The life and works of the founder of Anthroposophy

Italian version

Childhood and early youth

Rudolf Steiner was born on 27 February 1861 in Donji Kralievich, which was then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now located in northern Croatia. His father, Johann Steiner, worked as a game warden and later became a telegraphist for the Austrian railways before becoming a station master. His mother, Franziska Blie, worked as a maid in the service of a count.

At the tender age of nine, Steiner experienced a significant spiritual moment when he had a vision of his deceased aunt’s spirit, who had passed away without the family’s knowledge. In his later writings, he revealed that he believed he had already developed the necessary conditions for spiritual clairvoyance by the age of 15.

Upon completing high school in 1879, he was awarded a scholarship that enabled him to attend the Technische Hochschule (Polytechnic) in Vienna. There, he pursued a broad range of subjects, including mathematics, physics, chemistry, botany, biology, literature, and philosophy, ultimately earning his degree in 1883. Throughout his academic journey, he developed a keen fascination for the works and philosophy of Goethe.

Early career

Steiner’s appointment as the chief scientific editor for the new edition of Goethe’s works by Deutsche National Literatur came in 1882 while he was still a student, despite not having an academic degree at the time. His noteworthy contribution to the field came in 1886 with the publication of Grundlinien einer Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung (The Theory of Knowledge in Goethe’s Worldview).

Steiner relocated to Weimar in the Thuringia region in 1890 and began working at the archives of the Schiller-Goethe Foundation. He received his doctorate from the University of Rostock in 1891, and his later published thesis was titled Wahrheit und Wissenschaft (Truth and Science).

In 1894, his first philosophical dissertation titled Die Philosophie der Freiheit (The Philosophy of Freedom) was published. It delved into the question of whether a man is truly capable of experiencing freedom or if it’s merely an illusion caused by ignorance of their actual condition.

He relocated to Berlin in 1897 and earned a living as an editor for a magazine. He became the co-owner and editor-in-chief of Magazin für Literatur, a literary magazine, but unfortunately failed to find an audience for his philosophical articles. Steiner left the magazine and pursued teaching. He started teaching at the Arbeiterbildungsschule (Workers’ Education School), introducing progressive ideas like universal education from the working class’s viewpoint. He also attended Theosophical Society meetings, where he quickly gained recognition.

Steiner tied the knot with Anna Eunicke in 1899. She was a widow and a landlady who had rented out a room to him. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last long, and they separated after a few years. Anna passed away in 1911.

The Theosophical period

In 1902, Steiner took on the role of General Secretary for the German branch of the Theosophical Society, which at that time only had one lodge. Through his consistent efforts as a lecturer, the number of lodges grew to 65 within a decade. While adhering to the general principles of spirituality outlined by the Theosophical Society, Steiner’s vision differed from the methods of Blavatsky by introducing a unique esoteric system rooted in Western traditions. This approach replaced the Eastern influences and terminology previously dominant within the Society.

In 1909, Charles Webster Leadbeater [1] and Annie Besant [2], both notable members of the Theosophical Society, discovered a young man named Jiddu Krishnamurti in India. They believed him to be the reincarnation of Christ, leading them to establish the Order of the Eastern Star with Krishnamurti as its leader. This decision caused disagreement within the society, resulting in Steiner’s departure, followed by many German members.

Foundation and development of the Anthroposophical Society

Founded in 1912, the Anthroposophical Society was established by Steiner with the intention of pursuing spirituality in accordance with Western traditions. During his tenure, the organisation experienced significant growth.

In 1913, plans were set in motion to construct the Goethanum, intended to serve as a world centre for the Anthroposophical Society. The structure, made from wood and concrete, was completed in 1919 and was located in the town of Dornach, near Basel in Switzerland.

In 1914, he wedded Marie von Sievers, an actress born in the Baltic and a dedicated anthroposophist who influenced Steiner in developing Waldorf pedagogy and eurythmy schools [3].

In 1919, Steiner started teaching actively following the conclusion of World War I. The same year, he established the original Waldorf Schools in Stuttgart, Germany, which eventually spread globally, operating independently. These schools continue to employ a comprehensive approach to education, focusing on fostering children’s practical, artistic, and intellectual skills, with a unique emphasis on nurturing imagination and creativity. Besides his work in education, Steiner also devoted himself to caring for individuals with disabilities and conducting research on biodynamic farming as well as complementary medical treatments, including homoeopathy.   

In 1921, with the advent of Adolf Hitler as head of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, the German Workers’ Party, Steiner began to confront hostile situations and characters, with Hitler judging him to be a puppet in the hands of the Jews. He was forced to interrupt his meetings and had to leave Berlin a year later.

On New Year’s Eve in 1922, the Goethanum was engulfed in flames. Although the cause of the fire was never determined, the Nazis were held responsible. Despite this setback, Steiner remained undeterred and proceeded to plan a new structure made of concrete. To counter the criticisms, he tirelessly delivered lectures several times a day.

In September of 1924, Steiner gave his final lecture before halting his teaching activities due to an unidentifiable digestive disease. He then focused on writing his autobiography until his passing on 30 March 1925 in Dornach, Switzerland. Despite rumours of poisoning, Rudolf Steiner never encouraged this theory.

After his passing, his fame soared so much that in 1930 the German government banned his literature and ordered the closure of the Anthroposophical Society and, later, of the Waldorf schools in 1941. Despite these actions, the Society has expanded globally, attracting over 50,000 followers from nearly 100 nations over time.


Steiner’s Collected Works is an extensive collection comprising around 422 volumes, including 44 volumes of his various writings, such as books, essays, plays, and correspondence. It also features over 6000 lectures and nearly 80 volumes (some yet to be published) that document his artistic endeavours, which include architecture, drawings, paintings, graphics, furniture design, and choreography, among others.

  • Goethean Science
  • A Theory of Knowledge
  • Philosophy of Freedom
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom
  • Goethe’s Conception of the World
  • Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age
  • Christianity as a Mystical Fact
  • Theosophy
  • How to Know Higher Worlds
  • Cosmic Memory
  • The Stages of Higher Knowledge
  • Occult Science
  • Four Mystery Dramas
  • The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind
  • A Road to Self-Knowledge
  • The Threshold of the Spiritual World
  • The Riddles of Philosophy
  • The Riddle of Man
  • The Case For Anthroposophy
  • Goethe’s Spiritual Nature
  • The Threefold Social Order
  • The Renewal of the Social Organism
  • Cosmology, Religion and Philosophy
  • Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts
  • Fundamentals of Therapy
  • My Autobiography

[1] Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854-1934) was an English member of the Theosophical Society, a Freemason, and a writer of books on occultism. He also co-founded the LCC (Liberal Catholic Church), a cluster of Catholic entities not affiliated with the Church of Rome open to theosophical and masonic beliefs. He was previously an Anglican priest but later became a prominent member of the Theosophical Society, which he remained a part of until his passing.

[2] Annie Besant was an influential English activist who championed women’s rights and the self-determination of the Irish and Indian people. She crossed paths with Helena Blavatsky in 1890 and quickly rose to prominence in the Theosophical Society, ultimately becoming its president. Besant travelled to India, where she actively participated in the nation’s political scene and joined the Indian National Congress. Notably, in 1902, she established the first international lodge of the International Order of Co-Masonry, which welcomed individuals of all nationalities and faiths. Besant authored over 300 books and pamphlets and remained active until her death at 85 from a long illness in India, where she was cremated.

[3] Steiner describes Eurythmy as an art form that uses movement to express the connection between humans and the spiritual world.