“[C]atch a fairly young mouse and skin it ...
[Y]ou must obtain this skin when Venus is in the sign of Scorpio ...
[Y]ou obtain the skin of a mouse and burn it.
Carefully collect the ash [and] sprinkle it over your fields ...
[Y]ou will find this an excellent remedy.”
— Rudolf Steiner
Fill Those Cow Horns
by Roger Rawlings
Afterword by Dan Dugan
Many of Rudolf Steiner's doctrines are destructive: his racism, his medical quackery, and his advocacy of the warped forms of “thought” promoted at Waldorf schools. Some of his other doctrines, by contrast, do not rise to this level of perniciousness. They are, by and large, merely silly. Consider “biodynamic agriculture,” for example.
I should start by saying that my wife and I grow and buy organic foods. We figure the fewer pesticides we ingest, the better. Biodynamic agriculture is Steiner's version of organic farming, and as such it may well be preferable to factory farming with its profligate use of dangerous chemicals.
Still, Steiner's agricultural precepts are fully as mystical and unscientific as any of his other teachings. To practice biodynamic agriculture, one needs to resort to magic and astrology. (I almost feel that I could end this essay right here. Q.E.D. But I won't be that abrupt. I'll back up my assertions with examples and analyses.)
Having grown up in rural areas,  Steiner knew what virtually all rural people know: the quality of crops depends on the health of the soil, and this health is largely dependent on fertilization. Today, artificial fertilizers are often used. In the old days, fertilization resulted from use of compost or, to be less euphemistic, dung and other organic waste. Organic farms today (biodynamic or otherwise) follow the old pattern.
Steiner taught that a “healthy farm” is one that receives sufficient manure, in the correct proportions, from the animals living on that farm.  Thus, it would be unnecessary — indeed, “unhealthy” — to introduce fertilizers from outside sources. On the other hand, Steiner taught that farmers should take special steps in utilizing their homegrown fertilizing materials. Take one example. He specified that manure should be stuffed into cow horns, buried in the ground to a specified depth during the autumn, and disinterred during the following year. The decayed contents of the horns should then be diluted with water and spread on farm fields.  The dilution process, which is intended to release the latent energies within the decayed matter, seems more suitable to a sorcerer's laboratory than to a present-day farm. The following description is from a biodynamic website in England:
“Horn Manure is cow manure that has been fermented in the soil over winter inside a cow horn ... Before being applied very small amounts...are dissolved in water and stirred rigorously for one whole hour. This is done by stirring (preferably by hand) in one direction in such a way that a deep crater is formed in the stirring vessel (bucket, barrel). Then the direction is changed, the water seethes and slowly a new crater is formed. Each time a well-formed crater is achieved the direction is changed until the full hour is completed. In this way the dynamic effects concentrated in the prepared manure...are released into the rhythmically moved water and become effective for soil and plant.” 
Why must the manure decay inside cow horns? The same website offers this explanation:
“Soil [is] created through an active interweaving of mineral, plant and animal processes ... It is then perhaps not quite so surprising that several [biodynamic] preparations require something from the animal world, in order to make them fully effective.”  Translation: Soil is built up, in part, from animal products — in a word, manure. So we can improve the soil by adding animal products — in a word, manure. This explanation gets us just about nowhere, sidestepping the question of magical stirring, but there it is. Take it or leave it. The key point is that the tiny amount of diluted manure produced through this practice can have virtually no chemical or biological effect on the fields, unless magical influences come into play.
Steiner was the author of much of the pseudoscience that is used to justify biodynamics. But to really understand his thinking, we need to go deeper — or, if you will, higher. Steiner's agricultural doctrines — like his doctrines on all other subjects — are essentially spiritualistic. The physical universe, in his system, is entirely immersed in, and influenced by, spiritual realities. To grasp any of Steiner's statements, we need to constantly remember that he traces all physical effects back to spiritual causes. Here is a statement Steiner made about a simple vegetable, the beetroot:
“There, for example, is the beetroot growing in the earth. To take it just for what it is within its narrow limits, is nonsense if in reality its growth depends on countless conditions, not even only of the Earth as a whole, but of the cosmic environment.” 
If in referring to factors that do not originate on Earth, Steiner meant sunlight, then it would be true that beetroots depend on both earthly and cosmic influences. But that's not what he meant. Notice that he referred to “countess conditions...of the cosmic environment." He was alluding to the influences of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars (which, remember, are themselves manifestations of spiritual powers), and fundamentally he was speaking about the influences of purely spiritual beings.
We would not be far off the mark if we referred to Steiner's agricultural doctrines as irremediably astrological. The best times for preparing fields, sowing crops, etc., depend — according to Steiner — on the timing of eclipses and the passages of the Moon between the Earth and various planets, etc. According to Anthroposophical belief, the stars and planets are the physical expression of the gods and their intentions. The forces of the planets and stars are thus divine impulses that flow down upon the Earth. The biodynamic website biodynamics.com stresses the need to consider astrological conditions when farming. Here's a brief sample:
“The times indicated are those the author deems to be the first choice periods for working the soil, applying biodynamic preparations, sowing seed, or working with plants in general.
• January 22 – Moon occults Uranus @ 0:29 pm
• February 2 – Moon occults Saturn @ 6:34 pm
• March 1 – Moon occults Saturn @ 9:12 pm
• March 3 – Lunar Eclipse @ 6:17 pm
• March 16 – Moon occults Mercury @ 11:56 pm
• March 18 – Solar Eclipse @ 10:43 pm” 
Steiner was quite specific (although, as always, pseudoscientific) in his description of the influence planets have on plants:
“Everything that lives in the silicious [sic] nature contains forces which comes [sic] not from the Earth but from the so-called distant planets, the planets beyond the Sun — Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. That which proceeds from these distant planets influences the life of plants via [silicon and related substances]. On the other hand, from all that is represented in the planets near the Earth — Moon [sic], Mercury and Venus — forces work through limestone and kindred substances.” 
Few astronomers (if any) would classify the Moon as a planet. And most would wonder at the absence of Uranus, Neptune, and (perhaps) Pluto from Steiner’s discussion of the solar system. But let that go.
According to Steiner, cosmic forces also affect a farm's animal population:
“The animal organism lives in the whole complex of Nature’s household. In form and colour and configuration, and in the structure and consistency of its substance from the front to the hinder parts, it is related to these influences. From the snout towards the heart, the Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars influences are at work; in the heart itself the Sun, and towards the tail, the Venus, Mercury, and Moon influences.” 
The upshot of Steiner’s dogmas is that biodynamic growers spend a lot of time studying planetary movements. This study is made more complicated by Steiner's occasional insistence that the planets don't actually orbit the sun. Instead, they are lined up with it — some ahead, some behind — and travel along with the sun as it weaves its way through the cosmos. 
Steiner taught that cosmic (in effect, astrological) considerations affect every part of a farm, not only the soil, plant life, and animal life, but also the water supply. He stated his case in these words:
“Water, in effect, is eminently suited to prepare the ways within the earthly domain for those forces which come, for instance, from the Moon. Water brings about the distribution of the lunar forces in the earthly realm ... Let us therefore suppose that there have just been rainy days and that these are followed by a full Moon. In deed [sic] and in truth, with the forces that come from the Moon on days of the full Moon, something colossal is taking place on the Earth. These forces spring up and shoot into all the growth of plants, but they are unable to do so unless rainy days have gone before ... Is it not of some significance, whether we sow the seed in a certain relation to the rainfall and the subsequent light of the full Moon, or whether we sow it thoughtlessly at any time? Something, no doubt, will come up even then ... [I]n certain plants, what the full Moon has to do will thrive intensely after rainy days and will take place but feebly and sparingly after days of sunshine.” 
If we leave out the unsupported assertions, the equivocations, and the lunar nonsense, what does this statement amount to? Seeds sprout better in moist soil than in dry.
Numerous organic growers employ biodynamic methods, and they may achieve results comparable to those reached by conventional organic growers. Until we find sensible ways to define and measure such misty concepts as “the influences of Venus, Mercury and Moon,” there can be no way to make a rational, scientific evaluation. A farmer who decides to plant peas when the Moon occults Venus, or to create magical field preparations by stuffing manure into cow horns, is not hurting anyone. But s/he is probably wasting a lot of time. This is, after all, the twenty-first century. Haven't we learned anything?
According to Steiner,
the parts of a plant correspond inversely to our parts:
The blossom or fruit is the lower body;
the stem and leaves are the chest;
the roots are the head.
Thus, a plant is essentially a human being
turned upside down.
This is my colored rendering of the b&w image
on p. 83 of Rudolf Steiner, FROM SUNSPOTS TO STRAWBERRIES
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002.)
Detail from a drawing by a Waldorf student
[courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools].
Demeter farms — named for the ancient Greek goddess of grains and fertility — operate in accordance with Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic teachings. Demeter International is a certifying authority that verifies the bona fides of agricultural operations that claim to be biodynamic. See http://www.demeter.net/.
The stars and the inner Earth,
Detail from a drawing by a Waldorf student.
(In Anthroposophical belief, gnomes exist — they are
"nature spirits" residing in and under the soil.
Steiner taught that miners often spot gnomes underground.
Whether Waldorf students are taught these things
varies from school to school and teacher to teacher.)
Farm animals — horses? cows? — drawn by a Waldorf student.
(Why one is flying is anybody's guess.)
"[G]arden work should be an obligatory addition to the lessons."
— Rudolf Steiner, quoted by Rudolf Krause in GARDENING CLASSES AT THE WALDORF SCHOOLS
(Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, 1992), p. 2.
Perhaps a better translation:
"The gardening class is an obligatory part of the education."
— Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER
(Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 65.
Virtually every statement Steiner ever made concerning nature — or, in a broader sense, reality — was either obviously wrong or, at a minimum, highly questionable. Consider what, if anything, we can learn from the following: “What in the human being is cosmic respiration, what is implanted in the human being through fertilization, this is brought to the plant every year by the light, so that the plant grows up from gravity into light and thus towards fertilization. When the water rising up here in the form of mist reaches a certain place it is fertilized from out of the cosmos. And what happens? There is lightning!" — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 105. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on image in the book.] Unless we redefine "fertilization" to mean something it does not mean, this statement is meaningless. On the other hand, the statement does contain an apparent acknowledgment that gravity exists — something that Steiner often denied. As for Steiner's explanation of lightning...
(As for the force of gravity, Steiner said it exists on some planets, more or less, but really it is nothing. Still, Waldorf teachers should tell students about gravity so as not to cause a scandal: '"Saying that [an object] is subject to the force of gravity is really meaningless ... But we cannot avoid speaking of gravity ... Just imagine if a fifteen-year-old boy knew nothing of gravity; there would be a terrible fuss.” — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS (Anthroposophical Press, 2000), pp. 116-117.)
According to Steiner, the growth of plants hinges on the activities of nature spirits — incorporeal beings that live inside the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. We glimpsed the gnomes, previously. They are the nature spirits of the earth. The nature spirits of the air are sylphs, those of fire are fire-spirits or salamanders, and those of water are undines. “And so we picture, from below upwards, in bluish, blackish shades the force of gravity [sic], to which an upward impulse is given by the gnomes; and flitting all around the plant...[is] the undine power that blends and disperses substances as the plant grows upwards. From above downwards, from the sylphs, light is made to leave its imprint in the plant and molds and creates the form which descends as an ideal form and is taken up by the material womb of the earth; moreover fire spirits flit around the plant and concentrate cosmic warmth in tiny seed points. This is sent down to the gnomes together with the seed power, so that down there they can cause the plants to arise out of fire and life." — Rudolf Steiner, HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 125-126. [R.R. sketch, 2009. There is no plant in my sketch because there is none in the book's.]
Possibly you do not realize that the Earth is a huge, dead human head. “[W]hen we look inside the head, we find dying matter ... Once we have penetrated this hard, lifeless skin and reached the brain, we find in it fossilization everywhere, just as we do upon the surface of the earth ... [T]he earth is a huge human head, indeed, a huge, dead human head." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM CRYSTALS TO CROCODILES (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002, pp. 148-149. [R. R. sketch, 2009, based on illustration on p. 148.] On the top, a cross section of a human skull; on the bottom, terra firma. Amazing, hm?
"[A]fter reading Steiner, I conclude that Rudolf Steiner was a complete nutcase, a flimflam man with a tremendous imagination, a combination if you will, of an LSD-dropping Timothy Leary with the showmanship of a P.T. Barnum. His books, writings and lectures should be catalogued under 'science fiction' because there is not a scintilla of truth in any of his writings. Reading Steiner is tough sledding because it makes no sense in our real world, yet when viewed as 'science fiction' masquerading as some sort of Jim Jones new age cult you are forced to admit that Steiner was extremely clever and creative in actually making this stuff up. Unfortunately, it is quite sad that someone — anyone — would actually believe in this hoax and profoundly disturbing that the Biodynamic movement is gaining ground." — Stuart Smith, "Biodynamics Is a Hoax" [http://biodynamicshoax.wordpress.com/]
Biodynamic farms are not places of utter sweetness and light, tinged just a bit by superstition and foolishness. Biodynamic agriculture requires the use of animal body parts, including horns, skulls, intestines, and mesentery. To harvest body parts, farmers slaughter animals.
Of course, animals are killed on most farms of most sorts, and it appears that biodynamic farmers slaughter their animals much as most other farmers do — they kill the animals for meat, either to consume it or to sell it. The difference is that biodynamic farmers take the extra step of saving the “magical” body parts of the animals they kill.  It is unclear whether biodynamic farmers ever kill animals exclusively to harvest body parts.
Most people eat meat and, therefore, they raise few objections to the way animals are treated on farms, including biodynamic farms. But strict vegetarians and animals’ rights advocates should take note: The foods produced at biodynamic farms result from practices that are bound up with the killing of animals and the use of animal body parts. If this appalls you, you should buy your groceries from other providers. (Conventional organic growers do not need bits and pieces of animals for sorcery.)
Parents of Waldorf students may also want to mull over this subject. If a Waldorf school maintains a biodynamic garden (at many Waldorf schools, the children work in these gardens), the slaughtering of animals lurks in the background. The children will surely never be instructed to kill any animals, and they probably will not handle animal body parts. Indeed, the children probably will never see a scene like the one shown below — unless they visit a biodynamic farming operation, in which case they may. Biodynamic agriculture is both less, and more, than meets the eye.
— Roger Rawlings
Cattle heads in the back of a pickup truck at a biodynamic winery.
The calf's head is particularly troubling.
Calves may die in any number of ways,
and veal calves are intentionally slaughtered.
But today in America, scenes such as this
— severed animal heads being hauled around —
are probably confined to
biodynamic farms and wineries.
[Photo by Frank Gaglione.]
Following is an excerpt from
a report that first appeared
in SF WEEKLY
on November 19, 2008:
“Voodoo on the Vine”
by Joe Eskenazi
In a remote corner of the Benziger Family Winery, you can just barely hear the tour guide's voice from over the adjacent ridge. Sightseers will never be led to this spot, however, and not just for the obvious reason — a series of massive compost piles emitting a smell so powerful it brings tears to the eyes. In this part of the winery, there are things tour guides would rather not explain.
One recent Friday, Colby Eierman, the vineyard's chief gardener, slowly motored his pickup past the piles. Viscous red fluid was slathered over the truck's back flap; with every bump in the road, a bovine nose protruded momentarily from the bed.
The fluid was blood. Only hours earlier it had coursed through the veins of a 1,500-pound animal; now it congealed on the liner of Eierman's truck. The bull's eyes stared serenely skyward while its majestic horns barely fit within the truck bed. A calf's head, shorn of its jaw muscles, bounced around alongside it.
When asked just what was going on, Eierman shot a glance at Jessica LaBounty, Benziger's marketing manager, who closed her eyes and gave a quick nod. The gardener proceeded to explain that the severed heads were a vital ingredient in Biodynamic Preparation No. 505: Finely ground oak bark will be placed into the cows' fresh skulls and stored in a shallow, moist hole or rain bucket throughout autumn and winter. The resultant concoction is then applied, in nearly undetectable quantities, to the gargantuan compost piles; Benziger's promotional literature claims it "stimulates the plant's immune system and promotes healing."
...Those with a vested interest in moving Biodynamic wines almost invariably use the words "natural" and "holistic" — terms that are malleable and vague.
...Clearly, Biodynamic wines' sign is ascending – even if no one involved in making or selling them wants to volunteer information about the severed cows' heads or a bevy of other animal and vegetable preparations that read like a shopping list for Shakespeare's three weird sisters. Also left unmentioned is a reliance upon provably bad science and an unabashed embrace of supernatural concepts such as astrology and even alchemy.
Painting by a Waldorf student
[courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools].
How to protect a farm field from field mice:
“You catch a fairly young mouse and skin it, so as to get the skin. There you have the skin of a fairly young mouse. (There are always enough mice — albeit, they must be field-mice if you wish to make this experiment). But you must obtain this skin when Venus is in the sign of Scorpio.
“Those people of olden time, you see, were not so stupid with their instinctive science! Now that we are passing [in our discussion] from plants to animals, we come to the ‘animal circle’ — that is, the ‘Zodiac.’ It was not called so in a meaningless way. To attain our end within the plant-world we stop at the planetary system. For the animal world, that is not enough. There we need ideas that reckon with the surrounding sphere of fixed stars, notably the fixed stars of the Zodiac.
“Moreover, in the growth of plants the Moon-influence is well-nigh sufficient to bring about the reproductive process. In the animal kingdom, on the other hand, the Moon-influence must be supported by that of Venus. Nay, for the animal kingdom the Moon-influence does not need to be considered very much. For the animal kingdom conserves the lunar forces; it emancipates itself from the Moon. The Moon-force is developed in the animals kingdom even when it does not happen to be full Moon. The animal carries the force of the full Moon within it, conserves it, and so emancipates itself from the limitations of time.
“This does not apply to what we have here to do; it does not apply to other planetary forces. For you must do something quite definite with the mouse-skin. At the time when Venus is in Scorpio, you obtain the skin of a mouse and burn it. Carefully collect the ash and other constituents that remain from the burning. It will not be much, but if you have a number of mice, it will be enough. You can easily get enough.
“Thus you obtain your burned mouse-skin at the time when Venus is in Scorpio. And there remains, in what is thus destroyed by the fire, the corresponding negative force as against the reproductive power of the field-mouse. Take the pepper you get in this way, and sprinkle it over your fields. In some districts it may be difficult to carry out; then you can afford to do it even more homoeopathically; you do not need a whole plateful.
“Provided it has been led through the fire at the high conjunction of Venus and Scorpio, you will find this an excellent remedy. Henceforth, your mice will avoid the field.”
— Rudolf Steiner, AGRICULTURE COURSE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1958), p. 113.
by Dan Dugan
On December 2, 2008, Dan Dugan posted the following message at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/ .
I have reprinted it here by permission. — Roger Rawlings
A recent fund-raising mailing from the Fellowship Community in Chestnut Ridge, NY (an Anthroposophical elder care facility) included a celebration of the life of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, one of the founders of biodynamic agriculture. It reads (in part):
“In 1899, on the last day of the ‘dark Age’, [sic] a boy was born in southern Germany; he died in 1961 at the Threefold Community.  He was a very sensitive child and youth. He had an exceptionally close relationship with the life of nature. He grew up to become involved in WW I and was later guided through university training by Rudolf Steiner. His curriculum was daunting with an emphasis on chemistry in nature and in the human being. His purpose in life became the performance of the necessary research work to make evident the life forces working in nature and in the human being. He was one of the first adventurers to advocate and experiment with birthing Bio-Dynamics. In the late 1930's, he received an honorary medical doctorate from Hahneman Medical College for his work with the crystallographic revelation of the formative forces at work in the earth, in minerals, plants, animals, and in the cosmos. The Organic Movement in this country was born at his doorstep....”
The “dark age” referred to is the Kali Yuga of Anthroposophical myth.  In my estimation, rather than having ended, a dark age is developing now with a worldwide shift from scientific to magical thinking.
The “necessary research work to make evident the life forces” points up the antique scientific method that Steiner taught and Anthroposophists follow. Nineteenth-century scientists worked to “prove” their hypotheses by finding evidence that tended to support them. Twentieth-century science (especially since Karl Popper) learned that such a method is unreliable — it is better to challenge hypotheses as rigorously as possible.
Pfeiffer's “sensitive crystallization” procedure is the main biological and chemical analysis technique used in biodynamics and Anthroposophical medicine. Reading the highly random patterns formed during crystallization of a salt in solution with the substance being tested (blood, for example) is like reading tea leaves. Random data is an essential input for quack scientific methods — you can see anything you want in it.
Pfeiffer was an effusive hagiographer of Steiner, and he is now celebrated as one of the master's successors.
For statements Steiner made about magic and witchcraft,
For some other pertinent comments,
More on Gnomes and plants:
“The plant gathers the secrets of the universe, sinks them into the ground, and the gnomes take these secrets into themselves from what seeps down spiritually to them through the plants. And because the gnomes, particularly from autumn on and through the winter, in their wanderings through ore and rock bear with them what has filtered down to them through the plants, they become those beings within the earth which, as they wander, carry the ideas of the whole universe streaming throughout the earth. We look forth into the wide world. The world is built from universal spirit; it is an embodiment of universal ideas, of universal spirit. The gnomes receive through the plants, which to them are the same as rays of light are to us, the ideas of the universe, and within the earth carry them in full consciousness from metal to metal, from rock to rock.” — Rudolf Steiner, AGRICULTURE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 154.
In his 2010 dissertation "Between Occultism and Fascism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race and Nation in Germany and Italy, 1900-1945", Peter Staudenmaier explores the ties and also the conflicts between Anthroposophy and Nazism. Some Nazi leaders looked favorably on Anthroposophy while others vigorously opposed it. The latter group ultimately prevailed and Anthroposophy was driven underground.
Biodynamic agriculture was held in special esteem during the Third Reich — several Nazi leaders, including Hitler, favored natural, organic, and/or vegetarian diets. "Despite ongoing opposition [from some quarters], the biodynamic movement flourished between 1933 and 1941, garnering praise from an extraordinary range of leading Nazis and winning supporters and advocates in several branches of the regime." — "Between Occultism and Fascism", pp. 226-227. There were biodynamic plantations throughout Germany and the occupied countries, including at concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, and Ravensbrük. [Ibid., p. 247.] The produce from these plantations went primarily to "loyal" Germans, not to the camp inmates.
It is presumably not Anthroposophy's fault if some Nazis accepted some Anthroposophical doctrines. Yet indeed some highly placed Nazis did. I quote the following for whatever it may tell us — little or much — about the years when two Austrian Germans, Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Steiner, made significant impact on Germany and the world. Conventional history would indicate that Hitler's influence was far greater and, of course, far worse. Anthroposophists would likely argue that before all is said and done, Steiner's impact will be far greater and, of course, far better.
"In the realm of agriculture, the new school of anthroposophy led by Rudolf Steiner suggested that plants and the soil had to be handled in accordance with magnetic laws of the cosmos. Artificial fertilizers were condemned because they threatened the organic unit [sic: unity?] of man and nature ... [T]he official Nazi line condemned anthroposophical [i.e., biodynamic] farming ... [But the] Nazis' stand on anthroposophical farming was not uniform ... [Some] leading Nazis supported organic farming and saw a link between environmental purity and racial purity. Hitler and Himmler themselves were vegetarians, and during the Third Reich experimental organic farms were set up and used to supply the SS [the Nazi security force that ran concentration or death camps]. Jost Hermand even talks about a "green wing" of the Nazi Party that included ... Richard Darré, also Rudolf Hess, Fritz Todt, and Alwin Seifert ... Yet Darré remained skeptical of Steiner and treated biodynamic farming more as an intriguing theoretical possibility than anything else ... Only after the war and his release from prison in 1950 did he show commitment to anthroposophical ideas and new anthroposophical circles." — Brüggemeier, Cioc, and Zeller, editors, HOW GREEN WERE THE NAZIS? (Ohio University Press, 2005), pp. 138-139.
"Seifert [a proto-Green Nazi leader] was constantly trying to extend his influence ... With [Deputy Führer Rudolf] Hess he shared an interest in Steiner's methods of "biologic-dynamic" [sic] agriculture. Seifert designed a garden for Hess's private home and bragged to a colleague that he would do likewise for Hitler "after the war" ... [H]e acted as a go-between for the Anthroposophical Society and the Nazi state; while anthroposophical societies were banned for some time after 1933, biodynamic farming flourished. Only after Hess's flight to England were all anthroposophical institutions, including the Steiner schools, outlawed."— [Ibid., pp. 156-157.
Much of the news coverage of Waldorf schools is superficial — the reporters have not dug deep to learn what lies below the surface.
We can't blame them, perhaps — Waldorf schools are good at hiding their beliefs and practices from outsiders.
Still, it is helpful to dig. Here is a recent news account. I have appended endnotes that help explain what the reporter missed.
Birmingham Weekly, August 19, 2010
As the wheels of the school bus start turning again this month, school gardening programs seem to be cropping up in curriculums all over Birmingham. Offering students hands-on lessons in farming and nutrition, several local campuses have instituted student-groomed plots.
The Alabama Waldorf School, currently located in Crestwood, is one example of a local school attempting to cultivate an attention to the earth in its students that runs deep.  “What I love about this [kind of education] is that the students are encouraged to have an interconnection to everything they learn,” says Michelle Lucas, third grade teacher at the Waldorf School. “It’s not shallow memorizing.  It’s experiencing what they learn and really taking it into themselves and finding out that they can do something with it. I think it will create active, intelligent, involved human beings.” 
The school’s unique learning philosophy permits teachers to tailor their curriculums to their own interests, to some extent.  “I’ve always been one of those people who’ve had tons of different interests,” says fourth grade teacher, Melissa Downs. “I enjoy nature and being outside, and that was just part of what we did when I was a kid: going hiking and camping and gardening. [Teaching at the Waldorf School] just really fits who I am. We don’t have textbooks.  Teachers are the ones that bring the information to the children and do the research first. It’s such a rich curriculum.”
The theme of a third grade year at any Waldorf School involves fostering practical skills, and here gardening and cooking are emphasized.  In addition to classroom time, students and teachers spend some school hours, in addition to after-school time, working their garden beds. Through the process of preparing soil, planting seeds, harvesting crops and using fresh ingredients in recipes, students gain more than just a holistic understanding of the farming system.  Teachers also use the activities to ingrain other lessons like mathematical principles or story writing. Last year, Downs used a grain-to-bread illustration to frame a unit on creative writing. “We walked around the garden and noticed how much the grass looked like grain. We imagined going through the process of grinding the grain, and wrote it down.” 
As a result of this hands-on approach to learning, students feel personally invested in what they experience at school. “It’s good for them to realize that they can make something really magical happen in the world by making something grow,” says Lucas. 
Of course, it’s also hard work. Not all of the students are enthusiastic about getting dirty and putting in hours of labor. But, many of them are captivated by the whole process of planting seeds. “Some of my kids were so ecstatic once [our seeds] started to grow that they would come out and talk to their plants,” Downs says. 
The children are not the only ones enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor. With the support of some parents in the school, teachers hope to be able to join together with students to create what Downs refers to as a “Pasta Sauce Garden.” The idea is for each year’s third grade class to take ownership of the project by growing tomatoes and herbs. Not only would the students plant and harvest the fresh ingredients, the hope is that they would be able to use their goods to create and jar their very own blend of “Waldorf School Pasta Sauce” to help raise money for the school. 
The school is currently working a capitol campaign to raise the funds necessary to help them make a move from their present location to new school grounds located in Roebuck. While that move may be several years down the road, Downs and Lucas both have grander visions for the gardening space that the new campus will afford. In addition to that, they are already putting down roots in the surrounding area with ideas for a community garden. Allowing local residents to have plots on their grounds, according to Downs, would be “a neat way to connect with the neighborhood.” 
The concept fits right in with the school’s belief system.  For third grade students, the Waldorf School education, “is very much about learning about the world that they live in, about how community lives and how to develop a connection to the world around them,” says Lucas.
“The whole curriculum is just weaving things together,” says Downs. “It just feels so alive.” 
If you'd like more information about any of the topics discussed here,
you might begin by consulting the following resources:
THE SEMI-STEINER DICTIONARY
THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA
WALDORF WATCH INDEX
WALDORF WATCH TABLE OF CONTENTS
Some illustrations on each page here at Waldorf Watch
are closely connected to the essay on that page;
others are not — they provide general context.
 “[T]he areas in which he grew up were little changed from the Middle Ages ... [H]e found himself in the mountains, among peasants whose way of life stretched unchanged into past centuries ... The peasants still maintained somewhat a clairvoyant perception of nature, and their cultural life was intimately related to the changing of the seasons and the tasks linked to what Steiner later called 'the breathing of the earth.'” — Hilmar Moore, “Rudolf Steiner: A Biographical Introduction for Farmers", BIODYNAMICS #214, November/December 1997.
Anthroposophists believe in clairvoyance. Indeed, their belief system depends on this psychic power — which is a delusion. [See "Clairvoyance".]
 “The farm is only healthy inasmuch as it provides its own manure from it own stock.” Rudolf Steiner, AGRICULTURE COURSE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 40.
 “Biodynamic agriculture,” WIKIPEDIA, 2/12/2007. One must be cautious about citing WIKIPEDIA, but in this instance the entry seems reliable. See the next quotation in this essay, which generally confirms the entry. (I would offer an entry from the ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, but as of this date there is none, an omission that indicates the standing of biodynamic agriculture in the eyes of independent experts.)
 “Biodynamic Frequently Asked Questions", www.biodynamic.org.uk .
 “Why Are Animal Organs Used?”, www.biodynamic.org.uk .
 Rudolf Steiner, AGRICULTURE COURSE, p. 20.
 Hugh J. Courtney, “Recommendations for Working with Crops, Sequential Spraying, and Ashing (for U.S.A.), January through June, 2007, (EST until April 1 at 2:00 am, then EDT)”, biodynamics.com .
 Rudolf Steiner, AGRICULTURE COURSE, p. 24.
 Ibid., p. 40.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 30-31.
 Rudolf Steiner, AGRICULTURE COURSE, p. 26.
 E.g., a defender of biodynamic practices has written, “There are many small farms that have cattle for meat and dairy. When the farmer decides to slaughter (notice we farmers don't use the word sacrifice) a cow, the animal goes to the local butcher to get processed and put in the freezer. On biodynamic farms, the farmer will keep the intestine, mesentery, skull and horns. To use for compost preparations. These are parts that are normally thrown away.” [http://tastingroom.pressdemocrat.com/default.asp?item=2365133 ]
 Threefolding was Steiner’s attempt to formulate a new social order, especially for Germany following World War I. The term refers to three spheres of social life: politics, economics, and culture. Steiner drew up his proposals in opposition to the Fourteen Points offered by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for ending of the war. Wilson’s points included arms reductions, the adjustment of colonial aims, and the drawing of national boundaries to correspond with the ethnicity of populations. Steiner considered Wilson’s proposals — and the entire set of terms discussed by the Allies for the treatment of defeated Germany — too harsh. [See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, THE THREE-FOLD COMMONWEALTH (Macmillan, 1922).] The threefolding movement had little effect, and Steiner soon redirected his attention to mysticism. [See "Threefolding".]
Several Anthroposophical groups and institutions are clustered in rural New York. “The residents and institutions of the Threefold community have been promoting spiritual values in the arts, education and community life since 1926.” See http://www.threefold.org/ . “The Fellowship Community, founded in 1966, is a community of all ages, centered around the care of the elderly.” See http://www.fellowshipcommunity.org/ . The Pfeiffer Center (named for Ehrenfried Pfeiffer) “is dedicated to education, research and outreach in farming, gardening and beekeeping. An important goal is to raise awareness of biodynamics as the most holistic approach to caring for the land.” See http://www.pfeiffercenter.org/ .
 “Kali Yuga began in the year 3101 [BC] prior to the founding of Christianity ... In the period prior to the year 3101...there existed that which one can designate at the last residue of the old clairvoyance ... In the course of human evolution these periods follow each other: Krita Yuga — Treta Yuga — Dvapara Yuga — Kali Yuga.” — Rudolf Steiner, COMPILED LECTURES (Anthroposophic Press, 1944 — reprinted by Health Research, 2006), p. 37.
Krita Yuga, which came before the destruction of Atlantis, was the Golden Age when humans were still consciously united with “Divine-Spiritual beings.” [Ibid., p. 5] Treta Yuga was the Silver Age when men were less conscious of the gods but retained a memory of them and had a vague awareness of spiritual realities in general, an awareness that became heightened during sleep. [p. 6] During Dvapara Theta, the Bronze Age, men became more adjusted to physical reality and thus retained little spiritual insight — they could remember the spirit realm only as old men can remember their youth. [p. 6] During Kali Yuga, the Dark Age, “the doors of the spiritual world were closed.” [p. 6]
As he often did, Steiner fudged the meanings of the terms he used — Krita Yuga, thus, may be considered to extend a fairly brief period or an extremely long period into the past. [pp. 6-7] Kali Yuga, if considered “in the sense in which we first used the term,” [p. 7] began more than three millennia before the birth of Christ and ended in 1899 A.D. [p. 9] During the era following Kali Yuga, men will gain new clairvoyant powers. [p. 9] Steiner offered himself as an adept in such powers. The rest of us can gradually catch up with him: The present, post-Kali age will last for 2500 years. [p. 10]
 It is possible to read too much into statements made by Waldorf teachers; but there is also a danger in failing to look deeply enough into the concepts embodied in such statements. Not all Waldorf faculty truly understand the doctrines of Anthroposophy, but all of them should if they are genuinely committed to Waldorf. [See “Teacher Training”.]
(Steiner also sometimes said that the Earth is now dead. Sorting through his contradictions can be taxing.)
Because Web postings are subject to change, I should state that I visited most of the sites mentioned on this page during the first half of February, 2007. As of early October, 2008, the sites were still online, but the contents of some pages may have changed.
Poking around on the Web to keep abreast of these subjects can be interesting. Here is something I found on Feb. 3, 2009; it was written by a grape grower who rejects biodynamics: “I want to address Steiner’s irrational thought: Rodent control by burning rodent skins and spreading the ashes in our fields? Do I really accept that the horns of animals act like antennas and concentrate cosmic forces into the compounds places in them? ... Why bury items just so deep? ... Just how does astronomy affect these buried things and why am I supposed to bury them in the first place? ... I don’t believe I should accept as infallible a mystic who rejected experimentation in favor of clairvoyance. I ask myself, ‘Why would that work?’” — John Hilliard, “Why I Do Not Farm Biodynamically,” DAILY WINE NEWS, 1/16/2009. This prompted a curious rebuttal: “Steiner was indeed a nut, but he didn't dream all this stuff up. He was a reluctant evangelist who condensed whole epochs of old wives’ gardening tales and had the guts to promote them.” — Philip White, “Fertile Ground for True Believers,” THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY, 2/3/2009. With defenders like that...
— Roger Rawlings
Certainly we live in a world of intricate,
interconnected organic forces.
We cannot save the natural world, however,
if our perception of it is warped by occult falsehoods.