This is a continuation of the essay "Unenlightened." 

V. "Spiritual Science" 

Rudolf Steiner was both typical of messianic cult leaders and an exceptional case. He laid out a densely detailed description of a universe almost completely unknown to science, but then he insisted that this description was scientifically accurate. For those who embrace his vision, he turns the world upside-down and inside-out, creating the risk that his followers may waste their lives wandering corridors of fantasy, searching for phantasms.

Steiner wove a tapestry of preexisting spiritualistic and racialist notions interlaced with his own mystic “observations.” His aim was to formulate a more Christian form of Theosophy or a corrected form of Rosicrucianism. The result is a truly complex body of doctrines. Steiner spoke of Christ Jesus, astral bodies, Vulcan, karma, Atlantis, reincarnation, the Akashic record, multiple gods, Lemuria, the supersensible world, Ahriman, group souls, etheric bodies, nation souls, Lucifer... The complexity and arcane nature of his teachings persuades some that he must have had access to profound, hidden truths. One can easily feel the allure of attempting to follow him through his labyrinthine expositions. But Steiner was at best a most unreliable sage. His basic technique — adapted from Theosophy — was to ransack spiritualistic doctrines from around the world, and then to stitch them together in a more or less coherent whole. [1] Coherence, in this case, is largely in the eye of the observer. Anthroposophists may find Steiner’s assertions benevolent and consistent with one another. Non-Anthroposophists may reach very different conclusions.

Let’s back off for a moment, however, and emphasize the positive. Not all of Steiner’s teachings are self-evidently repellent. He often spoke with benevolence and optimism. He taught that human beings have great capacities and potential. Even on the subject of race, he could occasionally seem liberal-minded. He emphasized human progress, spiritual advancement, and the reconciliation of man’s inner nature with exterior universal truth. For his followers, there is a bright, persuasive appeal in his doctrines. His intricate cosmic vision, with its assurances that man is not alone and that life is not meaningless, offers a remedy for the emptiness so many individuals find at the core of existence. Steiner taught that humans once possessed the ability to directly participate in the spiritual realm — and he said that the power to perceive spiritual truths, and thus to participate in the divine, could be revived through Anthroposophy. This power includes the ability to communicate with departed loved ones. [2] Thus, for his adherents, Steiner held out a glorious promise: transcendent fulfillment.

Seen in its largest context, the appeal of Anthroposophy is the same as that of any spiritualistic system. All such systems attempt to address basic human longings. We all want to find meaning in life; we all want to evade death; we all want God (or the gods, or karma) to smile on us; we all wish life were more romantic, or magical, or at least satisfying; we all want surcease of sorrow. [3] Our desire for these things is so intense that most of us are strongly impelled to find a belief system that promises them. Usually people adopt whatever system their parents espouse (Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, what have you), but some shop around, shifting from one system to another, and a few wind up wandering along the pastel-shaded hallways of Anthroposophy. In any case, the intrinsic requirement for adopting spiritualistic beliefs is just that: belief, faith. [4] Nothing that Steiner or Jesus or Moses or Mary Baker Eddy or Billy Graham taught is provable or knowable in rational terms. The very existence of God (or the gods) is debatable. Thoughtful believers, even the most devout, must acknowledge the possibility of doctrinal error: They have their dark nights of the soul, and wrestling with their doubts leads them to reexamine — and perhaps then to reaffirm — their faith. Such deliberative, humble piety is worthy of profound respect. Danger arises, however, when faith is not leavened with humility. Unsophisticated believers — “true” believers, whose beliefs can be quite different from what other true believers truly believe — often wind up at each others’ throats: Protestants vs. Catholics, Christians vs. Jews, Hindus vs. Muslims... 

Steiner claimed that his followers do not need belief — they can use the “spiritual science” of Anthroposophy to objectively investigate physical and spiritual phenomena. He taught that Anthroposophy uses the trained, clairvoyant mind in the same way that physicists, for example, use their trained brains and senses. But whereas physicists are restricted to that thin slice of reality called the physical universe, Anthroposophists can accurately investigate all of creation, including the spirit realm. Therefore, Anthroposophists know the truth, and potentially they can know all the truth. 

The case Steiner made for his “spiritual science” is appealing. But then he unwittingly undercut it by telling some of what he knew. Here are just a few of Steiner’s “scientific” observations: 

Thinking does not occur in the brain, except among people who are totally materialistic: A thoroughgoing materialist is a mere “thinking automaton.” [5] 

The Earth does not orbit the Sun. Rather, Earth, Venus, and Mercury follow the Sun on its corkscrew, lemniscate-inscribing course through the heavens. [6]


The British Isles, like other islands and indeed whole continents, are not anchored to the ocean floor. Instead, they float and are held in position by the influence of the stars. [7]

The heart does not pump blood. Instead, it is a sense organ. [8] 

Most people, hearing such drivel, laugh, shake their heads, and move on. Yet Steiner won adherents. How? Steiner used the classic brainwashing technique of convincing his band of disciples that all of their previous opinions were utterly wrong. The universe is vastly different from what they thought. To learn the truth, they had to turn to him. And when he told them a “truth” (for instance, that islands float), they had to accept it on faith — which Steiner told them was not faith but science. 

Steiner’s appropriation of the term “science” does not mean that he had high regard for true science (physics, chemistry, astronomy...) or for the rigorous discipline of the scientific method. In fact, Anthroposophy — "spiritual science" — is fundamentally antithetical to science: It attributes everything in the universe to supersensible spiritual agencies than cannot be measured or recorded, while it dismisses physical phenomena as having virtually no intrinsic value or meaning. Ponder, for instance, Steiner’s comments about the physical phenomenon of gravity. Steiner thought gravity meaningless precisely because it is phenomenological (i.e., in and of the physical realm): “It would be wonderful if you could stop speaking about gravity. You can certainly achieve speaking of it only as a phenomenon. The best would be if you considered gravity only as a word.” [9]

At my Waldorf school, the study of science occurred in the context of a pervasive antiscientific bias. The shortcomings of science were conveyed to us in many ways, in discussion groups and even in what were nominally our science classes. Our physics/chemistry teacher recommended the book SCIENCE IS A SACRED COW, which aims to debunk science and the scientific method. [10] I read it and reread it. Our headmaster assigned us the book THE FAILURE OF TECHNOLOGY, which became the subject of our senior discussion meetings (meetings in which teachers spoke a lot and students very little). The book’s subtitle is “Perfection Without Purpose”; the thesis is that a technologist’s “preoccupation with facts...blocks his approach to that more spiritual wisdom which cannot be reduced to mechanics.” [11] Spiritual wisdom, and the ways science and technology block it, were our focus. The meetings reiterated and underscored several lessons that we, as longtime Waldorf students, had already absorbed deeply: We should doubt “facts” (i.e., physical phenomena), mistrust our senses and brains, see through the pretensions of scientists and engineers, and follow our heartfelt intuitions instead. Mr. Gardner himself generally led each meeting.

All in all, science meant little to us. Mythology lay much closer to the heart of our curriculum, especially in the lower grades. And in the upper grades, “truth” tended to be a metaphysical rather than an empirical concept.

Let’s return to what Steiner knew and how his adherents have responded to his knowledge. Steiner hardly ever revealed a “truth” that caused dissension or disbelief among the ranks of Anthroposophists. Virtually every pronouncement he made seems to have been accepted. But here is an exceptional case in which he apparently went too far. In 1923, answering a question about the teaching of the French language, Steiner said:

“The use of the French language quite certainly corrupts the soul. The soul acquires nothing more than the possibility of clichés. Those who enthusiastically speak French transfer that to other languages. The French are also ruining what maintains their dead language, namely, their blood. The French are committing the terrible brutality of moving black people to Europe, but it works, in an even worse way, back on France. It has an enormous effect on the blood and the race and contributes considerably toward French decadence. The French as a race are reverting.” [12] 

The Anthroposophical publishers of the volume in which these words appear were so shocked by them — especially by Steiner’s blatant racism — that they appended a lengthy apology and explanation. Their faith, in this uncommon instance, wavered, which is surely to their credit. Yet this rare wavering emphasizes Anthroposophists’ ability to accept Steiner’s other tenets, many of which are equally dubious.

For anyone who does not subscribe to Anthroposophy, Steiner’s blunders must seriously weaken the plausibility of “spiritual science.” Steiner's errors are hard to overlook or excuse. From today’s perspective, his racism was a particularly grave error. Perhaps we might explain it away by saying that Steiner was a man of his times, sharing the prevailing views and attitudes (including prejudices) of his times. The trouble with such a defense is that it undermines the indispensable premise that Steiner, a professed clairvoyant, could see ultimate truth. The whole point of being a soothsayer, after all, is to say sooth: speak truth. Yet Steiner repeatedly failed this paramount test of his “profession.” Once the French card, and the race card, and the function-of-the-brain card, and the floating-Britain card, and the Earth-doesn’t-orbit-the-Sun card, and the like, are pulled out, the entire castle of cards threatens to come crashing down.

Some students at my Waldorf did not succumb to the school’s agenda. Those with thick skins, or high innate levels of skepticism — or who attended for only a few years — came through relatively unscathed. Other students were affected to varying degrees. Most of my schoolmates seemed to enjoy the school. It was, for many, a cozy place. Those who did not suspect covert manipulations by the faculty had no reason to rebel, beyond ordinary childhood motives. Certainly teachers at all Waldorfs must attempt to create a pleasant environment, or else their schools — dependent on voluntary enrollments — would close. Because Steiner’s Anthroposophical doctrines are usually kept in the background, different children necessarily come away with different (but almost uniformly vague) understandings of those doctrines. I’d guess that at my school, only a small but not insignificant minority of the students were essentially won over: Waldorf gave them what their souls seemed to need, and they entered into a long-term commitment. Thereafter they came back for reunions and Carol Sings and special events, they contributed to annual fund-raising appeals, and they did what they could to further the school’s mission. Some eventually became dedicated, Steiner-studying Anthroposophists. 

I escaped that fate, but it was a near thing. During my eleven years at Waldorf, I stood quite close to the fire, and I was drawn to its warmth — yet I pulled back. My nearest approach to uncritical allegiance came during the excitement and nostalgia of graduation day. On that June morning, I considered myself profoundly religious (although I could not list the Ten Commandments nor quote more than a few short Bible verses). I thrilled to the knowledge that the world is more spirit than physics, more ideal than actual. I was vain, moralistic, priggish, innocent, shy, racially bigoted, and (confusingly, for a kudo-swollen student) utterly lacking in self-confidence. [13] I was judgmental yet uncertain. I had no patience with science and its shallow half-truths. I prized imagination over intellect, sensibility over sense. I was right about everything, always — don’t even ask. (Please, don’t ask.) I had only superficial knowledge of the US economy and the major political issues in the wide world — and I didn’t care. Everything that I saw outside the school seemed to be beneath me. I was directionless. I had no career ambitions, no academic focus, no marketable skills. I had precious few social skills. I longed for a beauteous, buxom Aryan mate. (Few real girls approximated my fantasy. Marilyn, where are you? I never dated much.) I half-yearned for easeful death, or better yet a crusade, or salvation. I dreamed of writing a book titled GOD that would reconcile all the world’s religions. I dreamed of becoming President of the United States. I dreamed of performing — I wasn’t sure what — something — a titanic, stupendous something. But I had no intention of lifting a finger. I was on hold, waiting...  In other words, I had been brainwashed, with a thoroughness and intensity I could not fathom. (Call me the Manchurian Schoolboy.) And, I should add, I was — without quite realizing it — deeply unhappy. Thank God, I was deeply unhappy. As the full realization of my dejection slowly dawned on me during the following years, I became motivated to try to comprehend my condition and then to repair it. Even so, only gradually was I able to fight my way down from the fog in which (metaphorically speaking: only a metaphor) I levitated and at long last find my footing in reality. It took me more than twenty years to fully deprogram myself. [14]

I would not want others to undergo that long, wearisome struggle. If you contemplate sending your sons or daughters to a Waldorf school, work hard to learn precisely what the school’s curriculum and goals are. How much of the curriculum entails copying from the chalkboard? Is creation of "lesson books" given too much emphasis? Is discussion encouraged? Is dissent allowed? Are prayers ("morning verses") mandatory? What sorts of books are in (or banned from) the library? What sorts of textbooks, if any, are used in class? Are science courses taught straight, or with a mystical bent? Ask what role myths and legends play in the curriculum. Ask who Rudolf Steiner was. Ask for his views on evolution. Ask about clairvoyance. Bring out lists of Steiner quotations that raise questions for you, then ask those questions. [15] Try to learn how deeply committed the school is to Steiner’s doctrines. [16] As I indicated earlier, not all Waldorfs are completely alike. Some may distance themselves from Steiner’s racism, for instance. The problem, however, is that Steiner’s entire system is built on his clairvoyant, mystical “insights” (which include his racist “insights”). A Waldorf school cannot wholly rid itself of Steiner's mysticism unless it wholly renounces Steiner — in which case it ceases to be a real Waldorf school. Halfway measures may be possible — affirming some of Steiner’s mystical teachings while rejecting others — but mysticism would necessarily remain entrenched in the curriculum, while some of the “truths” that gave that mysticism its justification would be absent. The resulting pedagogy, tacking among an expurgated set of Steiner’s teachings, would inevitably lose much of its coherence and rationale.

Jewish parents may want to take special precautions. Steiner was arguably not a rabid anti-Semite. But any Jewish parents who are considering a Waldorf school should think carefully about Steiner’s racism and the emphasis he placed on Christ. Evaluate, too, Steiner’s comments about the historical role of Judaism, such as the following: “Judaism as such has long outlived itself and no longer has a legitimate place in the modern life of peoples; the fact that it has nevertheless succeeded in maintaining itself is an aberration in world history the consequences of which had to follow.” [17] You also may want to investigate the debate over possible ties between some Anthroposophists and Nazis. [18]

All parents of all backgrounds who consider Waldorf schools for their children should press persistently for honest answers from the schools about their policies and underlying philosophy. If you mistrust any answers you receive, send your kids elsewhere. Their lives are in your hands.

— Roger Rawlings

To reach the next section of “Unenlightened”,

please use the following link:

"Clairvoyant Vision"

After their original, wooden headquarters burned to the ground, Steiner's devotees reached farther into their pockets to fund the construction of a replacement, made of concrete. When I was a junior at a Waldorf high school, I spent a month touring Germany with several schoolmates, chaperoned by our German teacher. We made a side trip to visit this headquarters. To my embarrassment, I don't remember much about the visit. I think all of us students took it for granted that one our teachers would lead us to the epicenter of the Steiner cult. Featuring colored-glass windows, a huge pipe organ, and a towering statue of Christ, Lucifer, and Ahriman, it proved to be more or less what we expected: a cathedral.

[R.R. sketch, 2009.]

Here I am, self-conscious and self-important, 

during my senior year, 

when I was student council president.

(We guys did not usually wear jackets and ties;

in this photo, I was costumed for the camera.)


(Kansas City: Inter-Collegiate Press, 1964).]

My classmates and I were assigned this book:

Friedrich Georg Juenger,

At the urging of a science teacher, many of us

also read this one:

Anthony Standen,


Steiner's teachings are rarely easy to grasp. If, reading Steiner, you find his words nearly incomprehensible, don't worry — just absorb the flavor of Steiner's occultism. Later, if you become habituated to Steiner's odd language and views, you'll be able to make more sense his statements. Waldorf teachers generally accept Steiner's statements as revealed Truth.

The images above depict conditions for human beings a) long ago, when the Earth and Sun were united (left), and b) nowadays, when the Sun and Earth are separate (right). 

“[T]he sun's influence keeps human beings small ... Now that the sun is separate, the earth receives far less radiation from it. When the sun was still united with the earth, all its forces reached the earth from within. No wonder that now, as the sun rotates, it can shine upon a human being at every point on the earth, but in ancient times, when it had to send out its rays from the centre of the earth, it was able to project its forces upon only one human being. Once the sun began to work out at the periphery, it made human beings smaller.” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM CRYSTALS TO CROCODILES (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002), pp. 162-163. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on the image on p. 162; both the ancient situation and the present situation are depicted in the book, as shown here.]

The colors I have used for my copy of Steiner's sketch of the ancient situation (left) indicate that the Sun was inside the Earth; but Steiner also said the opposite: “If this is the earth, which I am drawing very small, and if that is the sun, with the earth in it... (p. 163). Either way, he meant that all the solar system was at one time a single globe. This is almost consistent with scientific truth, except that Steiner said there were living beings then, including the human being who received the Sun's radiance. Indeed, the Sun and the Earth and the single human being alive then were actually all the same being: “Yes, gentlemen, it is true that we all descend from one human being ... [H]e was the earth itself" (p. 162). 

Consider, also, Steiner's inconsistent descriptions of the Earth's movements now that the Earth and the Sun have separated. On some occasions, Steiner made such statements as this: “Here is the sun and there is the earth, which rotates around the former..." (p. 163). Good. That statement is true. But on other occasions, Steiner said something very different. He said that the Earth does not orbit the Sun“[W]e can certainly speak of a daily motion of the Earth around her axis, but by no means of a yearly motion of the Earth around the Sun ... Were the Earth revolving round the Sun, we should expect her axis, which owing to its inertia remains parallel, to point in the direction of different fixed stars during this revolution. But it does not! If the Earth revolved round the Sun, the axis could not indicate the direction of the Pole-star, for the point indicated would itself have to revolve round the Pole-star....” — Rudolf Steiner, MAN - HIEROGLYPH OF THE UNIVERSE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972). 

Steiner's statements are often absurd. Consider the ludicrous claim that the Sun causes people to be small (“[T]he sun's influence keeps human beings small"). Occasionally Steiner's statements accord with reality, but usually they do not. They are marred by absurdities and inconsistencies. As a result, almost everything Steiner ever said becomes suspect. We might almost reach the conclusion that he was unreliable. [For more on this, and specifically Steiner's statements about the orbital and/or non-orbital movements of the Earth, see "Deception".]

Representative watercolor painting,

by a Waldorf student.

[Courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.]

Anthroposophists generally assert that their "spiritual science" is the latest, most complete form of the deep spiritual wisdom that has appeared in varying forms throughout human evolution. "Anthroposophy is an occult science arising out of deep Initiation-Knowledge that has been attained during many centuries, and which is pre-eminently given in the form that is right and suitable for our modern age." — Eleanor Merry, "The Anthroposophical World-Conception: An Introductory Outline", ANTHROPOSOPHY, A QUARTERLY REVIEW OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE, 7, 1932, p. 293.

Anthroposophy is laden with concepts 
taken from ancient superstitions
and early, discredited science. 
What it largely lacks is truth.
(Dover, 2001), p. 41.]

For intriguing statements Steiner made

about science, please use this link: "Science".

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


A report on life as a Waldorf student

An overview of Waldorf schooling; a far longer version of "I Went to Waldorf", including:

"Unenlightened - Part 2"

"Unenlightened - Part 3"

"Unenlightened - Part 4"


"Unenlightened - Part 6"

"Unenlightened - Part 7"

Some illustrations appearing here at Waldorf Watch 
are closely related to the contents of the pages 
on which they appear; 
others are not 
— the latter provide general context. 


[1] For Steiner’s discussion of Theosophy, see e.g., Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY: An Introduction to the Spiritual Processes in Human Life and in the Cosmos (Anthroposophic Press, 1994), and Rudolf Steiner, SPIRITUALISM, MADAME BLAVATSKY, AND THEOSOPHY: An Eyewitness View of Occult History (Anthroposophic Press, 2001).

Christopher Bamford, editor-in-chief of SteinerBooks, gives a concise summary: “[S]teiner felt the necessity of refounding Theosophical insight ...  [H]e felt he had to infuse Theosophy, which had an anti-Christian bias, with the real meaning of Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha.” — Rudolf Steiner, WHAT IS ANTHROPOSOPHY: Three Spiritual Perspectives on Self-Knowledge (Anthroposophic Press, 2002), p. 19, introduction by Christopher Bamford.] Golgotha is Calvary, the site of the Crucifixion.

For "the real meaning of Christ," see "Sun God". Anthroposophy is "Christian" only in a gnostic, heretical sense.

[2] Rudolf Steiner, STAYING CONNECTED: How to Continue Your Relations with Those Who Have Died (Anthroposophic Press, 1999).

Also see Rudolf Steiner, LIGHT FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), which preserves correspondence between Steiner and Helmuth von Moltke, head of the German general staff during World War I. Steiner’s association with German militarism is noteworthy, as is Steiner’s continued “communication” with von Moltke after the latter’s death.

A third Anthroposophical book about messages from beyond the grave: THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER (Anthroposophic Press, 1974). Translated from German, the English-language edition carries the subtitle “After Death [sic] Communications of a Young Artist Who Died in World War I.” Circumstantial evidence leads me to think that the translator was a member of the faculty at my Waldorf school. Both the translator and the teacher were Anthroposophists named Joseph Wetzl; both were passably fluent in German and English; and both had ties to Spring Valley, NY. If my guess is correct, then the translator was my class’s homeroom teacher during grades 6 - 8. (The translator named Joseph Wetzl, operating our of Spring Valley, NY, also translated Otto Fränkel-Lundborg's WHAT IS ANTHROPOSOPHY? (St. George Publications, 1977; reprinted by Rudolf Steiner College Press).) 

[3] Dissatisfaction deep in our psyches may provide much of the motivation for religious aspiration. The first Noble Truth of Buddhism — Buddha’s underlying insight into the human condition — is “dukkha” or suffering. We humans are discontented, full of sorrows and regrets. [See, for example, .] Why do we have a seemingly insatiable appetite for acquisition? What leads us into almost constant wars and conquests? Why are we so avid for escapist entertainment — everything from movies and sports to virtual-reality computer games? Why are we drawn to alcohol and other drugs that alter consciousness? Not because we are happy with things as they are: We yearn for more, bigger, better, different. (As the protagonist of Saul Bellow’s HENDERSON THE RAIN KING repeatedly repeats, “I want, I want, I want.”) Gnawing emptiness may account for much of our behavior — including our tendency to adopt (or some would say invent) religions. If we cannot find release from suffering in the physical world, maybe we can find it in the spiritual world — if not in this life, then maybe in the next. So we build churches, make offerings, and seek solace. 

From a Western perspective, Buddhism is more nearly a form of therapy than a conventional religion: It aims at finding an end to suffering, primarily through detachment from longings. Buddha explicitly declined to answer such typical religious questions as whether God exists, whether there is life after death, etc. “[I]t's not that I know the answers to these questions and I'm not telling you, or that I don't know the answers to these questions. It's just that I know for sure that speculating on these questions does not help to live the life that we want to practice ... Suffering and the end of suffering, that is what's important. About that I have spoken.” [] Anthroposophy bears scant resemblance to Buddhism, yet Steiner spoke of “[T]he longing human soul in its yearning, tormented emptiness” [THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 224] and, like Buddha, he offered his system as an antidote to suffering: “[W]e may point to spiritual science as a bearer of the redemption of human longing ... [S]piritual science now provides what tempestuous but also woeful human beings have sought for a long time.” [Ibid., p. 231.]

[4] A fascinating theory formulated by cognitive psychologists is that we are born with an innate predisposition to believe in the supernatural. We have this disposition due to the malfunctioning of our modes of perception. We think about physical objects differently than we think about psychological objects (i.e., creatures with minds). We instinctively place psychological objects in a special category, as if they were not physical — as if thoughts and feelings were not produced by a physical object called a brain. This leads us to feel that minds are not bound to bodies — the notion of bodiless “souls” feels right to us. Further, because we know that minds have intentions, it feels right to us to believe that most events result from someone’s intentions. If the world exists, then it must have been intended — it is a “creation” — which means there is a “creator.” In sum, the theory is that religion is an illusion caused by the way our minds naturally, but imperfectly, function. See Paul Bloom, “Is God an Accident?”, THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, December, 2005, p. 105, . See also Robin Marantz Henig, “Darwin’s God,” THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, March 4, 2007, at , especially the discussion of “the byproduct theory.”

Related subjects:

    1) New research shows that the prevalence of “magical thinking” or superstition (seeing propitious signs, wearing “lucky” clothing on important occasions, and so forth) is far more widespread than once thought. Magical thinking has conferred an evolutionary benefit (even if such thinking is false). “The appetite for [magical] beliefs appears to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, and for good reason. The sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress. In excess, it can lead to compulsive or delusional behavior.” — Benedict Carey, “Do You Believe in Magic?”, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Jan. 23, 2007, D1, .

    2) A report in THE WASHINGTON POST WEEKLY EDITION (May 14-20, 2007, pp. 9-10) describes how humans project personalities — in effect souls — onto robots. The same psychological predisposition that can cause us to believe in gods can lead us to treat mechanical devices as psychological objects. For example, a US Army colonel stopped the test of a bomb-detecting robot because “This test, he charged, was inhumane [the robot could get killed]” [p. 8]. Some soldiers who use such robots “award their [robots] ‘battlefield promotions’ and ‘purple hearts’” [p. 8]. MIT graduate students working on robots are sometimes so spooked by the apparently human qualities of their own creations that “[t]hey couldn’t stand the way [a robot] seemed to 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.” 

   3) As I describe in my essay "Truth", our difficulty in accepting the reality of death — our own or that of a loved one — may lead us, at least subconsciously, to assume that life continues after death, that identity continues after death. This denial of death may have benefited our ancestors in the struggle for survival, and it may account for our tendency to develop religions focused on life after death.

   4) Brain chemicals may play an important role in spiritualistic belief: See "Dopamine".

On the question of belief:

Despite claiming that Anthroposophy is a science, Steiner repeatedly stressed the importance of belief and faith. Losing faith would mean losing the means of evolving upward spiritually: “[T]he forces expressed in the word ‘faith’ are necessary to the soul. For the soul incapable of faith become withered, dried-up as the desert ... If we do not possess forces such as are expressed in the word ‘faith’, something in us goes to waste ... Were men in reality to lose all faith, they would soon see what it means for evolution. By losing the forces of faith they would be incapacitated for finding their way about in life; their very existence would be undermined by fear, care, and anxiety. To put it briefly, it is through the forces of faith alone that we can receive the life which should well up to invigorate the soul. This is because, imperceptible at first for ordinary consciousness, there lies in the hidden depths of our being something in which our true ego is embedded. This something, which immediately makes itself felt if we fail to bring it fresh life, is the human sheath where the forces of faith are active. We may term it the faith-soul, or — as I prefer — the faith-body. It has hitherto been given the more abstract name of astral body. The most important forces of the astral body are those of faith, so the term astral body and the term faith-body are equally justified.” — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC CHRISTIANITY AND THE MISSION OF CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUTZ (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 162-163.

Belief must be paired to spiritual knowledge, Steiner said — his system, Anthroposophy, is intended to provide such knowledge. But belief is nonetheless indispensable; indeed, it is the "fruit" of Christ's cross: “Out of the womb of time there is born for us human beings that which is beyond time. If we stand on this firm support, we base upon it, not a blind belief, but a belief permeated by wisdom, truth and knowledge, and we may say: What must, will come; and nothing prevents us from throwing our best energies into what we believe to be inevitable. Belief is the real fruit of the cross.”— Rudolf Steiner, THE EAST IN THE LIGHT OF THE WEST (Kessinger Publishing, 1999), pp. 2-3.

Anthroposophy is, in fact, a religion. See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"

[5] People “living in materialistic impulses” dwell exclusively on the plain of physical reality. They are “blinded” to higher realities. Thinking only with their physical brains, they have no spiritualistic or clairvoyant capacities. They are not fully human: They are mechanical men:

“When people are as blinded by materialistic thoughts as they became during the nineteenth century and right into the present, the physical body becomes a copy of the spirit and soul living in materialistic impulses. In that case, it is not incorrect to say that the brain thinks. It is then, in fact, correct. By being firmly enmeshed in materialism, we have people who not only think poorly about the body, soul, and spirit, but people who think materially and feel materially. What that means is that materialism causes the human being to become a thinking automaton, that the human being then becomes something that thinks, feels, and wills physically.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 115.

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

Philosophers have long debated whether humans have free will. If we don’t have it, then there might be some justification for referring to us as automatons: biological mechanisms whose actions are determined by the laws of physics or by God’s will. But this proposition would violate Steiner’s system, which requires people to make decisions that will send them, deservedly, to higher or lower levels in their next lives. Note that in discussing automatons, Steiner was not outlining a universal human condition; he was referring to people who had taken the wrong turn, toward materialism rather than spiritualism, and who therefore were on their way to becoming less than truly human in future incarnations. “The human being is thus in danger of drifting into the Ahrimanic world, in which case the spirit-soul will evaporate into the cosmos.” [For a recent report on the question of free will, see Dennis Overbye, “Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, Jan. 2, 2007, at .]

[6] Answering a question about planetary movements, Steiner drew a helical line. He positioned the Sun at about the midpoint of the line. He strung out Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn on the left half of the line, and he put Mercury, Venus, and Earth on the right half. Steiner’s words: 

“Now you simply need to imagine how that [i.e., the line] continues in a helix. Everything else is only apparent movement. The helical line continues into cosmic space. Therefore, it is not that the planets move around the Sun, but these three, Mercury, Venus, and the Earth, follow the Sun, and these three, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, precede it.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 30-31.

Steiner discusses the same motion in DISCUSSION WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997). There, the line traveled by the Sun and planets is described as a “lemniscatory screw-movement.” [p. 167]

Steiner also taught that humans have moved to other heavenly bodies: “[D]uring the Lemurian epoch...the majority of souls withdrew from the earth to other planets, continuing their life on Mars, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, and so forth ... [D]uring the Atlantean epoch, these souls gradually came [back] down to earth in order to incarnate in earthly bodies under the changed earthly conditions. ” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT HISTORY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), p. 36. We have to be careful, if we want to give justice of Steiner’s assertions. Steiner taught that the planets evolve just as humans do, so they would have been different during the ancient migrations. He also said that the humans who moved away were not humans such as exist today: They were less evolved; call them proto-humans. On the other hand, the travels to and from other planets happened pretty recently. (If we judge by true time scales established by science, the Atlantis stage of evolution was yesterday: The Atlantean period was no more than about nine thousand years ago.” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 50.) Scientific information indicates that the planets and humanity have changed very little in a mere 9,000 years.

[7] “With the students, we should at least try to...make it clear that, for instance, an island like Great Britain swims in the sea and is held fast by the forces of the stars. In actuality, such islands do not sit directly upon a foundation; they swim and are held fast from outside. In general, the cosmos creates islands and continents, their forms and locations.” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 607.

Statements like this would seem to represent strategic errors by Steiner. They run so thoroughly contrary to scientific fact, they must drive away potential adherents. But many people are fascinated by magical, amazing descriptions of the universe. For many, young and old, the fantastic always trumps the mundane. In addition, as a point of rhetorical strategy, notice how Steiner moves from specifics that should be nearly impossible to accept (islands float, stars hold them in position) to a generality that is impossible to dispute (“the cosmos creates islands and continents, their forms and locations”), giving the strange specifics a thin cover of truth.

[8] “[T]he heart is indeed a sense organ for perceiving the blood’s movement, not a pump as physicists claim; the coursing of our blood is brought about by our spirituality and vitality.” — Rudolf Steiner, AT HOME IN THE UNIVERSE: Exploring Our Suprasensory Nature (Steiner Books, 2000), p. 84.


[10] Anthony Standen, SCIENCE IS A SACRED COW (E. P. Dutton & Co., 1950). 

The scientific method does have its limits. It cannot deal adequately with unique (i.e., unreproducible) events or with materials or forces that cannot be measured and tested using our physical bodies, our ordinary senses, and/or scientific apparatuses. Seeking ways around these limits has tantalized many fine minds. See, e.g., Owen Barfield’s SAVING THE APPEARANCES (Weslyan University Press, 1957), J.W.N. Sullivan’s THE LIMITATIONS OF SCIENCE (Viking Press, 1933), and Saul Bellow’s foreword to Steiner’s THE BOUNDARIES OF NATURAL SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1983.)

Chafing at the limitations of science is not the same as eliminating them. Take an example: the universal speed limit. To reach distant galaxies, we would need to build spacecraft that could fly faster than light. But apparently this is impossible — the structure of the universe seems to include an absolute speed limit, equal to the speed of light. We can’t will the limit away, any more than a mystic can will away the other laws of physics or the limitations of our senses and brains. But to borrow one of Steiner’s favorite phrases, “in a sense” this is precisely what Anthroposophy attempts to do: abolishing the limits. If only it were possible. Saul Bellow, for one, found academic, scientific knowledge insufficient. “Other people, scholars and scientists, know a great deal more about nature and society ... I nevertheless object that their knowledge is defective — something is missing. That something is poetry.” — Saul Bellow, IT ALL ADDS UP (Viking, 1994), p. 86. Bellow’s quest for a more complete and balanced form of knowledge led him to investigate Anthroposophy, which might “transcend the limits of empirical human knowledge and attain another, higher form of consciousness, a higher ‘spiritual reality.’” — James Atlas, BELLOW: A Biography (Random House, 2000), p. 436. But Bellow 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...‘organs of spiritual perception’ or the strange mingling of Abraham with Zarathustra ... ‘It was all too much for me' [he said].” [Ibid., p. 437.]

Science and logic are not perfect tools, but they are the best we have. And as scientific discoveries continue accumulating year after year, expanding our comprehension of the universe, the power and truth of science are increasingly vindicated. Einsteinian physics are repeatedly confirmed. Ditto quantum mechanics. And string theory appears to be inching toward a reconciliation of the two in the form of a “theory of everything.” The limitations of science fade, while alternative approaches to truth grow ever wobblier.

James Atlas probably understates Saul Bellow's interest in Steiner — an interest that Bellow's admirers generally find embarrassing. Bellow read several of Steiner's books and lectures — evidently without coming upon many of Steiner's anti-Semitic statements — and he corresponded with Owen Barfield, a prominent advocate of Steiner's teachings. Bellow yearned for answers to life's mysteries, and he wished for guidance from authorities. [See "The Obedient Bellow" by Edward Mendelson, THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, April 28, 2011, pp. 18-20.] At least as a young man, Bellow — who was Jewish — rebelled against the Jewish establishment and he formed an interest in Jesus. [See "Old Saul and Young Saul" by Edward Mendelson, THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, September 26, 2013, pp. 64-65.] Bellow did not, however, become an Anthroposophist. His relationship with Barfield, like his overall connection with Steiner's teachings, conformed to a pattern repeated often in Bellow's life: initial enthusiasm and submission gradually gave way to disillusionment and complaint. Bellow's eldest son reports that Bellow eventually rejected Steiner. Greg Bellow speaks of his father's "disillusionment with the teachings of Rudolf Steiner," after which Saul Bellow entered a "post-Steiner" period. — Greg Bellow, SAUL BELLOW'S HEART: A Son's Memoir (Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 182.


[11] Friedrich Georg Juenger, THE FAILURE OF TECHNOLOGY (Henry Regency Company, 1956), p. 201.


This is not the only example of Steiner’s hostility toward France. Here’s a statement Steiner made scolding Germans for weakening their racial stock: “Just think how long people who wished to give themselves airs chattered in French in all the German regions ... [W]hat continued on in the language was also perpetrated in other vices ... The legacy of this is still present in the craving to drink absinthe, indeed, even to enjoy cocaine and so on. These things will produce a weak race....” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM COMETS TO COCAINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), p. 284.]

[13] In his essay "The Anthroposophical Indoctrination of Students in Steiner-Waldorf Schools" [see "He Went to Waldorf"], former Waldorf student and teacher Grégoire Perra tells of the "colossal self-assurance" many Waldorf students develop. Despite the apparent contradiction, his point and mine are essentially in accord. Perra says that the self-assurance Waldorf schools often impart, at least to favored students, is essentially false; it is built on nothing real. It often shatters when students leave the cosy Waldorf nest and enter the real world. This was essentially my experience. I was vain; I was right about everything; yet I was fragile, unprepared for the actual conditions I would crash into when I ventured into the world outside Waldorf's walls.

[14] Not all graduates from all Waldorf schools feel as I did, of course. Some come away with happy memories and an abiding love for their schools. The majority of Waldorf graduates are probably somewhere in-between, feeling partly pleased and partly aggrieved — not unlike graduates of most other sorts of schools. The success of Waldorf graduates probably fits a similar bell-shaped curve. Some Waldorf grads are extremely successful in their careers, some struggle most of their lives with little to show for it, and most end up in the middle. The degree of happiness or success exhibited by Waldorf students tells us little. In this essay and my other work about Waldorf and Anthroposophy, I primarily focus on the stated intentions and doctrines of Rudolf Steiner and his followers. How those intentions and doctrines are implemented at various schools probably runs the full gamut of possibilities.

I recently found “Waldorf School’s Life Lessons,” a celebration of my old Waldorf school, in SOUTHERN CROSS REVIEW, a pro-Steiner periodical. [See .] The article, which originally appeared in the Long Island newspaper NEWSDAY, is a fair example of the sort of unconvincing Waldorf puffery that shows up in the media from time to time. Presenting Waldorf success stories, it starts with Waldorf alumnus Kenneth Chenault, the CEO of American Express — a credit card company. (Such companies lend money or credit, charging interest if repayment is not timely.) One of Chenault’s former teachers, Lee Lecraw, praises him: “He was a gem, a pearl. I had that boy in my class for eight years and he never caused any trouble.” The article claims that Steiner established the first Waldorf school in response to “the recklessness of war.” A Waldorf administrator states that Waldorf offers “a classic liberal arts program” by which she apparently means that “We integrate the arts into all aspects of education.” Mrs. Lecraw’s son, Donald, offers a comment on the school’s curriculum: “‘We were gardening, woodworking and crocheting,’ he recalled, while children in other schools were just doing reading, writing, and arithmetic.” The article describes Donald’s academic success after Waldorf and quotes him saying that despite the gardening and so forth, Waldorf “must have gotten a lot of academic stuff into us.” But the academic success of some Waldorf graduates is most likely achieved in spite of, not because of, a curriculum that downplays academics. Waldorf schools by no means offer classic liberal arts programs, nor did Steiner establish the first Waldorf in reaction to war. As for Kenneth Chenault’s success in business, he is the sort of person who probably would have excelled no matter what school he attended. Puff pieces about Waldorf education are uninformative precisely to the degree that they are unrealistically eulogistic.

Chenault is evidently deeply grateful to Mrs. Lecraw. Participating in the Teachers Count ad campaign, he praised her: “Lee was my teacher for several years when I was growing up, and I am blessed to call her a mentor and friend to this day.” [See ] Because Waldorf homeroom teachers usually stay with their classes for several years, the children often form strong attachments to them. This is especially true if the teachers are as kind and warmhearted as Lee Lecraw. The result can extend to alumni's lifelong bonds to the schools themselves. The formation of such bonds is clearly not the same as examining and affirming Steiner’s occultist and racist doctrines. From my own observation, I think it is safe to say that many loyal Waldorf alumni eventually become Anthroposophists to one degree or another; but others do not. (Full disclosure: I knew Kenneth Chenault, Lee Lecraw, and Donald Lecraw, slightly. Ken was in the class five years behind mine; if I recall correctly, Mrs. Lecraw taught my class how to play the recorder — a simple woodwind instrument; Donald was in the class two years ahead of mine.)

The crucial question about Waldorf graduates is how many of them wind up significantly detached from reality and inclined toward mysticism, and how many suffer mental and/or psychological difficulties as a result. Statistics on such subjective yet life-changing matters would be hard to compile. But I can certainly testify to knowing numerous individuals who were scarred by Anthroposophy and Waldorf, including some who considered their lives to have been made much more difficult by Waldorf, and some who never recovered from the deleterious effects of Waldorf. Contacts with survivors of other Waldorf schools suggest that most if not all Waldorf schools produce similar effects among their students. For an account of my efforts to deprogram myself after leaving a Waldorf school, see “My Sad, Sad Story”. (As I hope is clear, the title is self-deprecatory.) Reports by other former Waldorf students, teachers, and parents are summarized in "Cautionary Tales".

A final comment. Kenneth Chenault is black. The race of any Waldorf student bears on the current discussion only to the extent that it may have inhibited our white Waldorf teachers from making racially explicit remarks in class. As I have reported, our teachers (all of whom were white) made at least a few bigoted remarks about race to my class (which included only white students). I have been told that the same teachers refrained from such remarks in classes that included nonwhite students. Ken may have been shielded from the racism that some of the rest of us observed.

The brainwashing, as I call it, performed in Waldorf schools can be extensive. Subtle spiritualistic messages may be woven into almost every subject and activity. "It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true ... This fundamental religious current flows through all of education." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD'S CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS AS THE BASIS OF PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 94. Steiner said that young children should be taught material that they understand and material that they do not understand. "[W]e must also do things with the children that do not call for the elucidation of meaning." — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 2000), p. 79. The latter process may be considered indoctrination: "It is sometimes appropriate to return only years later to something you have instilled in the children's souls." — Ibid., p. 85.

For more on the indoctrination undertaken by Waldorf schools, see "Indoctrination". For more on the damage Waldorf schools can cause, see "Harm Potentially Caused by Waldorf Schools" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia. Also see the section "Waldorf Graduates" in "The Upside".

[15] See, e.g., "Say What?"

[16] See "Advice for Parents" and "Clues".

[17] Rudolf Steiner, “Vom Wesen des Judentums” {On the Nature of the Jews}, DIE GESCHICHTE DER MENSCHHEIT UND DIE WELTANSCHAUUNGEN DER KULTURVOLKER, Dornach, 1968; English translation, Council of the Anthroposophical Society in The Netherlands, Zeist/Driebergen, April 1, 2000.

See "RS on Jews".

[18] See "Sympathizers?".

[R.R., 2015.]