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BOOK REVIEW: "Rudolf Steiner" by Gary Lachman

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BOOK REVIEW: Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Work by Gary Lachman (Tarcher/Penguin) 2007

Before reading Gary Lachman’s 2007 book on Rudolf Steiner, I only had a vague idea about the man – founder of Anthroposophy – and his ideas.

But upon reading these 236 pages, I came away with a healthy respect for both Steiner and for the author for having boiled down a lot of what this Austrian was all about, something that is a bit hard to do, considering this polymath’s varied interests and abilities – some of which took on a decidedly mystical bent.

He loved Goethe, Fichte and Nietzsche. He loved Vienna’s café culture but seemed to be bored easily. And he admits that up until the age of 35, what we consider reality was sort of a gauzy dream-like world.

In addition to being the founder of the cult-like religious philosophy of Anthroposophy, an offshoot of Madame H.P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy, Steiner, we learn, was also an architect, artists, teacher and agriculturalist who amassed quite a following during his heyday – primarily between 1905 and the year he died, 1925.

Steiner experienced the ups and downs of going out on one’s own and following one’s vision. He believed in people and their role in the cosmos. Steiner, writes Lachman, thinks that people are “unaware of ourselves as free, spiritual beings” while also “unaware of the immense creative power of our own consciousness.”

Whereas Theosophy viewed that all religions are equally valid, and embraced a very Eastern way of thinking, Steiner believed Jesus Christ’s “descent and incarnation … was the single most significant event in human history.” With Annie Besant’s Theosophy maintaining an Oriental viewpoint and choosing Jiddu Krishnamurti as the “World Teacher,” something that Steiner disagreed with.

At the same time, he also shares his insights into a blief system that the Earth has gone through preivous incarnations, just as people do. There is “Old Saturn,” “Old Sun” and “Old Moon.” There are three further stages – Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan. He talks of Lemuria and later Atlantis.

With Steiner’s popularity came difficulties. With the rise of Hitler in Germany, where he spent a lot of time, Steiner was viewed as dangerous and too freethinking. Proto-Nazis, the author notes, tried to attack Steiner at one event, only to have his supporters surround and protect him.

Steiner was always willing to admit fault and when he made a mistake. His dabbling with the sex-magic-oriented Ordo Templi Orientis, was later considered by Steiner a “bad idea” (Lachman finds the connection somewhat laughable considering Steiner's somewhat "sexless" lifestyle) while his heavy workload and constant travel would take a serious toll on the physically somewhat frail man.

While certainly not a household name today, Steiner’s impact is fairly dramatic.
“More than any other spiritual or esoteric thinker, the practical application of Steiner’s ideas has had a remarkable success, and there is little evidence that this will change in the near future. Indeed the opposite is more likely.”

I know my great-great uncle Walter Burley Griffin, who designed Australia’s capital of Canberra in 1913, was a follower of anthroposophy, as was his colleague and wife Marion Mahony Griffin. Having read about Steiner gives me further insight into why his unusual belief system of the world, the cosmos and humanity would strike a chord, particularly with creative people.

I liked Gary Lachman’s conversational style and his willingness to admit he didn’t entirely agree with certain things. He presented it as is and lets the reader decide. A fascinating read overall.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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