HERE'S THE ANSWER
to the Question:
Trying to fully comprehend Waldorf schools and their foundation, the religion called Anthroposophy, requires a great deal of work.
Most people quite sensibly would prefer a brief, direct answer to a simple question:
What are Waldorf schools all about?
Here's a stab at such an answer, given mainly in the words of the man who invented Waldorf education: Rudolf Steiner.
All of the quotations in the first section of this page are statements made by Steiner himself.
Further down the page, and elsewhere, I quote present-day Waldorf representatives;
you will see that Steiner's views still generally prevail — indeed, they are generally revered —
in the Waldorf movement today.
Waldorf education has changed very little over time.
(Concerning the arrogant-seeming title of this page: I'm not claiming that I uniquely have the answer —
I'm saying that Steiner gave us the answer, in bits and pieces, one statement here, another statement there...
Piecing these statements together is eye-opening.)
Waldorf or Steiner schools operate in accordance with the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, who founded the first Waldorf school in 1919. Steiner was an occultist who claimed to have precise knowledge of the spirit realm thanks to his "exact clairvoyance." He laid out his spiritual "discoveries" in such books as OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE. He called his body of teachings "Anthroposophy," a word (pronounced an-throw-POS-o-fee) meaning knowledge or wisdom of the human being. Steiner claimed that Anthroposophy is a science, although in fact it is a religion involving prayers, meditation, gurus, reverence, and observances. Waldorf school faculties usually acknowledge that their educational approach arises from Anthroposophy, but they usually deny that they teach Anthroposophical doctrines to their students. In a restricted sense, this may be true. But in a larger sense, it is false, and we have Steiner’s word for it. Addressing Waldorf teachers, Steiner said:
“You need to make the children aware that they are receiving the objective truth, and if this occasionally appears anthroposophical, it is not anthroposophy that is at fault. Things are that way because anthroposophy has something to say about objective truth. It is the material that causes what is said to be anthroposophical. We certainly may not go to the other extreme, where people say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” 
Since Anthroposophists believe that their doctrines are the Truth underlying all other knowledge, they think that the presence of Anthroposophy will be “justified” at virtually every point in every subject studied. They may be circumspect about it, bringing their beliefs into the classroom subtly, covertly — but they bring them.
Not all Waldorf teachers are deeply committed, uncompromising Anthroposophists, but Steiner said that they
should be:“As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside ... As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” 
Indeed, one of the most important facts about Waldorf schools is that they are meant to spread Anthroposophy: “One of the most important facts about the background of the Waldorf School is that we were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” 
Waldorf education is meant to usher students toward true spiritual life, which is inherently Anthroposophical: “As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present only because its staff consists of anthroposophists.” 
Waldorf teachers serve as priests in a religion that recognizes many spiritual powers or gods (plural: Anthroposophy is polytheistic). The goal of Waldorf schooling is not so much to educate children as to save humanity by leading it to Anthroposophy. Waldorf teachers consider themselves to be on a holy mission:
In sum, the goals of Waldorf schooling are inseparable from the goals of Anthroposophy, although Waldorf teachers generally deny this, for fear of a public backlash: “[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck." 
What is Anthroposophy? It is a religion: "[T]he Anthroposophical Society...provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." 
And so: "It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true." 
Thus: "Yesterday, I was sitting on pins and needles worrying that the visitors would think the history class was too religious."  Steiner wasn't concerned that the history class was religious; he worried that outsiders might think it was excessively religious. That there will be some religious content in a Waldorf class goes without saying. Waldorf schools, you see, are religious institutions, with "a religious element" introduced into "every subject." And the religion the schools adhere to is Anthroposophy.
Hence Steiner was able to say to Waldorf students: “[D]o you know where your teachers get all the strength and ability they need so that they can teach you to grow up to be good and capable people? They get it from the Christ.”  Take care when Steiner and his followers refer to "Christ." They do not mean the Son of God worshipped in regular Christian churches; they mean the Sun God. This need not detain us at this moment, however. The key point for us now is to recognize Steiner's admission that Waldorf teachers are true believers; they believe that they draw their authority from a god. Their work as Waldorf teachers is religious. Even when encouraging their students to love beauty, their purpose is fundamentally religious.
“We must, in our lessons, see to it that the children experience the beautiful, artistic, and aesthetic conception of the world; and their ideas and mental pictures should be permeated by a religious/moral feeling." 
So, to wrap this up: Waldorf schools are covert religious institutions. They exist to spread the religion created by Rudolf Steiner: Anthroposophy. They go about this task cautiously, secretively — but they go about it. Sending a child to a Waldorf school means sending her/him to an institution where many, if not all, of the teachers are true-believing Anthroposophists who would like to lead the child and the child's family toward the "true spiritual life" — that is, spiritual life as understood in Anthroposophy.
Do Waldorf schools today still aim for the goals Rudolf Steiner established for the first Waldorf School long ago? In general, yes. There is variation, of course. Some of the schools are truer to Steiner than others. But in general, Waldorf schools today — by virtue of being Waldorf schools — adhere to the program laid out for them by Steiner.
Do Waldorf school faculties openly admit this? In general, no. They don't want their schools' necks to be broken. So they keep their secrets. To look into the secretiveness of Waldorf faculties, see, e.g., "Secrets", "Sneaking It In", and "Clues".
If you're inclined to dismiss statements Rudolf Steiner made long ago,
consider the things his followers have said in recent years and decades.
See, e.g., "Who Says?"
To examine the state of Waldorf education today,
including the sort of training Waldorf teachers receive today,
look into such pages as these:
Advocates of Waldorf education sometimes acknowledge that their system of schooling was originally rooted in Rudolf Steiner's mysticism, but they generally claim that Waldorf schools today have cut their ties to their mystical roots and stand now free, rational, and wholly up-to-date.
If only it were so.
Here are statements made by some of Steiner's followers during their less guarded moments, revealing what actually goes on in Waldorf schools today. (In brief: The schools today are much like the schools used to be, which is how Steiner meant them to be.)
So there you have it. That's what Waldorf schools today are still all about. You might note that one thing Waldorf schools are not about is giving children a good education. None of the Waldorf representatives we have heard from give this as their primary intention. Perhaps Waldorf schools sometimes provide a fairly good education, but such a result is — from the Waldorf perspective — beside the point. The Waldorf focus is directed elsewhere.
For more on the spiritual agenda of Waldorf schools,
see "Spiritual Agenda".
Here's a handy, quick test to see whether Waldorf schools — and the thinking behind them — are right for you. Ask yourself this question: Do you believe in goblins?
“There are beings that can be seen with clairvoyant vision at many spots in the depths of the earth ... They seem able to crouch close together in vast numbers, and when the earth is laid open they appear to burst asunder ... Even when they reach their greatest size, they are still always small creatures in comparison with men ... Many names have been given to them, such as goblins, gnomes, and so forth ... What one calls moral responsibility in man is entirely lacking in them ... Their nature prompts them to play all sorts of tricks on man ... The different members [i.e., parts] of these beings can be investigated by occult means....” — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), pp. 62-63.
The theology of the Waldorf belief system is strange. It includes belief in such beings as goblins. If you cannot embrace such beliefs, Waldorf will probably prove to be — sooner or later — the wrong choice for you and your child.
According to Steiner, goblins (also called gnomes) are one type of "nature spirit" — invisible beings that dwell inside the elements of the physical universe. [See "Neutered Nature".] To investigate such beings, you need to have "clairvoyant vision". [See "Clairvoyance".] Indeed, developing clairvoyance is a central objective for Anthroposophists, and many Waldorf teachers believe that they possess clairvoyant powers. [See "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".]
When Steiner speaks of investigating things "by occult means," he is talking about clairvoyance. The word "occult" is embarrassing to Waldorf schools these days, but Steiner was a professed occultist, and many of his books — including those studied by Waldorf teachers and teacher trainees — include the word "occult" in their titles. [See "Occultism".]
The hardest thing about comprehending the belief system behind Waldorf schools is convincing yourself that Anthroposophists really believe the things that they really do believe. They believe in the occult. They believe in clairvoyance. They believe in goblins. Do you?
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005.]
This is Steiner's most important book. It has been issued in many editions over the years, sometimes under slightly different titles. By "occult science," Steiner meant his system of using clairvoyance to study the higher, spiritual worlds. In essence, this system is Anthroposophy, the religion Steiner developed from Theosophy. Steiner called Anthroposophy a science instead of a religion because he claimed that it yields objectively verifiable knowledge of spiritual realities. But relying on clairvoyance is relying on delusion. No system that depends on clairvoyance has any validity. [See "The Fundamental Flaw: Clairvoyance", below.]
Waldorf education is meant to apply Anthroposophical insights to the education of children. There is a great problem here, however. If Waldorf education depends on Anthroposophy, and if Anthroposophy depends on clairvoyance, then Waldorf education is as invalid as Anthroposophy itself.
Steiner was quite clear about the importance of Anthroposophy for Waldorf schools: “It is obvious that knowledge of the human being must be the basis for a teacher's work; that being so, teachers must acquire this knowledge for themselves, and the natural thing will be that they acquire it through Anthroposophy. If, therefore, we are asked what the basis of a new method of education should be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is behind it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 4.
Steiner's followers today still affirm Anthroposophy as the basis for Waldorf. Here is the description of a course offered by Rudolf Steiner College in the training of Waldorf teachers: "The Philosophical Foundations of Waldorf Education (7.5 credits). Waldorf education is based on Anthroposophy, a transpersonal and phenomenological world-view [sic]. It is necessary for the Waldorf educator to grasp this view of the human being because Waldorf pedagogy arises directly from this understanding. The curriculum and methods arise from an understanding of this ontology." — Rudolf Steiner College 2011-2012 Catalogue.
To examine OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE in some detail,
To consider how the Anthroposophical "view of the human being"
suffuses Waldorf schooling, see "Oh Humanity: The Key to Waldorf".
[R.R. 2010, based on image in Rudolf Steiner's
THE OCCULT MOVEMENT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), lecture 5, GA 254.]
The Anthroposophists on a Waldorf faculty believe that human evolution began during a period called Old Saturn. It is represented by the sphere on the upper left, above. Old Saturn was not the Saturn we see in the sky today; it was a precursor of the present Earth. (The Saturn we see in the sky today is a remnant of Old Saturn.) Following life on Old Saturn, we evolved on Old Sun and then Old Moon, becoming more densely physical as we proceeded. Each of these phases was a long period of spiritual development during which the entire solar system manifested in a different, more evolved form than in any previous phase. We are now in an intensely physical phase called Earth (the fourth sphere, above). Hanging below Earth is a phase that Anthroposophists generally do not like to discuss — it is the dreadful Eighth Sphere, a place or phase analogous to Hell.
In the future, those humans who do not descend to the Eighth Sphere will move upward to Jupiter, then Venus, and finally Vulcan, becoming less and less physical — and more and more spiritual — at each stage.
For Anthroposophists, the things I am describing are gospel; they comprise the story of human evolution as described by Rudolf Steiner. Following our life on Vulcan, we will continue evolving through five additional phases, but these will be so wondrous that even Steiner himself could scarcely describe them. Consequently they, like the Eighth Sphere, are usually omitted from Anthroposophical accounts.
The entire course of our evolution is guided by numerous good gods as well as good magicians and spiritual sages, people like Christian Rosenkreutz and other members of the White Lodge. But our evolution is opposed by the evil gods, black magicians, and other malefactors. Our ultimate victory in this saga is not guaranteed, but Anthroposophists believe it will come if we just accept Steiner's teachings and act upon them. Good humans are so beloved of the gods that, indeed, the entire universe was created for our benefit, and — indeed! — the gods actually worship us: We are their religion.
When we attain our ultimate fulfillment, we will become God the Father.
Let that sink in.
Waldorf teachers rarely explain such matters explicitly to their students or even to the parents of their students, but this is what they believe, and this belief system colors all their actions. They don't care very much about ordinary education — they see themselves as priests shepherding young souls toward evolutionary perfection. Among other things, this means helping students fulfill their karmas. It also means lovingly aiding brown, red, yellow, and black students to improve spiritually so that in future incarnations they may return as members of higher (whiter) races. This is what Steiner taught.
Here are links that will take you to pages that develop many of the Waldorf beliefs and practices I have outlined:
“After attending three different public schools through eighth grade, I attended high school at the Waldorf School of Garden City from 1977 to 1980. I had good teachers at all the schools I attended, and some not-so-good ones, too. But the Waldorf School felt, as I’ve said many times, ‘like coming home’ ... Although my teachers at the Waldorf School varied widely in talent (at least from my callow point of view), and although I felt great affinity for some and far less for others, they all shared a unity of purpose that, although they didn’t speak about it to their students, was evident in how they treated us* ... [T]hey shared a belief that the world was meaningful and that, through teaching, they could help us to find meaning in it as well. What could be better for adolescents?” — Stephen Keith Sagarin, THE STORY OF WALDORF EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES (SteinerBooks, 2011), pp. 1-2.
Critics of Waldorf education should candidly acknowledge Waldorf's undeniable allure. Often (not always, but often) Waldorf schools are warm, comforting environments. For many students, they provide emotional and spiritual succor. This does not mean that the schools are good or bad as educational institutions; it means, rather, that the schools can often be refuges from harsh, frenetic, and apparently meaningless modern life. A single vision prevails in the schools, a worldview (Anthroposophy) that often goes unspoken but that informs all activities and classes. This can create a structure and sense of purpose that can be deeply comforting. The price paid for Waldorf comfort, however, is withdrawal from reality. The Waldorf universe — with its gnomes and fairies and guardian angels and pantheon of gods — is imaginary. The degree to which students pay the Waldorf price depends on how vigorously their teachers proselytize. When Waldorf faculties refrain from pressing their beliefs too forcefully, the ambience of the schools can, for many students, feel like the home they have dreamed of having. (And when the faculties press their beliefs, a smaller group of students — those with a developed appetite for the mystical — may feel that they have received a joyous revelation. Others, of course, will be shocked and alienated. [See "The Waldorf Scandal".])
Rudolf Steiner often claimed that Waldorf schools are not meant to teach Anthroposophy to the students. He said, for instance, “We are not interested in imposing our ‘dogmas,’ our principles, or the content of our world-view on young people ... We are striving to include in our instructional methods a way of dealing with individual souls that can originate in a living spiritual science.”  In one sense, this is true enough. The intellectual content or “dogmas” of Anthroposophy may not usually be taught, in explicit declarations, to students at Waldorf schools. But in another sense, Steiner’s claim hinges on a distinction without a difference. If Waldorf pedagogy arises from “a living spiritual science” (i.e., vibrant, active Anthroposophy), then the “individual souls” of the students are continually being worked upon by Anthroposophy. The students may not learn the terminology of Anthroposophy, but they will likely absorb Anthroposophy’s day-after-day, class-after-class effects.  Indeed, this is the purpose implicit in Steiner's statement.
Steiner came close to saying as much again, on a different occasion, when he explained “[W]e believe that spiritual science differs from any other science in filling the entire person.... ”  A little set of logical deductions: a) If children are to be worked upon by living spiritual science (Anthroposophy), and if spiritual science fills the whole person, then the children will be filled by spiritual science. b) If students will be filled with spiritual science (Anthroposophy), then a clear function of Waldorf education is to spread Anthroposophy. The spreading can occur by pouring spiritual science into the students (with or without explicating the dogmas), or by arousing parents’ interest in the schools (perhaps explicating a few dogmas, probably a little at a time), or both. As Steiner said: “One of the most important facts about the background of the Waldorf School is that we were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one [i.e., one of the most important functions of the school was to spread Anthroposophy]. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” 
Steiner was reasonably candid about the importance of Anthroposophy to Waldorf schools. “The anthroposophical movement is the basis of the Waldorf School movement.”  Still, he continued to maintain that Waldorfs don’t teach Anthroposophy. But: “[W]e had to create our curricula and educational goals on the basis of a true understanding of the human being, which can only grow out of the fertile ground of anthroposophy. Then we would have a universally human school, not a school based on a particular philosophy or denomination.... ”  It is impossible to know whether Steiner believed his own statements, but we can usually understand his meaning. In this case, his position was that Anthroposophy is not a philosophy or denomination. It is spiritual science. It is objective truth. It represents “true understanding.” Thus, Steiner could argue that a Waldorf is “not a school based on a particular philosophy or denomination,” because he defined Anthroposophy as being neither of these things. But whatever label we put on it, Anthroposophy is the basis of Waldorf education.
Steiner himself sometimes undercut his claim that Anthroposophical dogma is not taught at Waldorf schools. For example, he once admonished a Waldorf teacher in these words: "The problem you have is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child's level."  Note that Steiner did not say that the teacher had erred in presenting Anthroposophy in class; he only said that the teacher had not presented Anthroposophy in a form the students could grasp.
The reality is that Anthroposophy is presented in Waldorf classes, usually in disguised form, but sometimes openly. And Waldorf students should learn not to complain about this. “You need to make the children aware that they are receiving the objective truth, and if this occasionally appears anthroposophical, it is not anthroposophy that is at fault. Things are that way because anthroposophy has something to say about objective truth ... Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.”  Since Steiner promoted Anthroposophy as the key to human wisdom, he was here effectively acknowledging that Anthroposophy will pervade every subject in the Waldorf curriculum. When will Anthroposophy be “called for by the material”? Almost always
The following was downloaded on Oct. 9, 2010 from a Waldorf school's website: "Steiner's philosophy, which he named Anthroposophy, can be applied to all walks of life and provides guiding principles for the teachers' work. It is important to note, however, that Anthroposophy itself is not taught to the children." [10-9-2010 http://www.michaelhouseschool.com/rudolf_%20steiner.htm]
This disclaimer is made almost universally by Waldorf and Steiner schools. How reassuring do you find it? Consider this analogy. Imagine a school that says "All of our methods are based on voodoo. However, we do not teach voodoo to the children." Would you be reassured? Would you send your child there?
Steiner's books have titles like OCCULT SCIENCE. To many people, this must seem extremely strange — and perhaps frightening. “Occult” is a worrisome word, even if we use it precisely as Steiner intended — that is, referring to truth or knowledge that is hidden.  Basic to the Waldorf worldview is the notion that most real knowledge is hidden, and it can be discovered only through the process of occult initiation, which involves developing powers of "exact" clairvoyance. We might pause over this proposition. Do you agree that we live in a universe populated by vast numbers of gods? Do you agree that the gods have hidden from us precisely the knowledge that we need? And do you agree that only rare, clairvoyant initiates such as Rudolf Steiner can make this knowledge known? If you decide to associate yourself with a Waldorf school, you need to agree to all these strange concepts.
Steiner unashamedly identified himself and his followers as occultists. Bear in mind, these are the people who run Waldorf schools:
“You see, if we want to progress in occultism, we must do many things that run contrary to the ordinary course of events.” 
“In occultism, we learn to grasp life more earnestly, we learn to perceive that the things which are not palpable, which cannot be observed by the senses, are still a reality.” 
“In occultism, we can continue the sentence, ‘Of the Tree of Life man shall not eat’, by adding the words, ‘and the Spirit of Matter he shall not hear.’" 
“Hence in occultism we call the Moon the ‘Cosmos of Wisdom’ and the Earth the ‘Cosmos of Love.’" 
“Now the spiritual beings who are given off from the Second Hierarchy and sink themselves into the kingdoms of Nature, are those beings whom in occultism, we designate as the Group-souls of the plants, the animals — the Group-souls in the single entities.” 
“In occultism, we distinguish also the state of warmth which is not simply a state of matter in vibration, but a fourth substantial state.” 
“In occultism we differentiate in man firstly his actions, in so far [sic] as by actions we understand everything which proceeds from any kind of activity connected with his hands; secondly speech and thirdly thoughts. Everything which in this sense he accomplishes with his hands brings about its karmic results in his next earthly existence.” 
For more on this subject,
What if a Waldorf school provided an excellent education but also attempted to lure students into occultism: Would you feel comfortable sending your child there?
We can go a step further and reframe the question like this: What if a Waldorf school provided an excellent education and also attempted to lure students into occultism but frequently failed in this attempt: Would you feel comfortable sending your child there? Would you be willing to gamble that your child would be one of the fortunate students who were unharmed?
The only safe Waldorf schools would be ones that completely renounced the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. But then they wouldn't be Waldorf schools.
Surely the saddest thing about the Waldorf movement is that it consists of so many good people who love so many good things. A nurturing environment! Yes! Outdoor play! Yes! Wholesome snacks! Yes! Art! Yes! Personal attention! Yes! Nature, organic foods, spiritual aspiration, loving kindness, reverence, sweetness, beauty... Yes, yes, yes!
There is so much goodness within the Waldorf movement. And yet, the movement is fatally flawed. It is based on Rudolf Steiner’s deeply irrational occult doctrines.
Learning that Waldorf is hollow and destructive takes a long time, usually. Most of the people who are now prominent critics of Waldorf schooling were once deeply involved in it, deeply committed to it.* But a day of realization came for each one. They realized, one by one, that they had been lied to, misled, manipulated, cheated. A day came when truth shone through the mists of Waldorf occultism. A day came when they understood that Steiner and his followers are occultists. (“In occultism we differentiate in man firstly his actions...” — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM, lecture 17, GA 93a). A day came when they realized the full horror of Steiner’s pledge that “Anthroposophy will be in the school.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.
Waldorf schools can be inspiring — in them you find art, and reverence, and kindliness, and high ideals. So it is easy to get swept away. Only, later, you may penetrate to the truth. Waldorf education is rooted in occultism. “In occultism we...” — Rudolf Steiner.
The sad truth is that, no matter how high the aspirations, any movement rooted in occultism is erroneous, flawed, false. It poses grave dangers.
* I can’t list them all; I don't know them all. But here are a few names: Dan Dugan, Diana Winters, Maura Kwaten, David Dodds, Margaret Sachs, Pete Karaiskos, Debra Snell, Grégoire Perra, Steve Walden, and — what’s his name? — oh, yes, Roger Rawlings. And others... A growing list of others who have staggered away from the Waldorf movement, wounded but finally aware.
Anthroposophy abounds with mystical emblems.
On occasion these may appear in Waldorf schools.
There are, in particular, seven mystic seals (devices, marks, symbols)
meant to be displayed in avowedly Anthroposophical buildings
and seven mystic columns intended for use in such buildings.
The seals derive principally from the seven seals of the Apocalypse;
the columns are directly associated with the seven visible planets of astrology.
The outer form or appearance of the seals and columns
as displayed in various structures
may vary somewhat, but the inner or spiritual essence is unchanging,
for the original descriptions were given by Rudolf Steiner himself.
“These are not arbitrary symbols, to be interpreted by reason, but written ‘characters’ of spiritual science [i.e., Anthroposophy], which must be taken in a manner corresponding to true spiritual science ... The 'seals'...represent actual facts of the astral world, and the seven 'columns' facts of the spiritual world ... [Seal #1] Represents the entire earthly evolution of man.” — Rudolf Steiner, MYSTIC SEALS AND COLUMNS (Health Research, 1969), p. 1. R.R. sketch, 2010, based on the one in the book. The caption there is: “The Four Original Human Group Prototypes; the Primeval Images of Group Souls. (Depicted by the 4 Fixed Signs of the Zodiac — the Four Kumaras, etc.). These are the earliest formations of God, Divine Substance, as it descended for incarnation in the prepared bodies. About the Hyperborean Period. What is the meaning of the figure. [sic] Revelations 4:7-11.” Don't look at me. That's what the caption says. Concerning Steiner's assertion that the symbols cannot be "interpreted by reason," it is important to realize that Steiner and his followers believe that true knowledge does not come from reasoning but from clairvoyance. [See "Clairvoyance" and "Steiner's Specific".] True-believing Waldorf teachers use "clairvoyance," dreams, and even horoscopes to evaluate their students.
"Between every two of these seals should stand one of seven columns ... The earth itself advances thru [sic] seven conditions of evolution, which are called by the names of the seven [sic] planets, Saturn, Sun, Moon, [etc.] ... The same motive passes through the seven capitals [of the columns]; a force from above and one from below ... First the force develops from below in the simplest manner, and just as simply the force tends toward it from above (Saturn column.)" — Ibid., p. 5, R. R. sketch, 2010, based on the one in the book.
Explanations of mystic emblems acknowledged by Steiner and his followers are offered in various Anthroposophical publications. OCCULT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS was published by the Anthroposophic Press in 1972:
My drawings of emblem and column are based on representations found in MYSTIC SEALS AND COLUMNS, published by Health Research in 1969:
The original title of this book was PICTURES OF OCCULT SEALS AND COLUMNS or, in the original German, BILDER OKKULTER SIEGEL UND SAEULEN.
Attractive representations of many Anthroposophical symbols are given — in characteristic Waldorf art styles — in John Fletcher's ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER (Mercury Arts Publications, 1987). The seven planetary columns are depicted on p. 188, while a lovely, four-color version of the Group Prototype seal is reproduced on p. 202. Its title there is "The Archetypal Animals and Man".
While emblems of the sort we have discussing are openly displayed in various Anthroposophical buildings, in Waldorf schools they may be kept largely out of sight or they may be displayed only in disguised form. Other occult symbols, however, are frequently used undisguised in the schools. Among these are emblems that are often hung from Christmas trees erected in Waldorf schools. These emblems are shown on the cover of the following Steiner text, published by the Anthroposophic Press in 1967:
According to Waldorf belief, these emblems have the following meanings: The pentagram (shown at the top) is the symbol of man; below that is the Tao, symbolizing divinity as apprehended on Atlantis; then the Alpha and Omega (the beginning and end) bracketing Tarok, symbolizing ancient Egyptian occult knowledge; then the triangle, symbolizing man's three spiritual members; and finally the square, representing the fourfold nature of man. [See "Christmas".]
In addition to creating a form of education based on his occult doctrines, Rudolf Steiner also created a form of medicine — "Anthroposophic medicine" — based on those doctrines. Anthroposophic medicine — which by mainstream standards is little better than quackery — is often practiced in and around Waldorf schools. This is, in itself, reason to be leery of the Waldorf movement.
Medicine is a complex subject. Delving into it deeply, here, would take us far from our central subject, which is the nature of Waldorf education. You can get an inkling, however, by pausing over the title of a single Steiner text. THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD was published by Health Research in 1972:
Previously, the same text had been printed by Rudolf Steiner Press, in 1967, and distributed by the Anthroposophic Press:
If you want to explore Anthroposophical medicine, you make examine the following:
— a section of Spotlight on Anthroposophy
at the Waldorf Watch Index
With Every Fiber
When speaking in public about Waldorf education, Steiner usually denied that his educational policies contain a religious agenda. Yet if we look just a little below the surface, we can find the truth. Consider the following remark made by Steiner: “Imagine that we wanted to convey a simple religious concept — for instance, the immortality of the human soul — to a class of young children. [Steiner suggests using the analogy of a caterpillar that doesn’t die but becomes a butterfly.] ... A Waldorf teacher, an anthroposophically oriented spiritual researcher, would not feel, ‘I am the intelligent adult who makes up a story for the children’s benefit,’ but rather: ‘The eternal beings and powers [i.e., the gods], acting as the spiritual in nature, have placed before my eyes a picture of the immortal human soul, objectively, in the form of the emerging butterfly. Believing in the truth of this picture with every fibre of my being, and bringing it to my pupils through my own conviction, I will awaken in them a truly religious concept.’” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), vol. 1, pp. 49-50 - Feb. 27, 1921. Such a teacher would not be explaining a religious concept in an objective, dispassionate manner. S/he would be fervently conveying one of his/her most deeply cherished religious beliefs. S/he would be attempting to "awaken" a similar "conviction" in the students. This is proselytizing.
Surface vs. Substance
When they do not depict specific occult concepts, paintings made at Waldorf schools are often meant to invoke the spirit realm in a more or less generalized sense. Here is one of my recent efforts are creating now, consciously, the sort of art I saw around me and attempted to emulate long ago when I was a Waldorf school student.
For an exposition of the arts as seen and practiced
in Waldorf schools, see "Magical Arts".
For tips on what to look for when visiting a Waldorf school,
To delve into particular issues and subjects
concerning Waldorf education and Anthroposophy,you might dip into
Waldorf students draw lots of geometric mandalas —
Steiner found mystical meaning in geometry.
He said, for instance, “Basic geometric concepts awaken clairvoyant abilities.”
[See "Mystic Math".]
Steiner's occult universe is elaborate and highly structured.
Compared to reality, however, it is simplistic.
To delve into Steiner's "clairvoyant" descriptions
of humanity's past, present, and future
see "Everything" and the essays that follow it —
beginning with "Prehistory 101".
includes a summary
of human evolution as described by Steiner.
[R. R., 2010, with thanks to Spirogiro.]
[R. R., 2010.]
Waldorf schools can be extremely attractive. You have to look closely to see what they actually are behind their charm and allure. They are Anthroposophical dream factories, places of fantasy, occultism, and phantasmagoria. Children raised in the warm, loving fantasy world that Waldorfs often provide may feel comfortable and secure — but they may have little hold on reality.
Waldorf schools generally do not openly explain Anthroposophical doctrines to the students. Hence, the students are rarely able to cite Anthroposophical doctrine, chapter and verse. But the schools nonetheless convey many of their fundamental beliefs to the kids. They immerse their students in an Anthroposophical atmosphere day after day, week after week, year after year, with the result that the kids' thinking, and attitudes, and perceptions, and preferences, and dreams are often deeply influenced.
As a Waldorf alumnus who has canvassed other Waldorf alums, I can attest that many kids come away from Waldorf schools accepting, more or less consciously, such Anthroposophical doctrines as these (the list is partial and a bit repetitive, as Waldorf beliefs tend to be):
Not all Waldorf graduates have such beliefs, and most of these beliefs are not the sole property of Anthroposophy. Still, it seems clear that Waldorf schools often draw their students toward acceptance of Anthroposophy or at least what we might call Anthroposophy-lite: spiritual yearnings, attitudes, and conceptions, if not fully formed spiritual doctrines.
But shh! Don't reveal this hidden purpose of Waldorf education. Remember these words of wisdom: “[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck." [8 redux]
To Tell or Not to Tell
Steiner often urged Waldorf teachers to conceal much from outsiders. "We should be quiet about how we handle things in our school, we should maintain a kind of confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school, except for the parents who come to us with questions, and in that case, only about their children, so that gossip has no opportunity to arise." 
But on other occasions, he urged more openness: “If, therefore, we are asked what the basis of a new method of education must be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is behind it. [paragraph break] An old German proverb says: Please wash me but don’t make me wet! Many projects are undertaken in this spirit but you must above all both speak and think truthfully. So if anyone asks you how to become a good teacher, you must say: Make Anthroposophy your foundation, for only by this means can you acquire your knowledge of the human being.” 
When they can afford to do so, Anthroposophists build Waldorf schools and other Anthroposophical structures in a Steineresque style, employing organic forms and nonstandard doors and windows. They try to avoid right angles, and they utterly avoid peaked arches, which Steiner said are the mark of the arch-demon Ahriman. (I realize that last bit sounds loopy, but would I lie to you? Let's consult the expert: “Anti-Christian influence is directly visible in Moorish architecture with its arches that run up into a point instead of being rounded. This is the mark of Ahriman. In architecture Ahriman worked as the Antichrist when he replaced rounded Romanesque arches with horseshoe and pointed arches.” — Rudolf Steiner, ARCHITECTURE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 153.)
Photograph, above, by Alicia Hamberg
The structure shown is an Anthroposophical "cultural center" in Sweden,
designed by Erik Asmussen.
Building in Anthroposophical style is expensive and difficult, but Steiner's followers do it when they can. Ideally, Waldorf schools embody architectural forms that invoke the beneficent spiritual powers while deflecting the destructive efforts of demonic powers such as Ahriman. Below is a large Waldorf school in Germany:
Überlingen Waldorf School.
[See WALDORF EDUCATION, by Christopher Clouder and Martyn Rawson
(Floris Books, 1998), p. 126.]
To consider the form and functions of properly designed and run Waldorf schools,
see "Schools As Churches".
To investigate Ahriman and his wiles,
If you become interested in the subject of demons, as described by Steiner,
Ahriman, as described by Rudolf Steiner.
[R. R. sketch, 2012.]
Words of Fervor
To really grasp what goes on in Waldorf schools, it is necessary to become familiar with Anthroposophical terminology. Below is a statement in which Steiner tells Waldorf teachers to bring religious fervor into the classroom.
The statement alludes to several Anthroposophical concepts. Let's review them quickly before handing the microphone to Steiner:
There are more bits of Anthroposophical doctrine in the statement, but what I have laid out here is probably sufficient. The main point is that Steiner once again urges Waldorf teachers to operate as priests, with religious fervor, bringing into the classroom the "streaming down from above" that is the beneficence of the gods. (Remember quotations we saw at the top of this page: "The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office." And "[W]e are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.”)
Okay. Here is Steiner reiterating the religious nature of Waldorf schooling:
“We must apply a musical understanding to the astral body. I gaze into the human being, and out toward the myriad animal forms. It’s as if we were to take a symphony where all the tones sound together in a wonderful, harmonious, and melodious whole and, over the course of time, separated each tone from the others and juxtaposed them.
“As we look out into the animal world, we have the single tones. As we look into the human astral body and what it builds in the physical and etheric bodies, we have the symphony. If we go beyond an intellectual view of the world and have enough cognitive freedom to rise to artistic knowledge, we develop an inner reverence, permeated with religious fervor, for the invisible being — the marvelous world composer— who first arranged the tones in the various animal forms, and then created the human being as a symphony of the phenomena of animal nature. This is what we must carry in our souls as teachers. If I understand my relationship to the world in this way, a true enthusiasm in the presence of world creation and world formation will flow into my descriptions of the animal forms. Every word and gesture in my teaching as a whole will be permeated by religious fervor — not just abstract concepts and natural laws.
“Such things show us that instruction and education must not come from accumulated knowledge, which is then applied, but from a living abundance. A teacher comes into the class with the fullness of this abundance, and when dealing with children, it’s as though they found before them a voice for the world mysteries pulsating and streaming through the teacher, as though merely an instrument through which the world speaks to the child.” 
The Fundamental Flaw: Clairvoyance
The Waldorf system depends on clairvoyance. A leading Waldorf educator, Eugene Schwartz, has written the following: “Must teachers be clairvoyant in order to be certain that they are teaching in the proper way? We may, indeed, need only the ‘clairvoyant’ faculties that we are already using without being aware that we possess them ... The teacher's faculty [of clairvoyance] must be cultivated and brought to a stage of conscious awareness on the part of the teacher.” 
Schwartz extends his theme with these words: “Earlier in this book I spoke of the ‘everyday clairvoyance’ which allows us to perceive the activities of the ‘higher bodies’ of the human being without our necessarily being endowed with the degree of spiritual insight necessary to see the bodies themselves.”  (By higher bodies, he means etheric bodies, astral bodies...)
The idea that teachers should use clairvoyance, and that everyone has clairvoyant abilities, is consistent with the emphasis Steiner put on this psychic power:
The problem all this creates for the Waldorf movement is enormous. Clairvoyance is a fantasy; it does not exist. [See “Clairvoyance”.] Thus, Waldorf schooling depends on a power that is a mirage, a delusion, a pipe dream. Or, to put this more plainly, there is no basis for the Waldorf approach. It depends on clairvoyance, which does not exist.
For more on these matters, see, e.g., "Exactly",
Anthroposophists aspire to be clairvoyant like Steiner claimed to be. Primarily, they pursue this goal by performing spiritual meditations and exercises prescribed by Steiner, especially those given in the book KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT. This is the how-to guide of the Anthroposophical movement, the chief text in which Steiner told his followers how to "do" Anthroposophy. Attaining clairvoyance like Steiner's will enable them to know the hidden spiritual worlds, or so Anthroposophists believe.
Here's something to cogitate about, perhaps. Rudolf Steiner published KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT in 1904 — more than a century ago. Many people have read it and tried to the follow the directions given in it, directions on how to become clairvoyant. Now, ask yourself: Why isn't the world today aswarm with people who are clearly, demonstrably clairvoyant?
It's puzzling, no?
But bear in mind that when you step inside a Waldorf school, you will meet many individuals who (probably secretly) believe they are clairvoyant. So here's a second question we all need to address: Do you want such people to educate your children?
To explore the contents of
KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT,
see "Knowing the Worlds".
The book has also been released, in varying translations,
under such titles as
HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS - A Modern Path of Initiation
KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS - How Is It Achieved?
You should be able to find copies without much difficulty.
[Anthroposophic Press, 1994.]
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2009.]
We should return to the matter I alluded to in the section "To Tell or Not to Tell", above. The matter I have in mind is something called telling the truth.
Anthroposophists — including Waldorf teachers — often conceal their real purposes and practices. They do this for what they think is an excellent reason. A crucial doctrine of Anthroposophy is that the deepest wisdom is "mystery" wisdom — it is occult, hidden. Only initiates should have access to the "truths" of mystery wisdom; the rest of us are unequipped to handle it. [See "Inside Scoop".] Thus, Anthroposophists think they are acting properly when they withhold certain kinds of information from outsiders.
Even when dealing with "truth" that stands at a lower level than "mystery wisdom," Anthroposophists often want to withhold it. Steiner explicitly instructed Waldorf teachers to keep the general public in the dark, as when he said "We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, we should maintain a kind of school confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school, except for the parents who come to us with questions, and in that case, only about their children...."  An even more dramatic — and shocking — example: "Imagine what people would say if they heard that we say there are people who are not human beings [i.e., they are subhuman] ... [W]e do not want to shout that to the world. Our opposition is already large enough ... We do not want to shout such things out into the world.”  [See "Secrets".]
So Waldorf faculties want to keep mum about various matters. We may see the results as dishonesty; Waldorf teachers may see it very differently. They think that they are serving the Truth — that is, Anthroposophy — in all of their actions, and thus they probably think that their actions are virtuous. They may even believe some of the denials and claims that they regularly make. They may believe that, truly, Anthroposophy is not a religion; and, truly, Waldorf schools do not promote Anthroposophy; and, truly, Waldorf schools foster freedom. They would be mistaken in all of this, but they would be honestly mistaken. Like Steiner, Anthroposophists often have an odd relationship with truth. Indeed, becoming an Anthroposophist requires you to detach yourself from the truth — the real universe — and enter a fantasy realm instead. From within that fantasy realm, perception may be quite blurred. For this reason, the ultimate victims of Anthroposophy's distortion of reality may be Anthroposophists themselves — they convince themselves that what is false (Anthroposophy) is true, and what is true (modern science and scholarship) is false. Membership in any mystical cult usually depends on willing self-deception, and we find this problem within Anthroposophy. [See "Fooling (Ourselves)", "Deception", and "Why? (Oh Why? Oh Why?)".]
Anthroposophists may be good, caring, compassionate people who are entirely sincere in what they think and do. This may be particularly true of the Anthroposophists who serve on Waldorf faculties. But none of this excuses what Waldorf teachers do to youngsters. An informed adult may make a conscious decision to join a cult. But children are in no position to make such a choice, and Waldorf schools do not present them with such a choice. Instead, Waldorf schools immerse children in an Anthroposophical atmosphere week after week, month after month, year after year. The ultimate result — whether or not all Waldorf teachers consciously recognize this — is to pull children toward Anthroposophical occultism. This is what Waldorf schools are set up to do; this is the outcome Waldorf schools are designed to achieve, whether or not all Waldorf teachers consciously recognize this.
Teaching the Kids Prayers
Q. If Anthroposophy is a religion, where are its churches? A. Virtually every Anthroposophic structure is, in effect, a church — including each Waldorf school.
Here is Rudolf Steiner speaking to teachers at the first Waldorf school: “Let us think of a prayer. The children should, when asked to learn a prayer, be urged to be in a mood of devotion. It is up to us to see to this. We must almost feel a horror if we teach the children a prayer without first establishing this mood of reverence or devotion. And they should never say a prayer without this mood.” 
Why do Waldorf teachers teach children prayers? Because they deem themselves to serve as priests.* And Waldorf schools thus become, in effect, churches — places of devotion, reverence, and worship.
*"The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office, a ritual performed at the altar of universal human life ... Our task is to ferry into earthly life the aspect of the child that came from the divine spiritual world." 
And what religion is practiced in Waldorf churches by Waldorf priests? Anthroposophy. "[T]he Anthroposophical Society...provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." 
[R. R., 2012.]
“Waldorf education takes a spiritual view of what it means to be a human being, and is grounded in a path of personal development called anthroposophy, developed by Rudolf Steiner. We do not see ourselves as a religious school, however, and students are not taught any particular religious or spiritual doctrine.” — Washington Waldorf School, "WWS at a Glance", downloaded February 19, 2011.
When Waldorf faculties make such statements, they may be telling the truth — as they understand it. On other occasions, they may be quite consciously trying to mislead the public. But let’s be charitable and assume that all such statements by Waldorf schools are sincere. Where does this leave us?
Statements of this sort arise from a number of factors. For starters, Anthroposophists almost always deny that Anthroposophy is a religion. This denial is untrue, but it provides the essential first line of defense for Waldorf schools. If Anthroposophy is not a religion, then Waldorf schools are not religious institutions even if they teach Anthroposophical doctrines to the students. But Anthroposophy actually is a religion [see “Is Anthroposophy a Religion?”], so this line of defense fails.
The second level of the Waldorf defense — often invoked sincerely — is that the schools do not teach Anthroposophy to the kids, so therefore the schools are not religious institutions even if Anthroposophy itself is a religion. But this denial, too, is flawed. Many Anthroposophical doctrines do indeed get imparted to Waldorf students [see “Spiritual Agenda” and "Sneaking It In"]. Generally this occurs through an indirect process of suggestion and implication, rather than through direct instruction — but it happens. If you were to observe this class or that, on this day or that, you might detect little religious or esoteric content. But gradually, over time, such content makes itself felt among the students. The atmosphere in a Waldorf school is usually redolent with religious feeling, and the school year is punctuated by the celebration of religious festivals [see “Magical Arts”]. The schools may not openly profess their faith, but they enact it, and this certainly has an effect on most students, especially those who attend the schools for many years.
One more point needs to be made. Many students' parents and even junior faculty members are quite unaware of the religious nature of Waldorf schooling, at least initially. Thus, they may accept the prayers recited by Waldorf students as pretty “verses,” nothing more [see “Prayers”], and they may consider the celebration of such festivals are Michaelmas merely quaint seasonal festivities. But if so, they are fooling themselves. The inner circle within most Waldorf faculties is aware that virtually everything that happens at a Waldorf school has occult, spiritual significance.* When Waldorf representatives deny this, we should not be taken in. [See “Soul School”.] The deception and, indeed, self-deception practiced in Waldorf schools should not cloud our own eyes.
Let’s give the last word to the founder of Waldorf education. "It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD's CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS AS THE BASIS OF PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 94.
* Clearly, it is offensive to tell people that they don’t know what they are doing, that they are deceiving themselves. But in many cases, Anthroposophists do indeed deceive themselves. Even members of the innermost Waldorf circle may operate in a state of denial and self-deception. When, for example, Waldorf teachers use “clairvoyance” to determine the “temperaments" of their students, they are practicing a twofold deception on themselves. Clairvoyance is a fantasy, and the ancient four-slot system of categorization (phlegmatic, melancholic, sanguine, choleric) that Waldorf teachers use to sort out their students has no basis in truth. [See “Clairvoyance” and “Humouresque”.]
Rudolf Steiner insisted that Anthroposophy is a science, not a religion, and many of his followers cling to this claim despite all the evidence to the contrary — indeed, they cling to it despite the admissions that Steiner himself sometimes made, apparently inadvertently. For instance, "[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. The Anthroposophical society does not do science, it embraces a religion (Anthroposophy) that it works to spread “just as other religious groups do." One of the places they do this is in Waldorf schools. But hush! “[A]n institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 705.
In Passing, In Full
A note in passing: Steiner is hard to read. His use of language was far from perfect — his statements are tangled and obscure in the original German, and English translations are sometimes even worse. For this reason, I often trim Steiner's statements, aiming for clarity. But lest you think I have twisted Steiner's meaning, let's do a quick survey. I trimmed some of the quotations used earlier in "Here's the Answer". Here are some of the same statements again, this time without any excisions. I think you'll agree that I did not misrepresent Steiner or his meaning.
Here is Steiner addressing the teachers at the first Waldorf school:
"As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside. It will be impossible for us to avoid all kinds of people from outside the school who want to have a voice in school matters. As long as we do not give up any of the necessary perspective we must have in our feelings, then any concurrence from other pedagogical streams concerning what happens in the Waldorf School will cause us to be sad rather than happy. When those people working in modern pedagogy praise us, we must think there is something wrong with what we are doing. We do not need to immediately throw out anyone who praises us, but we do need to be clear that we should carefully consider that we may not be doing something properly if those working in today’s educational system praise us. That must be our basic conviction.
"To the extent that I feel in a very living way what it means to you to have devoted your entire person to work of the Waldorf School, I would like to say something more. As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling."
Addressing the same audience:
"We can accomplish our work only if we do not see it as simply a matter of intellect or feeling, but, in the highest sense, as a moral spiritual task. Therefore, you will understand why, as we begin this work today, we first reflect on the connection we wish to create from the very beginning between our activity and the spiritual worlds. With such a task, we must be conscious that we do not work only in the physical plane of living human beings. In the last centuries, this way of viewing work has increasingly gained such acceptance that it is virtually the only way people see it. This understanding of tasks has made teaching what it is now and what the work before us should improve. Thus, we wish to begin our preparation by ﬁrst reflecting upon how we connect with the spiritual powers in whose service and in whose name each one of us must work. I ask you to understand these introductory words as a kind of prayer to those powers who stand behind us with Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition as we take up this task."
A statement Steiner made in a faculty meeting:
"When the school was founded, we placed great value upon creating an institution independent of the Anthroposophical Society. Logically, that corresponds quite well with having the various religious communities and the Anthroposophical Society provide religious instruction, so that the Society provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do."
Also from a faculty meeting:
"The other problem is that you are often too anthroposophical, like Mr. X. Yesterday, I was sitting on pins and needles worrying that the visitors would think the history class was too religious. We should not allow the history class to be too religiously oriented. That is why we have a religion class. The visitors seem to have been very well-meaning people. Nevertheless, had they noticed that, they could easily have categorized the Waldorf School as being too anthroposophical and of bringing that into the classroom."
Note that the words "anthroposophical" and "religious" are virtually interchangeable in this quotation. Steiner tells a Waldorf teacher he is "too anthroposophical" and Steiner worries that visitors will think a history class is "too religious." Steiner does not tell the teacher to leave all Anthroposophy out of the classroom, he just tells him to tone it down a bit. His attitude toward the religious content of the history class is the same: He doesn't say there should be no such content, only that there shouldn't be so much of it that outsiders will become concerned. If that were to happen, the outsiders would conclude that the Waldorf school is "too anthroposophical." You see, to be too Anthroposophical is to be too religious, and to be too religious is to be too Anthroposophical. The words "anthroposophical" and "religious" are virtually interchangeable. Why? Because Anthroposophy is a religion. Steiner and his followers usually deny this. But sometimes we catch them admitting it.
Here is the full passage about goblins or gnomes:
"There are beings that can be seen with clairvoyant vision at many spots in the depths of the earth, especially places little touched by living growths, places, for instance, in a mine which have always been of a mineral nature. If you dig into metallic or stony ground you find beings which manifest at first in remarkable fashion — it is as if something were to scatter us. They seem able to crouch close together in vast numbers, and when the earth is laid open they appear to burst asunder. The important point is that they do not fly apart into a certain number but that in their own bodily nature they become larger. Even when they reach their greatest size, they are still always small creatures in comparison with men. The enlightened man knows nothing of them. People, however, who have preserved a certain nature-sense, i.e. the old clairvoyant forces which everyone once possessed and which had to be lost with the acquisition of objective consciousness, could tell you all sorts of things about such beings. Many names have been given to them, such as goblins, gnomes, and so forth. Apart from the fact that their body is invisible, they differ essentially from man in as much as one could never reasonably attribute to them any kind of moral responsibility. What one calls moral responsibility in man is entirely lacking in them; what they do, they do automatically, and at the same time it is not at all unlike what the human intellect, intelligence, does. They possess what one calls wit in the highest degree and anyone coming into touch with them can observe good proofs of this. Their nature prompts them to play all sorts of tricks on man, as every miner can tell you who has still preserved something of a healthy nature-sense — not so much the miners in coal mines as those in metal mines.
"The different members of these beings can be investigated by occult means just as in the case of man when we distinguish his members as physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego and what is to evolve from them as spirit-self, life-spirit, and spirit-man. In his present phase of development man consists essentially of the four members first named, so that we can say that his highest member is the ego or ‘I’ and the lowest is the physical body."
Here is the passage about maintaining school confidentiality. (You'll see that I actually omitted the worst part: the slapping of students.)
“Well, we certainly need to be clear that we do not have a bunch of angels at this school, but that should not stop us from pursuing our ideas and ideals. Such things should not lead us to think that we cannot reach what we have set as our goals. We must always be clear that we are pursuing the intentions set forth in the seminar. Of course, how much we cannot achieve is another question that we must particularly address from time to time. Today, we have only just begun, and all we can do is take note of how strongly social climbing has broken out.
"However, there is something else that I would ask you to be aware of. That is, that we, as the faculty — what others do with the children is a separate thing — do not attempt to bring out into the public things that really concern only our school. I have been back only a few hours, and I have heard so much gossip about who got a slap and so forth. All of that gossip is going beyond all bounds, and I really found it very disturbing. We do not really need to concern ourselves when things seep out the cracks. We certainly have thick enough skins for that. But on the other hand, we clearly do not need to help it along. We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, that is, we should maintain a kind of school confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school, except for the parents who come to us with questions, and in that case, only about their children, so that gossip has no opportunity to arise. There are people who like to talk about such things because of their own desire for sensationalism. However, it poisons our entire undertaking for things to become mere gossip. This is something that is particularly true here in Stuttgart since there is so much gossip within anthroposophical circles. That gossip causes great harm, and I encounter it in the most disgusting forms. Those of us on the faculty should in no way support it.”
And here is the complete passage about people who are not really human. It is long, but it deserves to be read. It shows us a side of Anthroposophy that is usually kept well hidden.
"That little girl L.K. in the first grade must have something really very wrong inside. There is not much we can do. Such cases are increasing in which children are born with a human form, but are not really human beings in relation to their highest I [i.e., the highest human non-physical body]; instead, they are filled with beings that do not belong to the human class. Quite a number of people have been born since the [eighteen-]nineties without an I, that is, they are not reincarnated, but are human forms filled with a sort of natural demon. There are quite a large number of older people going around who are actually not human beings, but are only natural; they are human beings only in regard to their form. We cannot, however, create a school for demons.
"A teacher: How is that possible?
"Cosmic error is certainly not impossible. The relationships of individuals coming into earthly existence have long been determined. There are also generations in which individuals have no desire to come into earthly existence and be connected with physicality, or immediately leave at the very beginning. In such cases, other beings that are not quite suited step in. This is something that is now quite common, that human beings go around without an I; they are actually not human beings, but have only a human form. They are beings like nature spirits, which we do not recognize as such because they go around in a human form. They are also quite different from human beings in regard to everything spiritual. They can, for example, never remember such things as sentences; they have a memory only for words, not for sentences. The riddle of life is not so simple. When such a being dies, it returns to nature from which it came. The corpse decays, but there is no real dissolution of the etheric body, and the natural being returns to nature.
"It is also possible that something like an automaton could occur. The entire human organism exists, and it might be possible to automate the brain and develop a kind of pseudomorality. I do not like to talk about such things since we have often been attacked even without them. Imagine what people would say if they heard that we say there are people who are not human beings. Nevertheless, these are facts. Our culture would not be in such a decline if people felt more strongly that a number of people are going around who, because they are completely ruthless, have become something that is not human, but instead are demons in human form.
"Nevertheless, we do not want to shout that to the world. Our opposition is already large enough. Such things are really shocking to people. I caused enough shock when I needed to say that a very famous university professor, after a very short period between death and rebirth, was reincarnated as a black scientist. We do not want to shout such things out into the world."
A related consideration: Even in uncut form, these quotations are "out of context" because I have not included all the sentences that came before and after. This is always a problem when quotations from any source are offered. How much of the surrounding text should be included? Every quotation is always "out of context" unless it is presented within the entire surrounding text. But does this mean the entire paragraph, or the entire chapter, or the entire book? Only by reproducing an entire book could we completely avoid taking a quotation out of context, but clearly reproducing whole books is impractical. So, again, I invite you to check me. Go to the books from which I have drawn the quotations and decide for yourself whether I have monkeyed with Steiner's meaning. I'm confident you will find that I have presented Steiner's meaning truthfully.
Don't Be Misled
Waldorf schools are spreading far and wide.
But so is misinformation about them.
The following items are from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
“The Waldorf School of the Peninsula does not lack in funds, nor is it a low performing school ... The Waldorf School subscribes to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks ... A teacher at the Waldorf school, who was formerly a computer engineer, teaches fractions by having the students cut up food.” [10-30-2011 http://www.theborneopost.com/2011/10/30/old-school-new-school/]
One of the most creative things about Waldorf schools is their ability to describe themselves without mentioning their actual purposes or beliefs. The author of this story in THE BORNEO POST seems not to have been told about Anthroposophy; there is no reference to it in the article. This is typical of much press coverage of Waldorf schools — reporters working on deadline interview Waldorf representatives, quote or paraphrase them in good faith, and move on to the next assignment, none the wiser.
What is the actual essence of Waldorf education?
“If...we are asked what the basis of a new method of education should be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is behind it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 4.
As for what this means in practice, there are various ways to put it. They all boil down to affirming the mystic doctrines of Anthroposophy, such as:
“[Waldorf] education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him, who is returning at birth into the physical world ... Teachers too will know that it is their task to help the child to make use of his body, to help his soul-spiritual forces to find expression through it, rather than regarding it as their duty to cram him with information....” — Anthroposophist Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 388-389.*
“Waldorf education strives to create a place in which the highest beings [i.e., gods], including the Christ, can find their home....” — Anthroposophist Joan Almon, WHAT IS A WALDORF KINDERGARTEN? (SteinerBooks, 2007), p. 53.
“Waldorf education is based upon the recognition that the four bodies of the human being [the physical, etheric, astral, and ego bodies] develop and mature at different times.” — Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 4-5.
“[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.
I just thought I would mention it.
* Cramming kids with information — that is, teaching them things — is indeed low on the list of Waldorf priorities. Look at what Easton's colleagues identify as Waldorf goals in these very passages.
"One morning near the end of my trip to Beijing last month, I picked up a copy of the China Daily to find this headline, 'Schools that educate the whole child.' It was the story of a new style of schooling that's becoming popular in China — schools that, according to the article, 'emphasize interdisciplinary learning, creative thinking, and aims to develop a child into a free-spirited, morally responsible and integrated individual.'
"The schools, called Waldorf Schools, were based on principles developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. But to most Americans, they would look a lot like many U.S. public schools." [7-15-2011http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/07/15/2454983/from-asia-to-america-on-education.html]
Don't believe everything you read. Some reporters and columnists write about Waldorf schools without possessing any real knowledge of them. And others write with the intention of misleading readers about the occult basis of Waldorf schooling. [See "Secrets" and "Occultism".]
A Waldorf school would resemble a typical American public school only if
• public schools began each day by having students recite, in unison, a prayer written by Rudolf Steiner [see "Prayers"]
• the purpose of the lower grades was to slow down the development of young children [see "Thinking Cap"]
• the purpose in most grades was to help students incarnate their invisible bodies [see "Incarnation"]
• the "whole child" was considered to have twelve senses, both a spirit and a soul, a karma, an astrological identity, etc. [see "Holistic Education"]
• logical thought was downplayed in favor of preliminary forms of clairvoyance [see "Steiner's 'Science'" and "Steiner's Specific"]
• the teachers sometimes used clairvoyance, astrology, and dreams to guide their work [see "The Waldorf Teacher' Consciousness", "Horoscopes", and "Dreams"]
• computers were considered conveyances of the demon Ahriman [see "Spiders, Dragons and Foxes"]
• festivals having esoteric meaning were periodically staged [see "Magical Arts"]
• the schools' conception of freedom was distinctly Germanic and restrictive [see "Freedom"]
• the teachers tried to help the kids fulfill their karmas [see "Slaps"]
• the students were divided according to the four classical temperaments [see "Temperaments"]
• the kids were taught knitting in order to improve their teeth [see "Quotes of the Day, 2011 (b)"]
If, if, if...
Actually, any resemblance between Waldorf schools and public schools tends to be considerably less than skin-deep.
As for the "popularity" of Waldorf schools in China: Anthroposophists seek to open Waldorf schools in all countries, in order to spread Anthroposophy. But so far there are very few Waldorf schools in China, and the number of students in them is miniscule compared to other forms of education. (And it will be interesting to see what the Chinese authorities do when the religious nature of Waldorf education becomes clear to them. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"])
In responding to news items, and elsewhere, I often generalize about Waldorf schools. There are fundamental similarities among Waldorf schools; I describe the schools based on the evidence concerning their structure and operations in the past and — more importantly — in the present. But not all Waldorf schools, Waldorf charter schools, and Waldorf-inspired schools are wholly alike. To evaluate an individual school, you should carefully examine its stated purposes, its practices (which may or may not be consistent with its stated purposes), and the composition of its faculty.
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 1. WALDORF EDUCATION: AN OVERVIEW ◊◊◊
If you'd like more information about any of the topics discussed here,
you might begin by using the links below to consult the following resources:
THE SEMI-STEINER DICTIONARY
THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA
WALDORF WATCH INDEX
WALDORF WATCH TABLE OF CONTENTS
Many of the illustrations I use on this site are my own copies or interpretations
of Anthroposophical images. I have attempted to be accurate and fair,
creating illustrations that clearly reflect Anthroposophical beliefs while also
presenting these beliefs in reasonably attractive form.
As on all other matters, you should check me on this.
Near the beginning of this page, for instance, I printed my illustration of eight spheres or stages
of evolution as described by Rudolf Steiner.
Is my illustration accurate (i.e., does it reflect what Steiner actually said)?
Have I made Steiner's teachings seem too ugly or, perhaps, too attractive?
Does my illustration help clarify matters or does it muddy the waters?
You should draw your own conclusions.
Here is the image on which I based my illustration.
THE OCCULT MOVEMENT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, p. 81.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.
 Ibid., p. 118.
 Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p.156.
 Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 23.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 33.
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 55.
Here is a longer version of the same passage; this is Rudolf Steiner addressing Waldorf faculty members:
"[W]e must all be permeated with the thoughts:
"First, of the seriousness of our undertaking. What we are now doing is tremendously important.
"Second, we need to comprehend our responsibility toward anthroposophy as well as the social movement.
"And, third, something that we as anthroposophists must particularly observe, namely, our responsibility toward the gods. Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods, that we are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world. We dare not for one moment lose the feeling of the seriousness and dignity of our work." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 55.
Every part of this statement is important. But perhaps the second point is especially revealing. Waldorf educators have a "responsibility toward anthroposophy." Waldorf schools serve Anthroposophy. In addition, they serve the "social movement" that Anthroposophy has spawned — that is, the educational, social, and cultural outreach efforts of Anthroposophy, aimed at remaking human institutions in accordance with the doctrines expounded by Rudolf Steiner. [See, e.g., "Threefolding".]
 Ibid., p. 705.
 Ibid., p. 706.
Elaborating on this point, Steiner said “[T]his is how our free, nondenominational, religion lessons came about. These were given by our own teachers, just as the other religious lessons were given by ministers. The teachers were recognized by us as religious teachers in the Waldorf curriculum. Thus, anthroposophic religious lessons were introduced in our school. “ — Rudolf Steiner, SOUL ECONOMY AND WALDORF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2003), p. 125.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD's CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS AS THE BASIS OF PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 94.
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 655.
 Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 29.
 Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 77.
 Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL: Lectures and Addresses to Children, Parents, and Teachers (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 26.
 In an account of my own experiences as a Waldorf student, I put it like this: “Imagine being educated by a group of dedicated Catholics or Communists or Mormons or Fascists — or secretive members of any ideological group: For year after year, you are taught to think and speak and act in accordance with the group's ideology, but you are never told precisely what that ideology is, and you are never shown any of its central texts. That's what going to Waldorf was like.” I liken the process to brainwashing. [See “I Went to Waldorf”.]
 RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 79.
 Ibid., p.156.
 Ibid., p.162.
 Ibid., p.186.
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 402-403.
 Ibid., p. 495.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE TEMPLE LEGENDS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997), p. 249.
 “Occult means ‘hidden’ or ‘mysterious’ ... It ceases to be ‘occult,’ however, once one has mastered it.” — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC DEVELOPMENT (SteinerBooks, 2003), p. 2.
 Rudolf Steiner, CHRIST AND THE HUMAN SOUL (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2008), p. 63.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS UPON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1961), p. 95.
 Rudolf Steiner, COMPILED LECTURES BY RUDOLF STEINER (Health Research Books, 2007), p. 34.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1973), p. 98.
 Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 17, GA 93a.
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 10.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 4.
 THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, pp. 64-65.
 Eugene Schwartz, WALDORF EDUCATION: Schools for the Twenty-First Century (Xlibris Corporation, 2000), p. 17.
 Ibid., p. 34.
 Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), lecture 1, GA 99.
 Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER SPEAKS TO THE BRITISH (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 27.
 Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 18.
Here is a more complete version, and an extension:
“Along with exact clairvoyance, you must also achieve something I refer to as ideal magic. This is a kind of magic that must be differentiated from the false magic practiced externally, and associated with many charlatans ... If, however, people want to enter the spiritual world — in other words, want to attain ideal magic — they must not only intensify inner thinking so that the recognize the second level of existence, but they must also free their will from its connection to the physical body.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 18-19. Here, as usual, Steiner says that a certain mystical phenomenon — in this instance, magic — really exists, and he can tells us about it, but we must not confuse it with the false forms and reports that can be found in other quarters. [See "Magic".]
“If while on Earth you are receptive to the illumination that comes from Spiritual Science [i.e., Anthroposophy], then you are truly helping on the leadership of [the Archangel] Michael ... [T]his is the true ‘ideal magic’. It is the true ‘white magic’ as it was called in olden times....” — Rudolf Steiner, MAN’S LIFE ON EARTH AND IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLDS (Health Research, 1960), lecture 6, GA 218. Steiner taught that the archangel Michael has spiritual authority over own historical period. [See "Michael".]
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 10.
 Ibid., p. 650.
 We have seen this quotation previously, as well: FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 706.
 We have seen part of this quotation previously: THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, p. 23. Some points deserve frequent repetition.
The allure of Waldorf schools can be quite deceptive —
what you see at first may be very different from what you see eventually.
For information on some Waldorf secrets, see "Secrets".
[R. R., 2010.]
A note on sources: I have accessed Anthroposophical texts in various ways. 1) Chiefly, I have acquired books in the old-fashioned way, as physical objects. When I refer to a book I possess, I give the title, publisher, date of publication, and page number for each reference. 2) I have dipped into some books through Google Books [http://books.google.com/advanced_book_search]. I provide the same information for these volumes. 3) I have read various texts at the Rudolf Steiner Archive [http://www.rsarchive.org/Search.php]. Because the Archive does not provide page numbers, for these references I provide titles, names of publishers, dates of publication, and (where applicable) GA numbers. Be advised that Google Books sometimes gives inaccurate page numbers, and the Steiner Archive is full of typos. I have corrected these problems as well as I could, but I may have missed some instances.
You may have difficulty finding a few of the sources I cite. Anthroposophists tend to conceal various sources, and sometimes — following criticism — they remove or alter sources that they had previously displayed online.