Prokofieff on Sophia and Anthroposophia

Prokofieff on Sophia and Anthroposophia

I feel that the review (published in a recent issue of The Journal for Anthroposophy, c. 1998, of Sergei Prokoffief’s book on Sophia and Anthroposophia1 invites further discussion – here is the critical review, not press release as previously appearing, that I have written for myself and share with you. I hope others choose to respond on the broader basis of the issues, not the narrow one of sympathy or antipathy to the personality or style of either mine or Mr. Prokofieff’s.

Rather than engage in a full-tilt analytical critique of the substance of the book’s contents, I will adopt another approach. I will evaluate the book mainly on the basis of style and overall artistic effect, although the results of some small amount of analysis is too revealing to pass up.

My initial response to the book, read when first released: “I wish I knew as much as SP about all these things!” Then: “How does he know all these things?” Then: “Does he really know these things or is he just relying on his obvious skill and diligence as a systematizer and cataloguer of Steiner’s legacy?” and then: “Is this just highly sophisticated jargon?” The result of such reflections for this writer is a feeling of creeping dread over what SP has done. Having worked through to enough clarity about my own perceptions on the same subject to be able to contribute another point of view, and an initial attempt at a more focused critique than what has been offered to date, they are:

His style is elusive and aloof, in spite of – or perhaps because of – the exhausting and intimidating amount of data and esoteric detail. Where is SP himself in the welter of ideation? When he has the opportunity to forthrightly state something which one would expect to be of high personal value, he uses the third person or reverts to a “der Doktor hat gesagt” stance which admits of no alternatives. His assumption of the role of the Anthroposophical Authority is questionable for me, especially since I do not find that the cold light that he casts upon the form of Sophia illuminates anything of great and lasting value. In his zeal to present the truth (adequately, for him, by listing only what he considers to be the facts), he uses the external light of theory and analysis: an approach much more suitable for dissection in a forensic autopsy than for an intimate portrayal of one’s beloved. For what has been paramount in my experiences of any aspect of the Divine Feminine – a continual and ongoing encounter – has been the subjectivity of it all: the objectively real spiritual subjectivity of the heart-space sharing with another warm and immediately accessible being who shares, not data or detail, but herself. I find no acknowledgement of this moral reality in SP’s book, and this continues to be baffling, as

I am unwilling to attribute what I feel to be the essentially anti-sophianic impulse of the book to a conscious attempt.

Yes: anti-sophianic. I see no indication the Mr. Prokofieff has had that watershed encounter which allows him to speak from personal experience about what has become for him an object of analytic dissection. Lacking that encounter – which is parallel to the encounter with Christ – a writer cannot help but fail in his task of introducing us to that being.

Note I say “feeling.” Not in the sense of emotionality, but I refer to the function of the Heart. While it is not infallible, it does give one a sense of orientation if it is functioning, and for me, I feel the breath of an alien wind in Mr. Prokofieff’s style and approach. Perhaps it is a matter of temperament and style, but there is also something which goes much deeper that that.

Perhaps also it might be attributable to bad editing and awkward translation, but SP must nonetheless answer for not only the content, but also the form of his material, which has such widespread distribution and credibility within official Anthroposophical circles.

In his efforts to be convincing, he has chosen to have recourse to the Intellectual Soul-period technique of natural science: reductive analysis. This goes beyond issues of simple style – it amounts to new wine in old flasks. Although this may open the door for some who have had no prior encounter with the subject matter, it is a few some who will respond, and it is a door that has long been opened wide, and wider, by others. As non-Anthroposophists may not tend to find anything of interest in this book – I don’t think he will appeal to those who have an initial open-minded curiosity about things Steiner; dogmatists of whatever stripe all sound eerily alike to the street-smart – what portion of Anthroposophical membership does he appeal to? Is it that everconstricting circle of those who are unsure of their faith or those who are easily swayed by the self-appointed ”experts” who claim to “know” Steiner doctrine?

Let us examine and parse one symptomatic passage, one that opens up the book and sets the tone for what is to follow:

p. 1 “Many years…led gradually to a wholly new experience of Anthroposophy. It

revealed itself as not only a contemporary spiritual-scientific teaching issuing from sources of esoteric christianity but also as a living being of the spiritual world, as Anthroposophia, who brings to human beings of the twentieth century the new revelation of the heavenly Sophia, the divine wisdom.”

– He uses the passive voice: “Many years …led”, and: “It revealed itself…” Where is P. in all this? He takes the position of a passive observer, a neutral agent, or a clear pane of glass. But we should not that there is no objectivity in the spiritual world of the sort which we experience in the material world. Prokofieff consistently attempts to imitate the objectivity that is native to the mode of materialistic natural science. This calls into question issues of a bias towards a false objectivity and a resulting predisposition to corner the high ground.

By using this passive voice, it is as if Prokofieff simply bears the messages to us from the spiritual world, without opening them to alter them in any way as he hands them to us in their pure state. But this is not possible. There is always one’s own point of view and one’s interpretation of what one has experienced. If this is not borne in mind, one is open to all sorts of distortions and presumptions. In communicating such things as Prokofieff does, it is important for one listening, and even more importantly, given the intrinsically Ahrimanic nature of the medium, for one reading, to know who is talking or writing and that one doing so is taking responsibility for what is being presented and is clear on what portion of that is one’s own ideas, provisional conclusions, questions that remain open, etc.. As sense of this can be had in many different ways, but a conscientious attempt to take into account one’s own limitations is always in order and is usually evident when it is in effect. Prokofieff demonstrates no such humility, or even indebtedness to the work of other researchers. It all comes straight from the mouth of the highest hierarchies, almost as if channeled by a clear medium, or as downloaded from the Central Computer.

All of this is symptomatic and troubling. This is not to say that any of what Prokoffief sets forth is necessarily false as data, but the real question for one who reads is: “How do we know it is true?” Prokofieff’s process is opaque and not open to scrutiny. From the time he burst upon the scene with his first book published at the age of 21, he claims to have complete comprehension of just about everything. This places one who strives for embodiment and expression of the Consciousness Soul – autonomy, in a word – at an unfair and unjust disadvantage when trying to evaluate Prokofieff’s immense output. It’s take it or leave it, and is basically an appeal to authority on Prokofieff’s part. This is a not a valid technique, nor, taken as a whole in its effect, is it convincing. Not only did Rudolf Steiner lay a profoundly transparent and effective groundwork for his communications in his theory of knowledge and in his esoteric instructions, his lectures are inherently conducive to credibility because his style is saturated with respect for that all-important autonomy and moral integrity of the individual. There is simply no way that by his later teenage years (when the substance of his first book must have been in process) Sergei Prokofieff could have worked his way fully through Steiner’s method of esoteric development and reached the stage of initiation – greater than Steiner’s, for he presumes to comprehend Steiner’s own internal process of development as the sage of the age – that would allow him to speak on the subjects he does with the requisite authority. That leaves genius and revelation – as well as, possibly, conjecture and unlawful influence – as the means by which Prokofieff arrives at his insights. But is this anthroposophical? And how are we to tell?

Yes, I honor what I take to be his intention to eliminate anything of a potentially polluting personality or a contaminating emotionality from the substance of his remarks, which he obviously believes to be of the highest and most profound worth. He wishes to place his remarks on a plane in which questions of a personal nature to not arise. But if some objectivity is good and necessary in such matters, it does not follow that more is better. At a certain point, too much objectivity becomes a falsehood of its own. This is where Prokofieff falls down. The principle of “If some is good, more is better” did not apply to Elvis, and it does not apply to Sergei Prokofieff, either.

Now this criticism would not apply if he did not claim and attempt so much. But there is nothing which escapes his view. In this instance, he knows that he comprehends the “new revelation of the heavenly Sophia.” Not “a” revelation, but “the” revelation. A small word, but one which is indeed accurate in describing Prokofieff’s consistent attitude towards his own work. Against such a standard, even Steiner himself would fail – it is needless to say. But is it needful to say in this case of Prokofieff’s attempt to carry the Master’s work forward.

This speaks to process and artistic quality. There is also the aspect of content; to what extent is Prokofieff correct in his statements, and how is one to judge that? There are few, if any, who could or would presume to challenge Prokofieff on the grounds that: “I have seen or done that for myself and I can say that he is/is not correct.” So one is helpless before his pronouncements, and this in inherently unfair and should raise the hackles of a conscientious anthroposophist.

To the extent that Prokofieff does not adhre to the demands of the Consciousness Soul – the present one – Prokoffief’s process _is_ transparent, and should give the conscientious reader pause, for, to a large extent in this case, MacLujan’s dictum applies: The Medium is the Message. All the while that Prokoffief presents his pearls of wisdom and the reader struggles to imbibe and ingest them at the furious clip at which they are presented, they pile up somewhere in the psyche, for they are indigestible. To accept something as true without having one’s own good sense of how or why they are true, or without being educated in such a sensibility is a violation of sorts, one that happens all the time in mass-media advertising, political propaganda, and the like. Steiner himself always went to extreme pains to place his often provocative remarks within a wealth of contextual detail; to respect his audience’s healthy need to participate in his process of disclosure and to bring them along with him. This in itself is one of his bona fides and it inspires confidence in the substance of his observations.

Prokoffief demonstrates no such balance. When he himself is not the authority, Steiner is. One’s choices are to believe or not believe. Until one has sufficient proven grounds to go with the former – and even then only on a provisional basis – one must choose that latter. In this area, sheer weight of Steiner references has no weight.

  • Prokoffief consistently uses the adjective “heavenly” in conjunction with “Sophia.” This brings up the question of: “Why?” Occasionally, yes, it serves to emphasize something about her lofty nature, or in the way in which her influence is perceived to come down from above, but it also prompts this court jester and truth-teller to inquire: “If there is a ‘heavenly’ Sophia, are there other Sophias?…earthly Sophia’s, chthonic Sophias even?” In his insistence upon the “heavenly” qualities of the Sophia he attends to it is almost as if he wishes to close the door on an inquiry into the possibilities of other aspects of Sophia; again, that his interpretation of Sophia as exclusively heavenly; that “heavenly” only emphasizes her essential nature, is the only one. We have referred to this tendency previously; here we have an example. And it is not a trivial one, for many cultures, cultures which Prokoffief either does not know about, is not interested in, or dismisses out of hand as of no account, possess other, not necessarily contradictory but certainly complimentarily alternative perspectives on the issue of the Divine Feminine and from where she, and by extension, “Sophia”, proceed.

Me thinketh he protesteth too much. Whether consciously or unconsciously, but certainly revealingly, in this slight but consistent instance of a revealing clumsiness, he slips. He is saying, whether he intends to or not: “Do not look beyond the heavenly aspect of Sophia.”

Later, we will examine where we can go with this theme and indicate just how much territory is left blank on Prokoffief’s map of Sophia and how Prokoffief has dealt with this challenge to his complete system by trimming the map to fit.

No, I do not expect you to take my word for it; just hold the question open for the time being.

  • “…a wholly new experience of Anthroposophy.” Then what are we to make of his prior work, interpretations, and pronouncements regarding anthroposophy, ones which were perfect, complete, and final at those earlier stages in his development? In what way have they changed, altered, or been modified? Has he ever corrected himself in his unfoldment as a savant? How is this new experience different from his old experience? On all of this he is silent. He seems to have gone from one stage of perfection to another; from his teens until now it has been a seamless progression in the unfoldment of an ever-increasing perfection of observation and total vision of the cosmos and its evolution and everything’s place in it. As revealed to him by…? It just comes to him; no context is supplied. Experiences do not happen without an individual experiencing them: who is experiencing these new but also final revelations; a Prokofieff without an ego, history, or issues of personal perspective? This is hardly adequate for a Spiritual Science or for one who leads the Society dedicated to its fostering. In science, method is everything. Like Anthroposophy on the higher level that Steiner wished to place it, it is more a verb than a noun. Its essence lies in process, not in its results.

Prokoffief, to all appearances, has no process. Since this is obviously impossible (am I wrong?), this opens up fundamental questions regarding the security of the foundation upon which all of Prokoffief’s particular resulting observations rest. And Sergei Prokoffief appears to be remarkably resistant to disclosing anything of what his process is. This violates protocols of transparency – not just the formal scientific ones, but moral ones also. Is he without peer in this world, even on the occasional detail? He seems to think so; that he is answerable to no one.

Again, this places the reader in an untenable position.

  • All of this from parsing just one passage? Yes, but after having read all of his books at least once and this one many times. Many more than once, with group study of some of them, and after having gone through two separated cycles of study group activity focused exclusively on his book on Sophia and Anthroposophia. And after having my own consistent and continuing personal relationship with Anthroposophia herself. Once certain issues about Prokofieff’s work surface and come into notice, they appear everywhere as a leitmotiv.

There is much more to be examined in Prokoffief’s treatment of Sophia, and I will seek to give credit where credit is due, but one who takes it upon himself to speak for Anthroposophy and Anthroposophia as an official representative must be held to the highest possible standards, ones not necessarily incumbent upon lesser mortals. But even the ignorant, even the naïve, are capable of asking perfectly good questions on occasion, and noting what the more sophisticated may have overlooked. In my trade as an automobile mechanic, I try and hold to the principle that there are no dumb questions, only dumb answers. If I don’t satisfy my clients that I know what I’m talking about, I go hungry.

Would that there was such immediate feedback happening in the much more consequential areas of spiritual life!

SP is out of his depth; not because his methodology is wrong, only that it is inappropriate for the subject at hand and is internally imbalanced. A full-court press by the left-brain cannot; will not, force Sophia to yield anything of value, for what proceeds from the Mother requires a different mode, not just of treatment, but of perception. SP does not see what there is to be seen, for what is needed is not clearer intellectual analysis (for there is precious little real thinking present), but deeper responsiveness. SP does not realize that the search for the elusive gemut lies in accessing what we have already accomplished in the past; in the development of the denigrated and maligned sentient soul. Like the fabled unicorn which flits intermittently through the landscape, the elusive gemut only teases the preoccupied mind. Realizing truly enough that too much sentient soul is bad, he makes the mistake of assuming that none is better, and throws the baby out with the bath water.

Does he know how to woo his Lover? For all the emphasis placed in Anthroposophy on clear thinking (which is different from mere conceptualization or abstraction), in this field of the divine feminine (which he even disputes as having legitimate existence) a little bit of intellectual analysis goes a long way. It is not apparent that SP’s thinking, at least as it appears on paper, has gone down into his heart, or past it, into his gut. This, I suggest, is what makes his prose so opaque and abstract. It is not idiomatic. It is not grounded.

His treatment is as dry as dust and embarrassing to read – not reflective of the warm, dark, fertile, and non-linear Chaos of Sophia and the Deep Mother. He is a Peeping Tom, with the purient factors sublimated into a violent intellectuality.

Some conclusions and observations:

  1. Many anthroposophists will probably buy this book, but most will not read it all the way through.
  2. Many will wonder what is wrong with them that they have not been able to follow SP into his rarified heights, and will doubt their own process. This exacerbates the default tendency of any organization to generate a split between elite experts and credulous followers: the genesis of the same jesuitism of excessive, subliminal, and in effect manipulative influence that provokes such vitriol by Mr. Prokoffief himself. The pot is in no position to be calling the kettle black.
  3. No one will get even so much as a hint that Sophia, no matter how high she reaches, comes to us from below, that there is where her wellspring is to be found. 4. Sophia is Consort to Christ, mysteriously yet recognizably, in the truest heirosgamos, and not his appendix, daughter, or stepchild. This is an intuition absent from the book, and one almost explicitly denied.
  1. I believe that he is wrong in stating that gender-aspects do not exist on levels beyond the astral. Of course, ideas themselves are clearly neuter (and these are almost exclusively what SP deals with), but the beings that generate them are not, at least not to my vision. They are fully sexual, without the distortions of a uni-polar sexuality demanded by material incarnation. As circumstances require, they can appear with any combination of aspects displayed. I suggest that it is not their ‘sexuality’ that is symbolic, but ours, in that not polarity, but complementarity, of an ever more mobile and flexible sort, continues and becomes more sublime and dynamic the higher up (and down) one goes. Is it inevitable that we project some of our “gender biases’ onto them? Sure. Is this so bad? I think not, especially if we use the opportunity to encounter them in a way not exclusively mental and one that opens us up to learning from them how they wish to be perceived. It is not without significance that Steiner used the word “intercourse” to describe encounters with spiritual beings. To subject any spiritual being – but especially an Underworld being – to an abstract and pre-formatted celestial-hierarchical placement, even a Steiner’s (especially one as well thought-out as a Steiner’s!) without an especially heavy counterbalance of some sort, is to crucify it; “to dismember her and cast her out into space….” (Steiner’s The New Isis lecture). Which is exactly what the wise men of Jesus’ time did; the learned loved their schemas more than the living reality and look what happened. It wasn’t the untutored peasants that crucified Jesus, it was the ones who knew exactly – in the abstract – what to look for.
  2. While Christ easily comes down to us from ‘above’, She is so much more easily approached in her aspect of rising up from underneath. To treat Sophia in the context of Celestial Hierarchy is to attempt to fit a round peg in a square hole. SP certainly tries. Much better to treat of her in the context of the chthonic mysteries of which she is the Chief Initiatrix. Check out the last of the Michael letters and the lecture in the last First Class lesson (recap). These significant indications in RS’s last communications invite us all to investigate a whole different mode of perception not ‘authorized’ in what was fully developed in the fragment of the Michael School able to be actualized in the years of Steiner’s all-too-brief stay with us. (Much more on this in this writer’s much more lengthy Short Circuit essay)
  3. His use of the term ‘sobornal’ to describe the nature of vast composite beings (Anthroposophia in particular) is interesting and perhaps even useful; natural if one is describing Underworld beings from out of an OverWorld context, but needlessly complex and superfluous if one is able to appreciate them in their whole and undivided autonomous natural condition. Underworld beings are not “at home” in the celestial OverWorld, and visa versa; their aspect there is selective, partial, diffuse, and prone to misinterpretation. They are there only for particular service to the resident beings, and may behave awkwardly as they move about in that realm. On the other hand, hidden aspects of their natures may be more readily perceived. In general, it seems that Underworld beings become more diffuse as they operate in progressively higher and higher realms – Sophia as the close helpmeet of the celestial Creator: Wisdom, is hardly a being at all, so diffuse and expansive is her willingness to be at the disposal of the vertical impulse: Prokoffief indeed can see her everywhere. But someone who is everywhere and everything is also almost nowhere and nothing, at least to the mortal mind – the theologies (and associated disputes) multiply like rabbits. Met on her back porch, she is someone to share a quite moment with. OverWorld beings in the Underworld, on the other hand, seem not to become diffuse, but to become more and more pointed and focused as they penetrate downward, concentrated onto decisive applications of tremendous selectivity and power. This is a complementarity which cannot be anticipated or extrapolated by the purely ‘Aristotelian’ and over-extended approach of SP.
  4. One interesting question which is raised by this discussion and which can thereby receive a potentially much richer and more nuanced answer is the one of the relationship between Sophia and Anthroposophia. Sophia, even if she is the celestial aspect of the Chthonic Daughter, still trails threads of her UnderWorld origin. What of Anthroposophia? Does She have a chthonic root? I have no reason to doubt SP’s data, derived from Steiner’s scattered observations – I am quite willing to accept it on face value – but what does it mean? His format makes his descriptions seem partial and deficient in a particularly unsatisfying way, and my questions on this score are still unanswered.
  5. Where was SP in the sixties and seventies? Did he learn nothing from the Cultural Revolutions that swept the world in those heady days? His Anthroposophy is straight out of the 1920’s: witness his description of Anthroposophia as “supersensible man” (emphasis added). Knowing that in the spiritual life, what does not go forward goes backwards, where does this leave Mr. Prokoffief?

The publication of SP’s book has provided a good opportunity to directly confront some of the predominant ossifications within the standard anthroposophical approach to ‘higher realities’. At present it is a devolved mode, reduced in the present instance to a classic reductio ad absurdam; a self-devalidating example of an old patriarchal worldview. It is perhaps fortunate that SP has absented his personal self to such an extent from this material and stands as a spokesman for his view of Anthroposophy and for his interpretation of the dead-weight factor of “der Doktor’s” legacy, for it makes debate on the issues much easier.

For my part, the only real part of this legacy is “If he did it, so can I!”, for he did do it well, and gave so much inspiration….

PS: my computer spell-check gives “Overworked” for “OverWorld”…..”from out of the mouths of babes….”

Stephen Clarke, 1998 (rev. 2005)

PS: Also, there is so much material out there in the public domain about so many different aspects of Sophia – Prokofieff makes no reference to any of it, to examine how it might support his observations or to demonstrate how his own work amplifies or corrects that of others. Why not? It seems that he is content to make his splashes in a very small pond, one that has grown smaller, not larger, since Seiner’s death. The fact that Sergei Prokofieff’s “method” and work-product has attained such prominence in Society circles indicates answers to this conundrum.

1 Sergie O. Prokofieff: The Heavenly Sophia and the Being Anthroposophia. Temple Lodge, London, 1996 (from the German edition of 1995).

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