Issue 34 — March 2020

A Genius in Twelve Fields


A Genius in Twelve Fields


Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) has been called a genius in twelve fields. That statement may sound ridiculous yet there is a great deal of truth in it. Throughout his life Steiner was approached by groups of people who asked that he share his thoughts and insights with them. In doing so, he enriched the lives of people working in a remarkable number of fields, including the following which he established or influenced: education (Waldorf), medicinals (Weleda), art therapy (Ascura), special education (Camphill), architecture (Goetheanum), kinesthetics (Eurythmics), farming (Bio-dynamics), mural art (lazure), religion (Christian Community), traditional thought (Anthroposophy), esoteric thought (School of Spiritual Science), and mystery dramas (four plays culminating in “The Soul’s Awakening”).

If I thought longer and were more knowledgeable, I might be able to identify more fields of innovation and revelation. Some of these fields have yet to be developed (like the proposed program on reform known as the Three-fold Social Order) or are fields that are known only in select circles (Ita Wegman Clinic for medicine, Iscador for cancer research). Simplifying things somewhat, Steiner wrote seven books, which are regarded as “foundational,” and he delivered 365 or so cycles of talks and lectures. Some of his work remains unpublished in German, and by no means all of the published German texts are available in English translation. In short, Steiner was a remarkably intuitive and gifted man who established the Theosophical Society in Germany and then, like a number of other national or lodge leaders, parted company with Annie Besant over a number of issues including the espousal of J. Krishnamurti as a “world saviour.”

Wisdom traditions are ageless and hence dateless, but the social organizations that embody such traditions may be dated, at least those may be dated that have appeared in modern times. The Theosophical Society was founded in New York City in 1875, and hence it is thirty-eight years older than the original Anthroposophical Society which was formed in Berlin in 1913. The Toronto Theosophical Society was founded in 1891, and hence is sixty-two years older than the Anthroposophical Society in Canada which was formed in Toronto in 1953. Yet the Anthroposophists have done something that the Theosophists have yet to do. The remarkable thing that they have done is produce a popular history of their movement in the form of a coil-bound book, 112 pages in length.

In an informal, almost impressionistic manner, it offers readers an account of the formation and development of the society in this country. The text which consists of reminiscences of national and local members is titled Learning / Listening / Doing: The Anthroposophical Society in Canada 1953 to 2003. The title page offers further information: “Compiled for the Anthroposophical Society in Canada on the Occasion of Its Fiftieth Anniversary by Alexandra Barbara Günther.”

The author is a Toronto librarian who has served at the Society’s Toronto headquarters as its administrator / librarian. Her publication is a considerable contribution to the cause of uncommon thought in Canada. Copies of Learning / Listening / Doing may be purchased for $8.00 plus $2.50 postage and handling: Anthroposophical Society in Canada, P.O. Box 38162, 550 Eglinton Avenue W., Toronto, Ont. M5N 3A8. I urge Theosophists to read this publication and to undertake a similar effort. [But first check the update below.]

Of course, any publication by the T.S. would have to be longer than the A.S.’s 112 pages, having more years and personalities to cover, but I find it doubtful that the T.S. publication would be more revealing of the geology, geography, and spiritual topography of this country than the A.S.’s. Theosophy has something to say about the “sacred imperishable land” in the vicinity of the North Pole. Anthroposophy has a great deal to offer about the genius of place and the situation of the continent as a whole. I am responding to this publication as a cultural nationalist (who is keyboarding this review on Canada Day, the old Dominion Day, July 1, 2003), as well as someone who is interested in research into the supernatural, the psychical, the paranormal, and the occult.



I have always kept a “weather-eye” open for insightful passages about Canada (notably the Arctic, North Pole, Niagara Falls, etc.) to add to my compilations of quotations. The Secret Doctrine has yielded a number of quotable insights; so has All and Everything. In this regard, the writings of Rudolf Steiner have long been a frustration to me. I have read a number of his books and lectures, but have yet to discover in their pages any references to Canada! He does refer to America, but he never visited North America (at least physically) and it seems he never uttered the words “Dominion of Canada.” Yet he did hold views about the incarnation of Ahriman in the first days of the third millennium on the West Coast (where West meets East; perhaps this is British Columbia), and his disciples hold that the emerging “Vidar-Being” is the characteristic spirit of Canada. In my eyes, Learning / Listening / Doing is as much about the country as it is about Anthroposophy.

The contents are divided into sections: “This Country” which looks at the spirit of the land; “At the Beginning” which records the early work; “Personal Accounts” which has autobiographical interest; “Focus on Three Regions” which studies Vancouver, Montreal, and the Maritimes; “Learning to Work Together” which discusses ideals and localities; and “The Nakoda Conference” which describes the three-day meeting held on the Stoney Indian Reserve in Alberta. A foreword, introduction, epilogue, chronology, and some black-and-white illustrations round out the publication. Its production standards are more or less adequate to its task.

I will draw attention to the insights that appear in the first section “This Country.” Of major importance is the essay “North America under a Light Sky” written over thirty years ago by Marjorie Spock, a commentator new to me, who visualizes the earth as “an ocean bed beneath this sea of sparkle” that is the sky. The Russian earth absorbs the light; the ground in Canada and the United States “rather reflects it back again from an impermeable surface beneath which forces of darkness are at play.”

The North American continent, unlike the other continents, looks as if it “were pinned down only in the north while swinging free elsewhere.” There is a reason for this. “Considering North America as an etheric organism, this impression is not totally unfounded.” The so-called “life ether reigns unmodified over a firmly anchored, permanently frozen realm that sprawls across the Arctic circle.” In the North the observer senses “there is more water than solid group in the scene before one.” The effect? “These watery surfaces act as a mirror for the light, heightening it to the point where it can seem a palpable golden element between earth and sky.”

Then there is the “big woods” with its rich vegetable and animal life.“Few human beings call the forest home.” Finally, “Red Indians and Eskimos who live in the forest and on the tundra are conservationists by deepest instinct, and left to their care the North would remain very much as nature made it.” The writer’s insights continue to range from the grasslands of the plains and prairies to fields of corn and then to cotton. “Perhaps nothing so exemplifies the difference between Northerners and Southerners as their relation to the black man.”

Across the continent “opposites of every kind impinge on one another, timewise and spacewise.” Regions are described season by season. “A change as far-reaching as the physical continent is taking place in North America today as the higher life of a new morality struggles to be born.” The writer concludes, “It gives the air of America today an atmosphere of teeming promise like the coming of spring after a long winter of the spirit.”

I am only skimming the surface of Ms. Spock’s meditation on the continent and its effects on consciousness. Even so I will devote less time and space to the other two major contributions. “North of the Border: An Essay in Two Parts” was written more than twenty years ago by Philip Thatcher of Vancouver. He sees Canada as “a whole country, and not simply an extension of its southern neighbour.” He begins with geography and finds westward expansion to be less characteristic of Canada than it was of the United States. He quotes our finest poets – F.R. Scott, Al Purdy,  E.J. Pratt, Earle Birney, Douglas LePan – and refers to powerful landscape paintings by A.Y. Jackson, J.E.H. MacDonald, Lawren Harris, and Emily Carr that “reveal what lives hidden in the elements of earth, water, and light.”

The writer is especially appreciative of locale: “If I face southward from my home in North Vancouver, I stand within a metropolis of well-over a million people; if I face northward, I stand at the edge of forest, mountains, and waters that stretch to the Arctic Ocean, through which I could conceivably travel without ever meeting another human being.” Even today there are more unnamed than named lakes. As for insights into the elemental and natural worlds, Nature awaits “Man redeemed” in Wagner’s Parsifal “to make that seeing possible for them.”

Leaving geography underfoot, Thatcher considers the march of history and sees the people of this country as evolving their own identity by working their way through their “identity crisis” to the realization that “national identity” hinges on “being willing to look beyond its borders and concerns to the world at large.” He finds the emptiness of the land akin to the openness of the spirit. “Canadians have an opportunity to listen closely to their silences, to search out what their land endlessly repeats, to let its mountains, lakes, and rivers come singing into their hearts, and to discern those signs and emblems capable of speaking to a people whose identity is characterized more by possibility than by content.” He finds in a poem by LePan there are references to “golden-haired Archangels” which lead him dramatically to Steiner’s musings on “Folk Souls” and the need for “Folk Spirits, who, in the hierarchy of higher Beings, belong to the Archangels.”

The insights of Spock and Thatcher are given a personal dimension and a specific Anthroposophical importance by Alexandra Barbara Günther in her essay “Meeting Canada / Seeking the Anthroposophical Society: Personal Reflections.” She describes, as a newcomer from Germany, how “a sense of awe grew in me for the work and effort of the pioneers who had come with nothing.” She relishes farming her acre of land: “A voice whispered: does it not already have a shape?” She asks, “Had I become truly a listener to the elements?”

As for the Canadian-American duality or dynamic: “Our differences are both subtle and obvious: in social services; in the handling of a multicultural society and the existence of two dominant languages; in a certain `laissez-faireism’; in the question of identity; in a certain playfulness in many things; in dealing with our native population; in our international rôle; our trust in process and engagement, rather than firm positions.”

She notes expectancy, quoting the elation of an unidentified member of the Jean-Baptiste Branch of the Society in Montreal: “We are being called upon to receive something which is seeking to be born, yet without comprehending the full extent of what is being asked of us.” She notes, “Within this vast, open land of many waters and many different peoples anthroposophical work began.” The work involves, for Canadians, listening, especially to the North: “The question of the North is increasingly finding its way into our culture and therefore also into our anthroposophical work. Most of us have become familiar during the last ten years with that great and enigmatic figure of the Inukshuk. My sense is that these great sentinels of the North which were placed there by the ancestors of the Inuit thousands of years ago speak to us of our task.”

She imagines the Inukshuks to be gates: for they “betoken a culture of listening, of inner homelessness, that works for the earth as a whole, and of a specific task of the North which we have yet to hear and develop. Perhaps a first step in this hearing is the name Vidar which has been chosen for a number of initiatives in our work.” There is much more than I have indicated to be appreciated in Learning / Listening / Doing – the details given of the national and regional organizations, the appreciation shown for the characters and personalities and life stories of the founders, leaders, movers, and members over the last fifty years.

This publication is a model of its kind. May it inspire other publications like it.

1-3 July 2003


N.B.. This essay of appreciation first appeared in The Canadian Theosophist and also in my book of essays titled Whistle While You Work. Note that the publication mentioned in the text has unfortunately long been out of print.