In September 1924, a few months after founding the Anthroposophical Society, Rudolf Steiner spoke about the Society’s identity in a remarkably modest and profound way.[1] He described how the spiritual archetype of the anthroposophical movement weaves behind the Anthroposophical Society. The Anthroposophical Society, he said, should be an institution imbued with the esoteric life of a spiritual movement. It should work esoterically and become aware of its esoteric dimension. According to Rudolf Steiner anthroposophy is not just there to be absorbed as anthroposophical substance; it needs to be implemented in practice in all areas of life. Rudolf Steiner described how, esoterically, the anthroposophical society could only be founded and maintained on the basis of living human relationships. Everything should rest on real human relationships in the widest sense: on the actual – not abstract – spiritual life.

Human relationships
There are various aspects to the identity of the anthroposophical society. Its members come together and associate in recognition of the spiritual world as a fundamental reality. Rudolf Steiner indicated in 1923 that anthroposophy was not merely a doctrine but a spiritual being; a being that was most profoundly connected with us as human beings and our relationship with one another. This spiritual being seeks to find a home in the Anthroposophical Society. The aspect of the Society’s identity that relates to the being of anthroposophy concerns the potential for development and growth that lives in us and in the relationships we have with each other: an enormous potential that is being explored and experienced.

This leads us to the aspect of karma in the Anthroposophical Society. Karmic processes within the Society have a deeper dimension – the dimension of initiative. We do not accept karma as we find it; we can add new impulses to it as individuals, through our actions and behaviour. This has been possible and necessary ever since the Christ being became master of karma in the twentieth century. We are each of us called upon to consider our own contribution to the destiny of humanity.

It is this Christ impulse that gives the Anthroposophical Society, as a third aspect of its identity, the task to combine the greatest conceivable exotericism with true, genuine esotericism. When Rudolf Steiner founded the Society at the Christmas Conference of 1923/24 he said that we can solve this ‘fundamental problem’ only in our hearts. Later he added that a truly esoteric approach consisted in the most energetic involvement in life and all its depths.

Spiritual Research
The fourth aspect of the identity of the Anthroposophical Society lies in the fact that it sees the School of Spiritual Science as the centre of its activity. The School of Spiritual Science has the task of cultivating anthroposophy as a spiritual science given by Rudolf Steiner, of developing it further and implementing it fruitfully in the different areas of life. The Anthroposophical Society aims to support this spiritual development or research. From the beginning, the Society took on this task, trying to do it justice. The task involves the creation of an atmosphere that allows people to connect and identify with anthroposophy. Out of this identification grows an inner need to represent anthroposophy. The will to represent anthroposophy to and in the world is a basic condition for membership in the School of Spiritual Science.  The various fields of applied anthroposophy, which have emerged as a result of this will, strive to give answers to fundamental questions of our time. To support these fields is the fourth aspect of the identity of the Anthroposophical Society.

This year’s Annual Conference will be dedicated to the identity of the Anthroposophical Society. Margrethe Solstad, Ueli Hurter, Sue Simpson and Peter Selg will open the conference with contributions to the theme and the members of the Executive Council will address the theme at the Annual General Meeting. There are further aspects to the identity of the Anthroposophical Society apart from the ones I mentioned. All these aspects can be deepened in the work groups. How can the being of anthroposophy live more strongly in the Society? What ways of working would enhance its presence? The karmic aspect of the Society implies many questions, too. What did Rudolf Steiner have in mind when he spoke of the important role played by initiative in this context, if we consider that the Christ being can be found in the karma? Views on the relationship between exoteric and esoteric life also differ. Will we succeed in finding common ground without having to exclude either the public or the esoteric life? Rudolf Steiner said that the School of Spiritual Science can be seen as the soul of the Society. How can this become living reality? Is it possible to see the School of Spiritual Science not only as an institution but as an attitude of soul and spirit? The relationship to the various fields of life also needs working on. What kinds of relationship are conceivable?

By deepening these and other questions in the work groups we might come to recognize and experience the identity of the Anthroposophical Society. 

Paul Mackay

[1] Rudolf Steiner: The Foundation Stone/ The Life, Nature and Cultivation of Anthroposophy. GA 260a, Lecture of 5 September 1924.

Recommended further reading on the theme of ‘The Identity of the Anthroposophical Society’:

By Rudolf Steiner:

Karmic Relationships III, GA 237, lectures of 1, 3, 4 and 8 August 1924.

Karmic Relationships IV, GA 238, lecture of 5 September 1924.

Karmic Relationships VI, GA 240, lectures of 18, 19 and 20 July 1924.

The Christmas Conference for the Foundation of the General Anthroposophical Society 1923/1924, GA 260


By other authors:

Sergei Prokofieff: Warum wird man Mitglied der Anthroposophischen Gesellschaft? Verlag am Goetheanum, Dornach 2011.

Heinz Zimmermann: Die Lebensbedingungen der Anthroposophie heute. Ziele und Aufgaben der Anthroposophischen Gesellschaft und der Freien Hochschule für Geisteswissenschaft, Verlag am Goetheanum, Dornach 2007.

Previous "Themes of the Year":

"Anthroposophy - Rosicrucianism in Our Time"

"The Destiny of the I in the Age of the Etheric Christ"

"Thinking of the Heart as an Organ for Perception of Development and Metamorphosis"