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If you send your children to a Waldorf school, some of their teachers may be quite wonderful individuals. But among those teachers there are likely be deeply committed followers of the occult creed known as Anthroposophy. For this reason, your children may be drawn toward a dark universe of confused, wishful irrationality — which Anthroposophists think is a place of light and love.
Trying to have a meeting of the minds with Anthroposophists is often difficult, and sometimes it is impossible. Unless you happen to share some of their doctrines, you will likely find that true-believing Waldorf teachers occupy a very different mental space from your own. Their conception of clear thinking, truth, and even morality may have few points in common with yours.
In trying to understand the Waldorf ideology, it is always best to consult Rudolf Steiner — not because he said things clearly, but because he is the source Waldorf teachers themselves consult. Here is the complete version of a passage I excerpted in a previous episode of Steiner Static. The passage is not easy to grasp, and it deals with a nastier subject than Steiner often addressed. But in various ways it is a good example of the kind of thinking and language you may confront if you try to discuss something with an Anthroposophist.
Concerning the gradual withering away of "lower races" and the enlargement of "higher races," Steiner said the following:
[46 Demons of Decay and Asiatic Hordes, Redux] “This is a very specific process, which we must understand. The souls develop further, but the bodies die out. That is why we must distinguish so carefully between soul evolution and racial evolution. The souls reappear in bodies belonging to higher races, while the bodies of the lower races die out. Such a process does not occur however without having effects of its own. When something like this occurs over large regions, when something disappears, as it were, it does not disappear into nothing, but rather disperses and is then present in a different form. You will understand what I mean if you consider that with the dying out of the worst parts of the ancient population of which I have been speaking, the whole region gradually became filled with demonic beings that represented the products of the decay of what had died out. The whole of Europe and also Asia Minor were thus filled with the spiritual products of decay from the dying out of the worst parts of the population. The demons of decay, which were contained in the spiritual atmosphere, as it were, endured for a long time and later exerted an influence in such a way that they permeated people's feelings. Their influence can best be seen at the time of the Great Migrations, when large masses of people, including Attila and his hordes, came over from Asia and caused great terror among the people in Europe. This terror made the population susceptible to the influences of the demonic beings that still persisted from earlier times. As a consequence of the terror produced by the hordes coming over from Asia, there gradually developed what manifested during the Middle Ages as the epidemic of leprosy. This disease was nothing other than the consequence of the conditions of fear and terror that the people experienced at this time. But these conditions could have had this effect only with people who had been exposed to the demonic forces from the past.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL FOUNDATION OF MORALITY (SteinerBooks, 1995), pp. 30-31.
To most rational adults, a passage like that is reprehensible both for its racist content and for its foolishness. What planet is Steiner describing? What universe does he inhabit? It isn’t our Earth, situated in the real galaxy we call the Milky Way. It is an imaginary, alternate reality — it is fantasy, and in this instance, a fantasy of a distinctly nasty sort.
If you can, put aside your revulsion at Steiner’s racism and focus simply on the quality of his “reasoning” and rhetoric. To susceptible individuals — gullible spiritualists, mainly — such thinking and language are mesmerizing. But notice how slippery and vague they are. Notice how the sentences often stretch out and wander. Notice the hypnotic repetitions ("products of decay," "products of decay," "demons of decay," "demonic beings," "demonic beings," "demonic forces," "hordes," hordes," "terror," "terror," "terror," "fear and terror"). Notice the weasel words ("as it were", "as it were"). Notice how the words occasionally refer to something knowable in the real world, anchoring the spiel, but then launch out into extraordinary fantasies. Notice the lack of evidence and careful argument — Steiner’s words are wholly unsupported; no evidence is offered to support anything. Yet notice the underlying assurance that cosmic secrets are being revealed — the assurance that Steiner and his devotees, the wise spiritual seekers, are privy to cosmic insights denied to other, less enlightened, less evolved sorts like you and me.
Huge whoppers can be more persuasive than small, simple lies that we can immediately see through. Big lies stun — their very audacity can be compelling. Wow! I never knew that! Amazing! And when the lies are worked out in great detail, apparently piecing together many disparate parts, we may think that a coherent structure has been created. For some people, in other words, Steiner’s thoughts and language can be beguiling. How do they strike you?
Here's how they strike me: Steiner was a fraud. He pretended to be such a deeply insightful, clairvoyant sage that ordinary language could hardly contain his meaning. So he offered us a version of the mystic doublethink and double-talk that self-appointed spiritual guides usually serve up. He was considerably less obscure than his mentor, the Theosophist Helena Blavatsky, but this is like saying that the midnight sky is brighter than the depths of a coal mine. It’s true, but it doesn’t make much difference. Steiner didn’t want to convince anyone, rationally; he wanted to overwhelm everyone with a verbal avalanche of strange conceptions clothed in bamboozling circumlocutions: far-out, spacey cant.
Logic, rationality, sweet reason — these were not Steiner’s strong suit. His lectures ramble disjointedly (the later ones more so than the earlier ones — he moved in the wrong direction as he aged). Maybe we should excuse the confusions in his lectures — after all, Steiner often spoke more or less extemporaneously. But Steiner’s books, which he presumably worked on carefully, also meander and hop (again, the later ones worse than the earlier ones). Steiner typically failed to begin with the premises needed to support his statements — he left those for later, or he skipped them altogether. He wandered around, raising topics briefly and dropping them, making strange linkages without much explanation, doubling back on himself, and then launching out in new directions. If you want to learn about any given topic he raised, you will probably need to consult several different Steiner texts, trying to piece together what Anthroposophists refer to as “indications” — Steiner rarely gave fully explanations in any one place. (Two partial exceptions: Steiner's earlier work tends to be more organized and coherent than his later; and Steiner occasionally lectured working men, whom he patronized by using what was — for him — simple language. In these cases, he is easier to follow — but he is also presenting less than his most "mature" thinking.)
One result of all this is that conscientious parents who try to read Steiner’s work in order to understand the thinking behind Waldorf schools often stagger away none the wiser. Reading Steiner is a chore — generally an unrewarding one. He was clearly quite smart, and he could spin a heck of a yarn, but he was rarely clear and he was almost never reasonable. You see, Steiner didn’t place much value on logic or intellect. He said that real knowledge comes from clairvoyance, which is not centered in the physical brain but in invisible, disembodied “organs of clairvoyance." Logic and intellect, he said, are damaging; they kill the spirit. I deal with this subject in my essay “Steiner’s Illogic” and elsewhere, so I won’t rake it over here. The point to focus on, here, is that the thinking behind Waldorf schools is deeply irrational and occult. [See, e.g., "Occultism", "Thinking", and "Steiner's Specific".]
I took quote #46, above, from the book THE SPIRITUAL FOUNDATION OF MORALITY. Steiner began the first lecture in the book by mentioning his motive for discussing morality: "a certain impulse of mine, about which we may be able to speak further." [p. 3.] But as a footnote by the editors says, "During these lectures Steiner does not, in fact, explicitly speak further about his impulse for discussing the topic of morality." [p. 73.] This is par for Steiner’s course. He promised a lot, but he rarely if ever delivered. In this small instance, not much is lost. But overall, in Steiner's teachings as a whole, a great deal can be lost: reality, and our grasp of it, and the ability to see and think clearly. Waldorf teachers rarely relate Steiner's specific doctrines to their students, but they often steer students toward Steiner's way of thinking. Any educational program that leads children in such a direction has the potential to inflict terrible harm.
A final point: Consider what quote #46 tells us about the Anthroposophical conception of morality. Steiner’s statement, with its references to higher and lower races and Asian hordes, is itself immoral — deeply so. No spiritual truths can emerge from a system that contains such concepts. Steiner made his statement in 1912. SteinerBooks unapologetically republished the lecture containing it in 1995. Thoughts of the kind we see in this statement remain current in Anthroposophical circles.
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[Detail, Waldorf student art, courtesy of