What Steiner Actually Gave
to His Followers
Rudolf Steiner often contradicted himself. On occasion — especially when addressing outsiders — he made sensible, verifiable statements. But on other occasions — especially when addressing his followers — he took a very different tack, making statements that were utterly phantasmagoric.
For most people, this gives rise to two conclusions. Firstly, Steiner was unreliable. His statements cannot be accepted at face value. He spoke with what we might call a forked tongue. Or, to phrase the matter as his followers might, he possessed esoteric secrets. A mystic, he often withheld the "truth" from the uninitiated.
Secondly, because so many of his statements were phantasmagoric — and because these statements seemed to reflect his real views, the ones he shared with the people he trusted — his teachings were little more than occult fantasies. The deeper we penetrate the doctrines of Anthroposophy, the farther we find ourselves removed from reality. Steiner's views must strike most rational minds as delusional.
Anthroposophists reject these conclusions, naturally. Proceeding from the premise that Steiner apprehended deep, hidden truths, they puzzle over his pronouncements, seeking to reconcile the contradictions and arrive at the majestic, transcendent wisdom they believe Steiner possessed. Thus, they may walk into the basic occult trap: Training their minds to reject rationality, they “stretch” their minds to believe the unbelievable. They train their minds to deceive themselves.
Steiner compounded this labor of self-deception for his followers because sometimes when speaking to insiders he repeated the sorts of rational, verifiable statements he usually reserved for outsiders, and sometimes he favored outsiders with the sorts of wildly irrational statements he usually reserved for insiders. Further, his “rational” statements were often rational only on one point, while other elements of these same statements were quite fantastic. Steiner was quicksilver.
Let’s briefly review one example. Do the planets orbit the Sun, or do they move in some other manner? Steiner said a) They orbit the Sun, and b) They do not orbit the Sun. Reconciling his statements on this question is well nigh impossible. (I'm putting this mildly.)
A. The Planets Orbit the Sun
Here are some more or less rational descriptions (some more rational than others) offered by R. Steiner:
◊ “The planets move in orbits, and so the earth, too, moves in an orbit.” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 12.
◊ “[T]he earth is circling and men can calculate when it will reach a certain point.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE EVOLUTION OF THE EARTH AND MAN AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE STARS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1987), lecture 13, GA 354.
◊ “A very long time ago [the archangel] Michael decided to work in those planetary orbits that are preordained by the sun existence.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE BOOK OF REVELATION AND THE WORK OF THE PRIEST (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 158. Steiner included a sketch showing planets orbiting the Sun.
Sketch by Steiner showing the orbits of planets and the paths of comets.
[THE BOOK OF REVELATION AND THE WORK OF THE PRIEST (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 158.]
◊ “If you imagine a sphere with the Sun at its center, extending to the orbit of the present Mars, you have the size of the old Moon.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 87. "Old Moon" was the third of our planetary evolutions. [See "Old Moon".] It contained the entire solar system as it existed at that time. The entire system fit into a space as large as the current orbit of Mars.
B. The Planets Do Not Orbit the Sun
So far so good, yes? Some parts of Steiner's message in these "rational" statements beggar belief, but at least in each case Steiner said that the planets orbit the Sun.
On other occasions, however, Steiner said just the opposite: He said the planets do not orbit the Sun. Here are some more or less phantasmagoric descriptions (some more phantasmagoric than others) offered by R. Steiner concerning the movements of the planets:
◊ “People preferred the easy assumption that the Earth [progresses] all the while so as to move around the Sun ... [But the] Sun moves; it would outrun the Earth if the Earth simply revolved around the Sun. The Earth cannot revolve around the Sun because meanwhile the Sun would move away from it. In reality, the Sun moves on, and the Earth and the other planets follow it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOURTH DIMENSION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 128. More generally, Steiner said that the planets travel in line with the Sun. Some planets follow the Sun while others precede it.
◊ “This creates the illusion that the Earth revolves round the sun. The truth is that the Sun goes ahead, and the Earth creeps continually after it.” — Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 168.
◊ “[W]hen the Earth is here and this is the Sun [pointing at a diagram he created], the Earth follows along. But we look at the Sun from here, and so it appears as though the Earth goes around it, whereas it is actually only following. The Earth follows the Sun.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 30. Again, Steiner drew a diagram — a very different diagram. Essentially, he was trying to explain that the apparent orbital motion of the planets is an illusion cause by the Earth's position at the end of a line of planets accompanying the Sun.
The planets accompany the Sun on a twisting path through space, Steiner said.
From our perspective on the Earth, the Sun sometimes seems to be to our left,
at other times to our right. This creates the illusion that we circle the Sun, Steiner said.
"[I]t appears as though the Earth goes around it, whereas it is actually only following."
— FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 30.
Note that Steiner offered this explanation to Waldorf school teachers.
◊ “The Earth progresses, but exactly in a line behind the Sun. When the Earth is here, the observer now sees the Sun in another direction. The Sun advances still further, the Earth following, and once again the observer sees the Sun in the other direction. That is to say, he sees the Sun at one time on the right, and another time on the left, owing to the way in which the Earth follows the Sun. [paragraph break] This has been interpreted as demonstrating that the Sun stands still and the Earth revolves around it. In reality it is not so; the Earth moves along behind the Sun.” — Rudolf Steiner, MAN - HIEROGLYPH OF THE UNIVERSE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), p. 33.
◊ “[W]e can certainly speak of a daily motion of the Earth around her axis, but by no means of a yearly motion of the Earth around the Sun. For the Earth follows the Sun, describing the same path. [paragraph break] Were the Earth revolving round the Sun, we should expect her axis, which owing to its inertia remains parallel, to point in the direction of different fixed stars during this revolution. But it does not! If the Earth revolved round the Sun, the axis could not indicate the direction of the Pole-star, for the point indicated would itself have to revolve round the Pole-star....” — MAN - HIEROGLYPH OF THE UNIVERSE, p. 85. But it does not, said Steiner.
When Steiner made wholly contradictory statements,
where did he think the truth lay?
Which audience(s) did he think he was leveling with?
Which audience(s) did he think he was lying to?
Or, as he sometimes indicated, did he consider these distinctions meaningless?
Anthroposophists have expended enormous ingenuity in trying to sort all this out. They discuss the meaning of such terms as orbit, circle, ellipse, helix, spiral, lemniscate — all for naught. The editors of THE FOURTH DIMENSION list 33 occasions (March 24, 1905 to May 5, 1924) on which Steiner spoke of planetary motions. Sometimes he said the planets move in orbits, and sometimes he said they do not. The editors — all active Anthroposophists — admit that they are unable to reconcile Steiner’s statements:
“The following list includes most of the lectures and question-and-answer sessions (Q&A) in which Steiner discusses the problem of the Sun and Earth’s motion, especially the third Copernican movement (Copernicus 3), Bessel’s corrections (Bessel), and/or the problem of spiral or lemniscate (∞) movement ... Various attempts have been made to unite Rudolf Steiner’s scattered indications into a consistent interpretation but to date, no view has successfully encompassed them all.” — THE FOURTH DIMENSION, pp. 206-207.
Anthroposophists will continue racking their brains over such conundrums. You may have better things to do with your time. Call a contradiction a contradiction, call nonsense nonsense, and move on (along a spiral, lemniscatory line, or any other trajectory of your choice).
If Anthroposophists are confused, we needn't be. We needn't be deceived. Certainly we needn't deceive ourselves.
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
Steiner explained the "real" motion of the planets to Waldorf teachers more than once.
Here is essentially the same diagram of non-orbiting planets we saw, above,
although the lineup of planets is somewhat different, with Venus now leading Mercury.
[DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 168.]
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
A statement posted by a Waldorf teacher-training program: "The works of Rudolf Steiner (about 30 books written by himself or with collections of his own writings, and 6,000 lectures grouped into 270 volumes) have been published. There is absolutely nothing secret in Anthroposophy. It is not a religion and it has no cults. It is cultivated individually, in open study groups and in the institutions where it is practised." [8-9-2011 http://www.waldorftraining.com/steiner.htm]
It is true that an enormous portion of Steiner's work is now publicly available. But it is not true that Anthroposophy has no secrets. Anthroposophy is a form of occultism, and even if we define "occult" in its most benign sense, meaning "secret," we begin to realize that much of Anthroposophy consists of secret knowledge. [See "Occultism".] Outsiders are often denied various parts of the occult canon. This is most worrisome in and around Waldorf schools. Parents are often not told the real nature and purpose of Waldorf education — which is to spread Anthroposophy. [See "Here's the Answer".]
Rudolf Steiner instructed his followers to withhold secrets from outsiders; he taught them that much spiritual knowledge must be withheld from the uninitiated. [See "Secrets" and "Inside Scoop".] Anthroposophists are torn between two impulses: the desire to spread their wondrous spiritual knowledge, and the need to conceal much of their wondrous spiritual knowledge. If you doubt that Anthroposophists, and in particular Waldorf faculties, are often secretive and deceitful, see the following statements made by people who became ensnared in Waldorf schools: "Our Experience", "Coming Undone", "Moms", "Pops", "Our Brush with Rudolf Steiner", "I Went to Waldorf", etc. The very fact that Anthroposophists feel the need to deny that they are secretive should, at a minimum, alert you to a potential danger.
As for whether Anthroposophy is a religion — of course it is. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"] As Rudolf Steiner said, "[T]he Anthroposophical Society...provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 706. Anthroposophy does not have any cults; Anthroposophy is a cult. [See "Six Facts You Need to Know About Steiner Education".]
Sometimes when Anthroposophists lie, they do so consciously and intentionally. But sometimes they think they are telling the truth — they lie unconsciously, in other words, because at root they are lying to themselves. [See "Why?" and "Fooling Ourselves".] The easiest way to confirm this for yourself is to become acquainted with Anthroposophical beliefs. [See "Steiner's Blunders", "Say What?", "Wise Words", and "Steiner Static".] No rational person standing firmly on the ground of the real world could embrace these beliefs. Anthroposophical beliefs are delusions. When one embraces Anthroposophy, one wanders into the topsy-turvy realm of delusion. Sadly — and worrisomely — that is the realm where the foundations of Waldorf education are located.
We should repeat a crucial point. Steiner made bizarre, the-planets-don't-orbit-the-Sun statements during meetings he held with Waldorf school teachers. The teachers found his initial statement on the matter a bit confusing, so they asked him to explain further, and he did. This apparently satisfied them. At least, there was no mass exodus of the teaching faculty — the teachers did not rebel. Instead, they were content to be deceived or, at least, to be fed nonsense. We should ask ourselves what such teachers would likely tell their students about the starry skies.
Here is how Anthroposophical literature describes Steiner's conversations with Waldorf teachers about the movements of the planets. Conversation #1:
[DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 168.]
An introduction was presented on the fundamental ideas in mathematical geography for twelve-year-old children, with observations on the sunrise and the ecliptic ... Someone else developed the same theme — that is, sunrise and sunset — for the younger children, and tried to explain the path of the Sun and planets in a diagrammatic drawing.
RUDOLF STEINER: This viewpoint will gradually lose more and more of its meaning, because what has been said until now about these movements is not quite correct. In reality it is a case of a movement like this (lemniscatory screw-movement):
Here, for example, [in position 1] we have the Sun; here are Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and here are Venus, Mercury, and Earth. Now they all move in the direction indicated [spiral line], moving ahead one behind the other, so that when the Sun has progressed to the second position we have Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars here, and we have Venus, Mercury, and Earth over there. Now the Sun continues to revolve and progresses to here [position 3]. This creates the illusion that Earth revolves round the Sun. The truth is that the Sun goes ahead, and the Earth creeps continually after it. — DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, pp. 167-168.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 30.]
A teacher: Would you say something more about the planetary movements? You have often mentioned it, but we don’t really have a clear understanding about the true movement of the planets and the Sun.
Dr. Steiner: In reality, it is like this [Dr. Steiner demonstrates with a drawing]. Now you simply need to imagine how that continues in a helix. Everything else is only apparent movement. The helical line continues into cosmic space. Therefore, it is not that the planets move around the Sun, but that these three, Mercury, Venus, and the Earth, follow the Sun, and these three, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, precede it. Thus, when the Earth is here and this is the Sun, the Earth follows along. But we look at the Sun from here, and so it appears as though the Earth goes around it, whereas it is actually only following. The Earth follows the Sun. The incline is the same as what we normally call the angle of declination. If you take the angle you obtain when you measure the ecliptic angle, then you will see that. So it is not a spiral, but a helix. It does not exist in a plane, but in space.
A teacher: How does the axis of the Earth relate to this movement?
Dr. Steiner: If the Earth were here, the axis of the Earth would be a tangent. The angle is 23.5?. The angle that encloses the helix is the same as when you take the North Pole and make this lemniscate as the path of a star near the North Pole. That is something I had to assume, since you apparently obtain a lemniscate if you extend this line. It is actually not present because the North Pole remains fixed, that is the celestial North Pole.
A teacher: Wasn’t there a special configuration in 1413?
Dr. Steiner: I already mentioned that today. Namely, if you begin about seven thousand years before 1413, you will see that the angle of the Earth’s axis has shrunk, that is, it is the smallest angle. It then becomes larger, then again smaller. In this way, a lemniscate is formed, and thus the angle of the Earth was null for a time. That was the Atlantean catastrophe [i.e., the sinking of Atlantis]. At that time, there were no differences in the length of the day relative to the time of year.
A teacher: Why should the celestial pole, which is in reality nothing other than the point toward which the Earth’s axis is directed, remain constant? It should certainly change over the course of years.
Dr. Steiner: That happens because the movement of the Earth’s axis describes a cone, a double cone whose movement is continuously balanced by the movement of the Earth’s axis. If you always had the axis of the Earth parallel to you, then the celestial pole would describe a lemniscate, but it remains stationary. That is because the movement of the Earth’s axis in a double cone is balanced by the movement of the celestial pole in a lemniscate. Thus, it is balanced. [FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 30-32.]
This is all quite learned and even, in its way, impressive. Yet it is all nonsense. Pause to reflect. We have been reading transcripts from faculty meetings. The leader of the school and the teachers at that school are seriously telling each other that the planets that don't orbit the Sun, and they segue to the sinking of Atlantis, an event that they believe really happened.
Are you unsettled by any if this? Would you be comfortable knowing that the teachers at your children's school hold such discussions and embrace such beliefs? Or, turn this around. Would you be comfortable sending your children to a school where the faculty could conceivably hold such discussions and beliefs?
You may also want to mull this over: Aspiring Waldorf teachers are often assigned FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER as part of their studies. Quite early in this book — on p. 30 — they come upon Rudolf Steiner's statement that the planets do not orbit the Sun. Apparently, they make their peace with such crackpot notions. Apparently, Waldorf schools today are staffed, at least in part, by people who agree with Steiner on such points. Do you want them to teach your children?
But, you reply, it's just one little crackpot idea. Steiner was wrong about the motions of the planets. So what? We can't toss out an entire educational movement because some of the teachers accept on silly little falsehood, can we?
No, perhaps not. But here are some of the other things Steiner told Waldorf teachers, some of the other things that Waldorf teacher trainees have to grapple with. Ask yourself, at what stage would you, as a prospective teacher, decide that enough is enough and look for work elsewhere?
Fire-breathing dragons once roamed the Earth.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 26.]
Islands and continents float in the sea
and are held in place by the stars.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 706.]
Thinking does not occur in the brain.[THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE — The Foundations of Waldorf Education, p. 60.]
The heart is not a pump.
[RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 17.]
People have twelve senses.
[THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 145.]
People have three invisible bodies.
[WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2, pp. 107-109.]
Children should be classified based on whether they are
phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, or melancholic —
"temperaments" that have astrological bases.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 91.]
Class seating should be based on these four temperaments.
[RHYTHMS OF LEARNING (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 72.]
Some people are not really human beings —
they are possessed by demons.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 650.]
Atlantis really existed.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 51.]
Use of the French language corrupts the soul.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 558.]
The proper treatment for children with special needs
can be found by consulting horoscopes.
[EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS, p. 196.]
Atoms are caricatures of demons.
[RHYTHMS OF LEARNING, p. 161.]
You will injure children if you educate them rationally.
[THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 60.]
Clairvoyance is for real.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 54.]
Gravity is not a universal force, but we have to teach children about gravity
so that we won't be laughingstocks.
[PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, pp. 116-117.]
There is no such thing as what physicists call matter,
[EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS, p. 55.]
The Earth has emotions just like ours.
[DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, p. 132.]
Children will become idiotic due to left-handedndess.
[THE PROBLEM OF LEFTHANDEDNESS, p. 15.]
Karma is for real.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 625.]
Reincarnation is for real.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 18.]
Phrenology is for real.
[EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS, p. 68.]
True religion is polytheistic.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 46.]
Blacks do not belong in Europe.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 559.]
Machinery and industrialism are meaningless to Asians.
[EDUCATION AS A FORCE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE, pp. 32-33.]
White skin denotes spiritual health.
[THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION, pp. 93-94.]
Jewish thinking found in the Old Testament led to modern atheism.
[THE CHALLENGE OF THE TIMES, pp. 28-33.]
The punishment of children should emphasize pain
or at least physical discomfort.
[FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 109-110.]
Some people can read such things and not blink. Some of them go on to careers as Waldorf teachers. They have been deceived, bamboozled, led astray. We must not follow their example. And we should think carefully before enrolling our children to be "educated" by them.
Below are Anthroposophical images
— representations of Rudolf Steiner's teachings or visions —
as intended for the Anthroposophical headquarters building,
Some of these images appear in colored glass windows
at the Goetheanum,
others are details from motifs for Goetheanum ceiling murals.
What would you say Steiner was giving his followers
when he offered them such visions?
[R.R. sketches, 2014,
based on images in
ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER
(Mercury Arts Publications, 1987)
THE GOETHEANUM CUPOLA MOTIFS OF RUDOLF STEINER
[Steiner] often formed his ideas half spontaneously while speaking, and this is why they are often contradictory and inconsistent. His followers liked to call his meandering way of thinking ‘organic'; in fact it was more associative, rich in analogies, undisciplined, and spiced with a dose of megalomania.” — Miriam Gebhardt, RUDOLF STEINER: A Modern Prophet (Verlagsgruppe Random House, 2011), from the Introduction.
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 10. CLAIRVOYANCE AND DELUSION ◊◊◊
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