The Lack of a Viable Psychosophy
The Michaelic impulse and his rulership in this period of mankind’s spiritual development is understood by anthroposophists to have been grasped by Rudolf Steiner in a way that permitted anthroposophy to emerge. In his autobiography, we find laid out the course which his own development towards the fulfillment of such a task had to take.
The anthroposophical view of the human constitution gives us to understand that the process by which a given spiritual content is able to make its way into earthly form is a function of the way in which the various elements of that constitution, in their interplay and in their autonomous development, permit said content to take shape. Certainly the language and culture of a given individual in a given incarnation can be understood to play a pivotal role in this process; that is outwardly spoken. Inwardly, language and culture are seen, from an anthroposophical perspective, as manifestations of the working of a certain folk soul: a living supersensible entity that impresses upon those born in a given culture or people its own distinguishing characteristics, as it seeks to continue its own development through the influence it has for the evolution of the people through which it manifests itself, or incarnates, in the physical world.
The process of the development of the individual folk souls and that of the individual human beings that incarnate within their respective spheres of influence (cultures) is one that must proceed in such a way that the destiny of human beings to embody the autonomy of the “I” can be met through what, in the time leading up to the fulfillment of this destiny, they are given to experience in belonging to a given folk soul in a given incarnation. That the discipline for the acquiring of that consciousness of the supersensible which it is given man, in Earth evolution, to pursue--anthroposophy--emerged in the German-speaking world must not be taken for granted; that is to say, what the folk souls of the German-speaking peoples are and had to give to humanity at this juncture in its evolution must be understood in its uniqueness if Rudolf Steiner’s contribution is properly to be grasped in the context of what was and is developing in other cultures during this Michaelic age. In Steiner’s autobiography, then, we find the most compelling document of just what this German-speaking culture presented to him as obstacles and as aids to the fulfillment of his task. In the rich but increasingly decadent culture of Vienna, he experienced what could bring him to his thirtieth year of life, what offered the environment in which he could acquire the knowledge necessary to receive his doctorate (although the doctorate itself, due to rules of the Austrian educational order, had to be given from a German university), and what nurtured him to the point of his move to Weimar to work on the great task of editing Goethe’s natural-scientific writings for the Sophia edition of Goethe’s works. In Weimar, he established his reputation as the outstanding expert on Goethe as scientist and as a philosopher in his own right. Finally, in Berlin he made the connection to the Theosophical movement that was to provide the support for the emergence of his life’s work.
Until an initiate reaches that stage of initiation wherein he comes to embody the folk soul of his people, he must by definition remain within the confines of the realms in the spiritual world that are subordinate to it. This is not to say that he cannot become aware of other, higher realms; he is forbidden, however, to move within them. It is only once he has reached the stage of initiation that brings him beyond the realm of folk souls that he becomes free to conduct himself as a brother to all of humanity. When can we see Steiner, whose own development as an initiate is something he never describes in detail, having entered upon this phase of his own maturation as a spiritual teacher?
He himself says that he would not have presented himself as a spiritual teacher before his fortieth birthday, and that this corresponds to a spiritual law. What is the law in question? Anthroposophical insight asserts that the age of thirty-five is the moment when the human individual experiences the birth of the consciousness soul. In order to teach, one must have himself have attained the stature of the age when the member of the human constitution whose development is proceeding in the age when he is teaching has been born within himself. We are now in the period of transition from the emergence of the consciousness soul to that of the spirit-self in human evolution; the age of forty corresponds approximately to this point.
It is when one’s own development has attained the level humankind as a whole is also in the midst of developing that one gains the potential to become a brother to all of humanity. In Steiner’s life, then, we should look for this point of transition between the years 1896, when he turned 35, and 1901, when he turned forty. And, indeed, in his autobiography we find that it is in just the years after his thirty-fifth birthday that, with his move from Weimar to Berlin, he is faced with the following fact, as he says: “The forces that determined my outer destiny could not continue to be at one, as before, with the inner guidelines that resulted from my experience of the spiritual world.” From this time, Steiner experiences his outer fate as in the hands of forces that have little to do with that of which he is inwardly capable. He has transcended the time when his development is moving in tandem with what humanity as a whole is attaining. And it is essential for any initiate that he has moved beyond the stage of initiation that corresponds to the realm of folk souls before this point is reached; for to develop beyond what one’s fellow human beings are given to develop without transcending one’s folk soul would result in one’s becoming trapped in a nationalistic or ethno-centric conception of one’s mission. One would be trapped, as it were, by the limitations of one’s folk soul, while simultaneously having the power to move others through the force of one’s advanced personality.
This is the phenomenon we see in Adolf Hitler.
It is essential to understand how the emergence of Adolf Hitler is connected to the final stages of Steiner’s development in Vienna, when he was close friends with a lifelong associate of Dr. Josef Breuer, whose research into hysteria resulted in his collaboration with Freud. Steiner recalls fondly being present at conversations between this friend and Breuer. Breuer had discovered, through experiments with a female patient, that forgotten incidents had the power to produce the symptoms of neurosis, which disappeared when the incidents were remembered through hypnosis. This form of research, using patients themselves as a means to scientific discoveries, is one that Rudolf Steiner, of course, could never have condoned, as it is a method of objectifying human beings in the service of exploration driven by brain-bound consciousness; the initiate can discover such principles without the need to experiment on human beings. That Rudolf Steiner did discover such principles is evidenced by statements such as the following, from a lecture given in Hamburg on the eighteenth of May, 1910:
In the course of his life, the human being has a whole sum of experiences he apprehends consciously and connects to his “I”. These become, within him, images, and he works on these images. But now consider for a moment how infinitely many experiences and impressions don’t even go so far as to become images and yet are really fundamentally there in the human being and have an effect on him...There are countless such impressions, such that our life really falls into two categories: in the kind of mental series consisting of conscious images from life, and in the kind that we have never quite brought fully to clear consciousness. But there are even further distinctions: You can easily distinguish between those impressions you have had in your life that you can recall--that is to say, impressions that have been made upon you in such a way as to always be recollectible--and those you have had that you cannot recollect.
So the life of our mind falls into quite distinct categories. And there is in fact a quite significant difference between the distinct categories if we look at their effect upon the inner essence of the human being.
Let us remain for a few minutes considering the life of man between birth and death. If we observe here quite exactly, a powerful difference reveals itself between those images that can again and again appear in our consciousness, and those that have been forgotten again such that they haven’t really developed the capacity to be remembered. This distinction can most easily be made clear in the following way: Let us assume there is an impression that aroused joy or pain in you--that is, an impression accompanied by a feeling. Let us establish that most impressions--actually all impression that are made upon us--are accompanied by feelings. And these feelings express themselves not only in the conscious surface of life, but they have a deep effect that extends into the physical body. You need only to think once again about the way a certain impression can make you turn pale or another cause you to blush. Impressions work even down into the circulation of the blood. And now turn your attention to that which comes to consciousness either not at all or only fleetingly--and doesn’t go as far as becoming a memory. Here spiritual science reveals to us that such impressions are accompanied no less than the conscious ones by similar stimulations. If you receive an impression from the exterior world that would have frightened you had you received it consciously, perhaps so that your heart would have pounded, the same impression doesn’t remain without effect if it does not come to consciousness...
...You cannot explain some events of later life in the human being. You cannot discover how you arrived at the point of having to experience this or that in just a given way. For example, you experience something that makes an impression that shakes you so that you cannot explain at all how such a relatively inconsequential experience can make such a shattering impression. If you, then, do some research, you will perhaps find that, just at this critical time--between birth and the last moment in time one can remember back to--you had a similar experience, but that you have forgotten...
Now it can come to pass that such childhood impressions--especially if they have been repeated--affect the entire attitude towards life in such a way that from a certain point in time onward a distortion in the disposition occurs that is inexplicable and only becomes explicable when one returns and knows what impressions from an earlier time cast their shadows or light on later life; for it is these that come to expression in a chronic distortion of the disposition...
Steiner, already in his youth, was moving in circles where fundamental inspirations regarding mental health were being felt, even if those feeling them were unconscious of their supersensible nature. The development of a science that could penetrate the secrets of man’s personal, inner life--the life of his soul, as distinguished from the higher life of the spirit--was inevitably progressing out of the traditions of materialistic natural-science, but, like all accomplishments of this science, the science of psychology and, ultimately, psychiatry was destined to produce the most destructive effects, in its ignorance of the supersensible dimensions of human personhood. That the pioneers of this science were German is not, of course, coincidental.
Anthroposophical insight tells us that the soul-evolution of the Germanic peoples was deeply connected to their destiny to bring to fruition in the consciousness soul what had been planted as seeds during the time, in the early centuries after Christ, when they witnessed the work of those beings who prepared their souls for the awakening of the “I”. They were able to witness the work of these beings--the angels and archangels who shape human language and other racial-cultural characteristics--in a direct way, were more immersed in the process than the peoples who preceded and surrounded them. Steiner indicates the relationship of this clairvoyant awareness of just what is occurring as the “I” awakens to the figures of Nordic mythology, which are nothing less than just these beings. The intimate relationship of the development of the northern German folk soul to this awareness of how the qualities of the inner life become, gradually, suffused with the forces of the “I” became the foundation for the later emergence of the science of psychology especially in the German-speaking world.
The necessity for the emergence of this science should be evident to anyone who has truly grasped the nature of mankind’s spiritual development. This is a development from lesser to greater autonomy, from consciousness of one’s place in the vast cosmos to the awareness of oneself as independent of every other being. Inherent in this evolutionary process is the tendency, then, to selfishness, to the assertion of one’s own will with less and less regard for the well-being of others. In order that the process of evolution to individual self-consciousness may lead, not to the prevalence of anti-social impulses, but to a greater and greater consciousness of how “I” as an individual am needed to serve, by my own free will, the interests of the whole, two fundamental balancing forces have, in the course of this process, to make themselves felt: one, the force of moral consciousness, cultivated in religion--the other, the force expressed in the pursuit of scientific truth, which brings one into the objective awareness of one’s relationship to realities outside oneself. But religion withers under the increasing glare of scientific scrutiny. How can the moral consciousness formerly provided by religious traditions emerge in the context of this scrutiny? Only where the examination of the inner life of the human being, the showplace of all impulses towards good and evil, can emerge as a discipline characterized by a scientific rigor whose claim to the capacity to discern truth can replace the assertion of the authority of religious traditions to do so.
But the nature of the science that has emerged in the course of this evolution of man from a social consciousness inherited from the past to the autonomous consciousness of self is that it, by the very nature of this evolution, more and more directed its attention to the physical-material realities perceptible to the senses of the individual, and abandoned any inherited idea of a reality beyond this where divine authority resided. So, too, when it directed its gaze inward, into the soul of man, it could only fathom what it discovered there in terms of theories connecting the phenomena of the inner life to material-chemical processes occurring in the body. Rudolf Steiner is the initiate, emerging in this incarnation from the long history of the development of the Germanic spiritual culture, who, already at the time of his encounter with Breuer, had begun the work of penetrating to the real supersensible phenomena behind the movement of thought, feeling, and desire in man. Only a science that could lay claim to an absolute kind of objectivity and simultaneously recognize and distinguish the elements of the truly supersensible nature of man’s inner life--regaining, on a higher level of consciousness, what the old Germanic peoples had known by virtue of ancient remnants of a revelatory clairvoyance--could lead the transition from the ages when good and evil were understood out of reverence for an authority passed on through religious traditions to those when, more and more, the freedom of the human spirit would give rise to thoughts, words, and deeds expressing the highest form of divine-human love.
And just as Steiner was developing toward the time when his work in the realm of psychology could bear fruit within the culture of his time--just as, moving from the seat of Habsburg culture in Vienna to the heart of northern German culture, Weimar, he progressed towards uniting the warmer forces of the southern German folk soul into which he had been born with the more directly penetrating intelligence characterizing the northern German folk soul--Adolf Hitler was born, the man who, after Steiner’s death, would combine the heat of the Austrian temperament with the cold, hard logic of Bismarck’s Prussian legacy of conquest, in Berlin.
The conjunction of Hitler’s birth with Steiner’s move from southern to northern German-speaking culture is not one to which attention is being drawn here in the service of any kind of sensationalist impulse. When we examine carefully the implications of man’s capacity to gaze into his own soul with scientific rigor, we can discover the most fundamental of dangers inherent in the development of this capacity: that one, able objectively to discern the real nature and workings of the supersensible realities manifesting in what one experiences as the inner life, might lose contact with the way in which these realities, objectively existing, are there for every human being. The folk soul of the northern German people was especially prepared to be the vehicle for the emergence of the psychology that could penetrate the inner workings of the soul objectively; but along with this capacity came the danger that this could lead, in one able to develop such a capacity, to the illness of an exaggerated sense of self-importance. It is for this reason that the individual incarnating to bring forth this fruit of the northern German folk soul’s development, Steiner, had to incarnate in the southern German world: the southern German folk soul, as indicated above, partakes of elements of warmth and the related tendency towards sociability that could counter this tendency. What, then, is the connection between Hitler’s birth in the southern Germanic culture of Austria and his succumbing himself, in the course of his life, to this illness?
During his time at Weimar, Rudolf Steiner’s engagement with the thought and personality of the third of the central Germanic figures who will concern us in this chapter, Friedrich Nietzsche, resulted in his book “Friedrich Nietzsche: A Fighter Against His Time.” Freud described Nietzsche as someone who had a more penetrating understanding of himself than any man who ever lived or was ever likely to live. Nietzsche’s descent into madness, as Steiner understood, was the result of the extraordinary quality of his spiritual gifts being confronted by the prevailing materialism of his time, which created what was for him an insurmountable obstacle to his recognizing, and thus developing, these gifts in their true nature. When Nietzsche, the ultimate representative of the potential of the northern German folk soul*, crossed the threshold in 1900, Adolf Hitler was eleven years old. From this point, a connection arose between Nietzsche, who, in the transition from the life he had just ended to what followed in the world after death, had to extricate himself from what had taken on the character of a supersensible entanglement with a certain spiritual being, and Hitler, who, from this point, began to experience a similar entanglement.
The being in question is one among those described by Rudolf Steiner in his lecture cycle, “The Mission of Individual Folk Souls”, as a retarded Spirit of Personality that is in actuality a Spirit of Form whose development did not progress in a normal way after the incarnation of what is now the planet Earth as the Old Moon. This being retains the extraordinary qualities of a being whose mission is to shape and to form what is, until its influence, a kind of spiritual substance containing inherent qualities but without the definition that is given in what we call “form”, but did not advance, in Earth evolution, to the capacity to perform this function for the “I” of man, as its colleagues of regular development did. Rather, it stayed on the level of development which is now characteristic of the Spirits of Personality of normal development; this is not the capacity to create directly, but that of intuitive consciousness, which, in the anthroposophical sense, is the capacity to have discourse with and to work consciously with other beings as individual spiritual realities, as living supersensible beings. Until this stage of development, any spiritual being’s apparent capacity to do this results fundamentally from the influence of higher beings who aid it in its growth, much as one might guide the hand of a child to teach it to write or its feet to teach it to walk. Human beings, except for initiates, will not gain this capacity in the truly freely conscious way to which “intuitive consciousness” in the anthroposophical connotation refers until it arrives at the period of its evolution embodied in what will be the incarnation of our planet as “Vulcan.”
The being that became so intimately involved with the struggles of Nietzsche, and, after his death, began to descend, as it were, into the soul life of Adolf Hitler is one with special responsibility for the northern German cultural sphere. In his lecture of June 8, 1910 in Kristiania (now Oslo; from the cycle referred to above), Steiner says about the beings of which the one in question is a representative
“They do not stimulate from without [through the confluence of physical events they arrange] and leave to the human being his own intimate observations of what has been effected in the physical; they stimulate from within, they are configured in the inner part of the brain and give his thinking a certain direction...They are not, thus, Spirits of Personality who work delicately, who leave it to the human being to do as he wishes; rather, they lay hold of him and push him forward with stormy forcefulness. For this reason you can always see these two types of human beings who are stimulated by the spirit of the time: In those who are stimulated by the true spirits of the time [Spirits of Personality], those who are on the normal level of development, you can see, so to speak, the true representatives of their time. We can consider them as human beings who had to come, and their activity as something that could not have come to pass in any other way...But other human beings come, as well, in whom are working those Spirits of Personality who are actually Spirits of Form...”
Such a being drove Nietzsche to madness, and, after his death, began to work within the personality of Adolf Hitler.
It is in the nature of the spiritual beings who, for reasons the elucidation of which lie beyond the scope of this writing, do not advance at the same rate as their fellows that they pursue ends of which the higher worlds are aware as being in the interest of humanity’s spiritual development, but by means that create disorder, complexity, and suffering. As Steiner was developing towards the time when he could begin to present the science of the soul, psychosophy, in a form that did justice to the real situation of humanity in this age, forces such as the one described above were pushing--out of a consciousness that could not rise to the level of brotherhood for all of humanity--for the elevation of the Germanic people. It became essential, therefore, if the work of such forces was not to bear fruit in ways that would prove destructive to the emergence of this brotherhood, that sufficient understanding of the pivotal significance of a psychosophy such as the one Steiner was developing be brought, by his own adherents, to action on psychosophy’s behalf, not in a spirit of agitation, but through professionals in the field of psychology dedicating themselves to penetrating and working with his insights in order that a practical method of healing and counseling could be developed out of what, for someone with Steiner’s broad range of responsibilities, could, after all, only remain theoretical indications. And here several problematic elements converge, out of certain habits of human beings, to make difficult the proper development of such a practical method:
1. The tendency, when dealing with the soul life of others, to intervene, interfere, and evaluate for them rather than to address the extraordinary delicacy of this soul life with the proper respect for the freedom of the “patient” to think, feel, evaluate, and act out of his own insights. To the degree the counselor sees his role as one of drawing conclusions, making judgements of any kind, or suggesting “solutions” that do not arise within the person he is counseling the way a flower emerges from soil cultivated properly and with care, beings will begin to participate in his work that do not “leave to the human being his own intimate observations” as to what is transpiring in the inner life. The role of the counselor is to educate the “patient” about the workings of the forces of the soul in an objective and universal manner, one that, then, when the “patient” applies it to himself, brings forth the fruit of insight into his problems, concerns, suffering, etc.
2. The habit of treating counseling activity as a service remunerable like any other. The relationship of counselor to “patient”, since it involves the counselor’s directly addressing the free spiritual life of the individual, in order to be supported by forces that can produce the qualities of trust and intimacy of soul that alone permit counseling to be experienced as love, and thus as healing, must partake in no way whatever of a “business” relationship. Related, then, to the failure to take up psychosophy in the way demanded by the times, is the failure to take seriously enough the impulse for three-folding, represented by Steiner as the absolutely necessary solution to the “social question” of which mental health is a part.
3. The tendency to view matters of personal emotion as in some way separate from the question of the individual’s moral development. Counseling activity, to be effective in the way a true psychosophy would permit, must be authentically esoteric activity; and the motto “three steps of moral development for every single step on the spiritual path” applies here, as well. Moral intuition does not refer to the freedom of the individual to come to whatever conclusion he likes regarding what is good; it refers to the need, in this time, for people to arrive at correct intuitions, as free individuals who master themselves and, in so doing, attain the capacity for such intuitions. It is not that anyone--certainly not a counselor!--should be in the position to determine whether or not a given individual has attained such a capacity, and, if not, to violate his freedom by imposing some form of moral authority; it is that the activity of counseling, more than any other, involves the kind of deep concern for another’s well-being that must produce the most fervent interest in helping the individual see, in an objective and universal way, the profound connection between emotional difficulties and the moral life.
In the absence of the kind of development, out of immersion in work to unite with the forces inspiring what Steiner presented as a psychosophy, of a viable practice in counseling, at Steiner’s death the forces in question had to seek another vehicle. When one prepared vessel for the spiritual worlds’ involvement in mankind’s destiny to achieve the self-mastery that is characteristic of those who are developing in a normal way along the path of human spiritual evolution is taken from the earth, another must be found; but the work of the spiritual worlds to prepare such a vessel, if not taken seriously enough in one case, cannot immediately provide another of like quality. When Rudolf Steiner died, a fourteen-year-old American boy became the vessel chosen to bring the impulse behind psychosophy into the physical; but it would, in the hands of someone not prepared with the kind of spiritual capacities that emerge once in an age, take on a form to strike fear in the hearts of the gentle souls who belong to the School of Michael.