This is one of a series of posts discussing Rudolf Steiner’s Founding a Science of the Spirit: Fourteen Lectures Given in Stuttgart Between 22 August and 4 September 1906. Visit the tag Science of Spirit for all posts on this topic.
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What better way to start of 2021 than by finally catching up on a post I started over
three four FIVE (nearly six) years ago, in August 2015. The further I reading to Steiner’s works, the less sense they make, and the more upset with them I become. The translation of lecture attendee’s notes from the original German into English (without the dual translation option) leave me wondering just how much of what Steiner said has been lost, left out, translated away, muddled, or otherwise modified.
Anyway, with COVID keeping us all inside, I figured now is as good a time as ever to catch up on my esoteric reading, because why not?* As each lecture builds on the last, I’ve decided to be ambitious and take on the next two lectures, Human Tasks in the Higher World and Child Development and Education, Karma.
Since I started this series of posts, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) has released a Statement of Inclusion & Equity, which includes:
Waldorf education espouses principles of respect for human dignity. Any narratives or indications made by Rudolf Steiner that are in contradiction to these principles are not the basis for Waldorf education and we unequivocally denounce such statements.https://www.waldorfeducation.org/awsna/statement-of-inclusion-and-equity
This does not give me particularly warm feelings towards the rest of Steiner’s lectures, but onward.
Lecture 5: Human Tasks in the Higher Worlds
Devachan has three regions: a continental region, where things are spread out and flowing like water, and a person is obligated to create the image of their new body; the second region, where universal life streams, externally this looks like a reddish-lilac stream flowing from one form to another; the third region you see relationships that rise between humans on the level of the soul.
Once the person enters the astral plane there are a range of soul-species that the person can interact with as though they where on the physical plane. All animals have a unifying soul on the astral plane. Plants and minerals gave soul groups as well, but those reside in the lower and upper Devachan levels respectively.
When a person dies the ego (soul?) moves to the astral plane and works with the egos of the animals and produces gradual changes in the animal world. As the soul moves up to the lower level of Devachan the soul works with the plant souls, and then in the upper level the mineral souls, in this way the the dead are responsible for changes in flora, fauna, and the other forces of nature. The more “advanced” a person is the longer they spend working at the higher levels of Devachan.
The idea we are all interconnected is not necessarily a bad thing, but the idea that the dead are capable of influencing natural events is a bit of a stretch for me.
Steiner then dives headlong into his reincarnation theories. There is an interval of about 1000 years between death and the next incarnation. Astral corpses of highly developed men who have “worked on” their “lower impulses” will dissolve more quickly than that of a less well developed man who gave “free rein to their impulses and passions.” Astral corpses that have not fully dissolved can complicate the reincarnation process.
I’m rather glad I’m not a clairvoyant. The idea of a plane full of astral corpses is a bit off-putting, to say nothing of the germinal humans that have not yet incarnated. Germinal humans zoom around the astral plane having come down from Devachan to gather up astral substances to take with him into his new life. These germinal humans are also searching for suitable parents.
The concept of germinal humans make me a bit uncomfortable. Higher beings, the Lipikas guide the germinal humans to their chosen parents, while the Maharajas form the etheric body to correspond with the astral form, with some contribution by the parents. This reincarnation process does not always go smoothly. If the soul was particularly troubled, sometimes there is a glitch and if/when “only part of the soul enters the body” this “will result in the birth of an epileptic or a person deficient in mind.”
I understand Steiner is trying to explain things using limited 1800s knowledge of human development on the other hand, this does not feel right, and I wonder if/how this idea is handled by AWSNA today.
Steiner then goes on to explain that the etheric body does not begin to work on the embryo until the seventh week, and the astral body begins to take shape in the seventh month, until then it is the mother’s etheric and astral bodies at work on the child. In the first few years of the child’s life these bodies develop further, and upbringing and education during this time is of the utmost importance.
Lecture 6: Child Development and Education, Karma
The chapter starts with the bold statement:
The insight into life given by theospohy is in the highest sense practical. The light it throws on questions of education will be deeply useful to humanity long before people attain clairvoyance;Founding a Science of the Spirit p. 43
Clairvoyance? Really? I’m going to leave that there, as it could easily become a whole new post on its own.
The note takers at Steiner’s lecture then go on to list the stages of human development. Birth through age seven, seven through fifteen/sixteen, and then from sixteen onward.
From birth to age seven, the physical body is the most important thing to consider, as the etheric and astral bodies are not yet open to the external world. In those early years it is most important to nourish the children’s “sense organs” (I’m guessing senses of taste, touch, smell, etc.) so they become active on their own, with an emphasis on things that allow their imagination a chance to be active. Children should be surrounded by noble-minded, generous-hearted people with good inner thoughts. Leading by example is key during these years. From seven to fourteen (or fifteen or sixteen, whenever they hit puberty), the etheric body — where memories, lasting habits, temperaments, inclinations and desires are houses — develops. Memorization, art and music should be encouraged. Bring to them the ideas of the “good men of history.” Leading with authority is important. At puberty the astral body is liberated, and the power of judgement and criticism and capacity for entering into direct relationship with others occurs. This final stage is for the training of independent judgment.
I don’t take any real issues with this, I’m not sure about the various bodies incarnating, but it does follow a reasonable approach to human development, meeting the children where they’re at, and so far this approach has largely worked well for my children.
Steiner then moves on to karma, and provides the example of a child may be born into a poor family with nothing because of poor karma from a previous life, the child can work to overcome these circumstances and improve in their next lives. Steiner’s lecture note takers provide several examples, arguments and counter arguments.
The analogy is made of an account sheet, with debit and credit sides, and “the balance can be drawn at any moment” (fwiw I failed accounting). Steiner assures us we should not think of the law of karma in relation to the past, but look to its bearing on the future, and how we can be “positively active in laying a foundation for the future.”
Steiner then goes on to take on Christian objections to the notion of karma, asserting that the laws of karma have always existed and been known to esoteric Christianity.
The chapter closes with a thought that resonated with me more than I expected it to:
The world does not consist of single separate ‘I’s, each one isolated from the rest; the world is really one great unity and brotherhood. And just as in physical life a brother or friend can intervene to help another, so does his hold good in a much deeper sense in the spiritual world.Founding a Science of the Spirit p. 52
Spiritual world aside, we’re all on this planet together, and we should try and care for one another. In the practical, pragmatic now, we should strive to better ourselves and help our fellow humankind.
* Maybe because it has been five years since I last even looked at the book and I’m not 100% sure where it is, and even once it is found I’ll need to start over from the beginning — or at least review my previous posts — so I have some clue what is going on! Yes, this post is going to be further delayed. Possibly into year six. Goodness.