The Unveiling of Spiritual Truths
Dornach, 11 June 1923
When we discuss the history and position of anthroposophy in
relation to the Anthroposophical Society, any such reflections have
to take into account two questions. First, why was it necessary to
link the anthroposophical movement to the theosophical movement in
the way they were connected? And second, why is it that malicious
opponents still equate the Anthroposophical Society with the
Theosophical Society? The answers to these questions will only become
clear from a historical perspective. Yesterday I said that when we
talk about the Anthroposophical Society, the first thing of relevance
is that of the people who feel the need to pursue their path through
an anthroposophical movement. I have tried to describe the sense in
which the souls who come into contact with anthroposophy in order to
satisfy their spiritual yearning are homeless souls in a certain
respect. There were more of them about than is normally suspected,
because there were many people who in one way or another tried by
various means to develop their more profound human qualities.
Quite apart from the reaction to modern materialism, which
subsequently led to various forms of spiritualism, many souls sought
to fulfil certain inner needs by reading the work of people like
Ralph Waldo Trine
[ Note 1 ]
and similar writers. They tried, one
might say, to compensate for something missing in their human nature;
something which they wanted to feel and experience inwardly, but
which they could not find on the well-trodden paths of modern
civilization: neither in the popular literature or art of a secular
age, nor in the traditional religious faiths.
Today, then, I will place before you a number of facts, and will
have to leave it to the following lectures to create the links
Those who were engaged in such a search also included human beings
who joined the various branches of the Theosophical Society. And if
we ask whether there was something which distinguished those who
joined the Theosophical Society from others, the answer has to be
yes. There was what I might call a special sort of endeavour present.
We know from the way in which the Theosophical Society developed that
it was not unreasonable to assume that the something which people
were looking for at the start of our century as anthroposophy was
most likely to be understood within the circles then united by
theosophy. But we will only be able to throw some light on that if
the facts are properly presented.
I would like to draw a pen picture of what the Theosophical
Society, which found its most potent expression in the English
Theosophical Society, represented at the time. Indeed, the latter was
then joined by what emerged immediately as anthroposophy.
If we look at the character of the English Theosophical Society as
expressed in its members, we have to to look into their souls in
order to understand their thinking. After all, they gave expression
to their consciousness in the way they went about things. They
assembled, held meetings, lectures and discussions. They also met and
talked a great deal in smaller groups: at general meetings, for
instance, there was always time to have a meal together, or a cup of
tea and so on. People even found time to change dress in the
intervals. It was really what might be described as a reflection of
the kind of social behaviour one might find in daily life. In the
consciousness of those people it was particularly noticeable that
there were highly conflicting forces at play.
To anyone who was not a dyed-in-the-wool theosophist it was
evident that they sought to have two conceptions of every person. The
first one was the direct impression on meeting someone. But the other
was the conception which everyone else had of each individual. This
was based on very generalized ideas about the nature of human beings,
about universal human love, about being advanced — as they
called it — or not, about the seriousness of one's inclinations
in order to prove worthy of receiving the doctrines of theosophy, and
so on. These were pretty theoretical considerations. And everyone
thought that something of all this had to be present in people
walking around in flesh and blood. The naive impressions of
individuals, were not really alive in the members, but each one had
an image of all the others which was based on theoretical ideas about
human beings and human behaviour.
In fact no one saw anyone else as they really were, but rather as
a kind of spectre. And thus it was necessary on meeting Mr Smith, for
example, and forming a naive impression of him, to form a spectral
idea of him by visualizing what someone else thought of Mr Smith.
Thus it was necessary to have two images of each person. However,
most of the members dispensed with the image of the real person and
merely absorbed the image of the spectre, so that in reality members
always perceived one another in spectral form. The consciousness of
the members was filled with spectres. An interest in psychology was
necessary to understand this.
Real interest required a certain generosity and lack of
preconception. It was, after all, very interesting to be involved in
what existed there as a kind of spectral society. Its leaders were
perceived by the others in a very peculiar manner. Reference might be
made to a leading individual — let us call him X. During the
night his astral form went from house to house — only members'
houses, of course — as an invisible helper. All kinds of things
emanated from him. The spectral ideas about leading individuals were
in part extraordinarily beautiful. Often, it was a considerable
contrast to meet these leading personalities in the flesh. But the
general ethos then ensured that as far as possible only the spectral
conception was allowed to exist and the real conception was not
permitted to intrude.
A certain view of things, a doctrine, was definitely required for
this. Since not everyone was clairvoyant, although there were many
people at the time who at least pretended to be, certain theories
were necessary to give form to these spectres. These theories had
something exceedingly archaic about them. It was hard to avoid the
impression that these spectral human constructs were assembled
according to old, rehashed theories. In many cases it was easy to
find the ancient writings which provided the source material.
Thus on top of their ghostly nature these human spectres were not
of the present time. They were from earlier incarnations; they gave
the impression of having clambered out of Egyptian, Persian or
ancient Indian graves. In a certain sense any feeling of the here and
now had been lost.
These ancient doctrines were difficult to understand, even when
clothed in relatively modern terminology. The etheric body was
borrowed from medieval concepts, as was perhaps the astral body. But
then we move on to manas, kama manas and suchlike, which everybody
talked about but no one really understood. How could they, when they
approached them with very modern, materialistic ideas? These
teachings were meant to be seen in a cosmic context; they contained
cosmic concepts and ideas which made it easy to feel that souls were
talking in a language not of centuries, but of millennia past.
This process spread far and wide. Books were written in such an
idiom. But there was another side to all this. It had its beautiful
aspect, because despite the superficial use of words, despite the
lack of understanding, something did rub off on people. One might
almost say that, even if it did not enter their souls, an
extraordinary amount adhered to the outer garment of their souls.
They went about not exactly with an awareness of the etheric body or
kama manas, but they had an awareness that they were enveloped in
layers of coats: one of them the etheric body, another kama manas and
so on. They were proud of these coats, of this dressing of the soul,
and that provided a strong element of cohesion among them.
This was something which forged the Theosophical Society into a
single entity in an exceptionally intense manner, which created a
tremendous communal spirit in which every single person felt himself
to be a representative of the Theosophical Society. Beyond each
individual member, the Society itself had what might be described as
an awareness of itself. This identity was so strong that even when
the absurdities of its leaders eventually came to light in a rather
bizarre manner, the members held together with an iron grip because
they felt it was akin to treachery if people did not stick together,
even when the Society's leaders had committed grave mistakes.
Anyone who has gained an insight into the struggles which later
went on within certain members of the Theosophical Society long after
the Anthroposophical Society had separated itself, when people
repeatedly realized the terrible things their leaders were doing but
failed to see that as a sufficient reason to leave — anyone who
saw the struggle will have developed a certain respect for this
self-awareness of the Society as a whole.
And that leads us to ask whether the conditions which surrounded
the birth of the Anthroposophical Society might not allow a similar
self-awareness to develop.
From the beginning the Anthroposophical Society
[ Note 2 ]
had to manage without the often very questionable means by which the
Theosophical Society established its strong cohesion and
self-awareness. The Anthroposophical Society had to be guided by the
ideal: wisdom can only be found in truth.
[ Note 3 ]
But this is
something which has remained little more than an ideal. In this area
in particular the Anthroposophical Society leaves a lot to be
desired, having barely begun to address the development of a communal
spirit, an identity of its own.
The Anthroposophical Society is a collection of people who strive
very hard as individual human beings. But as a society it hardly
exists, precisely because this feeling of a common bond is not there,
as only the smallest number of members of the Anthroposophical
Society feel themselves to be representatives of the Society.
Everyone feels that he is an individual, and forgets altogether that
there is supposed to be an Anthroposophical Society as well.
Having characterized the people attracted to anthroposophy, what
has been the response of anthroposophy to their endeavours? Anyone
with sufficient interest can find the principles of anthroposophy in my
The Philosophy of Freedom.
[ Note 4 ]
I wish to emphasize that this refers with inner logic to a
spiritual realm which is, for example, the source of our moral
impulses. The existence of a spiritual realm takes concrete form when
human beings develop an awareness that their innermost being is not
connected to the sensory world but to the spiritual world. These are
the two basic points made in
The Philosophy of Freedom:
first, that there is a spiritual realm
and, second, that the innermost part of a person's being is connected
to this spiritual realm.
Inevitably the question arose as to whether it is possible to make
public in this way what was to be revealed to contemporary mankind as
a kind of message about the spiritual world. After all, one could not
simply stand up and and talk into the void — which,
incidentally, does not exclude a number of odd proposals having been
put to me recently. When I was in Vienna in 1918, for instance, I was
summoned, by telegram no less, to go to the Rax Alp on the northern
boundary of Styria, stand up on that mountain and there deliver a
lecture for the Alps! I need hardly add that I did not respond to it.
One must create a link with something which already exists in
contemporary civilization. And basically there were few opportunities
like that around, even at the turn of the century. At that time
peoples' search led them to the Theosophical Society, and they,
finally, were the ones to whom one could talk about such things.
But a feeling of responsibility towards the people whom we were
addressing was not enough; a feeling of responsibility towards the
spiritual world was also required, and in particular towards the form
in which it appeared at that time. And here I might draw attention to
the way in which what was to become anthroposophy gradually emerged
from those endeavours which I did not yet publicly call
In the 1880s I could see, above all, a kind of mirage; something
which looked quite natural in the physical world but which,
nevertheless, took on a deeper significance in a certain sense, even
when taken as an insubstantial mirage, a play of the light. If one
opened oneself in a contemporary way to the world views of that time,
one was liable to encounter something very peculiar. If we think
about Central Europe, in the first instance, the philosophy of
Idealism from the first half of the nineteenth century presented a
world-shattering philosophy whose aim was to provide a complete
metaphysical conception of the world. In the 1880s there were echoes
of, let us say, Fichte, Hegel and Solgers philosophies,
[ Note 5 ]
which meant as much to some of their adherents as anthroposophy can
ever mean to people today. But they were basically a sum of abstract
Take a look at the first of the three parts of Hegel's
Encyclopedia of Philosophy
[ Note 6 ]
and you will find a series of concepts which are developed
one from the other: the concepts of being, not-being, becoming and
existence, ending with the idea of purpose. It consists only of
abstract thoughts and ideas. And yet this abstraction is what Hegel
describes as God before the creation of the world. So if one asks
what God was before the Creation, the answer lies in a system of
abstract concepts and abstract ideas.
Now when I was young there lived in Vienna a Herbartian
philosopher called Robert Zimmermann.
[ Note 7 ]
He said we should no
longer be permitted to think in the Hegelian mode, or that of Solger
or similar philosophers. According to Zimmermann these men thought as
if they themselves were God. That was almost as if someone from the
Theosophical Society had spoken, for there was a leading member of
the Theosophical Society, Franz Hartmann,
[ Note 8 ]
who said in all
his lectures something to the effect that you had to become aware of
the God within yourself, and when that God began to speak you were
speaking theosophy. But Hegel, when in Zimmermann's view he allowed
the God within himself to speak, said: Being, negation of being,
becoming, existence; and then the world was first of all logically
put in a state of turbulence, whereupon it flipped over into its
otherness, and nature was there.
Robert Zimmermann, however, said: We must not allow the God in
human beings to speak, for that leads to a theocentric perspective.
Such a view is not possible unless one behaves rather like Icarus.
And you know what happened to him: you slip up somewhere in the
cosmos and take a fall! You have to remain firmly grounded in the
human perspective. And thus Robert Zimmermann wrote his
to counter the theosophy of Hegel, Schelling, Solger and others,
whom he also treats as theosophists in his
History of Aesthetics.
[ Note 9 ]
It is from the title of this book,
that I later took the
name. I found it exceedingly interesting then as a phenomenon of the
time. The trouble is that it consists of the most horribly abstract
You see, human beings want a philosophical framework which will
satisfy their inner selves, which will give them the ability to say
that they are connected with a divine-spiritual realm, that they
possess something which is eternal. Zimmermann was seeking an answer
to the question: When human beings go beyond mere sensory existence,
when they become truly aware of their spiritual nature, what can they
know? They know logical ideas. According to Zimmermann, if it is not
God in human beings who is thinking, but human beings themselves,
then five logical ideas emerge. First, there is logical necessity;
second, the equivalence of concepts; third, the combination of
concepts; fourth, the differentiation of concepts; and fifth, the law
of contradiction, that something can only be itself or something
else. That is the sum total of the things which human beings can know
when they draw on their soul and spirit.
If this anthroposophy were the only thing available, the
unavoidable conclusion would be that everything connected with the
various religions, with religious practice and so on, is a thing of
the past, Christianity is a thing of the past, because these are
things which require a historical basis. When a person thinks only of
what he can know as anthropos, what he can know when he makes his
soul independent of sensory impressions, of worldly history, it is
the following: I know that I am subject to logical necessity, to the
equivalence of concepts, the combination of concepts,
differentiation, and the law of contradiction. That, whatever name it
is given, is all there is.
It can then be supplemented by aesthetic ideas. Five ideas once
again, including perfection, consonance and harmony, conflict and
reconciliation. Third, five ethical ideas — ethical perfection,
benevolence, justice, antagonism and the resolution of antagonism —
form the basis for human action. As you can see, that has all been put
in an exceedingly abstract form. And it is preceded by the title:
Anthroposophy — An Outline.
The dedication shows clearly that this was intended to be a major project.
You can see that it was very remarkable, in the way that a mirage
is. Zimmermann transformed theosophy into anthroposophy, as he
understood the word. But I do not believe that if I had lectured on
his kind of anthroposophy we would ever have had an anthroposophical
movement. The name, however, was very well chosen. And I took on the
name when, for fundamental reasons which will become clear in the
course of these lectures, I had to start dealing with particular
subjects, starting with the spiritual fact — a certainty for
everyone with access to the spiritual world — of repeated lives
But if I wanted to deal with such things with a degree of
spiritual responsibility, they had to be put in a context. It is no
exaggeration to say that it was not easy at the turn of the century
to put the idea of repeated lives on earth into a context which would
have been understood. But there were points where such a link could
be established. And before going any further I want to tell you how I
myself sought to make use of such points of contact.
[ Note 10 ]
wrote a very interesting synopsis of
anthropological facts, facts which lead to the conclusion, acceptable
of course to everyone who subscribed to modern thinking at that time,
that all animal species had evolved one from the other. Topinard
quotes his facts and writes, after having presented, I think,
twenty-two points, that the twenty-third point is what he argues to
be the transformation of animal species. But then we face the problem
of the human being. He does not provide an answer to this. So what
Now, by taking the biological theory of evolution seriously, it is
possible to build on such an author. If we continue, and add point
twenty-three we reach the conclusion that the animal species always
repeat themselves at a higher level. In the human being we progress
to the individual. When the individual begins to be repeated we have
reincarnation. As you can see, I tried to make use of what was
available to me, and in that form attempted to make something
comprehensible which is, in any case, present before the soul as a
spiritual fact. But in order to provide a point of access for people
in general, something had to be used which was already in existence
but which did not come to an end with a full stop, but with a dash. I
simply continued beyond the dash where natural science left off. I
delivered that lecture
[ Note 11 ]
to the group which I mentioned
yesterday. It was not well received because it was not felt necessary
to reflect on the issues raised by the sciences, and of course it
seemed superfluous to that group that the things in which they
believed should, in any case, need to be supported by evidence.
The second thing is that at the beginning of the century I
delivered a lecture cycle entitled “From Buddha to
Christ” to a group which called itself Die Kommenden.
[ Note 12 ]
In these lectures I tried to depict the line of development
from Buddha to Christ and to present Christ as the culmination of
what had existed previously. The lecture cycle concluded with the
interpretation of the Gospel of St. John which starts with the raising
of Lazarus. Thus the Lazarus issue, as represented in my
Christianity As Mystical Fact,
[ Note 13 ]
forms the conclusion of the lecture cycle
“From Buddha to Christ”.
This coincided roughly with the lectures published in my book
Eleven European Mystics
and the task of addressing theosophists on matters which I both needed
and wanted to speak about. That occurred at the same time as the
endeavour to establish a German Section of the Theosophical Society.
[ Note 14 ]
And before I had even become a member, or indeed shown
the slightest inclination to become a member, I was called upon to
become the General Secretary of this German Section of the
At the inauguration of the German Section I delivered a cycle of
lectures which were attended by, I think, only two or three
theosophists, and otherwise by members of the circle to which I had
addressed the lectures “From Buddha to Christ”.
[ Note 15 ]
To give the lecture cycle its full title:
“Anthroposophy or the evolution of mankind as exemplified by
world conceptions from ancient oriental times to the present.”
This lecture cycle
— I have to keep mentioning this — was given by me at the
same time as the German Section of the Theosophical Society was being
established. I even left the meeting, and while everyone else was
continuing their discussion and talking about theosophy I was
delivering my lecture cycle on anthroposophy.
One of the theosophists who later became a good anthroposophist
said to me afterwards that what I had said did not accord at all with
what Mrs Besant was saying and what Blavatsky was saying. I replied
that this is how it was. In other words, someone with a good
knowledge of all the dogmas of theosophy had discovered correctly
that something was wrong. Even at that time it was possible to say
that it was wrong, that something else applied.
I now want to put to you another apparently completely unconnected
fact which I referred to yesterday. Consider Blavastky's books:
The Secret Doctrine.
There really was no reason to be terribly enthusiastic about the kind of
people who took what was written in these books as holy dogma. But
one could see Blavatsky herself as an exceedingly interesting
phenomenon, if only from a deeper psychological point of view. Why?
Well, there is a tremendous difference between the two books. This
difference will become most clearly apparent to you if I tell you how
those familiar with similar things judged them.
Traditions have been preserved which have their origins in the
most ancient Mysteries and which were then safeguarded by a number of
so-called secret societies. Certain secret societies also bestowed
degrees on their members, who advanced from the first degree to the
second and the third and so on. As they did so they were told certain
things on the basis of those traditions. At the lower degrees people
did not understand this knowledge but accepted it as holy dogma. In
fact they did not understand it at the higher degrees either, but the
members of the lower degrees firmly believed that the members of the
higher degrees understood everything.
Nevertheless, a pure form of knowledge had been preserved. A great
deal was known if we simply take the texts. You need do no more than
pick up things which have been printed, and revitalize it with what
you know from anthroposophy — for you cannot revitalize it in
any other way — and you will see that these traditions contain
great, ancient and majestic knowledge. Sometimes the words sound
completely wrong, but everyone who has any insight is aware that they
have their origin in ancient wisdom. But the real distinguishing mark
of the activity in these secret societies was that people had a
general feeling that there were human beings in earlier times who
were initiates, and who were able to speak about the world, the
cosmos and the spiritual realm on the basis of an ancient wisdom.
There were many people who knew how to string a sentence together and
who were able to expound on what was handed down.
Then Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled appeared. The people who were
particularly shocked by its publication were those who held
traditional knowledge through their attainment of lower or higher
degrees in the secret societies. They usually justified their
reaction by saying that the time was not yet ripe to make available
through publication to mankind in general the things which were being
kept hidden in the secret societies. It was, furthermore, their
honest opinion. But there were a number of people who had another
reason. And this reason can really be understood only if I draw your
attention to another set of facts.
In the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, specifically in the nineteenth
century, all knowledge was transformed into abstract concepts and
ideas. In Central Europe one of those who began with such abstract
ideas was the philosopher Schelling.
[ Note 16 ]
At a time when these
ideas could still enthuse others because they contained inner human
emotional force, Schelling was among those who taught them. A few
years later Schelling no longer found any satisfaction in this mode
of thought and began to immerse himself in mysticism, specifically in
[ Note 17 ]
allowing himself to be influenced by
Boehme's thinking and extracting from it something which immediately
took on a more real quality. But what he said was no longer really
understood, for no one could make sense of what Schelling wrote. In
the 1820s, following a lengthy reclusive period, Schelling began to
speak in a curious manner. There is a small booklet by him, called
You may feel
that it is still rather nebulous and abstract, but a curious feeling
remains: Why is it that Schelling does not advance to the stage where
he can talk about what was later discussed on an anthroposophical
basis as the truths about Atlantis, for instance, but only reaches
the point at which he almost, rather clumsily, hints at them? It is
In 1841 he was appointed by to teach at the University in Berlin.
That is when Schelling began to lecture on his
Philosophy of Revelation.
Even that is
still terribly abstract. He talks about three potentialities A1, A2,
A3. But he follows this line until he achieves some kind of grasp of
the old Mysteries, until he achieves some kind of grasp of
Christianity. Nevertheless, his is not really the appropriate way to
come to terms with the ideas which he briefly puts forward here.
Schelling was never properly understood, but that is not really
surprising because his method was a dubious one. All the same, there
was something in the general awareness of the time and we can take
the above as evidence for this, too which led people like Schelling
to conclude that a spiritual world needed to be investigated.
This feeling took a different form in England. It is exceedingly
interesting to read the writings of Lawrence Oliphant.
[ Note 18 ]
Of course Oliphant presents his conclusions about the primeval periods
of human development on earth in quite a different way, because the
English approach is quite distinct from the German one; it is much
more physical, down-to-earth, material. The two approaches are in a
certain sense, taking into account differing national
characteristics, parallel phenomena: Schelling in the early part of
the nineteenth century with his idealism, Oliphant with his realism,
both of them displaying a strong drive to understand the world which
is revealed by the spirit. These two men grew into the culture of
their time; they did not stop until they had taken the philosophical
ideas of their time about human beings, the cosmos and so on to their
Now, you know from my anthroposophical explanations that human
beings develop in early life in a way which makes physical
development concomitant with soul development. That ceases later on.
As I told you, the Greeks continued to develop into their thirties in
a way which involved real parallel development of the physical and
spiritual. With Schelling and Oliphant something different happened
from the average person of today. One may work on a concept and
develop it further, but Schelling and Oliphant went beyond this, and
as they grew older their souls suddenly became filled with the
vitality of previous lives on earth; they began to remember ancient
things from earlier incarnations. Distant memories, unclear memories,
arose in a natural way. Suddenly that struck people like a flash.
Both Oliphant and Schelling are now suddenly seen in a different
Both establish themselves and begin by becoming ordinary
philosophers, each in their own country. Then in their later years
they begin to recall knowledge which they have known in earlier lives
on earth, only now it is like a misty memory. At this point Schelling
and Oliphant begin to speak about the spiritual world. Even if these
are unclear memories they are, nevertheless, something to be feared
by those who have only been through the old style, traditional
development of the societies, to the extent that they might spread
and gain the upper hand. These people lived in terrible fear that
human beings could be born with the facility to remember what they
had experienced in the past and speak about it. Furthermore, it also
called into question all their principles of secrecy. Here we are,
they thought, making members of the first, second, third grades and
so on swear holy oaths of secrecy, but what remains of our secrecy if
human beings are now being born who can recall personally what we
have preserved and kept under lock and key?
appeared! The notable thing about it was that it brought openly on to
the book-market a whole lot of things which were being kept hidden in
secret societies. The great problem with which the societies had to
come to terms was how Blavatsky obtained the knowledge which they had
kept locked away and for which people had sworn holy oaths. It was
those who were particularly shocked by this who paid a great deal of
The Secret Doctrine
appeared. That only made things worse.
The Secret Doctrine
presented a whole
category of knowledge which was the preserve of the highest grades in
the secret societies. Those who were shocked by the first book, and
even more so by the second one, used all kinds of expressions to
describe them both, because Blavatsky as a phenomenon had a terribly
unsettling effect, particularly on the so-called initiates.
was less frightening because Blavatsky was a chaotic personality who
continuously interspersed material which contained deep wisdom with
all kinds of stuff and nonsense. So the frightened, so-called
initiates could still say about
that in it what was true
was not new and what was new was not true! The disagreeable fact for
them was that things had been revealed. After all, the book was called
reassured themselves by saying that the event was an infringement of
The Secret Doctrine
appeared, containing a whole lot of material which
even the highest grades did not know, they could no longer say: What
is true is not new and what is new is not true. For it contained a
large body of knowledge which had not been preserved by
Thus in a rather strange and, indeed, confusing way, this woman
represented what had been feared since Schelling and Oliphant. That
is why I said that her personality is psychologically even more
interesting than her books. Blavatsky was an important and notable
phenomenon of the spiritual life of the late nineteenth century.
This is the extent to which I wanted to present the facts.