These lectures and documents from the summer and fall of 1915 were a response to a crisis in the Anthroposophical Society, a crisis Rudolf Steiner wanted the membership to be aware of.
In part, the crisis was caused by Alice Sprengel, a long-time student of Rudolf Steiner, and her reaction apparently provoked by the marriage of her spiritual teacher to Marie von Sivers. Her expectations, the exact nature of which is not quite clear, were connected to the important role she felt herself playing in the anthroposophical movement. Faced with the close working relationship and then the marriage of Rudolf Steiner and Marie von Sivers in the winter of 1914, Alice Sprengel not only sent personal letters to both but also brought her disappointment and sense of abandonment to the attention of other members of the Anthroposophical Society.
She also had a close relationship to Heinrich and Gertrud Goesch, a couple whose interest in Rudolf Steiner's work was matched by an equally strong fascination with the then emerging psychoanalytical school of Freud. Influenced by Alice Sprengel and his own inner uncertainties, Heinrich Goesch accused Rudolf Steiner both privately and publicly of manipulating the membership of the Anthroposophical Society into a dependent status. As supposed mechanisms of such manipulation he mentioned Steiner's repeated failure to keep appointments and physical contact with members through shaking hands upon meeting.
Rudolf Steiner was understandably upset by both sets of accusations and even more so by the gossiping and dissension they caused among members of the Anthroposophical Society. He used these difficulties as an opportunity to address four important questions that are as relevant today as they were in 1915. The first, primarily discussed in Lectures One and Two, concerns the nature of the Anthroposophical Society and the responsibilities its members have to accept if they want to be true to spiritual science. The very clear, pragmatic manner in which these two lectures discuss this important issue makes them a valuable companion to the recently published The Christmas Conference for the Foundation of the Anthroposophical Society, 1923/24. 1Rudolf Steiner, The Christmas Conference for the Foundation of the Anthroposophical Society, 1923/24 (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1990). The need for the members to move from a consumer orientation regarding spiritual teaching to a feeling of responsibility for it, the unique nature of the Anthroposophical Society as an earthly home for spiritual revelation, and the harm that irresponsible statements and actions can cause the Society are just a few of the important points covered. Steiner also takes a stand against the incessant gossiping and the mutual criticism among members as well as against their attempts to justify sexual infidelities by pointing to an incontrovertible "karma." Rudolf Steiner here urgently appeals to the members' sense of truth and exactitude as the basis for a healing and nurturing of the Anthroposophical Society.
The second question addressed, particularly in Lectures Three and Five, concerns the nature and conditions of spiritual seership. Steiner uses a discussion of Swedenborg's inability to understand the thoughts of certain spirit beings to make two fundamental points about spiritual cognition. The first is the difference between perception in the physical world and true spiritual seership. In the physical world we perceive objects outside of ourselves and take something of them into us through mental images. In the spiritual world "we no longer perceive but experience that we are being perceived, that the spiritual beings of the higher hierarchies are observing us. This experience of being perceived and observed by the Angeloi and Archangeloi and other spiritual hierarchies is a total reversal of our former relationship to the physical world.” 2See Lecture Three in this volume, pp. 43-44.
According to Steiner, Swedenborg did not achieve this reversal of perspective; therefore, his clairvoyance was limited, and he did not attain to full imaginative cognition.
Steiner links this difference in perspectives to that between clairvoyance achieved through the redirection of sexual energies and clairvoyance resulting from pure thinking. The latter leads to the experience that the transformed thinking activity of the human being, a thinking devoid of personal likes and dislikes, allows thoughts to appear as objective entities within the human soul. It thereby properly prepares the individual for spiritual seership. The transformation of sexual energies, on the other hand, keeps the individual tied to the physical and allows only a partial clairvoyance. Steiner therefore contends that a spiritual science and seership appropriate to our time rests not on a transformation of our instincts but on a conscious separation of the instinctual life from that of the mind and spirit.
The third issue discussed by Rudolf Steiner in these lectures is the nature of psychoanalysis as developed by Freud. While acknowledging the importance of the unconscious and the subconscious, Steiner is particularly critical of the theory of infantile sexuality. It should be noted that Steiner gave these lectures in 1915 and that both Adler and Jung broke with Freud over Freud's insistence on infantile sexuality as a primary interpretive framework for understanding psychological disturbances. 3See I. Progoff, The Death and Rebirth of Psychology (New York: McGraw Hill, 1973).
Freudian psychology is discussed in Lectures Four and Five of this volume. They are an important supplement to the recently published lectures of Rudolf Steiner entitled Psychoanalysis and Spiritual Psychology. 4Rudolf Steiner, Psychoanalysis and Spiritual Psychology (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1990). Of particular significance is Rudolf Steiner's treatment of the three main physiological functions of the human being — the nerve sense system, the rhythmic system, and the metabolic system — in their historical and spiritual evolution. His insistence that the metabolic system and the instinctual sexual life are the least spiritual aspects of the human being supports both his criticism of Freud and his basic view of spiritual development.
In reading both these lectures and those contained in Psychoanalysis and Spiritual Psychology, one can easily be led to reject much of the development of psychology in the twentieth century. Indeed the anti-psychological orientation of many students of Rudolf Steiner's work is quite pronounced. My own perspective is different. First, I see the development of modern psychology and psychiatry as co-existent with the end of what Rudolf Steiner refers to as “the Kali Yuga,” or dark age, in 1899. This means that however inadequate the evolution of psychological theories and practices has been in some respects, it has on the whole been a new and deepening exploration of the human soul and spirit. Here, I am in particular thinking of Jung in Memories, Dreams, and Reflections or of Viktor Frankl's logo-therapy or Assagioli's work. It seems to me that while there is much in modern psychology that is trivial and dangerous, there is also much that is worthwhile and helpful.
Students of Rudolf Steiner's work have the possibility to ask questions of appropriateness and relevance regarding different psychological schools, as David Black has done in “On the Nature of Psychology” in Towards. 5Towards, 1 no. 7 (Winter 1980/81): 29-34. To see biophysical, behavioral, intrapsychic, and phenomenological schools of thought as addressing different levels of the human being, and to ask what spiritual science has to contribute to the evolving body of psychological and spiritual insight in the last decade of the twentieth century, is a more honest and, I believe, more helpful approach than to extend Steiner's early opposition to Freud and Jung into an unreflecting anti-psychological stance. Soul work and spirit work are intimately connected. The task of developing a more spiritual psychology is a vital task for the coming decades.
In Lecture Six, Steiner addresses the relation between love, mysticism, and spirituality. Particularly significant is his contention that the prevailing materialism of the time made it impossible for most people to conceive of a spiritual striving that did not have some erotic or sexual basis, albeit a very refined one. While Rudolf Steiner does acknowledge that this is sometimes the case, he again asserts the importance of spiritual science as a path of spiritual development for Western humanity in our time because of its reliance on the transformation of the individual's thinking.
As this volume also contains all of the correspondence regarding the difficulties in the Anthroposophical Society in 1915, readers will easily see the direct connection between the personal accusations leveled against Steiner and the lecture themes presented. The questions raised are basic ones for any modern spiritual movement that wants to contribute to individual freedom and a renewal of society. These lectures can lead members of the Anthroposophical Society to ponder their responsibilities toward the content of spiritual science, toward Rudolf Steiner, and toward their brothers and sisters in their striving. For outside observers these lectures constitute an insightful record of the social and psychological difficulties of a spiritual movement relying primarily on the insights and teachings of one individual.
However, the questions of love, sexuality, morality, and spiritual development are of immediate interest and of deep personal significance for all readers on their inner journey.
CHRISTOPHER SCHAEFER, PH.D.
Spring Valley, New York