Resolving the Case
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
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,
(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,
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
The theories of a Laura
[ Note 1 ]
were adhered to by the extremists of a group of female poets represented
by people like Marie Madeleine
[ Note 2 ],
[ Note 3 ],
[ 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
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
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.
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.