"You can be intelligent
and think the most foolish things."
— Rudolf Steiner


Tackling the Question,

How Can Smart People

Believe This Stuff?




You can unlock the mysteries of the universe. You can know the higher worlds beyond this world — the transcendent spiritual realms that are closed to our ordinary senses. You can do so by developing your powers of clairvoyance.

This is Rudolf Steiner's promise. [1] It is the brass ring held aloft by his system of "spiritual science," Anthroposophy — and it is the ultimate objective of his educational system, Waldorf schooling. It is the promise of radical, regimented subjectivity. 

Gaining access to the universe's deep secrets means becoming an "initiate" — one who has been granted entrée into the occult inner circle. Steiner affirmed that every real human being can enter the circle [2], but you have to earn your admission. Secrets will remain locked unless you are worthy. 

"[E]veryone may be certain that Initiation will find him under all circumstances [i.e., initiation will be available], if he gives proof of an earnest and worthy endeavor to attain this knowledge. It is a natural law among all Initiates to withhold from no man knowledge that is due to him; but there is an equally natural law which lays down that no word of esoteric knowledge shall be imparted to anyone not qualified to receive it." [3]

Steiner shows the way to initiation in his book KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, which is also available in a somewhat more accessible form under the title HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS. [4] 

In theory, you don't need Steiner's help — you don't need the "knowledge" initiates could lay on you, since it is all available within you. 

"We must say to ourselves: 'Within my own feelings and thoughts the highest mysteries lie concealed, but until now I have not perceived them' ... [W]e carry body, soul, and spirit about with us...." [5] 

If you decide you want to become clairvoyant, you should be able to work out the mysteries on your own (they reside within you). Still, getting a leg up from Steiner could save you some time. Steiner's key books are meant to give you the needed boost. In addition to KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, you should pore over OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE. [6] (For introductions to these texts, see "Knowing the Worlds" and "Everything".)

So, how can you "unseal the lips of an Initiate" in order to hear some of the secrets? [7] Steiner explains: 

You must "begin with a fundamental attitude of the soul. In Spiritual Science this fundamental attitude is called the path of veneration." [8] 

Veneration of worthy objects and beings is surely meritorious. Venerating God is the highest virtue. But Steiner means that veneration should be extended to himself and his doctrines, without applying the measures of critical assessment. 

True seekers "have a respect that forbids them, even in the deepest recess of their heart, to harbour any thoughts of criticism or opposition." [9].

In this, true seekers are much like children who do not question their elders. Critical thought — rational analysis — is taboo. Like a good child, you must forego "any thoughts of criticism or opposition." You must approach a guru's room as you would a holy place.

"Have you ever paused outside the door of some venerated person, and have you, on this your first visit, felt a religious awe as you pressed on the handle to enter the room which for you is a holy place?" [10] 

This is the correct approach, Steiner says. If you want to enter Steiner's room, you must must feel religious awe at the prospect of meeting the great man. In short, you must check your brains at the door: no criticism allowed. [11] The attitude Steiner advocated requires closing one's eyes. Don't look outward at reality ("the outer world"), look inward toward your vivid, felt "inner life": 

"The power obtained through devotion can be rendered still more effective, when the life of feeling is enriched by yet another quality. To achieve this the student learns to give himself up less and less to impressions of the outer world, and to develop instead a vivid inner life." [12] 

The spiritual aspirant must emphasize emotion and subjectivity rather than clear-eyed observation and thinking. One must reject the "external," including "external civilization." Being caught up in this modern civilization makes knowledge of the higher worlds extremely difficult. 

"Now the one thing that everyone must at once admit, is the difficulty for those involved in the external civilization of our time to advance to the knowledge of the higher worlds." [13] 

Modern civilization is dominated by ordinary science (natural science, physical science), which is limited to investigation of the physical plane of existence. It blinds us; we must overcome it. Most certainly, Steiner indicated, we must reject what he referred to as "scientific trash" — that is, the findings of objective investigation, experimentation, and logical analysis. [14] These are the essence of ordinary science, and they stand as obstacles in our path. Although Steiner called his own system "spiritual science," he generally abhorred real science. "Knowledge" of the "higher worlds" generally requires rejecting the knowledge ordinary science provides concerning the ordinary (mundane, physical, "low") world. Steiner sometimes indicated that ordinary science would eventually catch up with his spiritual science; it would then confirm his teachings. Indeed, he sometimes said that there is no real contradiction between ordinary science and spiritual science. But more often, he harshly criticized ordinary science. [See "Science".] And indeed the gap between Steiner's occult "knowledge" and real, factual, scientific knowledge has only widened in the years since Steiner's death, as ordinary science has progressed. But Steiner would not wish you to be swayed by such difficulties. You must not "harbour any thoughts of criticism or opposition." So look inward, and feel — feel — your way to wisdom.

Let's get real for a moment. Having a "vivid inner life," a "life of feeling," is fine. It is necessary. It is even inevitable. People are awash in feelings all the time — when we have emotive dreams, or when we remember embarrassing episodes, or when we watch tear-jerking movies, to give just three commonplace examples. But does deep feeling bring us "knowledge"? The epistemological challenge for humans is to occasionally rise above the welter of our emotions to attain rationality and clarity. Steiner didn't advocate surrendering to the chaotic play of emotions, he taught that we should discipline our feelings, training them to be correct. If we learn to feel in a disciplined manner, our feelings — indeed, our passions — will run truly and reliably: 

"We should no longer need to restrain our passions because these follow the right course on their own." [15] 

Most  techniques of spiritual or psychological healing require self-discipline. But Steiner aimed not for true mental health but for "clairvoyance" — which is a delusion. [16] Steiner said that we can look inward and intuit the truth because we are, deep down, attuned to the cosmos. This is an attractive idea, appealing to our human vanity — or to our human insecurity, our desperate desire to believe that we are important in the great scheme of things. It's no accident that Steiner taught that the highest of our nonphysical bodies is the "I" or the "ego." [17] Our egos are precious to us. We want to feel affirmed, important, saved. We want to transcend our limits and our mortality. But the sheer power of these desires can easily lead us astray, as Steiner would do in our quest for psychic powers.

There are three stages of initiation, Steiner informs us: Probation, Enlightenment, and Initiation proper.


During Probation, the aspirant should focus on certain physical phenomena, not trying to understand them as such, but developing the feelings they inspire. 

"To begin with, the attention of the soul is directed to certain events in the world that surrounds us. Such events are, on the one hand, life that is budding, growing and flourishing, and, on the other hand, all the phenomena connected with fading, decaying and withering ... Whenever [the aspirant] observes a definite kind of blooming and flourishing, he must banish everything else from his soul ... [A] feeling which heretofore, in a similar case, would merely have flitted through his soul, now swells out ... He must now allow this feeling to reverberate within himself...." [18] 

The point of such meditation is to gradually grow incorporeal "organs" that will permit clairvoyance. 

"[J]ust as natural forces build out of living matter the eyes and ears of the physical body, so will organs of clairvoyance build themselves from the feelings and thoughts thus evoked. A quite different form of feeling is connected with growth and expansion, and another equally definite with fading and decaying ... Both these feelings are forces which, when duly cultivated and developed to ever-increasing intensity, lead to the most significant spiritual results. A new world is opened to the student ... The soul-world, the so-called astral plane, begins to dawn on him." [19] 

Viewed rationally, the process Steiner advocates is indistinguishable from self-hypnosis and fantasization. The spiritual realm may exist, but clairvoyance and organs of clairvoyance almost certainly do not. [See "Clairvoyance".] At each stage of Steiner's exposition, we would do well to pause and attempt to find our footing in reality, if only for a moment. When Steiner begins talking about marvels, we need to subdue our feelings (Wow! Great Stuff! Tell me more!), and ask whether we we are being led away from discernible reality. Clairvoyance. Organs of clairvoyance. The astral plane... Steiner does not merely lead us, as a final destination, into fantasy; he begins our journey with fantasy. And each subsequent stage of the journey becomes all the more fantastical.


Occult "enlightenment" is antithetical to rational enlightenment. In the real world, the Enlightenment was an intellectual stage in the 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason. It gave rise to the culture and governmental structures of the modern Western world. Steiner's view is firmly in the opposite, cultic camp. For him, "Enlightenment" is a state of mind in which "The spiritual world...becomes light" — i.e., the spiritual world becomes knowable, the spiritual world is no longer dim as it was during Probation. [20] 

To reach occult enlightenment, one has to flex incorporeal organs and undertake exercises such as staring at stones and animals: 

"Spiritual Science describes that which, for clairvoyant organs, flows from the stone, as 'blue', or 'blue-red'; and that which is felt as coming from the animal as 'red' and 'red-yellow.'" [21] 

Steiner puts the colors in quotation marks to stress that the words he is using don't really apply — he speaks of "red," "yellow," "dark," "light," but he wants us to remember that the words he necessarily chooses (the only ones available in ordinary language) are inadequate. At best, these words are metaphors for spiritual conditions that are beyond the reach of ordinary language: 

"[T]he words 'dark' and 'light', as well as the other expressions used, do but approximately describe what is meant. This cannot be otherwise, if ordinary language is used, for this language was created to suit physical conditions." [22] 

This is a typical occultist ploy: As we move toward higher subjects, words start to become unreliable — the keepers of the secrets can't really say what they mean. Spiritual truths are well-nigh ineffable. Hocus-pocus and mystification are emphasized instead, with the obvious purpose of flimflamming the gullible. Oddly enough, "ordinary language" is sufficient for the Holy Bible, yet Steiner finds such language inadequate for his needs, which must be lofty indeed.

At the risk of being wearisome, I'll repeat: At each stage of Steiner's exposition, we would do well to pause and attempt to regain our footing in reality. Don't be suckered. Don't yield to Wow! Great Stuff! Tell me more! unless you are truly overwhelmed by the irresistible force of Steiner's words. (And if you find his words, irresistible, perhaps you should strive even harder to regain your footing in reality. In other words: resist.)


After passing through Probation and Enlightenment, the seeker can finally undergo genuine Initiation.

"Initiation is the highest stage of an esoteric training concerning which it is possible to give indications in a book intended for the general public." [23] 

Initiation lets one enter the 

"Temple of Higher Cognition (Wisdom) ... Only now do we begin to understand the world properly." [24] 

The Initiate has great clairvoyant power — but, as the quotations here suggest, s/he still has a long way to go to reach spiritual apotheosis. The Initiate "begins" to understand things, but there are many further stages of spiritual progress lying ahead, stages that can't be revealed to "the general public" (i.e., you and me). This limitation (the knowledge that much will still be kept hidden from us) is somewhat disappointing, but it is more or less par for the course. The essence of spiritual science is Mystery or Gnosis. [See "Gnosis". Also see the discussion of Steiner's Mystery Plays: "Plays". Keeping secrets from you and me is standard procedure in Anthroposophy and the Waldorf movement: see "Secrets".]

The Initiate passes through a series of trials that lead to successive spiritual advancements. After the first trial, for instance, s/he can begin to read 

"a particular system of writing ... This occult script is inscribed forever in the occult world. Once the soul has attained spiritual perception, the script is revealed to it." [25]

Steiner and other mystics sometimes refer to this occult writing as the Akashic Record, a celestial storehouse of knowledge. [26] Steiner claimed to have access to the Record, which accounts for his near-omniscience.

The Initiate can proceed along the spiritual path independently, but to speed the journey, Steiner suggests making use of more-advanced sages (such as, presumably, himself — he's the one who's kindly telling us all this). 

"[W]e shall be more likely to reach our goal if we follow the instructions of experienced esoteric researchers, who are proficient in deciphering the hidden script." [27] 

Reliance on even so great a guide as Steiner has it limits, however. The Initiate's third trial 

"is without any tangible, distinct goal. Everything is up to us. We find ourselves in a situation where nothing moves us to act. We must each find our own way, by ourselves and out of ourselves." [28] 

Clairvoyance, ultimately, is a private communion.

Some of the results of Initiation are a little surprising. [29] I have mentioned organs of clairvoyance. Our incorporeal bodies turn out to have a number of similar organs, which are associated with — but distinct from — the organs of our physical bodies. Our nonphysical organs become increasingly well defined and potent as we make spiritual progress. 

"The further we advance, the more regularly structured our soul organism becomes ... To the clairvoyant it [the nonphysical body] looks like an independent body, containing certain organs. These organs...may be seen spiritually in the following areas of the physical body: the first, between the eyes; the second, near the larynx; the third, in the region of the heart; the fourth, in the neighborhood of the pit of the stomach or solar plexus; the fifth and sixth, in the lower abdomen or reproductive organs ... [E]sotericists call these formations chakras (wheels) or 'lotus flowers' ... One of the first things to occur when an esoteric student begins practicing the exercises [concentrating on stones and animals, etc.] is that the light of the lotus flowers intensifies; later the flowers will also begin to rotate. When this happens, it means that a person is beginning to have the ability to see clairvoyantly ... The organ in the vicinity of the larynx has sixteen 'petals' or 'spokes'; the one near the heart, twelve; and the one near the solar plexus, ten." [30]


That's probably a sufficient sample of Steiner's wisdom on the subject of initiation. If you want to learn more about how to set your lotuses glowing and spinning, you can read KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT. I certainly encourage you to do so. But for now, I'd like to turn the discussion back to a subject I raised earlier. The path of initiation Steiner presents must strike most rational people as ludicrous: clairvoyance, occult script, lotuses, and the rest of it. As I said, if you want to enter Steiner's room, you need to check your brains at the door. And yet some Anthroposophists and Waldorf faculty members, people who believe Steiner, are actually quite smart. How can this be? How can smart people possibly subscribe to such a loony set of doctrines? [31]

The answer is multilayered. Steiner addressed some of the most significant questions facing mankind, questions that any thoughtful person must find compelling: What is the structure of the universe? What is the meaning of life? Does God exist? What does the future hold? Moreover, Steiner was both highly intelligent and highly educated; he possessed a doctoral degree and he edited the "scientific" works of Goethe. [32] His credentials have impressed many, including luminaries such as Saul Bellow — who dabbled in Anthroposophy before coming to his senses and heading for the exits. [33]

Compared to other mystics, Steiner seemed coherent. His work, dense and often opaque, was nonetheless well-crafted and well-presented when compared with the all-but-impenetrable prose penned by such competitors as Helena Blavatsky. [34] Steiner was encyclopedic, expressing opinions on an awesomely large number of topics — architecture, art, education, medicine, psychology, science, you name it. He sprinkled his lectures with references to many philosophers, scientists, scholars, and religious figures, whose measure he had presumably taken. Steiner was, in short, impressive. Puzzling out his meaning, attempting to comprehend both the details and broad contours of his teachings, presents an intellectual challenge that some very smart folks have found appealing. It is possible to study Steiner for a long time before penetrating to the void at the heart of his professed sagacity.

All intellectuals yearn for knowledge, and most intellectuals are familiar with the gratification of knowing (or thinking they know) more than others know. Steiner claimed extraordinary sweeps of knowledge for himself, and he offered such sweeps to his apostles. Most particularly, he offered esoteric "knowledge," occult "knowledge," mystery "knowledge." Curiosity, the search for what is hidden, is a deep human motive — indeed, it may be a primary motive for all creatures possessing brains. [35] For smart folks, particularly intellectuals, this motive is especially strong, so the allure of special, secret keys to universal mysteries can be all the more bewitching for them. But this very bewitchment can, clearly, lead seekers far astray.

Few smart people are satisfied simply taking others' words for things — they want to think for themselves, reaching their own conclusions. Steiner allowed for independent investigation and research by his followers. Calling his doctrines "spiritual science," he urged Anthroposophists to develop their own powers of clairvoyance, to make their own explorations of the "higher worlds." Most spiritualistic systems require faith, sometimes blind faith, from their adherents. Initiation, in most traditions, means entering secret fraternities where one memorizes and forever conceals arcane lore. As we have seen, there are elements of this in Steiner's doctrines. Indeed, believing much of what Steiner said calls for considerable credulity. But Steiner held open the attractive possibility that his teachings could be objectively confirmed and even improved upon — operating autonomously, Anthroposophists can make their own spiritual discoveries. For this reason, Steiner argued, Anthroposophy is not a religion but a path to objective knowledge, a science. [36] All of this has appeal to at least some subsets of intellectuals.

The question becomes, however, whether smart Anthroposophists are — despite their intelligence — simply deceiving themselves. [37] Any system of "thought" that locates cognition outside the brain in "organs of clairvoyance" must invite such suspicions. The Anthroposophical advocacy of imagination and intuition, which can cut the mind loose from any secure anchors, only intensifies the problem — it is possible, after all, to imagine or intuit almost anything. [38] The studious work performed and published by intellectual Anthroposophists suggests that, at the least, these thinkers often substitute rationalization for reasoning. 

◊ Anthroposophists strive mightily to justify Steiner's teachings, even when those teachings are manifestly wrong. Thus, they try to defend Steiner's assertion that the planets don't orbit the Sun, for instance, and that the heart is not a pump. [39]

◊ Some strive to justify Anthroposophical medicine [40], or to find sense in the astrological bases of biodynamic farming [41], or to affirm Steiner's conception of the "whole child" (inborn memories of past lives, three nonphysical bodies, twelve senses, and so on). [42] 

◊ Some write learned books such as WHO WROTE BACON? [43], a literary study that relies on Steiner to figure out whether Bacon wrote Shakespeare's works or whether both Bacon and Shakespeare were spiritually manipulated by a more hidden power, and AMERICAN HERALDS OF THE SPIRIT [44], which distorts the work of Emerson, Melville, and other American authors, to make their work seem consistent with Anthroposophy. 

◊ Other Anthroposophical scholars pore over Steiner's works to assemble gullible dissertations such as THE FUTURE OH HUMANITY AND OF THE EARTH AS FORESEEN BY RUDOLF STEINER [45], and MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY [46].

The credulity of many Anthroposophists brings to mind the case of Theosophist E. L. Gardner who, deceived by trick photographs purporting to show fairies (pixies, imps), wrote a book hailing this "proof" of the spirit realm: FAIRIES - The Cottingley Photographs and Their Sequel. [47] Gardner's work parallels that of other smart guys who were fooled by the same phony photos, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote a book fully as silly as Gardner's': THE COMING OF THE FAIRIES. [48] Conan Doyle's reputation never recovered, whereas Steiner — who also affirmed the existence of fairies [49] — is still taken seriously, at least in some circles.

Intelligence is not a perfect defense against trickery and foolishness. Intelligence needs to be sharpened and perfected, yielding wisdom, if it is to have real effect. Anyone who believes that genuine thinking does not occur in the brain may have difficulty mastering the use of brain, learning to think rationally, learning to apply logic, learning to distinguish what is real from what we wish were real. [50] All human beings have an natural tendency toward certain forms of self-deception, including — according to neurological research — an innate predisposition to believe in the supernatural. [51] This predisposition does not prove anything about the supernatural realm; it only means that our brains are wired in such a way that we are inclined toward interpreting the world spiritualistically. Supernatural beliefs feel right to us — we "intuit" such beliefs without demanding clear evidence to support them. We "know" them to be true, even though in fact we know nothing of the sort — we have no firm evidence or substantiation, merely a deeply felt wish. Anthroposophists make themselves particularly prone to this sort of mental malfunction by failing to recognize that intuitions are unreliable and clairvoyance is a sham. [52]

How does the malfunction occur? Why do we intuit spiritual presences and "realities"? According cognitive psychologists, we think about physical objects differently than we think about psychological objects (i.e., creatures with minds). A block of wood is just a physical object, in our view — we generally don't see anything particularly marvelous about it. But we feel very differently about living creatures, beings that have minds. We tend to forget that such creatures are themselves physical, and that their feelings and thoughts are produced by a physical object called a brain. Instead, we tend to think that feelings and thoughts exist separately from the brains that produce them and the bodies that experience them. This leads us to feel that minds are not bound to bodies, and therefore the notion of bodiless "souls" feels right to us. [53]

From the concept of bodiless souls, obviously, it is easy to jump to the idea that entirely nonphysical beings exist, beings that have no physical bodies at all but are wholly spiritual. In Steiner's doctrines, such beings include a vast array of "gods." [See "Polytheism".] Steiner never offers any evidence for the actual existence of the gods he discusses. Instead, he relies on our innate willingness to believe in such bodiless spirits. And a great many of us, including some very smart people, are quite willing to believe despite the absence of proof.

Allied to our common disposition to believe in spirits is our predisposition to "find" intention behind the phenomena of nature. Because we know that minds have intentions, it feels right to us to believe that most events and objects result from someone's intentions. We are inclined to think that things were planned, they didn't just happen. If the world exists, then it must have been intended — it is a "creation" — which means that there must have been a "creator." We may know, in our rational brains, that some things happen by accident. We may even know that, according to science, it is possible that the universe itself came into existence for no perceptible reason — maybe it just happened. We are capable of thinking such thoughts, but they feel unnatural — even repellant — to us. We would much rather exist in a meaningful world than in a meaningless one — so we insist that there is a meaning, even if we have no real reason for thinking so. [54]

People have an especially hard time accepting the possibility that our own existence may result from random events. We reject this possibility with almost knee-jerk promptness. Of course, it may be true that God or gods created us, and that our lives have spiritual meaning. But our reflexive eagerness for spiritual affirmation does not, in itself, confer such meaning. Indeed, Anthroposophists and others may flee to spiritualism not because they have good reason to do so, but because they are emotionally unable to bear the possibility that the universe is neutral and uncaring. So, we find instances such as this:

"Darwin...had the intellectual toughness to stick with the deeply discomfiting consequences of his theory, that natural selection has no goal or purpose. Alfred Wallace, who independently thought of natural selection, later lost faith in the power of the idea and turned to spiritualism to explain the human mind. 'Darwin had the courage to face the implications of what he had done, but poor Wallace couldn't bear it,' says William Provine, a historian at Cornell University." [55] 

Turning to spiritualism because the evidence leads us to it would be one thing; turning to spiritualism because we can't bear to face facts is something else. Steiner and his followers turn away from what they consider the cold, repellent visions of modern science;  they posit instead the comforting idea that the universe is aswarm with all sorts of spiritual beings who are focused on us and our well-being.

In sum, neurological science suggests that a belief system like Anthroposophy is built on illusions resulting from the way our minds naturally, but imperfectly, function.


Let's shift our focus, slightly, to think about magic. [56] Not wanting to feel helpless in the face of a universe that may be indifferent or even hostile to us, we often convince ourselves that we have access to special powers that can protect us. We use spells, incantations, clairvoyance, invocations, and so forth, to bring various spiritual beings over to our side. Virtually all ancient peoples had such beliefs and practices, and many people living today have them. Such beliefs and practices are a source of courage. During the long course of human evolution, individuals who armed themselves with magic gained an evolutionary advantage — they became brave enough to carry on. So they survived and handed down the brain circuitry inclines toward magical thinking. As a result, their descendants were born with a predisposition toward magical beliefs and practices. Generation after generation, this predisposition became more and more deeply embedded in us — that is, our brains wound up with wiring that leads almost all of us, including the brightest among us, to incline toward superstition rather than plain sense. (Einstein, it is said, sometimes tapped on wood.) 

So where does this leave us today? The only thing we can conclude about our bias in favor of supernatural beliefs is that this bias has been useful to us. Perhaps we should affirm this usefulness and continue embracing magic. But this becomes more and more difficult as science advances and we learn ever more about how the universe actually functions. A dissonance is set up, a strain between our emotional needs and the objective knowledge that gradually has accumulated in our brains and books and laboratories. Turning backwards, to magic and superstition, becomes increasingly difficult to justify — we increasingly see it for what it is, an affirmation of ignorance.

One particular implication of all this involves our children. Raising the young in an atmosphere of mysticism — such as the occultism underlying Waldorf education as conceived by Steiner — means leading them badly astray. Waldorf schools may provide an emotionally comforting retreat from the harsh, real world. Waldorf schools may swaddle children in mental blankets of attractive color and pattern. But surely the truest satisfactions, and the best preparation for life, can be found in a compassionate, moral, and reasonable introduction to reality, not in a retreat from reality. We must find out salvation in truth, not seek it vainly in delusion.

A still larger implication also needs to be faced. If there is no rational reason to accept Anthroposophy, the same argument might be applied to all other supernatural systems, including orthodox religions. This is worth considering in our most solemn and reverent meditations. But we needn't reject all religion in order to see the problems inherent in Steiner's doctrines. My purpose is not to assail any mainstream faith. If you are a devout adherent of such a faith, your beliefs are a matter between you and your God — no one else should attempt to intrude on them. So I would simply say this. An important distinction can be drawn between established religion, on the one hand, and superstition, occultism, and hocus-pocus, on the other. Steiner's doctrines distinctly fall into the latter category. If great faiths such as Judaism and Christianity do not arise from human self-deception, heretical creeds like Anthroposophy almost certainly do. [57]


Many Anthroposophists consider themselves to be hardheaded realists, dispassionate investigators of the spiritual realm. But the tools they employ in these investigations have no power. Like Steiner, they "look" inward, employing imagination, intuition, and — if they can develop it (they can't) — clairvoyance. Any resulting "visions" or "insights" they attain arise almost certainly from the unconscious layers of their brains, from their yearning psyches, not from the objective, real universe. They gaze within and see what they want to see, which often may be scarcely distinguishable from what Steiner told them to see. The spiritual "investigations" conducted by Anthroposophists are, in the end, indistinguishable from fantasy.



Steiner understood the difference between intelligence and wisdom. 

"You can be intelligent and think the most foolish things. The most foolish things are thought out in the most intelligent ways today. Thus if we look at many things in modern science we have to say that it is really intelligent in every respect, but it definitely is not wise." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM BEETROOT TO BUDDHISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 166-167.

Steiner was clearly correct about the general proposition: Intelligent people can be very wrong. Intelligence does not guarantee wisdom. The question for any parent considering a Waldorf school is where to find truth, in modern science, for instance, or in the mysticism that is Anthroposophy? I hope I have made my opinion clear. Steiner's statement, above, applies to Anthroposophy itself. The thinking behind Waldorf schools is an elaborately thought-out tangle of fantasy.

Not all teachers at all Waldorf schools are full-fledged Anthroposophists. But many are. 

"As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118.

If you are considering a Waldorf school for your children, bear in mind that you may be entrusting a large portion of the children's education and well-being to people whom I would describe as well-meaning but self-deceiving fantasists.

The three stages of initiation — probation, enlightenment, initiation — are actually a hierarchy of delusion. The "higher" a seeker thinks s/he is, the more deluded s/he is. A Waldorf teacher who thinks s/he is an Initiate, possessing clairvoyant powers, is disconnected from reality. Students given into such a person's care may suffer in direct proportion.

— Roger Rawlings

For more about initiates, see "Adepts".

For more on the perplexing question
why some smart people 
(not many, but a few)
believe Steiner, see "Why? Oh Why?", 

“When it is said that something should remain esoteric, this simply means that it should remain within the circle of those who participate in everything that is presented in the sphere of esotericism. If things go wrong here, the esoteric is carried into the exoteric and then one is always facing a danger. This happens whenever anything that should be kept within a limited circle is carried out into the world so that there is no possibility of keeping up with it. ... During the years we have been pursuing our studies of Spiritual Science I have endeavoured to develop things in such a way that it can be clear to everyone who really goes into them that they are intelligible even before clairvoyance is attained. I have been at pains to make public nothing that cannot be comprehensible in its own domain. It follows therefore that only those who are willing to see human beings pass into the Eighth Sphere [the demonic realm of Lucifer and Ahriman] can have any valid objection to this spiritual-scientific Movement.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT MOVEMENT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), lecture 5, GA 254.

Usually, initiation is conveyed by a spiritual guide or master who oversees one’s spiritual education. However, in Steiner’s system, it is possible to initiate oneself. 

“The soul's awakening to such a higher state of consciousness [i.e., clairvoyance] may be called initiation. 

“The means of initiation lead from the ordinary state of waking consciousness into a soul activity, through which spiritual organs of observation [i.e., nonphysical organs of clairvoyance] are employed. These organs are present in the soul in a germinal state; they must be developed ... A boundless enrichment of [the initiate’s] soul experiences occurs ... There are such cases of self-initiation ... Nothing need be said here about self-initiation, for it can appear without observing any kind of rules. “ — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), pp. 256-257. 

Self-initiation is circular, subjective, and very nearly solipsistic. You are your own guru, your own teacher. The wisdom you seek is the wisdom you already possess, arising from within. Your feelings and thoughts are (you tell yourself) inherently correct, reliable, unarguable. Turning inward, you see outward — your intuitions are True. You yourself are the authority you wish to acknowledge, the savant on whom you can rely.

This, indeed, touches on the essence of Anthroposophical epistemology. Stemming from the romantic tradition of gnosticism, this conception of knowledge teaches that we already have, within us, the essential truths. They are buried, hidden, but accessible. Our nature, microcosm, reflects the true nature of the universe, macrocosm. Divine truth is woven into our very being. [See "The Center".]

The allure of this vision is obvious. But the danger and fallacy of this vision should also be obvious. Whether you initiate yourself or receive initiation from another, you gaze inward. You trust subjectivity. So objectivity, or the pursuit of it, dies. Genuine communication, rational discourse, is cut off. Each inward-turned mind affirms its own desires and prejudices. There can be no true meeting of the minds when each mind considers itself to possess authoritative, undeniable Truth clear of the errors infecting other minds. Each ego assuages itself, but the line between self-knowledge and self-deception disappears — and all the little egos dwell in their own disconnected bundles of fantasy. 

That way lies madness.

My approximate copy of Barbara Richey's 

The higher worlds the initiate enters are 
potentially confusing places, even frightening places.
Self-initiation can lead to perplexity, Steiner indicated;
 the safer course is to follow a sure guide, a guru.
For Anthroposophists, the sure guide is Rudolf Steiner. 
[See "Guru".]

The essence of initiation, Steiner said, is learning the spiritual core of true language, the secret names of things. 

"[I]nitiation consists in this very act of learning to call the things of the world by those names which they bear in the spirit of their divine authors. In these, their names, lies the mystery of things. It is for this reason that the initiates speak a different language from the uninitiated, for the former know the names by which the beings themselves are called into existence." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Forgotten Books, Anthroposophic Press, 1947), chapter 2, "The Stages of Initiation", GA 10.

In Waldorf schools, the occult significance of language is embodied in eurythmy, which Steiner called "visible speech, visible music": 

“[A]ll that can be perceived by supersensible vision [i.e., clairvoyance], all that can thus be learned about the nature of these forms and gestures of the air, can be carried into movements of the arms and hands, into movements of the whole human being. There then arises in visible form the actual counterpart of speech. One can use the entire human body in such a way that it really carries out those movements which are otherwise carried out by the organs connected with speech and music. Thus there arises visible speech, visible music — in other words, the art of Eurythmy.

“When one brings artistic feeling to the study of the nature of speech, one finds that the individual sounds form themselves, as it were, into imaginative pictures. It is necessary, however, entirely to free oneself from the abstract character which language has taken during the so-called advanced civilisation of the present day. For it is an undeniable fact that modern man, when speaking, in no way brings his whole human being into activity.” — Rudolf Steiner, A LECTURE ON EURYTHMY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1967), GA 279.

Mastering the proper form of speech leads to altered consciousness and reascent into spirit realms. 

"In the picture of the descent of world evolution down to man you have that scale which human beings have to reascend, from Imagination through Inspiration to Intuition. In the poem transformed into eurythmy you have Imagination; in recitation and declamation you have Inspiration as a picture; in the entirely inward experience of the poem, in which there is no need to open your mouth because your experience is totally inward and you are utterly identified with it and have become one with it, in this you have Intuition." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTMAS CONFERENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1990), p. 36.

This is what Anthroposophy aims for. And in Waldorf schools, children are quietly directed toward this path. Eurythmy is usually a required activity for all Waldorf students. 

"Eurythmy is obligatory. The children must participate.  Those who do not participate in eurythmy will be removed from the school." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 65. 

Why? Eurythmy is a physical enactment of preparation for initiation. 

"Eurythmy shapes and moves the human organism in a way that furnishes direct external proof of our participation in the supersensible [i.e., invisible, spiritual] world. In having people do eurythmy, we link them directly to the supersensible world." — Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 246-247.

One of the amazing fairy photos.
[James Randi, FLIM-FLAM 
(Prometheus Books, 1982), p. 12.]
Note how sharply defined the dancing fairies are.
In fact, the fairy figures were cut out of a popular children's book.
Yet adults who wanted to be fooled by these pictures 
— adults who wanted to believe in fairies — were fooled.
Many Anthroposophists have continued 
to be fooled by such things.

"Evidence for the existence of the little folk 
[i.e., fairies] comes mainly from photographs." 
(Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1973), p. 82.

"Now something which was once a living fact in human evolution is, in a sense, returning. The priests of the Mysteries possessed, as I have told you, the power of contemplating the influence of the Moon; the influence of the Moon bore them up to their astrological Initiation. They learnt how it was possible to be initiated into the secrets of the stars by this means. An important point for the candidate for Initiation was that he should feel as though gravity were of less importance to him than it normally was. He felt that he weighed less. But then he was instructed by the older teachers not to give way to this feeling; when he began to feel lighter he must restore his heaviness by a strong exercise of will. The technique of the old Initiation made it possible for the candidate to allow the weight which was lost by the influence of the Moon to be restored by an effort of will; and as a result the wisdom of the stars shone forth. Thus every tendency in man at that time to overcome gravity was used to develop the will to hold fast to the Earth by the power of his own soul. But since this exerting of the will acted as a kindling of an inner light, it shone forth into the Cosmos and he could attain knowledge of cosmic spaces. When Spiritual Science throws its light on these matters, it is possible accurately to describe how this old consciousness came into being.

"Now there is always a tendency for what existed in such men to recur; there is a sort of atavism, an inheritance, of things long past. It recurs just because men themselves return [i.e., reincarnate]; and when this relation to the Moon appears in men who live at a time when, because this deep sleep is a thing of the past, such a relation should not occur [i.e., the present], it appears as somnambulism, especially as ordinary sleep-walking. Then they do not combat this increasing sense of lightness by exerting the forces of their soul, but they wander about on roofs or at least get up out of bed. They do with their whole being what only the astral body should properly do. Something which has now become an abnormality was in earlier times an asset which could be used to attain knowledge. It was quite appropriate that popular usage should call such men “moon-struck,” for this condition of man's being is connected with an atavistic relation to the Moon-forces which has survived from older times." — Rudolf Steiner, MAN IN THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE; THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS; AND THE SUN-INITIATION OF THE DRUID PRIEST AND HIS MOON-SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), GA 228. (This, by the way, is one of the more felicitously titled of Steiner's works. The only better title in the Steiner canon is INVESTIGATIONS INTO OCCULTISM SHOWING ITS VALUE IN DAILY LIFE.)

The mystic portal.
[R.R., 2009.]

The Order of Illuminati —
i.e., "enlightened ones"
[Lewis Spence, 
(Dover, 2003), facing p. 222.]

“[T]he course of human evolution entered upon a phase in which it gradually became impossible to draw the ether body out of the physical [body] without a very great disturbance ... What had to happen was that stronger forces had to become active in meditation and concentration ... [T]here was the actual specifically Christian initiation ... [The Christian aspirant’s] astral body had been so intensely affected that it formed its organs of perception [i.e., clairvoyance] plastically...thus making the pupil one of the Illuminati ... By continually meditating upon passages of the Gospel of St. John, the Christian pupil is actually in a condition to reach initiation with the three-and-a-half day continued lethargic sleep.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIAL STEINER (Lindisfarne Books, 2007), pp. 268-269; Robert A. McDermott, editor.

“These organs are technically known as wheels, chakrams, or lotus flowers. They are so called on account of their likeness to wheels or flowers, but of course it should be clearly understood that such an expression is not to be applied more literally than is the term ‘wings’ when referring to the two halves of the lungs. Just as there is no question of wings in the case of the lungs, so, too, in the case of the lotus flowers the expression must be taken figuratively. In undeveloped persons these lotus flowers are dark in color, motionless and inert. In the clairvoyant, however, they are luminous, mobile, and of variegated color. Something of this kind applies to the medium, though in a different way; this question, however, need not be pursued here any further.” — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1947), chapter 6, GA 10. [R.R. sketch, 2010.]

Chakras. In Eastern thought, 

these are centers of spiritual power 


usually seven in number —

within the human body.


Image from James Randi's 



(St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995), p. 44.]

Like many mystics, Steiner taught that physical reality 

is a deceptive cover, 

a layer of maya. 

Behind or within is the Truth: spiritual forces and beings.

But what really can be found inside physical phenomena

are the physical insides of those phenomena 

— perfectly real and thus, 

perhaps, disappointing — 

but perfectly real.


(Dover Publications, 1978].

"One must always emphasize that on rising up to higher knowledge, to imagination, the human being remains the same person he otherwise is in ordinary life. He continues to possess his sound common sense, his self-control and his critical faculties. What happens is that out of the first human being the second develops, one who is able to think without calling on his body to help. The first stage towards higher knowledge is that the soul-spirit begins to do without the body as an actual organ of thinking." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 59. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on the image in the book.]

Waldorf student watercolor painting

courtesy of PLANS [http://waldorfcritics.org/]

An image loved by many esotericists 

and spiritual seekers.

The dream: Breaking through, 

seeing beyond the physical, beyond maya...

[Universum - C. Flammarion, Holzschnitt, Paris 1988, 

Kolorit: Heikenwaelder Hugo, Wien 1998.]


Steiner was highly educated and highly intelligent. Many people who met him found him a compelling figure. The uses he made of his gifts are questionable, however. In developing Anthroposophy, he created what is in effect an occult theory of everything. It is an impressive edifice, structured and orderly. But is it true — does it, in fact, provide an explanation of reality?

Consider the numbers seven and twelve. Steiner insistently ranked phenomena in hierarchies, listings that range from low to high. He particular liked to offer rankings consisting of seven or twelve stages — seven being the occult number of perfection, the sum of three (divinity) and four (creation), as well as the number of "sacred planets"; twelve being the occult factor of three (divinity) and four (creation), the number of "macrocosmic powers," and the number of constellations in the zodiac. [See "Magic Numbers".]

The resulting system impresses some people, including some very smart people. Steiner evidently penetrated to the divine order of things — he pulled everything together and "made sense" of it by showing how it all fits together. The problem, however, is that so many of Steiner's categories are arbitrary — stretched or trimmed to suit his predetermined intention. He didn't often discover real results, he simply imposed a plan of his own invention (borrowed in large part from others, but reworked to suit his own preferences).

We can speculate about Steiner's motives and convictions. Did he actually believe what he taught? Did he convince himself, arguing himself into falsehood (a frequent occurrence for intellectuals, who can be bowled over by their own cleverness)? What exactly happened inside Steiner's skull isn't important. He convinced others, who became his followers. But we need not be convinced today, so long as we're willing to keep our eyes open and to insist on real results rather than arbitrary designs created on the basis of occult fallacy. 

Sometimes, of course, Steiner did not have to invent his preferred groupings of 7, 12, etc. Sometimes — not often, but sometimes — he did indeed discover such groupings in the wide world outside his imagination. But what, precisely, did these discoveries amount to? Here's a brief example concerning the number 12: 

"In the course of these lectures we have heard how certain high-ranking Powers of the Hierarchies have worked, through human beings, into all the civilisation-epochs since the Atlantean catastrophe.

"...The pupils of Zarathustra saw twelve powers proceeding from the twelve directions of the Zodiac ... [T]he Persian conceived of the macrocosmic forces coming from the twelve directions of the universe and penetrating into, working into humanity, so that they are immediately present in man. Consequently, what unfolds through the working of the twelve forces must reveal itself also in its microcosmic form, in human intelligence; that is to say, it must come to expression in the microcosm, too, through the twelve Amshaspands (Archangels), and indeed as a final manifestation, so to say, of these twelve spiritual, macrocosmic Beings who had already worked in former ages, preparing that which merely reached a last stage of development during the epoch of Persian civilisation. 

"It should not be beyond the scope of modern physiology to know where the microcosmic counterparts of the twelve Amshaspands are to be found. They are the twelve main nerves proceeding from the head... [S]uch indications must be given if a spiritual-scientific conception of the world is to be spoken of in the true sense, and attention called, not merely in general phrases, to the fact that man is a microcosmic replica of the macrocosm. 

"In other regions, too, it has been known that what comes to manifestation in the human being flows in from outside. For example, in certain periods of Germanic mythology mention is made of twelve streams flowing from Niflheim to Muspelheim. The twelve streams are not meant in the physical-material sense, but they are that which, seen by clairvoyance, flows as a kind of reflection from the macrocosm into the human microcosm, the human being who moves over the earth and whose evolution is to be brought about through macrocosmic forces." — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT HISTORY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), pp. 86-90.

If we are prepared to accept the existence of Atlantis, and the truth of astrology, and the esoteric significance of Norse myths — then, perhaps, the remarkable recurrence of the number twelve may strike us as meaningful, and we may therefore accept the doctrine Steiner was determined to press, that human beings are microcosmic replicas of the divine macrocosm. It's a pretty conceit. But if we pause to reflect that Atlantis never existed, and astrology is bunk, and Norse myths are mere fantasies — and that there are far more than twelve "major nerves" proceeding from the head [57] and that the number of archangels is debatable [58] — then the significance of Steiner's teaching evaporates, the mist clears from our eyes, and we have the renewed opportunity to look upon reality realistically.

For statements Steiner made about magic and witchcraft,

see "Magic".

For information of how brain chemistry may affect

spiritualistic belief, see "Dopamine".

Many of Steiner's doctrines contain elements
that are little more than superstition. 
For an overview, see "Superstition"

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, 
use the underlined links, below.


The missing basis of Waldorf thinking


Oh why? Oh why? Oh why?


"Exact" clairvoyance

Delusional or fraudulent?

Case closed?

Being fooled

Getting happy


You may also want to consult the following essay 
posted in the first section of Waldorf Watch:

The use of "clairvoyance" by Waldorf teachers

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. 


[1] Other mystics have made the same promise, of course. Indeed, Steiner adopted many of his teachings from others. [See, e.g., "Steiner's 'Science'".]

Steiner placed two distinct "higher worlds" above us: the astral plane or the soul world, and above it the spirit world. However, he also said that there are many divisions and subdivisions as well as additional realms higher than those he described for us: 

“The [spiritual] Beings, the spiritual Hierarchies, their correspondences with the zodiacal constellations...all this is presented in detail in the chapter on the evolution of the world in the book OCCULT SCIENCE — AN OUTLINE, and we can now understand the deeper reasons for that chapter having been written in the way it has. [Steiner himself wrote that book, so it was "written the way it has" because he wrote it that way.It describes the Macrocosm as it should be described. Any real description must go back to the spiritual Beings. I tried in the book OCCULT SCIENCE to give guiding lines for the right kind of description of the World of Spirit — the world entered when there has been an actual ascent into the Macrocosm. [The Macrocosm is the cosmos; each of us humans is a Microcosm or miniature version of the cosmos.]

“This ascent into the Macrocosm can of course proceed to still higher stages, for the Macrocosm has by no means been exhaustively portrayed by what has here been said. Man can ascend into even higher worlds; but it becomes more and more difficult to convey any idea of these worlds. The higher the ascent, the more difficult this becomes.” — Rudolf Steiner, MACROCOSM AND MICROCOSM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1985), pp. 110-111.

[For more on the higher worlds, see "Higher Worlds" and "Knowing the Worlds".]

[2] Deplorably, Steiner taught that some people aren't really human beings. [See, e.g., "Steiner's Bile".]

[3] Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company, 1944), pp. 8-9.

[4] Rudolf Steiner, HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS (Anthroposophic Press, 1994). Also see Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1979), chapter 5, "Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, Concerning Initiation." Steiner taught that more than one path can lead to spiritual enlightenment. See Rudolf Steiner, START NOW! (SteinerBooks, 2004): You'll find chapters on "The Rosicrucian Path," "The Christian-Gnostic Path," etc. These paths are distinct, yet they intersect, and Steiner aimed to incorporate them all in his own master system.


[6] Both books are available in multiple editions. KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT was re-released by SteinerBooks in 2006, for example. OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE was re-released by the Rudolf Steiner Press in 2013. (Some editions of this book bear the variant title AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE.)

[7] KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company, 1944), p. 9.

[8] Ibid., p. 9.

[9] Ibid., p. 10.

Steiner says this attitude begins, for fortunate people, in childhood. It then extends into the adult years: 

"What was once a childish veneration of persons, becomes, later, a veneration for truth and knowledge. Experience teaches that they can best hold their head erect, who have learnt to venerate where veneration is due; and veneration is always due when it flows from the depths of the heart." — Ibid., p. 10. 

Don't think, he says; feel, from the heart. 

But if you start by forswearing critical thought and feeling veneration instead, then you cannot know whether whether the object of your veneration is "due" such veneration. You have posited the worth of the object or your veneration, you have let veneration flow out of your heart without allowing your brain to interfere. Far from respecting knowledge, in other words, you have forsworn it. You may venerate an object that merits veneration, or you may venerate something that deserves no such acknowledgment. Indeed, you may very easily persuade yourself that the things you want to venerate exist (when they may not; they may be imaginary) and you may persuade yourself that these things are divine (when they may not be; they may simply be subjective objects of your desire). In fact, what Steiner has described is indistinguishable from self-deception or even self-hypnosis.

[10] Ibid., p. 10.

[11] Steiner disparaged the brain. [See, e.g., "Steiner's Specific".]

"[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition...." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.

Actual cognition, according to Steiner, comes from clairvoyance, which operates from "organs of clairvoyance," as we will see. Of course, brainy people may follow Steiner or other mystics — I discuss this seeming paradox later in this essay. Steiner sometimes affirmed the value of ordinary intelligence and even intellect, but these were not, for him, real thinking.


Attaining knowledge, making good decisions, pursuing wisdom — these require us to discipline our emotions. Steiner acknowledged this, although with a twist. He urged spiritual seekers to cultivate the life of feeling, channeling feelings in the "right" direction. The goal is a form of dispassionate equanimity (e.g., HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS, p. 178). But, in Steiner's doctrines, this is not a matter of cool reasonableness. Rather, feeling remains crucial. Intuition and love beckon as evolutionary fulfillments (see, e.g., OCCULT SCIENCE, p. 311). Love is undeniably an ultimate perfection, but the point to note here is that feeling — as a sort of objectified subjectivity — remains central to the esoteric approach Steiner championed.

Steiner argued that, to find truth, one must aim for a state of consciousness in which "thinking ceases." — Rudolf Steiner, MEDITATION UND KONZENTRATION {Meditation and Concentration} (Dornach, 1935), p. 33. One should "give himself up to his feelings." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS. HOW IT IS ACHIEVED (London, 1969), p. 49. One should "try not to receive these insights in a sober-minded and intellectual way, but to let the exaltation of the ideas bring you to all emotional experiences that are possible." — Rudolf Steiner, DIE STUFEN DER HOHEREN ERKENNINIS (Dornach, 1931), p. 66. For more on this, see http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/Hansson.html .

[13] Ibid., p. 11.

[14] Rudolf Steiner, THE RENEWAL OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 94. [For more about Steiner's views on science, see, e.g., "Steiner's 'Science'".]


[16] There is virtually no evidence that clairvoyance exists or is possible. [See "Clairvoyance".]

Here is the summary presented in a leading psychology textbook: 

"After thousands of experiments, a reproducible ESP phenomenon has never been discovered, nor has any individual convincingly demonstrated a psychic ability. [Sic — I did not add the italics.] A National Research Council investigation of ESP similarly concluded that 'the best evidence does not support the contention that these phenomena exist' (Druckman & Swets, 1988) ... Why then are so many people predisposed to believe that ESP, which should be testable by science, exists? In part, such beliefs may stem from understandable misperceptions, misinterpretations, and selective recall. But some people also have an unsatisfied hunger for wonderment, an itch to experience the magical." — David G. Myers, PSYCHOLOGY (Worth Publishers, 2004), pp. 260-261. 

Myers' conclusion surely applies to many — or perhaps all — Anthroposophists. For ESP (extrasensory perception), read clairvoyance. Steiner often spoke of the "supersensory," which is akin to the "extrasensory."

[17] Steiner repeatedly asserted the existence of nonphysical bodies, an idea he borrowed from Theosophy and Rosicrucianism. 

"Everyone possesses a physical body, an etheric body, an astral body, and an ego...." — Rudolf Steiner, INVESTIGATIONS INTO OCCULTISM SHOWING ITS PRACTICAL VALUE IN DAILY LIFE (Kessinger, 1996 — reproduction of 1920 edition), p. 51. 

The ego or "I" is the highest of the human "bodies." Steiner placed great significance on the sense of individual identity, "I". Sometimes his statements on this subject are strikingly laughable, e.g.:

"I am an I only to myself; to every other being I am a you, and every other being is a you to me." — OCCULT SCIENCE, p. 49. 

But Steiner was serious. 

"[T]hose religious faiths which have consciously maintained their connection with the supersensible [i.e., occult] wisdom speak of the I as the Unutterable Name of God" — the God within. — Ibid., pp. 49-50.


[19] Ibid., p. 28.

[20] Ibid., p. 36.

[21] Ibid., p. 36.

[22] Ibid., p. 36.

[23] Ibid., p. 50.


[25] Ibid., p. 72.

[26] Steiner often spoke of the Akashic Record — e.g.:

"This is merely the beginning, a very elementary beginning, of gradually learning to read the Akashic Record." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EFFECTS OF ESOTERIC DEVELOPMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 76. 

The Record is also sometimes called the Akashic Chronicle or the Akasha Chronicle. Also, there are sometimes said to be more than one such record or chronicle. Akasha is said to be a universal ether; the occult script is written on it. The result is an utterly complete universal register. 

"Rudolf Steiner...was able to develop his spiritual faculties so that he could read what is usually called the 'Akasha Chronicle,' an occult 'script' in which is inscribed, so to speak, all that has ever happened in the history of the universe." — Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), p. 22.


[28] Ibid., p. 78.

[29] See KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, the chapter "Some Results of Initiation." 

[30] HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS, pp. 109-111. By glowing, rotating, wheels, and flowers, of course, Steiner didn't exactly mean glowing, rotating, wheels, and flowers. He had great difficulty with language, due to the nature of his visions and the presumed nature of the realms he investigated.

It's worth noting that, in KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, no quotation marks are put around terms such as "lotus." In general, older editions of Steiner's work, while less accessible, present his views with fewer equivocations.

Steiner prescribed many exercises intended to lead toward toward spiritual progress. [See, e.g., START NOW!, pp. 109-118, "The Six Essential Exercises."]

[31] A few notes are in order. ◊ Smart people aren't necessarily right, of course. When two smarties disagree about something, at least one of them is probably wrong. ◊ The same applies even to high-powered intellectuals (eggheads, highbrows, chrome domes), perhaps in spades. Eggheads often weave intricate theories that have no connection to reality. ◊ How can we account for Steiner's innumerable errors? [See "Steiner's Blunders".] Perhaps, an egghead, he gave his honest opinions about things, and he just happened to be mistaken, over and over. Another possibility is that he was insane: His spiritualistic visions may have been hallucinations springing from a deranged mind. Still a third possibility is that Steiner was quite sane but also quite dishonest — he lied — he peddled fantasies in order to earn a following and a livelihood. ◊ My own guess is that the answer can be found behind door #3.

[32] See "Steiner's 'Science'".

[33] Bellow studied Steiner for some time. But he eventually recoiled from Steiner's radical mysticism: 

"Bellow was no mystic. Like Citrine [a character in Bellow's novel HUMBOLDT'S GIFT], he was skeptical of Steiner's more outlandish notions ... '[O]rgans of spiritual perception' or the strange mingling of Abraham with Zarathustra ... It was all too much for me.'" — James Atlas, BELLOW: A Biography (Random House, 2000), p. 437. 

In his memoir, SAUL BELLOW'S HEART, Greg Bellow — Saul Bellow's eldest son — reports that Saul Bellow could not, ultimately, accept Steiner's teachings. 

"...Saul knew he could never allow himself to follow Steiner's first instruction ... In the end, Saul found the hope offered by Steiner insufficient...." — SAUL BELLOW'S HEART (Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 164. 

Saul Bellow reached ultimate "disillusionment with the teachings of Rudolf Steiner," after which he entered a "post-Steiner" period that lasted for the rest of his life. [Ibid., p. 182.]

[34] Steiner praises Blavatsky in some of his work, but he also says that she made mistakes that he — harrumph — corrects. See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, SPIRITUALISM, MADAME BLAVATSKY, AND THEOSOPHY: AN EYEWITNESS VIEW OF OCCULT HISTORY (Anthroposophic Press, 2001).

[35] According to neuroscientist Dr. Jaak Panksepp, 

"SEEKING" [sic] is "the basic impulse to search, investigate, and make sense of the environment ... [It may be a] generalized platform for the expression of many of the basic emotional processes ... It is the one system that helps animals anticipate all types of rewards." — Panksepp, quoted in Temple Grandin, ANIMALS MAKE US HUMAN (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), pp. 6-7.

[36] See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?

[37] Anthroposophists may be deceived both by their own mistaken notions and/or by the false leads offered by their guru, Steiner. Humans often prefer to be deceived. 

"'There's a counterintuitive motivation not to detect lies, or we would have become much better at it,' said Angela Grossman, an assistant professor or psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 'But you may not really want to know that the dinner you just cooked stinks, or even that your spouse is cheating on you." — Natalie Angier, "A Highly Evolved Propensity for Deceit," THE NEW YORK TIMES, Dec. 28, 2008, nytimes.com. 

We often prefer lies when they are more comforting than the truth. 

"It turns out that we only want the truth sometimes [not all the time]. What we need is trust, even if that means we are certain to be betrayed." — Neely Tucker, "The Truth About Lies," WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL WEEKLY EDITION, Feb. 23-March 1, 2009, p. 11. 

A set of fantasies, such as Anthroposophy, may feed our desire for spiritual reassurance, trust, and comfort, but it may hinge on betrayal, even self-betrayal.

[38] Steiner taught that imagination and its associated "faculties" need to be schooled and sharpened. But this hardly resolves the problem of relying on unreliable and/or nonexistent forms of "cognition." Instead of any old clairvoyance, Steiner advocated "exact clairvoyance" — a disciplined form of clairvoyance that would confirm the findings of his own psychic powers. But there cannot be an exact form of a faculty that does not exist, nor can inherently unreliable forms of thought be made trustworthy. [See "Exactly".]

[39] See "Steiner's Blunders".

[40] See "Steiner's Quackery".

[41] See "Biodynamics".

[42] See "Thinking Cap" and "Unenlightened". 

[43] Richard Ramsbotham, WHO WROTE BACON? (Temple Lodge Publishing, 2004).

[44] John Fentress Gardner, AMERICAN HERALDS OF THE SPIRIT (Lindisfarne Press, 1992).

The third appendix of Gardner's book deals with "Rudolf Steiner's extensive and immensely fruitful research." This "research" consists of Steiner's clairvoyant visions. After striving all his adult life to follow Steiner's instructions to attain similar clairvoyant powers, Gardner ultimately gave up, defeated. He turned, then, to charismatic Christianity. (Disclosure: I knew Gardner. My knowledge of his final years is based, in part, on personal observations and correspondence.) Perhaps other spiritual seekers will have better luck developing clairvoyant powers. But the odds are clearly slim. Remember the National Research Council's conclusion that "the best evidence does not support the contention that these phenomena exist." [PSYCHOLOGY, p. 260] Or, as the ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA PUTS IT: "Research in parapsychology...has yet to provide conclusive support for the existence of clairvoyance." — "clairvoyance." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 18 Mar. 2009. These are cautiously worded reports of scientific findings. In plain English: Clairvoyance is bunk.

[45] Richard Seddon, THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY AND THE EARTH AS FORESEEN BY RUDOLF STEINER (Temple Lodge Publishing, 2002).

[46] Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989) — see the previous reference to Easton's book, above.

If we descend to the level of short pamphlets and booklets, a whole universe of bizarre Anthroposophical writings opens. One of my favorites: Franz E. Winkler, M.D., "Our Obligation to Rudolf Steiner in the Spirit of Easter" (Whittier Books, 1955). Our "obligation" to Steiner. Mull that over. (Disclosure: I was acquainted with Dr. Winkler, who had responsibility for the spiritual welfare of many students and teachers at the Waldorf school I attended.) Dr. Winkler was very smart, and he claimed to operate scientifically. Yet his conception of knowledge ultimately boiled down to "we have learned to believe Rudolf Steiner's teachings." — Ibid., p. 11.

Another intriguing pamphlet is Laurens van der Post, "Intuition, Intellect and the Racial Question" (Myrin Institute, 1964). Van der Post was not an Anthroposophist but a fellow traveler, published by the Myrin Institute, which was, at that time, essentially an Anthroposophical lecture forum. (Disclosure: Van der Post was a sometime visitor at my Waldorf school, where he was much admired.) Van der Post gained fame as a "defender" of African Bushmen. In his pamphlet, he credits Bushmen with primitive clairvoyant powers (p. 16) and an intuitive connection with natural forces (pp. 18-19). This racial patronization is hard to justify, but it was accepted as enlightened thinking by many Anthroposophists, since it parallels Steiner's own racial teachings. [See "Steiner's Racism".] Unfortunately, Van der Post actually knew almost nothing about Bushmen. His authorized biographer reluctantly came to the conclusion that van der Post was a liar — he had not spent the time he claimed among the Bushmen, nor had he been admitted to their councils. See J.D.F. Jones, TELLER OF MANY TALES (Carroll & Graf, 2001).

The pamphlet containing van der Post's lecture also includes an excerpt from Anthroposophist Werner Glas's "The Waldorf School Approach to History." It deals largely with astrology. Glas's other publications include "An Analytical Study of the Rhetorical Thought of Rudolf Steiner with Some Implications for the Teaching of Speech" (Wayne State University, 1977). It is another example of intelligence expended to little good effect. 

[47] Edward L. Gardner, FAIRIES - The Cottingley Photographs and Their Sequel (Theosophical Publishing House, 1945).

The photos were made beginning in 1917. Edward Gardner became aware of them soon afterwards and quickly championed them. Toward the end of their lives — after Gardner himself was dead — the photographers admitted that the pictures are fake. No one today, accustomed to special effects, is likely to mistake the photos for anything but what they are, crude fabrications. For an interesting discussion, see James Randi, FLIM-FLAM! (Prometheus Books, 1982), chapter 2, "Fairies at the Foot of the Garden." There are also reports at skepdic.com and wikipedia.org.

[48] Arthur Conan Doyle, THE COMING OF THE FAIRIES (Forgotten Books, 2007) — reprint of a 1922 edition.

Yes, the Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was so brilliant, people thought Conan Doyle must be, too. Perhaps he was. But this didn't prevent him from making a fool of himself. 

"Even [some] spiritualists joined in criticizing Conan Doyle's article 'The Evidence for Fairies,' published in The Strand Magazine in 1921, and his subsequent book THE COMING OF THE FAIRIES (1922), in which he voiced support for the claim that two young girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, had photographed actual fairies that they had seen in the Yorkshire village of Cottingley." — "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 18 Mar 2009. 

The critics did not include Edward Gardner.

[49] Steiner did not, as far as I know, endorse the Cottingley photos. Instead, he taught that fairies, gnomes, and other such creatures exist in the form of "elemental beings." See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS. Lectures from 1908-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995). [Also see "Neutered Nature".]

[50] The exercises Steiner prescribed are aimed primarily at developing spiritual faculties, not exercising that coarse, physical organ, the brain. They do not genuinely discipline the brain or mind, but bend consciousness to the service of fantasy.

[51] See, e.g., Paul Bloom, "Is God an Accident?", THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, December, 2005, p. 105, theatlantic.com, and Robin Marantz Henig, "Darwin's God," THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, March 4, 2007, at www.nytimes.com , especially the discussion of "byproduct theory."

Do we have a predisposition to believe in the supernatural because God wants us to know of His existence? Are our intuitions of spiritual presences God's signs to us? Perhaps — but we have little reason to think so. If God wanted us to know Him, he could employ far more persuasive signs — undeniable signs, if He saw fit. Thus, instead of equipping us with doubtful inklings that are belied by the very senses he chose to give us, He could make Himself perceptible to those senses — visible or audible. Lacking such clear demonstrations, all we know about our predispositions is that we have them — we do not know if they are correct or purposeful. And, in fact, there's reason to think they are not.

[52] For more on the Anthroposophical view of intuition, imagination, etc., see "Thinking Cap", "Steiner's 'Science'",  and "Everything".

[53] We are inclined to find "spirit" even in places where we know perfectly well it does not exist. MIT graduate students working on robots are sometimes so spooked by the apparently human qualities of their own creations that they cover the machines' "eyes." 

"They couldn't stand the way [a robot] seemed to gaze...at them. These humans are as sophisticated about robots as anyone on earth...[but] 'We're programmed biologically to respond to certain sorts of things' ... It's not about how the machine works. It's about how humans are wired." — THE WASHINGTON POST WEEKLY EDITION (May 14-20, 2007, pp. 9-10). 

The students know that the robots are not alive; they know that the robots do not have minds or souls. But they can't prevent themselves from feeling the opposite.

[54] Randomness is generally repugnant to humans, yet it is a basic characteristic of reality. For example, the primary law in the branch of physics called quantum mechanics is the uncertainty principal. [See, e.g., "uncertainty principle." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 11 Feb. 2009.] Likewise, a whole branch of science has arisen studying the chaos or unpredictability found throughout nature. [See, e.g., "chaos theory." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 11 Feb. 2009.]

[55] Nicholas Wade, "A Mind Still Prescient After All These Years" (THE NEW YORK TIMES, Feb. 10, 2009), p. D4).

[56] See, e.g., Benedict Carey, "Do You Believe in Magic?", THE NEW YORK TIMES, Jan. 23, 2007, D1.

[57] If you want your child to receive a Christian education, a Waldorf school is the wrong place for him or her. Anthroposophy is heretical. [See "Was He Christian?"] Likewise, Jewish parents should consider Steiner's anti-Semitism. [See "Steiner's Blunders" and "RS on Jews".].

[58] There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves and seven pairs of major peripheral nerves. See, e.g., "Spinal and Major Peripheral Nerves", http://innvista.com/health/anatomy/spinal.htm. Also see "human nervous system." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 17 Feb. 2010 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/409709/human-nervous-system>.

[59] Christians generally speak of four archangels, although the total number, according to some angelological teachings, may be as high as fifteen. Jewish and Islamic traditions differ. See, e.g., http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/32645/archangel and http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Archangel

"archangel, chief angel. They are four to seven in number. Sometimes specific functions are ascribed to them. The four best known in Christian tradition are Michael , Gabriel , Raphael , and Uriel ." — The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2008.