A modern audience for the ancient mysteries of the occult : the evolution of Rudolf Steiner's esoteric architecture
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AbstractIn today&rsquo;s secular society, occult conceptions of architecture may seem somewhat anachronistic, but at the turn of the twentieth century the bourgeoisie, alongside society&rsquo;s artistic and intellectual elite, were enthusiastically embracing a myriad of esoteric doctrines and mystical impulses. One of the most prominent and enduring examples of this cultural phenomenon is to be found in Rudolf Steiner&rsquo;s quasi-philosophical system of Anthroposophy. As a path of spiritual development based on ancient mysteries of the occult, Anthroposophy offered people the belief that there existed a way out of the chaos and meaninglessness of modern industrialised society. Steiner used the medium of architecture as a way of repackaging the occult&rsquo;s venerable secrets into a tangible, material form that made their hidden message more readily accessible to his contemporary audience. While he was striving towards creating a totally new architectural language appropriate to the modern age, he perceived architectural style as an evolutionary process that revealed its spiritual content in a particular way in every epoch. As such, Steiner made free use of historical and mythological precedents as archetypal references in his work, thus giving his architecture a genealogy that has, until now, remained largely undefined. By investigating Steiner&rsquo;s indebtedness to ancient temples and the architecture of the baroque, a greater understanding of his architectural heritage is made possible, which not only helps to locate him within the cultural milieu of his day, but also within the broader context of architectural history. A spiritual thread runs through this history that demonstrates that Steiner&rsquo;s architecture is not as idiosyncratic as it may initially seem, though whether his work represents an original step forward in the development of modern architecture, or is merely a hangover of nineteenth century eclecticism, must also be considered in order to determine the architectural value of Steiner&rsquo;s esoteric ideas.