Musical Healing (Heilung) for European Culture?

This article was first published in the monthly magazine The Present Age Vol. 4 No. 6 Sept 2018

The events in the eastern German city of Chemnitz (Karl-Marx-Stadt during the Communist era) in late August this year, the brutal murder and assaults, the angry reaction of the citizens, the paranoid, exaggerated response of the mainstream media and the cynical attempts of political parties and factions of the Far Right and Far Left to exploit the situation to their own advantage were a symptom of the social sickness that prevails in Europe today: the arrogant efforts of those in the political Establishment in hock once again with the forces of global capitalism, and supported by deluded Far Left activists on the streets, to force a re-engineering of European societies by means of the European Union and mass migration, and the fearful, angry, resentful reactions by the populist Right to these efforts have created a steadily worsening storm of astral passions that is badly polarising western societies and undermining social solidarity. The anthroposophical movement is no exception, as we have seen this year with the pompous attack mounted by the self-appointed representatives of an “Open Anthroposophy” on others within the movement whom ‘the Open ones’ accuse of being dangerous “conspiracy theorists” who are “poisoning the social climate”.1 There are those on both the Left and Right who fear the dissolution of what they see and like to call the “liberal rulesbased international order” built up in the West under American leadership since 1945. The transatlantic relationship between the USA and the EEC/EC/EU , they argue, has provided peace, prosperity, and the improvement of human rights. They point the finger at US President Trump and at Brexit and a resurgent ‘fascism’ across the West. This view is itself a conspiracy theory – a single man, the omnipotent, omniscient evil genius named ‘Putin’ is often claimed by the mainstream media to be behind Trump, Brexit and the resurgence of the Far Right across Europe. In fact, of course, the situation is far more complex. This article will point to a phenomenon that has been building and bubbling beneath the surface for some decades and which is now surfacing in various phenomena, one of them being the music scene. At issue is the question of what could be a real social ‘healing’ (Heilung in German) for Europe and the West.

Two musical developments in Europe after 1914-1919

After the 1914-1919 war, when Middle Europe failed to take up and apply Rudolf Steiner’s ideas of social threefolding, he pointed out that despite the trauma of the war, ingrained habits of thought were still too strong to allow people to change their thinking and align it to the needs of the new Age of Light that had begun, he said, in 1899/1900 with mankind’s crossing of the threshold of the spiritual world.2 The doors of perception that were necessarily closed c. 3000 BC to enable mankind to fully incarnate into physical earth reality were now reopening. Music again was a pointer here. Classical harmony had broken down at the end of the 19th century, and in 1908/09 Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) composed the song cycle The Book ofthe Hanging Gardens Op. 15, the first fully atonal work. The final breakdown of classical harmony, already prefigured in Wagner’s work (e.g. Tristan and Isolde), was a powerful symbol of the fact that man’s incarnation process of descent into the physical and mineral element of the earth culminating in the consolidation of the personal ego through the major-minor structure of harmony,based on chords built on the intervals of the prime, third and fifth, was over. The threshold to the spiritual world had been crossed – albeit unconsciously by most of humanity; a long excarnation process would now begin with the movement from the experience of the physical world to that of the etheric world of life forces. As physics had dominated the sciences since the 16th century, now biology, which was ‘supposed to be’ the science of the living, was coming into its own, and this dissolution of the solid into something more suggestive and implicit was mirrored in western arts first in the paintings of the Impressionists and then in the evanescent music of Satie and Debussy.

But no sooner had this occurred than two opposite tendencies made themselves manifest – in Schoenberg’s atonality (1908) and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (1913). These two cardinal works can be said to have signalled the beginning of the falling apart of western culture into the nerve pole and the will pole respectively, a process which accelerated throughout the 20th century. Composers like Josef Hauer (1883-1959) and Arnold Schoenberg were searching for a new music; they sensed the coming of the new era and sought a new spiritual music that would correspond to it (a “purely spiritual, supersensual music composed according to impersonal rules” – Hauer3) but they and their successors ended up creating an extremely conceptual, abstract, mathematical music that was more redolent of the silent geometry of the fixed stars than of the movements of the heavenly spheres. It failed, and still fails, to touch the hearts of most contemporaries. At the same time, before the war, composers such as Debussy, Satie and Ravel were already experimenting  with influences from black American ragtime music.

During the war, jazz made its impact in Europe, notably after the arrival of large numbers of black American soldiers in 1917-1919. This was music of will and rhythm, certainly a kind of life, as distinct from the contemplative abstraction of the music of the Second Viennese School, but the music of both these opposite poles grew rapidly in the 1920s after the war and because of the shock effect of the experience of the war on European culture, which had removed many people’s reservations in the area of tradition, culture, and sexuality. In the 1920s many European  intellectuals and educated people now fell in love with jazz and the dances that went with it. We see this kind of infatuation well portrayed in the famous dance by the false Maria in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927)(below left) and in the ecstatic reception given to the wild dances of the black American Josephine Baker (below right) in European clubs of the period. By the 1930s what had remained only ideal conceptions of Dionysian art in the head of Friedrich Nietzsche had become willed actions on stages across the West, while in their spectacular political mass rallies and other events, the Nazis, borrowing from the Soviets, combined the Apollonian and Dionysian elements in a new, sinister political form of social ‘art’ that cut out the mind and reached directly into the feelings and will. All these ‘cultural’ developments reflected the failure of Europeans to evolve their own culture in a healthy direction in the new Age of Light; they had been knocked sideways by the catastrophe of 1914-1919.

From the 1920s onwards, as American culture, through its jazz, its dances, its crooners and, above all, its Hollywood movies, gradually took over in Europe, and western culture in general became more sexualised, black popular music increasingly pushed out traditional white European popular songs to the point where today Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Nikki Minaj and their white counterparts (Madonna, Lady Gaga, Jessie J) and imitators can be heard in most public spaces. Black American music has had an overwhelming influence on pop and rock, rap has removed much of melody in the pop world, while hip-hop and drum ’n’ bass have killed out a great deal of harmony. The focus has been on “getting down”, as the grandfather of American funk, James Brown, would say, getting down to the root chakra, the sexual centre which has traditionally driven biological human life but which is in our time increasingly seen simply as a source of ecstatic pleasure separated from conception, pregnancy and birth, as intellectual science has steadily divorced sex from birth. The tendency to sexualise music has been overwhelmingly pushed in the direction of the European masses by commerce and the mass media, which find it useful to control people through their subconscious drives.

But what about the opposite pole, the one which proceeded from Schoenberg’s Book of the Hanging Gardens? It continues within the western modern classical tradition, though not so often played live, but where do we see this pole, the nerve pole, the thinking pole, in popular music today? Paradoxically, one place we see it, albeit in a bizarre form, is in the metal rock scene, because much metal music does not speak to the human heart but rather to ideas, conceptions, imaginings of the past and present or of a dystopian future. The music itself is often ferociously fast, far too fast for the root chakra to engage with. Faster even than punk rock, it speaks more to the nerve pole. It has something in common with the will of the would-be sorcerer or ‘medicine man’ who would cast a spell over his listeners through a common imagination he shares with them, a kind of ritual, but one that is based on twisted thoughts about life and death, heaven and hell, spirit and matter, and the listeners often respond by raising their hands in the ritual gesture of the sign of the horns (the index and little finger are raised while the other two fingers are lowered to the palm and the thumb holds them down). It is ironic that a variant of this very gesture is often seen in Buddhist iconography (apana or karana mudra) where it is known as one that wards off demons, dispels negativity, and detoxifies the body. In metal music rather, it seems to be an affirmation of dark forces and an identification with the demonic performance conjured up on stage. That other Indian Buddhist symbol, the swastika, has notoriously undergone a similar inversion and perversion in the West.

Collective consciousness

Tribal life all over the world was based on collective consciousness and sometimes involved group courtship or sexual rituals for the sake of the continuance of the tribe. This collective consciousness continued until the coming of Gautama Buddha and Christ Jesus, after which human evolution moved towards the individualist phase; collective consciousness was now destined gradually to fade away as each of us, over lifetimes, seeks to emerge from collective consciousness and realise his or her own spiritual nature and take individual responsibility for our actions. At first, this process necessarily tends to involve egotism and antipathy, and the emergence of early capitalism was a reflection of that. It was the ‘Viking spirit’ in the modern age, in the Protestant English context: “I go where I want and I take what I want”. To balance this necessary emergent antipathy and egocentrism, a new form of social sympathy then emerged. This became socialism, but the tragedy has been that, because people have not understood the process of the evolution of human consciousness, many have tended, both on the political Left and on the Right, to confuse socialism, which should be a modern phenomenon, with collectivism, which is an ancient phenomenon. Socialism ought to be an attempt to realise a new social organism based both on individual conscience and on sympathy for others; it should not be a modern form of collectivism and groupthink that subjects itself to hysteria and following leaders. But such collectivism is what we see both in rallies of fanatical Leftists and feminists in the USA and in the gatherings of the Far Right in various European countries – a desire for tribal collectivism.

This modern collectivism of the mass was especially catalysed in the 1960s by the rock music events of that time with their deafening volume, their light shows, the sexual nature of the music, the call-and-response relations between the band (usually the singer) and the audience, and of course, the drugs commonly available at such events. And what is possible today in this direction is far greater than in the 1960s, due to our more advanced technology and the heightened intensity of the drugs. Moreover, today such events can immediately be beamed to every smartphone and technically equipped household all over the world. Also, in the 1960s, the individual conscience of many  white westerners had developed to the point where they sought, now in far greater numbers than 100 years ago, to reject their own modern culture and identify instead, either with their own culture of the distant past (as they perceived it), the culture of their biological ethnic ‘ancestors’: this tended to appeal more to conservative or right-wing-oriented young people – or else with foreign cultures that were perceived to be ‘victims’ of modern white western culture: this tended to appeal more to those on the Left. Those on the Right developed sympathy for their culture’s own ethnic past, as they perceived it, and antipathy towards what they regarded as the miserable present, as well as antipathy, perhaps, towards certain other ethnic groups in the present, while those on the Left developed antipathy both towards the past and the present of their own culture, and sympathy for other ethnic cultures that they perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be victims of white western civilisation.

Many individuals in both groups of young people, in their passionate affirmation of their individual choices, their sympathies and antipathies, often tend to fall back into collectivism of one kind or the other. Neither group sees a way in which modern western culture can evolve in a positive and healthy way from the present into the future. Those on the Right look to their own ethnic past for inspiration; they look ‘inside’, as it were, but to a tribal inside not an individual inside. Some of those on the Left – except for radical Marxists – have more numerous sources of inspiration available to them (N. American Indians, Africans, Tibetans, etc. or futurist technology); they may look outside their ethnic group for inspiration but not necessarily inside themselves nor do they see any possibility of their own culture evolving. Indeed they tend to disdain their own culture.


Maria Franz is a young Norwegian singer who is a good example of one of those young people who looks to the past for inspiration and a kind of ‘healing’ – in her case to the past of her own ethnic group: the Nordic culture of Scandinavia and northern Europe. Like many young girls approaching puberty, she thought she was “the ugliest girl on the planet”, and “that destroyed me for a long time. I didn’t feel like I could connect to people around me.” But everything changed at age 11 when she found a Viking period re-enactment group in her hometown. “I figured out I could play a drum, I could shoot a bow and arrow, I could make clothes. I felt empowered by that. You make friends and sit around the bonfire with people 10 years older than you, exchanging life stories. That’s a beautiful place to grow up, and that saved me. Even today, I’ve had three wise old ladies look at my hand and say, ‘Oh, I can see something happened when you were 11.’”4 In other words, she found a context, a community of sorts, something that provided social meaning in a way that her education and upbringing had obviously not provided. She became a singer and from 2009 to 2012 was in a band called Euzen (see below) which in the 1970s would have been called a ‘progressive rock’ band. Its arrangements were more complex than those of most rock bands and its lyrics were about contemporary issues of personal identity, the search for meaning, relationships – things that could be called Consciousness Soul epoch issues.

However, in 2017 she and her partner Christopher Juul, also of Euzen, joined forces with a German singer Kai Uwe Faust to perform a live version of a studio album they had first recorded in 2015; it was a project called Heilung (healing) at the Dutch folk rock festival ‘Castlefest’ and it caused a sensation across the folk rock and metal music scene; within a year one of their ‘songs’ performed at Castlefest had seven million views on Youtube. The comments from listeners on Youtube are almost entirely positive and many in awe of what they have seen and heard. What the members of Heilung and their four accompanying musicians do is seek to recreate what they imagine is something like the ritual music of Northern Europe of at least 2000 years ago, and while no-one actually knows what that would really have sounded like, and the band have incorporated some subtle modern elements, it is certainly the case that what Heilung conjure up has a uniquely authentic ‘ancient’ feel, both in how they look and how they sound, and this is recognised by most of the listeners on Youtube and those who have seen the band perform. Above all, it is Maria Franz’s shaman-like singing that has ‘struck a chord’ with the young people impressed by the band. They speak of her as ‘shaman’, ‘goddess’, ‘queen’, ‘priestess’. Heilung makes the modern sound of Euzen feel very ordinary. Certainly, whereas Maria Franz in Euzen seems like a competent but by no means extraordinary singer fronting a rock band, in Heilung she has become something completely other; she seems to be more in her ‘right place’, as it were, dressed from top to toe in animal skin garments, her eyes invisible behind the fringe of her deer antler headdress, her cheeks streaked with four vertical black lines, her lipstick also black, her stance and movement restrained by an impressive stillness, her melodies laconic yet serene and starlike, forming a powerfully evocative complement to the guttural Mongolian-style throat singing of the two men, Faust and Juul. It might seem to some anthroposophers as though Maria Franz has ‘regressed’ from producing music of the Consciousness Soul epoch to that of the tribal consciousness of the Sentient Soul epoch (2907-747 BC), but it is clear from reading the varied comments on Youtube from people from all over the northern hemisphere, including native north American Indians, that many feel that this performance has evoked something ‘profound’ in their subconscious feelings. And Maria Franz is at the centre of it. But what is this?

It clearly does not seem to be concerned with modernity except perhaps in the sense that it may be a reaction to the difficulties of trying to become a responsible individual in this complex and morally challenging modern world; it would appear to be a yearning for a collective tribal consciousness. From an anthroposophical perspective, one can at least keep in mind the possibility that many of those so powerfully affected by the Heilung performance may actually have had their incarnation previous to this one in a tribal culture, and that this is why they find the music of Heilung so mysteriously moving, although obviously, one would need to know the individual well to be able even to come close to any insight with regard to that possibility. Steiner pointed out that “in the case of the majority, chiefly of the present western, but also of the middle, European peoples, and even part of the Russian population, spiritual scientific research leads us back to those times at which the conquistadors subdued the aborigines of America. ….. if we, egotistically boasting of our “higher culture,” regard all this as mere barbarism… if we do not regard them as having special qualities of their own…These early inhabitants of America, the American Indians had, for instance, remarkable pantheistic feelings. They worshipped the “Great Spirit” who pervaded all being. Their souls were permeated by the belief in this all-pervading “Great Spirit”.5… no matter how paradoxical it may sound, it is simply a fact — that the majority of the western, the middle, and even a part of the eastern Europeans (not all, but a great part of them) have souls that once dwelt in the bodies of the old American Indians, although they certainly descend from physical forbears in the European Middle Ages as far as their blood is concerned.”

The members of Heilung begin their performances with a ritual in which, while recorded birdsong is played, incense is burned by one of the members and the smoke fanned over the stage and over the performers while they stand in a circle and speak in English (the currently prevalent international language) the following words: “Remember that we all are brothers/All people, beasts, trees and stone and wind/ We all descend from the one great being/That was always there before people lived and named it/ Before the first seed sprouted.” An animal horn is then blown, a call is shouted, and the drumming begins, accompanied by the throat singing. This later metamorphoses into a kind of speech-singing chorus, and so the performance continues.6

That may all seem very ‘social’ and ‘ecological’ but is it a real force for healing (Heilung) in today’s world? In a later ‘song’ called Krigsgaldr7 the vocals relate to a conflict between these tribal people and a civilisation which is oppressing them, and on the studio album Ofnir (2015), of which the 2017 Castlefest performance was the live show, the context is clearly the defeat of three Roman legions by Germanic tribes led by Hermann of the Cherusci at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, and the words are spoken in modern German.8 Scandinavia, and the Baltic region which was Christianised only comparatively late, in recent years has certainly become the centre of a revival of neo-pagan and “Viking” artistic and musical culture. The mainstream culture has paid relatively little attention to this, except perhaps for the very successful “Vikings” TV series, written by the English screenwriter and producer Michael Hirst for the History in  Canada. First aired in Canada in 2013, it has gone on to become a global hit, not least because of its original and ‘authentic-sounding’ soundtrack created by Norwegian musician Einar Selvik, himself an advocate of the neo-pagan lifestyle and culture9.

Healing for Europe?

When one puts these various developments – the rise of Nordic and Germanic neo-pagan art and culture among young people into the context of today’s socio-political situation in Europe – the EU, the migration issue, the rise of right-wing nationalism – there are obvious grounds for concern. Even though the members of Heilung and some other neo-pagan bands insist that their music is non-political and relates to a time before politics, some of their fans evidently see this music and culture, and rootedness in traditional Nordic culture as a whole, as a significant affirmation of racial or national pride – solidarity with ‘the ancestors’ – in opposition to what they regard as the Christian and Jewish globalist and capitalist threat to European peoples and cultures. Many reject Christianity as alien and non-European, something that sought to destroy the ancient European roots just as the Europeans, they claim, sought to destroy those of the native peoples of North and South America.

There is also a danger here that these developments will further tend to divide Europeans north versus south because the ‘winter peoples’ of northern Europe long tended to affirm the particularity of tribes, clans, sects and individuals while the ‘summer peoples’ of southern Europe, with their heritage of the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church, tended more to political and religious uniformity and larger communal forms. Rudolf Steiner related these ancient differences to differing spiritual traditions from pre-Christian times: the North, he said, was influenced by what he called the Mysteries of the Earth, “a specific form of wisdom that was totally and utterly physical”, while the South’s culture reflected the influence of the Mysteries of Space, which had to do with the structure of social space and passed from ancient Egypt through Rome, the Catholic Church, the Holy Roman Empire (and, one can add, the EU today).10 These two Mystery streams he related to the emergence of economic life and political life (the State) respectively. It was of course the Vikings who played a key role in the developments of European economic life from c.800 AD onwards through their trading activities, their exploratory voyages to East (Russia) and West (America) and in the developments of fortified towns that were established to resist Viking attacks. The third stream Steiner designated the Mysteries of Light, the Mysteries of the spirit; these came originally from Asia and were filtered into Europe through ancient Greece. To some degree they merged with the Egyptian/ Roman Mysteries of Space.

The Anglo-American globalist capitalism that dominates today’s world is to a large extent a consequence of the Nordic Mystery focus on the physical earth, but anthroposophers will at least have to agree with Nordic neo-pagans that the iniquities of this form of rapacious economic life have arisen not least because of the ‘failure of Christianity’- the failure of ‘Christians’ to be Christian, the non-development of really Christian societies or nation states. Ironically, our Christian western culture over the past 1500 years and especially since the century of Bacon, Newton and Locke, has arguably been ‘too Nordic’ i.e. too particularist and individualist. There has been too much of the Viking spirit of “I go where I want and I take what I want”. This point is unlikely to be accepted by today’s neo-pagans, but in the view of this writer, it remains so nonetheless.

It was Rudolf Steiner’s great deed to plant the seeds of real cultural healing (Heilung in German) in today’s world: the renewal of the life of individual thought in his book The Philosophy of Freedom, the renewal of the arts through his Mystery Dramas – which ultimately have to do with the social healing of karma – and the arts of speech and eurythmy associated with them, and the renewal of socio-economic life in general in his impulse for the threefold social organism. It is up to anthroposophers to help young people like Maria Franz, Kai Uwe Faust and Christopher Juul to understand where real Heilung for Europe and the world is to be found and that it is not to be sought in a return to an imagined ancient tribal consciousness, however appealing that may seem to some. But first, anthroposophers must surely try to understand such young people and how they have come to where they are now and not just to reject them as right-wing fascists or unthinking dreamers.

Terry Boardman


1. See TPA Vol 4, No.5 August 2018: Arnold Sandhaus, ‘The Glorious Eight of ‘Open Anthroposophy’, p. 25, and editorial p. 2.

2. See lecture of 25.11910, GA 118.

3. Rudolf Steiner discusses Joseph Hauer in Eurythmy as Visible Singing (GA 278) in a lecture of 23.2.24


5.R. Steiner lecture in Bern, 14.12.1920, GA 202.




9.In 2016, Selvik, formerly the drummer in the black metal band Gorgoroth, was commissioned to produce music for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution.

10. R. Steiner lecture of 15.12.1919, GA 194.