The Anthroposophical Society:
is it a living social form?

Joel A. Wendt

Does it make any sense at all to talk about a social form, such as the Anthroposophical Society, as if it was living? What could that possibly mean? What qualities would a living social form need to have? What happens when one dies? How would one know this has happened? What is the role of the consciousness of the members of such a social form in the answering of such questions?

What is the proper model for a living social organism? The threefold social order, the human organism or some other pattern? What could be learned by looking to Goethe, either as an example, or a model? Rudolf Steiner held up the poet as the Ur-human being and he placed enthusiasm as an essential human quality: What can these ideas tell us?

Where is there a definition of life which would include social forms? Can any rational relationship be made between truly organic forms, and social organizations? Is it possible there is some other idea which belongs to social forms, but which has an order beyond the idea of life?

Another problem, one which is very central to the whole question, is: What does one do with the once-called daughter movements? Or in a broader vein: What do we include within the Society, in making the judgment as to whether it is living? Do we include or limit ourselves to any or all of the following: study groups, branch meetings, annual general meetings - local and national, Waldorf School communities, bio-dynamic farm communities, the Christian Community, Eurthmy performances or schools, the activities of regional or national councils, the activities of the Vorstand, the activities of the sections of the School of Spiritual Science, Camphill Villages and their relatives, and so forth. Where does the Society end and the Movement begin? Is there is a difference?

There would seem, at first blush, to be two general approaches to answering these questions. One approach would be Goethean, and would involve, first of all, intuiting a method of investigation appropriate to the phenomenal nature of the object of study. A second approach could be polar-Goethean (as described by Lawrence Edwards in his: Field of Forms), that is to work wholly with the ideal-abstract relationships.

Utilizing the first method, we could begin by inwardly beholding the "history" of the Anthroposophical Society from the Christmas Foundation meeting onward into the present. But how do we make the appropriate imaginations of those events? With the second method, we might assume, that following the Foundation meeting, the Society was in fact a living organism. From this we would have to assess what the later splitting processes (the breaking off of many of the national societies from the General Anthroposophical Society in the 1930's) meant to this living quality, and then what the reconfiguration in the 1950's and '60's meant as well.

Another method would be to form some kind of abstract idea of a living social form, and then look at the modern conditions of the Society to see if it met these criteria. In addition, one could poll the membership, to see what the nature of their perception of these questions was.

So many questions, so many ways to travel. For the purposes of at least having a starting point, let us begin with a small observation of this last - thoughts of a few of the membership on this subject.

In May of 1997, in Sebastabol California, the Western Regional Council of the Anthroposophical Society in America met with a local group of members and friends for a weekend conference called "Spiritual Geography". Late on the Saturday, after many presentations on the theme, the Council met with those in attendance to discuss whatever was felt to be of importance.

After some "light" conversation, this writer spoke up and made the observation "...that from his point of view the Society was dead, and had been dead since, at least, before World War II. While there were many vital individual initiatives, these were simply growing in the ground made fertile by the rotting corpse...". After this the conversation grew more animated, and members of the Council later reported, during that period when the conversation spilled over into the dinner hour, that this was a common theme (the absence of 'livingness") heard by them in their travels.

During the conversation, one individual put it this way, with a great deal of feeling (I will paraphrase): "When I come to the Society I get much for my head, but nothing for my heart!" There were a number of variations on this theme - a common general sense of something being absent, and very much desired. Could this be life?

Perhaps this is our true guide, rather then all the earlier questions. We look at the present, and try to find signs of life - of something that has vital qualities. For example, what do we know about Nature, its vitality? It is attractive - we are drawn toward it. How go our meetings, in truth. Are they well attended? Do all members come, knowing something is going on there that is so essential to them they could not think of missing it?

How about a more subjective point of view? Do you feel needed, as if you would be missed if you did not come? Did you get a call after the last time you didn't go to a Society branch meeting, wondering if you were all right? Certainly all the Waldorf teachers can not carry on their work without attending branch meetings and drawing vital spiritual energy from the Presence which is evoked there. This is no doubt true for those anthroposophists in the Christian Community as well.

By the way, I am not being sarcastic. How can we call what goes on in branch meetings, which are the core meetings of a local anthroposophical community (see Statute 11: "As a general rule every member should join a Group."), living, when no one suffers who does not attend and we do not suffer when they are absent? Where is the feeling-tension that is the sign of all highly developed life.

As I struggled in the considerations of this essay, although I felt a certainty that (except in very rare localized cases) there was no life in the Anthroposophical Society, I had a difficulty forming a cognition as to where to go from there. Finally, in a study group meeting, where I was suffering through trying to communicate my conviction that the life of the group would be enhanced if people gave out of their own soul life, rather than concentrating on interpretations of Steiner texts (see above essay), the whole dilemma fell into place and I understood what was going on.

In the groups, and especially in the branch and other meeting-forums of the formal Anthroposophical Society, life does not exist because we are constantly killing it. Death forces are constantly flowing from our own souls into our group activities, disabling the natural life that would arise if we were to truly understand how we were called upon to conduct ourselves.

What are these death forces? How do they arise, and how may we act so as to no longer be killing the very vital elan' for which we are yearning?

These death forces arise whenever we do not rely upon our own knowledge and understanding - on what lives in us and we have made our own, and instead defer to some imagined truth which we attribute to Rudolf Steiner. It is the constantly evoked egregore of Steiner that kills the life in our groups and Society meetings. We manufacture a ghost, a shade, of Steiner, and place this shadow as the superior ideal before which our own soul understandings must give way. Who can compete with such a idol? In the deification and assumed perfection of the great initiate and the great deed, we erect a false god, whom we have come to worship and so violate the fundamental spiritual principle of the First Commandment: Thou wilt have no other Gods before me.

Let us consider this one more time. It is very crucial to understanding where Anthroposophy is today, and how it might proceed into the future in a more healthy and social way.

When a circle gathers, having as its intention to be anthroposophical, what is present? The primary element is the spirit and soul natures of the participants. Whatever happens in that circle is dominated by those presences. Granting, without assuming its truth, that various spiritual beings may be attracted to, and interested in, this activity, the intentions and practices of the human participants remains the determining factor.

Within the participants themselves - as individuals, it is the I, the ego, which is the essential reality. What the soul manifests, the I, or spirit, engenders. When you have a collection of egos, a group, what the group does collectively can vary considerably according to how the individual egos conduct themselves with respect to each other. Everyone is familiar with the both the positive and negative activities that can occur in groups, according to the moral qualities the ego practices in terms of listening, or not; dominating conversation, or not; and so forth.

Out of these activities the life of the group is formed and maintained.

Within anthroposophical groups something rather unusual is added, both consciously and unconsciously. Each individual brings, within their own soul life, some form of relationship to Rudolf Steiner. In addition, through those social collective processes, which groups engage in as a matter of course, the group will also form a certain relationship to Steiner. But the question needs to be asked: which Steiner? Steiner as a spiritual reality, as an ego presence himself (assuming he is still dis-incarnate), or an image of Steiner, both collective and individual, which has no relationship to Steiner as a reality, but derives its nature solely from unconscious and semi-conscious assumptions as to his nature, being, meaning and intentions.

This falsified image, self generated by the group and its separate individuals, is the egregore - a spiritual entity created by human activity, and which maintains its being through the gift of our worship and adoration, the feelings we create when we venerate this falsified image.

This being has no interest in us, as individuals or as a group. Its dynamics are entirely pathological; it acts only so as to continue its existence as a psychic parasite. All that is life in the group will eventually be absorbed by this egregore. Unless we awake to its presence, and its manifestations, and discipline our selves and our groups so that it is no longer fed.

The esoteric student is compelled, if he/she wishes to advance upon the spiritual path, to reflect frequently upon the past; and to be thorough and objective in looking at the failings and the weaknesses tolerated and given into. This is not done so as to indulge in self recriminations, but rather to learn, to grow, and to feel appropriate shame and remorse at one's misdeeds. These are the seeds and nutrients needed for further growth and development.

How can an esoteric Society not practice the same disciplines in its collective soul life?

The question was put to me in the meeting referred to above: "Okay, so the Society is dead, how to we resurrect it?"

First, admit there is no life. This ought to be done officially, although I do not expect the formal leadership to have the necessary courage. But, at least, in those groups were this essay has meant something, it would first be appropriate to speak and think together upon the fact of the absence of dynamic life within the group.

Please do not arbitrarily agree with me. Know it for yourselves, above all else. Then, if that comes about, and is in a mutually cognized form, then discuss how to practice the necessary group and individual disciplines which would enable individuals to speak more from their own experiences and that which they have made their own, and less and less in deference to the thoughts and ideas we imagine can be attributed to Rudolf Steiner.

In the beginning, I would suggest that people study Steiner at home, but do not bring the texts to the meeting. In fact, don't bring Steiner in any sense to the meetings. The temptation to quote or speak of an idea as coming from the "authority" needs to be resisted, and ultimately eliminated. I suspect individual groups will develop individual ways of helping each other end the habit of mutual worship of the idol, and learn to appreciate what is really living in each other's hearts as fellow human beings. Life is engendered in the group through admitting into the circle the heart felt concerns of each individual, irrespective of their familiarity with Steiner or Anthroposophy. The neophyte has as much to contribute to the life of the group as the long time practitioner.