Rudolf Steiner's Gesamtausgabe (GA)
The Gesamtausgabe (GA) - or in English, Collected Works (CW) - of Rudolf Steiner's foundational contribution to spiritual science encompasses some 100.000 pages and consists of over 350 volumes that are hopefully nearing completion by 2025. The majority of the content are the 4550 lectures with notes, from the 6200 lectures given in over 120 cities and 13 countries in the period between 1904 and 1924.
History of the GA
To connect to the atmosphere of Berlin in this period 1900-1910 where Steiner held many important lecture cycles, you can view for example the first 3 minutes of the following movie of the Berlin in the beginning of last century. There are some periods of say twenty seconds in this short 'evocation' movie that allow one to transpose one's mind to this period when Steiner walked around on these streets to his lectures.
For people who know they were incarnated in this period, this may arouse a certain soul feeling.
- see here on youtube.
- here is a download of the short excerpt in case the video goes offline: download version
For a breakdown of the GA in the various elements both in terms of format and contents, we refer to the sources below. Not focusing on the written works or artworks, the focus here is more on the thousands of lectures that constitute the bulk of the available written materials on spiritual science.
Rudolf Steiner's life timeline
Schema FMC00.124 gives an overview on Rudolf Steiner's adult life and especially his lecturing activity in the three main seven year periods (in colour), the three moon nodes (in grey on the left), and some milestones in the right columns.
See also 1923-06-GA258 and more specifically 1923-06-15-GA258 and 1923-06-15-GA258 where Rudolf Steiner looks back on the three periods of seven years, and speaks about the 21 year rhythm in 1923-06-17-GA258. From the synopsis:
- First period: the development of the basic content of the science of the spirit. View of natural science. The journal Luzifer-Gnosis.
- The second period: exploration of the Gospels, Genesis, the Christian tradition. Expansion of the anthroposophical understanding of Christianity as such. The spread of anthroposophy into the artistic field through performance of the Mystery Dramas in Munich. Reasons which led to the expulsion from the Theosophical Society. Summary of the first two phases. The opposition which grew in strength after construction of the Goetheanum began. Development of eurythmy. The booklet Thoughts in Time of War and the inner opposition which it provoked within the society. The being of Anthroposophia.
- The third phase: fertilization and renewal of the sciences and social relationships. The conditions governing the existence of the Anthroposophical Society. A more open-hearted form had to be found for the three objects of the society: fraternity, comparative study of religions and the study of the spiritual world.
The foundational books
The following books written by Rudolf Steiner can be seen as a foundation for anthroposophy or spiritual science in general:
- 1894-GA004 - Philosophy of Freedom (PoF)
- 1902-GA008 - Christianity As Mystical Fact (and the Mysteries of Antiquity)
- 1904-GA009 - Theosophy
- 1905-GA010 - Knowledge of the Higher Worlds (KHW)
- 1910-GA013 - Outline of Esoteric Science (OES)
Furthermore, a 'reference' book is the compilation of written essays of 1904 later compiled in book form and first published in German in 1939
- 1904 - GA011 - Cosmic Memory
The important difference with the rest of the GA is that these are works written by Rudolf Steiner as books (to be read sequentially), whereas the body of lectures covers twenty years of lecturing to the most varied audiences across Europe and these spoken lectures don't always have the accuracy of written works, or may contain errors.
See also online Five Base Books
These books shed light on different matters, or can be seen as entry points into various dimensions of spiritual science:
- OES is the main reference work for matters of Evolution and Spiritual hierarchies, supplemented with Cosmic Memory as a flanker. OES is a study work, Cosmic Memory is a much easier first read to get started.
- KHW is about spiritual development and Initiation (with a section on that also in OES)
- PoF is the most important philosophical work about Man's epistemology, consciousness and freedom
- Christianity as a mystical fact is the base work for The Michaelic stream, see also GA087 with lectures of 1901 and 1902
- Theosophy is the most introductory book providing a view on Man - the human being and Man's bodily principles
Capturing the lectures
There were five official stenographers, not all professional. Rudolf Steiner was concerned that the texts of the lectures should not be taken as the written word. Not only were the lectures in the spoken word very much tuned to what lived in the audience, but the reflections of these lectures cannot taken verbatim. Furthermore rather heavy editing was applied in the course of decades, where new editors made ever new editions.
Schema FMC00.340 is an illustration of original stenographic lecture notes, and shows Helene Finckh, (one of, or) the main stenographer(s) of Rudolf Steiner's lectures.
Schema FMC00.120 provides a high level overview of the lectures of which records are available.
Process and positioning
In one century, many hundreds of people worldwide have worked on the GA.
- Starting with the stenographers and transcribers who created the typoscripts at the time of the lectures.
- Then generations of editors that not only produced the lecture texts from all available sources, but also worked on the multiple editions over the decades.
- Then translators from the German originals to the many languages: English, Spanish, Russian, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, ..
- And ultimately publishers.
- the initiatives by people who scanned and OCR-ed the published text to make them available in digital format on the internet
- the audio versions in German and English.
The GA itself, as we know it today therefore has passed through multiple generations .. just as there have been many generations of people who have worked and maintained it, and are still doing so today.
Schema FMC00.341 illustrates the process from attending the lecture to publication in the GA
Before the GA
- Marie Steiner's work on publishing and owning the editorials , starting 1923 upto her death in 1948
- Adolph Arenson's 1930 listing of the 50 top lecture cycles, see online overview. Note these cycle numbers were used as lecture reference numbers by anthroposophists before the GA started. So antho literature upto the 1950-60s will use these cycle numbers. The book 'Leitfaden durch 50 Vortragszyklen Rudolf Steiners' continued to be published until long after the GA, and upto today. The eight edition of 1984 (1000+ pages) contains an introduction of how this initiative came into being after thorough preparatory talks with Rudolf Steiner, and in-depth work between Feb-1918 and May-1925.
- Leading thoughts. Rudolf Steiner's own initiative to provide a 'dashboard' overview to the contents of his work, arose with the compilation of 185 Leitsätze or Leading Thoughts published as 1925-GA026, see Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts. Regarding In Newsletter to members Nr 31 in 1924, Rudolf Steiner wrote (freely translated here):
For more info see Carl Unger (1878-1929): 'The language of the consciousness soul - A guide to Rudolf Steiner's Leading Thoughts' (2012 in EN, original 1930 in DE 'Aus der Sprache der Bewusstseinsseele: Unter Zugrundelegung der Leitsätze Rudolf Steiners')
.. the work that is made available in the printed lectures and cycles should not all to be readily be underestimated By reading together and integrating all that can be found separated in these individual lectures and cycles, one can find back the perspectives from which is spoken in the Leading Thoughts.
The GA idea, plan and project initiative
- First ideas from Ehrenfried Pfeiffer in 1947 and first proposal in 1953 by Teichert and Picht
- Foundational plan for editorial work and publications by Hella Wiesberger in 1961, updated in 1984 (PDF available in references below)
Roll-out of publications
Schema FMC00.072 below shows the number of GA volumes published per year. Upto 1980 the data is based on Mottelli, afterwards no exact data was available. Since the GA2025 the data is again available.
It shows that in the period 1960-1980 (both years inclusive), a yearly average of 13 volumes per year was published for a total of 277 volumes in those 21 years and for a total of 289 volumes in 1980. This of course was able to build on the large volume of material that had been published in the fifty years from say 1910 to 1960, now fitting al the available publications after re-editing and bundling into the new GA framework.
Although no exact data are available for the period afterwards, it's clear that the pace dropped afterwards in the period 1980 to 2010.
Existing volumes were revised and updated regularly with consecutive editions.
Amazingly, key materials only got published very late, examples are GA089 and GA091.
Schema FMC00.073 shows the cumulative number of volumes in the published GA
The Uranos/Steinerdatenbank initiative
The making available of original typoscripts, also for unpublished lectures
The GA2025 initiative
Get everything out by 2025, one century after Rudolf Steiner's death, for more info see the GA2025 page.
Individual contributions - a few profiles
Certain individuals have played a key role in the process, others stood out for special reasons. There are too many to mention, but some examples will illustrate:
- Marie Steiner and Hella Wiesberger
- Helene Finckh (stenographer)
- Anna Meuss (translator to English)
Rudolf Steiner's work as a painter
- Rudolf Halfen and Walter Kugler (editors): 'Das malerische Werk' (Mit Erläuterungen und einem dokumentarischen Anhang (2007)
- Reproduktionen aus dem malerischen Werk von Rudolf Steiner
- Naturstimmungen: Neun Schulungsskizzen für Maler. Pastelle 1922
The English version
History and the first translations
stories from the very early days
The rsarchive initiative
The Collected Works initiative
Two main publishers of the English CW:
- Rudolf Steiner Press (UK): https://www.rudolfsteinerpress.com/
- SteinerBooks (US): https://steinerbooks.org/
Other publishers in English:
- Temple Lodge Publishing (UK): https://www.templelodge.com/
- Floris Books (UK): https://www.florisbooks.co.uk/
others: Anastasia, Mercury Press, Adonis Press, Completion Press
This section gives some practical guidelines for students working in English:
- how to get hold of old translations, use of the audio versions, etc
Tips: take care to trust only one available version if your study goes deep into something where you base yourself upon one lecture. In some cases the version on rsarchive is incomplete or even erroneous (eg 1906-07-29-GA097 on Wagner and blood at the MoG, or the GA215 cycle), or with terrible old translations. You will find the same if you listen to the audio versions, and then go to look for quotes or sections in the rsarchive. If multiple versions are available, parse more than one. In many cases I still bought the books to get better versions scanned and OCR-ed for personal study - thus allowing parsing and annotation. The rsarchive is a wonderful and unique tool, use it but make sure not to stop there.
The English audio version
The pioneer of this effort was Rick Mansell who (translated and) read-to-tape some 1900 lectures of Rudolf Steiner between 1939-1981. These are still available from The Rosenkreuz Institute in the US.
Dale Brunsvold started his reading and recording efforts in 1980 but the website only came in 2005. His rudolfsteineraudio makes available some 2000 files and over 1200 hours of reading time (info 2016).
The GA in other languages
XL or PDF file here
XL or PDF file here
XL or PDF file here
XL or PDF file here
XL or PDF file here
Problems with using the GA
(no critique, just practical consequences of it's structure)
- the segmentation does not respect chronology or context (examples)
- changes in allocation of lectures to GA volumes
The Blackboard Drawings and original illustrations
FMC00.342 shows that over a thousand of Rudolf Steiner's BBDs have been published and are available in thirty volumes. The GA volume mapping cross-reference will be added later.
For more info, see:
- Martina Maria Sam: Bildspuren der Imaginations - Rudolf Steiners Tafelzeichnungen als Denkbilder (2000)
- as a quick reference, hereby a partial index: Digital RSL BlackBoard Drawings - index only
FMC00.342 provides illustrations from exhibitions of the Blackboard Drawings
Rudolf Steiner left approx. 600 notebooks with entries on which he comments himself below. Only some of these have been published as part of the GA volumes, the notebooks have not been published themselves, only one book exists which is hard to find, see references below.
These notebook entries may be cryptic, but some can provide breakthrough clues, some examples:
- Walter Cloos found a key clue in a notebook entry, that allowed him to put all the puzzle pieces of his understanding together, as he explains in his book 'The Living Earth', see Mineral kingdom page. The book uses the few densely written phrases of the notebook entry as a leitmotiv for the whole book and the many chapters structured around it.
- Schema FMC00.326 on the Kundalini page
- Christ Module 9: Trinity and Logoi#.5B5.5D - Christ.2C the cosmic I.2C and relation to the spiritual hierarchies
Rudolf Steiner mentioned in lectures how the notebooks came into being, and what they contained. Below are some quotes (not exhaustive) as illustrations. A first lecture where he mentions this 1923-04-30-GA084.
From another lecture on 1923-05-14
Hence, allow me in conclusion to say something personal by way of illustration, although this is not meant to be personal, but is meant rather to be entirely objective.
If you really want to capture that which is disclosed by the spiritual world, you need presence of mind, because it slips so to speak, turns away quickly; it is fleeting. That which is to a certain extent advanced through an improvement in the power of memory imprints itself only with difficulty upon the ordinary memory. One must use all of his strength to bring down what he beholds in the spiritual world, to bring this down to ordinary language, to ordinary memory-thought.
I would not be able to lecture about these things if I did not try by all means to bring down what arises in me of what can be beheld in the spiritual world, especially to really bring these thought-words down into physically audible regions. One cannot comprehend with the mere head, because the entire human being must to a certain extent become a sense organ, but a spiritually developed sense organ.
Therefore I attempt every time — it is my custom, another has another one — I attempt every time if something is given to me from the spiritual world, not merely to think it through as I receive it from the spiritual world, but to write it down as well, or to record it with some characteristic stroke, so that the arms and hands are involved as well as the soul organs. So something else other than the mere head, which remains only in abstract ideas, must be involved in these findings: the entire person.
I have in this way entire truckloads of fully-written notebooks that I never again look at, which are only there in order to be descriptions, in order to provide preliminary work in the physical world for that which is from the spiritual world, so that the spiritually beheld world can then really be clothed in words; whereby the thoughts of which memories are usually formed or that usually apply in life can actually be penetrated — Thus one obtains a science that relates to the whole person.
1923-09-29-GA084 (see also 1923-04-30-GA084)
In order to render it clear that super-sensible knowledge cannot really be a mere head-knowledge, but lays hold upon the human being in a vastly more living and intense way than head-knowledge, I should like to mention the following. Whoever is accustomed to a living participation in ordinary knowledge — as every true super-sensible knower should really be — knows that the head participates in this ordinary knowledge. If he then ascends, especially if he has been active through his entire life in the ordinary knowledge, to super-sensible knowledge, the situation becomes such that he must exert all his powers in order to keep firm hold upon this super-sensible knowledge which comes upon him, which manifests itself to him. He observes that the power by means of which one holds fast to an idea about nature, to a law of nature, to the course of an experiment or of a clinical observation, is very slight in comparison with the inner force of soul which must be unfolded in order to hold fast to the perception of a super-sensible being.
And here I have always found it necessary not only, so to speak, to employ the head in order to hold firmly to these items of super-sensible knowledge, but to support the force which the head can employ by means of other organs — for example by means of the hand. If we sketch in a few strokes something that we have reached through super-sensible research, if we fix it in brief characteristic sentences or even in mere words, then this thing — which we have brought into existence not merely by means of a force evoked through the nerve system applied in ordinary cognition, but have brought into existence by means of a force drawing upon a wide expanse of the organism as a support for our cognition, — this thing becomes something which produces the result that we possess these items of super-sensible knowledge not as something momentary, that they do not fall away from us like dreams, but that we are able to retain them.
I may disclose to you, therefore, that I really find it necessary to work in general always in this way, and that I have thus produced wagon-loads of notebooks in my lifetime which I have never again looked into. For the necessary thing here lies in the activity; and the result of the activity is that one retains in spirit what has sought to manifest itself, not that one must read these notes again. Obviously, this writing or sketching is nothing automatic, mediumistic, but just as conscious as that which one employs in connection with scientific work or any other kind of work. And its only reason for existence lies in the fact that what presses upon us in the form of super-sensible knowledge must be grasped with one's whole being. But the result of this is that it affects, in turn, the whole human being, grasps the whole person, is not limited to an impression upon the head, goes further to produce impressions upon the whole human life in heart and mind.
FMC00.339 shows the Rudolf Steiner's notebooks in the archive in Dornach
FMC00.339A shows some illustrative examples of notebook entries.
References and further reading
- Hella Wiesberger and Emil Mötteli: 'Bibliographische Übersicht, Das literarische und künstlerische Werk von Rudolf Steiner'(1984)
- Die Rudolf Steiner Gesamtausgabe: Aktueller Stand und Abschlussplanung - Archivmagazin Nr 5 Aug 2016
- Michael Schweizer: 'Zur Qualität der stenografischen Mitschriften von Rudolf Steiners Vorträgen' - Archivmagazin Nr 6 Jun 2017
- Rudolf Steiner Archiv
- Martina Maria Sam: Bildspuren der Imaginations - Rudolf Steiners Tafelzeichnungen als Denkbilder (2000)
- The notebooks of Rudolf Steiner, edited by Etsuko Watari and Walter Kugler, Watari Museum of contemporary art (Tokyo), (2000)
- Irene Diet:
- 'Das Geheimnis der Sprache Rudolf Steiners. Vom ungelösten Rätsel des Verstehens' (2011)
- 'Ist die «Rudolf Steiner Gesamtausgabe» das Werk Rudolf Steiners? Eine historische Studie' (2013)
- 'Welches Recht hat Rudolf Steiner selbst an seinem Werk? Anmerkungen zum Projekt des Rudolf Steiner Archivs, bis 2025 die Gesamtausgabe abzuschließen' (2016)