Anthroposophy, and its founder Rudolf Steiner, are topics which, like many others I am sure, I have bumped into during my years of study. Neither made much impression on me prior to the arrival of this book. As I have aged, I have made a conscious decision to revisit some areas which I skipped over in my earlier years.
This book, a reworking of Dr. Ahern's PhD work, is one of those areas I wanted to re-examine. Anthroposophy (and Theosophy, from which it split off in the early 20th century) underlie much of Western esoteric thought and are, if for no other reason, worthy of study.
Anthroposophy at least in its "pure" form is extremely Christo-centric, which may present a stumbling block for some. This is not, however, unexpected as its origins date to a time and place (late 19th century Austria/Germany), which was not particularly, tolerant of non-Christian religious expression, with few exceptions.
One of the difficulties encountered by an outsider trying to understand the movement is that a great deal of the information is, traditionally, taught only within the organization in a classic mouth-to-ear kind of teaching - although this is beginning to change in the modern, internet world which we inhabit now. Even such a basic thing as membership numbers are not discussed to any degree outside of the "centers" where members meet. Thus there remains a feeling that there is something so unconventional as to be unsavory about the teachings.
The subject of this book is, to say the very least, extremely complex. The treatment it receives is equally complex. Being written by an "outsider" it will likely not please many who follow Anthroposophy, who will feel it does not convey the essence of their beliefs. It will also not please those who are looking for the "secrets" of the movement, since none are revealed. It is as close to an unbiased presentation as it is possible to produce, given the resources available.
There were times when I had to go back and re-read some segments due to the way in which Steiner expressed himself. I sometimes needed to remind myself that followers of specific traditions often have views which are widely divergent from currently accepted thinking (and that such divergence does not necessarily make them wrong, merely different). I also had to remember that even Steiner himself admitted that he may have made some mistakes, so not everything needed to be accepted as "gospel truth".
There is a lot of information contained within these covers, in some instances almost too much, but it contributes to an understanding of an organization and a movement which is little known to society at large. Those with a psychological and/or sociological interest will find this book to be a gold mine of insight.
It is, by no means, the last word on Anthroposophy but it does offer an outsider's (mostly) unbiased points-of-view. It lacks an insider's perspective, but at the same time it also lacks the insiders' attempt to justify their beliefs. I am sure there is more to be said on the topic and, admittedly, some of the details may have changed (in fact, that is why this book was updated and re-issued), but this work offers a snapshot in time of a little-understood movement and should help to promote understanding and tolerance.
This is an expensive volume, there can be no denying that fact. Yet, for the amount of information and insight which is contained within it, it is certainly reasonable. Also, let's be honest here, it will almost certainly never make the Best Sellers list, so in order to hope to recover costs the price needs to be relatively high. Don't let the price scare you off. It is, in my opinion, worth it.
Rudolf Steiner is largely unknown except within the circle of his devoted followers. One consequence is that almost everything written about Steiner and his teachings comes from within that circle. Much of it amounts to uncritical celebration. Finding balanced, reliable works about Steiner is difficult.
Geoffrey Ahern has helped fill the void with his book SUN AT MIDNIGHT (James Clark & Co., 2009). Ahern, a Fellow of the Center for Leadership Studies, Exeter University (in the U.K.), has carefully researched the Steiner movement, which centers on Anthroposophy the cult-like religion Steiner created and Waldorf schools, educational institutions that have proliferated around the world, working subtly to spread the Anthroposophical faith.
...The brevity of the book has one great advantage: SUN AT MIDNIGHT is inviting and accessible in ways that a massive tome would not be.
SUN AT MIDNIGHT is too short. At 279 pages, it cannot fully explore the work of a man who published many books and delivered thousands upon thousands of lectures on a stunningly wide array of subjects. Nonetheless, Ahern's book is extremely informative -- indeed, it is fascinating. Anyone who is attracted to Anthroposophy, Waldorf schools (also called Steiner schools), biodynamic agriculture, Anthroposophical medicine, or any of the other offshoots of Steiner's thinking, should read it.
The brevity of the book has one great advantage: SUN AT MIDNIGHT is inviting and accessible in ways that a massive tome would not be. The writing is clear and concise, if somewhat dry. Most readers may find that they need to pause often, struggling with the strange concepts in and around Steiner's occult belief system. But because the book is short, it is unintimidating.
Ahern makes a few minor errors, as virtually anyone will who attempts to summarize Steiner's vast, occult, murky, and sometimes self-contradictory canon. And there are a few errors I consider major. In his evident effort to be fair-minded, Ahern bends over backwards too far sometimes, minimizing such troubling matters as the racism that is deeply imbedded in Anthroposophy. He is also, in my opinion, too ready to take Steiner at his word, thus failing to adequately investigate the possibility that Steiner was a fraud who claimed powers ("exact clairvoyance") that do not and cannot exist. Startlingly, the book's extensive index contains no entry for clairvoyance(*), although the entire body of Steiner's occult teachings rests on his professed clairvoyant abilities. Take away clairvoyance, and Anthroposophy crashes to the ground. [And we almost certainly can dismiss claims of clairvoyance: They are bogus. See "Clairvoyance".]
Still, by and large, Ahern is an excellent guide. SUN AT MIDNIGHT has chapters that outline Steiner's life, the history of Anthroposophy, and the organizational structure of Anthroposophy. Most major tenets of the faith are examined, and they are reviewed in the context of Western religious, gnostic, and occult traditions. Helpful tables at the end of the book summarize some of Steiner's key doctrines.
There is no chapter devoted to Waldorf schools, but references to the schools appear throughout the book, and these are easily found thanks to the index. Likewise, particular subjects important to an understanding of the Waldorf curriculum such as eurythmy are detailed in the index.
In all, SUN AT MIDNIGHT is nearly indispensable reading for anyone who wants a balanced, informative, and sensible (albeit incomplete) examination of Rudolf Steiner and his brainchildren.
Geoffrey Ahern is a Fellow of the Centre for Leadership Studies at Exeter University. Ahern's book is a general overview of the Steiner movement, which he competently does from the perspective of a secular sociologist. He examines Steiner's life, his cosmology and the influences that led to his supposedly Christian version of Gnosticism. Ahern also looks at Steiner spin-offs such as Biodynamic agriculture, Waldorf (Steiner) education, Camphill Homes and "Christian Community" churches, showing how they are all based on Steiner's beliefs.
In this review, the main focus will be on Steiner's cosmology, which differs dramatically from that plainly taught in the Bible.
Rudolf Steiner was born in Austria in 1861. His father worked for the Austrian Southern Railway at that time. Steiner received a scholarship to study at the Inzersdorf Technical College in Vienna, where he became involved in Theosophy, which was a blend of Gnostic and Eastern religions. He eventually left Theosophy to establish Anthroposophy, based on Steiner's experiences in the 'spirit world'. His 'spiritual information' came from the spirits of the dead (i.e. demons). Steiner died in 1925, but the institutions he established have grown and continue to ensnare people even today.
In Steiner's version of the creation of our universe, everything began as pure spirit. Under the influence of Ahriman, this spirit began to harden into physical matter. As it hardened, humanity began to appear, evolving through a grotesque series of increasingly physical bodies developing on Saturn, the Sun and the Moon. As humans evolved into our current Earth form, we developed more specialized limbs and sense organs. Steiner avoids the problem of moving our developing bodies from one location to another by claiming the Earth once included Saturn, the Sun and the moon and each of those bodies was ejected from the earth as we evolved to the next stage. We eventually acquired individual identities (supposedly beginning with John the Baptist) rather than a broad group ego which all early beings shared. Steiner believed that our current human forms are fully hardened. Now, with the help of Lucifer and with Jesus as an example, he claims we are beginning the reverse process back to fully spirit beings, though we will retain our individual egos. Steiner expands on this theory in his book Cosmic Memory, which also examines the continuation of this process on Earth, where he says we evolved through (among others) the Hyperborean, Lemurian and Atlantean stages and diverged into male and female forms. Steiner claims this bizarre 'prehistory' does not originate with him but comes from the secret records of Esotericism. Of course, a single scrap of evidence supporting any of these allegations has never been found.
It is obvious that Steiner does not believe anything that the Bible says about the creation of our universe or the creation (and destiny) of mankind. He also rejects what Jesus said about these issues, as Jesus clearly taught that Genesis is true, as shown in Matthew 19:4, Mark 13:9, Luke 16:31 and Luke 24:27. Instead Steiner shows that if one rejects God's Word, there is no limit to the absurdities they can believe.
As to Jesus Christ offering himself as an atoning sacrifice that grants us our only chance for eternal life, Ahern correctly concludes Steiner instead believed and taught that salvation is through knowledge and good works (ie-Gnosticism, or as Steiner calls it, Esoteric Christianity).
Why does all this matter? Because on a faulty foundation, one cannot build a sound structure (Matt 7:12-29). The following quote from one of Steiner's followers is almost frightening:
"Through a study of Steiner's writings, one can come to a clear, reasonable, comprehensive understanding of human beings and their place in the universe." CPaul M. Allen
Is there anything in Steiner's cosmology that is clear or reasonable? Substitute 'the Bible' for 'Steiner's writings' and you have a statement I agree with.
Geoffrey Ahern's "Sun at Midnight," is a balanced and professional look at Rudolf Steiner and his cult "Anthroposophy." Among the thousands of books about Waldorf education and Anthroposophy, this is one of a very few written with an objective viewpoint from outside the cult.
Ahern uses psychological and organizational perspectives and the broader context of religious history in his attempt to gain an understanding of Steiner and his teachings. Ahern delves behind the secrecy surrounding the "First Class of the School of Spiritual Science" and reveals Steiner's unique teachings about "the two Jesus children."
Laced within Ahern's comprehensive approach to this difficult subject are astute observations and wry comments such as "Anthroposophical science is not about applying 'Occam's razor'" in reference to Steiner's elaborate pseudoscience.
Rudolf Steiner was a loner who throughout his life didn't tolerate opposition. He would have viewed this book as influenced by Ahriman, an evil spirit responsible for the analytic frame of mind. However, Anthroposophists with a broader view might gain new insights.
If I have a quibble with this book, it is the relatively light coverage of the links with Nazism. Fortunately, with the publication of Dr. Peter Staudenmaier's PhD dissertation from Cornell University (Between occultism and fascism: Anthroposophy and the politics of race and nation in Germany and Italy, 1900-1945), an un-mythologized history of Anthroposophy during the Third Reich is now available. [...]
Anyone considering enrolling their child in a Waldorf School would do well to read Ahern's book first, especially given the well-known lack of transparency of the Waldorf schools.
These two books marked the continuing interest in academic circles in the study of esoteric traditions of spirituality. How important are these traditions in today's context? Liberalism in the modern period has removed many of the sanctions which were applied to those deemed unconventional or heretical in their intellectual or spiritual explorations. Most of the movements and individuals in this study were concert with exploration and explanation of things unseen in ages where there was little distinction between what we now distinguish as the scientific and the spiritual quest. Both aspects of human inquiry were sometimes seen as inimical to a faith rooted in revelation and maintained by ecclesiastical tradition and authority.
Contemporary Christians still feel this tension in some respects, but as they have a duty to inform themselves about developments in the sciences and their application, they may also feel called to be better informed on the complexities of what is now termed Western Esotericism. [...]
Ahern's study is a revision of his 1984 edition which brings up to date information on movements deriving from the thought of Steiner. It is of particular value in its examination of the relationship between Christian orthodoxy, mysticism, and gnosis. He covers some of the same topics that are the subjects of Goodrick-Clarke's work, but in far less detail.
Ahern is not a proponent of Steiner's philosophy but is a sympathetic observer. He raises the question, touched on before in this journal, of the marginalisation of Steiner's work. In its practical application it has continued to flourish in many lands, but its source in the spiritual insights of one man continues to be a barrier to their examination by a wider world.
Orthodoxy, both scientific and religious, has traditionally seen that such 'rejected' knowledge as outlined in both these books has been rejected for good and proper reasons and should not be considered worthy of serious study by scholars, and certainly not by the general public. But in enhancing our understanding of past endeavours, however we may see them today, are we not better equipped to address the questions of the interplay between the spiritual, the social, and the material?
This is an unbiased, must read for any prospective Waldorf or Camphill parent. If I had read this book, just the index alone, I would have known Waldorf education was not a good fit for our family. This book is a synopsis on Anthroposophy and all it's activities. This book will help families make an informed decision for their children. Waldorf works well for some families but for others it's a disaster.
Racism, Lucifer, Ahriman? It's all explained and indexed for easy reference. About time. Bravo!
Ahern's long-awaited 2nd edition includes recent statistical data that I find useful. Unfortunately, he seems to have skipped over much of the Anthro news in the past two decades. Research and publicity - some from within the movement - tell of the racist controversy at the foundation of Anthroposophy and questionable marketing by those who promote Waldorf/Steiner education. Ahern barely touches that information and, to my eyes, minimises such things as "allegations." For example, his explanation of Anthroposophy during the Nazi regime completely misses recently published research on that topic and his exposure of the sect's clandestine First Class misses the recent court ruling in Germany removing the copyright protection from its secret texts which are now published (in German) on the web.
I was left wondering just who the book is aimed at? It seems to be written for academics - fine . . . but if a wider audience is to be reached it would need to be much less heavy. I worry that a book holding so much keenly needed information may not elicit enough response from potential Waldorf (Steiner School) parents to help them and their children avoid the confusion and disappointment that many families experience in these schools.
That said, Ahern's book is useful and worth reading, especially as very few such books are published outside the cult of Rudolf Steiner. The Sun at Midnight is not an easy read but well worth the effort.
I find it fascinating that the world of Anthroposophy has managed to affect so many pieces of western life without being understood or even noticed by most of the people who are affected by it. Alternative ideas on education (which thrived with great variation before the crash of the Great Depression) fell into near total disrepute for a long time in western society, as did everything else at all out of the mainstream. By the middle of WWII and the ensuing Cold War, anything that was not accepted as 'mainstream' was viewed with suspicion by most people in the western world.
For a quite long time the only forms of education that existed other than 'public', were more intense, more intellectualised or more devoutly religious versions of the standard western public school system (each with its own national variation). In the same period of time, alternative medicine was almost unknown, and was openly persecuted by standard western medicine (and its entrenched financial and societal interests). Yet there still existed the small yet unyielding world of Steiner with its Waldorf/Steiner schools and its Anthroposophical medicine. An island of difference in a world bent on forced conformity.
Few people even realise how important a small group of 'true believers' can be to those who cannot or will not conform. In this case, Anthroposophy (with its differing world view, and with the Steiner schools as a societal lynch pin) became the only lasting alternative group left which had any societal or financial clout. As such, Steiner and his followers became vital as a focal point (for good or ill) for anyone who was outside of the mainstream.
Despite all this, Steiner and his 'Anthroposophy' have sat in the background, as an 'unknown' to most people who have no idea who Steiner was, or how his teachings have affected the world they live in. Even devotees and insiders tend to have sketchy knowledge of Steiner but then, 'understanding Steiner's ideas' is not a small task. "Steiner is difficult". I have heard this again and again. People on the 'inside' (and even more so those on the outside) have problems comprehending his ideas, even after years of classes. Even those inside the movement have very little information about the man himself, what forces shaped his life and where his ideas came from.
"Sun at Midnight" is the first neutral scholarly work I have ever seen which explains the person and teachings of Rudolf Steiner and the social and historical context in which they came into being. All the other resources I have seen are either by extreme detractors or by devout devotees. As such they do not approach Steiner and his teachings without prejudice.
This book is a 'must have' for any person with an interest in the western esoteric tradition, or with an interest in any of the many movements which came from Steiner's teachings. It explains Steiner's complex 'spiritual' science and cosmology with a depth and clarity that I have not seen in any other source. Its level of factual detail on the actual movement is without parallel.
Extricating loved ones from a cult is hard. An essential part of the process, if it is to succeed at all, is giving detailed non-judgemental information to the victim. This book sets out the beliefs of the Steiner cult including on Down's syndrome, magic, supernatural beings, angels and the moon (said to be inhabited by "plant-animals"). It describes the secret elite, called the First Class, which dominates the cult. An excellent index has entries on Nazism, cancer (members say it's due to an undeveloped psychic state), thought-reading, and astral bodies. Unfortunately it lacks an entry on colour beliefs, but does have one on Australia. That a cult and its "schools" founded on the ravings of a lunatic can be funded by my taxes and supported by an ethical investment company beggars belief. The book would repay careful reading for all considering a Steiner education or proposing to invest in it.
For further information on this extensive update of the 1984 classic visit www.sun-at-midnight.com.