What is Social Threefolding?

©Terry Boardman

A lecture given at a conference of  the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain
in Stourbridge, England 8.11.1997

The aim of this lecture is to throw some light on why the threefold archetype is so important in our time, both for society in general and for the Anthroposophical Society, and thereby to stimulate some enthusiasm for working with it and for it, including the threefolding of the Anthroposophical Society. In Anthroposophy we seek to work out of creative spiritual archetypes; we must therefore be clear about what archetypes we are working out of and why. For example, why a threefold social order and not a fourfold, fivefold or sevenfold one?

Rudolf Steiner’s Threefold Lifepath
Rudolf Steiner’s lifepath provides a first approach to this question. Even in his first, Theosophical, period (1902-1909), he emphasised that spiritual science must work down from the plane of ideas and personal meditation and transform the individual and society. In his second, “artistic” period (1909-1916), he sought to reveal the spiritual truths of Anthroposophy to the outside world externally in the forms of the Mystery Dramas, of Eurythmy, of the Goetheanum and of the Group sculpture. His impulse of social threefolding came in the 3rd period of his activity (1917-1924) -and from the beginning he conceived of it on a macrosocial, even global scale.

The Threefold Social Idea and the Great War
The Great War of 1914-18 can be said to have defined the destiny of the 20th century. The bipolar world of the Cold War was rooted in the events of 1917. Fascism also emerged from the wild and destructive hate-filled chaos of the war. The idea of the threefold human being  and the threefold social order based on it Steiner saw as Europe’s answer to the harmful impulses threatening Europe from the East (Russian Bolshevik collectivism) and the West (President Woodrow Wilson’s atomising 14 Points). He issued his awakening call to Europe in 1917, the year in which America and Russian communism loomed over the scene of the European civil war then raging. Imperial Russia’s collapse and America’s entry into the war (March-April 1917) was a turning point in the war. At the end of this third period, Steiner saw the Christmas Conference as a veritable turning point of time.

Laying the Foundation Stone Meditation into the hearts of the members on 25.12.1923 he spoke the first 3 verses only, adding the 4th after it had been laid. (see “The Christmas Conference for the foundation of the Anthroposophical Society 1923/24″ Anthroposophic Press 1990 p.73) His very first words before speaking the Foundation Stone were: “Let the first words to resound through this room today be those which sum up the essence of what may stand before your souls as the most recent findings of recent years” (p.68). Again later, after first speaking the three verses, he refers to the war years: “For decades it has been possible to perceive this threefoldness. But only in the last decade have I myself been able to bring it to full maturity while the storms of war were raging.” (p.70) This implies that the war years – the absolute crisis of European culture – were of special significance in the destiny of Rudolf Steiner. Also, in his introduction, he issued the call to modern Man to “Know Thyself” Today, he said, this ancient Greek saying must be expanded: “Know thou thyself in the weaving existence of spirit, soul, and body” (p.71)i.e. as threefold Man.

The Christmas Conference of 1923 as a Turning Point of Time
In what sense was the Christmas Conference a turning point? What was Rudolf Steiner doing there from a world-historical viewpoint?

Today, we stand at the threshold of 1998 – the threefold repetition of 666, the number of the two-horned beast. Steiner described how the Sorathic antichrist impulse of 666 led directly to that of the 8th Ecumenical Church Council in Constantinople in 869 at which the Roman Catholic church forced through the reduction of the Human Trichotomy to a Dichotomy (the so-called ‘abolition of the spirit’) (see S.O.Prokofieff “The Spiritual Origins of Eastern Europe and the Future Mysteries of the Holy Grail” (Temple Lodge 1993, p.239). This new dogma of a twofold Man was promulgated in the Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Spirit! The outcome of this was the Great Schism of 1054, also in Hagia Sophia, the first great split in European Christendom, East vs West. The consequence of this in the West was that the East was rejected by from west; religion became increasingly divorced from earthly life. This led in turn both to earthly freedom AND to a slavish attachment to western scientific materialism and all its ‘ism’ siblings (nationalism, chauvinism, racism etc) the ultimate consequence of which was the horrors and follies of the Great War (1914-18) at the very peak of European power in the external sense. And yet, this materially great Europe was powerless to prevent the USA and USSR from taking over through the power of their ideas (Bolshevism and Wilsonism), which were actually derived from European spiritual and intellectual errors.

The momentous years 869, 1054, 1923 are even numerically linked: 1923 minus 1054 = 869; 869 minus 666 = 203. (Incidentally, 8 + 6 + 9 = 23, and 2 * 3 = 0.666666rec.). When we consider the nature of the 869 event, it arose as the result of a dispute about the nature of the soul – did Man have one soul or two? – and ended up in effect abolishing the spirit, which the Orthodox believed was the ‘second’ soul. The event of 1054 was a dispute about the origin of the Holy Spirit (the filioque problem: did the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father only or from the Father and the Son?) but it ended up with an estrangement of the feelings of the western and eastern church communities towards one another, as they anathematised and hereticised each other. The event of 1923 was a spiritual deed of pure will rooted in love and compassion. Thus Rudolf Steiner in 1917-23 sought to heal the world-historical split of 869-1054. It was a truly mighty deed, a veritable turning point of time.

What did RS mean by the threefolding (Dreigliederung) of society?
Anthroposophy means ‘wisdom of Man’ or ‘the wisdom that IS Man’:Man as microcosm. As Anthroposophists we therefore first need to understand threefolding in man, as it relates to the hierarchies of the spiritual world, then see how this works out in society.

Spiritual-cultural realm: individual liberty, our individual thoughts. These are the elaboration of our pre-birth experience together with the individual guardian angelic Beings of the third hierarchy mediated through the thinking of our head/nervous system.

Political realm: equality as human beings and members of groups/communities; mutual agreement on safeguarding basic needs,including labour. This is elaborated in earthly life through our relationship with the community-guiding Archangels via the feelings (sympathies/antipathies) of our rhythmic system.

Economic realm: world-spanning fraternity & cooperation in transforming products of natural environment for others’ benefit, service to fellows, respect for environment. These are elaborated after death in our spiritual existence as the metamorphosis of the will of our metabolic-limb system in co-working with the Beings of the world-spanning Archai.

We must understand that the three realms exist both independently and interdependently

The Present and Future Need for Threefolding
Steiner affirmed that a threefolding of society is no utopia, no professor’s brainwave, but has been working in the unconscious will of humanity. A symbol of this was the motto Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – enthusiastically proclaimed at the time of the French Revolution but imperfectly understood and unrealised in social order since then. In the Christian era, there has been a progressive emancipation, first of politics from religion and then of economics from politics. There has been endless confusion in modern life because of the mix-up of the three areas. Politics controls the others under Communism; economics controls everything in the West: e.g. we now have  a business-needs-driven national curriculum in the UK and a recently combined Department of Education and Employment. Life in academia and the arts is driven by economics. Western economics itself is driven by a misplaced spiritual impulse of liberty: the egoism of the ‘free market’ – seeking to gratify the egoism of shareholders, managers feel ‘free’ to exploit the labour of their workers, to misuse the natural environment, and trivialise cultural life through advertising.

Rudolf Steiner asserted that the threefolding of society is essential for humanity’s future: “Humanity will have no say in matters if it cannot arrange its social organism in a threefold way. This is what will have to be regarded as the only healing, the true salvation of humanity.” (9.8.1919 GA 296) It is vital for the Anthroposophical movement to bring this knowledge to humanity. We cannot do this in good faith if our own Society has yet to realise Rudolf Steiner’s intentions for its threefolding; the wider society would simply point – and justfiably – to the discrepancy between our words and our deeds. Above all perhaps, it is surely fitting for threefolding to be at the centre of the Society’s concerns in 1998 – the third repetition of 666. If Anthroposophists worldwide could threefold their own Society and raise their consciousness of threefolding in doing so as well as their feeling of solidarity, this would give Ahriman and Sorath more cause for concern than if we simply continued as we are, for if we carry on as we are now, threefolding will certainly not permeate the consciousness of the world at large. Such a raising of consciousness and solidarity, of light and warmth amongst the members of the Anthroposophical Society, would contribute far more to the spiritual bulwark against the Adversaries (Lucifer, Ahriman, Sorath) than would the redecoration of three Goetheanums*.


[*] In the late 1990s there was some controversy in the Anthroposophical Society over the decision by the Council of the worldwide Society in Dornach, Switzerland to redecorate the great hall of the Goetheanum building, a very expensive endeavour.

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