Dreams are chaotic — they consist of jumbled images that are hard if not impossible to interpret. In fact, science today largely discounts the idea that dreams have any real meaning. When we dream, the mind is freewheeling, sorting through memories, limbering up for the next day. It is not telling us anything sensible.
Steiner agreed that dreams cannot be taken literally. However, he argued that dreams do have meaning, at least potentially. If we follow the steps Steiner laid out for spiritual initiation (or if we have a certain intuitive connection to the spirit realm, as children do), our dreams can be more or less accurate reports of the spirit realm, even if the superficial images are confused.
“If...we support our conceptual life through the kinds of exercises I have recently described...we will gradually be able to move from the illusory image world of dreams...to what really lies behind the dream as a supersensible reality between sleep and waking.” — Rudolf Steiner, SLEEP AND DREAMS (SteinerBooks, 2003) p. 148.
Someone who has made progress in spiritual initiation gains control over dreams.
“His dreams, hitherto confused and haphazard, now begin to assume a more regular character. Their pictures begin to succeed each other in sensible connection, like the thoughts and ideas of daily life. He can discern in them law, cause, and effect. The content, too, of his dreams is changed. While hitherto he discerned only reminiscences of daily life and transformed impressions of his surroundings or of his physical condition, there now appear before him pictures of a world he has hitherto not known.” — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1944), p. 113.
Most of us do not have this sort of control, however, so for us dreams can be quite confusing. Still, they are important.
“Now, where do the images of a dream sequence come from? If you really are standing in the midst of spiritual experience, free from the body, then you have the spiritual world before you with all the processes and beings within it ... To characterize what the dream really is, you could say it is an experience of the individual soul-spiritual essence of the human being ... [T]he eternal is experienced in the dream precisely in the temporal, the transitory, the normal content of life ... [This is] the essence of the dream in the light of spiritual science.” — Rudolf Steiner, SLEEP AND DREAMS, p. 86.
Dreams take us out of ourselves to a different realm, yet they are also part of our inner nature. Steiner’s views reflect the ancient superstitions that he so often relied upon (although, of course, he put the matter differently).
“[W]e experience the images as if they were...something external to us ... Nevertheless the dream is in intimate connection with the person’s inner experience ... People in ancient times knew of such things very well.” — Ibid., pp. 161-162.
Dreams, giving a sort of peek into the spirit realm, are more consistent with our inner nature than natural science, logic, or other materialistic processes.
“[T]he dream protests against the laws of nature ... [T]he dream protests against the laws of nature, [so] then the inner aspect of human beings itself is something that protests against the laws of nature ... [O]ur interior proceeds more like a dream than like external logic.” — Ibid., pp. 163-164.
Some of what we’ve seen so far may seem almost sensible, to many people. But we really need to comprehend how much superstition and poppycock infects Steiner’s discussion of dreams.
“Moon man has become earth man ... [W]e still have Moon man in us. Looking upon this Moon man we are able to say: ‘He is what we call the dreamer in us.’” — Rudolf Steiner, THE DESTINIES OF INDIVIDUALS AND OF NATIONS, (Steiner Books, 1986), p. 216.
“This Moon-being — the precursor of present-day man — does not perceive an object with spacial extension and coloring form [sic: from] outside itself; instead, the approach to this object causes a certain image — similar to a dream image — to arise within this being ... The clairvoyant also sees in this way today, only he is fully conscious during the seeing, while the Moon inhabitant had only a dreamlike, dim consciousness." — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1959), pp. 154-155.
“We have the dreamer in us who has brought Moon nature into us, and we also have a Sun man in us from Sun evolution. This Sun man, however, is no longer able to dream.” — THE DESTINIES OF INDIVIDUALS AND OF NATIONS, p. 224.
“A man who has tried hard to apply clear thinking to some problem but cannot get to the root of it, will find, if he is patient and works inwardly at it, that the Jupiter powers will actually help him during the night.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Spiritual Individualities of the Planets” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1988), a lecture, GA 228.
“Mars may be called the great 'Talker' in the planetary system ... Mars is constantly blurting out to the souls in his sphere whatever in the cosmos is accessible to him — which is not everything. Mars...is particularly active when human beings talk in sleep or in dream.” — Ibid.
“The secrets of men in their earthly existence are transformed by Venus into dream-pictures of infinite diversity. She has a very great deal to do with poets, although they are not aware of it .” — Ibid.
As I mentioned above, Steiner taught that children are born with an innate, dreamy connection to the spirit realm. This needs to be preserved, if at all possible.
"Although it is necessary, especially today, for people to be completely awake later in life, it is equally necessary to let children live in their gentle dreamy experiences as long as possible, so that they move slowly into life. They need to remain as long as possible in their imaginations and pictorial capacities without intellectuality." — Rudolf Steiner, A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 103-104.
A chart drawn by Steiner shows three states of being with their proper, Anthroposophical forms of thought:
“WAKING, Imaginative cognition; DREAMING, Inspired Feeling; SLEEPING, Intuitive Willing ... [P]ictorial cognition enters inspiration...and arises again from intuition.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 118. “Pictorial cognition” is the creation of “imaginations,” that is, the products of imagination or, at a higher level, clairvoyance. “[T]hinking is a pictorial activity which is based in what we experienced before birth.” — Ibid., p. 62.
In Waldorf schools, dreams are generally taken seriously — they may be, as Steiner indicated, reports from the great beyond. But dreams need to be handled warily, since they may also reflect a prior stage of our evolution and thus they may no longer be fully up to our needs.
“On the one hand, because the progress of evolution is such that earlier states play into later ones, we should think of the dream state as a remnant of the ancient pictorial consciousness that human beings possessed during both the Moon phase of evolution and a large part of the Earth phase. During our dreams, a remnant of what was formerly our normal state of consciousness appears in us. On the other hand, this state is also different from ancient pictorial consciousness. Ever since the I [the spiritual ego] first developed, it has been playing into the processes in the astral body that take place during sleep while we are dreaming, so what manifests in our dreams is a pictorial consciousness altered by the presence of the I. Since the I is not conscious of acting on the astral body, however, nothing belonging to the domain of dreaming should be considered part of what can truly lead to knowledge of the higher worlds in the sense of spiritual science. The same is true of so-called visions, premonitions, or ‘second sight.’ These come about when the I eliminates itself as a factor; as a result, remnants of ancient states of consciousness arise. Such states of consciousness are of no direct use to spiritual science, and what can be observed during them cannot be considered results of spiritual science in any true sense.” — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), pp. 410-411.
To clarify somewhat: Dreams are not part of modern spiritual science, as such, although the initiate can discipline and learn from dreams, and children naturally have a good sort of dreamy life, and the clairvoyant sees the way Moon man did only better, and thinking is a pictorial activity. Dreams, you see, reflect the real activity of our astral body and “I” while we sleep: These incorporeal parts of ourselves leave the physical body, go to the spirit realm, and then return. The astral body produces one kind of dream for us, and the “I” produces another.
“Thus the two kind of dream point to an activity of the ego and astral body between falling asleep and waking up.” — Rudolf Steiner, UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), pp. 42-43.
Dreams in which the dead appear have a special significant. They often indicate that we have successfully contacted the dead.
"The saying, 'The dead are with us,' is itself a strengthening of the spiritual world. And only the spiritual world can call forth in us a true consciousness that the dead are among us. The moment of crossing from waking to sleeping is the same as the moment that generally carries to the one who has died what you have directed toward him ... [D]reams in which the dead appear may very often...actually come to us out of our connection to the dead ... [W]hen the dead person communicates something in the dream, it is a sign that you have been able to communicate [which her or him] ... Whatever the dead person has to communicate to us, the living, is carried from the spiritual realms in the moment of waking. Then it comes up out of the depths of one's own soul ... What apparently speaks out of you yourself is actually what he dead say." — R. Steiner, quoted in WORKING WITH THE DEAD (Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America, 2003), pp. 5-6.
[R. R., 2010.]
From the PARENT HANDBOOK, 2011-2012, at the Waldorf School of Bend, Oregon, USA:
“With parent permission, the faculty may select a child for study. The Child Study is an opportunity to embrace the child in a holistic way. The faculty observes the physical, emotional, and historic experiences of the child. This is done in order to develop an open understanding of the child. In turn, the child’s teacher is guided by comments from other faculty. It allows the teacher to look inwardly so that the child’s needs might be met in a new way.” [http://www.bendwaldorf.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/WSB-PARENT-HANDBOOK-2010.pdf]
Waldorf teachers attempt to know their students well, and sometimes — as indicated here — an entire faculty will unite to “study” a child. You should understand what this means. I will speak of Waldorf schools in general, not The Waldorf School of Bend in particular. I have not visited that school.
Waldorf teachers “look inwardly” in several senses. They use their “clairvoyance,” they rely on dreams, and they sometimes resort to horoscopes. [See “The Waldorf Teacher’s Consciousness”, “Clairvoyance”, “Dreams”, “Horoscopes”, and “Waldorf Astrology”.] They will seek to determine your child’s “temperament” (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, or phlegmatic — see “Humouresque” and “Temperaments”). They will consider the implications of your child’s astrological sign. [See “Astrology”.] They will try to learn whether your child has incarnated properly. [See “Incarnation”.] All of this is nonsense and it is potentially quite damaging to a child, but it is how Waldorf faculties operate. [For the Waldorf conception of “holistic” education and holistic thinking, see “Holistic Education”. To consider what Waldorf faculties mean by the "historic experiences" of a child — in Waldorf belief, these include previous incarnations and the child's karma — see "Reincarnation" and "Karma".]
When you understand what Waldorf teachers believe, you may decide that Waldorf is just right for you or your child. Or you may decide the opposite. "One [Waldorf] parent, Ray Pereira, reported that he could not believe what he was hearing from the school faculty. His son's teacher had informed him that his child had to repeat prep because the boy's soul had not fully incarnated. She said 'his soul was hovering above the earth,' Pereira said. 'And she then produced a couple of my son's drawings as evidence that his depiction of the world was from a perspective looking down on the earth from above. I just looked at my wife and we both thought, "'we are out of here'"." — Aron Raphael, CULTS, TERROR AND MIND CONTROL (Bay Tree Publishing, 2009), p. 114. [See "Weird Waldorf".]
- Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings