Rudolf Steiner was born in Krajevec Austria-Hungary (now Yugoslavia), on February 27, 1861, the son of a minor railway official. By the age of eight, Steiner had experienced the unseen worlds, the invisible reality within the everyday world. Once he even perceived the apparition of a deceased relative. Because of his tendencies toward the spiritual aspects of life, it was thought for a time that Steiner might become a clergyman; but his freethinking father argued that he was a bright boy, and he envisioned him following a more practical and materially rewarding occupation as a railway engineer.
When he was 15, Steiner met Felix Kotgutski, an herbalist and metaphysician, who, when Steiner was 19, introduced him to an adept in the occult to whom Steiner referred only as "the Master." Steiner never revealed the man's identity, in keeping with occult tradition. The Master informed him of his spiritual mission in life and foretold that Steiner would develop a system of knowledge that would blend science and religion.
Wishing to please his father, Steiner took a degree in mathematics, physics, and chemistry, from the Technische Hochschule in Vienna, but he wrote his doctoral thesis, "Truth and Science," at the University of Rostock in 1891. In 1894, he published the book The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, which he described as "a biographical account of how one human soul made the difficult ascent to freedom." In the work, Steiner sought to help others discover the reality of spiritual experience and demonstrate how it could function side by side with the world of ordinary thought and experience. In his worldview, it was possible to have a spiritual science that would be an outgrowth of the true spirit of natural science.
In his thirties, Steiner awakened to an inner recognition of what he believed was the turning point in time in human spiritual history—the incarnation of the Divine Being known as the Christ. In his "Tenth Lecture on the Gospel of St. Luke," he reflects that just as a plant cannot unfold its blossom immediately after the seed has been sown, so has humankind had to progress from stage to stage until the right knowledge could be brought to maturity at the right time. Steiner is among those mystics who state that in the twentieth century humankind began to enter the "fullness" time
Following the example of the Master Jesus, Steiner told his students that the rest of humanity must now in imitation of Christ gradually develop "what was present for thirty-three years on the Earth in one single personality." Jesus, the Christed One, was able to implant into humanity a seed which must now unfold and grow. To Steiner, the Christ energy is the catalyst that germinates the seed that great spirit beings implanted within their human offspring. The physical seeds of male and female intermingled to produce the whole human being, but Steiner believed there was also something within each human that did not arise from the blending of the two physical seeds: a "virgin birth," something ineffable, which somehow flowed into the process of germination from a different source.
Steiner also claimed to be able to read the Akashic Records, from which he had been able to ascertain the true history of human evolution. He set forth the hypothesis that the people of prehistory, the Atlanteans, had been largely guided and directed by a higher order of beings who interacted and communicated with certain humans—the smartest, the strongest, the most intellectually flexible. Eventually, these select humans produced what might be called demigods, semidivine human beings, who, in turn, could relay instructions from higher intelligences. In effect, Steiner may have presented another definition of the children of humans and the "sons of God" referred to in the book of Genesis, the hybrids that the ancient Hebrews named "Nephilim," which does, in fact, mean demigods, men of "great renown."
Steiner went on to speculate that within the larger evolving human race were the descendents of those divine-human hybrid beings, men and women who are animated by higher ideals, who regard themselves as children of a divine, universal power. He also believed that within what he termed the emerging "Sixth Post-Atlantean Race" would be children of the divine universal power who could be able to initiate those men and women who have developed their facility of thought so that they might better unite themselves with the divine. The children of the divine universal power, those who have the "seed" within them, would be able to initiate the more advanced members of humankind. People so initiated would be able to receive revelations and perform what others would consider miracles. The initiates would go on to become the mediators between humankind and the higher intelligences. The whole point of the efforts of these higher intelligences was to enable humankind to become more independent, more able to stand on its own feet without having to rely on the higher order of beings that directed humans in ancient times.
In 1902, Steiner became the general secretary of the German Section of the Theosophical Society. His lectures had found great reception among Theosophical audiences, so Steiner felt confident that he would be comfortable joining the movement. It wasn't long, however, before he became disappointed with the society's emphasis on Eastern mysticism, for he had become convinced that the passive Eastern doctrines were incapable of satisfying the spiritual needs of the Western consciousness. Steiner also believed that its founders had distorted a number of basic metaphysical and occult truths and did not place enough emphasis on the role of the Christ and the Christian Church in humankind's spiritual evolution. In 1913, Steiner left the Theosophists and formed his own group, the Anthroposophical Society, dedicated to constructing a path for spiritual growth established on four levels of human nature—the senses, imagination, inspiration, and intuition.
In 1914, Steiner married Marie von Sievers, an actress, who had been secretary of the German Section of the Theosophical Society. His first marriage, to Anna Eunicke, had ended in divorce some years previously. Between 1910 and 1914, he had written four mystery plays and he intended to stage these, together with the dramas of Goethe, in the Goetheanum, a school for esoteric research that he founded in Dornach, near Basel, Switzerland. Together with the talents of his wife, Steiner began to develop new approaches to speech and drama, which led to the beginnings of "eurythmy," an art of movement that makes visible those inner forms of language and music formerly revealed only in the unseen levels of artistic expression. After the First World War, an international group of volunteers, together with local craftsmen, constructed the unique building designed by Steiner. The Goetheanum was opened in 1920, to serve the "awareness of one's humanity" and to support the developing work of anthroposophy. On December 31, 1922, an arsonist burned the wooden building to the ground. A new building was designed and constructed in 1923, which still serves as the international headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society.
Among Steiner's greatest legacies is his work in education and the establishment of the Waldorf School Movement, which originated from a request made by Emil Molt, director of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory, for a school to which his employees could send their children. Steiner died on March 30, 1925, in Dornach.