Rudolf Steiner

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Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
Signature of Dr Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner (born 25 or 27 February 1861 in Kraljevec, then Austrian Empire, now Donji Kraljevec in Croatia; † 30 March 1925 in Dornach near Basel), was an Austrian Goethe scholar, philosopher, and spiritual researcher. He opened a new, forward-looking scientific approach to the spiritual world through the anthroposophy he systematically developed as a science of the spiritual from 1900 onwards, based on the observation of thinking according to the scientific method, which he had already presented in detail in his Philosophy of Freedom published in 1894 and in the second part of which he founded an ethical individualism based on the self-aware free I of man.

With eurythmy Steiner created a new art of movement and with the Goetheanum in Dornach as the seat of an independent School of Spiritual Science and through other buildings a new, organic architectural style. To a considerable extent he gave instruction in the art of recitation and declamation. The Waldorf school made possible more natural learning, biodynamic agriculture nourished life, the idea of the threefold social organism was to make possible the principle of freedom in spiritual life, equality in legal life and fraternity in economic life. Together with Ita Wegman, Steiner created anthroposophically expanded medicine. He also gave suggestions to experts in other arts and the natural sciences, mostly at their request.

Life and work


The presumed home of the Steiner family in Donji Kraljevec. Rudolf Steiner's birthplace, on the other hand, was presumably the station house on the southern railway line, which was destroyed in World War I.

Rudolf Steiner's birthplace is Donji Kraljevec, a small village in northern Croatia not far from Čakovec, is . The village is located on the so-called Mur Island between the Mur and Drava rivers, which Rudolf Steiner also liked to call the "Two Rivers Land". His parental home was free-spirited, his father, Johann Steiner (1829-1910), was a railway official; to his mother Franziska Steiner, née Blie (1834-1918), he always remained in a loving and soulful relationship. Both parents came from the Lower Austrian Waldviertel, where they also returned after the father retired. Rudolf Steiner had two younger siblings: Leopoldine (1864-1927), who lived with her parents as a seamstress until their death, and Gustav (1866-1941), who was born deaf and was dependent on outside help throughout his life. His father had previously worked as a forester and hunter in the service of Count Hoyos of Horn (a son of Count Johann Ernst Hoyos-Sprinzenstein); when the latter refused to give him permission to marry in 1860, he resigned from the service and found employment as a railway telegraph operator on the southern railway. In «The Story of My Life» Steiner writes:

„My parents had their home in Lower Austria. My father was born in Geras, a very small town in the Lower Austrian Waldviertel, my mother in Horn, a town in the same area. My father spent his childhood and youth in close connection with the Premonstratensian monastery in Geras. He always looked back on this time of his life with great affection. He liked to tell how he had served in the monastery and how he had been taught by the monks. He was later a hunter in the service of the Count of Hoyos. This family had a property in Horn. That's where my father met my mother. He then left the hunting service and joined the Austrian Southern Railway as a telegraph operator. He was first employed at a small railway station in southern Styria. Then he was transferred to Kraljevec on the Hungarian-Croatian border. During this time he married my mother. Her maiden name is Blie. She comes from an old Horner family. I was born in Kraljevec on 27 February 1861. - That's how it came about that my place of birth is far removed from the region of the Earth from which I come.“ (Lit.:GA 28, p. 10)

The family moved several times: in 1862 to Mödling, a year later to Pottschach and in 1869 to Neudörfl. A deep mystery was presented to him by a railway carriage that caught fire:

„Once there was something quite "shocking" at the railway station. A railway train with freight was whizzing towards us. My father looked towards it. A rear wagon was on fire. The train crew had not noticed anything. The train came up to our station on fire. Everything that was happening made a deep impression on me. A fire had been started in one of the carriages by a highly inflammable substance. For a long time I wondered how such a thing could happen. What those around me told me about it was, as in similar matters, not satisfactory to me. I was full of questions and had to carry them around with me unanswered. So I became eight years old. - When I was eight, my family moved to Neudörfl, a small Hungarian village.“ (Lit.:GA 28, p. 20)

A supernatural experience from that time made a particularly deep impression on him:

„But the boy also had something else to look forward to. One day he was sitting all alone on a bench in the waiting room. In one corner was the stove, on a wall away from the stove was a door; in the corner from which one could see the door and the stove sat the boy. He was still very, very young at that time. And as he sat there, the door opened; he must have thought it natural that a personage, a woman's personage, should enter the door, whom he had never seen before, but who looked extraordinarily like a member of the family. The female personality entered the door, walked into the middle of the room, made gestures and also spoke words that can be rendered in the following manner: "Try to do as much as you can for me now and later!", she spoke to the boy. Then she was present for a while, making gestures that cannot disappear from the soul once one has seen them, went towards the oven and disappeared into it. The impression made on the boy by this event was very great. The boy had no one in his family to whom he could have spoken of such a thing, for the reason that he would have heard the harshest words about his stupid superstition if he had told anyone about this event. The following happened after this event. The father, who was otherwise a quite cheerful man, became quite sad after that day, and the boy could see that the father did not want to say something that he knew. After a few days had passed and another member of the family had been prepared in the appropriate way, it turned out what had happened. In a place which, to the way of thinking of the people we are talking about, was quite far from that railway station, a very close member of the family had committed suicide in the same hour in which the figure had appeared to the little boy in the waiting room.“ (Lit.: Contributions 83/84, S. 5f))

For the altar boy, the encounters with monks from the neighbourhood had also become the occasion for pressing questions:

„I often met the monks on my walks. I remember how much I would have liked to be addressed by them. They never did. And so I only ever carried away a vague but solemn impression of the encounter, which always stayed with me for a long time. It was in my ninth year that the idea took root in me: there must be important things in connection with the tasks of these monks that I had to get to know. Again, I was full of questions that I had to carry around with me unanswered.“ (Lit.:GA 28, p. 22f)

After moving to Neudörfl, Rudolf Steiner first attended the local village school and then the secondary school in Wiener Neustadt. In his history lessons he studied Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (GermanKritik der reinen Vernunft) at an early age:

„I now separated the individual sheets of the Kant booklet, stapled them into the history book I had in front of me during the lesson, and now read Kant while history was "taught" from the lectern. This was, of course, a great injustice to school discipline; but no one minded and it interfered so little with what was required of me that I got the mark of 'excellent' in history at that time.“ (Lit.:GA 28, p. 43)

As a student in Vienna

Steiner studied biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics at the Vienna College of Technology (GermanTechnische Hochschule Wien, now called TU Wien) from 1879. The student developed a high regard for the German professor Karl-Julius Schröer. On Schröer's recommendation, he edited Goethe's scientific writings in Kürschner's Deutscher Nationalliteratur[11] and published literary essays in newspapers. From 1882 to 1887 Steiner's family lived in Brunn am Gebirge. From 1884 to 1890 Steiner earned his living by working as a private tutor in a prominent Viennese family for a child with hydrocephalus who was considered unschoolable and who thus later studied medicine and became a doctor. He established a friendship with the poet Marie Eugenie delle Grazie. Marie Lang mediated a same with Rosa Mayreder, but Rudolf Steiner also cultivated more intensive contact with people such as the herbalist Felix Koguzki.

As a Goethe researcher in Weimar

In 1890, at Schröer's suggestion, Steiner took over the editing of Goethe's scientific writings at the Goethe and Schiller Archive in Weimar for the large Weimar Goethe edition, the so-called "Sophien-Ausgabe".

Steiner left the Technical University in Vienna without a degree, but completed his doctorate in Rostock in 1891 with his dissertation "Die Grundfrage der Erkenntnistheorie mit besonderer Rücksicht auf Fichtes Wissenschaftslehre. Prolegomena zur Verständigung des philosophischen Bewußtseins mit sich selbst" ("The Basic Question of Epistemology with Special Reference to Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre. Prolegomena on the Understanding of Philosophical Consciousness with Itself") to the degree of Dr. phil.

„External facts only meant that I could not do it in Vienna. I had officially finished secondary school, not grammar school, and had acquired my grammar school education privately by giving private lessons. That ruled out doing a doctorate in Austria. I had grown into 'philosophy', but had an official course of education behind me which excluded me from everything into which the study of philosophy places a person.“ (Lit.:GA 28, p. 214)

Weimar was Steiner's first major journey, but it also brought new contacts: A move to Anna Eunike, whom he later married; friendship with Gabriele Reuter; a sometimes problematic collaboration with Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, in whose Nietzsche Archive in Naumburg he stood before the benighted philosopher; an encounter with Ernst Haeckel; the experience of Heinrich von Treitschke as an authority who, for external reasons, found it difficult to communicate; and above all, collaboration on the Weimar edition with Herman Grimm.

In 1894 Steiner published the fundamental epistemological work "Die Philosophie der Freiheit – Seelische Beobachtungsresultate nach naturwissenschaftlicher Methode" ("The Philosophy of Freedom - Mental Observational Results According to the Scientific Method"). Regarding the basic Christian attitude of this writing, Steiner expressed himself, among other things, as follows:

„This "Philosophy of Freedom" is actually a moral view, which wants to be a guide to revive the dead thoughts as moral impulses, to bring them to resurrection. In this respect, inner Christianity is definitely in such a philosophy of freedom.“ (Lit.:GA 211, p. 121)

„Hence my very "philosophy of freedom" has been called the philosophy of individualism in the most extreme sense. It had to be, because on the other hand it is the most Christian of philosophies.“ (Lit.:GA 212, p. 103f)

An attempt to become a professor in Jena failed.


Between 1898 and 1900 Steiner edited the Magazin für Litteratur (Magazine for Lit(t)erature) in Berlin and taught at the Workers' Education School until 1904. In 1902, together with Marie von Sivers, he took over the leadership of the newly founded German section of the Theosophical Society. In the same year Steiner summarised the content of a series of lectures in which he had described the "emergence of Christianity from the mystical view" (Lit.:GA 8, p. 7). In the work "Wie erlangt man Erkenntnisse der höheren Welten?" ("Knowledge of the Higher Worlds And Its Attainment") he presented the paths to spiritual self-knowledge and self-transformation on a basis that seemed to him to be in keeping with the times (Lit.:GA 10). In 1904, in his work "Theosophy" (Lit.:GA 9) and later in "Occult Science" (Lit.:GA 13), he presented the ideal content of Anthroposophy, among other things, through explanations of the essential members of man, the colours of the aura and the planetary states of the Earth. A rich lecturing activity developed from his tasks in the Theosophical Society. The transcripts of the lectures given at that time and of later similar presentations, most of which were not reviewed by their creator due to the enormous workload, constitute the majority of the volumes of Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works, the number of which has risen to over 400 to date.

In 1913 the German Section separated from the Theosophical Society because the Christian anthroposophical approach of Rudolf Steiner and Marie von Sivers had increasingly met with disapproval and in 1911 Annie Besant and Charles Webster Leadbeater had proclaimed the Hindu boy Jiddu Krishnamurti as the reincarnation of Jesus and the future world leader. The Anthroposophical Society was founded, which was joined by many Theosophical groups abroad.


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - books, lectures and articles by Rudolf Steiner online (Jim Stewart). - 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.