GAS: How Did it Come to This?

Thoughts on the General Meeting of the Anthroposophical Society, April 2018

Deutsche Version im nächsten Posten

That the failure to confirm two members of the international Executive have left the Anthroposophical Society in something of an impasse is obvious. After all, there was a distinct polarization between half the local members around Dornach and the international members that had travelled there from all over the world. The following is an attempt to bring some logic and understanding into the events and historical circumstances that have led us into this impasse.

In March of 1976 I left my home in South Africa, bound for the Goetheanum in Dornach, with a temporary job as stage hand. I was soon engaged full-time backstage and as co-worker of Walther Roggenkamp for the new Faust production. The impact of the culture there was overwhelming. The fourth symphony of Bruckner performed in Eurythmy by the van der Pals stage group to a full orchestra. The following week another, equally impressive performance by the group of Elena Zuccoli. The hall was packed, as it continued to be through the almost weekly performances, put on alternately by the two stage groups.

There were young people everywhere! Over 400 students were studying at the different art schools and courses. From out of the various practice rooms to the south and east of the Goetheanum, the Schreinerei and student hostel music and recitation resounded uninterruptedly from 7 in the morning until 10 at night – either rehearsals or private practice.

Jörgen Smit and Manfred Schmidt-Brabant had just resettled to Dornach, Jörgen still in a makeshift office in the Schreinerei. In this mood of renewal I was for five years able to participate in much of the organizational work of establishing for the first time since Maria Röschl an active Youth Section again. At the summer youth conferences, the hall was packed, as it was during each of the three following public conferences, lasting one week each. Goethe’s Faust, the Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Plays, Eurythmy conferences; whatever the Goetheanum offered found a loyal and supportive audience. Actors, Eurythmists and other co-workers lived very modestly and many of the artists had a second job to get by financially. Their devotion to Art, however, fired up everyone working in the building. No one seemed to be there because it was a “job”. Of course there was just as much criticism then as now. After all, we are dealing with anthroposophists. But one was working on something that made sense and that was met by a broad public interest.

On completion of the Faust scenery and also of my Waldorf teacher training, I returned to South Africa at the end of 1981, to a 20-year active involvement with the Waldorf schools there. Expectantly, I returned to Dornach in 2001, exited to see how the cultural life there had developed in the interim. The difference was overwhelming!

The old practise rooms in east and south stood largely empty. The few young people wandering about looked like visitors to an old-age home. Yet one found many of them scattered among the various anthroposophical professional schools in the area. Only – they didn’t come to the Goetheanum. The first Eurythmy performance I attended, part of a perfectly organized weekend conference in the “Grundsteinsaal”, certainly lacked nothing in the quality of 25 years previously, but as I looked around the auditorium, there were hardly 50 people sitting there! Whatever had happened to the Dornach public? The administrator of the theatre told me afterwards that one could fill the hall solely during large international conferences, with much advertising. That summer, there was a single such conference, relatively poorly attended.

And the backstage area? Where there had previously been change rooms, dressmaking, set storage and practicing rooms, was now occupied largely by offices. In the rooms where actors, eurythmists and stage personnel used to congregate, a single person now sat in front of a computer. There was hardly a member of the Executive Council who still led a Section of the College for Spiritual Science.* (See note on translation and interpretation below.) Responsibility for these had been delegated to employed Section leaders, most of them housed, together with a small staff, in outlying buildings. They were the ones who organized the various smaller and larger conferences, the international coordination and lecture tours.

Not to say that I was unhappy. I enjoyed working there again. But I was shocked, perplexed and felt helpless. For Art itself, there appeared to be no money – only to administer and to write about it?!

At the AGM, in place of exiting and varied reports from all over the world and out of anthroposophical professional life, one discussed the Constitution of the Society; the motions of the “Gelebte Weihnachtstagung” – the society that ostensibly “lived” the Christmas foundation meeting. What was presented as “living the Christmas foundation meeting” was grey and bleak – and insufferably boring. Where had the Science in Spiritual Science gone? Had our Society had become one based solely on a belief system?

The local public had disappeared from the events. Yet, potentially, it ought to have multiplied greatly. More than double the number of Waldorf schools in the area: Mülheim, Colmar, Aesch, Aargau, Muttenz, Freiburg, Lörrach, Schopfheim, to name a few, plus a considerable number of other anthroposophically-oriented institutions and projects. How had it come about that all of these people, all of them well versed and active in art, music, speech, eurythmy, philosophy and social life, no longer came to the Goetheanum? In public life, in place of the enormous Parent-Teacher-Student Conferences that were at the time held simultaneously in Stuttgart, Essen and Hamburg, Anthroposophy was portrayed in the media as a somewhat racist pseudo-science and a sect.

Was this the so-called “Culmination” of Anthroposophy, about which one had spoken with such hope and inspiration in the 70s and 80s? Somewhere, something must have gone wrong?


There used to be a shelf in the Goetheanum library that was generally known as the “Giftschrank” – the Poison Cabinet. In it were believed to reside all of the different polemic documents, diatribes and reports resulting from the internecine political struggles of past decades within the Anthroposophical Society. Back in South Africa, I had once read through the tome Eugen Kolisko – ein Lebensbild (Eugen Kolisko – a Portrait of his Life) by Lili Kolisko and desired to further my education in this regard. From the librarian there, however, I received the stern admonition that, as a young person, I should rather concern myself with positive things and forget about all of this sad fighting. He wouldn’t let me near them!

So I went down to the nearby Rudolf Steiner Halde, which the Nachlassverwaltung occupied at the time. There a friendly and kind Mr Belmann readily answered my questions and gave me free access to the literature. The older Dornach member, too, were happy to explain things in private conversation. Only, one had to look up a fair number of them in order to get something of a complete picture, as each one represented his or her particular views and loyalties. The overall message was, however, perfectly clear: the Anthroposophical Society, collectively, does not wish to concern itself with the results of its previous decisions and mistakes. This did not, unfortunately, prevent those consequences from taking effect, right from the very beginning. It is with these, often unnoticed or deliberately ignored, consequences that we are dealing, so there follows an attempt to list and explain the most serious of the effects of the fights and decisions of our past.

The lack of preparedness to assess clearly the illusions and erroneous actions of the past, and to take corresponding corrective action has continued into the present day.

Fusion of the Verein des Goetheanums with the General Anthroposophical Society, 8 February 1925

At the time of the Christmas foundation meeting, the Goetheanum was owned and managed by an independent trust, the Verein des Goetheanums,[1] with fewer than 15 members, all of them with some field of expertise in building, management or finance. It was named an organisational member of the Anthroposophical Society together with the Clinic and the publishing company, Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag. On 29 June 1924, the trust met to include the members of the Executive Council of the GAS. On 8 February 1925, shortly before Rudolf Steiner’s death, it met again, this time changing its name to Allgemeine Anthroposophische Gesellschaft, the same as the GAS which, as a result, was now registered with the registrar of companies in Switzerland, and it ceased to exist as a separate entity. Several of its members were then asked by Rudolf Steiner to take over the management of the Goetheanum. It was this event that lay at the root of the constitutional debate of the 90s and early 2000s, as the constitution of this trust from that moment officially superseded the statutes of the Christmas foundation meeting.

The far graver consequence, however, was that now the Goetheanum and its entire organization became the property of the GAS, that is to say, of the members of the international Society. This went unnoticed for over 50 years, simply because nothing changed in the structure of the Goetheanum’s management. The consequence, however, of no longer having an independent ownership and management of the building might have become clear as a result of the controversies and bad decisions surrounding the interior construction of the Great Hall after the war, where the weight of authority fell entirely on the Vorstand.

The Exclusions of 1935

A decade later, after years of escalating conflict, Ita Wegman, Elizabeth Vreede and 7 other leading members were excluded from the Society at its AGM. Besides the human difficulties, that were later easier to bridge, what persisted was that the non-German-speaking part of the international Society and afterwards, through the Nazi occupation, also Germany and Austria, lost their direct communication and ability to consult with Dornach. From then on, the Goetheanum no longer functioned as the Centre of the anthroposophical movement.

After WWll, an anthroposophical movement was established in many countries that saw its origin and advisory centre rather in Britain and the Netherlands than in Dornach. After all, their separation endured for over 25 years. Main actors in this process were Willem Zeylmans and some other Dutch anthroposophists, the British Waldorf schools, Sunfield Homes and the Camphill Movement.

Jörgen Smit once mentioned at a meeting of the Youth Section a letter that Rudolf Grosse found when he took over the leadership of the Educational Section. It was addressed to Hermann Poppelbaum by Ernst Weissert and Erich Schwebsch of the Bund der freien Waldorfschulen in Stuttgart soon after the war. It confirmed a discussion that the Educational Section in Dornach could feel itself responsible for the further spiritual development of Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogy, but that it would refrain from getting involved with the affairs of the Waldorf schools in Germany that were in the process of re-building.

The lasting effect of the 1935 decisions was that the College of Spiritual Science lost the integration of the different professional disciplines and institutions in its work. The professional movement went its independent ways, seeking direction and co-work elsewhere and set up individual training centres and programmes to serve the movement. The trust in Dornach had been broken. One tried to repair the damage over the next decades, but it must appear as something of an irony that at the same General Meeting where one decided to “rehabilitate” Ita Wegman and Elizabeth Vreede, the mistrust between the Dornach members and the global Society intensified.

The Nachlassverwaltung Conflict

A decade further, and the fight around the Trust set up to manage Rudolf Steiner’s estate erupted, with irreversible consequences. One of these is, of course, that today every critic of Anthroposophy has the same access to the literature as any anthroposophist does. We are engaged in controversies with the entire socio-political and scientific environment, in which also the contents of the College for Spiritual Science are no longer protected.

From the very first, there had been two opposing attitudes within the Anthroposophical Society with regard to this College. Now the beginnings of a functioning College of Spiritual Science for the World Society were once more postponed for 30 years. Every university, including that of Spiritual Science, has four central tasks or functions: Basic studies (undergraduate) Further education (post-graduate), Research and Assessment (quality control) on the basis of scientific merit, relevance and competence, all working together in the search for truth. Of such and institution within the Anthroposophical Society there was little to be found before the end of the 70s.

What did this School or College look like in 1976? To begin with there was the ritual of the Class readings, which had just received a new impetus through the introduction of freely rendered Class Lessons. Then, as the only Section that had really blossomed into a kind of golden age or flowering that has never been attained again, and which was known throughout the Goetheanum simply as “The Section”, there was the Section for the Performing Arts. Satisfactory development and good work was also taking place in the Natural Science Section and the Mathematical/Astronomical Section, but there was little more than that. Of course there had been an enormous amount achieved within the international Society, particularly in the fields of Medicine, Education and Agriculture, but all this was work that had taken place independently, uncoordinated by any Section.

In place of such a university, two other phenomena increasingly became the focus of the Society’s attention. The first was the practise of assembling a collection of quotes from lectures of Rudolf Steiner, to which an unverified but axiomatic status was ascribed and on the basis of which the speaker or writer would then draw conclusions. These would then appear before the world as spiritual scientific research. The whole concept of a possible confirmation bias was never discussed.

The second phenomenon was the rapid growth of a kind of mythology around the Christmas Foundation Meeting of the Anthroposophical Society as well as an anthroposophical version of the Apostolic Succession. The different conflicts and the bickering that arose around these issues are not our theme here but as Lorenzo Ravagli correctly points out, the clearest summary of the succession or continuity question was written by Herbert Witzenmann:

“The problem that remains connected with the so-called Book Question concerns the spiritual continuity and the ongoing working of Rudolf Steiner amongst his pupils in our present-day world, even though he may no longer be among us on the physical plane. The Nachlassverein has, in word and deed, often expressed that, both as an institution and in its individual deeds, it denies the everlasting nature and effectivity and the continuity of this life stream of the Anthroposophical Society.”

From then on it was no longer a question of what the College for Spiritual Science achieved but of accepting this continuity which, in the case of Witzenmann, is expressed quite soberly but among the membership became more and more a tenet of faith, in which every loyal anthroposophist was expected to believe. For this myth had something powerfully suggestive and inspiring and continues to leave its stamp on our work up to the present day.

1975 – 1993 Building up the College of Spiritual Science

For the first time in the history of the Anthroposophical Society, a constellation of persons had been co-opted into the Vorstand that was relatively free of the internal political allegiances of the past, was able to work together and showed real initiative. This had been preceded by the far-flung lecture tours of Hagen Biesantz, through whom, above all, the English-speaking world not only resolved its problems with the Geotheanum but also felt involved with the events and developments there.

Much changed during the first years, which reached a climax with the first Michaelmas Conference for Class Members in September 1979 and with the list of initiatives and decisions taken there. More than any General Meeting, it gave the Vorstand the mandate to develop the work according to the aims it presented. For the vast majority of the attendants, the event was convincing, inspiring and community building and culminated in a list of initiatives the Vorstand had prepared. These were, among others:

  • To actively try and resolve the remaining conflicts within the Anthroposophical Society.
  • To complete those areas of the Goetheanum building that still stood unfinished.
  • To develop the Free and Independent College of Spiritual Science with all its sections. (This had been preceded by explanations through which it became clear to the international membership for the first time, what the actual intentions of the College were.)
  • To relocate the different study programmes and art schools out of the Goetheanum and urge them to find their own premises and financial support – the so-called “Auslagerung”.
  • To hold further similar Class Members’ conferences every seven years up to the year 2000.

The realization of some of these initiatives had already begun. The Goetheanum enterprise, which up to this point, had consisted of the three independent entities Anthroposophical Society administration, Building administration and Goetheanum Stage, became centralised in the Vorstand.

The two Eurythmy groups, Zuccoli and van der Pals, were fused and their autonomy removed. There were a few necessary dismissals also in other areas of the enterprise. Through these, further individuals were added to an ever-growing circle of people, dating back to the time of Günther Wachsmuth’s administration, with deep resentments against the Goetheanum leadership. They had the feeling that they had, for a pittance, sacrificed themselves for the Cause, only to suddenly lose both their livelihood and the purpose and meaning of their lives. Their votes naturally continue to count at the AGMs and their voices to colour the mood of those resident in the Dornach region.

In any event, the self-administration under which “The Section” had attained its heyday was gone and today it remains only a shadow of what it once was.

The “Auslagerung” or relocation of the different trainings out of the Goetheanum grounds also had an effect that had not been considered in advance. More and more, the several hundred students that had previously populated the building were to be found in buildings elsewhere and the joyous sounds of music and poetry disappeared from the community. Where previously it had been possible for thousands of students to “study at the Goetheanum”, and build up an entire life on what they had learned and experienced there, no one can do that today. Formerly, a fair proportion of the students had come from Switzerland; there are a mere smattering today. For there is an enormous difference between attending a small, isolated art or professional school or studying at a renowned, dynamic campus and cultural centre with hundreds of events on offer. Today it is only with difficulty that young people are able to find their way into the life of the Anthroposophical Society.

One was now obviously working with an interpretation of the College of Spiritual Science in which basic studies and a self-administering theatre had no place, one that required no campus or students but was supposedly present everywhere where Class members worked and (possibly), did some research.

Besides these two rather depressing consequences, however, an enormous enthusiasm had been unleashed. For the first time one had really experienced the World Society. Many who had previously been critical of the Goetheanum now participated actively in building up the CSS (College of Spiritual Science), which soon spread into the local work of many countries. The focus was not just on our own Society but was directed towards the world and the rapid world-wide expansion was able to find an Anthroposophical Society that was prepared to take up this development into itself.

Filled with enthusiasm and expectations one came together once more to the second global conference at Michaelmas 1986. Once again, very inspiring, but this time markedly less grounded. So strong had the experience of success and the Christmas Meeting mythology penetrated into people’s minds that one hardly noticed just how precarious everything still was. At times one could experience how one or other speaker would veritably attempt to conjure the participation of dead anthroposophists and spiritual beings into the hall. The discussion eventually focused on the Last Address of Rudolf Steiner, where he speaks of the four times twelve human beings who, in collaboration with the Vorstand, might prepare a future Michael Festival for the whole of humanity. In the end it was decided with all appropriate ceremony by the one thousand members present to focus on this theme all over the world, to actively research and prepare and bring back the results of all that had been achieved and studied to the next conference in 1993. From this it should then be possible that, at the changeover into the new millennium, a festival that was in harmony with the intentions of the spiritual world might be celebrated.

Everyone went home and in South Africa we made a few sparse attempts at creating Michaelmas celebrations, but that was it. We were involved at the time in the greatest political crises our country had ever known. That is, however, no excuse, though I did think it was at the time.

Michaelmas 1993 and the Failure of the Class Members

This time the mood was different from the very outset. Jörgen Smit had passed away, Hagen Biesantz lay gravely ill – two leading personalities guiding the entire turnabout in the Society. The conference programme unrolled, fairly rigidly structured, making it difficult to get up and speak. By the third day, still not a word about a Michaelmas Festival. I was about to put up my hand to speak when I saw Jean-Claude Lin ascend the podium, asking in clear and penetrant words what had actually happened to our resolve. Why was there nothing about it in the programme? Had we all simply forgotten about it?

Not a soul spoke to the question. In his closing speech, Manfred Schmidt-Brabant stated, by way of an aside, that the results of our resolved work on a Michael Festival had, as one might have experienced, flown into the whole structuring of the programme of this conference. Really? I had noticed nothing of it.

Now that it was all over, I could hardly grasp what had occurred. As a conscious group of spiritual pupils, we had taken upon ourselves a spiritual task and had not just failed dismally to fulfil it but also lacked the courage to admit this to ourselves? Responsible for this was, as in so many cases, not the leadership but unmistakably, the body of the Class members together. In all of the years that followed, the issue was never taken up in discussion again, or any possible consequences brought to mind.

The facts, however, stood plainly before us: the Anthroposophical Society had lost its aim and also its leadership. The leading personalities, Hagen Biesantz and above all, Jörgen Smit, were no longer there, and they, too, had not followed up on what had been unmistakably identified as the foremost aim of the CSS. What remained were the administrative functionaries, who now had to act, and continued to act, without any real vision for the future. As it happened, this was not only the case at the Goetheanum but by this time, also visibly in the national Societies.

There were no more concrete aims to work towards. The old training centres were gone, the new interpretation of a “School for Spiritual Science” had failed and the Goetheanum was rapidly losing its position as a local and international cultural centre, becoming what it is today, a conference and administrative centre.

“Attacks” by the World

That same year, running parallel to this failing within the Anthroposophical Society, the world around seemed to have caught up with Anthroposophy. Three issues suddenly had to be dealt with which one, unhappily, interpreted as “attacks” and the leadership in both the individual countries and at the Goetheanum reacted in a defensive, dismissive manner rather than to deal with them factually, tactfully and proactively. Thanks to the accumulated consequences of past decisions and the head-in-the-sand, trusting credulity of the membership, we appeared to have run out of answers.

The points at issue were the imminent printing and publication of the Class Lessons by the Nachlassverwaltung, the court case against seven of the Dutch Waldorf schools for alleged racist content in the curriculum and the constitutional validity of the Anthroposophical Society due to the fusion of the Geotheanum Verein with the GAS in February 1925.

The result of the constitution question was that for the next many years – throughout the hoped for “Culmination” period of Anthroposophy around the turn of the century, the Society was paralysed, concerning itself almost exclusively with itself. Later it could be ascertained that the “attacks” only began once one had already reacted to what was a purely factual question by labelling it an attack.

Similarly, with the question of racialism, the litigation was not an attack but legitimately addressed a disgraceful situation in the Waldorf schools in question. The fact that earlier critical references had been made to racial content in the work of Rudolf Steiner in the media only added fuel to the idea that Anthroposophy was “under attack” and needed to be “defended”.

In 1995 Virginia Sease and Manfred Schmidt-Brabant visited South Africa on a lecture tour that was generally harmonious and positive. In Johannesburg a meeting among Class members took place, with an introduction by Manfred Schmidt-Brabant on what he designated as the sad history of the failed negotiations between the Anthroposophical Society and the Nachlassverwaltung. For years there had been intense discussions between the Nachlass executive on the one hand and the Vorstand and other representatives of the Society, mainly from Germany, on the other, who continually urged the Vorstand to attempt once again to plead with the Nachlassverwaltung, to publish these texts under the old conditions of making them available to designated Class holders alone. All one managed to achieve was that they should be printed in an edition – in my experience, rather unique – that had the intention to persuade interested buyers not to purchase them – three giant, baggage-allowance-defying volumes at 300 Swiss Francs!

After the presentation, I asked how the leadership of the College of Spiritual Science felt that the work among Class members was to continue, so that the esoteric work done would not be too strongly undermined by this move. Schmidt-Brabant replied by stating that there was nothing that was left to us other than to work still more intensively, each member for him or herself, on the content and the mantras. They encouraged that members would not feel the need to read the texts themselves, so that the principle “from mouth to ear” of Rudolf Steiner could be maintained.

I was flabbergasted! Was this the answer of the directorship of the Class? That each member was on his own? For over 20 years the Nachlassverwaltung had confirmed again and again that they intended, just as with the rest of Rudolf Steiner’s work, to make these texts available to the public in full. Instead of preparing oneself for an impending publication, had one simply not wished to accept this and continued to try to change their mind?

What were they frightened of? That control of Rudolf Steiner’s esoteric work would be taken from out of the hands of the Society? That control had been lost some time before. In different parts of the world there were already groups of non- Class members reading and working together on the Class content. It had been published years before in the Netherlands and there were also Class holders willing to share this content with others. This unwillingness to face up squarely to the reality and take recourse in a moral stance, based on faith, where the “true”, loyal members cultivate these contents amongst one another and reject the actions of those “outside” is the behaviour pattern of a sect and not a university based on a spiritual science.

In this case too, the two Vorstand members were only messengers. The responsibility lay with all of the leading Class holders and other national executives who had led the debate for more than 20 years. It now appeared that, without laying aside the Culmination ideal and the Christmas Foundation and Continuity legends, no one really knew where we were going.

One could no longer turn one’s back on the effects of the past. The Vorstand became the focus of much ire and criticism. Jörgen Smit, who throughout the 80s, had largely given the Vorstand its credibility, could not be replaced. Many, also leading, members, withdrew from the Society which, concerned predominantly with its own problems in Dornach, gradually lost contact with the anthroposophists all over the world. Which persons today “represent” Anthroposophy all over the world, or which ones are engaged in some aspect of spiritual research, we can only estimate. We no longer know the people.

Event followed upon event. The racial debate, the constitutional crisis appearing before the Swiss courts on the one hand, but in Dornach, following closely on the rebuilding of the Great Hall interior, expensive renovations to the cellar, the Rudolf Steiner Halde, Schreinerei, Glass House, Goetheanum roof, Eurythmy Houses and a number of other buildings, all of which were showing signs of age. Rising employment costs and modernization, events undersubscribed and so on… Unless something was undertaken, it was inevitable that the money of the Goetheanum was going to run out.

Through some of the financial measures taken, leading to a number of dismissals, the already substantial group of those who felt hard done by and the querulants in Dornach increased to a force that could no longer be ignored. The Vorstand  came under heavy pressure. Locally, and above all, through the so-called “closure” of the Pictorial Arts Section, hostilities developed that could no longer be bridged and led to an ongoing activism. In this way the proposal for a vote of no confidence in the Vorstand came before the AGM in 1911. The Vorstand was able to deal with this in a perfectly dignified manner at the time, but at the same time, without proper reflection, the meeting also agreed to the Vorstand members’ proposal to set a tenure of seven years to each member, after which that member would have to be personally re-confirmed. This left the individual member at the mercy of the general Society membership which, as we have seen throughout the sad history of the Society, has known no limits when it was embroiled in some internal battle.

The consequence we could experience at the last AGM. With it, the principle of co-option of the Society’s and the College of Spiritual Science’s leadership has been broken. How can anyone still speak of an organisation set into the world by the Spirit itself, if its leadership does not serve the Spirit directly but needs rather to satisfy 51% of the membership? Not that I am sad to see the myth of an Esoteric Vorstand go. I tend to concur with Maria Roeschl, who wrote to Willem Zeylmans on 7 December 1930:

“We are now experiencing the point in time in which it becomes clear that the task Rudolf Steiner gave to the Vorstand in Dornach to create an esoteric community, has completely failed. Dr. St. had, for the first time, united the most diverse karmic streams to a society. Had the Vorstand really become an esoteric community, then, and only then, would the Society after the death of Dr. have been able to develop itself into a great community within a unified societal form. Because this has failed, all of the karmic streams may still be united through the teaching, but not yet through the form of a Society as well. Instead, after Dr.’s death, the community building forces no longer group themselves around Dr. but around the individual karmic centres of other leading personalities: Dr. Wegman, Albert Steffen, Frau Dr. Steiner. At the same time there is the process where those souls that are related to Frau Dr. Steiner, as she is compelled to withdraw for the moment, also group around Albert Steffen.

The Vorstand as esoteric community did not exist even during Rudolf Steiner’s lifetime. Had it existed, then and only then, could he have named his successor. As it was, he had to know that, even had he named one, he or she would, over time, not be recognized, as the karmic streams, without a guiding esoteric community, would sooner or later have had to split apart.”[2]

Besides the fact that the decision not to confirm the two Vorstand members in office has strained the trust between the Dornach members and those of the world society, it becomes clear that we are concerned here with two quite different executive committees. For the international Society, they are the Vorstand of the General Anthroposophical Society; for the Dornach and regional members, they are the Board of Directors of the Goetheanum Enterprise – two organisations that Rudolf Steiner kept apart and said that one still had to speak about their relationship. This conversation had simply been postponed by some 90 years until the ship finally ran aground.

And the Future?

Should the Anthroposophical Society desire to be of continued service to the anthroposophical movement and the Goetheanum not become more and more of a burden on the international Society, a new purpose and creative initiatives will have to be found. These depend largely on whether the Society wants to continue to see Anthroposophy as revelation, something one ought to believe in or as the scientific way of knowledge it actually is.

A first such initiative could be to found anew an independent trust with the task and purpose to own and manage the Goetheanum buildings and enterprise; to make it available to the College of Spiritual Science, keep it maintained and viable, with a governing body that is not identical to the Vorstand of the GAS.

For what does the Goetheanum need in order to survive? That which it had in abundance 30 years ago – an interested and engaged local community. When I ask local Waldorf high school student or ex-students if they ever attend anything at the Goetheanum, I hear: “Those guys?” or “I’ll never be an anthroposophist”. For what is there for them to do in an enterprise set up for paying conference guests, where all jobs are already occupied and personal initiative not required, in addition surrounded by people who were at one time fully engaged but now feel themselves excluded and disempowered? It is not hard to sense the deep frustration: “Our Goetheanum, on which Rudolf Steiner asked us to build together and which we did for so long, is growing further and further away from us in its aims and its working environment.” And that includes persons currently employed there who share this view, for which reason the AGM is required to hold a secret ballot in dealing with sensitive issues like the re-election of the “directors”. For there is a possibility, at least in the minds of the people concerned, that they might be being watched by colleagues in the corporate hierarchy and that their jobs might be in danger.

It is indeed puzzling how it has come to pass that, just 25 years ago, the Goetheanum still played such a central role in the entire Northwest Switzerland and South Baden region as a cultural and study centre and that today, it is almost entirely ignored. The Enterprise needs people who are willing to take on this situation, that are neither defensive nor inclined to simply let it be. No Vorstand of the Anthroposophical Society, or “School Collegiate” can do this. Nor is it their task. What is needed are people from this region, who enjoy the trust of the community and have a certain status within it. The Goetheanum Campus and its College of Spiritual Science have, after all, far greater possibilities than are in any way realised today.

However, in order to find a new purpose and future, the Anthroposophical Society needs far more than to resuscitate the Goetheanum. The NPI in the Netherlands posed three initial questions to any initiative with which they worked: Firstly, is the initiative carried by an idea? Is there an aim or vision? Secondly, which people are connected through it and what kind of legal structure does it have? And finally, does it meet a real need from outside, or does one run it merely as a hobby?[3] How the members of our Society today would, in all honesty, answer these points is an open question.

The 1970s interpretation of the College for Spiritual Science had, by the Michaelmas Conference in 1993, failed to unite the membership in a common purpose. Its model of the College was an administration co-ordinating hoped-for individual spiritual research of the Class members in the 11 Sections, who would meet around common issues and to hear the Class lessons locally or at the Goetheanum. It lost sight of the four fundamental tasks or areas of work every university college has to offer: basic studies, advanced studies, research and assessment on the basis of scientific merit, relevance and competence, its members working together in the search for truth. To my mind, simply arising out of the needs of Anthroposophy in his time, this is the kind of university college Rudolf Steiner envisaged. Why otherwise would he have named it a “Hochschule” instead of simply “Schule” like its predecessor, the Esoterische Schule (Esoteric School or ES) of the early Anthroposophical Society?

The various anthroposophical colleges and training centres, founded by and to meet the needs of the specific anthroposophical professions, were never set up to do either academic or inter-disciplinary research, and so, unlike other universities and academic institutions, in which new faculties and disciplines have been continuously added as the needs of developing society demanded, the College of Spiritual Science did not develop its Sections or faculties further than what was there almost from the beginning, nearly a century ago.

Just these last months, Nicanor Perlas’ book, Humanity’s Last Stand,[4] appeared, in which he addresses the urgent need of people with a spiritual and moral orientation in life to research and come to terms with the questions and dangers posed by Artificial Intelligence. How much further could we be today in this regard, if there did exist such a College, free of all official structures and accessible to young people, who almost alone have the basic skills and qualifications to master such a task today?

The striving to create, at last, a local and international Free and Independent College of Spiritual Science might well unite members in a common cause once more. It is needed today more than ever, but this time one that is free also from the compulsion to be members of the Anthroposophical Society, not to mention the Class. One that offers basic studies, further education, research and assessment according to the criteria of scientific merit, relevance and competence, as mentioned previously. One that stands solely in the service of truth and does not ignore possible anthroposophical confirmation bias and insufficient fact-checking; that makes no compromise with outdated Christmas Foundation Meeting and Esoteric Vorstand myths and beliefs. Above all, however, one that is free from any compromise with financial interest groups, the State bureaucracy or the existing academic hierarchy – one in which anyone can work, together with others involved in some sort of anthroposophical spiritual scientific research and who is prepared to undertake this journey of knowledge together with others.

The foundations exist already in the Goetheanum campus itself, as well as in the different anthroposophical professional training centres in many countries all over the world the world, where there is still a living energy among the young people training there. There is the structure and content of Rudolf Steiner’s outline for the College and the content of the Class Lessons. Besides this, there are successful models of distance learning universities like the Open University, UK, the University of South Africa and many others, in which anyone can enrol, wherever they are in the world.

It is a good basis on which one can, to begin with, informally, organise courses, research and gatherings around the key questions and knowledge of our time, that urgently demand systematic research on a spiritual scientific foundation. Questions like AI and digitalisation, poverty, peace and war, climate change, GMOs, Nano technology, human rights and so many more that could find illumination through the inner work and study of the Class and other anthroposophical content and enable people to enter easily, without the need to be members of the Society or the Class, simply because they wish to work in all conscience on these questions.

It would give the world something it really can use, namely an esoteric school or college that young people can join. Those who are seeking for a spiritual path that they can connect with their professional and private, academic and practical life, where one can find academically sound[5] and practically applicable study guides to Rudolf Steiner’s and other great spiritual writings and a human framework within which one can research and work both individually and with groups of others.

This could, finally, motivate efforts and initiatives to once again create contact between the anthroposophists all over the world, that the movement is freed from the many, almost cult-like, allegiances that have come about over the years and initiate, both locally and internationally, a new feeling of common work and a common cause. My hope is that this kind of sober, detached understanding of the Society’s history might contribute something to this process.

A Note on the Translation and Interpretation of “Freie Hochschule für Geisteswissenschaft”

The correct translation for the German word Hochschule is University or College – an institution offering tertiary education. The English High School is Oberstufe in German and offers secondary education. The difference between Universität and Hochschule is that a Unversität is an institute authorised to confer doctorates. A Hochschule need not.

Therefore, the correct translation for Freie Hochschule für Geisteswissenschaft is not the current “School for Spiritual Science” but the Free and Independent College for Spiritual Science, the German word Frei encompassing both concepts.

Prior to the re-founding of the Society in 1923/24, there were no official national societies and people would join the German Anthroposophical Society. The rapid expansion of Anthroposophy in different practical activities and professions started after WWI and was a new phenomenon for the German Society.  The old form of the Society was not equipped to deal with either of these transformations.

What Rudolf Steiner seems to have seen very clearly and what most members at the time appeared not to understand, was that a new kind of organisation was needed that could:

  • Provide an international framework to receive autonomous national Societies.
  • Provide the training and research needs of a rapidly growing movement of independent initiatives to ensure a high level of understanding for the anthroposophical background and so maintain the quality of the work.
  • Form a cadre of committed, reliable anthroposophists to work together in a spiritual community to take and guide these initiatives as they came about, thereby also replacing the old Esoteric School that existed before 1914.

As the second and third of these needs could not be fulfilled due to the subsequent conflicts within the Society, independent measures were taken to meet the practical demands, removing from the College for Spiritual Science its practical and community function, leaving only the individual path of spiritual development it offered. As a result, a certain mystique arose around the College that saw this path as its only real function, equating it with such phenomena as the School of Chartres of the Middle Ages, or the Michael School in the spiritual realm itself, causing one or other Class holder to refer to it as the “Free and High School of Spiritual Science”.

The only Section that, as a Section, was ever able to achieve any substantial part of these tasks was that of the Performing Arts, which offered basic training and further education in Eurythmy and Speech, regularly performed pieces of considerable quality and did a substantial amount of common research in the areas of Theatre, Poetics, Literature and Music, among others.


[1] Members of the Verein des Goetheanums:

Heinrich Berner, Stuttgart 1885-1959, Lucie Bürgi-Bandi 1875-1949 Bern, Rudolf Geering-Christ 1871-1958 Basel, Emil Grosheintz 1867-1946 Basel

Prof Dr. med. Alfred Gysi (Aarau 1864-1957 Zürich), Marie Hirter-Weber, (Bern 1854-1946 Beatenberg), Pauline Gräfin von Kalckreutb, (Düsseldorf 1856-1929 München), Otto Graf von Lerchenfeld, (Köfering 1868-1938 Salzburg), Dr. Emil Molt, Kommerzienrat (Calw-Württ. 1876-1936 Stuttgart), Dr. med. Felix Peipers, (Bonn 1873-1944 Arlesheim), Marie Schieb, (Bern,  1948), Dr. ing. Carl Unger (Bad Cannstatt b/Stuttgart 1878-1929 Nürnberg), consulting engineer of 1st Geotheanum), Emilie von Gumppenberg, (Munich/Dornach)

[2] Maria Roeschl to Willem Zeylmans van Emmichoven 7 December 1939. Ita Wegman Archive, Arlesheim

[3] Lex Bos – ein Lebensbild, Flensburger Hefte III/2005, Heft 89 ISBN 3-935679-24-6 Page 144

[4] Humanity’s Last Stand: The Challenge of Artificial Intelligence – A Spiritual-Scientific Response by Nicanor Perlas, Temple Lodge Publishing (1 Sep 2018) ISBN 9781912230174

[5] Academically sound in the sense that Lex Bos’s work on the Dynamic Forming of Judgements is both spiritually and academically sound.