Wednesday 6 May 2015

In Search of the Miraculous #5: Waldorf and Steiner

Rudolf Steiner
The thing that mostly made its mark on me when impressionable seven year old me first saw a picture of Rudolf Steiner is, crikey that bloke had a big tie. I have never seen a picture of the man without the biggest, floppiest ties known to humanity. It was an image he wanted to present. He wanted to be an aesthete, in the tradition of Goethe (he even called the world HQ of his Anthroposophical Society the Goetheanum).

Arguably, of all the New Age writers I'm tackling, some obscure, some well-known, Steiner is the one who is best known outside of esoteric circles, having brought us Steiner (or Waldorf) schools and one of the first intentional forms of organic agriculture (I mean, yeah, in the old days, all farms were organic, but Steiner pretty much invented organic farming as a thing).

And he wrote some of the strangest, most difficult to fathom work on Atlantis of anyone.

Look. I'm writing a fantasy game. And Steiner, of all the Atlantis writers, is by far the most conducive to fantasy. It is dreamlike, inspirational, even poetic in its impact. I admit, I kind of love it as a piece of (unintentional) fictional worldbuilding, since it is so utterly alien. 

He read the Ak√Ęsha Record, you see. He accessed the memory of the world, what Sheldrake would later call the morphic field.

In Atlantis and Lemuria (aka Cosmic Memory: Prehistory of the Earth and Man) Steiner tells us that in the primordial days, the earth had not reached the current stage of its density, meaning that water was "thinner" and air "thicker", and so flight was easier.

Indeed, according to Steiner the earliest humans were sort of oval shaped, like elongated rugby-ball shaped amoebae with their faces at one of the pointy ends. They swam through the air. Eventually they solidified into the Lemurians who had a developed third eye, and who were both male and female.

The earth densified further, the sexes split. The Rmoahals were born, who learned how to use language in its most primal form, the key words of creation, to heal and to mend. And then the other Atlanteans, who, Steiner said, had no capacity for reason, only perfect memory. They powered mighty airships by tapping the colossal potential life energy in a single seed.

It reads like dreams. Maybe that's because it's made of them.

As far as his writings about Atlantis and Lemuria go, Steiner's actually among the least racist of the mystic Atlantologists. He confines himself to inner lives, magic, and spiritual, not physical evolution. Which is actually, when you think about it, weird as all get out, since Steiner was really quite virulently and obviously racist otherwise: if you don't believe me, here's an annotated translation of a truly horrendous late-era Steiner lecture called "Colour and the Human Races"

One article I read about Steiner suggested that he was one of the people who led to the Holocaust. I don't think that's all that fair, though, since while he had attitudes shared by the Nazis, he was in fact one of the people whose work, after he died, was burned and banned. His racism wasn't violent and annihilationist; it was patronising. And for the Nazis, that wasn't enough. He was, as far as they were concerned, the wrong sort of racist. His pacifism and back-to-nature attitude rubbed them up the wrong way, and that was it for the Nazis, who were really not afraid of New Age ideas (Himmler even sent an SS expedition to Tibet in 1938, to search for Shambalha and the Secret Root of the Aryan Race).

It's Anthroposophical policy to deny Steiner's racism. and certainly to deny that it's a continuing thing in the movement. The usual is to say that his statements are "out of context", but even in context they're horrid. While I'm certain that their intention is not to be racist, the base assumptions of Anthroposophy as a worldview (ascendancy, reincarnation, spiritual evolution) kind of feed attitudes that are, inadvertently, bigoted (see, for example, this 2014 BBC report about institutional racism in Waldorf schools which made me sad, because I've always liked Steiner schools as a thing). They don't mean to be racist. But then, apart from actual Nazis and American pulp authors of the 1920s, who does?

It keeps coming back to this. 

I mentioned, back when I wrote about Space Barbie that I had theories about why the racism wasn't going away in the New Age and among believers in Atlantis.

First, Atlantis as an idea is a problem, because it basically assumes that people in different parts of the world coming up with intellectual and engineering innovations on their own is somehow a problem... and fixes that non-problem with the idea that the ancients learned it from a white guy.

Then there's the occult basis. 

See, compare Christianity. Mainstream Christianity has had a race problem in the past and still has one, but at the same time has churches that are hugely successful in Africa and in Asia (the biggest church in the world is, lest we forget, in Seoul). This is because race isn't a thing in the Christian scripture unless you try quite hard to put it there (the one place in the Bible where it is a thing at all is in the story of the curse of Ham, Genesis 9: 20-29). The Christian church's race problem has historically been due, I think, to the churches' doctrines being modified by the racist societies in which it roots itself, Christianity's success partly being that it is a social chameleon, always meeting its cultures half way. Race isn't intrinsic to Christianity, and so in cultures where white people aren't running the show, it's nowhere. 

But the New Age hasn't quite got past this for two reasons. First, the clue's in the name. It's still, by the standards of religious history, not an old religion. Christian doctrine has branched, changed and developed for two thousand years, and Christianity still hasn't managed to get rid of its race problem, but the New Age only began a hundred and forty one years ago (with the founding of the Theosophical Society in 1874). That's not a long time in social history terms. It's not an excuse, either.

And of course, the other thing is that in the very first New Age works, which are based on whitened Hinduism, race is tied up with reincarnation and spirit... the thing is, it's hardwired into the centre of the machine.

It doesn't mean that you can't be into the New Age and not racist. Just that there are things that have to be faced. And it's not fair just to single out the New Age movement and go, "so racist" when all of our Western political and religious systems and traditions have at their core things that need to be looked at critically, and even if it's not race, you can bet it'll be something else. I mean, yes, Christianity may not have a baked-in issue with race besides what's added, but what about its problems with women, huh? Or with sexuality? Those are real problems that are, as much as I would like to believe otherwise, right there in the source material.

And yet I have met gay Christians, trans Christians, and feminist Christians, none of whom see their faith as a contradiction.

In the end, it's our role as their inheritors to admit to these things, to own them as part of our history, and somehow redeem them. That's not easy.