IN MEETINGS on August 25 and 26, 1915, between the Vorstand and the members of the Society, meetings Rudolf and Marie Steiner did not attend, the decision was made to no longer recognize Heinrich and Gertrud Goesch and Alice Sprengel as members of the Society. As a result of these meetings, the following resolution was sent to Marie Steiner:
August 27, 1915
The Vorstand has presented you with the unanimous request of the assembled members that you be so kind as to retain the office you currently hold within the Anthroposophical Society.
As members, we wish to heartily confirm this oral communication with our signatures.
With deepest respect and thanks for the blessings bestowed on the Society through your work, we are
(ca. 300 signatures)
* * *
The series of seven lectures included in this volume on the conditions necessary for the survival of the Anthroposophical Society began on September 10. On September 11, on the basis of discussions among members that had taken place in the meantime — discussions in which Rudolf and Marie Steiner had not taken part — a meeting of the Vorstand was held. It was decided to produce a thorough documentation of the Goesch/Sprengel case for the membership and to postpone the implementation of their expulsion until this document had been completed. On the next day (September 12), a members' meeting was held in place of a General Assembly, since members from other countries were unable to attend due to the war. No transcript exists of this meeting, which was intended to confirm the resolutions of the Vorstand; from the few brief notes available, it seems that Rudolf Steiner did take part in this meeting.
In the course of the days that followed, the document that had been resolved upon was written up; it ran to twenty typed pages. It recounted explicitly the contents of the letter from Heinrich and Gertrud Goesch and included character descriptions of the three people in question as well as a statement that Rudolf and Marie Steiner had not been involved in the decision to expel them from the Society. All significant portions of this document have been taken into account in preparing the documentation included in this volume; in some cases the present reproduction of relevant documents is more complete. It is to be assumed, although it has not been proved, that this document was enclosed with the following letter sent to Heinrich and Gertrud Goesch and Alice Sprengel by the Vorstand of the Anthroposophical Society on September 23:
Due to the fact that you have taken a position that does not lie within the goals and premises of the Anthroposophical Society, the Vorstand of said Society is compelled to revoke your membership.
for the Vorstand
of the Anthroposophical Society
Dornach, September 23, 1915
On the following day, September 24, 1915, the women's meeting that had been proposed on September 17 took place. Its purpose was to talk about the position of women in ancient and modern esoteric movements, on the basis of what Rudolf Steiner had presented in his lecture on September 15. Marie Steiner had been asked to chair the meeting. According to handwritten notes she supplied, she spoke as follows:
Address at the Women's Meeting
Dornach, September 24, 1915
A number of female members who proposed today's meeting asked me to take the chair. In spite of the fact that I have scarcely had time to collect myself in the past few weeks, I will be glad to fill this role if that is also the wish of the rest of those present.
Not many written contributions were received beforehand. We will go through them in the order in which they were received. I will begin by reading the proposal that led to our gathering today, and will then say a few words.
[Reads the proposal to call this women's meeting]
The basic thought expressed in this proposal is the one that occupies me the most, too: We are a number of women who have been granted something that has been denied the female sex until now, something that shall serve to regenerate humankind — its loftiest spiritual possession. How can we show ourselves to be worthy of it? It is a good thing to take this opportunity to be together to look at the full seriousness of our situation and our task, and to look at where we stand within the women's movement in general.
Out there, women are fighting for equal rights, for the opportunity for free development alongside men. This struggle has been fraught with untold difficulties, and many of us once exhausted our best energies in it, some of us doing battle with mounting material obstacles, others unable to free themselves before collapsing under the weight of conventions and prejudices and the tyranny of traditional attitudes.
All of a sudden, in the midst of this struggle, when it seemed that only certain individuals or future generations would be able to reap the fruits of all our exertions in the present, a door opened into the light and we were given a field of activity that surpassed all our expectations. It pointed out the way to our true goals, raising us up above the level of the unavoidable aberrations of a decadent and stagnating culture whose time is past. Now we could escape the danger of drowning in our desire to imitate, “monkey see, monkey do,” what was going on in this male culture, paying the price of our eternally feminine soul and spirit in our running after outer cultural forms shaped by men.
We had been able to contribute to the stimulation and inspiration of this culture simply by virtue of the fact that we were not its servants, its executive organs. Turned back on ourselves, left to our own devices, we could develop attributes of inwardness, depth, warmth, softness, and reserve that were a necessary counterbalance to what the men were having to achieve. We could tame, enthuse, comfort, support, heal, carry, sustain, and enliven within and without — no small task, to be sure. The men, meanwhile, were conquering the outer world.
Now they had conquered it; it was theirs. They measured its breadths, dissected its parts, became its master. Their intelligence was their downfall. Laughing in scorn, they shoved aside the old gods and the sources of their strength.
Then we, too, began to take notice, because the ground under our feet was beginning to shake. The old gods dead? Outer life the only thing that mattered? Our soul's vital wellspring, which had allowed us to feel instinctively the symbolic nature of all transitory life, mere illusion? Then let us out, too! Then we too must be allowed to break the bonds, to understand and work out of our own initiative and our own conviction. Let us, too, measure ourselves against the standards of this outer world! The life in us demanded its due, and we stormed onto the battlefield.
Two things we met there. On the one hand, the hard, immobile forms created by men. To conquer them, we had to subject ourselves to an iron discipline. Some of us succeeded. Not all of us were satisfied with that.
The second thing we found was outward freedom. There we stood, young and breathing deeply, in the breaking waves of life, the old oppressive chains far behind us. We had to discover our own standards, our own incorruptible guidelines, within ourselves.
Not all of us were able to do that. Many women felt as if they had been caught up in a whirlwind, and the untamed aspect of their nature broke through. Study, hard work, and the dry routine of professional life did not suffice for long; many in the droves of women that followed found them a burden. Freedom to express ourselves, freedom of experience were what we demanded — equal rights with men when it came to the pleasures of life, too.
The wave of materialism crested and broke and swept us women away with it. As our secure sense of the reality of a spiritual world died away, our instinctive life broke through with elemental force, distorted by the aberrations of our intelligence.
The theories of a Laura Marholm [ Note 1 ] were adhered to by the extremists of a group of female poets represented by people like Marie Madeleine [ Note 2 ], Dolorosa [ Note 3 ], Margarete Beutler [ Note 4 ], and so on. I am sure every country on the European continent experienced a similar phenomenon.
Literature offered proof that even the wildest erotic fantasies of men failed to unearth such excesses as we witnessed in the products of women's overheated imaginations. We shuddered to watch as women like these, driven by vanity and thirsting for glory, but poor in spirit and in knowledge, forced the products of their goaded sensuality into the long-since fixed forms of our language. They declaimed the results themselves in literary clubs; the men they had asked to do so on their behalf had responded that they would be ashamed.
The outlook was dim — desiccation and desolation on one hand, brutalization and licentiousness on the other. Where was the redeemer who would speak the word of life to help humanity on its further way?
Then a wonderful thing happened: In this age of decadent culture, moral decline, dulled thinking, and crass egotism, teachings appeared from seclusion, teachings that could formerly only be given to a few but could now become the common property of all humankind, teachings that would help humanity find its way out of spiritual desolation into the experience of the spirit. And women were allowed to take part in this work; here, if they so chose and if they made themselves worthy of it, was their new field of activity.
They approached this with a natural inclination toward the ideal, a greater mobility of thinking, and thus a high degree of receptivity. What they were lacking was discipline in thinking, the exactitude and precision, certainty of knowledge and the respect for this certainty, and the sense of reality that men in their professional activity had been forced to maintain. To put it crudely, their weaknesses were gossip, vanity, wishy-washiness, and the tendency to drag everything down to a sentimental and personal level. Their strong points were enthusiasm and readiness to make sacrifices. If women proved able to outgrow their natural level of existence as members of their species, these last two attributes would allow them to breathe life into a rigidifying culture. If they proved able to forget the personal aspects and become objective, they would be able to help build the future and be the equals of men in terms of rights, responsibilities, and significance in the new culture coming about.
Have we been able to meet
these two conditions? Has our personal nature, our natural species-nature,
stepped back into second place and become objective? I fear we have
failed, on the whole.
Only when we bring our failings into the realm of consciousness and develop the will to understand, only then will we be able to overcome these failings and transform destructive forces into productive ones.
The task before us, the field of activity that lies open to us, is greater than any our most far-reaching wishes anticipated. But we cannot allow ourselves to lose the ground under our feet. We must not simply go into raptures, we must understand and work. For the first time since esoteric knowledge was granted to humankind, we women are allowed to receive this knowledge together with men and inaugurate a new era through this work in common.
Let me repeat, however, that in order for this new era in the history of humankind to reach its full potential, women will have to surmount their narrowly personal nature and the level of existence natural to our species. We must keep our spirituality pure and untouched by our desires, drives, and unclean thoughts.
It has been frightening to see that we are not necessarily able to do this. We women have been constantly mixing lower things in with the higher and cloaking sensuality with spirituality to make it seem like something it is not. Again and again, the three evil forces of vanity, eroticism, and falsehood have appeared in intimate connection with each other.
The reason for us being here is that these things have happened among us; we must try to confront our failings head on. We are faced with the question of whether we will be found to be unfit and unready. Will we throw away our chance at what could reenliven humanity?
What will we do if we are granted a grace period, time to think things over? What can we do so that men and women can work together free of distraction?
These are the questions we have to ask ourselves. Each one of us should contribute to answering them.
* * *
In response to the position taken by the Vorstand, expressions of confidence in Rudolf and Marie Steiner flowed in from many branches of the Society in the time that followed. Even Heinrich Goesch's brothers Paul and Fritz and Fritz's wife, all three of whom were members of the Society, dissociated themselves from their brother's actions. In September 1915, Paul Goesch signed a resolution of the members of the Berlin branch of the Anthroposophical Society expressing their “most profound disapproval of and pained indignation at the unheard-of behavior of Mr. and Mrs. Goesch.”
How far Rudolf and Marie Steiner stood above this case is demonstrated by the fact that Marie Steiner still made it possible for Alice Sprengel to receive financial assistance after being expelled from the Society and leaving Dornach, as proven by this letter to a Miss Julia Wernicke, who had maintained contact with Miss Sprengel: [ Note 5 ]
September 29, 1915
Dear Miss Wernicke:
Miss Waller showed me a letter she had received from you in which it was requested that she act on behalf of Miss Sprengel in collecting the money several members allegedly still owe her. [ Note 6 ] Since you yourself had to assume that not many people would be interested in this situation, which Miss Sprengel brought upon herself through her own excesses, and since Miss Waller has declared that she wants nothing to do with it, ordinary human compassion forces me to assume responsibility for the payment of this debt. I must ask that you not mention my name, however: first of all, that would be unpleasant for Miss Sprengel, and second of all I do not want to encourage any rumors about my having tried to accommodate Miss Sprengel in any way.
Acting on the basis of a letter from Mrs. von Strauss, I take the liberty of covering her debt. [ Note 7 ] When you send the money to Miss Sprengel, please tell her it is to cover that debt, but that you are not in a position to reveal names.
* * *
With that, the 1915 case was brought to a temporary close. Although his relationship with Alice Sprengel ended shortly thereafter, Heinrich Goesch remained an unfair adversary, spreading spiteful untruths wherever he could. As late as 1923, he appeared in public in Berlin as a “non-anthroposophical expert on anthroposophy” and again spoke out against Rudolf Steiner. This will be documented in the volume on the history of the Society covering the year 1923.