Problem statement regarding the study of spiritual science

From Anthroposophy

The student of spiritual science that sets out to deepen his knowledge on a quest for insight, is confronted with several challenges;

  1. get on a path: search and explore, be guided to and/or choose one and commit to it. There are myriads of ways to climb the mountain, but one needs to choose one and follow that consistently, as the way is long. Karmic elements certainly play into this. See eg Sources of spiritual science, and The Michaelic stream
  2. develop a personal discipline of study, as a process: it is not about reading, or intellectual knowledge. How to choose what topics to study and truly deepen, versus to hop around a bit. Learning to live with questions, and contemplate and meditate as part of the process.
  3. last, there are also the logistical and practical aspects. This is different dependent of the path one chooses. One of these paths is anthroposophy, see below.

Practical aspects regarding contemporary study of anthroposophy

Rudolf Steiner was the herald of a new stream of spiritual science, for which he provided the foundation in some twenty years of teaching. Writing some core books, supplemented with twenty years of lecturing across Europe in the period 1904-1924.

This represents a vast volume with some 5000-6000 lectures complementing his books, grouped in some 400 volumes (books). After 100 years, not everything has been published and 'new' material is still being made available by the official publisher (Steiner Archiv Dornach). See Rudolf Steiner's Gesamtausgabe (GA).


How does one access and 'use' the approx. 100.000 pages of materials to benefit one's study and development?

Below are some hurdles or challenges that the earnest student of spiritual science has to be conscious of:

1 - the nature of the teachings of spiritual science

These topics are about the structure of the Body of Knowledge. Subjects and topics are not separated or grouped, but flow through one another through a multitude of relationships used to cross from one topic to another in holistic spiritual science.

  • 1.1 - different terminology and frames of reference used by the sections making up the whole Body of Knowledge of spiritual science, in the various ages different teachings about the same spiritual scientific topics describes things in different ways. Rudolf Steiner's lectures 'crosses' all these distinctions and gaps, referencing teachings from different cultural ages and timeframes. The descriptions mix context and terminology from for example the Druidic Mysteries, the ancient Persian teachings of Zarathustra, the ancient Greeks, then again the middle ages with the language of alchemy, as well as ancient myths and sagas, or ancient texts such as the Books of Genesis, Revelation, the gospels or the Bhagavad Ghita. See also Note [2] in the Discussion section below. Besides this, on a second lower level, also the terminology between theosophy and spiritual science sometimes presents challenges, ànd Steiner changed the use of certain terms over 20 years of lecturing. See: Terminology
  • 1.2 - organic flow, coverage and dispersion: each of the many thousands of lectures flows organically as it was held to dynamically take into account the audience, its attention and interests. One lecture typically covers multiple topics. However, a single paragraph or side note of a few sentences may provide a unique key to understanding a certain topic. Sometimes this is just a single phrase that really matters or makes the whole difference, because it is the closing stone or the puzzle pieces that brings all the other material full circle. Now supposing we divide each lecture - hypothetically - into an average of subtopics or content threads that are covered .. then we get some 50.000 'units of information' dispersed across several hundreds of books.
    • one additional intricacy is that 'everything is connected with everything', and one cannot regard topics in isolation. There are always multiple perspectives, ànd multiple links with other topic 'dimensions'. See On educating yourself in holistic spiritual science
2 - navigation and search efficacy

As a result, a number of purely practical consequences present themselves:

  • 2.1 - search by title doesn't work: the title of a lecture cycle book, or the title of a lecture, is usually not representative and actually often not even relevant - hence the titles are misleading to base ourselves upon as a specific and directed entry point to organize one's study and navigation upon
  • 2.2 - lectures have been grouped per GA volume .. but this implies that sometimes the start and continuation of one thread over two or more days is now split across two different volumes with different title and GA number. One needs to be aware of this to 'use' the chronology whilst using the GA.
  • 2.3 - indexes and glossaries, libraries and online databases: a multitude of cross references and navigational aids exist to assist the student to navigate across the approximately 100.000 pages of information in the GA. Additionally, on-line searchable databases complement the GA also with secondary literature. These are very valuable tools that are worthile to learn to use and integrate in one's study process. See Navigating anthroposophical resources and RSL study tools
3 - availability

In practice, research will lead one to need this or that particular lecture or set of lectures. However, not everything has been published in the GA, translated into english, or made available online in digital format.

  • 3.1 - availability in english: translation in various languages lags behind, and this is also the case for English. The US and UK publishers have a Collected Works initiative but not even a list per GA of what is available and what not, one cannot even search per GA number on their websites.
  • 3.2 - availability in digital format: in German multiple digital versions exist, in English the most complete digital version available online is rsarchive.
4 - integration beyond GA
  • 4.1 - no links to the vast secondary literature: almost each topic covered in by Rudolf Steiner in the Gesambtausgabe, has been the subject of further research by one or more anthroposophists. However no overview directory or links exist on a subject or topic basis.
  • 4.2 - no links to bridge to non-anthroposophical subject matter references: eg contemporary scientific research eg on the etheric, anthropology and geology, dead sea scrolls findings, etc

Bottom line

The above challenges and lack of integration confront the student in his work that usually spans many years or decades to a whole lifetime.

What has been done by the anthro community is to go from the original transcripts to clean published texts that are generally available, and to a large extent even in English, and digital. This is a huge first step, however it is far from complete. The missing pieces are often crucial -> buy books, scan and OCR self, or have translated separately when not available.

What has not been done?

.. make an integrated version that not only takes all relevant quotes and sections on a specific topic, but also produce from this a synthesis .. with didactic efficacy .. so cohesive, complete, without repeats, in a logical flow and structure .. without loosing any richness from the original lectures. This means it could and usually would use literal RSL quotes, obviously with references. But also it would add links to secondary literature (see SoSoG).

This site tries to offer an access layer with modern available technology that is widespread and low threshold. People from all over the work access this wiki resource in english 24/24. The site is especially intended as an access layer and study support tool. With 'access' is meant: to quickly get to lecture references and secondary literature information via a logical topic-based organization of information.


Lecture coverage and references


[1] - A personal perspective

In 2013, I could just not believe that in these 100 years since Rudolf Steiner's death, this work of integration had not been tackled yet. It appeared so obvious, as a must do, a logical consequence from just reading first dozens, then hundreds of lectures .. like most anthro students will do. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course, but although it is a very good and maybe the best and necessary first step .. it also has its limitations.

For example: to reach the full extent on many topics, one strives for complete coverage because one needs the multiple perspectives. One gazes at an incomplete partial puzzles laid with many pieces missing. However lots of effort gets lost in just the practical aspects of searching due to the dispersion and lack of availability of the materials. Then again, as students of spiritual science, we should not complain because on the positive side, we are priviledged that we have never been in a better position.

[2] - General note on Rudolf Steiner's teachings (in the context of 'integrating traditions')

Rudolf Steiner held about 6000 lectures over 20 years. Now during those lectures he covered a very broad field, going back to previous cultural ages and epochs, and talking about the Mysteries in those times, and the remnants we find in ancient mythodology.

It is important to realize that Steiner used the language of those different timeframes to provide clues and pieces of information not covered in the 'regular' coverage of a topic in contemporary language of theosophy and anthroposophy. For example he spoke about the Druidic Mysteries and how the initiates/priest used the stone circles to read the zodiac clock, how elementals of nature expanded to provide a link with weather, how they used this knowledge of nature's forces for healing, etc. He discussed the human nervous system in the language of the Ancient Persian timeframe and the teachings of Zarathustra (see eg Schema FMC00.135). He described the forces of nature as related to the three mothers. And so on.

The point is that it is only by collating, integrating, assimilating these pieces of information holistically, one gets the insight. Today the study of Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophical teachings have been segmented, as a sign of the times, and lectures are studied 'per topic', but not as a whole. As a result, many or most of the hints and clues described above are missed.

Related pages

includes not just

but also practical support pages for various aspects such as:

  1. Rudolf Steiner's Gesamtausgabe bundels some historical and practical information including availability of media and in different languages
  2. Navigating anthroposophical resources provides reference info about available indexes, glossaries, and secondary literature.
  3. RSL main cycles overview is a matrix table for quick access to Rudolf Steiner's main cycles
  4. RSL study tools is a practical jump-board page to various online search engines and databases
  5. SoSoG: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants - a 'best of' anthrosophical secondary literature

References and further reading