Polarization and polemics within the anthroposophical movement

From Anthroposophy

After the death of Rudolf Steiner in 1925, the anthroposophical society fell into controversy. The most well known fact is the expulsion in 1935 of important anthroposophists of Steiner's closest circle such as Ita Wegman and Elisabeth Vreede by the leadership of the society, then led by Albert Steffen. Also F.W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven was part of the controversy and was excluded, which caused a split with the Dutch division of the society. In later years Marie Steiner was herself excluded from the Executive Council and the further shaping the society, and a legal dispute followed between Marie Steiner (as Rudolf Steiner's legal heir) and the Executive council (dispute was eventually settled in favor of Marie Steiner).

During the last century and up to today, there have been controversy, polarization and polemics in the anthroposophical movement. Focal points are often personalities that give rise to these polarization of opinions (or creation of camps or sides) with their writings, and especially their interpretation and opinions of, and additions to, Rudolf Steiner's work. Sometimes writings are claimed to be the result of own insights and/or clairvoyant research.

This page lists some of the personalities whose work has not been unanimously accepted or embraced. The goal is not to judge, but to document the phenomenum in general and provide links to perspectives of various camps.

Irrespective of taking any position, what is characteristic is that the divided camps blame the other party that these interpretations may go off on a tangent and/or not make sense, and/or dispute or attack the fact that additions by the person are not to be recognized as truthfull or authoritive.

On this site, the main sources do not include the work of the people listed below (except for unqualified references in the 'Further reading' sections). This however in no way represents any judgment whatsoever about the quality of these people's contribution.

It is up to each earnest and critical student to go about all sources of information and testing them to one's own insights, rational understanding and logic, and intuition. One aspect that Rudolf Steiner taught in this respect is to be objective, critical and conscientious and also researching the person or individual, the source of information.

Personality characteristics such as of conscientiousness, humility, kindness, respect do seem important criteria to use when developing one's opinion of a person writing about spiritual science, especially when such person might - for example - develop lines of thought by mixing Rudolf Steiner's statements with own statements without much further foundation, or stitch extracts from various lectures and concatenate and assemble them with an own spin or storyline to develop a certain line of thought.

Aspects

  • in the world of today, the spiritual scientific movement and organizations such as the anthroposophical and theosophical societies are meeting places for people coming from or with karmic roots into various historical substreams. More on this on The Michaelic stream.
    • as an illustration that what is on this topic page is not an exceptional or surprising situation, but quite understandeable: when Christianity was established by the roman empire (eg First Council of Nicaea in 325), major debates took place between various streams. Similarly, participants from pagan, gnostic, neoplatonic backgrounds, johannine and pauline christians, philosophers sceptical of christianity .. tried to come together and find a common base on topics such as the divinity of Jesus, the trinity, etc. The difficulties remained though, see the later 'split in the churches' with oa the East-West schism in the 11th century (roman catholic vs eastern orthodox), the protestant reformation in the 16th century.
    • personalities should be seen as Individualities, for an illustration see eg Schema FMC00.531 on Karma exercises. This will evolve over longer time periods, as described on the topic pages on Personality and Individuality and Past life memories.
  • Rudolf Steiner made the clear distinction between the future of the anthroposophical movement and the anthroposophical society (quotes still to be added)

Anthroposophists that have been subject of polarization of opinion fronts

Valentin Tomberg (1900-1973)

  • Valentin Tomberg was engaged in active esoteric study since 1920 and joined the Anthroposophical Society in 1925. During the 1930s, his publications made him a controversial figure. In 1938-1940, Tomberg was asked to withdraw from the Anthroposophical Society due to his being too controversia (also in the Netherlands, by its chairman Zeylmans van Emmichhoven). He converted to the orthodox and roman catholic churches in 1943 and 1945.
  • Tomberg's positioning: in the later stages of his life, Tomberg distanced himself from the anthroposophical movement and wrote from a christian esoteric perspective.
  • literature
    • Stewart C. Easton: Valentin Tomberg - a critical review
  • believers and non-believers
    • pro:
      • Martin Kriele,
      • Willi Seiss (1922-), publisher of Tomberg's esoteric works
      • Robert Powell (see below)
    • con:
      • Zeylmans van Emmichhoven as the representative voice of the anthro community and society
      • Prokofieff (and Christian Lazarides in FR)

Gennady Bondarev (1936-)

  • Gennady Bondarev
    • Bondarev was the leader of the Russian Anthroposophical Society in Moscow in late Soviet times, when he was repeatedly interrogated by the KGB but escaped these interrogations unharmed. He was expelled from the Dornach Anthroposophical Society in 1998.
  • literature
    • Robert Mason: 'Sevenfold dialectic' .. 'A First Encounter with Bondarev's PoF Book', and more

Sergei O. Prokofieff (1954-2014)

  • Sergei O. Prokofieff wrote his first book while living in Soviet Russia. After the fall of Communism, he helped establish the Anthroposophical Society in Russia. In 2001, he became a member of the Executive Council of the General Anthroposophical Society at the Goetheanum in Switzerland. More than 30 of his books have been translated into English.
  • Prokofieff's positioning:
    • attacking Judith von Halle
      • "Time-Journeys": A Counter-Image to Anthroposophical Spiritual Research (2013) is said to be a response to the book by Peter Tradowsky: ‘The Stigmata - Destiny as a Question of Knowledge’, which was itself a response to the appendix: ‘The Forces of the Phantom and Stigmatization’ included in the book by Sergei Prokofieff: ‘The Mystery of the Resurrection in the Light of Anthroposophy’ (2010).
      • a petition signed by a large number of people asked to take the Prokofieff book out attacking Van Halle out of distribution. Rumour goes the petition was signed by wealthy individuals of the Van Halle 'camp'.
    • attacking Valentin Tomberg
      • 'The Case of Valentin Tomberg: Anthroposophy Or Jesuitism?
  • believers and non-believers
    • whereas Prokofieff has a following that swear by his book and general authentic contribution to anthroposophy, there is also a large population who finds his books chaotic and unclear and not consistent with Rudolf Steiner's teachings and general clarity
  • literature on Prokofieff
    • Irina Gordienko: 'Sergei O. Prokofieff. Myth and Reality'
    • Herbert Wimbauer: 'Der Fall Prokofieff' (1995)

Robert A. Powell (1947-)

  • Powell's positioning: supporter of Tomberg
  • literature
    • Robert Mason: 'The Work of Robert Powell. Some notes toward a critical review. (2008-2013)

Jesaiah Ben-Aharon (1955-)

  • Yeshayahu (Jesaiah) Ben-Aharon founded the anthroposophical community of kibbutz Harduf (Israel) and is co-founder with Nicanor Perlas of the Global Network for Social Threefolding,

Judith von Halle (1972-)

Others

This section is a placeholder that adds to the above but still needs to be elaborated and developed further.

1/ Certain people 'spin', or tackle, anthroposophy in a particular way, that tries to put it in another frame or other light, different from the original intentions. Or at least: a group of people feels and judges this to be the case. It may say just as much or more about the group of people who feel they have to react and put their energy in this, than about the person they target as subject.

Examples that have been seen to be subject of debate in this sense (again, without any judgement here).

  • Helmuth Zander,
    • illustration from the Goetheanum 'Steiner Studies journal project' (SWCC)

      Professor Helmut Zander .. is not considered a scientifically reliable researcher of anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner. His two-volume publication 'Anthroposophy in Germany' and his Rudolf Steiner biography may have gained him the reputation of being a Steiner expert in public but his choice of sources, statements and conclusions clearly lack scientific rigour. And even in cases where the speciousness of his arguments has been pointed out to and admitted by him, he has not made corrections in later publications. The 'opponent' concept (concept not shared by everyone present) seems appropriate here because it is not a question of someone having a different point of view, but of deliberately deconstructing anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner, and presenting and interpreting facts in dubious and one-sidedly distorting ways. and ... pointed out that Helmut Zander accuses Rudolf Steiner of lying five times within a few pages of the above book , concluding with the question, "What does it look like within a person who is becoming increasingly entangled in lies?" .. and sees Rudolf Steiner as someone who "condemns himself to untruthfulness" (p. 463).

  • Christian Clement (1968), the author of the Steiner Kritische Ausgabe (SKA) or Steiner Critical Edition

For some people, certain authors thereby place themselves out of the righteous spiritual science as it should be: objective, spiritual scientific, factual, conscientious. And not shaken and stirred by personal opinions and perspectives to serve personal or other agendas. This is however a matter of perspective and judgement call.

2/ Whereas the above are within the anthro community, there also the polarizers in the opponent camp outside the spiritual scientific community, eg Peter Staudenmaier, waldorfcritics, etc

3/ Last, some people have had critique on the Anthroposophical Society, choose one of the above 'camps' (eg Seiss with Tomberg), or had their own claims of spiritual research that has not been always unanimously accepted or may have caused polarization.

  • Willi Seiss (1922-2013)
  • Hermann Keimeyer (1933-2016), see also profile1 and profile 2. He claimed to receive messages from the spiritual world and was criticised as a medium because of this. He deliberately stepped out of the Anthroposophical Society, of which he was quite critical.
  • Herbert Wimbauer (1944-2012)
  • Jostein Saether (1954)

Lecture coverage and references

1921-11-16 in GA266/3

The following quote by Rudolf Steiner is taken from another source, comes from a preparatory hour on 1921-11-16 in GA266/3 (not found back yet)

In the anthrosophical society the 'clique' spirit has entered (ist eben das Cliquenwesen eingedrungen), and this clique spirit has put itself above everything else in this society .. This way it fragments, splits up the anthroposophical movement in nothing but 'cliques' .. in many ways we're worse off this way than in the outer non-esoteric world.

In this talk, Rudolf Steiner complained that there was allmost no way to do true inner work as the nature of esoteric work requires, as everything was carried out into the outer world in scandaleous ways on earlier occasions (referring to before 1914):

In this context something so scandaleous as these things have never happened before, and it happened in our anthroposophical movement. In esoteric matters and circles, it has always been the case, that things were kept and handled in intimate circles, even in case of disrespectful cases. This has always worked in all esoteric movements across time. But not so in our movement.

Meaning of 'clique' in English: "a small group of people who spend their time together and do not welcome other people into that group. eg: there's a clique at work that never talks/who never talk to anyone else."

Owen Barfield: 'Anthroposophy and the Future'

in Towards 3.1 (Fall 1987): 32-35, 49-50 - read online

In one of the stories in the Arabian Nights – “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” I think – it becomes important to identify one particular room-door in a long row of exactly similar doors. The conspirators, who intend to murder the room’s occupant during the night, mark the door with a cross. His wife or lover determines to save him, so what does she do? Since she can’t erase the mark, she marks all the other doors in the row with a similar cross.

I suspect this is the strategy the Adversary is adopting here, only not with rescue as its object. No longer hostility; no longer the conspiracy of silence. He cannot obliterate the thinking and the revelations of Rudolf Steiner.

He can, and I think he intends to, encourage them to sink gently out of sight into a quicksand of amorphous, anti-reductionist impulse.

That, it seems to me, is the danger that lies immediately ahead, and I commend it to your close attention.

Discussion

[1] - Positioning

Hereby some thoughts to put the above in perspective, by sketching controversy and polemics during Rudolf Steiner's life, and after his death.

a) The chasm within the Anthroposophical Society after Rudolf Steiner's death cannot be seen loose from:

  • the counterforces that were active against anthroposophy, such as certain secret societies and jesuits. Rudolf Steiner often spoke of these, as they became more fierce and led to the destruction of the Goetheanum by arson.
  • the friction between members in the anthroposophical society and movement, on a individual and more general level. Rudolf Steiner spoke of the various different origins of these members and the karmic consequences.


The goal here is not to go into what has been described extensively in literature on the history of the anthroposophical society and movement. Bottom line though, a split was created in the circle of anthroposophists closest to Steiner.

What can be said of the above personalities is, that they became subject of contention and polarization, that created and cultivated a divide and fragmentation within the spiritual scientific movement.

The resemblance is striking.

Certain anthroposophists have observed and commented on this (eg Vreede, Poeppig), ao:

  • that anthroposophists are quite and too vulnerable spiritually and human-wise if they don't practice the esoteric exercises
  • that spiritual influences may be at work here (potentially consciously generated), see elementals


The impact of the work of these personalities is that they cause confusion that sidetracks huge amounts of mental and emotional energies away from the spiritual scientific work that people could be doing instead of getting into controversies.

b) Whereas with years of study or Rudolf Steiner's work, students often assign absolute authority to these materials, one should not forget that Steiner himself, and his teachings, were also not unanimously accepted and had opposition from other 'schools of thought' (eg Einstein, Max Dessoir, Hans Leisegang, etc - for impressions see 'Der andere Rudolf Steiner', ID37 in table FMC00.366 on The life of Rudolf Steiner.

Furthermore, Steiner himself was also confronted in his time with 'initiatives to sidetrack and confuse', such as what happened with Blavatsky and the theosophical society. Reference is made to the Mahatma letters fraud, Sinnett's Esoteric Buddhism, the Krishnamurti case, books by Leadbeater.

[2] - Other examples of 'controversies'

a) More contents based on certain topics:

  • regarding Rudolf Steiner and the Boddhisatva question, with different positions eg by Arenson and Vreede
  • regarding the etheric formative forces, eg between Günther Wachsmuth on the one hand, and Ernst Marti and Iwer Thor Lorenzen on the other


b) The acceptance of imaginative insights and/or inspired works:

An example of someone with imaginative insights that may not always have been fully waterproofed is Karl König. As his works and diaries show, there was clearly a spiritual influx. However, the level of clairvoyance, and rigour of clairvoyant research, may not have been, or probably was not, comparably with Rudolf Steiner's clairvoyant research.

A second example of inspired writings can be found in the work of Iwer Thor Lorenzen. The modest Lorenzen writes in an unpublished biographical note (freely translated), consciously about his experience and insights. See quote on Thirteen holy nights

Related pages

References and further reading

  • Fred Poeppig: Rückblick auf Erlebnisse, Begegnungen und Persönlichkeiten in der anthroposophischen Bewegung (1964)
  • Jostein Saether: Ich entscheide mich sowohl für Sergei O. Prokofieff als auch für Judith von Halle – eine geistige Wahl (link here)
  • Piero Cammerinesi: Preconception and free thought: reflections on Judith von Halle (PDF available online)
  • various info on the exclusions of 1935 (oa link A)

.

see also more on: The Michaelic stream#References and further reading

More
  • Sergei O. Prokofieff: 'Crisis in the Anthroposophical Society: And Pathways to the Future' (2013)
  • T. H. Meyer (and Paul V. O'Leary): 'The development of anthroposophy since Rudolf Steiner's death: An outline and perspectives for the future' (2014)