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A religious and philosophical system based on the theosophical ideas of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Born in Hungary and raised a Roman Catholic, Steiner studied science at the University of Vienna, became an accomplished Goethe scholar, and acquired an intense interest in the occult. In 1902, while serving as editor of a literary magazine, he became general secretary of the German Theosophical Society but soon grew disillusioned with its overstress on Eastern religious thought. In 1913 Steiner broke with theosophy and founded the Anthroposophical Society, which joined certain Christian elements to its basically theosophical outlook. In 1922 Steiner and Friedrich Rittlemeyer, a former Protestant pastor, organized the movement into "Christian Fellowships" (Christengemeinschaften) where priests and priestesses performed mystical rites patterned after the Catholic Mass.

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Like theosophy from which it came, anthroposophy includes elements from Hinduism, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, and Sufism. It affirms the existence of spiritual as well as material worlds and teaches that salvation consists of escaping the confines of the material world by obtaining esoteric spiritual knowledge about the true nature of things. Unlike theosophy (wisdom of God), which holds that such knowledge comes from avatars (incarnations) and arhats (master teachers), anthroposophy (wisdom of man) teaches that people possess the truth within themselves. By cultivating one's occult powers through certain mental, physical, and spiritual exercises, anyone can become a Hellseher, a master of clear vision, and thereby gain extraordinary spiritual insight. According to Steiner's doctrine of the "seven lotus flowers," each person has seven bodies (physical, astral, etheric, the most intimate "I," etc.) which open out, like the lotus blossom, to new levels of truth. Once these spiritual organs are developed through meditation (yoga), one has access to "cosmic memory" through which he can understand all things.

Whereas theosophy views Christ as only one of many avatars, anthroposophy teaches that Christ is the only avatar, an exalted solar being (Sonnenwesen) who entered human history as the full revelation of the spiritual world. Contact with Christ brings deeper penetration into his own knowledge of reality. Thus for anthroposophists celebration of the Eucharist has ultimate significance. Called the "Act of the Consecration of Man." the sacrament mystically joins the celebrant with the spirit and body of Christ, making him truly "man" and capable of realizing his own occultic powers.

Anthroposophy was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1919. Followers today are most numerous in Germany, Britain, and the United States, and generally are drawn from "intellectuals" in search of more "effervescent" religious experience outside established religious channels.

T. P. Weber

G. A. Kaufmann, Fruits of Anthroposophy; R. Steiner, The Story of My Life; F. Rittlemeyer, Reincarnation.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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