Rudolf Steiner and Imagination

Rudolf Steiner and Imagination

Suspicious Smoke, by
Carl Spitzweg (1860)

As a prerequisite to better understanding Steiner, at least for myself, I begin with this amazing quote:

. . . the sense-perceptible world is only part of what surrounds us. It is distinct from, and to a certain extent independent of, our overall surroundings simply because it can be perceived with senses that disregard the soul and spiritual aspects of these surroundings. It is like a piece of ice floating on water—the ice consists of the same substance as the surrounding water but stands out because of certain qualities it possesses. In the same way, sense-perceptible things are of the same substance as the soul and spirit worlds surrounding them, but they stand out because of certain characteristics that make them perceptible to our senses. To put it somewhat figuratively, they are condensed spirit and soul formations, and the condensation makes it possible for our senses to acquire knowledge about them. Ice is just one of the manifestations of water, and sense-perceptible things are just one form in which soul and spirit beings exist. Having grasped this, we can also understand that the spirit world can change into the soul world and the soul world into the sensory world, just as water can turn to ice.1

Water can take the forms of solid, liquid, and gas, but they are all essentially water. Similarly, the single reality known as human being can take several forms (seven, according to Steiner), but all are essentially the same human being. I would say, along with Jung, that all is Soul. For a dualistic viewpoint, such as Descartes’, one must explain how one substance, mind or spirit, can exert an influence over another very different substance, matter. This is why we hear talk of a “mind-body problem.” But with ontological monism, there is no problem. A chunk of ice can float in water. They seem to be two different entities, but, essentially, they are not. Steam can melt ice, but they are one. The soul-spirit entity can experience sensible things when in the body, but they are the same “substance.”

This is such a powerful metaphor! It supersedes and annihilates the Cartesian subject-object split. If one recognizes only the ice as “real,” one is left with a partial reality, i.e. materialism. By willfully focusing only on the ice as real, one is left with icy nothingness. The ice has no meaning and no purpose whatsoever. Apart from the Source of matter, that’s what all these tangible things around us are. It is what our culture has shoved into the forefront of our consciousness for several centuries now. I think it is more reasonable if we, rather, acknowledge that the ice, the perceptible thing, is simply a tangible manifestation of Soul. As with water, so with Soul. As above, so below.

The key to understanding Steiner’s conception of Imagination is his theory of science, which was “derived or developed from Goethe.”2 Barfield tells us from the start,

. . . Steiner’s method of knowledge is, in its essence, systematic imagination. The truth of imagination is apodeictic, not empirical, and he makes accordingly no less a claim for the results of his spiritual investigations. For imagination is not a reasoning about, it is a Schauung, a seeing, and indeed a being, the object. Systematic imagination is, in fact, clairvoyance.3

Now, let’s unpack this a bit. Steiner’s method of arriving at knowledge is not a “reasoning about,” but a “seeing into” the object. When this occurs, however, the object ceases to be an object in the typical manner because the subject-object dichotomy is superseded. When engaging in this type of investigation, the imagination attempts to “sink itself entirely in the thing perceived . . .4 Barfield uses the word “clairvoyance” to describe Steiner’s method, which means “clear seeing,” or “penetration into what one sees clearly.” When one gets to this point in the investigation of one’s object, according to Steiner, one makes an “inner jump” to the realm of Imagination, or what is commonly known as “the spiritual world.” This reminds me of the hyper-spatial jump of science fiction, where a spaceship makes a sudden jump to faster-than-light speeds. Steiner writes,

It is difficult to talk about these things because people think that one is talking about something which is merely imagined, whereas one is in fact talking about something which, when the soul is prepared for it, [simply] comes to meet it. This higher consciousness is of such a kind that one makes a shattering experience in the soul: one comes through a kind of inner jump out of all that with which one has been connected in the ordinary life, and one is able to enter into this observer, even if for only a short moment of time. A short moment is actually sufficient here. One feels oneself opposite one’s whole usual being in the same way as one feels oneself with his usual being opposite the things, the colourful and sounding things of outer nature. When one pursues this experience further, one notices at a certain point of the inner experience what it means to unfold an inner activity of soul which does not make use of the organs of the body, but which stands opposite this body as the ordinary person stands opposite a table or a chair, or any other external object. To experience one’s soul-life outside of the body, this is what one can experience now. And then one gets to know the life which goes through the threshold of death, which is free of the body, [which persists even] when the physical body is destroyed.5

Just an amazing description of what Goethe’s devilish character, Mephistopheles, calls The Mothers in Faust, Part II, Act I. See my article called Down to the Mothers for details. Edmund Husserl made a famous allusion to The Mothers in his formulation of Phenomenology, specifically when describing his transcendental reduction, or epoché. Writer and philosopher, Colin Wilson, also greatly respected Husserl for his work on this because he believed it pointed the way to a new kind of existentialism.

I have much to learn regarding this. Rudolf Steiner has much to say on this idea of entering into the realm of Imagination, which I will continue to deal with in later articles. I must admit, I have not attained this level of development, myself. Up to this point in my life, I have failed to exercise the sort of discipline required to cure the attachment to the sensory realm that would lead one down to the realm of The Mothers, to the Mundus Imaginalis. Hopefully, one day I will succeed.

Works Cited

Barfield, Owen. Romanticism Comes of Age. Anthroposophical Publishing: London, 1944.

Marjorek, Marek B. Origins of Consciousness and Conscious (Free) Intention from the Viewpoint of Rudolf Steiner’s Spiritual Science (Anthroposophy) in Relation to Husserl’s Transcendental Reduction. Analecta Husserliana, Vol. XCIV. Ed. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. SpringerLink (Online service): 2006. Accessed 26 Dec. 2018,

  1. qtd. in Majorek, Origins of Consciousness, 12
  2. Barfield, Romanticism, 26
  3. ibid.
  4. Barfield, Romanticism, 27
  5. qtd. in Marjorek, Origins, 10-11

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