On March 24th during the annual General Assembly of the General Anthroposophical Society, the members will vote on whether to renew the tenure of Paul Mackay and Bodo von Plato as members of the Executive Council at the Goetheanum for another seven years. Mackay and von Plato have earnestly embraced this destiny moment required by the articles and bylaws of the Anthroposophical Society and permanently relinquished their Council positions pending the outcome of the vote. The editors of Das Goethanum requested a conversation with them and asked them: How are you doing in this situation? How do you see the development of Anthroposophy? What have you managed to achieve, and what type of future do you see?
How is this confirmation process for you and how did you approach it?
PAUL MACKAY The break is an excellent opportunity to stop and ask yourself: Where do I stand? Does my work have meaning? You ask yourself that—the same as your colleagues—and you ask yourself that relative to the membership. Since the Executive Council is responsible for the Society’s initiatives worldwide, a break makes sense. It is not only a question of self-reflection, but reflection regarding the world also.
BODO VON PLATO We designed the interim as a kind of evaluation of our work with our colleagues on Council, with the Goetheanum leadership and in the Conference of General Secretaries: How do you see and judge our work? They see our strengths and weaknesses more clearly, our limits and also the many things that have been successful or less successful, and they have different assessments regarding it all. And so we discussed how we see the future, in which direction Anthroposophical work, the Anthroposophical Society, and the School of Spiritual Science will develop, and what skillset we need for this now and in the years to come. As a result of these deliberations, the vote on our continuance was scheduled, and Paul Mackay and I had to declare whether or not we were prepared to continue.
What did your colleagues say?
MACKAY They examined our contribution in the context of world society and movement, discussed it, and came to the conclusion that we should be asked whether we were prepared to accept another term of office.
PLATO They said many things, factual and also personally touching. But what motivated me above all to say yes for the coming years—knowing full well that some members are critical of me—was the recognition of a need for anthroposophical competence, especially needed in the profound transformation processes currently underway in the School of Spiritual Science and Anthroposophical Society, and that it has its real grounding not least in the many human and anthroposophical connections around the world. And the Goetheanum leadership's encouragement to take on special development and management tasks for the General Anthroposophical Section within the framework of the School for Spiritual Science with Joan Sleigh and Paul Mackay.
You have worked together for over 17 years. How do you see each other?
PLATO The main quality I see in Paul Mackay's work is a sensitive attention to everything connected with freedom. Everyone has his or her principles, the values according to which he or she orientates his or her actions—and in my opinion, with Paul it is always freedom. When does a question, a decision, or its possible consequences allow more freedom, deepening, or differentiation? On this is what he orientates himself, irrespective of whether it is a question that is financial or technical in nature, or even when the question is the way in which sensitive esoteric content is dealt with at the School of Spiritual Science. When someone has such a strong focus, the counter-image also appears. Some people saw just the opposite of his intentions: that he wants to have the last word or power. I understand that this impression can arise. But in specific cases where I wanted to examine it in detail, I saw that the opposite was true. I am pleased by the work and whole personality of Paul Mackay—the cosmopolitan and world-wide vision. What he does always has this wider horizon and it is spiritual, human, and factual. Anthroposophy is—Rudolf Steiner emphasizes it increasingly in his life—a cosmopolitan affair. This aspect does not have to be discussed with Paul, it is always a given.
MACKAY From the beginning I saw two elements that belong to Bodo von Plato's being. I'd like to call one a certain 'aesthetic sense'. It is not an artistic outlook that he reflects upon, but rather the fact that in every situation of life he has this ideal aesthetic moment in mind: the interrelationship of spirit and matter, of consciousness and life, of reflection and action. This moment does not impose itself, but when it does occur, the world finally really gets its direction. In the encounter with this aesthetic moment, a small part of the world can express itself. This presupposes an inner activity—it is never a given by itself. With Bodo there is always something to discover. There are always creative moments and joy. Out of this aesthetic sense, a concern for shaping and forming lives in him: everything must be arranged in points, not be wishy-washy, it should take shape and become meaningful. This can sometimes be a bit too much, but you can easily get things moving again.
The second element comes from his strong relationship to anthroposophical spiritual science, is the incredible need for it to come into the world in this era of Michael, and for it to belong to the world: Anthroposophy is not our property, but belongs to the world, and only thus does Anthroposophy become Anthroposophy in the first place. For this global orientation, one has to be well versed in contemporary history, and that is his background. Who are the thinkers and poets of today? What views are living today? And you have to immerse yourself a good deal in the current world. This can sometimes take on unconventional forms. It requires that something unconventional exists at all, only then does the possibility arise for anthroposophy to be relevant today. This element lies in Bodo's destiny. I think he sees it as a growing challenge. Anthroposophy cannot be understood if it is not placed in relation to its contemporary significance. Anthroposophy is made for everyday life.
Anthroposophy knocks on the door of your heart
The world has changed since Rudolf Steiner's lifetime. Do you think Anthroposophy is also undergoing a transformation? It seems to some that anthroposophy is being diluted because we want to be modern, because we want to be present in the world. How do you understand the evolution of anthroposophy?
MACKAY First I would want to distinguish between the being of Anthroposophy and the manifestation of Anthroposophy. I have the impression that Anthroposophy as a being – naturally in the process of evolution – is something that is very intimately connected to mankind as a being. Anthroposophy is a spiritual being of which Steiner said: «Let me enter, for I am you yourself: I am your true human nature!»* This aspect of being has an identity, an unmistakable identity. And yet this being manifests very differently, depending on the situation. This is a big challenge: Can one differentiate appearance and essence? Appearance is always a picture, the picture is a mask, but the picture is also an expression of a being's nature.
Does this view not imply a separation between Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy itself? Put another way, does this not imply that Rudolf Steiner isn’t the only way to Anthroposophy, but Anthroposophy can be found everywhere?
MACKAY We owe it to Rudolf Steiner that he brought this being into the world, drew attention to it, but the being of Anthroposophy asks for individualization. The being should be able to express itself in every individual. Rudolf Steiner has already described it in the ‹Philosophy of Freedom›: We all have our own intuition, but it comes from a common spiritual world. I believe our challenge is to live out this balancing act.
PLATO For me, it is neither a question of setting boundaries nor of pandering to the current times. It becomes degrading the moment I try to impose a certain being and its previous manifestations onto the current Zeitgeist. And if I want to separate myself from it, it's no longer graceful. Anthroposophy loses dignity and grace through self-isolation. I think, Anthroposophy gains dignity and grace in the moment when—what Paul has described occurs: that we, individually as human beings, as a society, and as a School of Spiritual Science try to achieve a current enlivened relationship between the being of Anthroposophy and its manifestations. Yes, in every action or encounter, in every conversation, even now: a new attempt through your initiative for this conversation: Can we put the essence and manifestations of Anthroposophy into a valid context? And can readers of this interview recognize some aspect of this? Everyone will have different judgements about this. Some people will say: No, nothing to see here. Others will discover something. Then it will be talked about; it becomes knowledge that transcends the individual. I hope in the future that this living recognition will be strengthened; that an open—not too narrowly limited—space for discussion will be created, a discursive environment that embraces differences.
MACKAY I hope that this space for discourse will find its place within the Anthroposophical Society. That's what this society is for: to learn from each other. That wants to be practiced, wants to be tried. It is a question of attitude and willingness.
Rudolf Steiner spoke on macro level—for example about the hierarchies of angels, about reincarnation or the development of the cosmos—and so did his followers, they quoted him. Now we are at a time when these great interconnections of the universe are being told less frequently. How do you see that? What makes Anthroposophy so special?
PLATO I see a unique quality of anthroposophy as being a spiritual movement of dual nature: in its openness to reflection it is bound to thinking; in its global orientation, it is observation and sense-oriented. This is unusual for spiritual movements. More often thinking and the world of the senses seem rather foreign, if not outright hostile.
MACKAY I get the impression that these two aspects are an integral part of a Michaelic intelligence that wants to develop today. I think we are in the middle of this battle: how do we deal with the forces of intelligence? Are they stuck in intellectual discourse, or do they capture the whole person? And when they do, the sensory world is included. If not, then the spiritual world remains non-material, separate from the sensory world. Yet the spiritual world is in the world of senses. Today's question is: Am I in the world of real life, or am I missing the mark? In my field of economics, you don't look so closely to see whether everything is socially appropriate, you ask: is it effective? But if you want to be effective, the question is: how do you actually do it? I think that is what we have to work on. Is there a common framing of the question on this issue that is also recognized by others? Or do we consider our contribution to be so important and so unique that we can only bless the world with it? That is again a question of attitude. If this difference can’t be recognized—and I am saying something radical here—then we will miss the point of Anthroposophy. This is a deeply esoteric question. It is a Michaelic esotericism which we can develop.
Yes, I have noticed these days there is a question living everywhere, a search for this new esotericism, which manifests in various ways.
PLATO Yes, if anything esoteric questions can be heard today in everyday life, in the classroom, in the hospital, in the backyard and in every profession; but I hear them not so much in the form of existential large-scale world-view questions: What about the hierarchy of angels, reincarnation, and the evolution of the universe? This can easily become abstract. It does not mean that these questions are gone. They are currently in a phase where they are immersed in everyday life—just as in the course of Rudolf Steiner's biography they moved more and more deeply into concrete life. But that does not mean that the big questions are gone. I do not know anyone among my colleagues who is not connected with these questions. But there is a degree of caution in dealing with them too directly and nominally. I suspect that this will change, that we will quietly and soundly take up these questions again on the basis of current events and given realities, and individual and institutional experience. This will be a different story, imbued with this experience that Rudolf Steiner made possible. His work and materials are not gone, but they are more deeply incarnated. And I am very curious as to how these great questions will be re-formed out of concrete situations. Ueli Hurter formulated it precisely on the basis of the biodynamic preparations, i.e. the beating heart of the biodynamic movement. He asked: «Can it be that today the general questions»—the big questions—«are most evident in the details?»
MACKAY These two worlds, the world of senses and the world of ideas, need each other. Ideas want to become visible. If you have these great concepts of the angelic hierarchies, Christology, or reincarnation and cosmic evolution alive within you, it is easier or more likely that you will be able to look into the world of senses. Looking does not mean that I reference one thing this way, and another that way; but it means that things can express themselves according to their own nature. Their relationship to larger systems, their connections become visible and can then develop more effectively.
PLATO Yes, through individualisation, because «The ‹I› acquires being and meaning from that with which it is connected.» This is how Steiner describes the I in Theosophy. So, the I's becoming arises less and less through exclusion or isolation, and more and more through connection. And what will we connect to in the next ten years? For me, this is a crucial question with regard to the Society, the School of Spiritual Science, the Goetheanum leadership, and the Executive Council. It is a question of an individualisation that no longer arises through negation, through saying no, but through affirmation. What I associate myself with will be much more interesting for individualisation in the future than what I distinguish myself from. I suspect this also applies to institutions, for the Anthroposophical Society and the School of Spiritual Science.
Let me enter, for I am your true humanity
Against this background, how do you see today's task of the Anthroposophical Society and its relationship to the School of Spiritual Science?
PLATO The Anthroposophical Society is there to facilitate and promote a deepened and inspired anthroposophical work in the world. In my understanding it is meant above all as a worldwide community of people united by the desire that the Free School of Spiritual Science, the Goetheanum, can work as well as possible; and the School of Spiritual Science wants to make a growing contribution to the great questions and challenges of our time.
To achieve this, there must be a large network of people who want this also, so that the School of Spiritual Science remains truly free. This support takes place spiritually through interest, on a soul level through human relationships, and materially through financing. I am grateful for the fact that we have a Society that received such a clearly focused mission statement in its statutes during the Christmas Conference.
MACKAY In the Statutes of the Christmas Conference the Society's orientation as a school of higher education is clearly expressed. However, we must be careful that the Society does not become a sort of booster club, but instead develops a special type of trusteeship. I would say everywhere we should seek partnership and reciprocity. In acting as a trustee, it is important not to do things unilaterally, but rather to act in such a way that we carry the other affected parties in consciousness. This manifests mutual recognition and mutual support. And this is the kind of support that is needed today. For me, this is an important cultural quality, a culture, a community culture that we need. Our founding charter states that the results of Anthroposophy lead to a social life based on brotherly love. This culture is needed in the School of Spiritual Science. We must begin to strengthen this culture. This is where the practice areas of society lie. It can become a movement that can move mountains!
PLATO The Christmas Conference poses a demanding challenge: to combine the greatest possible publicity with the deepest, most solemn esotericism. The School of Spiritual Science would stand—fully developed—in the midst of public life, committed, visible, and helpful to the needs and problems of today's world. This is already noticeable in the work of some Sections. At the same time, it contains a core for those who decide to seek to enter their inner self. For them there is the First Class, those who have decided to represent Anthroposophy. It would be quite inappropriate to ‹popularize› this core of mantric work of the Class Lessons. Nevertheless, it is an urgent task to make it possible for the many, many people who publicly represent Anthroposophy in their work in the various fields, in schools or in curative educational institutes, to establish a real connection with the School of Spiritual Science and to understand their questions and experience as part of the work of this School.
What have you managed to accomplish?
MACKAY In order to ensure that real cooperation can develop amongst the Society and the School of Spiritual Science, as well as the members of the Executive Board and the Heads of the Sections, both the Heads of the Sections and the members of the Executive Board are called upon to think outside the box. That's when it starts, and you get things moving. If we hadn't started this process here at the Goetheanum with the founding of the Goetheanum Leadership in 2012, we wouldn't have had the inner authority to convene the Goetheanum World Conference for Michaelmas in 2016. I was particularly committed to the creation of the Goetheanum Leadership because it is important to me that the domains of the School of Spiritual Science, the Society, and the Sections join together and mutually reinforce each other. They are interdependently constituted because each area has its own unmistakable and unique contribution to make to the whole, that is, each serve the Anthroposophical movement as a whole. The Society and the different Sections come together and mutually strengthen each other. At the Goetheanum World Conference there were hundreds of tables on the Goetheanum terrace, at each of these tables anthroposophists from all continents and fields of activity were in conversation. For me the Goetheanum World Conference is an example for how we can harmonize the world-community. It is in this spirit that I am committed to advocating the anthroposophical cause in the world.
PLATO I would like to mention two processes in which I am particularly active. The first is the new production of the four ‹Mystery Dramas›, which began in 2004/06 with Gioia Falk, premiered in 2010 and are still being performed today. This made it possible that an intensive, generally anthroposophical work take place, especially in Germany and here at the Goetheanum. In my opinion, one of the most important tasks of anthroposophy, especially here at the Goetheanum, is to take responsibility for the ‹Mystery Plays› and also for ‹Faust›. It is true that we have had interesting and difficult lessons with ‹Faust› recently. However, we will not give up working on this work of world literature from anthroposophical perspectives and experiences. The second is the Society's treatment of questions of meditative practice. Until the early 2000s, these questions remained in the background; since then, studies, practice, and meditation have been discussed and dealt with within the anthroposophical movement, Society and the School of Spiritual Science. With the beginning of the Goetheanum Meditation Initiative-Worldwide in 2006, the institutionally least comprehensible aspect of Anthroposophy became a tangible and visible focus of the work of the Society and School of Spiritual Science. In 2017, without a guru mentality, or definitions of what anthroposophical meditation is, the Living-Connections-Conference was organized by many different people at the Goetheanum. It was possible to explore what constitutes the specificity of anthroposophical meditation and a corresponding inner path of development. What is at stake—and has not yet been achieved so far—is the worldwide opportunity for every member of the Anthroposophical Society to participate in decision-making and decision-making processes right down to the legal level. In recent decades, the Society has grown into a global society. Now there are people everywhere who want to participate—and should participate—in its development processes. This will be discussed at the forthcoming Annual General Meeting and thereafter.
We're picking up these rays here and we want to work with them.
Few are aware of how much you travel, in which groups and contexts you are active. Can you draw a picture for the future?
PLATO My love for the future has a lot to do with the fact that I was able to discover how in conversation the Goetheanum is suddenly there in New Zealand, in South America, on the edge of the Rocky Mountains or in Canada, in a school or in a living room. Also in the favelas of São Paulo, in the medicine cabinet of an employee of Ute Craemer, there is a photo of the Goetheanum. For these people in these places it is very important to ask: «You come from there?» And I say: Yes. It becomes real. And I am there with them entirely, and then I'm back here again. Here I see how Benno Otter cuts the fruit trees in such a way that people come from all over and want to learn from him, and here I can work with students on Steiner's basic works. This is the breathing cycle of the Goetheanum, a breathing of periphery and centre. The Goetheanum was built as a centre that radiates outward. And everywhere in the world where someone is connected to anthroposophy, there is now also a centre that radiates back. We're picking up these rays here and we want to work with them. We will be less like a head, but rather a heart in which the different streams interpenetrate. The Goetheanum becomes a global human community, a vast Goetheanum, and at the same time we must take good care of and develop the Goetheanum here in Dornach for those who want to see and experience where Anthroposophy once came from. This changing breath between periphery and centre, this ‹becoming a heart› touches me deeply.
MACKAY I see it the same way. On the one hand there is the picture and on the other hand, the path to get there. I am overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness. How are we going to get there? But when I travel to Eastern Europe, for example, I notice that something is germinating, growing, and developing there. I take part in it for a few days and take it with me to the next place, where I—and everyone else—take something else along with me. This leads to lines of interconnectedness, something like an invisible but real spiritual network, or even better as a network of people who are practically and spiritually active and in relationship with one another. For me, this is the greater Goetheanum.
*Quote from Rudolf Steiner at the end of his lecture entitled ‹Supersensible Man› 18.11.1923, The Hague, at the founding of the Anthroposophical Society in the Netherlands.
Translation: Bettina Hindes
Pictures: Nina Gautier