Rudolf Steiner: Fighter for spiritual freedom. A centenary-event approaches
by Mike Bee
What Steiner engraved into the earth in one location of Europe 100 years ago has expanded greatly. … It may seem to be but a drop in the ocean compared to the evil that has worked its way into all areas of the world, but its potential is vast, and it is accessible to all.
99 years and six months ago, an event took place that some consider to be the single most significant event to have happened on Earth in the last 2,000 years. Most people have never heard of it, yet its effects go on working, regardless of whether or not human beings are aware of what happened then. The event was called The Christmas Foundation Meeting. It took place in the presence of about 800 people near the city of Basel in Switzerland, and the person who brought it about was Rudolf Steiner.
The society he founded at that time will, no doubt, be holding all kinds of commemorations of it in six months’ time. But there is a law that societies tend to ossify over the years, and we cannot depend on the members of that society being able adequately to inform others outside of the movement of what it is that they are celebrating. The purpose of this article is to describe the Christmas Foundation event within the context of Steiner’s overall life-goals – his “mission” on behalf of humanity – so that its universal significance can be glimpsed, even by those who previously had never heard of it.
Like many events of significance, the Christmas Foundation Meeting was born out of tragedy and a sense of deep inadequacy. Before the First World War, Rudolf Steiner had begun to create a building that would be able to hold, amplify and radiate the new streams of light that were pouring into the world since the ending, in 1899, of the 5,000 years of darkness, known as Kali Yuga.
Kali Yuga had been spoken of for thousands of years, and people for many centuries had longed for it to end, that a new age of light could begin within this Earth. The darkness of the old period had reached a kind of climax in the Western world during the Nineteenth Century – a deep point of materialism where the light of the spirit was almost completely shut out, and people focused almost exclusively on physical reality. Steiner knew that he had a task to help humanity move into what was going to be a time of new opportunities but also new dangers. At the age of eighteen, in the year 1879, he had been shown how he must develop his awareness of the spiritual dimensions of what was happening on the earth and that his task would be to prepare human beings to take hold of this new quality of spiritual insight. Those who guided humanity’s spiritual evolution knew that the Twentieth Century was to be a major turning-point, and Steiner’s task was that this new influx of radiance from the spiritual world could be understood as well as felt, so that new creativity could begin to transform the world in ways that were never possible in earlier times.
As a visible sign of the fruitfulness of this new inflow of light, work began in 1913 on the building that Steiner had planned to be the focal point of his activities. Just 40 people were present on 20th September of that year in the Swiss village of Dornach, near Basel, when Steiner carried out a short outdoor ceremony to mark the significance of the hour and laid a copper container, crafted into the shape of a twelve-sided dodecahedron, into the pit that had been dug as part of the foundations of the building to come. During the ceremony, the elements responded with dramatically intense rain, wind, lightening and thunder as if the powers of darkness, determined not to have their 5,000-year reign disturbed, were enraged at this man’s audacity and were signalling their determination to destroy what he was setting out to achieve.
Steiner had publicly taken hold of his mission in 1900 at the age of 39, when he began to speak openly of what his spiritual initiation and subsequent journeyman years had shown him. From that year onwards, he spoke of the new insights he perceived regarding Earth’s connection to the cosmos and how spiritual beings were longing to assist human beings in all aspects of their lives. He gave personal lessons to individuals from many European countries who wished to become bearers of the spiritual light that he served. However, the world as a whole resisted all attempts to change in any fundamental way, and the old tendencies of human egos contesting for power against other egos built up to a climax. The outer sign of this was the First World War.
While Steiner was staying in Berlin during the war, he was asked how Germany could respond to what seemed to be a hopeless situation. He replied by drafting a blueprint for how society could function, based on the sacred geometry of the human being. He and some colleagues did all they could to take these ideas out into the world, but once again he was thwarted by the sheer weight and inertia of what was living in the souls of the people of that time. When the war ended, Steiner knew that the Treaty of Versailles doomed humanity to a second great war and decades of conflict, for the real causes of the First World War were entirely unaddressed by the peace treaty that the politicians of the day had created. These politicians – so like those who hold forth in so many countries in our time – divided the nations up in the image of the old world whose destruction they had participated in, and Steiner saw the inevitable devastation that was ahead because of this.
Disappointed, but in no way slowing down in his activities, Steiner continued to seek for ways to bring renewal and plant seeds that would bear a harvest in future times. One of these seeds was the building that had been begun before the war broke out, for it encapsulated in solid materials the same sacred forms that he had tried unsuccessfully to bring in ideas as a blueprint of how society could function successfully without war and with respect for the rights of all human beings.
Work on this building, which Steiner called the Goetheanum after the great German writer, Goethe, continued throughout the war years and on into the Twenties. Then tragedy struck again. In what was probably an act of arson, carried out by those who did not want humanity to progress out of the darkness of old beliefs and superstitions, Steiner’s building was burnt to the ground on New Years Eve, 1922-23.
It has been reported that Steiner had once said that he would live to be 100, but the destruction of this building had consequences for his physical health. He also went through a kind of spiritual crisis during the year of 1923. For 22 years he had worked tirelessly in all parts of Europe, but he saw in the destruction of the Goetheanum a sign that the world was not ready for what he was bringing. He told colleagues that it was also a sign of the inabilities of those who worked with him to be able to make the vital consciousness shift that the times demanded of them. He travelled a great deal in this key year of 1923, always carrying within him the dilemma of how he should proceed in these difficult circumstances. One solution was to withdraw from human contact and work with a small number of those who were ready for what he had to give. The way ahead was not clear to him, and he described later that it was as if he needed to take a leap of faith in making his next step.
He made his decision concerning what he would do some time in the final months of 1923. He would not withdraw from the world but create within it a new organization whose form would work out ever more strongly into the world. He imagined a society of human beings of all races and creeds, brought together in reverence for the new wisdom that since the end of Kali Yuga had streamed into the earth and reflecting in its structure the new understanding of what works between human beings who remember their spiritual origins and are capable of being representatives of a transforming humanity. He made an appeal to those around him to accompany him with all the forces of their souls, and for a time this was successful. The Christmas Foundation Meeting took place over the course of nine days between 24th December 1923 and 1st January, 1924
We can ask today if Steiner was naïve to hope that human beings would be able to transcend the limitations imposed on them through being, as Nietzsche put it, “human-all-too-human”. The law I spoke of in the second paragraph of this article – that institutions have an inbuilt tendency to ossify and turn against their own creators – has played itself out for centuries in many different situations. It was most visible when Jesus of Nazareth stood before the Temple in Jerusalem, built to house the prophesied Messiah, only to be rejected and put to death by the authorities of the time. Steiner had appealed for a certain kind of selflessness, and his inner power and charisma rallied people at first, so that he was able to speak of his leap of faith as having been the right decision. But the Christmas mood could not be sustained – human beings in the 1920’s were simply too weak to bear what was being asked of them.
Steiner appealed a number of times for those around him to dedicate themselves anew to what had been founded, but it became clear that this was not possible, and Steiner’s own death was a sign that something on the earth had failed. The power of his inspiration would continue working spiritually – over that, the powers of darkness had no control – but it could no longer be carried by him physically. After an extraordinary period of super-human creativity, when Steiner planted many more seeds in many different areas, giving sometimes five lectures a day in all kinds of professional fields, his physical strength gave out. On Michaelmas Eve, September 28th 1924, Steiner took to his sickbed where he died six months later on 30th March, 1925.
We approach not just the centenary of the Christmas Foundation Meeting but the incredible year of 1924 when Steiner gave so much that was potentially of deep significance to humanity. From those early beginnings in the Twenties of the last century – from seeds planted at a time of great personal grief but with incredible spiritual strength – the new light has gone out to all parts of the world.
And yet, in that 100 years, the powers of darkness that wish to keep humanity ignorant and in slavery to old gods have been unrelentingly active. The remainder of the Twentieth Century – with its Holocaust and nuclear weapons, its rise of state power everywhere and its continuation of materialism and exploitation of the strong over the weak – was a reflection of what Steiner had said when the First World War ended with the lessons that should have come out of it unlearned: “This war has not really ended,” he said at that time. “It goes on, and what we have now is not peace – it is merely a cessation of hostilities.” A war against humanity continued throughout the Twentieth Century and on into the Twenty-first.
But human beings, in this time of destruction and darkness, have had time to change. Those who long for what is new and feel in their hearts the possibilities that are unfolding there, have been deeply tested. Perhaps now, there is a critical mass that was not present 100 years ago, so that old and dead ways of thinking that divide human beings from each other and from the cosmos that surrounds them can be overcome, and new social forms can arise from enlivened and more truthful thinking.
This is no mere empty idealism. Spiritually, Steiner never left the field of his activity. He is present with many others who carry with him various aspects of the total struggle for a new age in the sphere that he called the “etheric” – that realm referred to in the Bible as being “in the clouds”, into which Christ vanished physically at the event of His Ascension. The sphere of the etheric is that from which the life-forces come that surround the earth and give to it the renewing formative forces that are needed at every moment. Today, in 2023, the etheric sphere is very close to us, and what goes on there affects us more than we know. From it, help can come for all who are engaged in this continuing struggle against the powers of darkness.
What Steiner engraved into the earth in one location of Europe 100 years ago has expanded greatly during the intervening years. It may seem to be but a drop in the ocean compared to the evil that has worked its way into all areas of the world, but its potential is vast, and it is accessible to all, whether or not they know anything at all of the individuality who once bore the name “Rudolf Steiner” but who is not now limited to the identity he carried while he was alive on Earth.
One way to connect with what Steiner planted in his time, as a foreshadowing of what was to come, is to pay some attention to what actually happened in that Christmas Foundation Meeting. When a friend of his who had not been able to be present was told about it afterwards, his instinctive reaction was that, “Humanity has been baptised again!”
With the Christmas Foundation Meeting, 110 years short of 2,000 years since the greatest earthly event ever, new powers of light were enabled to stream into the earth. The key to understanding this event lies in taking hold of the words of the meditation which Steiner built up over a seven-day period, laying it into the hearts of the 800 individuals present. This meditation is known as the Foundation Stone Meditation and it stands today as a sign that the power of darkness shall be broken and that humanity shall throw off the chains of old and step out into a new era of spiritual activity and freedom. The Foundation Stone Mediation concludes with these disarmingly simple words:
At the turning-point of time,
the Spirit Light of the World
entered the stream of earth-evolution.
Darkness of night
had held its sway.
poured into the souls of human beings.
Light that gives warmth
to simple shepherd’s hearts.
Light that enlightens
the wise heads of kings.
Warm our hearts,
bring light into our heads,
that good may come
from what we, from our hearts, would found,
and from what we, in our heads, would direct
with single purpose.
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