Steiner taught that all myths are true,
all the pagan gods really exist.
“Zeus, Apollo, Mars, Wotan, Odin, Thor...
are all real beings...." — Rudolf Steiner
The myths that tell us the most, Steiner said,
are the Norse myths about the ancient Germanic gods.
Norse Myths at Waldorf
Norse mythology holds a special place in the Waldorf curriculum. It reflects the ancient religion of northern Europe, including Germany. Steiner taught that ancient humans had natural clairvoyance allowing them to directly perceive the “gods.” Anthroposophists believe that Norse myths give particularly accurate accounts of spiritual realities. “No other mythology gives a clearer picture of evolution than Northern mythology. Germanic mythology in its pictures is close to the anthroposophical conception of future evolution.”  At one level, much of Anthroposophy is merely a reworking of these myths.
Here is a brief primer:
Odin is the highest Norse god. His wife is Frigg. They are real: “Myths and sagas are not just ‘folk-tales’; they are the memories of the visions which people perceived in olden times ... Human beings were aware of the spiritual both by day and by night. At night they were really surrounded by that world of Nordic gods of which the legends tell. Odin, Freya, and all the other figures in Nordic mythology were not inventions; they were experienced in the spiritual world with as much reality as we experience our fellow human beings around us today.” 
Alternate names for Odin are Woden and Wotan; an alternate for Frigg is Frigga. Freya, sometimes identified with Frigg, is more generally a separate goddess, presiding over love, war, and death.
Odin and Frigg had two sons, Baldur and Thor. “The Mother of the gods, Frigga, put all the beings of the earth on solemn oath that not one of them would ever kill Baldur.”  Yet Baldur was killed, due to the machinations of Loki. The latter is the trickster god, attractive and even comical, but also destructive. Steiner associates Loki with Lucifer. “Lucifer conceals himself behind the figure of Loki who has a remarkably iridescent form.” 
Odin and Frigg’s other son, Thor, is the god of thunder. He has an especially tight relationship with human beings. Even today, he is in our minds and bodies. He could have become a higher god, but in order to help us he remains at the relatively low rank of an angel: “German-Nordic man has an interest in an Angel-being who is endowed with special power ... And that Being is Thor ... [Thor is] a Being who could have risen to far higher rank had he followed the normal course of evolution, but who renounced advancement comparatively early and remained at the stage of a [sic] Angel ... Thor plays an active part in the implanting of the individual ego [in human beings] ... [T]he pulsation of the blood [in the human body] corresponds to the thunder and lightning ... Germanic-Nordic man sees this clairvoyantly....” 
Odin is often referred to as the All-Father and Frigg as the mother of the gods. In some myths, under some names, Frigg is the mother of the German people. (Steiner celebrated Germanic/Nordic culture. Germans and the gods sprang from the same loins.) However, she is also sometimes portrayed as having extremely loose morals. She is the goddess of love, goddess of the night.
There are many more Norse gods, but these are the leading figures. Their activities are enacted around the tree of life, Yggdrasil. “‘Ygg’ is the ancient form [i.e., term] for growth and evolution ... [T]he world-ash [i.e., the world’s central structure] is called ‘Yggdrasil.’”  In the same passage, Steiner states that Yggdrasil is connected to the formation of the “I” — which he taught is the highest of man’s nonphysical bodies. The god who oversees the formation of the I is Odin, who Steiner says is equivalent to Jehovah. “Yggdrasil means, ‘the carrying I’; and the name of the god who is connected with the formation of the I is [Odin]...who is a god of the wind and races around in storms. [In Hebrew] ‘Jach’ (Jahweh) [i.e., Jehovah] is the ‘blower’....”  Note that, according to Steiner, Jehovah/Odin is not the one and only God, but a god — one of many, a member of a vast polytheistic pantheon. And, according to Steiner, Jehovah/Odin resides on the moon. 
Yggdrasil has roots that extend into the various worlds, including those of gods, giants, dwarfs, and men. “Everything that refers to ‘giants’ in legends is absolutely based on a knowledge of the truth. If, therefore, a real memory of these times is preserved in the Germanic [i.e., Norse] myths, we feel it to be absolutely correct, from the spiritual scientific point of view, that the giants are stupid and the dwarfs very clever.”  “Spiritual science” is Anthroposophy, the religion underlying Waldorf education. In Norse mythology, the giants appeared before the gods, and they must be conquered by the gods. Giants and dwarfs have counterparts, in Steiner’s doctrines, in nature spirits — primordial nonphysical beings that lack true spirit or divinity.
Norse cosmology is gruesomely violent. Struggle and warfare are basic conditions of existence, a bitter struggle. There are two opposing bands of gods, the Aesir and Vanir. They have fought one another, inconclusively, and will contend again at the end of days, Ragnarörk (the Twilight of the Gods, Götterdämmerung — an apocalyptic, world-shattering showdown). Consistent with this, Steiner describes a universe of conflicting deities: “[W]e are watching the battle waged by the good gods against the evil gods....”  Götterdämmerung is reflected in Steiner's forecast of the War of All Against All. “The best of all humanity must be chosen and prepared for survival beyond the time of the great War of All against All, when people will oppose them who bear in their countenances the sign of evil....” 
The universe began as a magical void, Ginnunagap. Odin and his two brothers brought forth the earth from the primordial sea; ultimately the earth will sink into that sea again. The three gods breathed life into two tree trunks, thus creating the first human couple, Askr and Embla.
The celestial hierarchy periodically shifts as the fortunes of competing gods wax and wane. Odin has sometimes been supplanted by others at the top of the hierarchy. His general preeminence is connected, however, to his occult wisdom — he has drunk from the fountain of wisdom at the base of Yggdrasil. He paid a price — he had to pluck out one of his eyes at the fountain. (In one version of this myth, the sacrifice of Odin's eye is demanded by the gargantuan decapitated head of the god Mimir, which guards the fountain. In another myth, Odin impales himself and hangs for nine day from Yggdrasil, so that he may learn to read mystic runes. In Anthroposophy, such runes are a celestial script, the Akashic Record, from which initiates may obtain all knowledge.)
Odin collects warriors — the souls of dead heroes — whom he will deploy in Ragnarörk, the ultimate battle. Until that battle begins, the warriors rest at Odin's castle, Valhalla. Odin is also the inspirer of poets, for he has drunk a brew derived from the blood of the wise god Kvasir, who was murdered by dwarfs. In his sleep, Odin is able to travel to other spiritual realms and worlds. Steiner attributes a similar ability to human beings, both past and present. Occult wisdom, Odin’s endowment, is the goal of Steiner’s “spiritual science.”
Odin is the god of kings and nobility. A gigantic wolf will devour him at Ragnarörk. Odin's son Thor is the god of commoners. Thor is a warrior, the good gods’ champion, who battles evil gods and giants, smashing their skulls with his mighty hammer Mjölnir. As the god of thunder, Thor is sometimes associated with Jupiter. Thor will die at Ragnarörk when he battles and kills the cosmic serpent Jörmungand. This monster originally arose from the sea and currently encircles the earth. According to Steiner’s telling of the myth, the serpent was “born of selfishness. He lives in the sea that surrounds the earth. From there he blows his poisonous breath onto the land until the day of the twilight of the gods....”  By one interpretation, Jörmungand may be equated with the beast foretold in Revelation: “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.” (Revelation, 13:1.)
The most dangerous god is alluring, duplicitous Loki.  He was born of a giant, and at Ragnarörk he will betray the gods by fighting alongside the giants. He is a shape-changer. In some tellings, he is Odin’s foster brother, perhaps even Odin’s dark twin; he is a face of Lucifer, representing the illusory nature of physical reality as well as the snares of false spirituality. When Frigg required all beings and forces to forswear harming her son Baldur, she overlooked mistletoe. Seeing her error, Loki tricked the blind god Höd into impaling Baldur with a shaft of mistletoe, killing him. According to Steiner, “[M]istletoe does not belong to our earth, it is alien ... [F]or this reason [it] can serve the straggler, Loki, who is not related to the earth Gods.”  Baldur can be taken as a Christ figure — he was the patient, pure god, the embodiment of the dying spring. As Steiner says, “[H]e is the hope of the gods ... [H]e is killed by the god Loki with a branch of mistletoe. The God of Light is killed.”  However, Baldur is also sometimes depicted as the god of lust and uncontrolled appetites. He will be reborn after Ragnarörk, when a new world rises from the ashes of the old. Spun this way, the myth of his death can be read as a metaphoric version of Christ's death and resurrection.
To reiterate: In considering Steiner’s doctrines and their effect on Waldorf education, it is essential to realize that Steiner taught that myths are true and that the gods they describe literally exist. According to Steiner, Norse myths are the most revealing, but all myths are true. Steiner strove to develop interpretations of myths that are consistent with his gnostic form of Christianity, but at root his doctrines are pagan. Norse myths are nearer the heart of Anthroposophy than is the Bible. These tales are true. “All myths and sagas are handed down from a time when human beings could still perceive the astral world: when they ascended to spiritual vision they encountered Wotan, Baldur, Thor, Loki and other beings who were not physically embodied on earth ... The human being of that ancient epoch descended into his physical body each morning and felt separate and single, but when he returned each night to the world of spirit, he returned also to a unity and wholeness of which he was part, a great company to which he belonged.”  At night, people rejoined Odin, Loki, and the others in the great polytheistic beyond.
Here is a sampling of Norse myths. These are the sorts of stories that Waldorf students hear and read, sometimes repeatedly. Sit down, children, while we tell you a story...
I have assembled these six myths from a variety of sources, primarily relying on a book I was required to read when I was a Waldorf school student: Padraic Colum, MYTHS OF THE WORLD (Grosset & Dunlap, 1959). I have attempted to recapture the tone and emphasis I remember from my early Waldorf years, before I read the myths for myself. With my classmates, I listened to the myths recited by our teacher. It was in fourth grade, and sitting at my desk, with my head lowered and eyes closed, I listened raptly, enchanted.
For the youngest Waldorf students, the extreme violence of the myths is usually tamped down. But older students are exposed to the full fury of the these tales.
In the beginning was Niflheim, the place of fog, and Muspellsheim, the place of fire. Between them was Ginnunagap, and out of Ginnunagap arose Ymir the giant and Audhumla the cow.
Ymir drank the milk of Audhumla, and from his feet grew his sons and daughters, giants all.
Now on a certain day Audhumla licked a wall of ice, and licked, and licked. Ymir watched, and he saw a form emerging from the ice — a beautiful, golden-haired form, the first man. And Ymir hated the man for his beauty.
The man was called Buri, and when he stepped from the wall, Ymir wanted to kill him — but Ymir held back, so that Audhumla would still give him milk.
Buri married a giantess, and they had a son, Bur. And Bur married Bestla, daughter of the giant Bolthorn. Bur and Bestla had three sons, and these were the first gods, the first Aesir.
Odin was the highest and eldest of the Aesir. His brothers were Hönir and Lothur. All was well with them until the children of Bur and the children of Ymir became too many, and there was war between the children of Bur and the children of Ymir, the first of all the wars.
Ymir was killed in the great battle, and from his enormous body poured out a tide of blood so wide and deep that all his sons except one drowned in his blood. All drowned except Bergelmir, who was in a boat with his wife. Bergelmir and his wife floated away on the tide of blood to the land of Jotunheim, where they made many children. And these were the race of giants, and Jotunheim was the land of the giants.
Odin and his brothers took Ymir’s enormous body and threw it into Ginnunagap so that it filled Ginnunagap. Then Odin and his brothers took Ymir’s bones and piled them up, making the mountains. They took Ymir’s teeth, and these became the rocks. They took Ymir’s hair, and these were the grass and the forests. And they took Ymir’s hollow skull, and it became the arching sky.
Then Odin and his brothers put the Sun and Moon and stars in the sky, and from an ash tree and an elm tree they fashioned the first human couple, Askr and Embla. 
The most beautiful of bridges, Bifrost the rainbow bridge, links Asgard — the land of the gods — with Mithgard — the land of men. The bridge glows always, for upon it is an undying fire set to prevent the giants from crossing.
One day the giants will come, and the end of all things will be at hand. But that day is not yet.
Heimdal, who never sleeps, guards the bridge. He is the whitest of all the gods. He sees farther than a hawk, and he can hear the wool grow upon a distant sheep. His teeth are purest gold.
There is a horn at the base of the world tree, Yggdrasil. It is the Gjaller-horn. When the giants approach in their wrath, Heimdal will sound the Gjaller-horn, and the gods will prepare for battle.
But that day had not yet come. So for a time, the Aesir — the gods of war and valor — were at peace in Asgard, within their great halls, upon their lofty seats.
But trouble came to the Aesir from another quarter. The Wanes — the gods of wealth and fertility — attacked Asgard. The cunning Wanes burst into Asgard and destroyed the seats of the Aesir.
The Death of Baldur
Beautiful Baldur, best of the gods, was beloved by all the good gods and by mortal men.
Baldur dreamed of his death. He told his dream to his mother, Frigg, and she was afraid for him. So Frigg required every being and every power to swear an oath never to harm good Baldur. But she forgot the lowly mistletoe, a plant so small and frail, it seemed harmless.
Wily Loki heard Frigg, and he saw that she had overlooked the little mistletoe. "Aha!" thought Loki.
Loki traveled into the west, where the mistletoe grew. He returned with a sprig of mistletoe that he fashioned into a dart. He brought the dart Odin's brother, the blind god Höd, and asked him to throw the dart. "Please, Höd," he said, "your arm is stronger than mine."
Höd agreed to throw the dart — and when his arm came forward, Loki steered it toward Baldur, who was standing in the distance. The dart pierced Baldur's heart, and the beautiful god Baldur died.
Odin wailed in grief for his son Baldur. He pleaded with Hel, the goddess of death, to restore Baldur to him. She agreed, on one condition. Every being and every power must weep for Baldur — if everything grieved, Baldur would be restored. But Loki would not weep. He disguised himself as a wicked witch and shed no tears.
The gods took Baldur's body to his ship. Beside him they laid his wife, who had died of her grief. And near them they put Baldur's horse, and his other dearest animals, and all of his treasures. And they set the ship afire and pushed it out to sea.
Höd paid for his crime with his life. But no one knew of Loki's tricks, so Loki was spared. 
Odin All-Father, first of the gods, wished for wisdom. He would know more than any other god, he vowed — he would always be first among the gods.
Odin went to Mimir, the god who guarded the well of wisdom, which is hidden among the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree.
Mimir sat at the side of the well, with his head bowed, sipping the water of the well. Odin envied Mimir his great knowledge.
“I wish to drink from the well,” said Odin.
“You may not drink unless you pay my price,” answered Mimir.
“What is the price?” asked Odin.
“Your eye,” answered Mimir. “You must give me one of your eyes.”
Odin quailed. To lose an eye! How dreadful. But Odin looked to the south and saw Muspellsheim, the place of fire. A terrible figure loomed there, Surt the fire giant, who hated the gods. And Odin looked to the north and saw Niflheim, the place of fog, which threatened to engulf the world in darkness.
Odin All-Father ripped out one of his eyes, and he was filled with anguish. But he did not cry aloud. He dropped his eye into the well, where it lies still, gazing upward. Then Odin All-Father drank from the well, and he became wise.
There will come a three years’ winter. The first year will be the Winter of Winds, when the sons of men will freeze and die. The second year will be the Winter of the Sword, when those men who still survive will turn on each other, brother will slay brother, and everywhere strife will prevail. The third year will be the Winter of the Wolf, when a great wolf will devour the corpses of men, and the seats of the gods will be splashed with blood.
Then the armies of the realm of the dead, and the armies of Jotunheim — the place of the giants — and the armies of Muspellsheim — the place of fire — will bestir themselves. Loki's spawn, Fenrir the Hell-wolf, will break his bonds, and the gods will become mortal. The hoof beats of the horses of the dark armies will echo, and Loki will laugh, and the white god Heimdal will blow the Gjaller-horn to announce the coming of the end of all things.
The riders of Muspellsheim will reach the rainbow bridge, and they will ride upon it — but it will break beneath them, and Asgard will not be entered.
Jörmungand, the serpent that encircles the world, will rise from the sea, and the world will be flooded, and all will be swept away.
The hosts of the Aesir and the hosts of their enemies will meet upon the field of Vigrith, and in the Dark Wood of Mirkvid the Wanes will stand. And Odin will say, “We will die today and all the worlds will be destroyed, so that we may destroy the powers of evil.”
Then Fenrir the Hell-wolf — Loki's spawn, begotten on his own daughter Angerboda — will fight Odin All-Father, and Odin will wield his spear Gungnir, and Fenrir will devour Odin All-Father. And then a host of the gods will fall upon Fenrir, and rend him, and Fenrir will be destroyed.
Thor will spring upon the terrible serpent Jörmungand and crush him with his hammer. But the dying serpent will breathe pestilence upon Thor, and Thor will perish.
And Loki will attack Heimdal, and he will slay Heimdal, and Heimdal will slay Loki.
And many will be the gods and giants and heroes and evil ones who will die on this, the last day.
Then the riders of Muspellsheim will race across Vigrith, and fire will follow them, consuming all, consuming even Yggdrasil, the World Tree — it will be consumed. And the fire will also consume the riders of Muspellsheim, and Vigrith will be empty.
And then Hati the wolf will devour the Sun, and Managarm the wolf will devour the Moon, and the stars will fall. And darkness and death will be everywhere.
Afterward, long after the work of destruction is complete, the waters will roll back and a new world will appear. Four young gods will remain, and they will learn of Gimle, a heaven that is above Asgard.
And deep in a forest, two humans will awake — Lif and Lifthrasir — and they will walk out into the new world, and their children will people the new world. 
The Unfinished Wall
Not all Norse myths are violent. Here is a tale of Loki’s skullduggery.
There’s no violence — and yet the tale is framed by war.
The Norse mythic universe was overshadowed, always, by a sense of doom.
In the days of combat between the Aesir and the Wanes, a strange being came to Odin All-Father. “I am the wall builder,” the stranger said. “Allow me to build a wall around Asgard, a wall that can never be broken.”
Odin All-Father agreed, promising to pay the stranger whatever he demanded if he would finish the wall in one year.
The next morning, the stranger came back with a great horse named Svathilfari. And the great horse Svathilfari began dragging rocks, and stacking them, and mortaring them, and as the stranger and his horse worked side-by-side, a wall began to rise around Asgard.
Odin, who was very pleased, approached the stranger. Odin asked the stranger, “What reward will you demand when the wall is finished?”
The stranger said he would demand the Sun and the Moon and Odin’s wife, Frigg, to be his own.
Odin All-Father was filled with rage, and the other gods also were enraged when they heard what the stranger had said. They decided to stop the stranger and his horse from building the wall.
But Loki smiled and said to them, “Let the wall be built. Leave the stranger and his horse to me.” Knowing how clever Loki could be with his many pranks, the gods relented and let the work continue. They only told the stranger that the wall must be finished before the first day of summer or he would have no reward.
The stranger and his horse redoubled their efforts, and the wall rose quickly. Now the gods realized that the stranger was one of the giants, and they were distressed. But Loki only smiled.
Three days before the coming of summer, the wall was complete except for a single stone. The gods were gravely troubled, but Loki only smiled.
That evening the giant lay down to rest, telling his great horse, "Pull a last stone to the wall. I will lift it into place tomorrow morning."
The giant slept, and the Moon rose, and as the horse Svathilfari dragged the last stone, a beautiful mare appeared in the moonlight. It was Loki, who can change his shape at will. The beautiful mare approached Svathilfari and danced about and taunted him, calling him a slave who always did his master’s bidding.
Svathilfari forgot the stone he was dragging and chased after the beautiful mare, to show her he was no slave. She ran before him into a cave, with Svathilfari close behind. And as they went deeper and deeper into the cave, the beautiful mare slowed, and she smiled upon Svathilfari, and she told him many strange stories about dwarfs and elves.
When the giant awoke, he could not find his great horse anywhere. He began searching, but he could not find Svathilfari, and soon the first day of summer arrived.
So the gods did not pay the giant, and he went away empty-handed.
When Loki returned, he told them how he had fooled Svathilfari. All the gods were pleased, save one. Thor, champion of the gods and guardian of oaths, was furious with Loki. Now the giants would be the gods’ eternal enemies, Thor said. The giants would come one day, and the unfinished wall would offer no protection, and the final battle would be more terrible than anyone could imagine.
Loki, whose father was the Wind Giant, only smiled. 
Image of Odin and his brothers: Lorenz Frølich
Battle of the Aesir and Wanes: Lorenz Frølich
Baldur: Jacques Reich
Odin: Georg von Rosen
Ragnarök: Friedrich Wilhelm Heine
Building the wall: Robert Engels
Here at Waldorf Watch, I include some images and passages from non-Anthroposophical sources
in order to place Steiner's teachings in the context of broader esoteric traditions.
Frigg or Frigga, the highest Norse goddess.
"Frigga was goddess of the atmosphere, or rather of the clouds, and as such was represented as wearing snow-white or dark garments, according to her somewhat variable moods. She was queen of the gods, and she alone had the privilege of sitting on the throne Hlidskialf, beside her august husband [Odin]."
— H. A. Guerber, MYTHS OF THE NORSEMEN (Dover Publications, 1992), p. 42.
[Image: "Frigga Spinning the Clouds", by J. C. Dollman; color added.]
Norse warriors wearing boar helmets
meant to evoke the protection of Freya.
[J. C. Cooper, AN ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TRADITIONAL SYMBOLS
(Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 23.]
To wrap up this brief survey of Norse myths and their use in Waldorf schools, I’ll offer thoughts about two special characters in the myths, Loki and Fenrir, and then I’ll recap what we’ve seen.
Loki betrays the gods and fights alongside their enemies in the ultimate battle, Götterdämmerung, Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods. Loki is a traitor to the gods, and indeed he had a hand in aggravating the giants’ enmity toward the gods. Yet Loki is not wholly wicked; he is not the arch-demon. In some myths, he uses his pranks to aid the gods, not to oppose them. He lives among the high gods, the Aesir, and he is accepted by them. He might be considered a sympathetic character, a victim of exogamy (father: a giant; mother: a god), divided and confused.
Loki is, in a sense, the most human of the gods. Like us, he struggles with internal contradictions. Partly for this reason, he has great entertainment value — he gives the myths much of their snap. Among the students at my old Waldorf school, Loki was the most popular of all the mythic figures. Clever little Loki.
To quote the ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA about Loki: "Although his father was the giant Farbauti, he was included among the Aesir (a tribe of gods). Loki was represented as the companion of the great gods Odin and Thor, helping them with his clever plans but sometimes causing embarrassment and difficulty for them and himself. He also appeared as the enemy of the gods, entering their banquet uninvited and demanding their drink; he was the principal cause of the death of the god Balder. Loki was punished by being bound to a rock, thus in many ways resembling the Greek figures Prometheus and Tantalus. Loki created a female, Angerboda (Angrboda: 'Distress Bringer'), and produced three evil progeny: Hel, the goddess of death; Jormungand, the evil serpent surrounding the world; and Fenrir (Fenrisulfr), the wolf." 
So, Loki is a dangerous oddball, the author of much evil, yet not himself wholly evil. His progeny are a different story. Hel, goddess of the dead, presides over Niflheim, the land of darkness, from which a Stygian army will emerge to assail the gods. Jörmungand the serpent is the specific foe of Thor, the champion of the gods; as antithesis of Thor, Jörmungand is the symbol of evil, enclosing the world in his grip, seeking to sever it from the gods' influence.
Both Hel and Jörmungand are unpardonably evil. But worst of all is Fenrir, the Hell-wolf. He will cause the gods to die at Ragnarök. Fenrir is evil through and through, so much so that the gods bind him to a rock (much as, in some myths, they bind Loki). The gods fear Fenrir. He is enormously powerful and baleful. And, because in at least some of the myths the future is known to the gods, they foresee that Fenrir will eat Odin All-Father, highest of the Aesir, at Ragnarök.
Fenrir’s parentage is portentous. In some versions of the myths, Loki begot Fenrir on his own daughter, Angerboda. Thus, Fenrir is the product of exogamy (Loki’s mixed parentage) and its extreme opposite, incest. But in other tellings, Angerboda is identified simply as a giant. So, if we take Loki as occupying a special racial category of his own (half-god, half-giant), then his union with Angerboda is exogamy, and Fenrir is the product of double exogamy. The meaning a racist might find in this is clear.
Fenrir is the most awful of all the gods’ enemies. To immobilize him, the gods fashion a special chain made of the beard of a woman, the sound of a cat’s footstep, and the breath of a fish. (This is perhaps the single best conceit in all of mythology, and I remember it from the myths our teachers told us at Waldorf. Our teachers didn’t shy away from telling us at least some of the more dreadful myths.) When the End of All Things approaches, Fenrir will break his chain and charge upon the gods. His fury will make the gods mortal; in the face of his fury, the worlds will shatter and fall.
According to some tellings, after devouring Odin All-Father, Fenrir will also devour the Sun. Anthroposophists stretching to find gnostic Christian meaning in the myths may take this to indicate that Fenrir devours both God the Father and God the Son.  However, there is no Biblical basis for such a reading, and in the myths themselves Fenrir — like virtually every other being and thing — is destroyed at the Battle at the End of All Things. Also, in Anthroposophy, God the Father (or God as the One True God) can be seen as a distant evolutionary goal, not the Creator as such. 
To summarize: Norse myths are given prominence in Waldorf schools because they serve as a form of soft Anthroposophy. A child who is repeatedly exposed to these tales becomes familiarized with concepts central to Steiner’s occult doctrines — s/he is nudged in the direction Anthroposophy and away from such orthodox faiths as Biblical Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
Elements that Norse myths share with Anthroposophy include:
◊ immaterial beings aside from the gods themselves (e.g., dwarfs, giants)
◊ contending bands of gods (in a manner of speaking, good gods and bad gods)
◊ gods who are imperfect, who may need to evolve or to be replaced
◊ a hierarchy of states of consciousness (Odin’s quest)
◊ an ontological hierarchy, levels of existence
(the world of the dwarfs is below the world of men —
above the world of men is the world of the old gods —
above the world of the old gods is the world of the new gods;
and the old world of men is replaced by a new world of men)
◊ a creation story without a Creator*
◊ a Christlike god who dies but is reborn
(Baldur, god of the dying spring, returns with each new spring;
in Anthroposophy, Christ is the Sun God, crucified on Earth —
he joins with the Earth and shows the way to higher evolution)
◊ an apocalypse that paves the way not for the Kingdom of God
but for a new human realm under a new heaven
◊ the primacy of mankind (in the myths, the first man is born before the first gods;
in Anthroposophy, humans are the original Earth beings)
◊ celebration of Aryan qualities (in the myths, the first man is blond,
and the guardian of the spirit realm is the whitest god;
in Anthroposophy, white Aryans are the most advanced race)
◊ the search for gnostic or occult wisdom,
e.g., the mystic runes (celestial script, Akashic Record,
Anthroposophy itself: "spiritual science")
◊ finding spirituality in art: a door to the higher worlds
◊ derogation of commerce and its gods
◊ dead humans who are still active, still able to be contacted
◊ a duality of forces hostile to mankind (in the myths, the land of fire and the land of fog;
in Anthroposophy, Ahriman and Lucifer)
◊ demonic forces that are not wholly destructive
◊ the production of good out of evil
◊ magic, sorcery
◊ evil souls in animal form (wolf, serpent;
in Anthroposophy, the animal forms of the "evil race")
◊ divination, knowledge of the future
◊ [fill in the blank — I have undoubtedly missed some
parallels between the myths and Steiner's doctrines]
Some of the features I've listed can be found in other mythologies and even in orthodox religions. But the point, here, is to understand why Waldorf schools embrace Norse myths so strongly. The answer is that Steiner embraced them, and his doctrines are generally crafted to conform to them. In sum, when Waldorf schools teach kids Norse myths, they are teaching them Anthroposophy-lite.
* Anthroposophy rejects the Biblical account of Creation. There is no One and Only God who created the universe. However, Anthroposophy recognizes the Godhead — a rather amorphous creative force, and within it the Christ being (the logos, the Word) — the divinity that later became the Sun God — may be deemed the chief creative impulse.
* Steiner's followers believe in Atlantis. [See "Atlantis and the Aryans".]
For more about the hierarchies of gods as
described by Rudolf Steiner, see “Polytheism”.
[Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 1999.]
"In this fine book, Ernst Uehli explains what lives in these myths
and why Rudolf Steiner felt that these tales were so important to the child
and the [Waldorf] curriculum." — from the back cover.
Be prepared: The Waldorf take on Norse myths is deeply occult, clinging tightly to Steiner's doctrines. For example,
"There is a consequence of Loki's bet with the dwarves, as far as Odin's speech treasures are concerned. In post-Atlantean language development [i.e., the development of human language after the sinking of Atlantis*], sound shifting becomes visible as a phenomenon.** [paragraph break] The articulated language is the result of an organization of speech through the ego [i.e., our fourth body].*** The Luciferic influence [i.e., the influence of the demon Lucifer] awakens the astral body [i.e., our third body] and more. The Ahrimanic influence [i.e., the influence of the demon Ahriman], however, puts the formative body [i.e., the etheric body] slowly to sleep."**** [p. 59.]
This is the sort of thing Waldorf teachers think lurks below the surface of Norse myths. To most people, it is nonsense. To Anthroposophists, it is revealed truth.
(Note that the book was published not by some obviously wacky cult
but by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.)
** In Waldorf belief, language comes to us from the gods; it has spiritually formative powers. [See "Oh My Word".]
*** In Waldorf belief, human beings incarnate three invisible bodies: the etheric body, the astral body, and the "I" or ego or ego body. [See "Incarnation".]
**** In Waldorf belief, the demon Lucifer has a rival/colleague, Ahriman, who is generally deemed more completely evil. [See "Lucifer" and "Ahriman".]
“Each individual people, yea, even all the smaller subdivisions of peoples have their special task ... [I]t was just to the pre-Christian and post-Christian cultures of Europe that the task, the mission was given to educate the ‘I’ through the different stages of the human being, to form it and gradually to develop it. As we have shown to be the case in the Germanic Scandinavian people, the ‘I’ was in primal ages still clairvoyantly shown to man from the spiritual world. It was shown that this ‘I’ was bestowed upon man by an Angelic Being, who stands between man and the Folk-soul, by Donar or Thor. We have seen that each single individual felt himself to be ‘I’-less, impersonal; to him the ‘I’ was a gift, presented to him from the spiritual world ... [T]he East did not experience the whole process of receiving the ‘I’ as though coming from a higher spiritual world, with the assistance of a divine spiritual individuality such as Thor. This was experienced in Europe, and hence the European felt this gradual ascent to the individual ‘I’ as the emerging from a kind of group-soul ... To this group-soul was given the name Sif. That is the name of the spouse of Thor ... Sif signifies the group-soul of the individual community from which the single individual grows forth. Sif is the being who unites herself with the God of the individual ‘ I ’, with the giver of the individual ‘I’, with Thor. The individual man recognized Sif and Thor as the Beings who gave him his ‘I’. The Northman still felt thus about them, at a time when to the peoples in other parts of Europe other tasks had already been given in the educating of man up to the ‘I’.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1929), lecture 10, GA 121.
Waldorf teachers generally believe that the Norse gods really exist, and they often teach Norse myths as if they are true.
Here is Charles Kovacs indicating how a Waldorf teacher should introduce Norse myths to Waldorf students.
“The stories I am going to tell are very special. They are wonderful stories of strange beings called ‘gods’ and of giants and dwarfs ... These stories were not just made up; they came about in a different way ... As long as Adam and Eve were still in paradise they could see God ... Then came the children of Adam and Eve, and their children’s children; they could still see God, but not very often ... The more people became used to living on earth...the less they could see God ... [B]ut very many of them not just a few, could see the angels ... There were many peoples in the world who worshipped the angel-gods, and they had wonderful stories about them. The most wonderful stories were told among people who are called Norsemen ... When these brave, fierce Norsemen had fought a battle, they came home to celebrate their victory with a great feast ... The most important part of the feast was when a man called a ‘bard’ took a harp and sang or recited a poem ... These bards could see the angel-gods better than the others. This is how the stories I am going to tell you came about. They are stories that these wise bards among the Norsemen heard from the angels, from the angel-gods.” — Charles Kovacs, NORSE MYTHOLOGY, Waldorf Education Resources (Floris Books, 2009), pp. 7-9.
Kovacs creates a weird blend of Christianity and pagan myth. He goes from gods, giants, and dwarfs to Adam and Eve and then back to the Norse angel-gods. His is not fully faithful to Steiner's teachings (Kovacs suggests that monotheism is the underlying truth, whereas Steiner's doctrines are polytheistic),* but generally he follows the Steiner/Waldorf line: Norse gods really exist and Norse myths are true.
To the modern, rational mind the Waldorf belief system is almost inconceivably backward, but Steiner's followers are perfectly serious. We heard from Ernst Uehli previously. Here's another of his statements:
“Thor, like Odin, renounced his ascendance and became, therefor, the leader of the Germanic peoples’ experience of the ego-birth. Had he ascended he would have become an archangel being. He stayed at the angel level. Out of this renunciation grew the tremendous power that made him leader of the Germanic ego-birth. Rudolf Steiner, in the perviously mentioned lecture cycle, characterizes him as one of the mightiest angels there ever was.” — Ernst Uehli, NORSE MYTHOLOGY AND THE MODERN HUMAN BEING (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 1999), p. 69.
This statement is full of Anthroposophical jargon, but the main thing we should recognize is that Anthroposophists accept the proposition that Thor is a real being. Thor, the angel, the “leader of the Germanic ego-birth,” really exists. And how do we know this? Because Rudolf Steiner said so, calling Thor a mighty angel indeed.
(If you want to penetrate the jargon, you could consult the Brief Waldorf - Steiner Encyclopedia, where you will find this: “According to Steiner: [Thor is] an Angel who renounced further evolution to help mankind. Steiner taught that, like other Norse gods, Thor was known to Germanic/Nordic man. ’German-Nordic man has an interest in an Angel-being who is endowed with special power ... And that Being is Thor ... [Thor is] a Being who could have risen to far higher rank had he followed the normal course of evolution, but who renounced advancement comparatively early and remained at the stage of a [sic] Angel ... Thor plays an active part in the implanting of the individual ego [in human beings] ... [T]he pulsation of the blood [in the human body] corresponds to the thunder and lightning [ruled by Thor] ... Germanic-Nordic man sees this clairvoyantly....’ — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), pp. 134-135.)
* This is a complex and subtle point. Steiner himself often spoke of "God," yet he taught that monotheism is false. He ascribed the Creation to the "Godhead" — an amorphous creative spirit — but also to multiple creative gods, and he said that we should not probe too deeply into the mysteries of the Creation, for some questions are unanswerable. "All those who have true insight have never spoken of a Cause of the Creation of the Universe.” — Rudolf Steiner, quoted in FOUNDATIONS AT THE PERIPHERY: Rudolf Steiner's Observations on Star Knowledge, compiled by R. S. W. Bobbette. Note that there is no such vagueness or confusion in the Bible: There, the one and only God created the universe. Period. [For more on these matters, see "All", "God", and "Steiner Static".]
Grégoire Perra is a former Waldorf student and teacher.
Here are some of his observations about the role played by
the study of myths in Waldorf schools:
In my opinion, the most problematic effect of this educational process, imitating group behavior without explanation or contextualization, occurs during lessons on legends and myths in the lower grades (primary school). Indeed, during a class on mythology, specifically Celtic mythology in the fourth grade, our Waldorf teacher began the class by telling us a myth without saying anything about its cultural and historical context. As Paul Ariès has written about this failure to contextualize myths:
I well remember that we students had an exchange during recess, after that first class, when our "master" told us the wonderful creation story from Celtic mythology. We debated for several minutes whether our teacher had been telling us what really happened during the creation of the world, or whether the story he told was just a "myth." We were unable to decide. In not giving young students help in comprehending legends and myths, does the Waldorf teacher realize that he is creating a serious confusion between the real and the imaginary, which may have devastating psychological effects on some children later? Indeed, those who are the least grounded — the most dreamy children — will sometimes suffer the consequence of being unable to find the line between the real and the imaginary in some circumstances, or they confuse their dreams with reality. Even worse, this practice may aggravate the plight of children with undetected mental disorders, such as unfortunately may exist in all classes.
Generally, people who have not received their schooling in a Waldorf school do not realize how Waldorf students experience legends and myths. They think Waldorf students receive these tales as they themselves heard them during their own schooling, as stories you take much as you take stories about Santa Claus (that is to say, with skepticism) — "stories" in the sense that we typically say that someone tells stories. But the notion of stories in the sense of an imaginary tale does not prevail in Waldorf schools. The children become emotionally involved with the the gods and other characters from the myths and legends they are told! They love these characters! These characters are part of their lives, almost part of their families! I still remember being upset all day when my class teacher told us the story of the capture of the god Loki by the Aesir, during the section on Norse mythology in fourth grade. That night as I fell asleep, I wept while replaying the tale in my mind, I was so attached to that god. This is why the sense of wonder surrounding the myths and legends is so strong in the memory of Waldorf students. They have indeed lived under these tales as emotional realities, not mere stories. The children do not necessarily believe that the gods exist, but they become attached to them like real people. Moreover such narratives are not presented only in the study of mythologies, but in all parts of Waldorf education, even science, creating an emotional attachment to the subjective system that the teachers convey to their students. The inspectors report noted:
"The Nordic Mysteries were given in nine chambers, or caverns, the candidate advancing through them in sequential order. These chambers of initiation represented the nine spheres into which the Drottars [Druids] divided the universe: (1) Asgard, the Heaven World of the Gods; (2) Alf-heim, the World of the light and beautiful Elves, or Spirits; (3) Nifl-heim, the World of Cold and Darkness, which is located in the North; (4) Jotun-heim, the World of the Giants, which is located in the East; (5) Midgard, the Earth World of human beings, which is located in the midst, or middle place; (6) Vana-heim, the World of the Vanes, which is located in the West; (7) Muspells-heim, the World of Fire, which is located in the South; 8) Svart-alfa-heim, the World of the dark and treacherous Elves, which is under the earth; and (9) Hel-heim, the World of cold and the abode of the dead, which is located at the very lowest point of the universe. It is to be understood that all of these worlds are invisible to the senses, except Midgard, the home of human creatures, but during the process of initiation the soul of the candidate — liberated from its earthly sheath by the secret power of the priests — wanders amidst the inhabitants of these various spheres. There is undoubtedly a relationship between the nine worlds of the Scandinavians and the nine spheres, or planes, through which initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries passed in their ritual of regeneration." — Manly P. Hall, THE SECRET TEACHINGS OF ALL AGES (Wilder Publications, 2007), pp. 58-59. Hall cites Steiner in this book, but his views are not identical to Steiner's.
Students in Waldorf schools are almost certain
to be immersed in Norse myths, no matter where the
schools are or how foreign the mythology of Northern Europe
may be to the local communities.
[Drawing by a Waldorf student;
courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.]
In the lower grades, we had no textbooks —
our teachers told us what we were supposed to know.
In high school, some textbooks were used.
This is the collection of myths assigned to us during high school.
Norse myths, in various forms, are common throughout northern Europe,
including Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland, and Germany.
Here are pages 186-187 from Padraic Colum's MYTHS OF THE WORLD (Grosset & Dunlap, 1959.)
I remember thinking the nudes in the illustrations suggested
that our teachers were treating us now as adults
(although it seems that I jokingly tried to erase some naughty parts).
An item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page
THE CHILDREN OF ODIN
The Book of Northern Myths
A “resource” for Waldorf teachers, currently offered through the Rudolf Steiner College bookstore
The description displayed at the store:
Before time as we know it began, gods and goddesses lived in the city of Asgard. Odin All Father crossed the Rainbow Bridge to walk among men in Midgard. Thor defended Asgard with his mighty hammer. Mischievous Loki was constantly getting into trouble with the other gods, and dragons and giants walked free. This collection of Norse sagas retold by author Padraic Colum gives us a sense of that magical time when the world was filled with powers and wonders we can hardly imagine.
Norse myths are often taught at Waldorf schools as if they are true accounts of ancient events.
Here is how Waldorf educator Charles Kovacs recommends introducing Norse myths to children:
“The stories I am going to tell are very special. They are wonderful stories of strange beings called ‘gods’ and of giants and dwarfs ... These stories were not just made up; they came about in a different way ... As long as Adam and Eve were still in paradise they could see God ... Then came the children of Adam and Eve, and their children’s children; they could still see God, but not very often ... The more people became used to living on earth...the less they could see God ... [B]ut very many of them, not just a few, could see the angels ... There were many peoples in the world who worshipped the angel-gods, and they had wonderful stories about them. The most wonderful stories were told among people who are called Norsemen ... When these brave, fierce Norsemen had fought a battle, they came home to celebrate their victory with a great feast ... The most important part of the feast was when a man called a ‘bard’ took a harp and sang or recited a poem ... These bards could see the angel-gods better than the others. This is how the stories I am going to tell you came about. They are stories that these wise bards among the Norsemen heard from the angels, from the angel-gods.” — Charles Kovacs, NORSE MYTHOLOGY, Waldorf Education Resources (Floris Books, 2009), pp. 7-9.
Steiner taught that all myths are essentially true:
They are the record of clairvoyant visions had by ancient peoples.
“Myths...are the memories of the visions people perceived in olden times ... At night they were really surrounded by the world of the Nordic gods of which the legends tell. Odin, Freya, and all the other figures in Nordic mythology were...experienced in the spiritual world with as much reality as we experience our fellow human beings around us today.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 198.
Of all the myths, Steiner taught, Norse myths are the truest:
They give the most accurate account of human evolution, past and future.
• “Nordic man perceived the figures of the Gods [sic], the divine Beings working directly on his soul ... This was direct experience to him.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 132.
• “Pictures or symbols of Teutonic mythology contain occult truths.” [Ibid., p. 19.]
• “No other mythology gives a clearer picture of evolution than Northern mythology. Germanic mythology in its pictures is close to anthroposophical conception of future evolution.” [Ibid., p. 17.]
For more on the extraordinary importance attached to Norse myth in the Waldorf curriculum,
Essentially, when Waldorf schools teach their view of Norse myths to the kids, they teach the kids Anthroposophy.
• letters from an ancient Germanic alphabet
• similar marks said to have magical import or power.
Above are some examples.
[Rudolf Koch, THE BOOK OF SIGNS
(Dover Publications, 1955), p. 101.]
Below, work by a young Waldorf student
(who almost certainly was copying from the blackboard):
"Norse Runes (Secret Whisperings)"
[Courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.
Norse gods are not the only ancient deities who really exist, according to Steiner.
Most gods in most mythologies were real and remain real, although we may
perceive them differently today, and indeed they may have evolved to new stages.
"In the spiritual realm behind the element of air, for instance, a host of spiritual beings appear, beings which do not descend so far as the physical world, but express themselves therein through the air. In the soul-world we meet them as entities, as individualities, and the mightiest of them is still to be found today in him who in ancient India was named ‘Indra.’ Indra is associated with the whole regulation of man's breathing process, and to his activity we owe the fact that we breathe as we do today ... Indra exists for us today as he existed in ancient Vedic times, but we must now pass on to another consideration ... A man who is able to perceive Indra may well say that this Being now reveals something different from his earliest revelations ... Indra himself passed to a higher stage of evolution through this contact with the Christ light." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EAST IN THE LIGHT OF THE WEST (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1922), pp. 75-76. Image from Ernst Lehner, SYMBOLS, SIGNS & SIGNETS (Dover Publishing, 1950), p. 34.
"Zeus, Apollo, Mars, Wotan, Odin, Thor, who are all real beings, became visible. It was characteristic of these spiritual beings not to descend so far as the physical plane, but at the most to manifest temporarily in some kind of physical embodiment, a fact which is cleverly indicated in the myths when mention is made of momentary appearances of Zeus or other gods in human or some other form, when they descended to the world of men in order to carry out some purpose."
— Rudolf Steiner , THE EAST IN THE LIGHT OF THE WEST (Kessinger, facsimile of 1942 edition), pp. 108-109.
“In the upper part of the head we have a faithful image of the heavens; in the middle, an adaptation of the head to the forces which triumph in the chest, to all that circles the world ... [T]he head of the human being contains, above, as it were, Asgard, the castle of the gods; in the middle, Midgard, man’s earthly home; and, below, what also belongs to the earth, Jotunheim, home of the giants. These interrelationships...become clear only if we perceive the human head artistically, in relation to its spiritual origin; only when we see in it heaven, earth, and hell. Not hell as the abode of the devil; hell as the home of the giants, Jotunheim.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION (Anthroposophic Press, 1964), pp. 26-27. [R.R. sketch, 2010, based on the illustration on p. 26.]
For information about pagans, pagan Christianity,
King Arthur, the Grail, and Druids,
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 5. THE WALDORF APPROACH ◊◊◊
A survey of the standard Waldorf curriculum
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.