1. Esotericism - A Definition
Greek: esoterikón: directed inwards, spiritual secret doctrine dealing with transcendental, rationally not ascertainable and occult (lat.: okkult, the 'hidden') issues. Therefore esotericism withdraws from rational disputes and its meaning is only accessible to its 'discipleship'. 'Learning' means to 'experience' its ideologic elements by ceremonies and rituals.
Its antonym 'exotericism' relates to purely outward knowledge of facts. 'New Age' as a modern form of esotericism is derived from the belief that a new age has dawn in the new millenium (after the age of the Fish, it is now the Aquarius), characterised by a change to 'live together in love, understanding and all-embracing harmony'.
Esotericism is better described as an ideology than a religion in this sense, because it offers a comprehensive explanation of 'being' to parts of the population and it explains them conclusively how to proceed in the world and what is their role in it. It mirrors social being as a theory and philosophy which is, as part of the cultural Uberbau, determined by an economic, social and material background. It serves the oppression as an ideology, because it distorts reality to fulfill a specific social function. It tries to define a particular interest as an interest of the greater public.
2. Historical Outline of Esoteric Movements and Groups
2.1. Helena P. Blavatsky
Occult-magical circles exist since the 18th century, sworn to strict secrecy, whose members ('chosen ones') were taught the doctrine through successive initiations. In the 19th century, the previously secretly distributed thoughts were released to the public: Helena P. Blavatsky published her book 'The Secret Doctrine' in 1888 which spread rapidly and had a major influence on 'modern' esotericism. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) (Barth 2003: 28f.): founder of the 'Theosophical Society', believed in a 'great white brotherhood', consisting of Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and others. Her successor (Anne Alice Bailey) extended the brotherhood by more 'illuminated' individuals such as Bismarck, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco and Ghandi (who denied the 'membership' vehemently). Central to this is the believe in karma (s. below) and the theory of Root Races which describes the whole history of humanity as a succession of seven human races, subdivided in seven sub races, which are superseded evolutionarily. Root Race 1+2 (300 mio years ago) had been genderless, astral-ethereal bodies, nr. 3 the androgyn, human-like, mainly 'instinctive' 'Lemurians' whose successors would be the 'negroes' (which hence would be on the level of animals), nr. 4 the 'Atlantians' who were dominant until Atlantis sank in '9564 b.c.'. Thus Atlantis was the 'primordeal home' of the Arians (nr. 5) and therefore of the 5th sub race, the germano-anglosaxons who would represent the currently most advanced race in evolution. According to Blavatsky, each evolutionarily developed race would have a legitimate claim to domination and survival. At the moment, all remaining 'coloured' humans would be doomed to extinction, anyway. A 'decimation' of 'lower races', as executed by colonialism for example, was part of that race's karma, hence their extinction a karmic necessity. The jews would take a special position, as an 'artificial arian race', they would be an abnorm and unnatural link between the 4th and the 5th Root Race.
2.2. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
Steiner was secretary general of the Theosophical Society from 1902 to 1913, from which he seperated with ca. 90% of its (german) members and founded the 'Anthroposophische Gesellschaft'. Main issue was a dispute about religion, because he deemed the christian religion superior, in contrast to Blavatsky's orientiation towards other religions like buddhism or hinduism. He modified the theory of Root Races to a 'Theory of Three Worlds' (black, brown/yellow, white) and applied the distinction of human races to individuals (development from astral-, etheareal body to fully equipped humans with 'Ego'). In relation to the doctrine of races, he does not use the term 'Root Race' but 'Cultural Epoch'. Similar to Blavatsky, Steiner related to a 'world memory' (the 'chronic of Akasha') to which he claimed to have access in another state of mind. Thus his teachings are anti-enlightening and authoritarian, because according to Steiner, there is 'no healthy thinking that was not preceded by a healthy sensation for truth, supported by a self-evident belief in authority' (Barth 2003: 37). Correspondingly, the first phase of Steiner's education is dominated by learning through consequences. To his followers, Steiner himself is the 'leader of humanity' even today, his teachings are defended word by word most of the time. Steiner calls his doctrine a 'social science' which he wanted to next to the natural sciences. In the end, his ideology is a religious doctrine of salvation which promises health, salvation, transcendental capabilities and therefore power through spiritual development of the mind (Bierl 2001: 39). Karma still plays a central role, next to the belief in ghosts, demons and angels, meaning that a human's soulpower, the body's look and feel, the gender and the social position, as well as the way of life, would be defined by karma. Certain illnesses or disabilities would be ascibed to mistakes in a former life this way. Steiner founded 'dynamic-organic farming' in 1924 which abandoned fertiliser and chemical treatmeanf of plants, fruits and weed and demanded a 'use of spiritual power in agriculture'. Steiner's ideology is highly compatible to the existing and spreading folkish-nationalist movements and the upcoming fascism of that time, even though the Nazis forbade the 'Anthroposophische Gesellschaft' in 1935.
2.2.1. Steiner's racism and anti-semitism
The folkish tradition, especially social-darwinist and racist views, can be found even today aside to and in the humanist visions of anthroposophy. According to Steiner, biological 'races' are connected to their affiliates' mental 'maturity of development', hence reasoning for a hierarchy of human groups, whose lowest steps are reserved for Indians who are in danger of extinction due to their physical 'degeneration' and the 'Negroes' who are dominated by their 'drives' and 'scent' due to the sun which cooks them from the inside...) (Bierl, Barth, Sonnenberg). Steiner assumed a 'people's spirit' to whom invariable treats of character can be accredited, like 'negroes have fat lips and are natural rhythmicians' and others. These assumptions are widely spread up til today and the 'Anthroposophische Gesellschaft' offers seminars on 'Impact and Mission of the German People's Spirit' to answer the question 'How do I form a Spritiual Link to the People's Spirit?'.
Like Blavatsky, Steiner assumes the whites'/europeans' superiority and legitimates their claim for world domination, because they only fulfill their predetermination when they subject other peoples. The white race hence would be a 'future, spirit forming race'. The jews also take a special position, due o their astrological constellation. The 'jewish people's spirit' would be an exception. Steiner did not aspire their annihilation, though, but their assimilation into the german people. Eventually, this corresponds to his basically 'cosmopolitan visions of the future'. According to Steiner, humanity will lead itself into demise 'if the ideals of race, people and blood are reproduced'. Instead it would be necessary that the anthroposophical movement ' ... absorbs , in its core, the idea to strip the characters of races, so that it namely tries to unite people of all races, of all nations and this ways bridges the differences and gaps which exist between human groups.'
An as expression of the extensive crisis of identity and values in the years before and after the WWI, Steiner's esoteric teachings participated in the race-theoretical discourse of that time, in such a way that he took individual elements from it which he then bundled together with the theosophical ideas of a genesis of races and culture. Folkish theoreticians like the 'Arisophs' „Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels“ and Guido List
adapted parts of the theosophical race theories, albeit it without including the 'universalist and cosmopolitan horizon of Blavatsky's theosophism'. (Sonnenberg 2005)
Steiner's peripheral argument with contemporary judaism moved in-between an 'englightened' anti-judaism which demanded absolute assimilation and traditional church-christian hostility. According to this, the jews would have gathered bad karma through the betrayal of Jesus Christ which they have to decompose until today (Bierl 2001: 56). The membership in the 'Anthroposphische Gesellschaft' was open to jews. The 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion', in which the judeophobe myth of a conspiration is condensed, was explicitely rejected by Steiner as a 'forgery' of political reactionary forces
The Organicism served as an ideology which could connect the german monarchy with the upcoming german-nationalism and could counter the european consequences of the French Revolution. It describes societ as a natural, corporal organism and thus legitimates hierarchies (cf. Metternich and Johan Gottlieb Fichte). In contrast to other 'nations', the german folkish concept of state assumed a union of 'blood relatives', so to speak of a 'people' that forms a unit through 'blood and soil'.
2.4. Cultural Pessimism
Based on romanticism, with its return to emotionality, nature and folkism and its tendency to refuse progress, modernism and materialism, Cultural Pessimism emerged which nourished a folkish-racist and above all anti-semitic body of thought. The jews were seen as creators of materialism, liberalism, rationalism and marxism, culminating in the demand to annihilate them, because they would be a 'great tragedy to all other people'. (Paul de
Lagarde, 1927-1891, Julius Langbehn, 1851-1907). Lagarde was a mentor of the organic-folkist world view. He coined the term 'holism' which primarily aimed at gaining knowledge through intuition. The human's core would be in the 'will' which he put in opposition to the mind (cf. Hitler's „Triumph of the Will“). Langbehn was advocate of great-german aspirations and a fierce adherent of the movement for raw food and proponent of the 'intuitive-hypnotic healing method' as an alternative to orthodox medicine. The 'education of the heart' was important to him, instead of the 'education of the mind'. Via backreference to their 'raw power', the german people should be educated back to nature and be freed of an 'overcultivation'.
The movement of 'life philosophy', as a philosophical train of thought of Cultural Pessimism, was formed in the beginning of the 20th century in Munich's boheme. Its core (the esoterical quartett 'Die Kosmiker') consisted of the philosophers Ludwig Klages and the poet Stefan George, as well as Schuler and Wolfkehl. They argued for an evolutionary and aristocratic theory of descent and integrated the romanticistic refusal of intellect which would be destroying the original unity of body and soul. Here german romanticism and germanism were tied together to a mystical longing for the past with reactionary claims for elitism. Klages' accusation that the jews would disintegrate the original cosmic-natural state of the world with the 'mind' and intellect, lead to the breakup of the quartett in 1903/04 because Wolfskehl was of jewish ancestry.
In the bourgeois spectrum, the youth movement the 'Wandervoegel' with their cultural pessimistic, esoterical thoughts was in bloom in the beginning of the 20th century. It was hostile towards technology and civilisation and tried to find the traces of 'powers of preindustrial culture' through 'aesthetic', communal experience of emotions. It was central to make music because it served approaching the "original precapitalist people's spirit". Already before the beginning of WWI, 80% of the 'Wandervoegel' declared being 'free of jews'. Many signed up for war voluntarily because it was seen as a lawful, inevitable natural-organic process. Anti-militarists were mostly expelled.
Anti-semitism was explicitely exponentiated by Arisophy: the arians were deemed as 'people of light', the jews (furthermore) as an unnatural mix of 4th and 5th Root Race and hence 'natural enemies' who would have a 'dark, insidious character' (moon people). Guido List (1848-1919) dismissed most of the far-eastern elements of the esoteric movement which can be subsumed as Arisophy. He mixed belief in reincarnation and theory of Root Races so much with germanic mythology that he could reduce any energy and wisdom to the arians and especially the germanic 'ancestors'. Following his doctrine, the 'Armans' (neologism out of arians and germanic people) would be a caste of priests who relayed the mystical knowledge of the germanic peoples encrypted in runes. The rune script of the Ario-Germanic people would be the original script of all peoples. Also, a transmission of "ancestor's energy" could happen at certain, mystical places of power. List pursued concrete, political goals: He wanted to create a state of arians with clearly articulated class borders in which people of 'lower race' would have a serving function as day-jobbers and slaves. He found the 'Guido-von-List-Gesellschaft' (aristocratic title bestowed by himself) in 1906 whose inner circle called themselves 'Armans'. The Order of the Armans was refounded in 1969 and has a major influence on the neo-pagan groups of the New Age. (Barth 2003: 48)
Adolf Lanz (1874-1954) alias Baron Dr. Jörg / Georg Lanz von Liebenfels founded the sect 'Orden des Neuen Tempels' in 1900 and was publisher of the ario-germanic esoteric paper 'Ostara - Bücherei des
Mannesrechtler und Blonden'. He believed in a prehistoric paradise of arians that was lost due to the fall of humanity (liberalness and greed of the woman), because the god humans copulated with ape-like creatures, out of which the human races, except for the arians, were born. This way the godly abilities like telepathy and omniscience were lost. Sterilisation of all lower races and confinement of chosen, arian women in breeding cloisters for copulation with blond, blue-eyed men was Lanz's dream of 'backbreeding' to the pure arian race.
In continuity with Ariosophy, Theodor Fritsch founded the Germanic Order in 1912 in Leipzig. Freiherr von Sebottendorf (1875-1945) founded the southern german branch in 1918, the Thule Society (symbol: swastika behind an upright blank sword). Both had been elitist, based on the leader's principle and pureness of blood and very popular. They called for the 'fight against the jewish world conspiracy'. The ideologic and personal continuities in the later NSDAP are outstanding in the Thule Society and the successively founded paramilitary 'Kampfbund Thule'. Ariosophy, together with Thule, is an important, but not only, predecessor of the NS ideology, fascism and esotericism are compatible but not connected linear causally. National-socialism tried to, at least partly, seperate from its occult roots and from 1930 pursued spiritual activities to eliminate occult competition to the formation of the NS myth.
2.6. Life Reform Movement
After WWI the hostility towards technology was fed by the hi-tec mass destruction with materialism accused of being the cause for the war. The battle between the world views grew stronger, because the victory of socialism in Russia, and hence the dissemination of the historic-dialectic materialism, beset the irrationalism. Various 'Gurus' wandered the lands in the 1920s and spread the message of salvation beyond material hardships. The Life Reform Movement tried a social reform through return to 'naturality' as lifestyle: sensualism was connected to transcendence. Vegetarianism, body and health cults spread. Nudity was propagated and lived as liberation from philistinism, prudery, mugginess and connected to race hygiene. Dancing as a natural-cosmic movement was picked up by Steiner's doctrine as 'Eurythmie'.
2.7. Esotericism in National-Socialism
Next to many personal continuities, many esoteric elements remained continually or were altered in national-socialism and was integrated into its ideology. This way the quest for the historical existence of an ario-germanic 'religion of light' and Thule (the mythical place of an early nordic original culture) reached its peak. Art mirrored a 'german depths of the soul' through heroical mythical melancholic art (Fidus, Arnold Böcklin and
Wagner). Aside from the specific repressive form of dominance, irrationalism still played a central role: enlightenment and science were considered modern evils, the world was respiritualised through natural-mystic and folkish-esoteric constructions of race. Pantheism was positioned as an antipode to the roman-catholic and jewish dualism. The mechanical world view's limited ability to explain was 'diagnosed' and supplemented by a metaphysical-idealistic way of thinking to an organicistic, 'holistic' world view.
2.7.1. Anthroposophy in National-Socialism
The Nazis forbade the 'Anthroposophische Gesellschaft' in 1935. The reason was not its anti-fascist activism but its competition for the fascist ideology and the movement's international character. After Hitler took control in 1933, Guenther Wachsmuth, board member of the 'Anthroposophische Gesellschaft', expressed his sympathy and admiration for the new political ongoings in an interview in a danish newspaper. The Nazis seldomly hassled the anthroposophs and it was not until 1941 when the last Waldorf school was shut down. The anthroposphs had found influential advocates and sympathisers in Rudolf Hess and Walther Darré (Minister of Agriculture and the Reich's Peasant's Leader) who primarily fancied the biological-dynamic cultivation as a "cultivation of life's law". Also homoeopathy was seen by Hess as an adequate means of medicine for national-socialism. Therefore the spice garden in KZ Dachau employed former students of anthroposophy, the garden's director was the former super gardener of Weleda, the anthrophosophical nature drugstore brand. The human experiments carried out by Sigmund Rascher (student of Waldorf, SS-Hauptsturmführer and surgeon major of the Wehrmacht whose father was a famous member of the 'Anthroposophische Gesellschaft') on KZ inmates were also done for testing Weleda products.
2.8. Esotericism after 1945
2.8.1. Anthroposophy after NS
Until today, the anthroposophers have barely or only grudgingly dealt with their role in NS and their ideological continuity like existing racism and anti-semitism in Steiner's works. They have grown into one of the most socially influential esoteric groups since WWII (20 000 members in Germany, 60 000 world-wide) and are established in soceity (economically: Weleda, Wala, Demeter, support of Siemens and Bertelsmann; education: 'Freie Hochschule
für Geisteswissenschaften' in Dornach and 'Hochschule
Like in other esoteric movements an anti-semitism derived from karma is spread throughout Anthroposophy which, due to the murdering of Jesus Christ, declares the jews guilty of the Shoah (Holocaust). As they had to have been the victims, so had the perpetrators been deprived of individual responsibility, because destiny had determined everything, said the anthropsophers Karl König and Ludwig Thieben. (Bierl
2001: 56 f.).
Pedagogy of Waldorf
There are around 160 nationally recognised Waldorf schools in Germany which teach more than 65 000 pupils, mostly from wealthy or better situated families. The pedagogy of Waldorf theoretically orients itself close towards Steiner's 'doctrine of development', according to which the human runs through four births (1. physical body, 2. teeth change brings birth of the ether body, 3. begin of sexuality, 4. the I or 'Ego'). Therefore, an early development of the child's cognitive-intellectual abilities is considered harmful, so that moral is mediated through fairy-tales, legends and biblical tellings especially during the first years (Barth 2003: 92). Despite the Waldorf schools' alignment towards Steiner's doctrine, curricula and educational material are usually not tainted esoterically. Most schools try to seperate pedagogy and anthroposphical ideology, even if teachers receive a list of pertinent literature for preparation (Ernst
Uehli: Atlantis and the Riddle of the Art of the Ice Age), so is race education afaik no educational unit.
A Waldorf pupil's mother initiated a public debate about the racist contents of anthroposophy in the Netherlands in 1994. The dutch section of the 'Anthroposophische Gesellschaft' decided to enact a commission to investigate the allegations in 1996. The seven anthroposophers found 16 quotes in Steiner's work they personally considered strongly insulting and seriously discriminating, further 66 were classified as slightly discriminating. They tried to justify many passages out of a 'historic-anthroposophical logic'. (Bierl
2.8.2. Esotericism after 1945
Esotericism collapsed after '45, although nazistic-religious survived in the postwar period under the umbrella of religion (e.g. Deutsche Unitarier Religionsgemeinschaft DUR, founded in Stuttgart 1946 by bigwig Nazis in the american detention centre). Spiritism becomes wide-spread again by the emerging 'hippie movement': body awareness, liberality of lifestyle, forming of communes, emotionality and naturality as fruition of being reminds of the Life Reform Movement from around 1900 which also followed the 'illusion' that things can be changed by an alternative lifestyle, although now drugs served as a means to break through capitalist order end discovery of 'deeper' or 'higher' worlds. (Barth 2003: 93 f).
Quasi-scientific papers about the 'New Age' and the New Thinking spread from 1970 which, similar to Oswald Sprengler's 'The Decline of the West' (1919), argued irrational and hostile towards science. Parts of the peace movement got into spiritual spheres in 1980 and/or became partly right-wing. Fritjof Capra's book 'The Turning Point' was published in 1982 and became the standard work of the New Age movement which tells of an ecological and social crisis threatening the survival. According to this, not the social context or the means of production are causing the misery, but 'our inner ideals'. Also Capra bestirs social darwinism in which the free individual does not count, but the collective spirit in a social and ecologic system. This system would become unstable if some 'uncontrolled' elements became 'vermin' or 'weed' and would not adapt to the naturally given system. Rudolf Bahro, precursorf of the Greens (resigned 1985) and in opposition to the GDR, denies as well as Capra a materialist analysis of society and demands a 'psychological revolution', targetting formerly social-alternatively engaged people after losing the utopia of '68. He justifies the retreat into the private because he deems an improvement of the outer world only possible via 'healing of the inner soul' and 'reconciliation with earth'. Further elements in the theories of New Age are a 'spiritual eco-feminism' which demands the uplifting of the natural, intuitive, female principle as well as an appeal to an anti-semitic theory of world conspiration related to the international financial capital. Following organicism, it argues against democracy and for a strong leader's principle and approves a positive return to the "german people's movement" under Hitler. Bert Hellinger raises the natural order within the 'clan' as a 'common destiny and soul' into the foreground. He combines folkish-german thinking and anti-semitism and race theory with a belief in destiny. Also he justifies sexual abuse as a natural phenomenon which eventually is, despite the victims' horror, 'something really big', like sexuality.
Since the break of 1990, a conservative rollback has taken place, motivated by a growing gap between poor and rich, cutback in social affairs, the failure of left projects of 68, the defeat of socialist unions and the demise of real socialism. This new disillusioning generates a further retreat into the private. Looking back it can be said that, in times of crisis, ideas of transcence, apocalyptic-mystical proclamations of a new age or 'reich' are always booming. Out of a feeling of disempowerment comes a belief in the predetermination of the individual's life. Destiny becomes a chance and pain endured now is interpreted as a karmic guilt.
3. Astrology and Esotericism after 1990 in General
Astrology is one of the cornerstones of esotericism. It was debunked as a pseudo-scientific superstition in the 18th century by the natural sciences, but was revived in the end of the 18th century through theosophism. Its influence died away after 1945 until it became a mass phenomena in the 70s.
Nowadays astrology and esotericism are more a way to find to yourself/your identity instead of a way to predict the futre ('more than 50% of all people seeking council in astrology were to be found in distress, role conflicts and weakly built social bindings, according to a study conducted in the mid 90s). Most of the time it is an acute, critical life-changing situation that makes astrology a psychological counsel. Astrology's clientele are mostly people who, in opposition to atheists or people who believe in a personal god in christian meaning, consider themselves as 'religously undecided': sometimes they believe in god, sometimes not, or thos who exclude the existence of god, although believe that there is 'a higher spiritual power'. Even the christian image of god shifts towards a pantheistic belief (god is in all things, in the humans, in nature and not only in heaven). Partly, a mixture between the practices of the parish and the esotericism takes place in everday's life. The esoteric wave does not cause the demise of religion but its privatisation. Religion is not institutionalised but instead syncretic and lives, as far as possible, without a dogmatic canon. There is a retreat into the private, 'natural', clear, primarily focussing on the 'experienceability' of religion. So esotericism is mainly formed by an individual conglomeration of personal religion which scoops out of various pre'modern' or exotic, especially far-eastern, repertoires and interprets these elements individually. Thus being accompanied by a commercialisation of belief. The level of education does not have much influence, rather the urban setting, gender and age.
The new, esoterically shaped image of god is defined by mostly completely undefined terms like 'transcendental being', 'transcendental powers', 'cosmic spirit', 'fate' or 'energies'.
Even today the belief in reincarnation, taken from buddhism, amongst others, is central, as it was with Blavatsky, although it was deemed impossible to be reborn as a plant or an animal, in contrast to hinduism and buddhism. Absorbing foreign religious practices reflects the romantic criticism of culture which puts Buddha, for example, as the positive other in opposition to the negatively percepted own culture. The belief in fateful-karmic predetermination of events (cf. karma in buddhism) spreads further and furhter, proclaiming all events on earth as eligible. Everything would have got two sides, all would depend on looking on the bright side, think 'positive' and reality would adjust 'itself' accordingly. This way the retreat of mainly young people out of social-political responsibility can be reasoned and legitimised esoterically. New Age is a matching ideology against the angst of the masses which makes the precepted powerlessness bearable and even perpetuates it.
Esotericism has been linked to environmentalism for a long time. Through the circulation of horror scenarios, it has become a vital question in the 80s which is decisive for the survival of all humanity and why certain particular and group interests have to stand back.
Irrationalism explains in several ways how scientific thinking is incapable of recognising certain relations and legalities. Thus science can be replaced through functions of recognition like intuition, experience or show of being ('wesensschau'). Science has lost credibility because it is incapable to explain everything in context and to be positioned against the logic of inherent necessity. Positivism has penetrated science which reduces the source of cognition to the given and hence makes society describable but not explainable in all its contradictions. (In contrast to critical theory and dialectic philosophy)
Thus characteristic for all esoteric movements is: degradation of intellect and reason, mindless glorification of the instituion as an organ of recognition (in contrast to discursive, abstract, dialectic thinking), aristocratic theory of cognition (only a selected few will get access to the knowledge), creation of myths (final, non-reasonable statements are postulated which reduce existence and the world's and humanity's history to an act of god-like beings)
Reality's contradictions are not explained by dialectic, critical thinking, but by the principle of 'unity of antagonisms' (Yin and Yang) which negates the struggle as motivation for development (marxism, materialism).
Amongst other, New Age is a reaction towards positivism, but must be seen in continuity with esotericism since the end of the 19th century: relating to far-easern 'saints' like Rabindranath Tagore (e.g. 'Wandervögel') or Dalai Lama, idealised superelevation of matriarchal cultures (Bachofen) and mystification of the female, recourse to race hygenic, biologistic concepts of the 1920s by the revival of sociobiology in the year 2000: 'the decline of the west' in a 'culture clash' today. Additionally, there is a specific german peculiarity of irrationlism/esotericism which combines these continuities with a legacy of anti-semitism, regressive criticism of capitlism and a folkish nationalism, even with an expectation of a reich of a nordic-arian race.