Community Life, Inner Development, Sexuality and the Spiritual Teacher
The Goesch-Sprengel Situation II
22 August 1915, Dornach
Today I would have liked to be able to lecture on a theme going beyond the events of the moment, and I hope that will be fully the case with tomorrow's lecture, which will begin at seven o'clock. For today, however, I still feel the need to say a few things that relate not only to the letter I had to read yesterday, but also to the very gracious letter from the members that Mr. Bauer has just delivered to me and to still another letter I have received. This is especially necessary now that the things discussed in these letters have come to pass. What I have to say will relate to the matter at hand only to the extent that this particular case can show us all kinds of things we need to know about the relationship of the details of what is going on among and around us to our spiritual movement with its teachings, for in discussing specific occurrences, it is often possible to discover something of universal importance.
I will start from the fact — speaking more or less aphoristically — that I read you a letter yesterday that was signed by two members of the Society and mentioned a third member of long standing.
I believe I will not be committing an indiscretion in telling you about a letter that Mr. Bauer showed me just fifteen minutes ago, a letter written by a Society member who is a physician. 1It has not been possible to ascertain which physician and which letter are referred to here. The writer is quite rightly of the opinion, as I myself was yesterday, not only after but during the reading of Mr. Goesch's letter, that we are not dealing with anything logical but with something that has to be considered from the point of view of pathology.
Obviously, this is one of the many assumptions we can make in this instance, but in my opinion — and this is simply my personal opinion and should not be considered binding on anyone else — this assumption would be incomplete if we do not also ask whether we are allowed to tolerate the fact that our Society and our entire movement are constantly being endangered by all kinds of pathological cases. Are we to tolerate psychopaths who are destroying our spiritual-scientific activity? Yes, to the extent that we can have compassion for them. However, if we tolerate them without fully taking their pathological nature into account, we allow them to constantly endanger everything that is most precious and most important to us. Of course, we need to be clear that we are dealing with psychopaths, but we must also be clear about what we have to do so that our cause is not jeopardized. Even things we recognize as being caused by illness have to be dealt with appropriately in real life. Of course, how this applies to the personalities in question is a totally separate issue.
As you have seen from many things we have had to discuss over the course of time, there is a certain recurrent experience that is unavoidable in a spiritual movement such as ours: Personal interests and personal vanity inevitably get mixed up with our purely objective aspirations. This need not even be taken as a reproach, strictly speaking; after all, we are all human. But it does need to be mentioned, and I am simply stating my personal opinion on the subject; of course, you are not bound by my opinion. When people are willing to admit that they are subject to vanity in certain areas and that for the time being (perhaps for reasons having to do with their upbringing and so on) they have no particular interest in getting rid of that vanity, that is a much lesser evil than wanting to be absolutely perfect at any given moment. The greatest evil, so it seems, is when people want to believe in their own perfection in every instance, when they want to believe that they are doing whatever they are doing for totally selfless reasons, and so forth.
The greatest temptation faced by any spiritual movement such as ours is the very pronounced vanity that comes into play simply because such movements must necessarily have great and noble aims that can be realized only gradually, and not all of us can immediately broaden our interests to include the objective requirements of our cause. It is understandable enough that when some people first hear about reincarnation, they take an immediate personal interest in finding out about their own previous incarnations for reasons of personal vanity. Looking into history for this reason is the worst possible way to investigate previous incarnations, but that is what most people do out of personal vanity. Thus, instead of being an inner path of meditation, historical events or the Old and New Testaments become a treasure trove for the gratification of personal vanity. Simply put, it is nothing more than that. And it is good to be aware that looking for one's own incarnations in history or in the Bible is basically nothing more than personal vanity.
It is understandable that this kind of vanity should come into play. The trouble starts, however, when vanity is not recognized as such, and when instead of examining their deep-seated ambitious motives calmly, people shroud them in a mantle of occultism or let them merge into some nebulous mysticism.
Concerning certain things that prevail with some justification outside the confines of a spiritual movement, the movement must make a point of approaching them from the perspective of a much more elevated morality than is the norm. However, we must never disregard the possibility that a lot of what we consider higher morality may be nothing of the sort, but simply an outlet for our own drives and instincts. From the kinds of discussions we have been through before, you can see how people can have perfectly legitimate human instincts and drives, but let them get mixed up with all sorts of occult embellishments. They may even console themselves for the existence of these drives and instincts with all sorts of deceptively rational explanations. It would be much better if they would simply admit these drives exist and apply their esoteric schooling to understanding them.
I read Mr. Goesch's letter to you; you all heard it and followed what was going on. What I am going to say about it today is simply my personal, non-binding opinion. Among other things, it was stated in this letter: "I am now coming to the end of what I want to say at present. I have not been able to clothe these insights — which I achieved under the guidance of the Keeper of the Seal of the Society for Theosophical Art and Style… in the ideal form I had envisioned.”
We all know that Miss Sprengel is the keeper of the seal and that Mr. Goesch is the one who wrote the letter. I think if any French-speaking people were to read this letter and apply the old French proverb “cherchez la femme,” they would be quite right, in spite of the fact that “keeper of the seal” is a masculine noun in German. In fact, if you apply the principle of “cherchez la femme,” much of what is talked about in this letter becomes more understandable.
I still need to express my own personal opinion about some of the details in this letter. For instance, in this letter it is suggested that it is impossible to imagine that so-called lessons of the esoteric school could be held within our Society after all that has happened. I read that passage yesterday. It suggests that because of all the “crimes” the letter describes, lessons of the esoteric school could no longer be held.
We must look at these things, too, in the right light and not hesitate to look at them closely. As you know, we temporarily discontinued these esoteric lessons when the war broke out, and anyone who bothers to look at these things carefully will realize that this is due to nothing other than the present circumstances of the war. 2See the volume Zur Geschichte und aus den Inhalten der ersten Abteilung der Esoterischen Schule 1904 bis 1919, note 5 to section II above. These lessons are not being given anymore so as not to do our Society a disservice.
There are only two possibilities these days. One is to act in the best interests of the Society, which means that regardless of whether we live in a nation at war or a neutral country, we must refrain from holding meetings that are not open to the public. Just imagine what could happen, and what a windfall it would be for people who go around making insinuations, if we were to hold secret meetings behind locked doors. Obviously, we must not do that, and Society members will have to resign themselves to doing without these lessons. It is as clear as day that we cannot have meetings between members from different countries going on behind locked doors, which is not to say that anything unacceptable would be happening there. As far as we are concerned, such meetings could happen on a daily basis as a matter of course. But you know how strong the opposition to our movement is. This must also be taken into account, and we must not endanger the whole movement by doing anything stupid or foolish. That's why we must give up holding closed meetings — they would simply open the door to that modern illness known as “spy-itis.”
The other possibility, which is totally out of the question, would be to separate the members according to nationality in order to speak to them. That is obviously not in line with the purpose of our Society.
I hope you have realized by now that this measure was taken because
the war made it necessary; it will be rescinded as soon as the war is
over, as you could all have worked out for yourselves.
I must still mention a few more thoughts in connection with this measure. We cannot simply assume that all the people out there are so decent and respectable that they will assume that we, too, are only capable of decent and respectable actions. We cannot expect them to be concerned about us and about finding out what we are doing. They have no way of knowing whether or not we are doing something they would consider unacceptable. That is what stands behind taking measures like this. It is impossible to count on the outside world making positive assumptions about us, but we really ought to be able to count on this within the Society itself.
In recent months, not only in this letter but in all the events leading up to it, we have repeatedly heard the opinion — coming from people whose aspirations are expressed in this letter—that the lessons of the esoteric school have been stopped not because of the war but because the Society has assumed a form that makes it necessary for such lessons to stop altogether. After all, given the “crimes” that have been committed, it can no longer be assumed that people will have the requisite trust in such lessons. This means nothing less than that we have to expect that certain measures we take within the Society will be judged in a way that can no longer be considered a decent or respectable interpretation. This interpretation is absolutely inadmissible; it is real slander and cannot be excused as a simple mistake.
Legally speaking, it is no different from libel, and it is even more worrisome when the rumors being spread are veiled in all kinds of mystical disguises. The way such things are passed around is often much more disastrous than people imagine, although I wouldn't go so far as to endorse the point of view of this letter-writer and claim that rumors whispered from one person to another must necessarily make use of black magic. That is not what I mean. Spreading rumors can be accomplished by quite natural means and does not necessarily imply any talent for black magic.
Let me emphasize once again before I continue that what I am saying is my own opinion, not to be taken as binding on anyone else.
In the letter in question, there was much talk of how people are supposed to have been unduly influenced through me. I will not comment on the contradiction inherent in this—on the one hand, my friendly conversations and handshakes are interpreted as techniques of black magic, and on the other hand I am blamed for not seeking closer relationships with members. On the one hand it is stated that I cut myself off from the members and don't do enough for them, but on the other hand I am supposed to have used each and every conversation and handshake to influence people against their will.
We need to understand how such a contradiction can come about. For instance, someone may desire something — let's take the case of a person who wants to have been the Virgin Mary in a previous incarnation. This is a real example, not a made-up one. Suppose the person in question comes and makes me aware of this. If I were to say, “Yes, yes, my occult research confirms that,” then that person would most likely not take this remark as an instance of undue influence. If what people are told corresponds to their desires, they are extremely unlikely to interpret it as an attempt to influence them unjustifiably. Now, self-deception and vanity are not usually taken to such an extreme that people imagine themselves having gone through this particular previous incarnation — they are more likely to choose something else, but the principle involved is what we need to consider at this point.
At this stage of human evolution, the autonomy of individual souls must be respected in the most painstaking way. Basically, people who think like the person who composed this letter do not have a viable idea of this painstaking kind of respect. After all, the writer of this letter would have found it pleasant to have been influenced in line with his own desires, and he wished for much more personal discussion. Suppose he and I had actually discussed all kinds of stuff, and also exchanged handshakes. On the one hand, that would have been exactly what he wanted, and on the other hand, the terrible crime he mentions would have been committed against him. As I said, most people have no idea of the painstaking regard for individual freedom that has to be the rule in a movement like ours. We must make an intense effort to preserve the autonomy of individual souls.
Let's imagine people coming to us with relatively mild cases of incarnational vanity. If we agreed with them, they would surely not go on complaining about being unduly influenced. But suppose we said to them, “Don't be silly; never in all your previous lives were you any such person!” If we are being very precise about it, that would have to be considered an unjustified intervention in these people's inner being, although perhaps not a very serious one.
Let's look at this instance with all possible clarity. If people come to us and tell us who they think they were in an earlier incarnation, regardless of whether they have come to this conclusion out of vanity or out of something else, they have arrived at it themselves, out of their own individual souls. This is where their own soul's paths have led them. And it belongs to the fundamental nature of our movement to lead people further, if possible, starting from whatever point they have arrived at inwardly when they come to us, but not to break their heart and will at some particular moment. If in such a moment we simply make an end of the matter by saying, “Don't be ridiculous; that's nonsense,” that is not an appropriate response. It actually would be an unjustified intervention if we permitted ourselves to speak like this, and these people would have no option but to extend us their confidence in a very personal way not appropriate to the situation, which, as we shall soon see, requires a totally different kind of confidence.
Instead, we should really say something along the lines of, “Well, as things stand now, this thought is something you have arrived at in your own soul. Try to make this thought carry over into real life; try to live as if it were true. See if you can actually do what you would be able to do, and if what happens is what would have to happen if it were true.” An answer like this helps them arrive quite logically at how things really are. It truly preserves their personal freedom without cutting anything off short, no matter how erroneous a path they may have been on until now. It is important to realize that refraining from influencing other souls is actually a very deep issue.
If they stick to the facts, people who share the opinions expressed in this letter will also not be able to maintain that any individuals in this Society have been particularly spoiled by me when it comes to having their previous incarnations made known. Please take what I have just said extremely seriously: It is not adequate to have some clumsy idea of what it means to influence or not influence others; in this day and age, if we always try to respect the freedom and dignity of others, the standards we must apply will be extremely difficult to live up to.
I have always consciously cultivated this sort of respect for the souls of others within our Society, to the extent that, in my attempt to preserve individual freedom, I have made a habit of speaking much less affirmatively or negatively than most people probably would. I have always tried to say only what would enable the person in question to come to independent conclusions on the matter, without acting on my authority. I have tried to eliminate personal authority as a factor by simply advising people to take certain things into account. This is something I have always made a conscious effort to foster.
I hope you will also realize that the misconceptions set down in this letter are not even among the strangest ones that can come about. It has happened more than once that people showed up at a lecture cycle somewhere or other, saying that it was Dr. Steiner's expressed wish that they attend. That has happened many times. If you look into it a bit, you will find that the people in question had told me of their plans to attend the series and, since I am always heartily pleased to meet members again in different places, I had told them I was very glad. In many cases, however, what I said was so changed in the minds of the people in question that by the next day they were saying that it was my particular wish that they attend this course. This is another instance of these strange misconceptions.
Many of our friends want nothing more than to be told what to do, but I have always tried to conduct myself so the members would notice that it would not occur to me to want to give people personal advice about how to manage their everyday life. I am far from wanting to influence them in things like whether or not they should attend a certain lecture cycle. From my perspective, the thing people most often want me to do and that I have to resist most strongly is to influence them personally in details like this. I never want to do that and always have to refuse. Within a society such as ours should be, it is necessary to refrain from that kind of thing.
All of this relates to something else that needs to be stated once just as a matter of principle. Anyone who observes how I try to work will realize that I always attempt to let the matter at hand speak for itself. And that brings me to the issue of confidence, as I would like to call it. I would really like to ask you members to duly consider whether I have ever done anything with regard to either an individual or the Society as a whole to encourage confidence of a personal nature in myself. Try to think about this and come to a conclusion on the basis of how I hold my lectures.
Let us consider an obvious case. You were all so kind as to show up for the lecture I held two days ago on various mathematical and geometrical ideas. 3See II, note 1 above. In the course of this lecture, I told you that from a certain spiritual scientific perspective, matter is nothing; matter as we know it is a hole in space. There is nothing there where matter is. However, I do not want you to simply take this statement on faith; I am far from wanting anyone to take these teachings on faith simply because they come from me. Instead, I try to show how modern science, including its most advanced and respected representatives, can arrive at the same insight as spiritual science. I tried to demonstrate an objective basis in fact, a basis that is also revealed by the results of scientific research, regardless of my own personal way of arriving at this discovery and quite apart from the fact that I am the one telling you about it.
I make a point of doing this so you will not need personal faith in me, but will be able to do without it and see how I try to let the subject, no matter how difficult, speak for itself.
I am sorry to have to present the issue of confidence to you like this; I would have preferred for you to see for yourself that all my efforts are directed toward making confidence in a particular personality unnecessary. The only kind of confidence that comes into question here at all would be the kind enabling you to say, “He is really making an effort to not simply lecture us on some kind of inspired insights; he is really trying to get everything together in one place so that things can be assessed on their own merit, independent of his personality.” Of course, this is not to say that I always succeed in “getting everything together in one place” — first of all, there isn't enough time for that, and secondly it is the nature of things to remain incomplete. My method, however, does tend in the direction of eliminating rather than encouraging faith in me personally. That is how we have to look at this issue of confidence in a spiritual movement. That is what is important to me, but in this, too, I am only expressing my personal opinion.
Admittedly, we must also recognize a certain perspective that tends to make everything relative, since in general it is true that everything should be subject to legitimate criticism. And it is certainly true that everyone should have the right to criticize where criticism is justified. On the other hand, this business of criticizing must also be taken relatively. Just think, the amount of work we can do is limited by time and cannot be extended in just any direction according to the whims of others. In view of that, you will realize that some of Mr. Goesch's ideas have not been thought through in terms of real life.
As I have often pointed out and can state quite openly, I would not venture to speak about certain things if I had not lived and worked with them for decades and become familiar with them over the course of a long life. For example, I would never have spoken about Faust if I had not lived my way into it over decades of intense involvement with the subject. 4See the two volumes Geisteswissenschaftliche Erlauterungen zu Goethes “Faust” (“Spiritual Scientific Commentaries on Goethe's Faust”), GA 272 and 273, (Dornach, Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1981). [These volumes have not been published in English — Translator.] Having done so, however, it is a real waste of time for me, as you can imagine, if someone who has not put anywhere near that kind of effort into it comes and wants to argue certain points with me. You really cannot ask that of me or of anyone else. Someone once wrote a letter to the poet Hamerling on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, addressing him as “Dear old man”; Hamerling was somewhat taken aback, needless to say. 5Robert Hamerling, 1830–1889, Austrian poet. Now, I am over fifty already, but I think you will admit that my task demands a certain amount of time and will understand that I do not need to spend time debating with people about things I was already concerned with when those people were still in diapers. In the abstract, getting involved in such discussions may be the right thing to do, but it is not usually very fruitful, especially when it has to do with things like the contents of this letter. I really have to say that. It is quite a different thing when someone speaks out of age and experience than when some young upstart talks about it. That is simply a fact of life.
And then, just think about the blatant contradictions in this letter. You don't have to think as I do, but I do want to tell you what I think about it. One sentence reads: “Alongside the work dedicated to the good within your activity in our spiritual movement, I have noticed certain behaviors…,” and so on. In conjunction with this sentence, the writer lists a large number of undertakings that I would not presume to mention myself if they weren't listed here, since I would have to admit that everything on this list has been done imperfectly at best. I have always emphasized, for instance, that the Johannesbau represents only the beginning of what ought to be done. Even so, people do not seem to be able to understand that I might have to limit what I take on, that I cannot, in addition to all these activities, take the time to cultivate all the relationships dreamed up by the writer of this letter. It is really taking things too lightly to imagine that I can possibly do both.
I am reluctant to put it like this, and I ask you to recognize my reluctance, but in order to do all that I would really have to ask the person who composed this letter to make each year twice as long. Barring that, I have to be permitted to organize my own activity as I see fit, which, however, in no way limits what other people want and can do. That, in fact, has been the goal of all my efforts — that each person should do what he or she wants without anyone asking them to do anything other than what they want to do. In that case, however, I must also be granted the right to limit what I recognize as my own task. In most cases, it is just those people who do not want to get involved in any concrete tasks and do not want to develop their will to serve concrete purposes who are most involved in criticizing what has already been accomplished. 6This seems to be a reference to Heinrich Goesch, who was not involved in any kind of practical activity. It was reported by some members that he had refused to help with the construction of the first Goetheanum.
However, this is not a constructive attitude in real life. People who are not in agreement with an association as it already exists are welcome to stay out of it, and to do whatever they are in agreement with. It is much easier, though, to become part of some society and criticize it from within than to do something on your own initiative. Finding fault is easy, but it in no way determines or restricts what you yourself can accomplish. Knowing what ought to happen and that someone else is doing something badly is never the crucial factor, but what is crucial is the effort someone makes to actually carry out what one talks about and is able to do. It is also not crucial that other people carry out what I want to have happen — they can take it up or leave it; their freedom is limited, not by me, but only by what they believe themselves able to accomplish. They must simply develop the will to carry out what lies within their own capabilities.
When this Society of ours was in the beginning stages, I believed it could be a prime example of this last-stated principle. It is the greatest failing of this day and age that people always want a tremendous amount but do not actually manage to do anything. Well, that is understandable enough. You see, anyone who has acquired knowledge and capability in any particular field and works with what has been learned knows that what one can actually accomplish is really terribly little. People who have had to develop their abilities are the most aware of how little can actually be done, while those who can do very little or have not yet tested their abilities think they can accomplish the most. That is why programs are more visible nowadays than accomplished facts; programs are floating around all over the place. It is extremely easy to set down in abstract terms what we hope to achieve through socialism, theosophy, the women's movement, community with others, and so on. It's easy to develop ingenious and appropriate programs. But people who have done something positive, even within extremely limited circles, have actually accomplished much more than the ones who put out the greatest programs for all the world to see. My friends, we must realize that what counts is what actually gets done. It would be best if we would more or less keep our programs locked up in a secret chamber in our hearts and only use them as guidelines for our individual lives.
Of course, it is very easy to misunderstand a movement like ours. Yesterday, I pointed out that we have to accept misunderstanding as a matter of course and spoke about how we should relate to misunderstanding on the part of people outside the movement who are not only unsparing in their criticism — their criticism would actually be a good thing — but unsparing with slander and false accusations as well. A significant amount has been accomplished in this regard over the course of the years. Especially in the area of slander and disparagement much has been achieved; yet the steps necessary to fend them off have not been taken. It is really necessary that the most intimate attributes of a spiritual movement like ours spread within our Society.
Something I always advocate and repeatedly mention because it is obviously part of my task is the fact that what I can mean to another person must be determined only by the spiritual aspect of our movement. And it is crucial that this spiritual factor, this purely spiritual factor uniting us, not be misinterpreted. I really cannot discuss the issue of the case at hand without touching upon these things. I am very sorry about all this because I always try to protect people as long as possible. However, our cause has to be more important than individuals. There is no other way.
Anyone who can judge these things objectively will be readily able to see the connection between what I said earlier about respecting the freedom of each independent soul and how I relate to individual members. I am constantly trying to make a reality out of something that is a natural consequence of our spiritual movement and that seems necessary to me in order to handle all personal relationships in such a way that they are appropriately integrated into our spiritual movement. This means I must leave each and every member of our Society free to act in ways that may differ completely from mine.
Some of you may share Mr. Goesch's opinion, and welcome any efforts to cultivate our social and personal interaction and cohesiveness. I myself think it would be a good thing if someone would make this effort, so that our Society would be a society in more than name only. However, my own role in this Society is necessarily limited. Nevertheless, I realize that I am still the one who knows by far the greatest number of members personally. Many people here know fewer than I do. I am certainly not opposed to people doing a lot to cultivate the personal aspects that play such a great role in this letter, but as I said, I must limit what I myself take on for reasons I have already presented adequately.
In view of that, it seems a very strange misunderstanding of what is actually going on when we hear opinions like those expressed again in this letter, claiming that the best of what I have to offer is becoming a mere shadowy image because of all this. According to this point of view, it seems that this Society built on the basis of spiritual science, this Society as I have to understand it, is seen as something that is too abstract and ought to assume a much more personal character. I am putting it like this — “ought to assume a much more personal character” — in order to avoid using a different expression. I have often explained that this personal character is not possible; it simply cannot be. I have even said so to some members individually. I would prefer to see this personal element rooted out to such an extent that I could, for instance, lecture from behind a screen so as to avoid mixing up personal connections to members with the main point, which is to disseminate anthroposophical teachings and make them effective in actual practice. I am sorry to have to say things like this, but how are we supposed to understand each other if these things are not said?
I would like to relate a particular incident and then comment on it. There is a certain person to whom I have always related as I described above, trying to practice what is right in relation to our spiritual movement, fulfilling my obligations with regard to this movement and disregarding any personal factors. 7The person referred to is Alice Sprengel. See Part Two, p. 109ff in this volume and also note 1 under I above. Some time ago, this person found it necessary to write me a letter that begins as follows. I will not read the whole letter, but only the part of it that seems to be at the root of this whole incident. This letter arrived on December 25, 1914 — Christmas Day of last year. I will now read this very characteristic passage, which begins with a quotation from one of the mystery dramas: “ ’Seven years now have passed,’ Dr. Steiner, since you appeared to my inner vision and said to me, ‘I am the one you have spent your life waiting for; I am the one for whom the powers of destiny intended you.’ ” Further on in the letter, we read, “Neither the teaching nor the teacher was enough to revive my soul; that could only be done by a human being capable of greater love than any other and thus capable of compensating for a greater lack of love.”
This is asking for something that cannot and must not be given in a personal sense. The teacher and the teachings are of lesser importance; what is wanted is the human being, the person. We should not play hide-and-seek in cases like this. At the conclusion of Mr. Goesch's letter, he says that he arrived at his insights under the guidance of the keeper of the seal of the Society for Theosophical Art and Style. Now, this keeper of the seal is the same person who wrote the sentence I just read, a sentence that shows that the things she is writing about have been slowly coming to a head for a long time. I will refrain from using any adjectives to describe the particularly pronounced insinuations in the letter Mrs. Steiner received from her yesterday. (See p. 115.) Such insinuations should not be repeated because of course people should be protected as long as they actually allow themselves to be protected. However, I really must point out that it is possible for things like this to happen in our Society.
Please do not imagine that I have been blind to this development, which has split into two parts, so to speak. I will speak first about the part that has to do with our Society as it is seen from outside, since it may be best to talk about that aspect first. Among the many things, some of them highly slanderous, that have been written in defamatory articles about our movement in general and myself in particular, there have been ever-recurring insinuations about the number of man-chasing hysterical women in our Society. I am not saying that this is true, but simply that it is mentioned in the many diatribes that have appeared, slandering us and myself in particular.
The current case is not an isolated incident, and things that appear in this form should not be interpreted personally but taken as symptomatic. Still, I must say that someone trying to get close to our movement should not try to do so by writing “Seven years now have passed, Dr. Steiner…” and so on. I do not want to go into these things at great length, but you will understand what was meant. These things cannot be judged on the basis of a single case, however. Instead, each individual case has to be interpreted as a sign that the teachings have not been received as impersonally as they should have been, and as an indication that there were some among us ready to set less store by the teachings and the teacher than by the human personality.
This was one of the secondary reasons why I and my loyal colleague, who had stood by me for so many years, were married last Christmas. I admit that we were not at all inclined to conceal the matter behind any occult cloak. First of all, as far as we were concerned, these personal things were nobody else's business. Secondly, with regard to the relationship between us, it had become necessary not to let misunderstandings arise because of things being taken on a more personal human level than they were intended. 8The second half of this sentence is somewhat unclear in the stenographic record and may have not have been taken down exactly or completely. An expression used frequently between the two of us in those days was that by marrying me, Mrs. Steiner had become the “cleaning lady” with regard to things that had been accumulating in some people's heads. I think you understand what I mean. Our intent was to have things taken less personally than they had been until then.
I hope you will not misunderstand me when I say that in general in a society such as this one, liberating ourselves as much as possible from the customs of the rest of the world is not the point. Instead, we should be helping the world progress with regard to customs and ways of looking at things. It can only be of help to us to arrange such matters so they are quite clear in the eyes of the outer world and so no one can get mistaken ideas about them.
This also led Mrs. Steiner, in responding to a letter from the person who actually instigated this whole business, to write that a civil wedding ceremony was actually not such a terribly important event, considering our years of working together on things that were of utmost importance to our lives. The response to that was, “However, your civil marriage unleashed a disaster for me, one that I had feared and seen coming for years — not in what actually happened, you understand, but in its nature and severity.” It should suffice for me to point out that a certain relationship exists between what we are experiencing now and the appointment of the “cleaning lady.” As far as I am concerned, no further proof of the need for the cleaning lady is needed!
There is no harm in taking things at face value and not reading more into them than is actually there, my friends, but it is always harmful to link a particular occult mission with some petty detail, or even something of major importance, from one's personal life. That's why we prefer the image of the “cleaning lady,” which corresponds to the facts much better than any pompous pronouncements we might have come up with, although we never imagined we would have to talk about it.
It is my personal opinion that if someone in our spiritual movement looks for something so personal in things that are perfectly self-explanatory, it is a disturbing reminder of the prevalence of certain instincts in our Society. The only acceptable way to deal with these instincts is to admit that they exist and face up to them truthfully without any occult disguises. That is also the best way to move beyond them. It only works if you confront them for what they really are. In our circles, however, an incredible amount has been done to surround these things with an occult aura.
Why should we let the purely objective interest we actually ought to have in our spiritual movement be clouded by dragging personal vanity into everything? Why should we let that happen? People who spend a lot of time thinking about their incarnations down through history are not really interested in this cause; they lack the particular kind of interest they ought to have. The only difference between them and ordinary egotists is that ordinary egotists are not so presumptuous as to identify themselves with all kinds of historical incarnations, but satisfy their personal vanity with other things.
It is really true that it is much better for people to flaunt their clothes or their money than their incarnations — that is much the lesser of the two evils. These are things we have to take seriously and inscribe into the depths of our soul. They have done too much harm over the years and are so intimately bound up with what I am forced to call “personal vanity,” to use a general term.
When personal vanity plays a large part, the most unbelievable misunderstandings can arise. As she recounts in her letter, this “keeper of the seal” once came to me and stated that she was obliged to apply standards already long since present within her to whatever came toward her from the outer world. My response was, “Why should that mean you can't be part of our spiritual movement? Of course you can apply your own standards,” by which I only meant that our teachings have nothing to fear from anyone's personal standards. That is what people are supposed to apply. In my opinion, there was nothing wrong with her wanting to apply her own standards. But the way she interpreted this showed that what she actually meant was that she was already in possession of everything spiritual that could be given her; she had already seen it in visions and thus was already in possession of it.
Then this woman went on to ask whether in that case she could or should become a student of mine. I do not know why she asked that; the question is a contradiction in itself. Well, all I can say is that it was an undeniable fact that she wanted to join us in spite of everything, and there was no way to prevent her from doing it. However, her claiming to be already in possession of it all and condescending to work with this movement while insisting on applying her own standards reveal a kind of vanity that is looking for something other than our teachings. After all, she did not need the teachings if she had them already. People are so unbelievably unaware of this kind of vanity, and it plays such a very great role in a movement like ours.
This person assumed that what was being taught actually stemmed from her, no less. That is somewhat difficult to understand. She must have found some reason to believe that in something in Mrs. Steiner's letter of response to her,9 something that led her to point more specifically to this mysterious source of our esoteric movement. That is how this strange state of affairs came about. My friends, it is no longer possible to play hide-and-seek for the sake of protecting individuals; it is time for us to go into these things. In the seal-keeper's answer to Mrs. Steiner, she says, "Three years ago, like a sick person seeking out a physician, I asked Dr. Steiner for a consultation. There was something very sad that I had to say during that interview, and I have had to say it frequently since then: Although I could follow his teachings, I could not understand anything of what affected me directly or of what happened to me. I must omit what brought me to the point of saying this, since I do not know how much you know about my background and biography." She says this because I once had to hear a conversation in which this was discussed. “I was not able to express my need, and Dr. Steiner made it clear that he did not want to hear about it.” It's true that I did not want to hear about it, but I did respond. You cannot just avoid things like that by indicating that you do not want to hear about them. “The following summer, however, we were graced with the opportunity to perform The Guardian of the Threshold; in it a conversation takes place between Strader and Theodora, a conversation that reflected in the most delicate way the very thing that was oppressing me. Perhaps Dr. Steiner did not ‘intend’ anything of the sort” — intend is in quotation marks — “nevertheless, it is a fact. Perhaps it was meant as an attempt at healing.” In the passage in question from the mystery drama, Strader says he owes everything to Theodora.
When people write things like this, especially in an attempt at a formal style, though its grandiloquence contributes nothing to its clarity, we really cannot assume that it deserves to be treated as a personal communication. There is a lot that could be seen as personal, and I have mentioned none of that; everything I have mentioned is intimately related to the whole character and nature of our movement. If people don't want these things to be mentioned in public, they should not write them down. When the kind of attitude expressed in this letter becomes predominant, it undermines everything I am trying to accomplish with every word I speak and with everything I have been doing for many years.
If we are to go on working together, you must not remain ignorant of what I think my position among you should be. If in fact we are to go on working together, it will have to be on the same basis as before. We must find a way to create a form for our spiritual movement that will be appropriate to the stage of evolution of people in our day and age. That cannot happen, however, if all kinds of personal things take the place of what should be achieved and understood on a spiritual level. It astounds me that in these difficult times, when our interest should be focused on the development of a major portion of humanity, someone should have so little interest in the events of the day as to drag such highly personal interests into our Society. A person who thinks it permissible to live in the illusion that something did not happen the way she dreamed it would, and has nothing better to do than cause a crisis on that account, is really cut off from the most profound aspect of our times.
This is how these highly personal matters start creeping into our Society. However, personal matters cannot be allowed to enter our movement, not in this form and not in any other. People whose chief interest is in their own person will only find a place in our Society to a very limited extent. Generally, people who wrap themselves in a mystical cloud also attempt to do the same to those around them. It would be inconsistent to imagine that you yourself are everything under the sun and not have the people around you be something special too, so the tendency is to broaden the circle. But when, as so frequently happens, this purely personal interest and personal feeling of vanity take the place of objective observation of and efforts toward what our spiritual movement is meant to be, they inflict the worst possible damage on our Society.
One might have thought that the Johannesbau going up here would have presented enough problems to keep our members busy and distract them from the vainer and more foolish things in life. One really might have believed that this building would turn their thoughts to better things. But as you see, that has not come about as we might have hoped, and yet we have to go on working. I thank you all for the expressions of confidence contained in the letter our friend Mr. Bauer brought to me, as well as those expressed by other members, and I hope ways and means can be found to deal with these obstacles to our movement's true progress and to give a little thought to what it will take to keep our movement from being too seriously constrained by outer hindrances in the future.
Criticism, my friends, cannot harm us. People can criticize us objectively as much as they like, and it will do no damage. First of all, it will always be possible to counter the criticism with whatever needs to be said, and secondly, time is on our side. Today, people may well still think we're fools because of our boiler house or the Johannesbau itself, or whatever, but they'll come around, and we can wait until they do. That's the way it is with anything new.
It is something totally different when slanderous and untrue statements are made. In that case, we are obliged to set these claims straight again and again if we don't choose to simply ignore them, and of course the slanderers can always answer back. It can even reach the point of taking legal action. Yet, we do need to defend ourselves against such statements, even if it feels like washing our hands in black and filthy water.
If we could really foster an active attitude and strengthen our forces on these two fronts, we would be able to do a lot that has been left undone so far.
Of course, this is not meant as a personal reproach to anyone in particular; some of what I said applies to some people, other things to others. It is intended quite generally. However, what I have pointed out has a solid basis in fact, and in order for you to see it, I have had to present something of the situation to show how things that were only intended to be taken spiritually have been taken very personally.
Please don't take it amiss if I say that if someone comes with complaints, even if she says she already knew everything she has gained or can still gain through the movement, the only thing to do is treat that person like a child and offer fatherly admonition or friendly consolation. I was naive enough to believe that it had helped, and then had to watch these delusions of grandeur appear afterward, so it… [gap in stenographic record] great damage within this Society of ours.
Considering the claims of the keeper of the seal, there was never any point in doing anything other than smilingly forgiving her for this rubbish, the way you excuse a child. Please don't hold it against me that I said what simply had to be said. But for the sake of our movement's dignity, we cannot permit pathological elements to destroy it. That is why we cannot always take the stand that we should simply accept these pathological elements for what they are. When this pathological element takes on all the appearances of delusions of grandeur, we have to call it by name; we have no other choice. This is by no means directed against the personality in question, but only against what is deserving of criticism in that person. After all, we must face the facts and not hide the issue behind the cloak of the occult. It requires a particular effort at self-education to do that, but if we succeed, we will see things as they truly are instead of through a glass darkly.
Perhaps you will say that I myself am speaking out of vanity at this point. That will make no difference to me, since I have already been condemned to call a spade a spade in this instance. I have known many students who thought they were smarter than their teachers and proceeded to tell them off, claiming that the latter had made all kinds of promises without keeping them. That this should also happen within our Society comes as no great surprise.
Now I have given you my own humble opinion, which you are not to take as binding. I am simply asking that you take it in the same way I want you to take everything I say, that is, I would like you to try to see if we are better able to get on with life in our movement once a common resolve is there to call the big things big and the little things little instead of drawing a mystical halo around any old arbitrary personal vanity.
If we are not aware of the full seriousness of our movement, the temptation is very great to fake it by decking out all sorts of life's little vanities in this same serious garb. That cannot be, and this simple statement means more than it seems to. This is what I had to say, although I did not want to. I cannot read these letters in their entirety in front of the whole movement, but it would not occur to anyone who could read them that I have overstepped my authority by quoting passages from private correspondence. In this case, it had to happen because these things are related to the very foundations of what we are doing together.