Posted June 1, 2011
Ludwig van Beethoven’s music was frequently used by Hitler. Frederick Chopin was an avid anti-Semite. Carl Orff was an avowed card-carrying Nazi who composed Carmina Burana expressly for the Nazis. Yet it is Richard Wagner who was chosen by the fuhrer to be his poster boy. Why? There may be several reasons for this but Hitler identified himself with Wagner’s character Siegfried. Let’s take a closer look at this.
When asked to establish the pedagogy for what would become the Waldorf School system, presently the second-largest independent school system in the world, Rudolf Steiner came up with several innovative ideas. The root of these was Steiner’s concept that individual children, also adults, make major advances in consciousness in seven year increments corresponding to the 2,160 year cycles of the precession of the equinoxes.
A child under the age of seven has a consciousness similar to that which humanity as a whole experienced during what Steiner refers to as the third 2,160 year cultural epoch. Historically this was the era of the great Egyptian civilization. During this epoch feelings and emotions, based on sensory perception, were the highest level of consciousness. This is the esoteric time period in which Wagner’s opera The Valkyrie was set. In that opera the consciousness of the protagonists, Siegmund and Sieglinde, had not reached intellectual thinking; it was locked in the world of feelings and emotions.
A child between the ages of seven and fourteen has a consciousness similar to that which humanity in general had during the fourth 2,160 year cycle, the time intellectual thinking began and in which the opera Siegfried was set. In this opera the protagonist, Siegfried, developed intellectual thinking.
The qualities developed in an earlier cycle do not suddenly cease when a new cycle begins. That is how is should be. But, for both individuals and society, older forms of consciousness should gradually be replaced by higher ones. In this case emotions should begin to be superseded by thinking. It is easy to say Siegfried should have used his newly developed capabilities of thinking to go beyond his third cycle childish attitudes of “me, me, me,” and “might is right,” and that he should have become concerned for what is good for everyone. But he could not do it because of humanity’s limitations during the third 2,160 year cycle. He accomplished a lot, allegorically speaking, and should not be blamed for failing to do what could only be done in the future. During the third 2,160 year cycle humanity could only go so far.
Hitler lived during the fifth, present, cultural epoch. He was a master of using his higher, intellectual powers to satisfy his decadent and amoral drives, which, at best, belonged to the third cultural epoch. The problem was exacerbated by his ability to impose his aspirations on a large segment of humanity.
To Hitler, Siegfried was a kindred soul whom he idolized. They shared the same level of consciousness. Except that Siegfried used his resources to lead a primitive era of humanity forward as best he could, while Hitler attempted to hold humanity back in the consciousness of an age long past. Hitler could not conceive of Siegfried as a good person leading humanity on its quest for higher consciousness. He thought Siegfried’s childish behavior epitomized the ultimate state of consciousness and that he was the prime example of what a human being should be.
Wagner’s stirring music helped kindle this veneration. But Wagner’s music also leads other people to higher consciousness. Anything in life can be used in a positive way or abused. It is unfortunate that some people have a mindset against Wagner and his works because of Hitler’s shortcomings.
This article may be reproduced in full or in part, as long as credit is given to the author as follows:
George Hastings is the author of Richard Wagner, Rudolf Steiner, and Allegories of the Ring: From the Mundane to the Esoteric. Bennett & Hastings Publishing, Seattle, 2011, http://www.AllegoriesoftheRing.com.
For more information on the precession of the equinoxes see Richard Wagner, Rudolf Steiner & Allegories of the Ring.