"Within the brain nothing at all exists

 of the nature of thought."

— Rudolf Steiner

“Master of the bright thunderbolt,

Save men from painful ignorance.”

— Greek poet Cleanthes,

addressing Zeus


Thinking Without Our Brains


According to Rudolf Steiner, life in the ordinary world is, in many ways, a hollow sham. The physical universe is harsh and cold. The daily grind is oppressive. Descent to earthly incarnation weakens our ties to the spirit realm. Steiner cited with approval a line from Goethe: “[Y]ou are only a dreary guest on the dark earth.” [1] 

Humanity is in pain, Steiner said. He described “the longing human soul in its yearning, tormented emptiness” [2] and he offered his own teachings as the antidote: “[W]e may point to spiritual science [i.e., his own teachings: Anthroposophy] 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.” [3]

Things are worse than ever in the modern age, Steiner suggested, and he knew the reason: Our thinking is badly fouled up. Our values are wrong. And much of this is the result of modern science. Steiner called his own doctrines "spiritual science," claiming that he used clairvoyance to objectively study the spirit realm. Consequently, he sometimes affirmed science and scientific thinking. More often, however, he denounced all sciences except his own. Fundamentally, Anthroposophy is antiscientific. Consider how crazy the modern, scientific point of view really is, according to Steiner:

“The physicist imagines that each body consists of an infinite number of immeasurable small parts, like atoms. They are not in contact with each other, but they are separated by small interstices. They, in the turn, unite to larger forms, the molecules, which still cannot be discerned by the eye. Only when an infinite number of molecules unite, we get what our senses perceived as bodies... 

“Therefore, the modern physicist says: in reality, nothing exists except swinging, moving atoms; everything else is merely a creation of my brain, formed by it when it is touched by the movement in the outer world.

“I do not have to paint how dismal such a view of the world is.” [4]

In offering us a cure for our spiritual sufferings — a cure that would offset the dismal scientific view — Steiner was by no means alone. Many other clerics, theologians, mystics, and gurus have had the same aim, and many of them have attracted far larger followings than Steiner has attracted. But for anyone interested in Waldorf schools, examining Steiner’s teachings is essential, and those teachings must be recognized as a proposed, mystic antidote to the ills of the modern, scientific age. 

We all would like to live in a world where we feel comfortably secure, warmly loved, and purposeful. Science describes a rather different reality: We live on a small planet orbiting a nondescript little star, far from the center of our galaxy; and our galaxy is but one of innumerable galaxies; we may be alone in a vast, dark universe; and nature is indifferent to us, even at times hostile; and we descended from apes; and our bodies are really just biological machines, made up of molecules behaving more or less randomly, molecules that in turn are made up of atoms behaving more or less randomly; and... It is safe to say that most people find these ideas disagreeable. Some — surely a minority — do not. Some are exhilarated by learning about our intricate, glorious, immense universe — the splendors captured, for instance, in photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. But it is undeniable that as science progresses, humanity's claim that it occupies a central place in the cosmos becomes less and less plausible. [5] In this sense, the need many feel for an alternative, more spiritual vision grows ever greater. Steiner’s solution was to serve up a dizzyingly intricate description of a universe teeming with spiritual powers and beings, a universe profoundly attentive to humanity, a universe in which dull, daily reality fades away, a mere wisp of illusion, nothing compared to the transcendent realms of the spirit.

Steiner said that we are led astray by both modern science and, more generally, materialism. By the latter term, he did not mean lust for material possessions or wealth. He meant the belief that the material or physical universe is all that exists — the belief, in other words, that the laws that science has discovered for physical reality extend everywhere, throughout the universe. Steiner argued that science does a reasonably good job of describing superficial conditions in the immediate here-and-now, but he denied that the same conditions exist elsewhere. He said that the findings of science do not apply to the distant past, or the distant future, or the many levels of nonphysical reality. The material realm, he argued, is a temporary, unusual condition, something that evolved out of spiritual reality and that will soon be replaced by a new, higher spiritual reality. Moreover, we are unable to correctly perceive the underlying truths of the physical here-and-now if we rely on our senses and brains — "natural" science is, in this sense, useless.

Our life on Earth is generally ruled by illusion, Steiner said. Our brains and senses cannot penetrate the veil of illusion. Steiner borrowed the Oriental term “maya” for the darkness n which he said most people are caught, [6] and he attributed this darkness to Ahriman, who is one of the two chief demons in his theology:

“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.“ [7]

Steiner differentiated between the Eastern and Western understanding of maya:

“Buddhism emphasizes again and again that the outer world is Maya, illusion. Christianity, on the contrary, says: Man may indeed believe that what he sees of the outer world is an illusion, but that is because his organs are so constituted that he cannot see through the external veil to the spiritual world. The outer world is not an illusion; the illusion has its source in the limitations of human seeing ... [H]uman development through a series of incarnations must be seen as a means whereby man can regain, in a Christian sense, his spirit-eyes and spirit-ears [i.e., clairvoyance and clairaudience] in order to see the external world as it really is. Repeated earth-lives are therefore not meaningless: they are the path which will enable man to look at the outer world — from which Buddhism wishes to liberate him — and to see it irradiated by the spirit. To overcome the physical appearance of the world by acquiring the spiritual vision that man does not yet possess [i.e., "exact" clairvoyance], and to dispel the human error whereby the outer world can seem to be only Maya — that is the innermost impulse of Christianity.” [8] In this statement, as in many others, what Steiner means by “Christianity” is actually his own body of doctrines, Anthroposophy — which most Christians would find quite alien to their faith. [9] But the main point is that Steiner professed to offer a system of perception and cognition that transcends the limitations of our senses and brains. 

Steiner claimed to perceive the outlines of human evolution. He said that we have progressed from primitive types of consciousness to ever higher and more accurate forms, culminating for now in Anthroposophy. He argued that natural science, too, has evolved. By the 19th century, it had reached a high plateau, and it produced results of real value to mankind during that period. But its time is now past. In the modern world, Steiner said, spiritual truth is flowing once again and science must be overcome to enable us to apprehend spiritual truth. Science and the material world are slated for retirement.

“[T]he task of the previous epoch was to find natural science. At that time the laws of nature were good if they were rightly used by man to build up external world conceptions. But there is nothing absolutely good or bad in this external world of Maya. In our time the laws of Nature would be bad and evil, were they still to be used to build up a world conception at a time when spiritual life is flowing into the sense world. These words are not to be taken as directed against what past ages have done; they are directed against what wants to remain as it was in earlier ages and will not put itself at the service of the new revelation.” [10] The “new revelation” can be found in Anthroposophy, which Steiner called “spiritual science” but actually is — as his words suggest — a mystical religion that devalues natural science. [11]


Steiner taught that the corrupting influence of scientific, materialistic thinking spreads outward from science into all spheres of human life, including philosophy:

“Nietzsche was impelled to bring up in purely spiritual fashion everything which he thought or experienced in the depth of his soul. To create a world-concept from the spiritual events in which the soul itself participates – this was the tendency of his thought. But the positivistic world conception of his age, the age of natural science, swept in upon him. In this conception there was nothing but the purely materialistic world, void of spirit.” [12]

The blight of scientific, materialistic thinking extends even further, all the way into mainstream religion. (In the following quotation, “Christian” clearly does not refer to Anthroposophy but to orthodox Christian denominations.)

“The brain is an instrument for purely intellectual apprehension. Intellectualism and materialistic thinking are one and the same, for all the thinking that goes on in science, in theology, in the sphere of modern Christian consciousness — all of it is the product of the human brain alone, is materialistic. This manifests itself, on the one hand, in the empty formalism of belief; on the other, in Bolshevism [sic: emphasis by Steiner] ... [T]he materialistic brain represents a process of decay: materialistic thinking unfolds only through processes of destruction, death-processes, which are taking place in the brain.” [13]

Materialistic thinking — that is, thinking that relies on the material organ called the brain — will doom humanity, creating wholly materialistic human beings, unless we find a spiritualistic remedy. Lacking spiritual truth — that is, lacking Anthroposophy — humanity may cut itself off completely from the spirit. This would be lead to our utter destruction.

“The materialists of to-day would surely protest, if they were to be looked upon as prophets. Nevertheless they are prophets ... If no preventive measures are taken, then the conditions which the materialists describe will really arise; these will then be reality ... [I]f their materialistic world-conception were to triumph, the conditions which I have described to you would have to arise. The materialistic world-conception MUST NOT [sic] triumph! “ [14]

Steiner considered this matter so serious that, in discussing it, he employed a term he usually avoided: sin. Materialistic thinking — which as we have seen is associated with maya caused by Ahriman — is sinful. 

“The essential point is to change our ways of thinking and of feeling — otherwise we cannot reach a really spiritual way of looking at things. This gives us an outlook, a perspective, that will help us to achieve the rise from sin as opposed to the fall into sin.” [15] Materialistic thinking, science, is thus evil. It is sinful. And it will lead to our ruination.

The essence of the sin Steiner described is reliance on the brain. Steiner taught that the brain, being a merely physical organ, is incapable for real cognition. It can learn nothing of ultimate importance. The nerves and brain are merely a physical expression of real cognition, which occurs elsewhere. In this sense, “materialistic thinking” is not so much the content of sinful thoughts as the use of the wrong organ in our efforts to think. The use of the mere, material brain leads us into error.

“The beautiful structure of the outer cortex is, in a sense, a degeneration. It represents more of a digestive system in the outer portions of the brain. People need not be particularly proud of the mantle of the brain; it is more like a degeneration ... We have the mantle of the brain so that the nerves having to do with cognition can be properly nourished ... [T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition; they are only the expression of cognition in the physical system.” [16]

Actual cognition, according to Steiner, is clairvoyance, and it does not occur in the brain. Here is Steiner discussing the preparation for occult initiation:

“Preparation consists in a strict and definite cultivation of the life of thought and feeling, through which the psycho-spiritual body becomes equipped with higher senses and organs of activity in the same way that natural forces have fitted the physical body with organs built out of indeterminate living matter ... Thoughts and feelings of a new kind and unknown before will be noticed uprising in the soul ... And just as the eyes and ears of the physical body are built by natural forces out of living matter, so will the organs of clairvoyance build themselves out of the feelings and thoughts thus evoked.” [17] 

Real cognition, Steiner said, comes to us from the spirit realm. In a sense, we do not think the important, real thoughts, the thoughts that reveal spiritual truth. Rather, the gods think these thoughts, and our brains are mere receptacles for the gods' thoughts — imperfect receptacles. To truly apprehend the gods' thoughts, to attain real cognition, we must develop better organs: incorporeal organs of clairvoyance.


Steiner pinned his teachings on the rejection of science, the brain, and intellect — that is, real knowledge of the real world. Instead, he advocated clairvoyance (which does not exist [18]), operating through imaginary, non-material organs. This is moonshine, yet it is the essence of Steiner’s teachings.

Any worldview that warns us away from the use of our brains must be suspect. It deserves our deepest skepticism or, indeed, it deserves utter rejection. Anthroposophy encourages us to turn our backs on truth and the hard-won fruits of human philosophical, scientific, and, yes, theological progress. It encourages us to reject real knowledge and replace it with fantasy, delusion, and ignorance. The only sane response to this advice is a firm No Thanks.

Science is mankind’s highest attainment. Raising ourselves laboriously from millennia of ignorance and superstition, we have begun to gain genuine information about  our surroundings and ourselves. This is not something we should lightly toss away. It is our finest legacy and our greatest hope. And yet Steiner would junk it in favor of mystical claptrap.

We all yearn for the transcendent. We all chafe at the limitations of our lives and conditions, our unfulfilled desires, our mortality. We all wish for something more — we want to rise from dreariness to joyous fulfillment. But it should be perfectly clear that we will solve none of our problems by rejecting real knowledge and turning to fanciful illusions instead. We must stand firmly on the truth, whether or not we find the truth disagreeable. We must have the courage to face reality and make the best of it. Running away into fantasy solves nothing.

If we are to improve our lot, we will do it by turning to precisely the things Steiner wanted us to discount: our brains, rationality, science, and our expanding store of real information — real knowledge. This is the true path, the upward ascent from blindness to sight, from falsehood to truth. We have been led upward by the great scientists, philosophers, scholars, and theologians of the past, incandescent minds who pushed back the darkness. We should build on their gifts to us, not squander them. We have it in our power to improve ourselves, if only we will have the courage and intellectual honesty to do so.

"The brain does not produce thoughts." — Henk Van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 16.

“As soon as we begin to think with our fingers — and one can think with one's fingers and toes much more brightly, once one makes the effort, than with the nerves of the head — as soon as we begin to think with that part of us which has not entirely become matter, when we think with the lower part of our being, then our thoughts are the thoughts of our karma." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 126.

“The head only looks on at all that occurs. The head is really only an apparatus for reflecting what the body does. The body thinks, the body counts. The head is only a spectator.” — Rudolf Steiner, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 159.

“If we wish to express in correct diagrammatic form the process of human cognition, we must say: —

“(taking this diagram as representing the external physical human organism), that in all this external bodily organism no process such as thinking or cognition exists, but it takes place in the adjoining etheric and astral bodies. In them are situated the thoughts which I here represent diagrammatically as these circles. These thoughts do not enter into the brain, to think so would be utter folly; but, through the activity of the brain, they are reflected and thrown back again into the etheric body, astral body, and ego, and these reflections which we create ourselves, and which become visible to us through the brain, are seen by us, when, as earthly men, we become aware of what we are really doing in our psychic life. Within the brain nothing at all exists of the nature of thought." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Kessinger, facsimile of 1929 edition), p. 88. [I have added color to the b&w image in the book.]

In other words,

"Within the brain there is absolutely no thought; there is no more of thought in the brain than there is of you in the mirror in which you see yourself." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD, ORDEALS OF THE SOUL, REVELATIONS OF THE SPIRIT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), p. 119.

“I have described in [THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM] how the intellectual is further developed into conscious, exact clairvoyance. It then lives in a free inner constitution of the soul. Only then can man know himself and his relation to the other parts of his being, outside his pure thinking and his free will. Through such a higher consciousness — imaginative, inspired and intuitive consciousness — man may reach in self-knowledge beyond his intellect and know himself as part of the supersensible world. And then it will be clear to him that although he is fully human, as has become clear to him in his self-knowledge, full humanity requires of him that he perfect it ever more and more.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Self Knowledge and the Christ Experience” (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1988), a lecture, GA 221.

Paraphrase: In my book THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM, I describe how intellectual powers can be heightened, leading to the development of exact clairvoyance. Such clairvoyance then exists as a free inner power of the soul. Only after gaining this power can we understand the other components of our being, aside from our powers of pure thought and free will. Through exact clairvoyance (which involves imaginative, inspired, and intuitive consciousness, and goes beyond the limits of the intellect), we attain true self-knowledge and we realize that our true home is the spirit realm. Then we understand that to be fully human, we must develop our exact clairvoyance more and more.

The chief benefit of intellect, Steiner taught, is that it makes us more mentally alert, more fully conscious. Hence it strengthens us, allowing us to pursue clairvoyance of a more precise, discerning type — "exact" clairvoyance — than was available to humanity in the past. But in and of itself, intellect is deadening. For true cognition, we need exact clairvoyance. [See "Exactly".]

“When we think, we die continually." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 56.

“The brain is an instrument for purely intellectual apprehension. Intellectualism and materialistic thinking are one and the same ... [T]he materialistic brain represents a process of decay: materialistic thinking unfolds only through processes of destruction, death-processes, which are taking place in the brain.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), pp. 147-148.

“The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995, p. 233.

"Intellectuality flows forth from Ahriman as a cold and frosty, soulless cosmic impulse.” — Rudolf Steiner,  ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 98.

“A man who would receive Anthroposophy with his intellect kills it in the very act.” — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE, NATURE, AND CULTIVATION OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 1963), p. 15.

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

"You will injure children if you educate them rationally.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 61.

According to Steiner, we descended into our current condition — using lowly intellect instead of divine clairvoyance — due to race mixing. [See "Blood".]

“[T]he ancient clairvoyance of undeveloped man was killed when his blood was mixed with the blood of others who did not belong to the same stock. The entire intellectual life of today [which is so very bad thing] is the outcome of the mingling of blood, and the time is not far distant when people will study the [damaging] influence this had upon human life, and they will be able to trace it back in the history of humanity.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1922), a lecture, GA 55.



Why did Rudolf Steiner try to foist his cockeyed, occult fantasies on us? We cannot know. Perhaps he was telling the absolute truth, as he understood it. Perhaps he felt the pain of which he spoke; perhaps ordinary existence was a grievous burden to him, and he turned to occultism out of genuine need and conviction. Perhaps. But other possibilities come to mind. Here's one. I offer it not to assail Steiner the man, but in an effort to place an historical figure in context for whatever light this may provide. Evaluating Steiner's teachings is far more important than attempting to understand Steiner as an individual. Nonetheless, trying to bring historical figures into focus can be informative, making them live in our comprehension and thus helping us to understand their work, at least tangentially.

Bear in mind that flawed individuals can make wise statements, and wonderful individuals can speak foolishly. Thus, Steiner's personal weaknesses and strengths have no necessary bearing on the validity of his teachings. Still, holding that proviso in mind, consider the following. It is possible that Steiner became an occultist because he suffered from thwarted ambition. Failing to receive recognition as a great philosopher, he turned to fraudulent spiritualism for the recognition he coveted. 

Perhaps I am right about this, perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps this shines light, perhaps it doesn't. You decide. 

Steiner claimed that he had spiritualistic experiences and knowledge beginning in his early youth, and some of his earliest publications bear at least a suggestion of this claim. [19] After graduation from college, he edited the scientific works of Goethe, which express Goethe’s own esotericism. But most of Steiner’s early, original writing was rational and conventional, not esoteric. Considering himself a man of letters, Steiner became editor of Deutsche Wochenschrift [i.e., "German Weekly"]. As an editor of his autobiography has recorded, “1887: At the beginning of this year, Rudolf Steiner is very sick. As...his health improves, he becomes increasingly a ‘man of letters,’ lecturing, writing essays ... 1888: January-July: Rudolf Steiner assumes editorship of the ‘German Weekly.’” [20]

Steiner’s first book, A THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE IMPLICIT IN GOETHE'S WORLD CONCEPTION, appeared in 1886. It was followed by TRUTH AND SCIENCE (1892) and THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM (1893). Anthroposophists today try to make these books appear consistent with their spiritualistic beliefs, but it is a struggle. In fact, Steiner wrote his early works as a secular intellectual. “Although practically all [Anthroposophical] commentators on Steiner's work agree that THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM...contains within it all of the essentials of anthroposophy, the book itself makes no mention of a spiritual world ... [N]or does any other standard anthroposophical theme, like karma, the afterlife, or reincarnation make an appearance.” [21]

Steiner hoped that THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM would establish his reputation as a leading thinker, but it did not. [22] Still, he continued to work in ordinary channels. In 1895, he published NIETZSCHE, A FIGHTER AGAINST HIS TIME, followed by other more or less conventional intellectual works. In 1897, he became editor of Magazin für Literatur (“Magazine for Literature”). His writings in this period were indifferent or even hostile to spiritualism, especially Theosophy. 

Despite his efforts, Steiner was not hailed as the next great German philosopher, and in fact he fell into poverty. “[I]n Wiemar, he was to lodge with Frau Anna Eunicke, a widow ... After this, he lived in Berlin, for a short while in utter misery in lodgings, and then moved in under Anna Eunicke’s roof [1897] and married her [1899]. It seems likely that she moved first to Berlin and he followed her.” [23]

During these years, Steiner was “very active in the political, artistic, and theatrical life in Berlin.” [24] He made his way in important circles, but uneasily. “Though he later had a number of aristocratic patrons and followers, he was not at home in the drawing room ... Spending his early maturity among the intelligentsia of Vienna, Weimar, and Berlin, where he frequented salons and cafes for a while, he nevertheless cultivated his distance from them....” [25] 

After several years working as a literary man, Steiner rather suddenly turned to Theosophy and started lecturing about occult “truths.” “In 1898, after going through a mental and spiritual crisis, he began to turn away from cultural education ... The jump from tacit socialism to explicit Theosophy was not easy to explain.” [26] Steiner’s friends and students were startled and largely uncomprehending. “[H]e began to break his silence [about spiritual matters]. This proved to be a very challenging issue. Probably the secularized sophisticates found him comical and the aesthetes felt him to be a puzzle. Steiner perceived that the metropolitan literary minds he encountered were unaware that their destines and his were karmically linked.” [27] 

Steiner left much of his previous life and many of his previous associates — including his wife — behind.  “Rudolf Steiner had been connected with hundreds of people during the early years of his life, but not one of these accompanied him into his public activity when he began to speak from his own spiritual-scientific research and experience [i.e., his professed clairvoyant visions].” [28] Steiner left his wife in 1903.

Steiner soon became head of the German Theosophical Society, and in 1904 he published one of his seminal occultist works, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT. He began devoting virtually all of his considerable energies to occultism. “1905: This year, Steiner ends his non-theosophical lecturing activity. Supported by Marie von Sivers his Theosophical lecturing...increases significantly.” [29]

Marie von Sievers was an aristocrat. "She came from a noble German-Baltic background ... She owned the Theosophical headquarters in Berlin, and at some point she and Steiner lived together in her apartment in this house ... From the end of 1903 Steiner and von Sievers were inseparably together...and in 1914, three years after the death of Anna Eunicke, Steiner and von Sievers would marry." [30]

Steiner released his magnum opus, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE, in 1910, and three years later he broke with Theosophy in order to establish his own occult movement, Anthroposophy. [31] He developed what, by his own estimate, was a large following: “The Anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” [32] The movement was sufficiently well financed to build a large headquarters in Switzerland — and when this was destroyed by fire, the members erected an equally large replacement. [33] 

In 1919, a lionized spiritual leader, Steiner oversaw the creation of the first Waldorf school. [34] The rest is history.


Curiosity about historical figures is natural and, to some extent, it can be productive. But we need to keep things in perspective. Our main focus should be on ideas, not on the people who express those ideas. Steiner may or may not have been a fine man; it doesn't make much difference. What we need to know is whether or not his ideas are true, and we can make this judgment only by focusing on his ideas and thinking about them carefully.

I think Steiner was a fraud, pretending to possess clairvoyant powers that in fact he lacked (in all probability, no one possesses such powers). If I'm right, this is a marginally useful insight. However, it doesn't tell us anything conclusive about the quality of Steiner's ideas. A fraud may speak the truth, even if s/he does so unintentionally or unknowingly. A fraud may tell what s/he thinks are lies, but these statements may actually be pearls of great wisdom — the fraud just doesn't know it. The only way for us to know is to forget the speaker and attend to the speech, the words, the meaning.

Anthroposophists sometimes think that the way to settle an issue is to find out what Steiner said on the subject. He said thus-and-so, which means that thus-and-so is the right answer. This is clearly the wrong approach. Maybe 99.9% of everything Steiner ever said was right, but if we happen to be arguing about the one matter where he was wrong, then taking his word on that subject would be a mistake.

The same goes in reverse, of course. Even if 99.9% of Steiner's statements were garbage, we must remain open to the possibility that the next statement of his we consider will turn out to be — miraculously — correct. The only way to evaluate ideas is to focus on the ideas.

Let's return our focus to the ideas that underlie Waldorf education:


Perhaps the most fundamental problem with Waldorf schools is that the Waldorf conception of thinking and knowledge — epistemology, if you will — is so deeply irrational. Think of the implications of such irrationality for institutions that are usually meant to foster thinking and convey knowledge.

Waldorf schools often say that they encourage imagination — which is true, and many parents find this emphasis on imagination attractive. But in Steiner's doctrines, imagination is the first of three stages on the path to clairvoyance, and clairvoyance is the goal. Waldorf schools often conceal this (along with a great deal more), but this is central to their mission. The mission of any real Waldorf school — by which I mean any school that is faithful to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner — is to assist students along the path to clairvoyance. Accordingly, the schools try to prepare students for future human evolution, as described by Steiner. The next stage of our evolution will occur on or during Jupiter, followed by Venus and then Vulcan. As we undergo this evolution — following the "divine cosmic plan" created by the "gods" — we will attain higher and higher states of consciousness until we ourselves become gods. And the payoff? “[W]e shall have gradually achieved the transformation of our own being into what is called in Christianity ‘the Father.’” [35]

I have just given you an extremely concise outline of the Anthroposophical vision. To most people, the Anthroposophical vision is nuts. (And to mainstream Christians, it is sacrilegious.) Unless a parent sees good solid sense in Anthroposophy, s/he should almost certainly not send a child to a real Waldorf school. Waldorfs do not turn all their students into junior Anthroposophists, of course, but the schools try to at least nudge students in the direction of Steinerish occultism. Remember Steiner's avowal: "Anthroposophy will be in the school." [36]

The concepts of thinking and knowledge that inform Waldorf schools come mainly from Rudolf Steiner himself. We can see Steiner's epistemology, in its earliest and purest form, in his book THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM, particularly as Steiner revised it following his conversion to occultism.

Here's another concise summary: In the fewest possible words, I’ll try to describe spiritual epistemology as Steiner and his followers came to understand it. At the core of oneself is a pure, authentic Self, an "I". When the "I" thinks about its own thoughts in a disciplined manner, the difference between subject and object vanishes and a higher, transcendent consciousness becomes possible. Bear in mind that true thoughts do not come from the brain but from the spirit realm. The "I" is a denizen of that realm and thus receives its true cognition from on high. The resulting consciousness consists of inherently authentic Truth. The labors of "materialistic" thinking (rational argumentation, etc.) become unnecessary because direct access to Truth has been attained.

Certain problems obviously arise from this set of ideas. Consciousness focusing upon itself may not be a transcendence of subjectivity but the intensification of subjectivity. According to Steiner, truly knowing and truly feeling are the same: We must develop "the power of spiritual cognition, spiritual perception, spiritual feeling." [37] This is the heartfelt "thinking" Waldorf schools try to promote; it is more akin to emotion or intuition than to rational cogitation. You know that something is true because it feels so true, deep inside. It rings your spiritual bell.

Let’s dwell on that last point for a moment. How can one be sure that the Truth that feels so right, inwardly — the Truth provided by intuition — is not simply a subjective wish? Steiner saw the problem, and his answer was that "living thoughts" are implanted in us before we are born. “The cosmic ether, which is common to all, carries within it the thoughts; there they are within it, those living thoughts of which I have repeatedly spoken in our anthroposophical lectures, telling you how the human being participates in them in pre-earthly life before he comes down to Earth. There, in the cosmic ether, are contained all the living thoughts there are; and never are they received from the cosmic ether during the life between birth and death. No; the whole store of living thought that man holds within him, he receives at the moment when he comes down from the spiritual world — when, that is, he leaves his own living element, his own element of living thought, and descends and forms his ether body [an incorporeal body that shapes the physical body]. Within this ether body, within that which is the building and organising force in man, are the living thoughts; there they are, there they still are.” [38]

Thus, correct intuition is the apprehension of divinity and its gifts, living within us. We don't really need to think: All we have to do is commune with ourselves, finding the prepackaged "living thoughts" that we carry inside.

Notice how Steiner's seemingly straightforward philosophical argument about the sources of knowledge balloons into an occult theology. In order for the thesis of PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM to be correct in the way Anthroposophy needs it to be correct, a vast body of occult belief becomes necessary, and Steiner provides it in his approximately umpteen-quadzillion occult lectures. Of course, according to Steiner, his doctrines are not beliefs but living thoughts, Truths. But they are "true" only because he defines them as true; they emerge from a form of consciousness that depends on them for its existence. It’s a closed loop, one that cannot be examined by any outside observer. A living thought is any idea that is correctly revealed by intuition, and intuition is defined as the power to reveal living thoughts, which by definition are true. How do we test this? We "know" we are correctly using our intuition when the ideas it yields ring our bell — we get a “spiritual feeling” that is the same as “spiritual perception.”

No one else can hear the bell, unfortunately, but that's how it goes. In other words, a clairvoyant may absolutely know in his/her heart that s/he is correct about something, but no one else can know — there is no way for an outsider observer to test a clairvoyant’s inwardly revealed “living thought.” And that’s okay, Steiner said. Testing and proving things, he explained, is beside the point. "The concepts of 'true' and 'false' are dreadfully barren, prosaic, and formal. The moment we rise to the truths of the spiritual world, we can no longer speak of 'true' and 'false'...." [39] The process of opening oneself to “living thoughts” is beyond testing because it is beyond “materialistic” or brain-centered thinking. By definition, intuition is living-thinking is clairvoyance is truth, and all’s well. 

Steiner did add one clarification. True intuition or living-thinking should not be confused with any old form of clairvoyance; there are higher and lower forms of clairvoyance. The real kind, the kind that yields the truest truths, is "exact" clairvoyance. “The philosophical standpoint from which I speak definitely starts from a healthy psyche and attempts on this basis to develop powers dormant in the soul, cognitive powers, which then become clairvoyant powers...exact clairvoyance.” [40] Steiner had to specify what sort of clairvoyance is correct, since other "clairvoyants" said they "saw" things quite unlike what he "saw." So he laid down this stipulation. And what does it ultimately mean? “Exact clairvoyance" is clairvoyance that agrees with Steiner’s doctrines. By definition, all other forms of clairvoyance are, to one degree or another, incorrect.

You may bridle at this, but hold your indignation. There is a deeper problem than trying to decide what form of clairvoyance is best. The problem is this: Does clairvoyance exist at all, in any form, at any level of exactitude? As far as we know, the answer is no. There is simply no evidence that any form of clairvoyance exists. [See “Clairvoyance”.]

This leads to a crucial point. No outside observer can confirm anything that a "clairvoyant" feels to be true — and neither can the "clairvoyant." S/he may firmly feel that an idea is right, but there is no way s/he can know for sure. A deeply believed fantasy may feel just as right as any actually correct perception; a pleasant hallucination may feel fully as right, as well. In fact, if someone yearns for spiritual truth, the "intuitive" fulfillment of that yearning may quite easily be nothing but the unconscious affirmation of the desire. You go in search of the vision you wish for, and you have that vision, and... And, what? If you have the vision you want, and if it "feels" the way you want, then you may easily be doing nothing but deluding yourself, feeding yourself the fantasy you so keenly desire. 

And what visions should you seek? Steiner stressed the need for a guru. A seeker “would find himself plunged into the stormy sea of astral [i.e., soul] experiences if he were left to fend for himself. For this reason he needs a guide who can tell him from the start how these things are related and how to find his bearings in the astral world. Hence the need to find a Guru on whom he can strictly rely.“ [41] Notice that wording: "strictly rely." Absolute reliance. Obedience. Faith. The "science" Steiner advocated becomes, then, a religion — a process of faithful observance.

So in this sense, too, the form of thought advocated by Steiner is not real thinking at all. You don't develop "living thoughts" out of your own brain. These "thoughts" are either prerecorded ideas that have been implanted in you before birth (if you can buy this explanation), or they are notions that your guru has directed you toward — or they are both. They are not, in any event, your own thoughts. They are not, really, thoughts at all. They are fantasies, or prescribed doctrines — or both.

Where does this all leave us? What can we make of the epistemology underlying Waldorf schools — and what are the implications for Waldorf education? a) The epistemology is bogus. No one following Steiner's prescriptions can attain any verifiable knowledge — verifiable by others or even by oneself. b) Waldorf education is built on, and largely consists of, pipe dreams. It stresses a form of "thought" that is not thinking at all, but feeling, "intuiting," perhaps fantasizing. It, too, is bogus.

— Roger Rawlings

Steiner taught that the demons Lucifer and Ahriman have hollowed out our skulls.

Our "so-called noblest organ," the brain, is empty.

“The formation of our skull is due to the fact that it is there that most has been wrested from us ... Lucifer and Ahriman have there been the most successful in wresting away substantiality; in the so-called noblest organ of man they have been able to wrest away the greatest amount of mineralised substantiality ... If everything were to run without a hitch for Lucifer and Ahriman, if they were everywhere able to wrest as much as they wrest from the organ of the head, Earth-evolution would soon reach a point where Lucifer and Ahriman could succeed in destroying our Earth and in leading over all evolution of worlds into the Eighth Sphere, so that Earth-evolution as a whole would take a different course. Hence Lucifer endeavours to unfold his greatest strength of all at the place where man is the most vulnerable, namely, in his head. The stronghold which it is easiest for Lucifer to capture is the human head; and everything that is similar to the head in respect of the distribution of the mineral element, so that it can be drawn out in the same way, is equally exposed to the danger of being dispatched into the Eighth Sphere. No less a prospect looms as a consequence of this intention of Lucifer and Ahriman than that the whole evolution of humanity may be allowed to disappear into the Eighth Sphere, so that this evolution would take a different course.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT MOVEMENT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), lecture 5, GA 254.

The Eight Sphere is a demonic realm created by Lucifer and Ahriman.

To perceive it, we require special new organs, organs of clairvoyance:

“Here, then, we have a sphere, visible only to visionary-imaginative clairvoyance ... [J]ust as the spiritual is round about us, so we must also look for the Eighth Sphere in our environment. This means that an organ enabling man to perceive the Eighth Sphere would have to be developed, just as his physical senses enable him to perceive the material Earth ... [I]f we have developed an organ for experiencing the Eighth Sphere, we are conscious of it around us.” — Ibid.

[For more on the terrible Eighth Sphere,

see "Sphere 8".]

"At the present time thinking is the form in which man can bring his will to expression in speech.

Today it is only in thinking that we can unfold the will.

Only later will it be possible for man, rising above the level of thought, to unfold the will in speech.” [42]

"Teaching concerning the spirit, the spiritual, will be dominant in the new race.
And in the sphere of religion the ruling principle will be something that is not yet possible today,
because the intellect lies in the way.
Man will himself perceive the existence of a Divine World-Spirit.
That is the free religious principle of the next race." [43]

In the endnotes to my essay "Thinking Cap", I attempted a summary of key points about the sort of "thinking" advocated by Rudolf Steiner — clairvoyance — and the Anthroposophical disparagement of rational thought. I'll reproduce it here, although it recycles some points we have probably covered sufficiently already. (Please forgive the style. It is somewhat telegraphic, as is common in endnotes.)

The existence of clairvoyance is extremely doubtful. “Research in parapsychology...has yet to provide conclusive support for the existence of clairvoyance.” — "clairvoyance." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 25 Feb. 2009. Whether psychic capacities might be developed in the future — through the growth of incorporeal organs or in any other manner — is a subject more suited to science fiction than to levelheaded discussions of reality. (See, e.g., Arthur C. Clarke, CHILDHOOD’S END.) It is not irrelevant to note that Steiner’s sources included fantasies such as the Rosicrucian novel ZANONI and the weird narratives of Norse mythology. [See, e.g., “Steiner’s ‘Science” and “Oh My Word”.]

The existence of organs of clairvoyance is more than doubtful. But Steiner's doctrines require one to develop such organs and then to exercise them in a certain, prescribed way. Mainly, this way requires tossing out critical intelligence and devotedly following gurus (i.e., in particular, Steiner). A seeker must "engender within himself this attitude of devotion" [WIE ERLANGT MAN ERKENNINISSE DER HOHEREN WELTEN?, p. 5] and submit to "inspired forerunners" (i.e., spiritual teachers, in particular, Steiner) [Rudolf Steiner, DIE STUFEN DER HOHEREN ERKENNISNIS (Dornach, 1935), p. 65. Again, see http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/Hansson.html .] Submitting in this manner is the opposite of thinking for oneself, exercising intellect, using one's critical intelligence. It is blind belief in occultism. [See "Guru".]

Trying to reason with Anthroposophists is an interesting undertaking, but in many (if not all) cases it is doomed to failure. Good Anthroposophists heed Steiner's dictum: They must not employ critical thought in evaluating his statements. Good children "have a respect that forbids them, even in the deepest recess of their heart, to harbour any thoughts of criticism or opposition." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company, 1923), p. 10. Good adults should have a similar sense of veneration, at least for the people they have selected, somehow, to be their masters.

The rejection of critical thought is stressed in the Waldorf school movement: "A youth whose childhood has been touched by the blight of 'critical thinking' will come to the moment of independent insight badly crippled ... Because skepticism has long since robbed him of part of his heart, he will now feel unable to embrace enthusiastically what he has come to understand." — John Fentress Gardner, THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (Waldorf Press, 1975), pp. 127-128. (Gardner was a leading American Anthroposophist.)

"Embracing enthusiastically" is what Waldorf students are taught to do. They may not (indeed, usually do not) understand what they are embracing, but they have been taught to embrace it anyway, freed from the "blight of critical thinking." Good adult Anthroposophists are often similarly enthusiastic and uncritical, which helps explain why they often get so riled up over criticism. [See "Criticism".] They aren't accustomed to such modes of thought. They frequently think that criticism means murderous, evil attack. This makes rational discourse a bit difficult.  


[5] John Fentress Gardner, “The Founding of Adelphi’s Waldorf School,” ONE MAN’S VISION: IN MEMORIAM, H.A.W. MYRIN (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1970), p. 48.

Despite Steiner’s claim that he appreciated the intellect, he generally associated it with evil. In Steiner’s theology, Ahriman is a dreadful demon. [See "Ahriman" and “Bad, Badder, Baddest.] Ahriman’s cardinal evil attribute is that he is “the supreme intellectual power: Ahriman.” — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 167. Ahriman’s fiendish plots include this: “One of the things Ahriman wants for us is that we produce lots of libraries, storing lots of dead knowledge all around us.” — Rudolf Steiner, POLARITIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF MANKIND (SteinerBooks, 1987), p. 163.

Steiner taught that intellectual thought did not begin until 600-800 BC. It is, he said, a gift from Lucifer. [Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 117.] Ahriman, however, corrupted it. “Ahriman appropriated intellectuality ... Intellectuality flows forth from Ahriman as a cold and frosty, soulless cosmic impulse ... In reality, it is Ahriman who speaks [through the intellect]....” — Rudolf Steiner, ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), p. 98. We currently live in a materialistic age in which materialistic (intellectual) thinking prevails. This is a “necessary phase in the evolution of humanity.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 235. Entering this phase, we surrendered old clairvoyant capacities, but we will attain greater clairvoyance when we move forward in our evolution. This is well, since “The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Ibid., p. 233. The Waldorf curriculum is geared to the notion that children individually pass through the same phases that humanity has undergone collectively. Thus, students don’t develop intellectual abilities until they are well into their high school years,according to Steiner.

We benefit from our current existence in a material realm where intellect is useful. We literally sharpen our wits, which can help us to sharpen our new, higher, "exact" clairvoyance when/if we develop it. But, ultimately, intellect is anathema for Steiner and his followers — critical thinking must be suppressed. "By intellectualising he [the seeker] merely diverts himself from the right path." — WIE ERLANGT MAN ERKENNINISSE DER HOHEREN WELTEN?, p. 32. Steiner tells his followers, "You must not try to receive these insights in a sober-minded and intellectual way." — STUFEN DER HOHEREN ERKENNISNIS, p. 66. The goal is to reach a stage at which "our thinking ceases." — Rudolf Steiner, MEDITATION UND KONZENTRATION (Dornach, 1935), p. 33. [See http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/Hansson.html .] 

If intellect is so awful, why does Steiner say it has any uses at all? He taught that we humans are currently passing through a stage of our evolution in which we need to master intellect before moving beyond it. He spoke of this evolutionary process in racial terms. We evolve upward by passing through higher and higher racial forms. Properly evolved humans currently are members of the fifth "subrace" of the fifth "root race." "Every root race and subrace has its task in the evolution of humanity. The goal of ours — the fifth main, or root, race — is called Manas, that is, to awaken human understanding through concepts and ideas." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 178. "Our fifth post-Atlantean subrace is developing a culture of reason, but at the same time it is bringing egotism to an absolute extreme ... Our fifth root race will be ruined by egotism intensified to the utmost." — Ibid., p. 179. Thus, we need to pass through a materialistic, intellectual period. But we also need to pass beyond it, having put behind us its snares and destructive powers.

(Steiner traced the emergence of subraces in the fifth root race to the sinking of Atlantis. Yes, Atlantis. So much for "a culture of reason.")

We might do well to mediate upon a quotation we have already seen.

"You will injure children if you educate them rationally."

 — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 61.

Acting upon this principle, Steiner designed Waldorf education to be irrational.

Think about that for a while. Rationally.

"[T]his organ [the liver] has an ether body which is connected with the rest of the ether body [yellow], and it also has an astral body [violet], and then there is also the I in it. This liver therefore has something that is of the spirit ... Spirits hardly ever speak through any of the organs in the head. The whole world speaks there; the stars in their motions, and so on; they speak through the organs in the head. But spiritual entities do indeed also speak to us, and they do so though the other organs, such as the liver." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 76-77. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on the sketch on p. 77.]

Rudolf Steiner, apparently using his brain.

But don't be fooled.

[Public domain,

cover art: Richard Seddon. RUDOLF STEINER

(North Atlantic Books, 2004)].

Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:

“Headlines Today 

“Waldorf Education Town Hall Meeting Jan 17th 

“Attention Parents in the Greater New Haven Area [Connecticut, USA] 

“If you are looking for a school for your child that NURTURES imagination, creativity, critical thinking, self awareness, lifelong love of learning, and seeks to develop your child's intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual (secular) capacities, please join us to learn about a new Waldorf Education Initiative starting up in the Greater New Haven area ... Our North Haven Parent/Child class for toddlers is enrolling for classes beginning Feb. 7, 2012. Succeeding grades will be added yearly.” [1-17-2012 http://www.elmcitybeat.com/2012/01/waldorf-education-town-hall-meeting-jan.html]

Supporters of Waldorf education often issue such invitations, seeking to build interest and community support. Media in small communities sometimes display these items as if they were objective news stories, when quite obviously they are not.* You may or may not find Waldorf education attractive, but do bear in mind the difference between objective information and advertising. The item quoted here, for instance, contains a number of highly questionable claims.

Ponder the claim that Waldorf schools seek to develop children's "spiritual (secular) capacities". What, you might wonder, is meant by the very curious phrase 
 "spiritual (secular)"? Anthroposophists wind up using such expressions because their belief system is a religion but one of its tenets is that it is not a religion. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"] Primarily for this reason, Waldorf schools almost always deny that they are religious institutions, although their principles and practices are based on Anthroposophy. So, even though Waldorf schools care very much about spirituality, they usually make the misleading claim that they are secular.

The spiritual capacities emphasized in Waldorf schools boil down to the use of Anthroposophically approved forms of thought, such as imagination, to gain "knowledge" of spiritual matters. You might ask yourself if you think a "secular" school has any business trying to develop children's spiritual capacities — isn't this the job of churches, temples, mosques, and parents? In any event, if you select a Waldorf school for your child, you should know that the teachers there will have a spiritual agenda for the child. [See "Spiritual Agenda".] You should also know that the central "spiritual capacity" that Waldorf teachers, as Anthroposophists, attempt to develop is clairvoyance. [See "Clairvoyance".] If you do not share the many spiritual beliefs of Anthroposophists, including belief in clairvoyance, you may find Waldorf education alien and unacceptable.

One more point. (We could discuss several other matters, but one more is probably sufficient for now.) Does Waldorf education really promote "critical thinking"? In a sense, yes. Anthroposophists certainly want Waldorf students to be critical of modern society, modern science, and modern technology. [See, e.g., "Steiner's 'Science'".] But, on the other hand, Waldorf schools rarely encourage critical thought directed at their own, Anthroposophical beliefs. Taking their lead from Rudolf Steiner, they generally consider the brain a relatively unimportant organ, and they sometimes go so far as to deem critical thinking a blight.** For them, truth comes primarily through clairvoyance and emotion, not critical thought.

Whenever you read a glowing account of Waldorf education, you may want to consider the source, and certainly you should dig to get below the glowing surface. Perhaps you will still come away with a positive view of Waldorf schools. But perhaps you won't.

* In this case, the problem is inadvertent, arising from the layout of the page.

** "A youth whose childhood has been touched by the blight of 'critical thinking' will come to the moment of independent insight badly crippled." — John Fentress Gardner, THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (Waldorf Press, 1975), p. 127. Gardner was a Waldorf school headmaster and a leading American Anthroposophist.


[Wat Chedi Liem].

The brain at work.

Trust it not, Steiner cautioned.

[A PET scan — 

Jens Langner.]

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

More items from the "news" page:


From The Shelburne News,

Shelburne, Vermont, USA:

Life of the Child Conference explores alternative education March 22-23

The Lake Champlain Waldorf School hosts its annual Life of the Child Conference on March 22-23. This year, renowned neurophysiologist and educator Carla Hannaford Ph.D presents a two-day workshop exploring how movement, music, and play are essential for learning and creativity.

In this experiential workshop, Dr. Hannaford will show why and how the body plays an essential role in learning. She will present her accessible, cutting-edge brain research....

Pam Graham, Admissions Director at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School, explained the school’s interest: “Waldorf education was founded almost a century ago, but it takes a holistic approach to learning that is backed by contemporary neuroscience.  We are eager to bring forward research that helps parents and teachers work with all of a child’s potential.”



Waldorf spokespeople have a long record of misleading the public. Waldorf education is not “backed by contemporary neuroscience” or any other present-day knowledge. Waldorf education is founded on the occult belief system concocted a century ago by the Austrian/German mystic Rudolf Steiner.

At the risk of boring faithful readers, I will reprint a list of truthful statements describing the real nature of Waldorf education. All of the following statements were made by leading advocates of Waldorf education, including Rudolf Steiner himself. These are the sorts of admissions you can find if you dig; they are not the sorts of statements Waldorf spokesmen usually make when addressing the public at large:

• “[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.

• “Waldorf education strives to create a place in which the highest beings [i.e., the gods], including the Christ [i.e., the Sun God], can find their home.” — Anthroposophist Joan Almon, WHAT IS A WALDORF KINDERGARTEN? (SteinerBooks, 2007), p. 53. 

• "[W]hat we [Waldorf teachers] have to do in education is a continuation of what higher beings [i.e., the gods] have done ... [O]ur work with young people is a continuation of what higher beings have done [with the children] before birth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 37.

• “This is precisely the task of school. If it is a true school, it should bring to unfoldment [i.e., incarnation and development]...what [the child] has brought with him from spiritual worlds into this physical life on earth.” — Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS , Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 5, GA 235.

• “A Waldorf school is...an organization that seeks to allow the spiritual impulses of our time to manifest on earth in order to transform society ... [I]t strives to bring the soul-spiritual into the realm of human life.” — Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, “On Earth as It Is in Heaven”, Research Bulletin, Vol. 16 (Waldorf Research Institute), Fall 2011, pp. 21-24.

• "[The] special contribution, the unique substance, mission, and intention of the independent Waldorf School, is the spiritual-scientific view of human nature [i.e., Anthroposophy].” — Anthroposophist Peter Selg, THE ESSENCE OF WALDORF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2010)‚ p. 4.

• “The task of education conceived in the spiritual sense is to bring the Soul-Spirit [i.e., the combined soul and spirit] into harmony with the Life-Body [i.e., the etheric body, the first of our three invisible bodies]." — Rudolf Steiner, STUDY OF MAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), pp. 19-20.

• “[Waldorf] education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him ... [I]t is [the faculty's] task to help the child to make use of his body, to help his soul-spiritual forces to find expression through it, rather than regarding it as their duty to cram him with information.” — Anthroposophist Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 388-389. 

• "The reason many [Waldorf] schools exist is because of the Anthroposophy, period. It's not because of the children. It's because a group of Anthroposophists have it in their minds to promote Anthroposophy in the world ... Educating children is secondary in these schools" — Former Waldorf teacher "Baandje". [See "Ex-Teacher 7".]

• “Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We...are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods ... [W]e are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.

• “In the child we have before us a being who has only recently left the divine world. In due course, still at a tender age, he comes to school and it is the teacher’s task to help guide him into earthly existence. The teacher is therefore performing a priestly office.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 23. 

• "Waldorf education is a form of practical anthroposophy." — Waldorf teacher Keith Francis, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004), p. xii.

• “[F]rom a spiritual-scientific [i.e., Anthroposophical] point of view child education consists mainly in integrating the soul-spiritual members [i.e., the etheric, astral, and ego bodies] with the corporeal members [i.e., the physical body].” — Waldorf teacher Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1998), p. 68.

• “The success of Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner [said], can be measured in the life force attained. Not acquisition of knowledge and qualifications, but the life force is the ultimate goal of this school.” — Anthroposophist Peter Selg, THE ESSENCE OF WALDORF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2010)‚ p. 30.


Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., may be a brilliant and credentialed scientist. I will not impugn her or her work. But I will point out that even brilliant and credentialed scientists can make grave errors when they align themselves with occult systems such as Anthroposophy. In 1977, the Waldorf Press (now defunct) published a mighty tome by Wolfgang Schad, MAN AND MAMMAL, that endeavored to overturn contemporary biology in order to substantiate Rudolf Steiner's teachings about the human organism, including Steiner's claim that animals evolved from humans, humans did not evolve from animals. It is an impressive, well-documented, carefully argued book. But it has had essentially no effect within the scientific community for one overwhelming reason. Its thesis is false. MAN AND MAMMAL misrepresents the evidence it presents, and it draws clearly fallacious conclusions.

"Professor Wolfgang Schad, Ph.D., was born in 1935 and studied biology, chemistry, physics, and education. 
He is a professor of evolutionary biology at the university of Witten Herdecke and is widely viewed as an authority in his field." 

Anthroposophical "research" is tendentious and misleading. It starts with a conclusion it desperately wants to affirm — the "truth" of Anthroposophy — and it bends every piece of information and every form of argumentation in this effort. The result is usually little more than illogical misinformation. Indeed, such "research" is rarely meant to break new ground; nor is it usually intended to persuade non-Anthroposophists. Rather, the goal (which may or may not be openly acknowledged) is to fortify Anthroposophists in the views they already hold. Steiner's followers are assured that, if they ignore all the other scholarship in the world and focus instead on narrowly contrived arguments provided by their fellow believers, then they may feel justified in thinking that there is some rational, factual basis for their otherwise wholly unfounded convictions.


As for the claim that Waldorf education is validated by “contemporary neuroscience” or any other genuine scholarship or research — no, it is not. Rudolf Steiner’s followers often do extensive “research” that consists of cherry-picking, raking through scholarly papers, news reports, and any and all other publications seeking any tidbit that might conceivably be interpreted (or misinterpreted) as providing tangential confirmation of Steiner’s teachings. But such “confirmation” is almost always illusory. Steiner taught, for example, that the heart does not pump blood. His followers try their best to substantiate this loopy falsehood, but of course they can’t. See, e.g., THE DYNAMIC HEART AND CIRCULATION (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 2002), edited by Craig Holdrege. It is another scholarly, carefully crafted book that ultimately makes no sense and has had essentially no influence outside the Anthroposophical cult.

As for the brain, the head, and thinking, here are some of the statements Steiner and his followers have made. Consider how well they conform to the knowledge available through “contemporary neuroscience.”

• “[T]he...brain represents a process of decay: materialistic thinking unfolds only through processes of destruction, death-processes, which are taking place in the brain.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), pp. 147-148.

• "The brain does not produce thoughts." — Henk Van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 16.

• “[O]ne can think with one's fingers and toes much more brightly, once one makes the effort, than with the nerves of the head." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 126.

• “The body thinks, the body counts. The head is only a spectator.” — Rudolf Steiner, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 159.

• "Within the brain there is absolutely no thought; there is no more of thought in the brain than there is of you in the mirror in which you see yourself." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD, ORDEALS OF THE SOUL, REVELATIONS OF THE SPIRIT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), p. 119.

• “The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995, p. 233.

• "Intellectuality flows forth from [the demon] Ahriman as a cold and frosty, soulless cosmic impulse.” — Rudolf Steiner,  ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 98.

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

Such bizarre, mystical views have a distinct — and damaging — impact on Waldorf education. Thus, according to Steiner, "You will injure children if you educate them rationally.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 61.

•• ◊◊◊ ••


The following is currently presented at the Rudolf Steiner Archive under the heading “Anthroposophy News”

 even though the article contains no reference to Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, or Waldorf education

[February, 2013  http://www.rsarchive.org/]:

'Quantum smell' idea gains ground

By Jason Palmer

Science and technology reporter, BBC News

A controversial theory that the way we smell involves a quantum physics effect has received a boost, following experiments with human subjects.

It challenges the notion that our sense of smell depends only on the shapes of molecules we sniff in the air.

Instead, it suggests that the molecules' vibrations are responsible.

There is virtually no factual evidence supporting any of the claims of Anthroposophy, which its followers (borrowing from Theosophy) call “spiritual science.” There is no such thing as spiritual science.

Anthroposophical “researchers” spend a great deal of time combing through press reports, scientific journals, and other sources seeking any tiny statement that could conceivably be interpreted (or misinterpreted) as supporting Anthroposophy. This generally produces irrational (not to say laughable) results. Thus, if new research indicates that science’s previous understanding of smell was incomplete, Rudolf Steiner’s followers grab this as proof that science is wholly wrong and, therefore, “spiritual science” is correct.* The reality, however, is quite different. When science takes a step forward, such as improving its understanding of smell, it almost invariably moves farther away from Steiner’s bizarre teachings. Science advances, and “spiritual science” recedes farther and farther into antiquated, medieval fallacy. If some of Rudolf Steiner's "scientific" teachings seemed plausible during his lifetime, they have become increasingly incredible as real science has advanced.

To consider the nature of Steiner’s “spiritual science” you might, for instance, consult Sven Ove Hansson’s essay, “Is Anthroposophy Science?” [http://waldorfcritics.org/articles/Hansson.html].

* What did Steiner say about smell? He traced all sensory impressions, including smell, back to vibrations in the etheric realm. [See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 57.] There is no scientific basis for this view. Science finds no evidence for the existence of the etheric realm (or the etheric body, or the ether...). Indeed, science find no evidence most of the conditions, states, or objects Steiner discoursed upon.

Still, some of Steiner's statements about the senses, such as smell, are diverting. Thus, for instance: "[P]lants smell the universe and adapt themselves accordingly ... The violet is really all nose, a very, very delicate nose ... [The] violet is really all nose — but a delicate nose, inhaling the cosmic scent of Mercury. It holds the scent, as I have indicated, between its solid parts and exhales it; then the scent is dense enough for us to be able to smell it. So when Mercury comes toward us through the violet, we smell Mercury. If with our coarse noses we were to sniff toward Saturn, we would smell nothing. But when the asafetida, which has a keen nose for Saturn, sniffs toward that planet, it smells what comes from it, adapts its gas content accordingly, and has a most foul odor. Suppose you are walking through an avenue of horse chestnuts — you know the scent of horse chestnut, or of linden blossoms? They both have such perfume because their flowers are sensitive noses for everything that streams into the universe from Venus." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EVOLUTION OF THE EARTH AND MAN AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE STARS (Anthroposophic Press, 1987), pp. 146-147.

You may scour scientific literature endlessly seeking valid substantiation for such a statement. You will find none.

•• ◊◊◊ ••


Today, January 15, 2013, the Rudolf Steiner Archive posted a link to the following BBC news item. 

The Archive categorized the item under the heading "Anthroposophy News":

Tetrapod anatomy: Backbone back-to-front in early animals

By Rebecca Morelle

Science reporter, BBC World Service

A visual interpretation of the body of Ichthyostega

Textbooks might have to be re-written when it comes to some of the earliest creatures, a study suggests.

Researchers have found that our understanding of the anatomy of the first four-legged animals is wrong.

New 3D models of fossil remains show that previous renderings of the position of the beasts' backbones were actually back-to-front.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, may even change our thinking on how the spine evolved.


This is an interesting news item. But it makes no mention of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, or Waldorf education. In what sense, then, does it qualify as "Anthroposophy News"? It doesn't qualify as such, of course. But the link at the Steiner Archive points up an interesting issue. Rudolf Steiner claimed, quite incorrectly, that his teachings are scientific. In reality, his teachings are profoundly antiscientific and irrational; there is virtually no factual basis for anything he said or taught. [See "Steiner's 'Science'" and "Steiner's Blunders".]

But because Steiner claimed to be telling the factual, verifiable, "scientific" truth about all the matters he discussed, his followers have ever after sought any scintilla of scientific evidence that might conceivably be construed as a point in Steiner's favor. Thus, if a prevailing scientific theory is overturned, they rejoice. Aha!, they cry. Conventional science was wrong about X, Y, or Z. Therefore, conventional science is wrong altogether. And, therefore, Rudolf Steiner's "spiritual science" is correct instead! This, of course, is nonsense. As science progresses, old scientific theories are continually replaced by newer, better theories. Clearly, the process of scientific advancement does not mean that antiscientific fantasies such as Steiner's are true. Just the reverse, in fact. The more science advances — the more truths we learn — the more we can see that Rudolf Steiner's teachings are baseless.

(Technically, the arguments Steiner's followers make in cases like this are examples of the logical fallacy called "appeal to ignorance." 

• We do not know that X is correct. Therefore, Y is correct instead.

• We do not know that conventional science is wholly correct, therefore 'spiritual science' is correct instead.*

Appeal to ignorance is a form of false argumentation that Steiner himself sometimes used. [See "Ignorance".] It can seem persuasive, if you don't think about it too hard. But it is a fallacy, nothing more.)

Steiner himself sometimes acknowledged that his teachings, which he called "spiritual science" or "occult science," are at odds with conventional or "natural" science. "Occult Science is the antithesis of Natural Science.” —Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), preface to editions 16-20, p. xiv, GA 13.**

*If we do not know that X is correct, then that is all we know. X is not proven. But we cannot leap from this to the unproven claim that Y is correct. Y may be true or it may be false. To learn which it is, we need to study Y. Being unsure about X does not justify claims to certainty about Y.

** What did Steiner say about prehistoric animals? Many interesting things. (This will give you a taste of Steiner's "science.") For instance, Steiner said that some dinosaurs were fire-breathing dragons. “Yes, those beasts did breathe fire ... What I am referring to are dinosaurs from the beginning of the Tertiary Period.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 26. Then again, Steiner told of huge lizards that, in the time before humanity moved to Atlantis (yes, Atlantis), flew around with lanterns on their heads. “If we were to journey back through time to the age that links Lemuria with Atlantis [the two lost continents on which we used to live], we would meet with a remarkable sight: gigantic flying lizards with a lantern on their heads...” — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), pp. 130-131.

Steiner's fallacious and damaging ideas, divorced from reality,

represent grave potential danger to students sent to Waldorf schools.

Children generally have enormous potential, fine minds, wonderful talents.

They are capable of brilliance and beauty.

They deserve the best educations we can give them.

But how can a true education be based on such false precepts

as that we do not think with our brains?

Consider the damage that could be inflicted on children's minds

by teachers who believe such occult nonsense.

"Repeated earth-lives are therefore not meaningless: they are the path which will enable man to look at the outer world  — from which Buddhism wishes to liberate him — and to see it irradiated by the spirit. To overcome the physical appearance of the world by acquiring the spiritual vision that man does not yet possess, and to dispel the human error whereby the outer world can seem to be only Maya — that is the innermost impulse of Christianity.” — Rudolf Steiner, METAMORPHOSES OF THE SOUL, Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), lecture 8, GA 58. [R.R. sketch, 2009.]


"maya, (Sanskrit: “wizardry,” or “illusion”), a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy, notably, in the Advaita (Nondualist) school of the orthodox system of Vedānta. Maya originally denoted the power of wizardry with which a god can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion; by extension it later came to mean the powerful force that creates the cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real. For the Nondualists, maya is thus that cosmic force that presents the infinite Brahman (the supreme being) as the finite phenomenal world. Maya is reflected on the individual level by human ignorance (ajñāna) of the real nature of the self, which man has mistaken for the empirical ego but which is in reality identical with Brahman." — "maya." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 27 Nov. 2012.

Rudolf Steiner

[Rudolf Steiner, THE STORY OF MY LIFE 

(Kessinger Publishing, facsimile of 1928 edition,

Anthroposophical Publishing Co.), facing p. 320.]

From a message posted by Peter Staudenmaier in early January, 2013:

“Steiner...held that critical judgment ‘disperses the powers of the soul for the attainment of higher knowledge’ (Knowledge of Higher Worlds, 11). He said that teachers should ‘appeal to the formative forces of imagination and not to those of the intellect’ (Education of the Child, 46). According to Steiner, ‘Awe and reverence are awakened in children that forbid them to harbor any critical thoughts or opposition against the venerated person [i.e., the teacher]’ (Education of the Child, 58).”

Clairvoyance, according to Steiner, is connected to feeling, subjective experience, imagination... These are states that science views askance, but Steiner affirmed them. This led him to make some remarkable statements. “[W]e need to acquire an inner feeling, an inner response to the natural world ... [T]he earth is solid rock. Materialists believe in this solid rock ... But someone who is hoping to gain higher insight develops some degree of anxiety on coming face to face with this very rock. This anxiety does not appear at all when we are in heated air ... But one can also reach a point where the heated air makes one anxious ... [I]f you put up with the heat, if you stay with it, and actually feel comfortable with it, the parts I have drawn rather schematically in the air here [yellow] oddly enough begin to fill up with all kinds of images [upper white blotches] and the world of the spirit literally begins to show itself, the world of the spirit that is always present in the air though people do not feel it in the air, perceive it in the air, because they do not want to bear the heat ... Once one has got used to seeing all these spirits that are in the air...you will gradually also begin to perceive something where the solid rock is concerned ... [Y]ou yourself slip out of your body far enough so that you'll no longer feel the stones to be an obstacle but enter into the solid ground the way a swimmer does the water." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 190-192. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on Steiner's on p. 191. The white area near the bottom is "solid" rock that one begins to penetrate, as shown in red. The red line crossing through the upper white areas also represent penetration by human consciousness.] If Steiner was describing any real mental state, here — which is doubtful — I would be tempted to peg it as heatstroke producing delusions.

"The image of the heavens in the living human being is in his head. What the human being can know about the heavens lives in his head. And since the human being had only learnt mathematics, or things that were logical or abstract, from then onwards only what was logical and abstract, or made of concepts and ideas, lived in his head. That is why from then onwards there was no possibility for the human being to bring what was spiritual into concepts and ideas." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 126. [R. R. sketch, 2009, based on Steiner's.]

Even while disparaging brainwork, Steiner laid spurious claim to it. One of the great charms of his doctrines, for some people, is his claim that his "spiritual research" is scientific. He claimed that his doctrines are consistent with intellect, that indeed genuine science will support his descriptions of the universe. This is unfounded, and it flies in the face of his other statements about the value of intellect and "natural" science. He did often make the claim. But he also, often, undercut the claim even as he made it.

“[O]ur age is an intellectual age, an age of dogma, that drives people into a wild chaos of instincts and passions and is satisfied with what is merely intellectual and abstract ... Spiritual Science must penetrate into our whole cultural situation and have the courage to carry out its task in life with consistency in an age that is justifiably called intellectual. But do not let us imagine that this intellectuality ought to merge, as such, with spiritual life, for we have to take our start from facts that are reached by clairvoyant means ... When we consider the occult background, we see how the life of perception comes to the fore in the Greco-Roman era, how the Greek and the Roman was completely attuned to the physical world that he esteemed so highly. Our time, the fifth cultural epoch, is that of thinking, of intellectuality. This is why the abstract sciences are flourishing. The coming sixth age will retain intellectual life, in the same way as we in the fifth have retained the life of perception, and will in addition express itself in the feeling life of the soul. The environment will affect people so that it causes them pleasure and displeasure, joy and pain, sympathy and antipathy, to a degree that as yet can only be felt by the occultist who is capable of overcoming mere intellect, and understanding certain connections of life with real feeling, without lengthy logical reasoning.” — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC CHRISTIANITY AND THE MISSION OF CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUTZ (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1984), lecture 1, GA 130.

Waldorf student paintings,

courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.

The art produced in Waldorf schools, much of it quite attractive,

often reflects Steiner's description of the spirit realm as a place

of color but not form, intensities but not extensions.

[See "Magical Arts".]

Waldorf students are generally not taught Steiner's doctrines directly,

but indirectly these doctrines are conveyed in multiple ways.

[See "Indoctrination" and "Sneaking It In".]

For more on science as conceived by Steiner,

see "Steiner's 'Science'" and "Science".

For more on "materialistic thinking"

as conceived by Steiner,

see "Materialism U".

"The potato takes little care of lung and heart. It reaches the head, but only, as I said, the lower head, not the upper head. It does go into the lower head, where one thinks and exercises critical faculties. Therefore, you can see, in earlier times there were fewer journalists. There was no printing industry yet. Think of the amount of thought expended daily in this world in our time, just to bring the newspapers out! All that thinking, it is much too much, it is not at all necessary — and we have to thank the potato diet for that! Because a person who eats potatoes is constantly stimulated to think. He can't do anything but think. That's why his lungs and his heart become weak. Tuberculosis, lung tuberculosis, did not become widespread until the potato diet was introduced. And the weakest human beings are those living in regions where almost nothing else is grown but potatoes, where the people live on potatoes." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EVOLUTION OF THE EARTH AND MAN AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE STARS (Anthroposophic Press, 1987), p. 111.

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

◊◊◊ 13. RUDOLF STEINER ◊◊◊


Seeing Steiner through his followers’ eyes; includes brief chronology of Steiner's life


Steiner's visions

Steiner as leader

Steiner’s embrace of an architect of destruction


Steiner and his followers, beleaguered

The coming, epoch-ending war

What he might have done

Some illustrations on each page here at Waldorf Watch 
are closely connected to the essay on that page; 
others are not — they provide general context. 


[1] Rudolf Steiner, MYSTICISM AT THE DAWN OF THE MODERN AGE (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1980) - introduction by Steiner. 

[2] Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 224.

[3] Ibid., p. 231.

[4] Rudolf Steiner, “Atomism and its Refutation” (The Mercury Press, 1975).

[5] Steiner called Anthroposophy “spiritual science.” He argued that forms of spiritual science have existed throughout human history, with Anthroposophy being the latest, highest form. Of course, he did not include spiritual science in the category of sciences that he deplored.

[6] Maya is originally a Hindu concept, but it can also be found in Buddhism and other Eastern faiths.

[7] Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1948), XII.

[8] Rudolf Steiner, METAMORPHOSES OF THE SOUL, Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), lecture 8, GA 58.

[9] See “Was He Christian?”

[10] Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 368.

[11] See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?”

[12] Rudolf Steiner, THE STORY OF MY LIFE (Kessinger Publishing, 2003), p. 183.


[14] Anthroposophic News Sheet 22nd of January 1940 No. 3-4 (Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, 1940), GA 254: “this seems to be a condensed version of the three lectures comprising the series, ‘Significant Facts Pertaining to the Spiritual Life of the Middle of the XIXth Century.’”

[15] Rudolf Steiner, “Realism and Nominalism”, January 27, 1923 (Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, 1934), GA 220.

[16] Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE  (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 60. 

Perhaps people in Steiner’s day had some excuse for accepting his utterly bizarre statements about human organs, such as the brain and heart. Today, there is no excuse. (Science “sees the heart as a pump that pumps blood through the body. Now there is nothing more absurd than believing this, for the heart has nothing to do with pumping the blood.” — Rudolf Steiner, FREUD, JUNG, AND SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY (SteinerBooks, 2001), pp. 124-125.

[17] Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1944), pp. 27-28.

[19] Goethe’s spiritualistic interests appealed to Steiner and were reflected in his own writings. Steiner agreed with Goethe that the inwardness of phenomena is at least as important as any outwardly verifiable qualities. What some would call mere subjectivity was, for Steiner, a portal into truth. During his time editing Magazin für Literatur, he wrote an essay on Goethe’s fairy tale, “The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily”. “Since the 1880s I had been occupied with imaginations [i.e., visions produced through imagination] that, for me, became connected with this fairy tale. Goethe’s way of moving from the observations of nature into the innermost recesses of the human soul...I found expressed in the fairy tale. Concepts seemed to Goethe too poor, too dead, to represent the living, working forces of the soul.” — Rudolf Steiner, quoted by Henry Barnes in A LIFE FOR THE SPIRIT, pp. 75-76. Barnes notes, “It was clear to Steiner that with this fairy tale, one ‘had entered the outer courtyard of the esoteric.’

For Steiner on Steiner, see Rudolf Steiner, THE STORY OF MY LIFE (Kessigner Publishing, 2003; facsimile of 1928 edition) and Rudolf Steiner, AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Anthroposophical Press, 2006) — essentially the same book but with a useful chronology, pp. xvi-xxix, and an index, pp. 351-366.

For sympathetic or at least evenhanded accounts of Steiner’s life, see Geoffrey Ahern, SUN AT MIDNIGHT (James Clarke & Co., 2009), Henry Barnes, A LIFE FOR THE SPIRIT (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), Gary Lachman, RUDOLF STEINER (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2007), and Peter Washington, MADAME BLAVATSKY’S BABOON (Secker & Warburg, 1993). The last-named presents by far the most skeptical of these accounts.

[20] Rudolf Steiner, AUTOBIOGRAPHY, pp. xvii-xviii.

By Steiner’s own account, generally accepted by Anthroposophists, he became an occult initiate while still a boy. “1881-1882: Felix Koguzki, the herb gardener, reveals himself to be the envoy of another, higher initiatory personality, who instructs Rudolf Steiner....” — Ibid., p. xviii. Steiner claimed to have received a sort of double initiation. “Rudolf Steiner himself speaks of two initiatory encounters ... The first is with the herb gatherer Felix Koguzki and the other with the Master ‘M.,’ traditionally taken to be Christian Rosenkreutz.” — Christopher Bamford, afterword to Rudolf Steiner's THE SECRET STREAM: Christian Rosenkreutz and Rosicrucianism (SteinerBooks, 2000), p. 248.

Steiner generally kept his occult wisdom under wraps for many years after his "initiation." One interpretation is that his lips were sealed by the rules of the occult order he entered. Other interpretations are possible, of course.

[21] Lachman, RUDOLF STEINER, p. 92.

[22] Largely ignored, the book became scarce not long after its release and remained so for many years. An extensively revised, occultist version was released in 1918 by an Anthroposophical press. In his preface to that edition, Steiner wrote "This book has now been out of print for many years. I feel that the same things need to be said today as twenty-five years ago...." The book has subsequently been published by Anthroposophical presses under varying titles, including INTUITIVE THINKING AS A SPIRITUAL PATH (Anthroposophic Press, 1995). As the publisher of that edition reports, "Of all of his works, INTUITIVE THINKING AS A SPIRITUAL PATH is the one that Rudolf Steiner himself believed would have the longest life." — Ibid.

[23] Ahern, SUN AT MIDNIGHT, p. 31. Dates taken from Rudolf Steiner, AUTOBIOGRAPHY, p. xx.

According to Henry Barnes, “Another circumstance of his life in Weimar...occurred after nearly two years of unsatisfactory bachelor life ... Frau Eunicke offered Rudolf Steiner an apartment in her house with the understanding that he would help with her children’s education ... This provided Steiner with the living situation he needed....” — Barnes, A LIFE FOR THE SPIRIT, p. 55.

[24] AUTOBIOGRAPHY, p. xx.

[25] Peter Washington, MADAME BLAVATSKY’S BABOON, pp. 151-152.

[26] Ibid., p. 152.

Steiner’s relationships with other Theosophists were strained. Annie Besant, a leading Theosophist, had misgivings. “Over the next ten years had Steiner had a difficult relationship with Mrs Besant ... [S]he mistrusted his ambitions within the Society.” — Washington, p. 153.

[27] Ahern, p. 35.

[28] Barnes, A LIFE FOR THE SPIRIT, p. 80.

Steiner was a secularist before his sudden conversion to Theosophy. Here, for instance, are comments he made about the occult movement he himself would soon join:

"...I advise anyone who meets with a Theosophist to stand fast, look him in the eye and with total sincerity, genuinely endeavor to glean something from the revelations of such a consummate 'enlightened one' who radiates Eastern wisdom from 'his inner being.' You will of course hear absolutely nothing, nothing but hollow phrases lifted from the Eastern scriptures, without even a hint of content.

"These 'inner experiences' are nothing short of hypocrisy. After all, it's not much of a trick to pull phrases out of a profound literature and then use them to declare that the sum and substance of Western expertise is totally worthless. Yet, [in reality], how much depth, how much inwardness actually lies behind the supposedly superficial intellect, behind the external concepts of Western science, of which the Theosophists haven't the slightest idea!

"But...the mystical way in which they assert incomprehensible foreign wisdom actually seduces a fair number of their contemporaries. 

"It also proves advantageous to the Theosophists that they are able to stay on good terms with the Spiritualists and other off-beat, like-minded seekers of the spirit. Oh, sure, they [the Theosophists] contend that these Spiritualists treat the phenomena of the spirit world as external; whereas, they themselves [the Theosophists] seek to experience such phenomena as strictly within as well as totally spiritual. But they are not above walking hand in hand with the Spiritualists when they deem such an alliance to help them wage war on the unfettered science, the straightforward science of the modern era, which is solely supported by reason and observation." — Rudolf Steiner "Theosophists" ("MAGAZINE FOR LITERATURE" Nr. 34.,1897), translated by Tom Mellett. The essay is reprinted in STEINER, COLLECTED ESSAYS IN LITERATURE, pp. 194-96, GA 32.

Note how Steiner's comments undercut his own later views, such as the emphasis he placed on inner experiences, and his opposition to what he called "natural" science — i.e., what he here calls "Western science."

[29] AUTOBIOGRAPHY, p. xxii.

“In 1903 he moved out of Anna Eunicke’s house and into the Berlin Theosophical headquarters, where Fraulein von Sievers also lived.” — Washington, p. 153.

Marie’s family name is given variously as Sivers and Sievers.

[30] Ahern, p. 36.

[31] AUTOBIOGRAPHY, pp. xxiii-xxv.

[32] Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 156.

[33] “1913: Expulsion of the German section from the Theosophical Society [which Steiner headed]. February 2-3: Foundation meeting of the Anthroposophical Society ... Laying of the foundation stone for the Johannes Bau (Goetheanum)....” AUTOBIOGRAPHY, p. xxv. 

The first Goetheanum burned at the end of 1922. Work on the new building began soon, but it was not completed until after Steiner’s death in 1925.

[34] Ibid., p. xxvi.

[35] Rudolf Steiner, THE LORD’S PRAYER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007), p. 17.

[36] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.

[37] Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), pp. 248.

[38] Rudolf Steiner, CURATIVE EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 2, GA 317.

[39] Rudolf Steiner, DEEPER INSIGHTS INTO EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1983), p. 29.

[40] Rudolf Steiner, THE TENSION BETWEEN EAST AND WEST (Anthroposophic Press, 1983), p. 40.

[41] Rudolf Steiner, AT THE GATES OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1986), p. 156.

[42] Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press  1982), lecture 5, GA 93a.

[43] Rudolf Steiner, APOCALYPTIC WRITINGS (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), lecture 1, GA not specified.

We must be cautious about accepting quotations found in transcripts of uncertain provenance. But the quotation I have given certainly reflects Steiner's teachings. Consider the following, which is a close variant:

"The fifth sub-race is that of the Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon peoples ... This sub-race not only stamps upon matter what lives in man, but it stamps nature’s laws themselves upon matter ... Its mission is to study these laws and impress them on the outer world. Thereby all mankind has become more material; Zeus is no longer possible, but in his place we have the steam-engine.

"Another race will succeed us, which will find the way back again ... [O]nly our own race has progressed far enough to incorporate natural laws into the physical plane. And now mankind has to turn its attention to spiritual things ... The connection to the gods has been lost through stepping down on to the physical plane.” — Rudolf Steiner, INVESTIGATIONS INTO OCCULTISM SHOWING ITS PRACTICAL VALUE IN DAILY LIFE (H. Collison, 1920), p. 166.

The idea that we evolve into new racial forms stems from Steiner's Theosophical phase. "During evolution on each of the globes of the earth-chain, the human life-wave passes through seven evolutionary stages called root-races, of which we are at present in the fifth root-race of the fourth round on the fourth globe. Each root-race is divided into seven subraces, of which we are now in the fourth of the fifth root-race. These subraces are themselves subdivided into smaller divisions, and these again into still smaller racial units." — ENCYCLOPEDIC THEOSOPHICAL GLOSSARY (Theosophical University Press, 1999).


[Jacques Callot.]