the future. This is a completely new impulse. While the ancient Mysteries were disappearing, this new kind of connection with the spiritual world was born. In this new Mystery stream a new kind of Initiates arose, again with seven leading Initiates, sometimes referred to as “Masters of Wisdom and of Harmony of Feelings” or simply as the “Masters.” Though in essence all Masters keep in touch with each other in a spiritual way and always act in concert with each other, as a rule only one of them steps forward into the public domain and then speaks and acts for all of them. They each have been assigned a particular task. Two of these Masters are of primary importance for the guidance of the spiritual life of the entire Western World.

Modern esoteric schooling requires by its very nature no seclusion nor secrecy. However, in some cases external circumstances may make one or the other a practical necessity: In any case, such schooling must bear an intimate relationship to the Mystery of Golgotha, the Mystery of the divine Christ Being.

Who are these two Great Initiates, whose task is to guide the spiritual life of the Western World? They do not appear in history as leaders of popular masses. They guide in a subtle unobtrusive way that is nevertheless most effective.

About the Leading Initiates of the Western World


Rudolf Steiner describes the work of Christian Rosenkreutz as being in harmony with the will of St. Michael, and as a precursor of anthroposophy.

One of the two Great Initiates who are the guides of the spiritual life of the Western World is fairly well known. His name is Christian Rosenkreutz. (see Note 5) He lived in the Middle Ages, and according to Rudolf Steiner, he has reincarnated several times since. And he felt it to be his mission to make it possible for every human being, no matter where he stands in modern life, to rise to spiritual heights. His Rosicrucian teachings were given in the form of alchemical imaginative imagery, a form that was appropriate for medieval consciousness. Rosicrucian students could continue with their professional work in the outer world in the daytime, but then in special meetings, at special moments they could work at achieving contact with the spiritual world. In that time, secrecy still had to be required, though this was not due to intrinsic values, but served as protection against the vicious attacks of the Inquisition, which persecuted all who deviated from the precisely prescribed Roman Catholic faith with most cruel punishments.

Rudolf Steiner describes the work of Christian Rosenkreutz as being in harmony with the will of St. Michael, and as a precursor of anthroposophy. He builds on this past. His first encounter with the Rosicrucian stream may have been through Goethe's unfinished tale Die Geheimnisse [The secrets] where Goethe poses the question: “Who put the roses onto the cross?” Rudolf Steiner labels his first two Mystery Plays as “Rosicrucian Mysteries” and in his major work An Outline of Esoteric Science the only explicit description of how one can meditate centers on the Rose Cross. He mentions Christian Rosenkreutz and the Rosicrucian stream in numerous lectures and states that Christian Rosenkreutz is an active spiritual helper also in present times. (see Note 6)

The second modern leading Great Initiate who guides the spiritual life of the Western World is called the “Master Jesus.” It is said that he incarnates in every century A.D. His task is to further humanity's understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. This is a continuing task, because, as John the Evangelist writes, this Mystery is so rich, profound, and inexhaustible, that if all its wisdom were written out, the whole earth would not have enough room to contain these writings. It follows that more and more of the Christ Mystery will gradually become known in the course of time. The “Master Jesus” is the unobtrusive inspirer of this growing knowledge. Who is this “Master Jesus?”

Understanding the answer to this question requires a subtle appreciation of one of the most profound riddles of Christianity, onto which Rudolf Steiner was able to shed considerable light. One has to work one's way up to understand that the human “I” or ego of Jesus of Nazareth worked up to age 29 on his body in a preparatory way, so as to make it a worthy receptacle for the divine “I” of Christ. Then this human “I” of Jesus left this body prior to the baptism in the river Jordan, in order to make room for the divine “I” of Christ to enter into this body, and use it for three years as His instrument. The physical life of the divine Christ Being was a unique occurrence that accomplished its entire mission in the physical world in one incarnation. It was a life complete in itself, after which, therefore, no reincarnation is to follow.

But what happened to the human “I” of Jesus that had left the body, to make room for the divine “I” of Christ? According to Rudolf Steiner this human “I” of Jesus was one of the most advanced human individualities. This is the very “I” of the “Master Jesus.” As a human being this “I” reincarnates. In other words, the body of Jesus was inhabited in succession by two different beings: before the baptism by Jesus, after the baptism by Christ. The “I” of Jesus reincarnates as a human being, the “I” of Christ does not reincarnate, being a divine entity. If one considers what Rudolf Steiner achieved in his Christological work as new insights into the Mystery of Golgotha, then one can realize that this aspect of his mission was greatly helped by inspirations from the “Master Jesus.”

However, the guidance of the spiritual life of the Western World by these two Great Initiates required an adjustment when the Archangel St. Michael, the spiritual Ambassador of Christ, was promoted to become the time spirit, the leading spiritual guide for all of humanity, in 1879 A.D. A third leading Great Initiate was needed as special earthly Ambassador of St. Michael. His rank would have to be above all regional Initiates, in conformity with the supreme rank of St. Michael. We shall see that it was the destiny of Rudolf Steiner to be able to accept the mission of being this Michaelic Initiate.

Three Aspects of Rudolf Steiner's Esoteric Biography before 1900

Rudolf Steiner's ability to accept the mission of being the Ambassador of St. Michael developed gradually, starting with certain experiences in his childhood and in his maturing years. Three such experiences stand out as important markers in this development. A first such marker or aspect in his esoteric biography refers to his childhood. It is substantiated by his autobiography. (see Note 7) From age two to age eight young Rudolf lived in the small town of Pottschach, south of Vienna. There he lived close to nature. He often enjoyed walks through beautiful meadows and forests. In the distance loomed the impressive sight of majestic mountains. But Rudolf saw more than what the eye perceives. Of this time he writes: “I distinguished things and beings which are ‘seen’ and those which are ‘not seen.’“ Clearly, he possessed a spontaneous nature-clairvoyance. One finds a precipitate of this faculty in the fairy tale that Felicia Balde tells in Rudolf Steiner's second Rosicrucian Mystery Play: The Soul's Probation. There Felicia tells poetically of a delicate boy, who lives close to forests and fields, and whose description matches closely what we know of Rudolf Steiner's childhood in Pottschach. Of this fairy tale a few telling lines are:

The spirit-weaving of his little world
Took hold of him so fully
That it was no less strange to him
Than were his body and his limbs.
The trees and flowers of the woods
Were all his friends.
There spoke to him, from crown and calyx
And from the lofty tree tops, spirit beings,
And what they whispered he could understand.

Such wondrous things of worlds unknown
Revealed themselves unto the boy
Whenev'r his soul conversed
With what most people would regard as lifeless.

We have here the seed of what became Rudolf Steiner's awareness of the spirituality that lives behind the sense-perceptible world. But soon he became aware that other people had no understanding for his spiritual perceptions, so he became silent about them. In his autobiography, referring to that time, he writes: “That the spiritual world is a reality was as certain to me as the reality of the physical.” It would become an important part of his mission to draw people's attention to this world of elemental spirituality of nature.

A second aspect of Rudolf Steiner's esoteric biography relates to an event that happened when he was about six years old, indicating a clairvoyance at the level of the human soul. One day he sat alone in the waiting room of the small Pottschach railway station, where his father was employed. It was a rather bare room, with merely a few benches and a potbelly stove to warm the room. Little Rudolf saw a woman enter whom he did not know, but he noticed that her features looked somewhat similar to his mother's. The woman approached little Rudolf with very strange gestures and spoke to him, imploring him to help her now and later. Having thus spoken and gestured, she moved to the potbelly stove and the boy saw her vanish into it. This was a visionary experience that puzzled him. The next day at home he noticed a strange silence. After a while he learned that the news had just come in that a distant relative had committed suicide the day before. It was then clear to him that the soul of this relative had sought him out for help. This was Rudolf Steiner's first experience with a departed soul. The experience was important for the boy, but it is also important to realize that this soul in need of help came to young Rudolf Steiner, knowing apparently that here was a human being who was in a position to help now and in the future.

We have here the seed of Rudolf Steiner's awareness of the world of departed souls. This seed developed not only into his insights of what one has to go through in the life between death and a new birth; it also showed the need of departed souls to receive help from the living. In his autobiography, referring to the time when he was about eighteen years old, we find the sentence: “When someone died I followed him further into the spiritual world. ... No one was interested to hear about it.” It became an important part of his mission to draw people's attention to the possibility of communicating with the so-called dead.

Rudolf Steiner in 1879
Rudolf Steiner in 1879
Click image for large view
A third aspect of Rudolf Steiner's esoteric biography relates to a most important event that happened in 1879, when he was 18¾ years old. He had graduated from high school with high marks and was accepted as a student at the Technical University in Vienna. To make his study possible his family moved to Inzersdorf, a suburb of Vienna, where father Steiner was again station master of the Austrian railway station. From there Rudolf was to commute daily by train to Vienna for his studies at the University.

In the same train, weekly, rode a strange man. He was a licensed herb gatherer who went to pharmacies in Vienna to sell the medicinal herbs he had collected. (see Note 8) This man had profound insights into the spirituality in nature, related to the sun and the moon. For Rudolf Steiner it was a blessing of destiny that he could share with this man some of his own experiences. In his Mystery Plays Rudolf Steiner pictures this man in the role of Felix Balde. (see Note 9) However, Rudolf Steiner had questions that went far beyond the grasp of Felix, so Felix brought him in contact with another man in Vienna, whose identity has never been revealed. (see Note 10) Rudolf Steiner refers to him as a “Master” and states that he taught him what one needs to know in order to work effectively out of the spiritual world into this materialistic age. To conquer the “dragon” of materialism you have to get into his skin. It seems to me that Rudolf Steiner may have stayed with this man for a long weekend. When they parted the Master said: “You know now who you are! Act accordingly, and remain always true to yourself.” How many people can say that they know who they really are? We should recognize this as an initiation. It is an answer to the call of all ancient Mystery Schools, which is engraved in stone above the entrance of the Greek temple in Delphi:




To the challenge: 0 man, know yourself! here the answer was achieved: You know now who you are. This happened in November of 1879! Precisely at the beginning of the Michael age, in the autumn, the Michael season, when St. Michael became the supreme leading Archangel (time spirit) for all of humanity. This initiation event connected Rudolf Steiner most intimately with St. Michael. From that moment on one can say that Rudolf Steiner is the Ambassador of Michael, the leading Great Initiate of our Michael age. This was an event of world historic importance that took place completely unnoticed by the outer world.

However, Rudolf Steiner did not immediately step forward as an esoteric teacher. For twenty one years he was silent. Why was this so? For two important reasons. First, because there is a spiritual law that states that an initiate must not step forward and teach before he is forty years old. With very few exceptions, esoteric teachings given out by persons before they have reached the age of forty, and the concomitant maturity, are suspect and unreliable. Second, Rudolf Steiner used the twenty-one years from his initiation in 1879 to his fortieth year in 1901, to prepare himself for his task by absorbing what was alive in the culture around him, by entering “into the skin of the dragon.” Through his studies at the Technical University he became proficient in mathematics, the natural sciences, philosophy, history, literature, many languages, architecture, and more. Through the cultural life of Vienna he became at home in all the arts and crafts, but also in politics and social questions. Through his tutoring activities he learned much in psychology and education. Later, through his work at the Goethe archives in Weimar, publishing Goethe's scientific output, he came in contact with many top scholars of that time, as well as with a large variety of avant-garde cultural circles and individualities. At age thirty he obtained a Ph.D. degree in Philosophy. You would have a hard time finding another initiate who holds such a University degree. After finishing his assignment in Weimar (which resulted in the publication of several authentic volumes of Goethe's scientific writings with extensive editorial comments by Rudolf Steiner), he lived for many years in Berlin, making his living as a literary writer for various magazines, and at times as a co-owner of such magazines, as a teacher at a workman's college, et cetera — a remarkably diverse spectrum of experiences that made him proof against the dragon, as we learn from Felicia Balde's fairy tale in poetic imaginative language: When the boy in the fairy tale had grown to manhood and lived in a large city, he had a dream:

A savage dragon prowled
In circles round about him, —
And yet could not come near him.
He was protected from the dragon by
The beings he had seen beside the rock-born spring
And who with him had left his home
For this far distant place.

That happened twenty-one years after he left home, so tells Felicia's tale. So Rudolf Steiner had to wait this time, which was, moreover, still the last part of the dark period (Kali Yuga) that ended in 1899. In those years he met many people from all walks of life, quite a few of them we might call somewhat oddballs who had ideas they felt were necessary to get civilization, which had crystallized in rather strict forms, out of this immobile way of life, into a new kind of spirituality: mostly poets, painters, artists. Through all of these experiences, which were often hard to bear, he became able to give his spiritual insights a form compatible with the scientific attitude of our time.

The Birth of Spiritual Science, Anthroposophy

When he reached the age of forty, Rudolf Steiner made a few attempts to awaken Michaelic spirituality among befriended circles, but met with severe lack of understanding and at times even with very strong and vicious hostility. Why did he not stop? What motivated him to develop anthroposophy? This was a great sacrifice that was his response to an esoteric experience about which we are informed through a letter he wrote to his intimate coworker, Marie von Sivers, later his wife. This letter was written when he was almost forty-four years old, and is preserved in the archives in Dornach. (see Note 11) There he wrote in a complaining way how difficult it was to find understanding for what he was offering, He could have gone on as a writer, as a literary critic, as an author of philosophical literature, and so on, what he had been doing so far. But for days on end he was visited every night by the “Masters,” the Initiates. Of course he was not visited by them in the flesh; he was visited spiritually. They urged him, saying: You have this equipment now; you have what it takes to get into the skin of the dragon. We cannot do this, and it has to be done. It is a task that is needed for the further evolution of humanity. Of course he hesitated. But then, through their urging, he decided to accept this mission, which now we can say was to make available to mankind this new way of connecting with the spiritual world, to speak into this materialistic age of the spiritual world in a way that is fully compatible with modern, fully awake consciousness; that is, in a Michaelic way, to bring anthroposophy into the world. That was a task the two leading Initiates of the Western World mentioned earlier could not fulfill because they could not go into the skin of the dragon themselves. In accepting this mission he was well aware how little understanding he would meet. And, of course, he was also aware that he could not carry this mission out alone. He needed the help of the other two Great Initiates, as well as the help of many people, but this help would often come too little and too late.

We should realize that it is not at all self evident that at age forty he started to talk about esoteric matters. It was a great sacrifice for which we should be deeply grateful. It was a Michaelic urgency which he accepted. And then it became, of course, something that was a part of himself. That is how anthroposophy was born.

I will not dwell on his incredible output in the years that followed. I assume that you are familiar with his basic books, some of which have been translated into twenty languages, with his wonderful gift of more than six thousand lectures that touch on practically all aspects of human life with new insights, with his artistic creativity in poetry, drama, architecture, sculpture, painting, jewelry design, and especially with the creation of the new art of eurythmy, with his deep insights into social questions and into religious issues, and above all, the guidance for inner development towards a consciousness of the spiritual world in a truly Michaelic way, with new ways in medicine, in pharmacology, in agriculture, and especially in education, and more. All of this is impressive, but one can ask — and one should ask — Why did he consider it necessary in 1923 to re-found the Anthroposophical Society that had been founded in 1913? Why?

There may have been several reasons, but I believe there was one common denominator to all of the reasons: The Society of 1913 was unable to make itself representative of the impulses of St. Michael, an outlook that encompassed all of humanity, not as a uniform mass, but as a living, differentiated organism. The old Society showed its lack of understanding by a proliferation of special interest groups, where certain individuals used the Society as a springboard for their own idiosyncrasies. This is, of course, a real danger for a free society such as the Anthroposophical Society. People enter and gather around some person and become his or her adherents, and start doing their own thing. This had taken on such proportions that this first Anthroposophical Society was beyond repair. It had to be re-founded in an entirely new way. The Anthroposophical Society newly formed at Christmas 1923 has a strongly Michaelic stamp. In this connection I should like to draw your attention to three outstanding esoteric characteristics of Rudolf Steiner's heritage.

Three Outstanding Esoteric Characteristics of Anthroposophy

Rudolf Steiner stated that if anthroposophy would in the future become disassociated from his individuality, then it will become a mere theory, and as such a worse theory than some other theories in the world. Moreover, it will then become a tool of Ahriman. This is a first characteristic of anthroposophy. It should be rightly understood. It certainly does not mean that one should approach anthroposophy with blind belief in Rudolf Steiner's words. On the other hand, I know of anthroposophic institutions — I will not mention names — where an attitude prevails of a belief in anthroposophy, but where the name of Rudolf Steiner is not welcome. One may surmise various reasons for this attitude: a fear of becoming dependent, a feeling that times have changed in these eighty years, a wish to place other persons in the center of attention, and more.

 Karl Julius Schröer
Karl Julius Schröer
(1825 – 1890)
Click image for large view
I think that one can understand the formulation of this first characteristic of anthroposophy in a positive way through the following consideration. Rudolf Steiner's favorite professor was the Goethe scholar Karl Julius Schröer. According to Rudolf Steiner, Schröer was so involved in Goethe's work that with everything he thought or did he would ask himself: What would Goethe think or do in these circumstances? Of course, Goethe had died fifty years earlier, and Schröer certainly did not expect to find answers to all his questions in Goethe's works. But he felt that the spirit-individuality of Goethe could offer a mental framework that could be helpful in meeting the challenges of life. As an aside, many present-day marriages would run a much happier course if both partners would adopt the habit of asking themselves what their partner would think or do under the circumstances and challenges that life presents. One does not become dependent on the other person by such practice, but rather rises above one's own one-sidedness. One can take a similar attitude with respect to Rudolf Steiner on the basis of one's study of anthroposophy. One loses nothing of one's independence thereby. For he stated explicitly that a truly modern Initiate does not want to dominate, but rather wishes to be considered as a counselor or a friend. Indeed there are no greater respecters of human freedom than the modern Initiates, says he.

If one avoids treating anthroposophy as a rigid body of information, and approaches it as Schröer did with respect to Goethe, then anthroposophy becomes something alive that remains connected with the spirit-individuality of Rudolf Steiner. One can say all of this in yet another way. The statements one finds in the anthroposophical literature have to be understood in context. Part of the context is the audience to which a statement was made, but a major part of the context is the individuality of Rudolf Steiner. He was very, very serious about the danger of fabricating anthroposophy into a tool of Ahriman.

A second characteristic that permeates all of anthroposophy can be found by observing one's own reaction of feelings when one is exposed to any aspect of it. To understand what I mean here requires subtle self-observation. One can then feel in all of Rudolf Steiner's works — whether they be philosophical, esoteric, artistic; whether they be buildings, sculptures, paintings, discourses about history, science, medicine, agriculture, education, or what have you; in short, in everything that he placed into the world — a slight inner pull that tends to loosen one's being from one's physical body. This effect is particularly pronounced when one watches a good performance of classical eurythmy. This characteristic is typical for the work of a Great Initiate.

Some people are unconscious of this feeling, but feel an inner fear, as their bond to their physical body is their only source of feeling secure in life. When these people encounter anthroposophy, they will react with all sorts of intelligent reasons why this is not for them. They may even become antagonists, or enemies of anthroposophy, usually without knowing that this fear is the true reason for their opposition.

By the same kind of subtle self-observation, one can notice that our culture provides a very large number of stimuli that pull one's inner being into a closer bond to one's physical body, and therewith to one's natural instincts. Many modern works of art, and also certain forms of esotericism on the present day esoteric supermarket, produce this second kind of feeling. The first kind of feeling, of loosening your consciousness ever so slightly from your physical body, is a subtle assist towards an awareness of the reality of the spiritual world.

There is a third kind of feeling for which our civilization provides stimuli. It pulls the unguarded mind in the direction of illusions, which are liked by many.

Our culture abounds with products that produce feelings of the second or third kind. The feelings of true spiritual science are the beginning of esoteric understanding of oneself and the world. It is remarkable that these feelings are not only related to anthroposophic art forms, but to everything that Rudolf Steiner produced. One could also say that everything that he produced was not only meant as a source of information, but was, in addition, a work of art.

Sometimes statements, or entire paragraphs, or verses, are circulated, purportedly of Rudolf Steiner's origin, without giving precise literature references. It may then be difficult to decide for oneself whether to consider such a communication genuine or a falsification, a fake. I find that the feeling which such a communication evokes with respect to loosening one's being from the physical body, or binding one to it, can be a valuable hint as to whether the communication is genuine or false. One can test things in this way. I want to point to this characteristic because everything that a Great Initiate does has the stamp of his initiation, the stamp of his connection with the spiritual world.

The third outstanding characteristic of anthroposophy is its relationship to departed souls, to the so called dead, and to the process of reincarnation. Here Rudolf Steiner made a very strong statement, saying that our civilization is on a downward course, but this trend can only be reversed in a healthy way if we are able to build bridges across the gap that separates our sense-perceptible world, the world in-which we live consciously, from the world of the departed souls and the souls that are on their way to reincarnation. Without this, our civilization cannot become healthy. And he gave extensive instructions how such bridges can be built. There are mainly two topics in the work of Rudolf Steiner that relate to this bridge building between the living and the so called dead.

One is to read to those discarnate souls whom one has known in life, or with whom one had a significant relationship. Read to them material that can help them orient themselves in the world they are in. That world is often painful to them on account of the materialistic mindset of the living. Read esoteric anthroposophic literature, or the gospels, or other spiritually inspired literature. This is the greatest gift one can give to departed souls, says Rudolf Steiner. Especially in this materialistic age there is a great deal of hunger for this among the dead, because materialistic thoughts cannot travel into the spiritual world, and so there is a kind of starvation through lack of contact with people who are living, whom the departed soul still loves. There are a few people in this country who practice reading to the dead, some in small groups, others alone by themselves. Personally I have the impression that this sort of work is best done alone. Sometimes, when one has been reading to a particular soul or souls, it happens that the thought wells up: Do I really reach them? How can I know? I find that if one creates after the reading a pause of inner quiet and loving silence, one can sometimes receive a clear signal that says “Thank you.” This can be helpful in giving a sense of certainty that one has actually reached through.

I have been asked whether one should read aloud or silently. What matters to the departed soul is what goes on in your conscious mind. He or she picks up the thoughts and feelings of what is being read. Many people can only hold a thought clearly in their mind when they read aloud slowly. So that is what they should do. When such people read silently they skip through the pages and do not dwell with sufficient intensity on the thoughts they are reading. Other people do not know what they are reading when they read aloud. All their energy goes into pronouncing the words. For them it is better to read silently and try to understand every sentence. At first one should read in the language that was closest to the departed soul in life, usually the mother tongue. After a few years, one can read in any language, as long as one understands the thoughts and meaning of the words one is reading, Rudolf Steiner speaks here of five years.

A second bridge between the living and the dead is based on the possibility of asking questions of a departed soul and receiving answers. The questions must be of a soul-spiritual nature, not of a materialistic kind. It is best to entertain the question when one goes to sleep, but it can also be done during the day. The answer comes into one's heart upon awaking the next day, or a few days later. To be effective, this process requires a mental procedure which is not easy, but can be learned by practice. Rudolf Steiner describes this in a most remarkable lecture he gave in Bern, Switzerland, on November 9, 1916 (GA 168). [See also Steiner's lecture of February 5, 1918 – e.Ed.] To ask a question, one has to imagine the dead person as one knew him or her in life, and one has to imagine that he or she speaks the question to oneself. This is the reverse of what one would naturally be inclined to do. One would be inclined to imagine that one asks the question oneself by addressing the image of the departed person's soul. That would be completely ineffective. One has to imagine that the image of the dead person speaks the question to us, and then let go. Then the next morning, or one of the mornings following, one feels the answer rising up out of one's own heart upon awaking. This is where the dead person has planted the answer, as it were.

Of course, knowing just a little psychology will tell you that a lot of ideas and impulses can rise up out of a person's heart, that are mostly merely products of our own wishful thinking. One has to learn to recognize the qualitative difference between such personal messages from one's own heart and the answers that come from a departed soul. In the process of learning to recognize this difference, one is likely at first to make mistakes. But by practice and sensitive inner observation one can gain certainty in this field. I don't write this as a theory. It is my experience that it works and can bring significant enrichment to one's life and to the life of the departed soul.

This being so, I am surprised that hardly any friends ask questions of Rudolf Steiner in this way. One objection may be the belief that he is again in incarnation, hence no longer among the dead to. receive one's questions. However, one should consider that an Initiate of his high stature is conscious of the world of the dead, regardless of whether he is incarnated or not. Therefore I consider this objection invalid. Another objection may be that he stated that one can ask questions only of dead persons one has known in life, and most living persons, including myself, have not known him personally. However, he also stated that the equivalent of a personal connection can be established by getting to know some very personal aspects of the dead person's life, for example his handwriting. By reading Rudolf Steiner's autobiography as well as accounts of many people who have met him and have worked with him, and by studying his literary and artistic output, one can actually achieve a degree of acquaintance with him that goes deeper than what one would have acquired by meeting him personally in life. Given this deeper acquaintance, this second objection is invalidated. There remains the possibility of a third objection. One may fear that one may become dependent on Rudolf Steiner in a way that encroaches upon one's freedom because his answers would be planted in one's heart rather than being placed before one like a book. This objection is based on a misconception that sprouts from unjustified fear. One should remember his statements that modern Initiates are the greatest respecters of a person's freedom and independence, and that he never wants to dominate, but rather be a counselor and a friend. That means that his answers are always in the form of suggestions of possibilities and clarifying insights. If one gives proper weight to these statements the third objection appears to be groundless.

If someone says that he or she has consulted with Rudolf Steiner and he said that this or that must be done, one can right away discard such a message, for it violates the conditions just mentioned. Any advice that rises up from the heart as an answer from the dead is never compulsive. Therefore any objection like the third one mentioned is invalid.

In this way, and possibly in other ways, the work of this great leading Michaelic Initiate extends and continues beyond his death. If you have read one sentence in a book of Rudolf Steiner, you have access to his being, but any question you will ask must be worthy, and any answer that comes back should be treated as wisdom for personal use and not for directing others.

The entire topic of contact with the dead has to be approached with a sound, even somewhat scientific mind. If one wants to put aside what this Michaelic period offers in clarity of thought and insight, then one gets into a woozy world of distortions and falsehoods. If you look at the whole literature of Rudolf Steiner, especially at what appeared after World War I, you will find that it is all given with the notion:

Do with it whatever you can. There is no domination intended. But his mission is not finished. As a Michael mission it will last at least through the Michael period, at least till about 2250 A.D. There is a story which I heard Walter Johannes Stein, one of Rudolf Steiner's brightest pupils, tell. As a young man, Stein went up to Rudolf Steiner and said: “Dr. Steiner, in time all books become obsolete. Which of your books will last the longest, and how long will that be?” You have to be rather brash to address a great teacher in this way, but Rudolf Steiner did not blink an eye, because he saw that Stein was serious, and answered: “My Philosophy of Spiritual Activity will last the longest, and it will last for 300 years.” That means, in effect, that it will last throughout the Michael age. This is just one indication that the mission of Rudolf Steiner, as Ambassador of St. Michael, is still continuing today. And that implies that Rudolf Steiner must be accessible. But as a friend, he will only act if we ask. And such asking may be justified because even a complete knowledge of his published works cannot answer all questions that present themselves today, where new situations have developed. So, what I want to say is: It is important with regard to Rudolf Steiner, not to disassociate anthroposophy from his person, but to connect with his person, as a wise and helpful friend, in as living a way as possible.

Final Considerations

One's view of Rudolf Steiner influences one's understanding of one's membership in the Anthroposophical Society. Unlike membership in many other societies, it is inappropriate to ask: What do I get from the Society in exchange for paying my membership dues? There are organizations in the world to which people donate money, not hoping to get anything in return, for example the Red Cross. They feel that it is highly unlikely that one will be hit by a catastrophe that will require Red Cross help. They support this organization because they feel that it is worth while to have such an organization in our civilization. Likewise, I submit that membership in the Anthroposophical Society is a support action for an organization that works towards healing spiritualization of our civilization. To me the future health and well-being of the Anthroposophical Society requires that this view of its world wide Michaelic mission take root in the hearts of its members and supporters.

In the last ten years of the life of the Anthroposophical Society, one often came across the word “Outreach.” But this has not been very effective. Why? Because there has to be a balance between “Outreach” and what I would call “Inreach,” the education and assistance of the membership regarding those faculties and understandings that need to be cultivated to serve the mission of the Society, which is the mission of Rudolf Steiner. I believe that a great step forward has been achieved at present by appointing two general secretaries, one for international affairs and one for national affairs, whose task will lean heavily on “Inreach” work.

So what was and is the mission of Rudolf Steiner? I want to answer this question by means of a picture that I ask you to imagine, and by a poem that Rudolf Steiner wrote. I hope that the picture will tell more than a thousand words can tell. With this picture I try to summarize the various aspects of the mission of Rudolf Steiner. It is my picture. Do not try to paint it. Rather keep it fluid in imagination. I could present it especially well because I spoke from the stage of the Detroit Waldorf School. It is a large stage, brightly illumined, backed by a white wall on which is painted a great mural of St. Michael subduing the dragon.

Imagine in the front of this stage stands Rudolf Steiner, in his black suit as we know him from many pictures. About, five feet behind him stand two figures, one somewhat to the right, the other somewhat to the left. The one on the right appears in red regalia. It is Christian Rosenkreutz, who renewed the Mysteries for the Western World in such ways that his students could remain engaged in worldly pursuits.

The one on the left appears almost transparent, of a bluish hue. It is the Initiate who is most closely associated with the Christ Mystery, the “Master Jesus.” About fifteen feet behind these two, on a slight elevation, stands St. Michael, and on a somewhat higher elevation about fifteen feet behind St. Michael stands the radiant figure of Christ, surrounded behind Him by a semicircle of angelic beings of the various hierarchies.

From Christ streams forward a rose-pink stream of divine love towards the smaller hill where St. Michael, the Ambassador of Christ, stands. He adds brilliant cosmic light to the stream of divine love. Now this stream of light-permeated divine love streams further forward, spreading slightly, reaching the two Great Initiates of the Western World. They focus the stream onto Rudolf Steiner in front of them.

As Rudolf Steiner receives this stream from the spiritual world behind him, he transforms it so that it becomes a power that fills the entire space in front of him — the Ambassador of St. Michael, with a living three-dimensional mosaic of constantly moving little luminous cells of the most variegated colors and brightness, a spectacle that tells, in a secret language of light and love, how the human being can find who he or she really is, and what the mission of each one is, in being active, always true to oneself. Thus Rudolf Steiner, the Ambassador of St. Michael, who is the Ambassador of Christ, brings to mankind, in a form appropriate for our consciousness, the inspiration of cosmic light-permeated divine love. That is (as well as I can say it) the mission of Rudolf Steiner which he accepted and carried out.

However, one can ask: Did Rudolf Steiner ever actually state what he considered to be his mission? In his autobiography he describes eloquently and sensitively all the people he met and what they felt as their mission, but nothing about his own mission. Of course, his autobiography covers the period only up to 1907, and most of his esoteric work came later. But once, on his sickbed, only a couple of weeks before he died, he wrote a poem that tells what he felt as his mission. Unlike many other poems he wrote during his creative life (which start typically with “The light of the sun,” or “The sphere of spirit is the soul's true home”) this last verse is a declaration of his Will, what he wanted to accomplish against the odds of the forces that want to degrade the human being to the level of being merely a thing, a thing that can be fashioned to specifications, that is bound by external rules, and can be discarded after being used. The human thing. This verse starts with the words “I want ...” (Ich möchte ...):

I want with cosmic spirit
To enthuse each human being
That a flame they may become
And fiery will unfold
The essence of their being.

The other ones, they strive
To take from cosmic waters
What will extinguish flames
And pour paralysis
Into all inner being.

O joy, when human being's flame
Is blazing, even when at rest.
O bitter pain, when the human thing
Is put in bonds, when it wants to stir.

Ich möchte jeden Menschen
Aus des Kosmos Geist entzünden
Daß er Flamme werde
Und feurig seines Wesens Wesen

Die Anderen, sie möchten
Aus des Kosmos Wasser nehmen
Was die Flammen verlöscht,
Und wässrig alles Wesen
Im Innern lähmt.

O Freude, wenn die Menschenflamme
Lodert, auch da wo sie ruht.
O Bitternis, wenn das Menschending
Gebunden wird, da wo es regsam sein möchte.

Notes. (Click the Note number to return to the text reference.)

Note 1:
Kraljevec was located at that time within the Austrian empire. Presently it is in Croatia.
Note 2:
The Last Address, given by Rudolf Steiner (Rudolf Steiner Press: London, 1967); also in Karmic Relationships, vol. IV, (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997).
Note 3:
The Michael Mystery (Spring Valley, NY: St. George Publications, 1984).
Note 4:
Rudolf Steiner, The Archangel Michael (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1994), Appendix.
Note 5:
A Christian Rosenkreutz Anthology, ed. Paul M. Allen, (Blauvelt, NY: Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1974).
Note 6:
Rudolf Steiner, The Secret Stream, (Great Barrington, Mass.: Anthroposophic Press, 2000).
Note 7:
Rudolf Steiner, The Course of My Life, trans. Olin D. Wannamaker (New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1951), p. 12.
Note 8:
In those days, gathering and selling medicinal herbs required a state license based on passing a state board exam.
Note 9:
We owe knowledge of the identity of Felix to research by the Rev. Emil Bock, published in German in Rudolf Steiner, Studien zu seinem Lebensgaitg und Lebenswerk (Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 1961). It was Felix Koguzki (born in Vienna on August 1, 1833 and died in Trumau, 1909). Rudolf Steiner memorialized him in 1910 in his first Mystery Play as Felix Balde.
Note 10:
When Rudolf Steiner visited Edouard Schuré in the Alsatian village of Barr, he wrote (at Schuré's request) an autobiographical sketch known as the “Barr document.” Only through this document do we know about Rudolf Steiner's contact with the “Master.” The Barr document can be found (in German) in GA 262, pp. 7-21.
Note 11:
Rudolf Steiner/Marie Steiner-von Sivers: Briefwechsel und Dokumente 1901-1925 (GA 262), Letter of 9 January 1905.

Ernst Katz, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Other Works by Dr. Katz:
  • The Mission of Rudolf Steiner — an essay derived from an address given at the American Anthroposophical Society's Annual General Meeting, November, 2004.
  • Physiognomical Studies — Caricatures — Published by the Section for Speech and Music at the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland.
   Page last updated on Thursday April 28, 2011 at 09:36:42.