Looking for the Apocalypse at the Goetheanum during the World Conference September 2023

31 October 2023 | Apocalypse in discussion, Blog, Context and roots | 0 comments

Kees Zoeteman

While participating in the Goetheanum World Conference from September 27 to October 1, 2023 in Dornach, Switzerland, I started to look for elements of the Apocalypse in the building of the Goetheanum. The goal of this conference was summarized by Pim Blomaard in the Dutch anthroposophical journal Motief of October 2023 as “how to make anthroposophy as a world movement less marginal and intellectual and more relevant and authentic”. Astrid van Zon and I stood for three days in front of the main entrance of the Goetheanum with a market stall with which we tried to advocate the importance of the Apocalypse for understanding and helping to solve the problems of our time. Among the 1000 participants from 50 countries, some did not know the Apocalypse yet or only vaguely, others turned out to be priests in the Christian community… A general impression was that relatively many young people participated.  

Our market stall in front of the main entrance to the Goetheanum

The Apocalypse is a book of initiation. And the Goetheanum, as the world center of the anthroposophical movement, is a modern mystery place that aims to make people of our time aware of the initiatory path to the spititual world.

One would therefore expect Rudolf Steiner to have incorporated elements from the Apocalypse into the Goetheanum, all the more so since he was intensively occupied with the Apocalypse until the end of his life, as the so-called Priest Apocalypse lectures (GA 346) show. Did Rudolf Steiner explicitly use the Apocalypse in designing the Goetheanum, and are there still signs of it?

In search of answers to these questions, it soon emerges that a number of apocalyptic elements are more clearly recognizable in the originally wood-built Goetheanum than in the second one, which was constructed of concrete after the fire in December 1922 that destroyed the first Goetheanum. How this came about will become clear from the following.

The First Goetheanum

Four stages of initiation

Looking for visible elements of the Apocalypse in the first and second Goetheanum, we can use as a guide the main lines of initiation described in the Apocalypse. These are often related to the structure of the Jewish synagogue or temple.

First we encounter a reversal as described in fragment 3 of the text. In the reversal, the visitor is urged to turn his or her attention from the outside world to the inside world and walk the inner path. We get a glimpse of the Son of Man. This step brings us into the court still located outside the temple walls. Here the outer events determine our consciousness. It is the stage of preparation.

Then, as a second step, we cross the entrance to the temple (fragment 11), the actual beginning of initiation. A door is opened in heaven and we are asked to ascend. We enter the court that lies within the temple and may glimpse a higher area where God is visible, seated on the throne. This represents  the world of images, for which our higher sense of imagination is required. This higher sense is opened after we learn to purify our thinking in order to find the truth and ascend further. With the breaking of the seals of the book on God’s lap, the corresponding inner developmental tasks of man are shown.

When the seven seals of the book are opened, the third threshold crossing arrives, after which we arrive at the altar in the temple. Trumpets are blown (fragment 20). Man, after purifing his feelings and desires, will not only receive the faculty of imagination but also the faculty of inspiration.

After seven trumpets have sounded, the Holy of Holies, that was previously hidden by a curtain, becomes visible. Behind this curtain in the Jewish temple is the ark (fragment 32). But man cannot enter this space of the Holy of Holies until the will has also been further strengthened to voluntary service. Seven great visions are shown that reveal the forces contending in the human soul. Subsequently (fragment 40) seven bowls of wrath are first poured out as a purification of the will and to discern those who are or are not admitted to the Holy of Holies where the delightful fragrance of God’s nearness becomes perceptible.

Only now, as the fourth step, (fragment 48) man can meet the divine beings directly by means of his intuition. The I of the initiated is now strong enough to see through and balance the opposing powers. Man becomes like an angel and enters the new earth, called the New Jerusalem.

Are these phases also reflected in the design of the first and second Goetheanum?

The first Goetheanum

In an illuminating analysis by Judith von Halle (Die Christus-Begegnung der Gegenwart und der Geist des Goetheanum, 2010, Dornach: Verlag fur Anthroposophie, p.66-83), it becomes clear that in the first Goetheanum the visitor could experience in the shaping of the building a material expression of the spiritual initiation process.

Floor plan and cross section of first Goetheanum (von Halle, 2010)

Here the parallels to the Apocalypse are that the garden around the Goetheanum can be seen as the outer court and the large dome of the building with the great hall below it as the inner court, where the performance of Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Dramas could be experienced. This hall also represents the ether world with its wealth of images which are depicted on the ceiling and in the colored glass windows. The large dome rests on twice seven pillars, representing the planetary environment of the earth. The visitor passes the seven pillars once on his quest along the south side and once after finding his destination back along the north side (Judith von Halle, 2017, The Seven Mystery Dramas of Rudolf Steiner, Amsterdam: Chicory, p. 241). The entrance of the Goetheanum is to the west and the visitor’s gaze is directed to the east, where the small domed hall is located. However, this smaller hall cannot be entered because this is the space of the stage. This smaller dome is supported by twelve slender columns. Although the visitor cannot physically enter this space, he can do so with his soul, with his astral body, by focusing his attention on the images and immersing himself in them. Thus the visitor can merge into the astral world of the stars of the zodiac. Here the voices of the actors in the soul world resound. This represents the sacred area of the temple.

And at the center of the wall at the backside of the smaller hall, directly opposite to the entrance of the Goetheanum and at eye level of the incoming visitor, is the Holy of Holies: the nine-meter-high wooden artwork of the representative of man, a statue intended for this purpose which however never was placed at this destination. This representatieve of man comes from a sphere of infinity beyond the cosmos of the zodiac and represents the self of man. This divine Christ being has upon his incarnation on earth surrounded himself with his twelve disciples representing the zodiac. Thus, the wooden sculpture of the representative of man depicts the Holy of Holies, the Son of Man, the future image of humanity, who is able to balance the opposing forces of Lucifer and Satanas (Ahriman).

From: Judith von Halle and John Wilkes, 2008, Dornach: Verlag am Goetheanum, Die Holzplastik des Goetheanum, Der Mensheitsrepräsentant zwischen Luzifer und Ahriman.

So, we clearly find a similar structure in the first Goetheanum as in the Jewish temple and the Apocalypse. Is this also the case for the second Goetheanum?

The Second Goetheanum

The second Goetheanum has a different design from the first, although the primary function of the great hall is the same. This is where major plays, including Steiner’s Four Mystery Dramas, are performed and conferences held. It has a hall that can seat nearly 1,000 visitors. Lower down, a smaller hall is housed and there are also separate rooms for the members of the daily board and for e.g. the exhibition of works of art (Hans Hasler, 2005, The Goetheanum, Dornach: Verlag am Goetheanum).

Judith von Halle is much less enthusiastic about the second Goetheanum when it comes to being a lively mystery place that allows visitors to come to an initiatory experience. Nevertheless, an open minded modern visitor will be overwhelmed by the second Goetheanum building. It is as if the building was projected from another world here onto earth. It is to my impression as if Rudolf Steiner wanted to create a memory of the head of the sphinx from Cairo, Egypt. The lively mystery place was pursued at the first Goetheanum by applying spiritual forces based on rituals, art works and intentions. There the possibility of initiation had been created through the sensory experiences of what was artfully depicted for the visitor, to arrive at an experience of the Christ as Paul also had in Damascus.  With the destructive fire of the first Goetheanum, according to Judith von Halle, a door to a simpler possibility of experiencing the Christ was closed (Judith von Halle, 2010, Die Christus-Begegnung der Gegenwart und der Geist des Goetheanum, p.141-144).

The second Goetheanum was not designed to represent a step-by-step initiation and to become as visitor bearer of the renewal of spiritual life. Steiner called the construction of the second Goetheanum “a development in a tragic direction” because the financial resources came not from “sacrificial coins” of those closely involved, but from insurance money raised by people who had nothing to do with the Goetheanum (Von Halle, 2010, p.136-137). After the fire, the “spirit of the Goetheanum” is to be found not in the building but outside it, among groups of people Rudolf Steiner alluded to in his 1923 Christmas meeting. The spirit of the Goetheanum, which Judith von Halle refers to as the same as the etheric Christ, will now have to be carried inside by the people who come there. Without them, the building is an empty shell of concrete (Von Halle, 2017, p. 21).

Nevertheless, many remnants of artworks created or designed for the first Goetheanum can be found in this building. These can bring to life the inspiration of the first Goetheanum, if only in our imagination.

Most important is the wood sculpture of the representative of man, which at the time of the fire -and even now- was not completed, and was situated in another building. As a result, it escaped the fire. But due to the death of sculpture Edith Maryon in 1924 and of Rudolf Steiner in 1925, the wood sculpture was not completed. Only the lower figure of Ahriman in the group was finished. Nowadays this sculpture is situated in a separate room of the Goetheanum, but not in a similar place as intended in the first Goetheanum: at the center of the stage under the small dome, symbolizing the Holy of Holies.

Other works of art that refer to the initiation are the figures depicted in the colored windows of the first and second Goetheanum. The windows of the first Goetheanum were lost because the heat of the fire melted the glass. But they were remade and installed in the second Goetheanum in the main hall. However the original triptych form was changed due to the need to use less wide windows. The present oblong glass windows consist of four pairs of green, blue, violet and pink windows. Only the red window above the main entrance retained the original triptych shape.

To arrive above the west-facing main entrance, visitors must ascend stairs that lead to the upper entrance to the main hall. As with the Apocalypse, at that spot the visitor is, as it were, summoned to “turn around!”. And there he sees, facing west, the big red window that indicates to him the nature of the path he is about to take: the initiation into the spiritual world.    

The red window facing west: the Initiation

The middle panel shows at the bottom that he will then need the same courage as archangel Michael to overcome the dragon, -his weaknesses such as fear, hatred and doubt (depicted in the left panel),- and to develop his forehead and throat chakra in order to be able to cross the abyss and to experience the helping spiritual beings (depicted in the right panel). Then the spiritual seeker begins to gain insight into the powers of the planetary spheres (depicted here above his head as Moon, Sun and Saturn) and of the zodiac, represented here by Leo and Taurus (left and right of his head), who whisper their secrets in his ear.

When subsequently the visitor enters the great hall in his movement to the east, he passes the four colored windows (Gudrun D. Gundersen, 2020, Die farbigen Fenster des Goetheanum, Überlingen:DCS).The green window represents the elemental sphere (Von Halle, 2017, pp. 24-25) and thus reminds of the physical world and the related letters John had to write to the seven communities. The blue window refers to the ether world and imagination and thus to the opening of the seven seals of the book on God’s lap. At the violet window, the seeker becomes aware of soul life, the astral world and the forces of Lucifer and Ahriman that work here as opposites. This is the area of the seven trumpets from the Apocalypse, the sacred space of the temple. The light of the pink window or peach blossom color, evokes the conscious relationship to the self. This higher self indicates the sphere beyond the zodiac, the devachan, where intuition operates, the most sacred Holy of Holies. The four colors of the windows in the great hall, and the images cut into them, are entirely at the service of the initiation, both at the first and second Goetheanum.

The same applies to the ceiling painting in the great hall, which has been painstakingly reproduced after the example of the painting in the first Goetheanum. After the pink window, the seeker can find no other window that can lead him or her further and, searching for other footing, arrives as a matter of course at the central image shown above: the so-called I-A-O motif. The I-part shows how man’s I first arises in the unity of God the Father and within the coherence of the Trinity. Here is found a mixture of “God’s wrath and God’s melancholy,” according to Rudolf Steiner. God will have to sent the Son as a sacrifice for the salvation of mankind in order to nullify the actions of God’s also depicted adversary which is needed to give man his freedom of choice. With the A (life) and O motif (light) we are reminded of the Alpha and Omega from the Apocalypse that mark the developmental path of the human self. However, Rudolf Steiner referred to his close followers for the source of this I-A-O motif not to the Apocalypse but to the prologue of John’s Gospel. This prologue can be seen as a summary of the Apocalypse, however (Von Halle, 2017, pp. 211-219).    

I-A-O motif on ceiling in great hall after Hasler, 2005

On the ceiling of the great hall several other images are surrounding the I-A-O motif, showing the creation of man and earth, and the recent cultural periods that preceded the present time. These cultural periods are referred to in the Apocalypse as the communities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon and Thyatira (Hasler, 2005, p. 36-37).

The central theme of initiation in both the Apocalypse and the first Goetheanum emerges in a new light in Judith von Halle’s book on the ceiling paintings in the small dome of the first Goetheanum. There are only limited photographs available of these ceiling paintings which have not been reproduced in the second Goetheanum. Judith von Halle has proposed that these ceiling paintings contained the core scenes of a fifth, sixth and seventh mystery drama (Von Halle, 2017, p.27). Steiner is said to have created these ceiling paintings after his decision not to write further dramas after the fourth one. In her view, the mystery dramas that were completed do represent the four previously described steps of initiation as they are also connected to the four colored windows in the large domed hall. Thereby, the pink window led to the spirit realm of devachan and self-development. The directions for the last three dramas would describe the way back after the highest initiation at the devachan sphere, through the astral, etheric and physical spheres. The Apocalypse hardly considers this way back; the final text after the heavenly Jerusalem is limited to fifteen verses only.  


After this general exploration of the design and artwork in the second Goetheanum, we must conclude that, especially in the remnants derived from the first Goetheanum and its design, many apocalyptic elements can be found. However, the Apocalypse is present more implicitly than explicitly in the present Goetheanum. For commentators the connection with the content of the esoteric class lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 is more evident, as illustrated in for example the themes of the glass windows.


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