Waldorf’s View of the Natural World

A Tangled Tale






Rudolf Steiner’s worldview represents an aversion to reality, an aversion that he decked out in the garb of occult “wisdom.” His doctrines come, in part, from the heretical tradition of gnosticism. As Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke has pointed out: “Rudolf Steiner...blended modern Theosophy with a Gnostic form of Christianity....” [1] Steiner claimed deep knowledge of gnostic Christian teachings. When critics said he “was merely reviving the ideas of Christian Gnosticism,”  Steiner asserted that he independently investigated the spirit realm, confirming the truth of many gnostic and occult teachings through the use of clairvoyance. [2]

In gnosticism, the physical universe is often described as having been created not by God Almighty but by a demiurge — a subordinate god who opposes spirituality. This lower god is sometimes said to be Yahweh, the god of Israel, whom we generally refer to as Jehovah (and whom most Western monotheists identify as God Almighty). The physical universe created by the demiurge is deemed inherently illusory and evil — we must get past it to find truth. [3] Most rationalists call the physical universe reality, without necessarily denying the existence of a spiritual plane beyond the physical. But for gnostics, nature, the physical world, is a dreadful place, to be avoided or transcended. A modified form of this antipathy to nature is reflected in Anthroposophical lore and, at least sometimes, in Waldorf school curriculums: Nature should be honored as a gift and manifestation of the gods; but it should also be feared and rejected, as a false realm of illusion and animality.

The teachers at my Waldorf school [see "I Went to Waldorf"] imparted a sort of bipolar appreciation of nature. Nature's beauties were important, apparently. Our teachers professed a love of nature — they displayed crystals and pine cones and colorful leaves in the classrooms. Yet at the same time, our teachers subtly urged us to look beyond nature — they conveyed the impression that nature was, in some unspoken way, unworthy of us. Certainly, we were shielded from an understanding of nature's true operations.

In the elementary grades, our teachers would occasionally take us on "nature walks." During these, we were encouraged to note spiral patterns (e.g., in the petals of flowers), or striking symmetries (as in plants with two or three nearly identical heads), or interesting branch patterns (as in deciduous saplings). These were patterns or archetypes that, it was implied, reflected "indwelling" forces — i.e., spiritual forces.

We were not taught Darwinian evolution, nor were we introduced to many standard biological concepts, so the families of various plants and animals were largely unknown to us. We were also largely steered away from the knowledge that a) much of the color in nature is an evolutionary adaptation promoting procreation (sex), and b) most creatures spend a great deal of their waking time searching for whom they may devour (nature is red in tooth and claw). The "facts of life" were, for the most part, withheld from us. Instead, we were guided toward a misleading teleological idea of the "purpose" behind natural phenomena. (A key concept in Darwinian evolution is that no mutation is purposeful; changes occur randomly, and some serendipitously provide a survival benefit, so creatures with these characteristics tend to survive and reproduce, while the others fall behind in the competition for survival.) Our Waldorf covertly adopted what would today be called a creationist approach, emphasizing spiritual influences and intentions — but the school gave these some odd Steinerian twists. [4]

In his meetings with the teachers at the first Waldorf school, Steiner said that the Waldorf curriculum is meant to fulfill the “intentions of the gods” [5]. These intentions can be comprehended only through an appreciation of dualism: the stark contrast between physical and spiritual realities. As Waldorf students, we were constantly reminded of this dualism, although usually indirectly. One instance: In upper grades we were taught about the interactions of "telluric" and "etheric" forces — that is, Earth forces and super-Earthly forces [6]. There is some truth in this paradigm, of course. Almost any religious faith hinges on the idea there there is a spiritual realm beyond the reality our senses can perceive. Even on the purely physical plane, a sort of dualism can be identified: The things present on the Earth are affected by things present above the Earth. The Earth and the atmosphere interact, as in the cycle of rainfall and evaporation. Moreover, astronomical bodies (mainly the sun and moon) have influences on the Earth (warmth, light, tides). Looking farther out, it may be that long ago meteors and comets delivered the basic building blocks of life (organic compounds) to the surface of the Earth. Moreover, extremely distant exploding stars produced most of the heavier elements that ultimately arrived on Earth. 

Now please understand: Nothing even slightly resembling the sensible things I have just said was included in our curriculum. When our teachers spoke of "telluric" and "etheric" forces, they were primarily alluding to spiritual and/or astrological forces. In his yearbook messages to both my class and the class before mine, our headmaster referred to the heavens in astrological terms. For the preceding class, he wrote: “In 1962 the heavenly constellation was such that at one time millions in the East feared the end of the world.” [7] Addressing my class, he wrote: “For some onlookers, a special star has shone over your class from its beginning many years ago.” [8] To outsiders, such language may seem innocuous. Those who have studied Steiner, however, know that Anthroposophists do not use terminology of this sort lightly. Steiner often spoke of the “powers” of celestial bodies and constellations: e.g., “In the course of its development, the good portion of humankind will learn to use the Moon forces to transform the evil part ... ” [9], or “In cholerics, you will generally find an abnormally developed sense of balance (Libra) [i.e., kids under the influence of the astrological sign, Libra] ... In sanguines (Virgo)...the sense of movement predominates. In the same way, in melancholics (Leo) the sense of life predominates...”, etc. [10]

Nudging kids toward mysticism and astrology does them a severe disservice. Waldorf students are generally taught, subtly but repeatedly, that the unreal is real and the real is unreal. Enormous confusion can result. And kids' heads may spin even more when their teachers flash mixed signals about fundamental matters, such as the nature of nature. Allow me, please, to toss in a quick aside before we press on. Our school stood on a large expanse of level land. For reasons that were never explained to us, the school hired bulldozers and dump trucks to come in and create artificial hills, one for each of our two main playgrounds. Steiner found significance in hills, because they rise toward the sky and thus are infused with etheric influences. “We could show that here is the Earth, and the Earth grows a little bump, a hill. This hill, however, is filled with the forces of the air and also of the Sun.” [11] The creation of machine-made, totally unnatural hills was a betrayal of our school's professed love of nature and our teachers' frequently expressed antipathy to technology. [12] Those little false hills stood as testimony that something at our school didn't add up. But I never heard the matter discussed.



Nature is not utterly debased, according to Steiner. The natural world is infused by the spiritual world; indeed, all of physical reality is a condensation of spiritual reality. In this sense, nature deserves our respect, even our reverence. Moreover, with the Crucifixion, Christ's blood — his essence, as it were — flowed into the Earth. So, Steiner taught, the natural realm on the Earth has a sort of holiness, and for this reason Anthroposophists are often advocates of "green" beliefs, promoting conservation, organic gardening, and ecological sensitivity.

But the other pole, the aversion to nature, still throws its shadow over Anthropological doctrines. Nature is not wholly evil, but elements of evil run through it. Nature is the abode of “elemental beings” or “nature spirits,” lowly and generally amoral beings. Some of these entities have been given names such as “goblins.” Yes, Steiner taught that such mythical creatures as goblins are real. Steiner said elemental beings are more or less antithetical to humans, although their actions can benefit us — they represent stages of existence that are beneath us, yet they may serve us. Animals also represent such low stages — they are beneath us, yet they have their uses.

Let’s start by hearing about the animals, since they actually exist. During an early period of our evolution, according to Steiner, man shed the various animals out of himself, one by one. Man did not evolve upward from the animals; rather, animals evolved downward from man. Humans existed before any of the animals came into existence. Then, as humans developed, we cast aside various lowly portions of ourselves. These became the animals.

“The higher animals did not yet exist ... Man was there, but in quite a different form ... Afterward, man evolved higher, and left behind him the fish-form which had been contained within him ... Again man evolved higher, and separated the birds from himself. Next the reptiles and amphibians came out of man ... Later still, man put the mammals out from himself....” [13] 

The main point to note in Steiner’s absurd account is that animals are beneath us; we had to rid ourselves of them. Animals represent inferior characteristics we had to shed on our evolutionary ascent — they are the debris we left behind. Unless we continue to reject them, we will slip backwards spiritually.

Nature spirits often represent another form of debris. Inferior humans who fail to climb the evolutionary ladder “fall out of evolution” [14], after which they deteriorate to subhuman status in the form of nature spirits. This fate entails losing the ability to reincarnate, which means losing the capacity to make progress from life to life. 

“Such souls lose the possibility of incarnation and find no other opportunity ... [T]here are no more bodies bad enough [to house them] ... Beings that stay behind at such stages appear in a later epoch as subordinate nature spirits.” [15] 

Steiner said that losing the ability to reincarnate makes you a merely “natural” being. 

“Quite a number of people have been born [who]...are not reincarnated, but are human forms filled with a sort of natural demon. There a quite a large number of older people going around who are actually not human beings, but are only natural.” [16] 

To be “natural,” in Steiner’s teachings, is to be inferior and wicked.

Goblins, specters, undines, phantoms, and so forth, are overlapping examples of nature spirits. The four main types of nature spirits are gnomes (aka goblins), sylphs, undines, and fire spirits (aka "salamanders"). These are higher than the "subordinate" nature spirits that wicked people may become, but they are nonetheless beneath us. One handy term to cover them (not quite accurate, but handy) is "fairies." As a rule, nature spirits are not our friends. If they are not quite immoral, they are often amoral. Concerning goblins, for instance, Steiner said: 

“There are beings that can be seen with clairvoyant vision at many spots in the depths of the earth ... 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.... ” [17] 

Goblins or gnomes belong to a different “world” from ours — they are part of nature in a way we are not. 

“Gnomes are...unable to grasp how there can be anything but an ineffectual relationship with our world.” [18] 

Other nature spirits may have better intentions, at least sometimes, but don't trust any of them without strong assurances.

Nature spirits can be detected by peering through seams in the natural world, Steiner claimed. For this purpose, "occult vision" — that is, clairvoyance — must be employed.

"[O]ccult vision [may attain] an impression of other beings standing immediately behind the veil of nature ... This is especially the case if we devote ourselves to the peculiar play of a body of water tossing in a waterfall and giving clouds of spray, if we yield ourselves to the forming and dissolving of mist and to watery vapour....” [19] 

Rationally, we should say that anyone who semi-sees “fairies” in a swirl of mists is experiencing an optical illusion. But Steiner, the opponent of rationality, accepted false impressions as truth. He wanted to pierce “the veil of nature” — he taught that nature is a deceptive screen that we need to get past.

The four main types of nature spirits — the four forms of fairies — can seem almost charming, and their representations in Waldorf classrooms can exert a kind of charm. But Steiner described other elemental beings, some of which are distinctly nastier than goblins. Let’s look at these, then circle back to consider the basic four. The nastiest group consists of phantoms, specters, and demons, and they literally represent wrongdoing. Phantoms, the mildest of the lot, are wraiths that come to Earth through the physical bodies of wrongdoers. 

"[They are] beings which have been created in the physical body through the effect of lying and slander ... Such flit and whirr about in our world and belong to a class that we call ‘phantoms.’ They form a certain group of elemental beings related to our physical body and invisible to physical sight.” [20]

Specters embody transgressions associated with our “etheric” bodies. Steiner said that we have three nonphysical bodies in addition to the physical body — the etheric body, the astral body, and the “I.” Lowly specters are comfortable in our lowest incorporeal bodies, our etheric bodies. 

“All that leads to want of harmony, all that makes for bad adjustments between continued into the etheric body.” [21] 

Wrongs committed by humans (inharmonious behavior, bad relationships) cause detritus to drop from the spiritual worlds and manifest in our environment: 

“The accumulation in the etheric body caused through these [wicked] experiences of the soul...brings about detachments from the beings working in the spiritual worlds and these likewise are now to be found in our environment — they are the ‘specters’ or ‘ghosts.’” [22] 

Don’t be misled by the idea that specters and ghosts come from the spiritual worlds — they are not truly spiritual beings. Steiner sometimes called nature spirits “elemental beings” or "elementals" precisely in order to stress their lack of spirit: 

“To call them elemental spirits shows the greatest possible ineptitude, for it is just [i.e., exactly] spirit that they do not possess. It is better to call them elemental beings....” [23]   

The worst nature spirits are associated with our “astral” bodies. Higher than etheric bodies, our astral bodies journey into spiritual worlds every night when we sleep, Steiner said. Evildoing can cause an astral body to pick up wicked invisible hitchhikers or “enclosures” during the night. These wicked spirits, which Steiner identified as demons, then ride to Earth tucked inside the astral body. 

“In all that works [evilly] from soul to soul in our world, from the giving of bad advice to all those methods which people employ in order to overwhelm others...[this] is expressed in the night in the astral body. The astral body gets these ‘enclosures’ and thereby beings are detached from other worlds and whirr through our world again as elemental beings. They belong to the class of demons.” [24]

Nature spirits can sometimes be beneficial to us, enabling us to develop and evolve beyond their lowly level of existence. Indeed, when nature spirits behave themselves, they may fulfill the intentions of the gods, assisting us as the gods intend. Steiner placed the four basic types of nature spirits in the soil, air, water, and fire: goblins in the ground, sylphs in the atmosphere, undines in liquid water, and "salamanders" in flames. In giving form to the "four elements," nature spirits lay a sort of foundation for our lives on Earth. But the hostility and mischievousness of naughty nature spirits cause troubles. 

"Take the gnomes and undines: they are, so to say, in the world which borders on human consciousness; they are already beyond the threshold. Ordinary consciousness is protected from seeing these beings, for the fact is that these beings are not all benevolent ... [I]n the moment when man breaks through into the world wherein they live and are active, he finds there not only the well-disposed beings but the malevolent ones as well ... The main difference between the ill-disposed beings and the well-disposed is that the latter are always drawn more to the plant and mineral kingdoms, whereas the ill-disposed are drawn to the animal and human kingdoms ... Now someone might say: Why then are these malevolent gnome and undine-beings there, if they engender parasites? Well, if they were not there, man would never be able to develop within himself the force to evolve the structure of his brain." [25] 

According to Steiner, most things can be turned to good account, even the actions of malevolent nature spirits. But their malevolence is real, and we must tread cautiously.

The benefits we receive from nature spirits are not easy to describe (and not worth worrying about, since Steiner's doctrines about these things are nonsense).

"Here on earth, a person's aura carries a kind of remnant of the things he received when he had ascended to the spiritual world [in sleep or death]. Having left behind the realms of wisdom, of beauty, of truth [spiritual realms we exit when descending to Earth again], mankind must enter the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms [i.e., nature] ... The person who does not give in to his animal instincts is not necessarily wise. The wise human being — wise in the sense implied by strength of heart — is the one who possesses moral ideas [animal instincts are lowly, sometimes sexual: earthy; wisdom is supernatural] ... [O]ur materialistic age is distinguished by the way it so thoroughly involves the sphere of sexuality in artistic considerations — a piece of mischief for which our age is responsible ... [I]t is our physical body that connects us with the realm of physical becoming, [and] our brain connects us with certain elemental beings...the elemental beings of the myths and sagas. There they are called elves, fairies, and so on.” [26]

Here is one of the most affirmative statements Steiner made about nature beings. See how it strikes you. 

“The predecessors of our Earth-gnomes, the Moon-gnomes, gathered together their Moon-experiences and from them fashioned this structure, this firm structure of the solid fabric of the Earth, so that our solid Earth-structure actually arose from the experiences of the gnomes of the old Moon ... Now let us pass over from the gnomes to the undines, the water-beings ... These beings have not the need for life that human beings have ... [They] have rather a need for death ... They only feel their life to be truly theirs when they die ... And now let us proceed to the sylphs. In the course of the year we find the dying birds ... Dying birds possess spiritualized substance ... [T]hey desire to give this spiritualized substance over to the higher worlds ... But here an intermediary is needed. And these intermediaries are the sylphs ... And when we pass over to the fire-beings [i.e., salamanders], only think how the dust on the butterfly's wings seems to dissolve into nothing with the death of the butterfly ... When in the course of the year the butterfly-world approaches its end, all this becomes glittering and shimmering ... [I]nto this glittering and shimmering the fire-beings pour themselves; they absorb it.” [27]

Some of Steiner's language and concepts may seem attractive, but his essential attitude toward nature was, at best, ambivalent. He found some value in the natural world — but he also found much that he considered lowly, vile, even evil. He wanted to get past nature, moving through the "veil" toward "higher" worlds. The effort to do so may or may not be advisable — such worlds may or may not exist. 

If trying to get past nature means detaching ourselves from reality, then Steiner's advice was surely perilous. Children can be educated to live in a world of Moon-gnomes, suicidal sylphs, and other imagined apparitions involved with death, or they can be raised to live and thrive in the real world, the one described in science and, perhaps, mainstream religions. Choosing to go with Steiner almost certainly means choosing an alienating cult — alienating us from reality, from truth, and indeed from ourselves.



Nature is deceptive — within it lurk demonic snares, which may cause us to use our intelligence too much. Or so Steiner said. The natural world consists of matter, which is the antithesis of spirit (although it is condensed spirit — don't expect complete logical consistency from Steiner). The snares of nature have been placed in our path by our spiritual foes, who want to trip us up with illusion. 

“I must emphasize this again and again, that the saying ‘the world is Maya’ is so vitally important." [28] 

The greatest liar, the author of so many illusions that await us in the world of matter, is the devil Ahriman. 

“Ahriman infused into human observation something like a dark smoke cloud that prevents penetration to the spiritual. Through Ahriman's agency man is enmeshed in lies, in maya, in illusion.“ [29]

The minions of Ahriman hide just below the surface of the Earth, and they strive to create a race of subhumans residing within the elements. 

“Were [the minions of Ahriman] to be successful, man would become extremely clever in the material realm — incredibly clever and intelligent. They cannot achieve their end directly, but they aim at doing so indirectly. And their efforts, which have actually been going on for thousands of years, have in fact succeeded in producing a whole race of sub-human beings. Their method is as follows.

"Suppose a man has strong and rude instincts. These beings will clutch at his instinctive nature and seize hold of it. The man then falls victim to the Ahrimanic powers. He is completely given up to his passions and leads a wild and dissolute life. When a man has in this way become a prey, during his earthly life, to the Ahrimanic powers, then these powers will be able to hold on to his instinctive nature and tear it out of him after death. There exists already on the Earth a whole population of beings who have arisen in this way. They are there, in the elements of earth and water, a sub-human race.” [30]

All in all, nature is a tricky place. Respect it. But fear it. And leave it behind as soon as you can.

— Roger Rawlings




You will not find complete consistency in Steiner's teachings. The degree to which he said nature is corrupt, depraved, or evil changes from book to book, from lecture to lecture. But the overall notion is plain enough: The spirit realm (or at least the part of it inhabited by the good gods) is far better than the lowly, material, dead or at least very sick physical realm.

Yet there is good in nature, or in parts of it, anyway. Here's the bright side:

“We see nature around us, and we see also that man enters into his physical existence through the forces of this same nature. We know through our study of Spiritual Science [i.e., Anthroposophy] that we do not rightly regard nature if we only pay attention to its external physical features. We know that divine forces permeate it and we only become aware of our origin from nature in the true sense of the word when we perceive this divine element that weaves and works within it. In this we perceive the Father principle of nature. All that permeates nature as the divine is the Father principle in the sense of the old religions and also in the sense of a rightly understood Christianity — whether it be the flowers of the field that we observe, and how they grow, or the roll of the thunder and the flash of the lightning; or whether we watch the sun in its path across the heavens or gaze upon the shining stars; or whether again we listen to the brooks and the streams rushing along — when we become aware of what is revealed so mysteriously in this external revelation of nature as the origin of all ‘becoming,’ then we are at the same time aware of what places us as men within this world through the mystery of physical birth.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SEARCH FOR THE NEW ISIS, DIVINE SOPHIA (Mercury Press, 1983), lecture 1, GA 202.

But on various occasions Steiner discussed nature in more conflicted terms. Nature spirits play a role that can be helpful to us, but it is a role that also presents us with challenges and dangers.

“[T]here are entities in this next-door world...which could only be made known to human beings under certain conditions. They have a specific function in the whole universe and especially also in human evolution.

“...Today I want to talk to you about one class of such entities, the class whose function in the great scheme of things is connected with human birth and death ... If one were to speak of them, and of the whole way in which these elemental spirits [sic] live, one would be speaking of something that would seem like red-hot coals to people.

“...[T]he divine spirits who guide world destinies [the gods] have to use elemental spirits who actually are the enemies of everything human beings seek and desire for their welfare and well-being here in the physical world.

“...[T]he gods always rule for a time within a particular sphere of elemental spirits and then human beings enter into this same sphere and use the elemental spirits. In earlier times, the elemental spirits of birth and death essentially served the divine spirits who guided the world; since our day — and this has been going on for some time now — the elemental spirits of birth and death are serving technology, industry and human commerce.

“...[T]hese elemental spirits are the enemies of human welfare and want to destroy it. We have to see things straight and not have any illusions concerning the radical nature of this. Civilization must progress in the fields of technology, industry and commerce. But by its very nature such a civilization cannot serve the well-being of humanity in the physical world; it can only prove destructive to the human weal.

“ ...The elemental spirits of birth and death are, of course, messengers of Ahriman. The iron necessity of world evolution forces the gods to use Ahriman's messengers to control birth and death. When they ask the elemental spirits to act on their behalf they do not allow the powers of these messengers to enter the physical world. But as civilization goes into its decline, from the fifth post-Atlantean period [i.e., the fifth age since Atlantis sank] onwards, this element has to come in again, so that catastrophe may be brought about.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FALL OF THE SPIRITS OF DARKNESS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), lecture 4, GA 177.

The natural world, the Earthly sphere, the physical world — this realm might have been better except for a recent event. The Archangel Michael fought a war in Heaven, as it were, and cast his defeated enemies down to the Earth.

“Events in which humanity is now caught up...are more significant than is often realized today. I have sought to show that momentous occurrences in the spiritual world form the background to these events. I have also spoken of the profoundly significant battle which took place in the spiritual regions of the world [i.e., the cosmos: the "spiritual worlds"] between the early 1840s and the autumn of 1879. This was one of the battles which occur repeatedly in world and human evolution and are customarily represented by the image of Michael or St. George fighting the dragon. Michael won one such victory over the dragon [i.e., Ahriman] on behalf of the spiritual worlds in 1879. At that time the spirits of darkness who worked against the Michaelic impulses were cast down from the spiritual realm into the human realm. As I said, from that time onwards they have been active in the feeling, will and mind impulses of human beings. Present-day events can therefore only be understood if one turns the inner eye to the spiritual powers which are now moving among us.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FALL OF THE SPIRITS OF DARKNESS, lecture 13. [For more on this, see “Michael".]

The Earthly realm, and in particular the human portion of the Earthly realm, is haunted by demonic powers cast down from on high. We must hope that any beneficent spirits moving among us will assist us against the spirits of darkness present in our environs. Sadly, many of the spirits moving around and among us now are our foes.


A salamander (left, above), sylphs (right, above),

an undine (left, below), and gnomes (right, below).

These images represent the traditions

Steiner drew from, they do not show 

Steiner's specific reworkings

of the traditional conceptions.

[I've taken the images from Manly P. Hall's


(H. S. Crocker Co., 1928),

an interesting if disagreeable source.]





Use this link to go to the second half of

"Neutered Nature".









[1] RUDOLF STEINER (WESTERN ESOTERIC MASTERS SERIES), anthology edited by Richard Seddon (North Atlantic Books, 2004, general editor's preface by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke), p. 7.

[2]  Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), pp. 12-13. For connections and distinctions Steiner drew between Anthroposophy and gnosticism, see ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 175-180. Steiner held that modern humans cannot simply adopt the gnosticism of the past: We have reached a different level of development. The new “wisdom” he offered, Anthroposophy, extends gnostic teachings into our age with appropriate spiritual refinement/repackaging, he indicated.

[3] See, e.g., THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, “Gnosticism.” Platonists believe that a demiurge created the universe. Gnostics accepted the idea from them. Because gnosticism is not an organized religion, there is doctrinal variation. Steiner’s gnosticism is generally consistent with what we might call mainline gnosticism.

The natural world is okay, Steiner said, if we perceive it as a sort of garment of the spirit realm. Then it is "true nature." But if we look on the natural world — or, indeed, physical reality in general — as the only reality, then it amounts to hell. Discussing benevolent spiritual beings who aided humanity in the past, Steiner said Earthly life is darkened by the powers of Ahriman, a dreadful demon.

"These former divine companions confronted, as an inimical world, what even in earlier times was called 'hell.' But the efficacy of these spiritual beings stopped short at the gates of hell. These spiritual beings worked upon humankind. The forces of humankind extend even into hell. This signifies nothing other than humankind’s subconscious projection into Ahrimanic forces in the wintertime and also into the ascent of these Ahrimanic forces in the spring. The divine spiritual beings felt this as a world opposed to them. They saw it rise up out of the Earth and felt it to be an exceedingly problematic world." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CYCLE OF THE YEAR AS BREATHING-PROCESS OF THE EARTH (Anthroposophic Press, 1984), p. 41.

Spending time in the hardened, material world where the powers of Ahriman are great is clearly dangerous, but Steiner said it is necessary for us, so that we may evolve. We move away from the purely spiritual realm in order to return to it with greater impetus. Thus, Anthroposophical doctrine includes ambivalence toward the material, natural world. 

"Understood psychologically, there seems in Anthroposophy to be a cosmological ambivalence towards matter which expresses the experience of many spiritually-minded and creative people, not least of Steiner himself, toward the world." — Geoffrey Ahern, SUN AT MIDNIGHT (James Clarke & Co., 2009), p. 116.

[4] For an explication of Steinerian evolution, see “Evolution, Anyone?

Underlying the bipolarity of the Waldorf approach to nature is Steiner's doctrine that Christ, the Sun God, came to earth and remains now on/in/around the earth. 

“Christ, the Sun God, who was known by earlier peoples under such names as Ahura Mazda, Hu, or Balder, has now united himself with the earth...." — Margaret Jonas, introduction to RUDOLF STEINER SPEAKS TO THE BRITISH (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), pp. 4-5. 

The Earth, then, must be revered for Christ's sake. However, the Earth also contains such nasty beings as goblins, phantoms, specters, and demons. Physical nature, then, must be viewed askance.

[5] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.

[6] One meaning of “ether” is “air.” However, in 19th century physics, “the ether” was thought to be an undetectable medium that pervaded the entire universe. (See Steiner accepted this now-discarded theory, with modifications, and he extended it into the spirit realm. 

“[I]f one truly wants a concept of the ether, one must approach it from two sides ... It is interesting that the great German philosophical Idealists...did not form the concept of the ether. They could not strengthen, could not empower their inner soul life enough to conceive of the ether.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 290. 

For Steiner, “the etheric” suggests everything that is not purely, grossly earthly — air, outer space, and beyond.

[7] ‘63 PINNACLE, Waldorf School of Adelphi University (Kansas City: Inter-Collegiate Press, 1963).

[8] ‘64 PINNACLE, Waldorf School of Adelphi University (Kansas City: Inter-Collegiate Press, 1964).

[9] Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 393.


[11] Rudolf Steiner and Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 196. 

It may not be coincidental that the first Waldorf school stood on a hill: 

“It is certainly easier to climb than the Swiss mountains, but the pleasure we get in climbing up this hill to our dear Waldorf School is a spiritual pleasure more than anything else.” — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 60. 

Steiner situated the headquarters of the Anthroposophical movement on a hill: 

“The First Goetheanum was erected on the hill in Dornach (1913-1922/23).” — Rudolf Steiner, COLOUR (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 3. 

When that building was destroyed by fire, it was replaced by a new structure erected on the same site. 

“The [second] Goetheanum building now standing on the hill at Dornach is intended as a contribution towards the opposing of destructive forces being unleashed within the human soul ... ” — Christian Thai-Jantzen, introduction to Rudolf Steiner's ARCHITECTURE AS A SYNTHESIS OF THE ARTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. xiii.

[12] All members of my senior class were required to read Friedrich Georg Juenger's THE FAILURE OF TECHNOLOGY (Henry Regency Company, 1956). This book became the focus of our weekly “discussion” group (which was heavily attended — and dominated — by faculty). Juenger’s thesis is that to use of modern technology interferes with the acquisition of spiritual wisdom.


[14] Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 69.

[15] Ibid., p. 70.

People who descend in this way become subhuman. They no longer reincarnate, so they no longer evolve from life to life — they enter an undying, subhuman state. Ahriman and his cohorts hope to drag all humans down to such a hellish condition. 

“[S]ubhuman entities are subject to the rule of powers I always refer to as ahrimanic. These ahrimanic powers with their diverse sub-spirits — including sprite- and goblin-like beings who dwell in the elements of earth and water — have set themselves a [specific] task ... [These] beings, who have their fortress directly under the earth’s surface, exert influences that rise into our metabolism ... [They] battle to harden us and make us resemble them ... If someone has fallen prey during his lifetime to the ahrimanic powers...these beings can ‘harvest’ this after his death to create a whole population, a subhuman populace of the earth, which does indeed already exist ... And if we ask what such ahrimanic beings intend with this subhuman populace, it is this: to draw this kind of instinctual nature from a human being and make it into a being of earth and water. And beings of earth and water do now actually populate the strata directly below the earth's surface. There they dwell. People who can use spiritual vision to observe mines know such entities very well: they exist there, having been torn from a human being at the moment of his death. And there waits Ahriman, there wait the ahrimanic powers for a person's karma, caused by instincts, drives and passions, to lead him down into an incarnation where he takes special pleasure in such a being, and therefore finds in a particular life on earth that he does not wish to return to the world of spirit. Having left his physical body...he will seek instead to be embodied in a kind of subsensible being of this kind, to remain united with the earth: no longer to die but choosing to remain united with the earth as a subsensible entity ... [A]hrimanic beings...[seek] to entice so many people into their race that eventually the earth will be populated entirely by subhuman ahrimanic entities of this kind.” — Rudolf Steiner, SPIRIT AS SCULPTOR OF THE HUMAN ORGANISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2014), pp. 108-109.


[17] NATURE SPIRITS, p. 62.

[18] Rudolf Steiner, CHANCE, PROVIDENCE, AND NECESSITY (SteinerBooks, 1988), p. 95.

[19] NATURE SPIRITS, pp. 28-29.

[20] Ibid., pp. 83-84.

[21] Ibid., p. 84.

[22] Ibid., p. 84. (Beings working in the spiritual worlds are not all beneficent or moral. Steiner sometimes spoke of demons, evil gods, spirits of darkness, and other spiritual beings who, we may infer, could be the sources of "detachments" that present themselves in our lower world as "specters" or "ghosts.")

[23] Ibid., p. 62.

[24] Ibid., pp. 85-86.

[25] Rudolf Steiner, MAN AS SYMPHONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1970), lecture 8, November 3, 1923, GA 230.

[26] Rudolf Steiner, THE RIDDLE OF HUMANITY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), lecture 5, GA 170.

[27] Rudolf Steiner, MAN AS SYMPHONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1970), lecture 9, GA 230. 


[28] Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 64.

[29] Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1973), lecture 12, GA 112.

[30] Rudolf Steiner, MAN’S LIFE ON EARTH AND IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLDS (Anthroposophical Publishing Company, 1952), pp. 83-84. 

This fascinating book, which is not fully consistent with some of Steiner’s other productions — he sometimes had trouble keeping his stories straight — includes air-fire beings, earth-water beings, Jahve (Jehovah on the Moon), Ahriman, Lucifer, Jupiter beings, Mars beings, Saturn beings, and much, much more. A sampling:

◊ "When therefore we look out into the atmosphere which surrounds our Earth, and within which we ourselves are living, we have there around us a world of beings, who are composed merely of air and warmth. They are the same kind of beings whom I have called in my books and frequently spoken of in lectures as the Luciferic beings." — Ibid., p. 81.

◊ "Turning now again to the beings whom I called Ahrimanic and who have their stronghold below the surface of the Earth — the earth-water beings — how do these compare with Jahve and the Mercury and Venus beings? ... The Ahrimanic beings wage war continually on Jahve and on the Venus and Mercury powers, and are determined to usurp from Jahve his rightful sovereignty." — Ibid., p. 87.

◊ "And so we find these air-fire beings making sallies from their strongholds not only upon the Ahrimanic powers, but upon the influences that should be continually reaching man from Mars, Jupiter and Saturn." — Ibid., pp. 88-89.