Fresh Beginnings, New Pathways

Mary Stewart Adams’ Inaugural Address as General Secretary

October 9, 2023[1]

[1] This is a transcript of a spoken address.

Thank you, John, and the entire council. And thank you everyone here in the Ann Arbor, Michigan community and everyone who is online. This is a tremendous moment. And I think it’s not surprising that I’m a bit tremulous, particularly given the time in which we find ourselves in the world right now as anthroposophists, which can mean nothing less than standing for the good, the true, and the beautiful in the face of all that is taking place in the world right now that would prevent the human being from standing upright in that recognition.

There has been mention of those who have crossed over the threshold, and I am compelled to start right there myself, because this is an important facet of our work together.

I am going to speak in pictures, as is my nature. And I hope you don’t mind that, at this first step, I’m going to continue in the manner in which I have developed my speaking through anthroposophy over the last 20 years.

But to begin with, I would like to mention: Truus Geraets, who crossed over the threshold this past week; Traute Page; Katherine Thivierge; and my own mother, Thelma Hodges.

And I would like to share this verse from Rudolf Steiner for those who have crossed over the threshold, if we can all take a moment.

Feel how we gaze lovingly

Into heights that now

Call you to other work.

May your power reach out

From spirit-realms

To the friends you left behind.

Hear our souls’ request

Sent to you in deepest trust:

We need here for work on earth,

Strength and power from spirit lands,

For which we thank you, our loved ones who have died.

A hope that makes us happy,

A loss that pains us deeply:

Let us hope that you light our lives

Far-and-near, unlost,

A soul star in the spiritual firmament.[1]

I want to continue by sharing that at the end of this week, on Saturday, October 14, 2023, there will be a new moon, and this new moon is going to cause an unusual phenomenon referred to astronomically as an annular solar eclipse.

This is a unique situation that happens when the moon is furthest away from us on its path, a position called its apogee. And at that moment, this week, it will move directly in front of the sun. But because it is furthest away from us, it does not entirely block the sun. But instead, it appears to stand within a ring of fire – the annulus of the sun shines around it.

And if we think about this phenomenologically, it’s remarkable. When we come to the new phase of the moon in the normal way each month, we don’t see the moon because it’s either above or below the sun and it’s lost in the light. Only at an eclipse do we get to see, you could say, the fully concentrated lunar forces.

I would even go so far as to say that what we are experiencing – or the experiential opportunity we have at that moment – is our own lunar nature. According to Aristotle, we live in the sub-lunary world, and only in this world can the sun be eclipsed.

So you could say that this phenomenon sets us up as human beings for the opportunity to be free beings, sets us up so that we can choose something that would eclipse the light. Or we may choose otherwise. And we must be given this choice, or we will not find our way to freedom.

So I just wanted to point that out. Because the interesting thing about an eclipse that comes, particularly during the new moon in early October, is that it’s happening when the sun and the moon are in front of the stars of Virgo.

So the constellation Virgo – the maiden in classical Greek culture – was oftentimes associated with the goddess Demeter. Demeter was one of the Olympians, and her main story is about the abduction of her daughter, Persephone, who was taken into the underworld against her will. Out of distress, Demeter leaves the Olympian world and descends to the earth as a celestial goddess, taking on a cloak to hide her divinity.

And then on the earth she seeks a position in the service of a mortal human family. She’s taken into the home of a king where a much-longed-for son has just been born. But rather than traditionally nurse this child, what Demeter does is groom him for immortality by placing him within a sacred flame every evening.

So I think of this in relationship to an annular solar eclipse, and the moon appearing within the embrace of a sacred flame.

And what’s remarkable about this story to me right now, at this moment in our history in the Anthroposophical Movement, is that this story was taken up by the French poet and playwright Édouard Schuré at the end of the 1800s. He wrote a drama about the Mysteries at Eleusis. And in these Mysteries, which the mythology of Demeter and Persephone points to, there would be twice each year a celebration or observance of the lesser Mysteries in the spring, in which the neophyte would be taken through a process of learning, through the initiation process, about the self, gaining self-knowledge through an understanding of the forces of destiny.

But then the greater Mysteries would be celebrated in the fall, at the time in which we in the northern hemisphere now find ourselves. And through these Mysteries, those who had matured through the lesser Mysteries of the spring would be taken through an initiation process that would reveal to them the forces of life before birth and after death.

And so Édouard Schuré took this up as a topic for a play that he wrote. And he was contacted by an actress by the name of Marie von Sivers, who wrote to him requesting permission to translate this play, along with a few of his other works.

I can’t remember exactly the dates, but I think it was around the same time she met Rudolf Steiner – and in 1906, Marie von Sivers and Rudolf Steiner met with Édouard Schuré and others in Paris, where they made plans for the now historic Munich Congress of the Theosophical Society that happened in May of 1907.

Through this Congress, an impulse began that, you could say, infused this spiritual striving with the arts. It was an opportunity for a renewal of the arts.

They staged Édouard Schuré’s The Sacred Drama of Eleusis at this Munich Congress and it created quite a stir. But out of this impulse grew not only Rudolf Steiner’s own mystery dramas, but also the desire and drive to build a facility, a building, a structure that would be an expression of the arts infused by a living spiritual science.

So we know that this vision was realized in the First Goetheanum that appeared on the hill in Dornach, which was then, sadly, destroyed by fire on New Year’s Eve 1922/23.

And I think I’m going to go out on a little bit of a limb and say it this way: This fire seems to have indicated that the time was now ripe for a new path to be opened. And I believe that this is what Rudolf Steiner was doing 100 years ago at Christmas 1923 until January 1, 1924: opening a new path to the Mysteries.

And when I started, I framed this new path in the context of the new moon that will take place this Saturday, because this new moon is taking place at a moment that calls forth a memory of a particular striving: to know the human being in a way that comes out of ancient cultures, but then is continually renewed. And through the deed of Rudolf Steiner at the Christmas Foundation Meeting, this knowing activity is renewed in a remarkable way. Because whereas the foundation for the First Goetheanum was laid into the earth, the foundation for this new path, you could say this new “building,” is actually the heart of the human being. The human being who is in a continuous state of becoming – a becoming that is not bounded by anything other than one’s own sense of limitation. And the consequence of this is that the human being may regularly present as an unfinished product, an unfinished deed, or an unfinished action. But this is actually the true nature of its being.

Hermann Hesse said something beautiful that I would like to read – from a series of essays that he wrote during the twentieth century, during the war years. He wrote:

“The human being . . . is not a determinate, finite entity, not a being completed once and for all, but a coming-into-being, a project, a dream of the future, a yearning of nature for new forms and possibilities.”[2]

What excites me about a quote like this, at this moment, is that the possibilities are endless, as are we.

And I think that with the picture that John just shared with us – about the Anthroposophical Movement in the United States and in the world at this moment – despite the many challenges that we face in our communities, in the climate, in the striving that we seek to share with one another, the possibilities ahead of us still shine bright.

And it is this idea that makes it possible for me to say Yes to standing into this position, which is nothing less than an awesome task and responsibility, to which I can say I am willing.

My readiness will be tested, as will the readiness of all of us. And it will take everything we have during these first beginnings of this next century of anthroposophy in the world, to help anthroposophy prove itself to the world.

And I would once again like to thank John for the way he has helped me not only as General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society for the last seven years, but specifically through this process of my joining the council last year – and then through the period of time, sometimes grueling, of the nomination process. And then in these final days, once the decision was made by the council. It’s really and truly an honor to be offered this position and also to have been able to work with John. And I hope that this working together continues – he has a great deal to share from his experience of leading the organization.

So I want to go back to why it was that I brought up this annular eclipse.

Eclipses are organized by scientists according to the Saros cycle. This is going to become technical for just a minute.

A Saros cycle is a series of eclipses that will occur every 19 years following on from one another. It is related with the node of the moon and the location among the stars where the eclipse takes place.

If you want to read the narrative biography of an eclipse, then the Saros cycle can be really handy because it can point to something. And I think the Saros cycle in which this forthcoming eclipse stands is really remarkable, given that we are at this important 100-year mark in the rhythm of anthroposophy in the world. So technically, this Saros cycle is number 134.

And then Eclipse Saros will last over thousands of years. But there are some years during which eclipses happened in this cycle that really jumped out for me, including the year 1861, which is the year Rudolf Steiner was born; also the year 1879, which is the beginning of the Michaelic age; and the year 1933, which Rudolf Steiner pointed to as the time when human beings would begin to experience the Christ Mystery of our era. And now Eclipse Saros 134 occurs again, in 2023, when we’re in the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Conference impulse for the Anthroposophical Movement.

So each of these years – 1861, 1879, 1933, 2023 – they each have about them this mood of beginning. And not a beginning in the sense that there isn’t anything that has preceded these moments, but a beginning in the sense of a decisive step, a decisive event, something significant takes place, at least with regard to the way the celestial environment is engaged with human beings on earth, if we allow ourselves to see it that way.

And taking the words from Rudolf Steiner: The writing of the stars is actually our own deeds inscribed into the cosmic spaces.

So it behooves us to be aware of these cosmic rhythms. And then to step a little further into it and look at the nature of the phenomenon, to consider phenomenologically that the moon is not going to block the light of the sun, but rather it’s going to stand within the flame that will still be visible.

And I think of this as a particular strength in this moment: that there will be a darkness, but it is embraced by the light. This is a picture that we should carry in our hearts.

And I would like to bring this to a close with some words from Rudolf Steiner, followed by some from Marie Steiner. These are words that Rudolf Steiner wrote just a few weeks before he died in March of 1925:

I would enkindle every human being

From out the spirit of the cosmos

That a flame they may become,

And unfold in fire

The essence of their being.

The others, they would take

From out of the cosmos, water,

To extinguish the flames

And dampen all being,

Lame it from within.

Oh joy, when the human flame

Is aglow, even when at rest!

Oh bitterness, when the human thing

Is bound where it longs to be active.[3]

Two years after Rudolf Steiner’s death, when Marie Steiner wrote the introduction to the eurythmy course… I’m pausing because I have two long quotes here, and I have to decide which one I would like to read, they’re really remarkable.

I think I’ll choose this one – in speaking about this mystery of an annular eclipse at this time, in the 100-year rhythm of anthroposophy in the world, and then also this particular eclipse in relationship to the birth and the life-work of Rudolf Steiner, and also to this image of the flaming light that surrounds the darkness and that can see us through this time.

She wrote:

“When the Word desires to turn towards human beings, it speaks of choice through flame. The element of flame is identical to its own being. But few people understand this language. The flame burns and frightens away any timorous person who draws near; it flares up and lights the world around in a flash of lightning, then it sinks back into itself, and seeks to nourish and foster life in the guise of warmth. And then it plunges through the shafts and pulsing veins of the earthly element. It passes into human hearts, bringing movement and warmth into our thoughts and making us bold, sure, and pliant.”[4]

I said that this was going to be the close. But I forgot that I have one more thing.

Just two weeks ago, Truus Geraets wrote me a letter. It’s quite a gift. It was a gift to have received it. It was the first piece of mail that I received here at 1923 Geddes Avenue.

And if I can just be sentimental for a moment: My first experience of an anthroposophical community was in this room, in 1995. This is the community where I have had my deepest and most beloved experiences of anthroposophy. And it’s remarkable to me to be standing here now in this position in this very room.

The walls are draped with red chiffon because the Michaelmas festival has recently happened here. But also, it was remarkable to have this chiffon in my own hand and to drape it over one of the tables, here in the room where those of you online may not be able to see it. And while draping this fabric, I was thinking about the Munich Congress in 1907, when Marie von Sivers, Rudolf Steiner, Édouard Schuré, and a whole host of others were preparing a hall for a festive occasion.

And I feel it very deeply, with this setting in this room at this moment, and with everyone who is online, that I would like to say: You’re all invited to come to Ann Arbor and see us.

I would like to close with these words from Truus, and to say thank you for letting me take my first step in this way. There’s going to be an opportunity for questions after this.

But what Truus wrote on August 30 – she wrote this letter:

“Thank you for embarking on this new task of General Secretary, to open up the next 100 years of anthroposophical work in the world.”

And I share this with all of us.

It’s we who do this together, and ever and again, we make a beginning.

Thank you.

[1] Rudolf Steiner: “Prayer for the Dead,” included in Staying Connected (SteinerBooks, 1999), p. 259. Original source: GA 261, a verse for Fritz Mitscher, Basel, February 5, 1915.

[2] Hermann Hesse, If the War Goes On: Reflections on War and Politics (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).

[3] Notebook entry, 1925. From Truth-Wrought Words [Wahrspruchworte] (SteinerBooks, 2010), GA 40. In German (p. 165): “Ich möchte jeden Menschen / Aus des Kosmos’ Geist entzünden / Dass er Flamme werde / Und feurig seines Wesens / Wesen entfalte. – // Die anderen, sie möchten / Aus des Kosmos’ Wasser nehmen / Was die Flammen verlöscht, / Und wäss’rig alles Wesen / Im Innern lähmt. – // O Freude, wenn die Menschenflamme / Lodert auch da, wo sie ruht! / O Bitternis, wenn das Menschending / Gebunden wird da, wo es regsam sein möchte.”

[4] Marie Steiner: Esoteric Studies: The Flaming Word (Temple Lodge, 1993). Foreword by Marie Steiner.


  1. Rod Endacott on October 29, 2023 at 3:45 pm

    Yes! . . . “Oh joy, when the human flame

    Is aglow, even when at rest!

    Oh bitterness, when the human thing

    Is bound where it longs to be active”

  2. Maria Helms on December 3, 2023 at 4:23 pm

    Thank you for these words.
    They are helpful in my struggles wanting to understand and live the big change that happened with the burning of the Goetheanum:
    The center shifted from that building into each heart that would receive this quality of centered working, cocreating in the perphery.
    I can only trust and be waking up again and again to working in this imagination of anthroposophia community.

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