One of the main issues I want to deal with is how to read Steiner when what he is saying seems so left field, so contrary to the "common sense" of our time. The main key for me is the understanding that Steiner is looking at history, the development of humanity and the earth from the inside. If you accept that there is an inside and I think for the proper understanding of our life and consciousness the inside must be accepted, then the world will appear more in the living forms of the mind and the imagination, cutting these out is not possible and is a major modern error. You might disagree with Steiner but if you cannot formulate a picture of the world from the inside, then you should not be too critical, you can consider that perhaps Steiner has given us a rough sketch which is a big improvement over having no image at all, which for the most part we modern secularists have, and the religious who are unable to connect their mythologies with their modern consciousness.
This vlog will be composed largely of quotes from the two writers either talking about the influence or that show connections. Most of the Barfield quotes regarding Steiner are from his early unpublished novel English People which gives a fictionalised account of discovering Steiner particularly interesting because it was written close to the time, I will also be drawing on the much later introduction to Romanticism Comes of Age introduction from 1966, but first here's a quote from an interview where he states the basic connection:
The essence of Steiner's teachings...is the evolution of human consciousness...I, in a way, came to the same conclusion before I heard of Steiner...He began where I left off. All I had done was to establish, in a hostile intellectual atmosphere, that there was such a thing as the evolution of consciousness from a more pictorial, more living, if you like, form or quality to our own. He assumes that to start with, and builds from that the terrific edifice (Interview with Barfield sourced from p109 The Fellowship by P & C Zalesky)
Owen Barfield wrote that he owed a "paramount debt" to Rudolph Steiner and primarily when I have thought about this I have felt that Steiner's early works on Goethe and his Philosophy of Freedom had the most synergy with Barfield's, certainly they have complementary epistemologies that grew out of romanticism. However, Barfield was just as interested in the Anthroposophical work, I remember being surprised by this when I read his fictional account of his discovery in his unpublished novel English People written 1927-9, (Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (27 (or 25) February 1861 – 30 March 1925) if this represent his experience, it was actually his Anthroposophy works that first captured Barfield.
Brockmann (The fictional name Barfield gave Steiner in this novel) ... spoke with dry confidence of an entire universe unknown to science, of previous civilisations of which no trace remained, of older ones still before the ice-age, including of course the overworked ‘Atlantis’, and further back still of previous incarnations of the whole earth-planet and of ‘spiritual hierarchies’ who had brought them into manifestation. The ingenuity of it was almost incredible; for here was this colossal structure of unsupported theory, this vast time-ocean of alleged history, hovering as it were in the background, behind all the rest of knowledge and professing, not to supplant, but actually to supplement the results of authentically experimental science, and the proper reading of historical documents. It contacted the normal Twentieth Century cosmos at innumerable points and at each point claimed arrogantly, not merely to correspond with, but to illuminate that particular spot of terra firma, by tracing its origin back into geological periods beyond the ken of its discoverers, and describing its formation from within instead of without.
Humphrey was used to reading stuff he violently disagreed with without getting angry or contemptuous, for that was the only way one could get at a man’s psychology. He read on, therefore, and began to come somewhat under the spell of the symmetry and completeness of Brockmann’s system ...(English People Part 3 Chapter 34)Here we are faced with one of the elephants in the room when talking about Steiner, particularly when trying to persuade people that he is one of the great modern thinkers. I recently shared an excerpt of Steiner with a friend, to show him what Steiner thought about changes in consciousness that were happening at the end of the Middle Ages, within that excerpt were such off putting terms as "Atlantis", “Initiates of the Grail”, “hidden knowledge” & "knowledge of supersensible worlds", I was very conscious of the effect this was likely to have. The above quote is a fictionalised account and while I would guess that it closely mirrors Barfield's own experience it does show that he was aware of the need to keep reading past 'off putting' material and that once he had done so he "began to come somewhat under the spell of the symmetry and completeness of Brockmann’s system".
He continues outlining Steiner's method:
— for his method was, not so much to outline a scheme in abstract as to discuss some particular fact or problem,... in such a way that the system slowly revealed itself. It revealed itself slowly, part at a time, and one was always being surprised and gratified at the way in which one revelation (which seemed so ingenious that it must have been invented especially for that particular context) would fit in later on with another on quite a different subject.(ibid)This slow deliberate building of large schemes is one of the things that struck me about Steiner when I first read him decades ago, the effect was so different from that of Blavatsky's writing that seemed labyrinthine and convoluted.
The following section summarises much of Steiner's thought:
For Brockmann considered the whole evolution of the earth as being dedicated to the end of achieving human spiritual freedom, and spiritual freedom was impossible without that detachment from spiritual guidance, which nothing but an incapacity for mystical experience could bring. The problem was to recover, in freedom, by one’s own efforts and without dimming the self- consciousness, that old mystical experience in a new form — to achieve an ‘exact clairvoyance’. (ibid)Barfield would term that 'exact clairvoyance' as "final participation" and Steiner shared in this:
This Brockmann claimed himself in large measure to have done. He denied that his cosmogony was a theoretical structure and asserted that it was merely a description of what he could see. He had written various books in which he professed to describe the methods by which others too could train themselves to see the past and the unmanifest — and even to some extent the future. (ibid)
And then he moves into rapturous appreciation, the discovery of Steiner effected him in much the same way as lyrical poetry had, In the 1966 introduction to Romanticism comes of Age he writes:
the ﬁrst serious thing that happened to my mind was (at the age of about twenty—one) a sudden and rapid increase in the intensity with which I experienced lyric poetry... What impressed me particularly was the power with which not so much whole poems as particular combinations of words worked on my mind. It seemed there was some magic in it; and a magic which not only gave me pleasure but also reacted on and expanded the meanings of the individual words concerned. (Introduction, Romanticism comes of Age)Barfield's experience of Steiner seemed like an extension this, and reads much like a religious conversion or initiation:
From this point on Humphrey gave up altogether trying to psycho-analyse Brockmann’s writings or to convert them to a subjective interpretation. He simply went on reading them. At the same time a rather subtle change began to enter into his own attitude to life. That lurking horror of the Boundless — whether of inexhaustible appetite or infinite series of dreams and ideas, began to give way to a certain confident pleasure in the very thing he had previously abhorred. Whether it were the exercises he had begun to undertake, or the influence of all he had read in Brockmann, summed up and as it were driven home in this last powerful concept of an infinity of intersecting circles, of which the circumference of each is infinity — or some reason he now began to have moments in which he confronted the fluent dream of sensuous and intellectual experience with a kind of calm exultant joy. He rejoiced in his freedom. He was like a man with a snapshot camera, or a mathematician sitting tight with his coordinates up his sleeve, secure in the knowledge that however continuous the series, however incessant and ruinous the motion, he can at any point he chooses arrest that motion and, for the purpose of his thinking, grasp it in a state of instantaneous repose.Finally issues of subjectivity and objectivity start to spin in his mind, this is particularly interesting in terms of how Steiner argues that the subject object split is not a primary one as it was normally regarded, but is secondary and peculiar to our current experience, while the thinking that combines sense impressions (percepts) with concepts is primary:
(English People Part 3 Chapter 34)
This was now Humphrey’s experience with his ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ interpretations of Brockmann. They seemed to have run together into one, so that one read them as descriptions of fact, rather than as symptoms of the state of the author’s imagination, and yet the question of their being true or untrue never arose. (ibid)So now let's look at the ways Steiner and Barfield's thinking corresponds. Barfield broke thinking down into 3 parts, figuration which combines sense data with concepts to create what we regard as the things of the world, alpha thinking which thinks about those things and Beta thinking which thinks about thinking. These seem to have some correlation to Steiner's terms sentient soul, intellectual soul and consciousness soul which relate to different forms of thinking as well as relating to different parts of the human soul. Sentient soul refers to the etheric body, that which gives form to the human body and which stops it from breaking down into its individual elements which it does after death. The astral body which is shared with animals and relates to the intellectual soul and finally the I or ego which relates to the consciousness soul. There is not a one to one exact match with these concepts but it is interesting that in both cases there is a 3 part basis for thinking.
Now I want to turn to the cross over in the evolution of consciousness. Barfield basically has earlier man experiencing the world through a kind of consciousness he has termed "Original Participation"
... Participation is the extra-sensory relation between man and the phenomena. It was shown in Chapter III that the existence of phenomena depends on it. Actual participation is therefore as much a fact in our case as in that of primitive man. But we have also seen that we are unaware, whereas the primitive mind is aware of it. This primitive awareness, however, is obviously not the theoretical kind ...The primitive kind of participation is indeed not theoretical at all, inasmuch as it is given in immediate experience. Let us distinguish it from ours by calling it ‘original’ participation.. (Saving the Appearances, Chapter IV Participation)Barfield sees original participation on the decline in the ancient world, both with the rise of Greek thought and the iconoclasm of Israel, Israel's edicts against idols is seen as a deliberate destruction of original participation. However some form of Original Participation is seen as surviving in Europe to the end of the Middle Ages.
Now Steiner covers a much bigger sweep of history which he divides into epochs and within those there are smaller divisions of cultural epochs, we are in the "post Atlantian" epoch and within that the previous epochs are the "Ancient Indian", the "ancient Persian", the "Egypto-Chaldean" , the "Graeco-Latin" epochs and the fifth epoch which is the current one he terms the "Anglo-German". These cultural epochs are a little over 2000 years.
Barfield and Steiner are in accord with their time frames the Original Participation was the mode preceding 800BC and the rise of Greek though. Steiner uses different language but he also makes clear the different quality of consciousness that is a different way of expressing "Original Participation"
With the transition from the Egypto-Chaldean into the Graeco-Latin epoch, the whole mode and disposition of man's soul and all his faculties had undergone an essential change. The kind of logical thinking and intellectual comprehension of the world with which we are now familiar did not exist in Egypto-Chaldean times. Knowledge, which man today acquired by the deliberate exercise of his intelligence, he then received directly; it was given to him as an intuitive and inner — in some respects, supersensible — knowledge. Such was the form of cognition proper to that age. Man saw the objects around him, and in the very act of looking at them, the concept — the picture of them his soul needed — arose of its own accord within him. Now when cognition is of this nature, pictures not only of the sense-perceptible world make their appearance in man's soul, but from the depths of the inner life there dawns a knowledge, howsoever limited, of facts and beings imperceptible to the outer senses. This was a remnant of the dim and pristine supersensible awareness, once the common property of all mankind. (Rudolf Steiner, Esoteric Science: An Outline, Chapter 6)Steiner then goes on to describe the kind of consciousness that existed ion the Greco-Latin epoch (up to the end of thew 14th Century:
In the Graeco-Latin epoch an ever growing number of people were born in whom such faculties were lacking. Men now began to think about things with purely intellectual reflection. They drifted farther and farther away form the direct though dreamlike perception of the world of soul and spirit. Instead, they had to form an intellectual picture of it for themselves — intellectual, though aided by the life of feeling. Broadly speaking, man may be said to have been in this condition throughout the fourth post-Atlantean epoch.Steiner typifies the thought in the early Christian period:
After the exhaustion of Greek thought life, an age begins in the spiritual life of mankind in which the religious impulses become the driving forces of the intellectual world conceptions as well. For Plotinus, his own mystical experience was the source of inspiration of his ideas. (Riddles of Philosophy, Part 1, Chapter 3)Barfield has a chapter of the Medeival Mind in Saving the Appearances and in the following chapter he contrasts their kind of mind with the kind of mind of our own age:
For medieval man, then, the universe was a kind of theophany, in which he participated at diﬂferent levels, in being, in thinking, in speaking or naming, and in knowing. Andthen—the evolutionary change began. Not, of course, at any given moment, but with anticipations, localized delays, individual differences. But no beginning is instantaneous-... Between the idea of a stone aspiring to reach its natural place at the centre of the universe-—and rushing more fervently as it came nearer home—and the idea of a stone accelerating its descent under the constant force of gravity, there is an intellectual transition which involves a change in men’s feeling for matter...(Barfield Saving the Appearances, Chapter 14)The current era according to Barfield we are developing our individuality and materialism causes in a sense an extreme individuality with many dangers and is marked by alienation:
Now it is because a full consciousness of self depends precisely on a sense of subjective-objective distinction - the feeling "I am here and the table is out there in space" - it is for this reason that the West has had to develop its strong sense of distinction with the inevitable accompanying sense of exclusion from the unity of the spirit... (p56 Romanticism Comes of Age "From East to West")The way out of this is Final Participation:
Let us call the man-centred participation with which the opening chapters of this book were concerned ﬁnal participation. Beta-thinking, then, can convince itself of the fact of final participation. It can convince itself that we participate the phenomena with the unconscious part of ourselves. But that has no epistemological significance. It can only have that to the extent that final participation‘ is consciously experienced. .. Are there any signs of such a development taking place? We have seen, in the Romantic movement, and elsewhere, symptoms of a kind of instinctive impulse towards iconoclasm. Are there any signs up to now of a systematic approach to final participation? And what does such an approach involve? It was pointed out in Chapter XIII that participation as an actual experience is only to be won to-day by special exertion; that it is a matter, not of theorizing, but of imagination in the genial or creative sense. A systematic approach towards ﬁnal participation may therefore be expected to be an attempt to use imagination systematically. This was the foundation of Goethe’s scientiﬁc Work... (Saving the Appearances, chapter XX p137)
And here we have Steiner on the kind of consciousness that will grow out of our current understanding (fifth epoch) and be present generally in the next cultural epoch:
Throughout the fifth epoch the knowledge of supersensible worlds will thus continue to flow into the consciousness of men, and by the time the sixth begins it will be possible for mankind to have regained on a higher level the knowledge they possessed in pristine ages by virtue of the dim and dreamlike supersensible vision of those ancient days. But the renewed possession will be of quite another form than the old. What the soul knew of higher worlds in olden time was not yet permeated with her own human powers of intelligence and feeling. It came of its own accord — was “given” as a kind of spiritual inspiration. In future, man will not only be receiving “inspirations” of this kind, but will understand them through and through, feeling them as his very own, the true expression of his inmost being... (Rudolf Steiner, Esoteric Science: An Outline, Chapter 6)I think that gives at least an introduction to just how closely Barfield and Steiner's thinking aligns.