Actually, the headline is misleading, as headlines so often are. It was a t-shirt that started the whole thing, and I did get far more than I bargained for, during the time I was involved. Prepare for another tale of strange…
This is Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) at about age eighteen. He looks like a nice young man from Austria, but he’d been clairvoyant since the age of three. For much of his adult life, he was a teacher and a scientist. He edited Goethe’s books on science. He was a serious fellow, but in his early forties decided to “come out” of the pyschic closet and therefore, in certain circles, “his rep was ruined.” He began lecturing at the Theosophical Society and later went on to found the Anthroposophical Society. (Here’s the link to the American branch.) Steiner is best known as the founder of Waldorf Schools and biodynamic farming.
I first encountered Waldorf education while looking for a kindergarten for my oldest child (my only child at the time). The San Francisco Waldorf School seemed perfect for this particular kid, and for many years, I do think he was served well by it. Now he has mixed feelings (as I do), especially when we discovered that some of Steiner’s lectures–the untranslated ones–are racist and contain other prejudices. He was, for all his brilliance and clairvoyance, a man subject to the ugly, unexamined prejudices of white, Eurocentric privilege. (See article list below.) And I had no interest in Steiner either, at first. I just wanted my kid to go to a really wonderful school with lots of art and singing and drama and storytelling.
It seemed a magic place.
The incident I am about to relate is one example of why I now recognize the huge role a certain Trickster has played in my life. Most of my important and significant spiritual experiences and epiphanies have been accompanied by absurdities and incongruities. I was about forty-two when this incident happened. According to Steiner this is the time of life when the spiritual world tries to get your attention. (This story predates my spontaneous combustion story by almost a decade, by the way.)
So, just a few doors down from the SF Waldorf School, there was a toy store, The Ark, owned by one of the major donors to the school. The store was usually staffed by Pam, a hip gal with a beret who was also a Waldorf parent. (Later Pam would buy The Ark, move it to 24th Street in San Francisco and later to Fourth Street in Berkeley–but I digress.)
One day I was in there, buying crayons or beeswax or wool or something, and Pam was behind the counter. She was wearing a white t-shirt with that “portrait of the clairvoyant as a young man” image on it. Yes, the same one that I’ve placed in this article. The radio was playing “Falling in Love Again” and I couldn’t take my eyes off the image. Never have I stared so long at a woman’s chest! There was feeling I couldn’t explain–I was in the grip of something utterly new. C.S. Lewis might be the right writer to invoke here: “instantly her world was unmade” (That Hideous Strength, p. 139). I felt the presence of an unseen but welcoming assembly. It was warm, embracing, lovely. And lasting. For months.
Of course the sardonic portion of my mind was protesting, “Oh for heaven’s sake, don’t tell me I’ve finally reached the age where the image of a handsome young man is going to upset my world!” I have a horror of such emotional indignity, probably from reading too much Colette in my youth. (I still read her…) And the dadaist in me was saying, “Well, OF COURSE it would happen this way, with surreal juxtapositions and humor.” (I was just a few years past my punk rock vinyl artist phase, after all. Motherhood hadn’t completely ruined me.)
The course of my life has been overturned several times by epiphanies consisting of powerful insights and spiritually compelling calls to action. This was the second one I’d encountered (the first had to do with women and outer space exploration). My first response, after stunned wonder and gratitude, is to research the hell out of whatever it is that’s calling my name. Therefore I plunged into anthroposophical reading. The school had a dimly lit library where I checked out volume after volume of Steiner’s lectures, including his autobiography. I will say that his “foundation books” create a true esoteric experience for the reader. There is something in the way that they were constructed, not just the content, that creates a change. It’s subtle, but definite. I also joined the Anthroposophical Society (national and the Bay Area branch), went to study groups and events, had interesting conversations… but remained a loner in my explorations. Socially, I felt a certain coldness in these gatherings, even though we were always lighting candles for warmth.
I even attended the long, long production of Steiner’s mystery play, The Soul’s Awakening, which was one of the strangest theatrical experiences I’d ever known. The director (whose name I forget) gave an interesting lecture a few days before the performance. He galvanized my attention with the statement: “There are two streams, the visible and the invisible.” Since I’d been experiencing this very thing and had no one to talk with about it, I felt very grateful for this confirmation.
I also gained a lot from lectures by Dennis Klocek, who is definitely a “real deal.” I still use his “etheric star” meditation sometimes. Another notable experience was a conversation with a Christian Community priest who was the first person I ever saw with my inner eye (kind of like that scene where Arwen is bending over the injured Frodo–elf princess one moment, woodland elf the next). This man suggested that artificial chemicals, such as the ones that make me ill, were not welcomed into creation in an appropriate way and their toxicity is a result of their “agony.” It is an interesting concept and I’ve played at times with “blessing the toxins” (but have not been consistent enough to report any results).
After several years of studying (but still not feeling community), I was slammed by another series of epiphanies which swept me on to different explorations. But I’ve learned to detect the influences of anthroposophical “streams:” such as the long association of “The Inklings:” J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield; and in the work of Jacques Lusseyran, the “blind hero of the French Resistance.” (He was a child of anthroposophists and learned to “see” when in a state of accord and balance.)
The “tales of strange” I will relate in this blog are more than a series of spiritual “special interests” taken up by an eccentric neophyte. I feel into them now as a kaleidescopic journey through “seven directions” of a pattern which I hope actually has meaning. On the other hand, my invisible friend, The Trickster, may simply be leading me through a rabbit hole of fun house mirrors, an endless reflection of hapless self stumbling through a multi-verse of karmic snarls.
Either way, the primary question is always asked and answered: “Are we having fun yet?”
If you’re a fellow traveller, let me know!
2022 Update. Articles critiquing Rudolf Steiner’s racial views (in progress).
Johnson-Wunsher, Lauren. Opinion: Reconciling the Racism of Rudolf Steiner. Trink Magazine, 6/23/2021. Retrieved 1/7/22 from https://trinkmag.com/articles/opinion-reconciling-the-racism-of-rudolf-steiner