Esoteric Youth Circle
The so-called Esoteric Youth Circle, usually called the Circle for short, is an autonomous and independent meditation community which was founded in 1922 with the participation of Rudolf Steiner. The history and aims of the circle are contained in the volume "Esoteric Lessons 1913-1923: From the Esoteric School, Vol. 3", of the complete works of Rudolf Steiner.(CW 266/3) All other existing documents of its history are at the Archives at the Goetheanum or the Rudolf Steiner Archives in Dornach.
Meditative communities have always been associated with mystery and secrecy due to the fact that their work takes place outside of our workaday life and concerns. When Rudolf Steiner began his work around the beginning of the 20th century, such communities were largely protected within the confines of their respective religions – the Buddhist, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish and others and few knew of their existence. They were and are in no way to be equated with so-called Secret Societies, whose purpose is generally assumed to be manipulative and political. The task of a meditative community is the inner contemplation by its members in prayer or meditation of a spiritual content relating to the fundamental truths and values of life and the world itself, and in so doing, to create a relationship with purely spiritual or angelic beings so that these can assist the progress of humanity towards its true purpose.
By the same token, the members do not constitute some spiritual or social elite, but join because an inner urge compels them to search for a form of supportive communal spiritual work together with others towards this specific goal.
This is and has always been, the purpose and work of the Esoteric Youth Circle as expressed and documented by the young people who founded it at the time. They sought an inner, meditative relationship to Anthroposophy that would prepare themselves as individuals, and the wider society around them as a whole, to receive the new stream of spiritual knowledge that was entering the evolution of Humanity.
Membership and organisation
If someone feels the inner desire for a meditative work together with others like a burning life question in his or her own destiny and expresses this as a direct question or through his/her attitude in personal conversation with someone who is already in the Youth Circle, this person can then reply by speaking of the existence and nature of the Circle. This has always been and remains today, the accepted and most usual manner for someone to be received. Should someone not have this question, they are unlikely to ever hear anything about it.
The Circle is not a community that exists as an institution in the world. It is and has no organisation at all; neither constitution nor code of conduct and it keeps no data. No papers are signed, there exists no proof of membership and there are no address lists or members roll. No financial transactions of any kind occur. The Circle has never had, nor does it have, any leaders or leadership nor any representatives. Meetings occur informally, often spontaneously according to local circumstances. It is not possible for anyone to determine the number of members, nor where they are. Most are involved in the general work of the anthroposophical movement throughout the world, but many also function quite outside of it. Many are members of the Anthroposophical Society, but many others are not.
The following quotation from the initial conversations with Rudolf Steiner may clarify the relationship of the members to each other:
„To unite together through a mutual promise in striving for a common spiritual purpose, and in doing so to nevertheless leave each one completely free in their actions and their judgments – a community founded upon such precepts is something quite new in the development of humanity and something which is needed today as a matter of utmost necessity.CW 266c)“
Unlike any other human community, where a person’s actions and judgments are invariably subject to censure and to sanctions, in the above sense the Circle has no other possibility than to leave each one completely at liberty.
Whether a person be in a leading position within the Anthroposophical or any other society, or in any public function in their work, the Circle cannot possibly exert, nor can it have the slightest interest in exerting, any kind of pressure or influence on that individual. It does not get involved in the personal life, affairs, work or decisions of any other human being. Circle members do what they do in life entirely on their own responsibility, never on behalf of the Circle or subject to its direction.
The continued existence of the Circle after the Christmas Conference
One is perfectly justified in asking by what right the Circle continued to work and exist after the Christmas Conference of 1923/24, where Rudolf Steiner called for the integration of all remaining esoteric groups within the old Anthroposophical Society into the newly-formed School for Spiritual Science. The answer is somewhat complex.
On the one hand, the circle was never part of the Anthroposophical Society, but independent in the same sense as the Christian Community. Reports show that Rudolf Steiner was asked by the circle members during the Christmas meeting whether he had anything to say to them in this sense. In response, he gave the Second Esoteric Lesson at 8 a.m. on 30 December 1923. According to its content and form, it could be seen as the first Class lesson of the School of Spiritual Science. The report states:
„Under the impression of the new esoteric form of the Anthroposophical Society through the Christmas Conference, we went to Dr Steiner with the question of whether he had at this time, something to say to us that concerned our work specifically. He said he did, and after a few days, told us the place and time of the meeting. This time we gathered in a mood that attempted to correspond to the responsibility of the moment that was approaching. We gathered in the middle room of the Glass House. We sat on benches that were arranged in a half-circle so that no one sat behind anyone else. Before us stood a table. Dr. Steiner sat at the long side of the table, and Marie Steiner and Ita Wegman sat at either end. Rudolf Steiner was in front of the arch of the east wall of the room. Dr. Steiner entered the room in accompaniment of the two guests. He greeted us with special ceremonial solemnity. He then explained that the two ladies would be present as guests: “Marie Steiner, because she is present for everything; Dr. Wegman, because there are also other groups of the same kind as yours that nurture the inner life. These must now be integrated into the general esoteric life, naturally according to strict esoteric laws. For this, there must be a person who connects all of this. That is the reason Dr. Wegman is here.” He described the two ladies as ‘auditors’.CW 266c)“
Among the other mantras that make up this lesson, he also spoke the three so-called "Tablets" of the First Class and asked the participants to write them down. This he later did not allow the Class members to do. Thus, even if this was often not clear to many circle members in the years that followed, Rudolf Steiner formally and in front of two witnesses, integrated the Circle as part of the School for Spiritual Science. That is how the Circle members present at the time understood it. Rudolf Steiner never intended that the Circle should stop its work and be dissolved, as he confirmed to Maria Röschl when she asked him about it.
After the death of Rudolf Steiner, it would in any case have been impossible to dissolve or otherwise reorganise the Circle. Its organisation provides no forum in which such a discussion could take place. It is completely decentralised and has never had a structure that could establish a general consensus or take a decision that is binding on everyone. It grows by word of mouth, mostly in conversation between two people. New members are received in small local groups and news of the person’s reception is communicated verbally to local friends. It follows that the Circle will continue to exist as long as there are people that find its task meaningful, are prepared to carry through the meditations and wish to pass this on to others.
Besides the circle members, there have always been people who were aware of the existence and nature of the youth circle. Many participants in the Pedagogical Youth Course in 1922 knew about or were present at the preparatory talks, but did not join after it was founded. By no means do all those who learn about the circle in the sense of the question and answer outlined above, decide to join afterwards. The letter from Ernst Lehrs quoted below shows that the Executive Committee was informed about the Circle in 1961. Over the years, there have often been situations in different countries, where a Circle member, on his or her own initiative or in response to a question, gave an oral account of the Circle, individually or to a group.
No member of the Youth Circle is obliged to keep the Circle secret, but also not to talk about it. Only the membership of others is not spoken about without first obtaining permission from the person concerned, out of consideration for their privacy.
As outlined in the basic texts of the Circle’s foundation, the commitment of the members is to practice the meditations three times a day.
One may ask what happens should someone find him or herself unwilling or unable to continue with the meditative work. In the first place, the promise itself (sometimes referred to as the pledge) contains nothing relating to the meditation or to preserving any secrecy or anything pertaining to the future, dealing solely with the integrity with which one is entering the community in the first place. Anyone can read it in the book mentioned above. It is simply taken for granted that people wish to do the meditations, for that is what made them join in the first place.
Should people later get into an inner conflict with Anthroposophy, with changes in their own life circumstances or anything else that causes them to withdraw inwardly from the work – which has happened on occasion - there is nothing the Circle can do about it. That is something concerning only the individual in his or her own destiny. At best, if the human relationship with other members allows this, it can be discussed and carried by them in support of the person purely as a friend. For ultimately the Circle is nothing more than an informal circle of friends with a single, explicit common purpose.
Open Letter - Ernst Lehrs 1979
The following is a letter from Ernst Lehrs, one of the founding members of the Youth Circle, through which he answered a question posed to the editors of Alan Howard's Newsletter of the Anthroposophical Society in America in the autumn of 1979. The letter was written a few weeks before his death.
„I am writing in response to your inquiry in the Autumn ’79 issue of the American Newsletter concerning what seems to you to be a “secret Society” within the general Anthroposophical Movement.
As an original member of this “circle”, which came into being with the help of Rudolf Steiner 56 years ago, I feel obliged to convey as far as possible a picture fitting its true nature. At the time of the so-called Youth Course (available in English under the title “The Younger Generation,”) held by Rudolf Steiner in 1922,* some of us who had carried the initiative for this course out of impulses shared and agreed by us during a preparatory period, approached Rudolf Steiner in all modesty about the possibility of receiving common material for inner work. Our question had been prompted by realizing the rapid crumbling of human society in its different spheres. This was at the same time that the inevitable failure of the Threefold Commonwealth Movement became apparent. We felt that something quite definite ought to be undertaken which would ensure the continuity of the anthroposophical substance regardless of external conditions. For this purpose, purely individual meditations carried out for one’s own spiritual progress – indispensable though these are – could not suffice. What we were striving for, or so we put it, was a Schulung als Dienst (a path of inner striving as a service), whereby one wishes to serve the Spirit of the Time, i.e. Michael.
After a number of preparatory conversations between Rudolf Steiner and those of us who had requested them, a meditative content was passed on to us which Rudolf Steiner said was given im Auftrag der geistigen Welt (on behalf of the spiritual world). At the same time, the manner of its use as well as indications of how to pass on this meditative work to others striving in a similar direction was explained to us by Rudolf Steiner. He then further helped the birth of this community and said that we should regard it as having been gestiftet by the spiritual world itself. (Rudolf Steiner distinguished clearly between begründen – to found, and stiften – to institute, to endow; the former refers to an impulse originating in the physical world, the latter to one coming directly out of the spiritual world working down into the physical.)
This took place in a solemn act. Rudolf Steiner also handed down to the initial group a pledge which, by being read in the presence of the others who already belong to the Circle, constitutes a commitment purely to the spiritual world. We were the first to do so on Rudolf Steiner’s advice by reading these words to one another. Subsequently, Rudolf Steiner met twice with the members of this community endowing them with two esoteric lessons, the second of which was held on December 30, 1923, this is during the Weihnachtstagung (the Christmas Foundation Meeting). It took place in a room of the Glashaus; and on this occasion, Frau Ita Wegman and Frau Marie Steiner accompanied him as guests. From what Rudolf Steiner said with regard to Dr Wegman’s presence, we realized that this work was in a way linked to the newly formed Hochschule (School for Spiritual Science). In subsequent months, Rudolf Steiner made himself available to us whenever required either personally until his illness or in writing until shortly before his death. In 1961, the Vorstand in Dornach was thoroughly informed about these matters to their complete satisfaction.
The connection between the members of this community is established solely through the same mantric words meditated by each individually. No earthly initiative is ever undertaken by its members by virtue of belonging to this community. In some places, friends foster meetings from time to time of those locally in reach. Here again, they do so following the advice by Rudolf Steiner to engage in conversations and Gespräch about spiritual matters, e.g. based on the content of the two esoteric lessons, if they wish to do so.
The community has no name of its own and Rudolf Steiner recommended that we should keep it so. However, in the opening part of the second lesson, he said, “I am addressing myself today to the youth in you. For you are after all the esoteric youth circle.” This has prompted some friends to refer to it as “der Jugendkreis” but usually when it is mentioned it is spoken of as “der Kreis” (the Circle).
I hope that through my description it has become clear that this community is in no way an institution on earth and that there is no secrecy about its work. It is much rather a question of tactful discretion steering a middle course between secrecy and indiscriminate broadcasting. Friends find this work who feel within themselves questions arising of a nature similar to those which have led to the original formation of this community. Experience has shown that individuals earnestly seeking answers to vital inner questions are often led by personal encounters to situations where this work may become known to them. It is then a matter of whether one is able, prepared and willing to undertake responsibly the specific meditative work described above.
Ernst Lehrs, Advent 1979“
- Rudolf Steiner: Esoteric Lessons 1913-1923: From the Esoteric School, Vol. 3 , CW 266/3 Steinerbooks 2011, ISBN 9780880106184
- Rudolf Steiner: Meditation als innere Heilung, Archiati-Vlg, München 2005, S. 60 - 61
- Ernst Lehrs: Gelebte Erwartung Mellinger Verlag(1979) ISBN 388069088X ISBN 978-3880690882
- Christiane Haid: Auf der Suche nach dem Menschen Die anthoposophische Jugend- und Studentenarbeit in den Jahren 1920-1931 Verlag am Goetheanum ISBN 978-3-7235-1110-7
- Article of Ernst Lehrs in the Newsletter - The Anthroposophical Society in America December 1979
- Biographischer Eintrag: Wilhelm Rath in der Online-Dokumentation der anthroposophischen Forschungsstelle Kulturimpuls
- Biographischer Eintrag: Ernst Lehrs in der Online-Dokumentation der anthroposophischen Forschungsstelle Kulturimpuls
- Letter by Ernst Lehrs - A Response to Alan HowardNewsletter - Anthroposophical Society in America - Spring 1980
- Alan Howard - Final Note Concerning the Kreis Newsletter - Anthroposophical Society in America - Summer 1980
- Benjamin Schmidt: Wilhelm Rath – Ein Wegbereiter der Jugend. Verlag Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart 2018, ISBN 978-3-7725-1922-2
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.