The Theosophical Society, founded by H.P. Blavatsky, 1The Theosophical Society, founded by H.P. Blavatsky: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, nee von Hahn (Ekaterinoslav, Southern Russia, 1831 1891 London), founded the Theosophical Society together with Col. H.S. Olcott in New York in 1875, its headquarters moving in 1879 to India (Adyar, near Madras). had the task of adding an occult element to the awakening European interest in oriental spirituality which had been greatly stimulated in the mid-19th century by Schopenhauer and other major thinkers. ‘The Secret Doctrine’ 2The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy. Volume 1, Cosmogenesis; Volume II, Anthropogenesis; London, 1888. A third volume was published from manuscripts by Annie Besant in London in 1897. by H.P. Blavatsky was the sensational work which caused the rapid expansion of the Theosophical Society in the English-speaking world. It made no effort to take account of Christianity. An attempt by Rosicrucian occultists to place Christianity at the centre of the new movement, in which the author's mediumistic faculties were to have been used, had been deflected earlier. And yet it was required that Western and Eastern wisdom should be brought into harmony. The ancient wisdom was to live on in the future development of mankind, whose salvation was guaranteed by the Mystery of Golgotha. Similar to the way that Christianity in the past, still young and vigorous in belief, had assimilated science through the wave of Arabism, turning observation of nature into the science of nature, present mankind, fallen prey to materialism and parched, had to be revitalised by being permeated with the knowledge of ancient wisdom. This took place by way of a knowledge of Buddhist philosophy with the result that the teaching of karma and reincarnation found entry to many souls and penetrated their understanding. The scientific works of Max Muller, 3Max Muller: 1823 1900; one of the most important orientalists of the nineteenth century. Deussen 4Paul Deussen: 1845 1919; philosopher and scholar of Indian culture. and other significant philosophers opened up to Europeans a world of overwhelming spirituality and vivid imaginations. The key to the understanding of these worlds, however, still had to be given to intellectual science.
The work done by Blavatsky and her pupils in this respect was insufficient. Suitable personalities to act as mediators in this task still remained to be found. Through the particular constitution of her physical organism H.P. Blavatsky had been an instrument which was particularly open to the influences of the spiritual world. Her strong will made her suitable to carry out difficult tasks in the service of mankind; but her thinking was disjointed and her character often degenerated into emotionalism, and when her emotions broke loose catastrophe ensued and sometimes even the direction of her striving was reversed. It would not be wrong to say: as an instrument open to spiritual influence, occult forces fought for her possession.
In order to turn knowledge of the occult worlds into a science of the spirit which might in time be learnt by people through serious study, a person had to devote himself to this transformation who had his character and temperament completely under control, who also had a grasp of the knowledge of his time and command of the individual fields of knowledge to an extent which enabled him to reply to the most fierce criticism. An iron and yet flexible physical organism were required in order to withstand the onslaught against him.
Such a person was Rudolf Steiner. 5Rudolf Steiner. His youth was spent: see Rudolf Steiner, An Autobiography, Rudolf Steiner Publications; New York, 1977. His youth was spent in what might be called convivial seclusion and constant study. Hardly grown up, he supported himself by giving lessons and then as an educator. On this foundation his lecturing and writing activity developed while he was still a young man. Since recognition of the spirit was quite natural to him, he quite consciously set himself the task of raising all the objections which the critical materialist brings to bear on revelations of the spirit and to spare himself nothing which might be the smallest deviation from this line. This he called ‘crawling into the skin of the dragon.’ He felt this difficult task to be his duty. Otherwise he would have considered himself as lacking the right to fight to the end the difficult battle for mankind, of wresting victory from abstract intellectualism. Only then would he be able to present the deed of the Buddha and the deed of the Christ as a harmonious unity; only then, when he himself had gained victory over the inner adversary and his hidden ways, would he be able to point the path of salvation through Christ's deed. Thus armed, he made his appearance as representative of the ancient mystery teachings as they had been revealed to him in the light of Christ's deed.
The Theosophical Society was alarmed. It saw the deep effect of Steiner's teachings on souls in search of Christ. It did not want to expose its members to this, did not want to expose them to the danger of taking in Steiner's teachings, thus abandoning the orientalising stream. His topics for the Congress of the Federation of European Sections, arranged to take place in Genoa, 6Congress ... in Genoa: see Rudolf Steiner The Anthroposophical Movement, its History and Life Conditions in Relation to the Anthroposophical Society. Eight lectures in Dornach, 10th 17th June 1923; London, 1933. contained as their subject: Buddhist wisdom and Western esotericism. They opposed this subject with an Indian boy, the incarnation in the flesh of Christ Jesus according to their teaching. No common ground for scientific debate as it should have taken place at the Congress in Genoa could be found to cover such a gaping divergence; and now that Rudolf Steiner's significance had been recognised such a debate was deemed much too dangerous an undertaking. It was better to avoid such hot issues altogether. The congress was cancelled at the last minute for reasons which never became clear.
And Steiner, who had already set out for Italy, — as had many others — was able to speak only to group meetings, to small circles. There was not time to arrange for stenographers to be present. But not everything was lost, due to the devotion of a number of members who were taking notes, whose hand, however, naturally weakened towards the end in the fire of the enthusiastically spoken word. The Locarno lecture and those held in Neuchatel in particular give us cause to remember our dear Agnes Friedlander, who died of pneumonia in 1942 in a concentration camp. She was among those whose soul was particularly deeply affected by the transforming impulse alive in the mystery of Christ.
The lectures themselves have only been preserved as fragments. No satisfactory transcripts exist. It seems like a counter-attack by adversary forces that no experienced stenographer was present. They exist — apart from the shortened Cassel lectures — partly as fragments and partly as notes which have been pieced together. Nevertheless, the essential framework has been preserved and the effort was made to place them into context. This effort is not always successful as far as the stylistic form is concerned, but the spirit is challenged all the more to sharpen its powers of thought and stimulated to embark on their study.
Besides emphasising the particular character of Spiritual Science after the event of Christ, the aim of the lectures held in 1911 and 1912 7aim of the lectures held in 1911 and 1912 was to bring out the significance of karma: see the Berlin and Stuttgart lectures Reincarnation and Karma: their Significance in Modern Culture; London, 1960. was to bring out the significance of karma as the course of destiny and to enable us to penetrate into its intimate nature. Even if the overall course of those reflections has been preserved only as a series of remembered images — the notes were frequently too brief to convey the logical progression and the irregular collection of notes and headings tend to be little more than indications — the direction of the spiritual impulses given by Dr. Steiner has been preserved and perhaps justifies this attempted collection: they can deepen the soul by meditative work and continue to be active within us.