Chances are that at least one of these things is familiar to you, whether you're a parent who has looked at the schooling options for your child(ren), or you've seen one or another of these labels on products at your local health food store (or in your chain store's new "healthy choices" section). Or maybe you've seen them as a student of comparative religion, or even of some of the so-called "alternative religions" that seem to be growing in popularity and/or public awareness. What you may not know is that a single thread runs through all of these diverse practises, and others that may seem even more disparate as well, such as:
That thread is Rudolf Steiner -- whose dedication to sharing his 'spiritual science' with the world led him to found what has become a world-wide movement based upon his teachings.
This has been difficult for outsiders to this movement to fully perceive and understand, because to know Rudolf Steiner in the context of only one of the institutions he founded is to know only a facet of his background, or his teachings. Those who know of him only as the founder of the Waldorf schools, for instance, conceive of him as an educationalist -- they are generally seeking to know only his background in this area, and this is what is presented to them when they inquire about the founder of this "alternative, arts-oriented" form of education.
Yet his schools derive as much or more from his other aspects as from his background as a tutor, and the years he spent in his twenties, educating the children of the Specht family. Much of his dedication in those years is shown in the arduous care he devoted to the 'sleeping soul' of one of the boys, who overcame his 'water on the brain' to become a doctor. It is from this experience that he derived many of his beliefs about the potential of 'curative education', which in turn take form in the practise of Eurythmy, and in more specialised form in the Camphill Communities for the disabled, where staff and patients live together as 'co-workers' and 'villagers', with no social dividing line between them. Developed still further, these teachings became the field of Anthroposophical medicine, whose leading brand name of Weleda is now a common sight in health food and natural products stores the world over.
Likewise, many 'green' consumers, in shopping for organic foods, have gotten used to seeing biodynamics as just another word for 'organically grown', or at best a certain set of organic production standards. Yet, like the Waldorf schools, the entire practise of biodynamic agriculture has a much deeper set of beliefs and practises behind it, far beyond its avoidance of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. These too are sourced from Steiner's unifying 'spiritual science', in addition to the invaluable bits of pre-industrial agricultural knowledge that he gathered from the farmers of the rural countryside, and preserved through the height of the Western world's infatuation with the new wonder sprays of chemical agriculture.
It is Steiner's role as self-proclaimed clairvoyant and founder of the modern mystery movement of Anthroposophy which begins to shed light on this unifying thread. However, prior to Geoffrey Ahern's doctoral thesis, which he developed into this unique and ground-breaking book on Steiner, on his teachings, and on the historical and religious background in which they arose, there was no cohesive source to which an interested reader could turn to in an effort to answer these questions.
Steiner himself wrote and spoke at length on his teachings -- but the very abundance of his own writing makes it hard for an outsider to even begin to understand the scope of the material he covered. In addition, much of what he taught required the development of specialised language, to describe the concepts he sought to explain; between these factors, and his now-outdated writing style, it is little wonder that the newcomer to Steiner is often told "Steiner is difficult" when they turn to his own writings in an effort to understand the institutions that he founded, and find themselves more confused after their reading than before they began.
Others have written about him, but it doesn't take long to see that these writings quickly fall into two easily-distinguished camps -- proponents of Steiner and his teachings, and detractors.
Only in Sun at Midnight, the compassionate and carefully impartial sociological exploration of the institutions and their founder has found a neutral and unbiased expression. This book offers, in one volume, a comprehensive, cohesive, and coherent outline and description of Steiner's own life, his teachings, the institutions founded upon those teachings, and the multi-millenia-long Western esoteric tradition from which Steiner (and so many others) arose.
Beginning with the life of Rudolf Steiner himself, Ahern leads the reader to an understanding of Steiner's unique perspective on the world, and distinguishes clearly between the known historical facts, and the ways in which the evidence clearly suggests that these events and experiences may have influenced the development of Steiner's views and teachings. This scrupulously careful balance of fact and clearly identified interpretation continues throughout the book, culminating in his examination of Anthroposophy through a sociological perspective -- and of sociology, in turn, from an Anthroposophical perspective. The facts are allowed to speak for themselves, and tell their own story, and careful attribution of each interpretation allows the reader to reach an independent assessment of any potential for bias.
The Movement itself is then examined, first biographically, through an unfolding of its own history, and then through an organisational study of its primary bodies.
This begins with an examination of the ways in which these teachings are passed on, and the goals which those institutions seek to achieve, and by which they measure themselves.
The next two chapters cover Steiner's teachings regarding first humanity, and then the universe of which humanity is a part.
Here Ahern's mastery of his subject shines in a whole new and different way, as his scrupulous attention to accuracy and detail turns its focus from Steiner to the entire multi-millenial history of the tradition of belief which gave a context to Steiner's insights and the teachings which derived from them.
The first of these chapters covers the beginnings of this tradition, from its Zoroastrian roots, through Gnosticism and its influence on the history of the Christian church (and vice versa), through other manifestations of this continuous thread of teachings and beliefs in contexts within and outside of the JudeoChristian traditions: Hermetecism, Kabbalism, Alchemy, and Rosicrucianism.
As the intertwining threads of this tradition's varied streams move forward into the modern era, the next chapter deals with the give and take between those streams, and the larger social context of society at large. We see the influence of these beliefs in the works of creative minds from Shakespeare to Goethe, as they become woven into the fabric of Western culture as a whole, and we see the effects of a modernising world upon the tradition itself. Moving into more recent centuries, Ahern examines the impact of the Victorian era's fascination with the East, as India, Egypt, and the Orient all became sources of mystery and wonder to be mined by the so-called 'mystery traditions', and interwoven with that which was distinctly Western in origin.
Here Ahern once again earns his credentials as a truly neutral voice, when he delves into the divergence of society and its sciences from the spiritual views embodied in the mystery traditions, then not only examines these spiritual movements from a sociological standpoint, but also examines the materialistic perspective of the social sciences through the eyes of a more spiritual perspective. The overall shifts in society's views about all matters to do with the spirit, and spiritual belief systems in particular, round out this phase of his historical overview.
The final chapter of this unique book-within-a-book explores Gnosticism's complex historical relationship with orthodoxy, within the Christian Church (the Catholic church in particular), and the developing belief systems of Neoplatonism, and examines in detail the intensive changes in society and spirituality of the Renaissance and Reformation.
The book closes where the 1984 edition opened, with an examination of 18 individual Anthroposophists, and the insights they were able to offer into what first drew them to the belief system, and what they found within it to make their involvement a lasting one.
The Tables and Notes at the end of the book are invaluable resources, adding depth and clarity to Ahern's comprehensive overview of this complex subject, and making some of the elements much easier to follow and to understand. The tables present a coherent depiction of the layers or temporal unfolding of various aspects of Steiner's teachings, while the Notes allow Ahern to add a greater depth of information on certain points within the text, without adding unnecessary and confusing digression into the body of the text itself at any given point.
This edition comes with a complete and comprehensive index, allowing the reader to find any reference of interest at a moment's notice -- perfect for students and researchers.
The world in which we live has been shaped by many forces, both in the natural world, and in the social world of human beliefs. One under-recognised force in bringing our modern world into being is laid out here, for the reader's easy understanding. From alternative education, to the additive/chemical-free food movement, from socially responsible financial institutions to 'curative education' as an empowering element in the lives of the disabled, the continuing thread of Rudolf Steiner's social institutions, and the underlying movement he founded, has helped create generation after generation of social awareness of 'the road less travelled'. Like the Established Churches of many nations, and social institutions such as Communism and the Free Market economy, you don't have to agree with his teachings to see the influence exerted on society by Steiner, his teachings, and the Western Esoteric Tradition from which they derive. To better understand those influences is to better understand society -- and to better understand the individuals within it.