"Most interpretations of the "Seven Sermons to the Dead" are from occultist, psychological, or parapsychological pespectives (mostly Thesophical and Jungian). Yet if we examine this work from the cultural matrix in which Jung lived, perhaps a different interpretation is possible."
Noll then suggests this:
"In many respects, Septem Sermones ad Mortuos" resembles the poetry of Stefen George. As such this work may have additionally been an exercise in poetic creativity for the supposedly autonomous 'genius' or "daimon" of Jung-Philemon--who wrote the Septem Sermones seeking novel forms of expression. Jung of coures, knen the poetry of (Stefen George's) Georgekris, and would dave been attracted to his sophisticated style...George's vision was of a volkish intellectual and spiritual elite, an underground, "secret Germany" that would lead the way for the revitalization of the German peoples. As George himself despised politics, this was to have been a spiritual movement of the Volk.
Noll noted that the Nazis liked George's material but George himself was appalled by both the Nazis and their anti Semitism and went into exile in Switzerland.
Noll then invites readers to examine the similarities between George's work, especially Star of the Covenant and Seven Sermons to the Dead.
"This work first appeared in print, in January 1914...Once again sew have the star as the central volkish symbol of divinity. It is also the uniting symbol of the covenant betwen the members of the Utopian Bund who are pledged to live out a Nietzschean "new life" of experience.
"George's Der Stern und Bundes, like Jung's piece, is told with the voice of a prophet or 'vatic personality' who interacts with a chorus of followers.
"George's Der Stern und Bundes, like Jung's piece, is told with the voice of a prophet or 'vatic personality' who interacts with a chorus of followers. It is clear from the ‘Introit’ that the philosopher’s God is experienced as an inner star or sun:Quote
Who is your God? All that my dreams avowed,
Kin to my vision, beautiful and proud.
He is the force the lap of darkness vented,
The sum of every greatness we were granted,
The deepest source, the inmost blaze, he is
Where I have found the purest form of these.
He flooded every vein with richer teeming
Whe first for one was rescue and redeeming,
He filled the gods of old with fresher breath
And all the worlds the world has done to death.
The god is veiled in highest conscretation
With rays around he manifests his station,
Embodied in a son whom stars begot,
And a new center conjured out of thought.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
"Norton states in his preface that "it was not the poet George who originally interested me when I set out to write this biography," but his role in helping to make the monstrous crimes of Hitler's National Socialists thinkable and possible: "If this book has any larger purpose, then it will be that it succeeds in making comprehensible how sensitive, intelligent, and deeply cultivated people, how humane lovers of poetry and beauty, and not just brutish, bloodthirsty thugs, could have embraced an ideology that held death at its core" (p. xvii; cf. pp. 546-48).
"Stefan George's contribution to the most murderous time in German history is intangible. It may be seen in his insensitive lack of humanity toward those who did not measure up to his standards and who could not be his followers, that is to say, most of mankind. To appear to welcome "the extinction of large segments of humanity" (pp. 343, 546-48), to propose the total annihilation of the United States of America as "the enemy of all culture" (pp. 483-84), does seem to be an extreme form of disdain.
By the beginning of the twentieth century Stefan George had discovered the theme of the Secret Germany as the focus of his life's work. In the 1870s Paul de Lagarde had lamented the condition of his country and wished for a sworn "secretly open union which planned and toiled for the great tomorrow." In 1904 Stefan George and his friend Karl Wolfskehl proclaimed "that every fruitful--every liberating thought originated in secret circles (cenacles)." George and Wolfskehl continued in the same piece to say that the great contemporary masses retained no trace of the vital forces of a nation, and that the initiated would not object if the contemporary intellectual overlooked the millions as if they did not exist since he knew them quite sufficiently through a few specimens, just as in antiquity no informed person objected to the treatment of "slaves and domestic animals (pecus et manicipium)."
Robert Norton. Secret Germany: Stefan George and His Circle. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2002. 847 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8014-3354-2.
Reviewed by Peter Hoffmann (McGill University, Montreal)
Published on H-German (May, 2003)
[Every attempt has been made to follow George's own typographical conventions where technologically possible. Possible errors or confusions are due to technological limitations and not author errors. --Ed. ].
Stefan George (1868-1933) and his Circle are ciphers for powerful effects upon German public life. Stefan George's poetry helped to form modern literary German; Rainer Maria Rilke at the age of twenty-two looked up to the "Meister Stefan George." Stefan George's disciples and friends in time occupied important chairs in German universities in literature, history, psychology, economics and published some of the most influential works in their fields.
Robert Norton at the University of Notre Dame has done what no European scholar outside Stefan George's Circle has undertaken: he has produced a comprehensive biography of the man, poet, teacher and leader. Norton is profoundly familiar with Stefan George and his entire cultural ambiance, first in Paris and then in Germany, with the intellectual and political German ambiance from the 1880s to 1933 as well as the Circle's more immediate ramifications. Norton constantly probes and analyses the poet's character through his poems, letters, and relationships with his friends. He uses irony to maintain a detached distance but frequently also to express his disapproval of one or another episode.
The lack of a full biography of Stefan George by a scholar who is not a friend of the poet or well affected toward his ideas has been, in part, a matter of access to sources, indeed of the continuing cult of secrecy in the Secret Germany for decades after the poet's death. The poet did everything in his power to control the image of himself and his work that he wanted the outside world to have. In 1930 he had an uncritically devoted follower and friend, Friedrich Wolters, produce an authorized history of his life and his Circle. Not a single line in it appeared without the Master's approval. Another close friend, Ernst Morwitz, wrote an account of Stefan George's poetry. George's friend and testamentary heir, Robert Boehringer, assembled many further details under the title Mein Bild von Stefan George, with a companion volume of photographs. Other friends who published recollections include the economist Edgar Salin, the sculptor Ludwig Thormaehlen, and the philosopher Edith Landmann-Kalischer. In 1972 three scholars in collaboration published a day-to-day chronology of the Master's life. But only in the later 1970s did the papers that Robert Boehringer had inherited become generally accessible in the Stefan George Archiv in Stuttgart. The Castrum Peregrini archive in Amsterdam also preserves a great body of Georgeana; the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach holds Karl Wolfskehl's papers; and Friedrich Gundolf's papers are in London University's Institute of Germanic Studies. The papers of one of Stefan George's close friends, Ernst Morwitz, will remain closed for years to come. Persons who were close to the poet long protected his papers from scrutiny. This was partly routine among the initiates of an exclusive semi-secret society; but it had additionally seemed necessary because of all-too obvious affinities between ideas propagated by Stefan George and the National Socialists. Friends and custodians exerted pressure to suppress anything critical about the Master and his Circle. Failure to respond in an approved manner could lead to ostracism, denial of access to archival sources and refusal of interviews.
The title of this important biography deliberately signals what Stefan George systematically pursued: a small band of devoted followers sworn to his views of humanity, culture, influence, and power. After groping experiments with symbolist, anarchist and ostensibly apolitical beginnings in the 1880s, Stefan George soon became interested in replacing the bourgeois society that he despised with his own heroic male society (pp. 156, 160, 194). He became a poet and teacher with frankly political objectives by the time the First World War began, and he played the role continuously until his death on December 4, 1933.
Norton takes Stefan George through the stages of the construction of his spiritual-intellectual kingdom, from uncertain beginnings including an early wavering between becoming a French poet or a German one, through the gradual realization of his abilities and calling. By 1899 George had established his place as a German poet with an international reputation, combining poetic creativity with friendships and with his unorthodox erotic impulses. By 1908 he had severed unsatisfactory intellectual liaisons and become a pedagogue in his own right. He was ready for a further stage to which Norton gives the comprehensive heading "Politician: 1909-1918." The last phase, "Prophet: 1919-1933," is the culmination of the poet's life, and of Norton's analysis of his role. It is George's ambivalent yet purposeful and relentless ancestorship of The New Reich--the title of his last collection of poems published in 1928.
By the beginning of the twentieth century Stefan George had discovered the theme of the Secret Germany as the focus of his life's work. In the 1870s Paul de Lagarde had lamented the condition of his country and wished for a sworn "secretly open union which planned and toiled for the great tomorrow." In 1904 Stefan George and his friend Karl Wolfskehl proclaimed "that every fruitful--every liberating thought originated in secret circles (cenacles)." George and Wolfskehl continued in the same piece to say that the great contemporary masses retained no trace of the vital forces of a nation, and that the initiated would not object if the contemporary intellectual overlooked the millions as if they did not exist since he knew them quite sufficiently through a few specimens, just as in antiquity no informed person objected to the treatment of "slaves and domestic animals (pecus et manicipium)." George liked to refer to the Circle of his friends as "the state." The emphasis was on the sense of Socrates' response to Glaucon's remark that the state they were discussing existed only in their words: "In heaven perhaps it has been erected as a model for him who will see and for the seeing who will follow it. There is no difference whether it exists or will exist anywhere; for only for the sake of this state the seeing will act, and never for the sake of any other."
After the two world wars, the Circle's secretive elitism became an embarrassment. Stefan George's anti-Jewish utterances made it worse. In 1911 George told Ernst Robert Curtius that he never allowed Jews to become the majority in his Circle. He approved Friedrich Wolters' racial slurs against Karl Wolfskehl in the authorized biography. George's friend Kurt Hildebrandt quoted the Master as saying that he wished at least to avoid any antagonism between himself and the National Socialists--"except for his holding with the best of his Jewish followers." But Hildebrandt wrote in the same letter: "As early as during the war St. G. taught [us] that the Jews were decomposing the political and the intellectual state. [. . .] He was increasingly dissatisfied with their attitude. In 1932 he told me the Jews ought not to be surprised if he joined the N.S." The Master said to Edith Landmann in Basel in September 1933, concerning the persecutions of Jews, that he stood by his Jewish friends and that their presence in his Circle proved his open-mindedness. But he added: "I will tell you something: when I think of what Germany will have to face in the next fifty years, then the Jewish matter in particular is not very important to me."  Stefan George's statements make clear that, on the contrary, he understood the central importance of anti-Semitism in Hitler's ideology and practice. His supporters also understood it and discussed it with the Master.
In May 1933 the Hitler government wanted to co-opt the Master for the Prussian Academy for the Arts. George declined the offer but authorized the government to say: "I do not at all deny being the forefather of the new national movement and also do not put aside my intellectual collaboration. What I was able to do for it I have done--the youth who gather around me to-day share my view .. the fairy tale of my aloofness has accompanied me in my entire life--this only appears to be so to unaided eyes."
In the poem "DER DICHTER IN ZEITEN DER WIRREN" ("THE POET IN TROUBLED TIMES"), the only one of his poems in which the word voelkisch occurs (first published in 1921 and in 1928 included in the volume of poems entitled DAS NEUE REICH), Stefan George called for
A young tribe [. . .] Who out of sacred dreaming doing enduring Brings forth the one the only one who helps ... Who breaks the chains sweeps order On the fields of rubble--flogs those gone astray home Into eternal right--where great is great again Master once more master--discipline once more discipline--he fixes The true sign onto the national banner He leads through storm and horrifying signals Of early morning dawn his loyal troop to labour On the waking day and plants the New Realm.
After the poem's re-publication in 1928, it seemed clear to many, not only to National Socialists, that Stefan George was referring to Adolf Hitler. Readers who knew that the poem had been published in 1921 and written probably as early as 1918 were even more impressed by the Master's prophetic power. Stefan George was a voice of his time, while imprecating a thousand curses upon it, and he expressed a pervasive although by no means universal mood in Germany when he called for a strong leader.
Norton's emphasis on the hard and cruel side of Stefan George raises the question of how much weight ought to be given to the testimony of the poet's friends and disciples. They testify to the Master's infinite kindness and wisdom in which they felt themselves warmly and securely enveloped. Words such as love, flower and happiness are as prominent or more prominent in George's poems than master, murder, victory, destroy, force and dead. Norton sees murderous mayhem and violence advocated in many of George's poems; using the poet's own words, he dismisses, as George did, the "flattering sweet tones" and arcadian murmurings as deliberate deception (p. 363). After reading Norton, there is certainly no need to read more of what the poet's enemies had to say. But perhaps the differing views of the Master's friends are too summarily dismissed.
Norton states in his preface that "it was not the poet George who originally interested me when I set out to write this biography," but his role in helping to make the monstrous crimes of Hitler's National Socialists thinkable and possible: "If this book has any larger purpose, then it will be that it succeeds in making comprehensible how sensitive, intelligent, and deeply cultivated people, how humane lovers of poetry and beauty, and not just brutish, bloodthirsty thugs, could have embraced an ideology that held death at its core" (p. xvii; cf. pp. 546-48).
Stefan George's contribution to the most murderous time in German history is intangible. It may be seen in his insensitive lack of humanity toward those who did not measure up to his standards and who could not be his followers, that is to say, most of mankind. To appear to welcome "the extinction of large segments of humanity" (pp. 343, 546-48), to propose the total annihilation of the United States of America as "the enemy of all culture" (pp. 483-84), does seem to be an extreme form of disdain.
There will always be admirers of Stefan George who will emphasize what they see as the attractive elements in his ideas. But Norton has concluded that the pernicious predominated in Stefan George's ideas and conduct. He quotes Walter Benjamin's remark to his friend Gershom Scholem in June 1933 that "if ever God has punished a prophet by fulfilling his prophecy, then that is the case with George." Norton agrees: "Only time would tell how right Benjamin had been" (p. 742).
. Friedrich Wolters, Stefan George und die Blaetter fuer die Kunst. Deutsche Geistesgeschichte seit 1890 (Berlin: Georg Bondi, 1930).
. Ernst Morwitz, Kommentar zu dem Werk Stefan Georges (Duesseldorf and Munich: Helmut Kuepper vormals Georg Bondi, 1960; 2nd ed., 1969).
. Robert Boehringer, Mein Bild von Stefan George (Munich and Duesseldorf: Helmut Kuepper vormals Georg Bondi, 2nd ed., 1968).
. Edgar Salin, Um Stefan George. Erinnerung und Zeugnis (Munich and Duesseldorf: Helmut Kuepper vormals Georg Bondi, 2nd ed. 1954); Ludwig Thormaehlen, Erinnerungen an Stefan George (Hamburg: Dr. Ernst Hauswedell & Co., 1962).
. H. J. Seekamp, R. C. Ockenden, M. Keilson, Stefan George. Leben und Werk. Eine Zeittafel (Amsterdam: Castrum Peregrini Presse, 1972).
. [Paul de Lagarde], Deutsche Schriften (Goettingen: Dieterichsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1878), pp. 68, 101-102, 248-249; idem, Deutsche Schriften, Gesammtausgabe letzter Band, Vierter Abdruck (Goettingen: Dieterichsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1892), pp. 98, 125, 241-242; idem, "Das verborgene Deutschland", privately printed (Offenbach a.M.: Gebr. Klingspor, 1920), pp. 1-2.
. Blaetter fuer die Kunst Siebente Folge. Begruendet von Stefan George, ed. Carl August Klein (Berlin: Verlag des Herausgebers, 1904), pp. 3-4.
. Politeia (end of 9th book), translated by Edgar Salin, Von Mensch und Staat (Basel: Schwabe, 1942).
. Wolters, pp. 243-244.
. Kurt Hildebrandt to Arvid Brodersen, January 7, 1935 (Amsterdam: Castrum Peregrini).
. Edith Landmann, Gespraeche mit Stefan George (Duesseldorf and Munich: Helmut Kuepper vormals Georg Bondi, 1963), p. 209.
. Ernst Morwitz to Stefan George May 10, 12 and 25, 1933; Stefan George to Morwitz May 10 and 15 1933; Morwitz to Kurt Zierold September 10, 1933; Morwitz to Karl Wolfskehl December 25, 1933 (Stuttgart: Stefan George Archiv).
. Stefan George, Gesamt-Ausgabe der Werke. Endgueltige Fassung, vol. 9 (Berlin: Georg Bondi, 1928), p. 39.
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Citation: Peter Hoffmann. Review of Norton, Robert, Secret Germany: Stefan George and His Circle. H-German, H-Net Reviews. May, 2003.
Copyright © 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.
'Pointing to Gundulf (a disciple) George turned to Steiner and said, 'See what I have made of him!"
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Study of Germany's Greatest Poet, Stefan George, August 24, 2002
See all my reviewsThis review is from: Secret Germany: Stefan George and His Circle (Hardcover)Quote
I wish to stress with some urgency that in my view this recently issued monograph on Germany's greatest poet, Stefan George, who was likewise one of modern Europe's most enigmatic and disturbing political presences, constitutes an achievement of incomparable significance in the historiography of cultural modernism.
Experto crede: I have been occupied in studying these individuals for thirty years or more, and I can assure students that Robert Edward Norton has shed more light than admirers of Stefan George would have thought possible upon a dazzlingly talented, albeit indubitably eccentric,literary cenacle (study circle) whose center stood the masterful and charismatic visionary who was its spiritus rector.
(Corboy note: many would suggest that Goethe or Schiller could compete with George as Germany's greatest poet--unless we confine ourselves to modern times)
Although George began his literary career as something of a minor Teutonic satellite on the far fringes of the French Symbolist movement (we learn, for instance, that the poet became quite close, both personally and artistically, to several of the Symbolist School's leading lights, viz., Paul Verlaine and Stephane Mallarme to mention just two of the more prominent figures) the predominant emphasis in Robert E. Norton's monograph rests upon the author's entertaining presentation of a wide range of hitherto obscure details involving the poet's later career, when his personal pretensions began to outweigh his literary career--over which George assiduously endeavored to cast a shroud of mystery and ambiguity--as well as unlocking for us a treasure trove of hitherto obscure biographical facts and anecdotes about the disciples and associates who drifted into the orbit of George-Kreis at one time or another.
(eg As when Rudolf Steiner paid a few visits to Stefen George-Corboy)
These anecdotes cover the waterfront, from uproarious and barely believable brawls that erupt out of the blue between alpha-intellects who are not what one would describe as pugilists, to grotesque tales of oddballs and geniuses who prefer to gussy themselves up in amazing couture in order to be wearing chic and appropriate threads when sallying out to attend the legendary and elaborate masqued balls that were almost a matter of routine in Schwabing-Muenchen.
That custom, we learn, dictates that these people are more often than not attired in Roman-styled togas or, when feeling somewhat more daring, decked out in some gaudy purple-dyed gown that has been designed to garb a middle-aged intellectual who is impersonating the Magna Mater!
We learn also that these bright young things also hold somewhat outre "language orgies" in the course of which one of the oddest of the odd, viz., Alfred Schuler, launches himself into a catatonic state and then proceeds to time-travel back to ancient Rome (to visit his idol, of course, the Roman Emperor Nero!).
(Corboy, he wasnt the only one who got off on that.
On the darker side of these affairs, the narrative presents more ominous anticipations and adumbrations of ominous types of cultic behaviors and ritual observances many of which would one day come to exert a profound and troubling influence on a less purely literary gathering of activists, viz., Hitler's National Socialists, whose adherents were to inherit so many elements of George's uniquely--even oppressively--authoritarian leadership style, along with the [Schuler-inspired]adoption during the fin de siecle period of the swastika as a sort of occult sigil of mystical might, one that came to adorn the title page of the Circle's official literary journal, the Blaetter fuer die Kunst.
We're also given numerous details about the poet's itinerary as he wandered from one associate's flat to another's (he was definitely what one might call a "professional house-guest"), along with fresh discoveries about the incredible group of renowned thinkers and creative writers (among whom the most talented were surely philosopher Ludwig Klages, archaeologist Alfred Schuler, poet Hugo von Hoffmansthal, and Shakespearean scholar Friedrich Gundolf), all of whom became adherents to the famous "Circles" that were so idiosyncratic a feature of cultural life in Schwabing-Munich at the dawn of the 20th century.
In closing, I repeat that I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in German culture, in the nascent proto-National Socialist scene in early 20th century Bavaria, or simply in the spectacle of some of the weirdest intellectuals ever to have come down the pike.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Book on an Esoteric Subject..., January 16, 2005
By Sébastien Melmoth (Hôtel d'Alsace, PARIS) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Secret Germany: Stefan George and His Circle (Hardcover)Quote
Dr. Norton has done the English-speaking world a great service in producing this fine work of scholarship on a very esoteric subject.
I first learnt of Stefan George in relation to Arnold Schoenberg, who set many of George's poems to music: cf. especially Schoenberg's exquisite and groundbreaking song cycle The Book of the Hanging Gardens, Op. 15 from 1909--his Expressionistic and pantonal year.
As to George's poetry, I think it superior to Rilke's--and Rilke is recognized as one of the great poets of the 20th Century, in any tongue. In the original German, George explored new orthographical techinques such as the elimination of the capitalization of all nouns, excess umlauts, etc
5.0 out of 5 stars Putting a Human Face on George, November 29, 2004
This review is from: Secret Germany: Stefan George and His Circle (Hardcover)5.0 out of 5 stars Essential!, July 15, 2002Quote
Over there they pronounce his name, "Gay-or-ga," and over there they treated him almost as a god. From American shores we find it difficult to see why Stefan George attained the eminence we once did, but Norton does his very best to penetrate two mysteries--one is the mystery of George's decline in reputation--and the other is, what made him the extraordinary character he was, and what is it about Germans that makes them need heroes and leaders so badly?
George was a talented poet, and apparently a homosexual, and early on he fell in love with the brilliant young poet Hugo von Hoffmanstahl, who drew back when confronted with the full force of George's love, and later became Richard Strauss' favorite librettist and the author of, for example, Der Rosenkavalier, a work that has lasted longer than any of George's own poetry.
But, in the US, George has always been shrouded by a mist of romance and also by suspicions that he was somehow a proto-Nazi. His sympathizers say that he was resolutely anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi, but his case was not helped by his insistence on showing the swastika under the impression that its use could distinguished as separate from that of the National Socialists.
Stefan George drew a cult around himself, and around the image of his boyfriend, known as "Maximin," who died early and young and thus became, for the George-kreis (or circle), an image of national and personal purity and unrealized potentiality.
It is a sad story and Norton gives us a Stefan George who seems almost human, if a bit over-rated. It is hard to believe that eighty or ninety years ago people thought of him as they did Lenin. It has been a long time since a mere poet attained that kind of status in world affairs. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
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Robert Norton's landmark biography on Stefan George and his circle truly is an exceptional book in every respect. Expansive in its inclusion of meticulous detail, this work stands as the definitive biography on George in any language to date. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
Goering's reception of officials dressed in a toga and sandals like Nero, with
painted face, lipstick and ied fingernails, was read, to the amusement of ...
GOERING: That accusation that I had set fire to the Reichstag came from a certain foreign press. That could not bother me because it was not consistent with the facts. I had no reason or motive for setting fire to the Reichstag. From the artistic point of view
I did not at all regret that the assembly chamber was burned- I hoped to build a better one.
But I did regret very much that I was forced to find a new meeting place for the Reichstag and, not being able to find one, I had to give up my Kroll Opera
House, that is, the second State Opera House, for that purpose. The opera seemed to me much more important than the Reichstag.
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: Have you ever boasted of burning the Reichstag building, even by way of joking?
GOERING: No. I made a joke, if that is the one you are referring to, when I said that, after this, I should be competing with Nero and that probably people would soon be saying that, dressed in a red toga and holding a lyre in my hand, I looked on at
the fire and played while the Reichstag was burning. That was the joke. But the fact was that I almost perished in the flames, which would have been very unfortunate for the German people, but very fortunate for their enemies.
" ...for years we struggled along, trying to function in a Waldorf reality without understanding that their world view is ideologically at odds with ours. (The Lombards were free-thinkers, had no interest in giving their child a religous education, and enrolled their daughter in Waldorf because the school represented itself publicly as nonsectarian)
"There we were, a family of freethinkers, unwittingly striving to usher in Steiner's esoteric prophesies, initiating our daughter in an Anthroposophic mystery school, volunteering and donating to the cause, all in the name of ?education.?
Volunteerism was required of all parents. My many hours, however, never seemed to satisfy the faculty because I naturally worked from my non-Anthroposophic perspective, oblivious of Steiner?s esoteric doctrine, while Anthroposophists followed the dictates of their world view....Although some people at the school seemed to be so well meaning, kind, so earnest in their strivings, and so devoted to offering the best education possible to children, something was 'off' and, like others at the school, I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
You are either in or out, esoterically informed or uninformed. My husband and I were not spiritual seekers pre-Waldorf and remain so post-Waldorf. In the personal essay that follows, I shall attempt to tell our story: how I the Freethinker, (one who does not accept the belief in beings concealed behind the material world) found myself propping up a religious movement without my knowledge. How I, who values life as extremely precious because it is most likely finite, found myself, along with my husband and daughter, participating in a religious movement that embraces reincarnation as a main doctrinal tenet?but only learning this after we left!
Looking back from a more informed perspective, no longer living in an esoteric knowledge void, there seem to be several factors that contributed to our confusion about the movement.
The first has to do with how the group presented itself and our passive acceptance of the group?s presentation of information. We did not actively seek out our own information or our own understanding of Rudolf Steiner until after we left and began searching for reasons for the peculiar experiences and practices that we had encountered in the group.
The Waldorf school did not present itself as a religious movement but, instead, claimed to be a scientific, art-based, nonsectarian school, having a multicultural emphasis incorporating stories and festivals from around the world as well as having an environmental focus. We believed Waldorf's claim, because Steiner was portrayed as a scientist, educator, and philosopher.
We had never heard of Rudolf Steiner before looking into Waldorf, and assumed that he was as advertised. Initially, it never dawned on us that he was a religious leader and that Waldorf would be a hub for the dissemination of his beliefs.
Even during our time in Waldorf, Steiner was never referred to as a mystic, mystagogue, Rosicrucian, Theosophist, religious leader, religious educator, occultist, guru, esoteric, or clairvoyant, etc.
Words that would normally help an uninformed person garner a better sense of the movement as a religious phenomenon were not employed.
In the occult tradition, the group also used veiled vocabulary devised by Steiner i.e., the use of words having alternate meanings to the definitions we were familiar with which are generally accepted by mainstream society. For example, ?psychic sight? was termed ?imagination? by Steiner. Developing ?imagination,? which you?d expect at an art-based school, really meant developing ?psychic sight.? Even the word ?art? takes on a different meaning with acquired esoteric knowledge. ?Art? becomes ?The Art? (of Magic). The secularization of religious words became an effective tool for hiding the esoteric core from us as uninformed parents. ?Sermon? became ?lecture,? ?occultist? became ?scientist,? ?prayer? became ?verse,? Steiner?s scheme of reincarnation??The True Nature of Man??became ?child development model,? ?nature altar? became ?nature table,? ?pentagram? became ?star?, ?religion? became ?science? and ?sectarian? became ?nonsectarian.? Another word with dual meanings, ?materialistic,? was also used ubiquitously at our school. Its definition within Waldorf culture was ?non-spiritual??very different from my understanding of the term in those days, i.e., ?seeking wealth, goods, comfort and pleasure.?
The word ?reincarnation? was never used in our presence at the school and was not mentioned in brochures we read or meetings we attended, despite the fact that reincarnation is a main doctrinal tenet of Anthroposophy crucial to Steiner?s ?child development model,? his prophetic future, and Waldorf?s curriculum and pedagogy.
In fact, we only learned about the importance of reincarnation in Waldorf after we left the school and I began reading his sermons. Although, in passing conversation, a devout Anthroposophist teacher, while picking up her daughter from our house, did let it slip that Steiner is expected to reincarnate in a green, hilly place in North America, possibly the area where our ex-school is located. This puzzling comment was added to my mental list of Waldorf peculiarities and concerns. It was another piece of the puzzle that eventually led to my awakening.
(I have since discovered that some Anthroposophists involved with the schools speculate on whether or not a child might be the reincarnation of Steiner!)
I later learned from an Anthroposophist that words such as ?occultist? or ?mystic? are considered ?labeling and name calling? (although believers have no problem using such words amongst themselves, and Steiner utilized them as well).
Although some people at the school seemed to be so well meaning, kind, so earnest in their ?strivings?, and so devoted to offering the best education possible to children, something was ?off? and, like others at the school, I couldn?t quite put my finger on it.
Brian Vickers points out in the book Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance that the occult tradition does not recognize the distinction between words and things or between literal and metaphorical language, as clearly distinguished in the contemporary scientific tradition.Quote
Words are treated as if they are equivalent to things and can be substituted for them. Manipulate the one and you can manipulate the other. Analogies, instead of being, as they are in the scientific tradition, explanatory devices subordinate to argument and proof, or heuristic tools to make models that can be tested, corrected, and abandoned if necessary, are, instead, modes of conceiving relationships in the universe that reify, rigidify, and ultimately come to dominate thought. One no longer uses analogies: One is used by them. They become the only way in which one can think or experience the world (Vickers, 1984, p. 95).
Recently, Waldorf parent Nicole Foss reflected:
If Anthroposophy were only a church, our paths would never cross, but Anthroposophy does not restrict itself to its circle of True Believers.
Instead it sets up schools where these disguised beliefs are foisted upon unsuspecting parents whose opinions can be disregarded because they don't "know the path." These parents are expected to follow unknowingly the requirements of a religion which denies to them that it even exists, and may be criticized in their ignorance for anthroposophical incorrectness. No wonder so many parents initially feel bewildered and later angry for having been deceived (Foss, 2003, March, 16.?Percedol,?
My research brought to light who the founder of Waldorf really was, how his doctrine steeped in the occult impacts all aspects of his followers? lives and how to decode Anthroposophic double-speak. A pluralistic society allows room for all, but Waldorf needs to be more open in clarifying its esoteric base. Prospective parents are entitled to be informed of the concealed Anthroposophic mission of this schooling system. Some may experience the warmth of belonging as freedom; I was scorched by the harsh light of Anthroposophy. You are either a moth drawn to the light, or you are instead drawn to the porch. As a friend observed, ?You are drawn to Waldorf not because of what it is, but because of what it is not.