Introduction to Anthroposophy

Anthropo (human) sofia (wisdom), is literally ´the wisdom of the human being´. That is, a belief that the human self carries within it the potential to overcome the rule-bound thinking which for now still characterises our times, to move beyond problematic ´moralisation´ to the higher goal of free morality, and to transcend perceived limits to knowledge. Thus anthroposophy holds to a view which has become ´unfashionable´: That it is possible to creatively transcend both human failings and the challenges presented by material existence.

This is a project of millennia, at the heart of which lies the oft neglected principle that consciousness evolves. The mythic and mystical consciousness of the distant past was profoundly different from modern rational consciousness. The consciousness of the future will be profoundly different from the consciousness of today. And the consciousness of each individual develops from incarnation to incarnation.

Progressing at times on a slow and gentle curve and at others in relative ´leaps´, such evolution ultimately transforms not just the contents of consciousness, but its very nature and structure.

The most recent such leap was the Enlightenment, marking a turning point in evolution wherein humanity developed new faculties of perception which it simply did not possess on a wide scale before. Powerful new faculties of self-awareness and rationality emerged, changing every area of human experience, cognition and activity.

At the same time our direct connection to the world of spirit was largely lost. This is the myth of ‘the fall’, a process which has been going on at various levels for much longer but which, in the anthroposophical worlds-view, reached particular peaks with the Enlightenment and again at the dawn of the twentieth century.

As a consequence, one might say that while the Enlightenment raised human civilisation in many ways, it also set up huge dualities in every area of scientific, philosophical and spiritual enquiry which, even in the 21st century continue to be the defining problems of our time.

Anthroposophy tackles these problems head-on, challenging for instance, one of the corner-stones of modern scientific thinking (originating with Kant) which says that human cognition can theorise and describe, but can never directly know ´the thing in itself´. Steiner´s treatise on ´Intuitive thinking as a Spiritual Path´ lays down the basis of this challenge in a rigorous philosophical demonstration that the observer and the observed cannot be separated. It might be noted that this remarkable philosophical work was first published in 1893, more than a decade before Quantum Theory encountered that reality in practice and was forced empirically to the same conclusion. Yet this seminal work of Steiner´s also goes further, into practical perspectives on how ´observing consciousness´ can be raised from a mere ´vehicle for theorising´ to a living dynamic force - how, since it is an embedded part of all it observes, it can ultimately transcend all limits to knowing. In this we have a foundational element of ´Anthroposophy´.

Many anthroposophical books are oriented toward the cultivation of such living thinking, liberated from both historical conditioning and the shackles of biology, and move beyond theories to ´direct knowledge´ - of spiritual, as well as material, realities. Yet while many anthroposophical books are focused on this gradual road to achieving such modes of cognition, many others are focused on the practical fruits which have been coming from applying it to worldly affairs.

One can then, view ´anthroposophy´ both as a method for attaining new orders of cognition, and as a body of practical knowledge attained by such orders of cognition. These, as is to be expected, span most areas of human activity:

In agriculture it has led to the development of ´biodynamics´, in which forms of ´homeopathy for the land´ are geared both to the regeneration the land itself and drawing of vibrant forces into food. This approach is consistent with organic standards, and yet in many ways goes far beyond them. There have been a number of great success stories with the introduction of Bio-dynamic methods, for instance in India, and today, the ´Demeter´ international standard for bio-dynamic produce is increasingly recognised, In medicine, anthroposophy brings a perspective in which the soul and spirit forces as well as the physical are recognised. Great progress has been made with such anthroposophical medicine, and there are today a significant number of medical doctors actively involved with furthering Steiner´s approaches.

In architecture, Steiner encouraged the understanding of buildings as primary means of reconnecting us with spirit, and introduced various artistic impulses – from the ´metamorphic´ principle of form, to layered and translucent wall treatments designed to create a feeling of ´open-ness to infinitude´, to that end. These he saw as only early beginnings of a new direction for spiritually oriented architecture, but they have been given some degree of expression both in his own remarkable and designs in Switzerland, and in the work of Swedish architect Erik Asmussen.

In socio-economics, Steiner was able to identify at work a spiritual archetype which has been slowly developing over millennia, in which three elements of human activity (culture, law and commerce) have been more or less autonomously refining themselves and their inter-action. And to suggest that bringing conscious human participation into the further development of that dynamic can now lead it toward a situation in which, for the first time, free culture, co-operative commerce and true equality under law will begin regulate each other in an open, dynamic and evolutionary manner.

In education Steiner pioneered pedagogical methods based on true cultural freedom and natural human interest in the world. Contrary to the factory mentality which is so entrenched and widespread today, and is generally ´endured´ by its participants, the anthroposophical approach begins with a belief that children have a natural love of learning, and are capable of self-direction in given the right stimulus and support. Thus it strongly emphasizes individual needs, and begins early years with a low pressure, open approach to stimulating a child´s natural interest in whatever they are most drawn to, providing more specific and targeted input as it is needed to take that natural interest further and higher. It is in other words led by natural talents, motives and interests, rather than standardized curricula. Given anthroposophy´s foundation in spirit, there is a definite spiritual element in its approach to schooling, but it is open to all faiths and committed to the principle of freely chosen orientation above all.

Historical symptomology is the name given by Steiner to an approach to understanding spiritual realities behind world events. Here one must cultivate a synthesising vision, able to see apparently separate events (whether close or far apart in time) as symptomatic of a single, often unseen, impulse. This is consistent with the principle of ´observing consciousness´ raised up to a living dynamic force, and transcending the ´narrow theoretical mind´ as intimated above. In a world where the gravity of events continues to gather, and the mainstream media is ever more inclined to present isolated events as if they had no cause or context, the cultivation of such cognition on an individual level is increasingly urgent.

That all this work remains confined primarily to the world-wide ´anthroposophical society´, and is not known to the general educational and scientific communities is primarily because the latter are not yet able to accept the notion of spirit at the same time as the notion of ´rigorous knowledge´.

It is an aspiration of the Wellspring, just as it was an aspiration of Rudolf Steiner, to contribute to the long and gradual change in that situation.

Who was Rudolf Steiner...