Mystical Thinking, Realistic Thinking
I’m aware that my thinking may seem shallow to mystics. I display what Steiner called mere materialist thinking. Instead of reaching deep into the unconscious or clairvoyant depths of my soul, I emphasize clarity and reason. Steiner’s universe is a dense, complex spiritual aggregation of innumerable beings and layers. Anthroposophists would argue that my view is simplistic and, therefore, untrue.
I understand the appeal of mystical thought. For most of my life, I embraced it. And I’m still prone to it, a bit. Walking in a woods, for instance, on a sunny summer day, I may come upon a scene of such powerful natural beauty that my heart swells, and I have a sense of magical powers at work, transcendence, glory.
But these days I know such feelings for what they are — wonderful fulfillment caused in the real world by the workings of a real physical body and brain, mine. I love to experience such moments, and I sometimes go in search of them. But I no longer mistake them for anything but desirable subjective experiences that cause me to be grateful for my life, and — at best — lead me to see my life in context, playing itself out in an astonishing universe that was here long before I was born and will persist long after I am dust.
Mystical thought can feel profound, but it is often profoundly wrong. A friend of mine died recently. Since that day, I’ve been having an experience I’ve often had when someone close to me has died. I keep thinking of my friend as if he were still alive. I have to catch myself and remember that I cannot share with him the thought that has just flown through my mind, an idea that I know would interest him. I cannot drop by for a visit, I cannot expect a return visit. He no longer exists, and my mind can't quite grasp this reality. Death is, at some deep level, unimaginable to us. My own death, although inevitable, seems to me utterly incredible. This, I think, is an ingrained attitude given us by evolution: Those of our ancestors who could not accept the thought of death were strengthened — they kept striving, working, pressing on, as if they and all their achievements would not eventually be wiped away. Those of our ancestors who brooded on their coming deaths were weakened — they tended to feel that struggling against the inevitable is pointless, so they tended to give in and become passive. As a result, the genes of the defeatists tended to be winnowed away, while the genes of the strivers (who may have had a less clear vision) survived and were passed on to us.
Denying death leads directly to mysticism. If we can scarcely believe that our dead friends and loved ones are really deceased, lifeless, then we tend to think of them as still existing somewhere. Their bodies don’t still exist, and none of their essence seems to exist here — so we place them, in our imaginations, in some other place, invisible to us — we imagine the dead surviving there without their earthly bodies but still, at a spiritual level, retaining their identities. So without consciously realizing the process, perhaps, we begin to think of souls living in a spiritual realm of some sort, and we begin to dream up theories to account for such visions — theories that easily become religions. Yet all of this may simply be our subjective, irrational natures at work — it has no objective truth than we can ascertain. God may exist. Heaven may exist. But we don’t know these things. We simply wish them to be true, because the alternative runs against our grain.
Consider a specific form of mystical thinking, Steiner’s. Here is Steiner’s criticism of Isaac Newton, the genius whose work undergirds modern science. Steiner said that Newton stood “at the starting point of modern science ... [He] was the first to completely mathematize and separate space [i.e., the physical universe] from man [or man’s spiritual nature] ... Newton had torn nature asunder into space and man-who-experiences-space.”  Steiner’s point is that Newton disregarded the spiritual when he created a mathematical, materialistic description of reality. Newton's theories do not speak to our spiritual natures, they are un-heartfelt and, therefore, both shallow and wrong.
For mystically inclined people (which probably includes almost everyone in the world, to one degree or another, for the reasons I gave above), there may seem to be a core of good, solid sense in teachings such as Steiner's. It may seem self-evident that a true description of nature must include spirit. Mere dead matter could not have evolved into life, surely. Our world cannot be merely a random assemblage of atoms running through mathematically described courses. Surely there is a spirit realm behind or imminent within the physical realm. Surely our lives have meaning, extending beyond the grave. Surely.
We all incline toward such thinking. But if we are to live rationally, with our eyes open in the real world, we need to resist it. All of the mystical statements I made just now may be true, but we have no proof. For all that we know (as opposed to all that we feel or wish), all of these mystical statements are wrong. The only reasonable attitude for us to take — hard as it is, rubbing us the wrong way — is to suspend judgment. We know what we know, and we don’t know what we don’t know — and, sadly, the latter category is quite large. We know far more than our ancestors knew, and in the future people will presumably know far more than we know now. But we are stuck in our age, able to know only the information that has been obtained up to this point in human history.
Steiner pretended to know far more than anyone of our modern era can know (or, if Steiner wasn’t pretending — if he believed all that he said — then he may have been insane). Appealing to our innate desire for spiritualism, and borrowing from many sources, he conjured up visions of a fantastic universe teeming with spiritual beings. Some people find his vision extremely attractive. But none of it is knowable; all of it is, for all we know, fantasy. Steiner gained his “knowledge” of the spirit realm by using a faculty that does not exist: clairvoyance. Everything he said, arising from his claimed powers of clairvoyance, is almost certainly poppycock.
Even Steiner's criticism of Newton is disconnected from reality. Newton was, in fact, a spiritual man. He had deep spiritual interests. As THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA reports: “Newton found time now to explore other interests, such as religion and theology. In the early 1690s he had sent Locke a copy of a manuscript attempting to prove that Trinitarian passages in the Bible were latter-day corruptions of the original text. When Locke made moves to publish it, Newton withdrew in fear that his anti-Trinitarian views would become known. In his later years, he devoted much time to the interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel and St. John, and to a closely related study of ancient chronology. “  Newton did not tear nature asunder — he probed nature and learned some of the basic laws of physics, which he set forth — while also concerning himself with metaphysics.
God is not necessarily absent from the universe described by Newton. Rather, the laws of nature Newton discovered may simply be the procedures God chose for the operations of the physical universe. Steiner himself understood (or misunderstood) this, although he did not moderate his criticism as a result. “Newton becomes ill at ease, as it were, when he contemplates his own view of space. He is not quite comfortable with this space, torn as it is out of man and estranged completely from the spirit. So he defines it after all, saying that space is the sensorium of God.”  Steiner argued that Newton tried to banish God from the universe, then found that he was uncomfortable with the result, so he reintroduced God into it. This is a nice rhetorical point, but it misstates the situation. Newton said that an apple falls due to the force of gravity; Steiner denied the existence of universal gravitation, teaching that all things — including falling apples — work as they do because of the activities of spiritual beings.  Perhaps, ultimately, Steiner is right. Perhaps God or the gods do ultimately control everything in the universe. But Newton’s laws do not necessarily conflict with this possibility. The conflict exists only in Steiner’s determination to reject modern science.
Steiner’s thinking is circular — it does not lead anywhere. He started with what should be a conclusion, reached only after long, diligent investigation. He postulated the notion that multiple spiritual beings exist and control everything. Over the years, he elaborated this view, creating a body of doctrines that fill many volumes of convoluted prose. But he never proved any of it. Rather, after expending all those untold words, he arrived at a conclusion that is indistinguishable from his premise: Multiple spiritual beings exist and control everything. Steiner did not advance our pursuit of knowledge by an inch. If spiritual beings exist, he did not demonstrate their existence, he merely asserted it. Thus, he left us no farther along than we were before, whereas Newton advanced out knowledge of the universe greatly.
Steiner may have meant well, but he did not do well. He asked us to remain forever in a benighted, ancient, dark frame of mind, knowing little about reality, but imagining a lot. Whether or not he realized it, he told us lies. Isaac Newton told us demonstrable truths.
Many people are drawn to mysticism because they find the real, material world inadequate. This is especially understandable for people who are downtrodden or impoverished. Yet even for them it is a sad error. We live in what is — as far as anyone truly knows — the only world we will ever inhabit. And we currently are experiencing — as far as anyone truly knows — the only lives we will ever have. If we can’t find fulfillment here, we will find it nowhere.
Perhaps we can find it, here and now, in reality. The world we occupy is a wondrous place — not because of any real or imagined spiritual presences, but because of the nature of physical reality itself, and because of the true capacities of our own minds. We live in a world of amazing, intricate phenomena at the quantum level, and at the cosmic level, and also at our daily, experienced level. It is a world of charmed quarks and pinwheeling galaxies, a world of birds that migrate impossible distances, and crawling creatures that revise themselves as butterflies, and cloud-coloring sunsets, undulating hillsides of wildflowers, swarms of fireflies, the melancholy glory of autumn, the quickening excitement of spring... And it is a world of music and painting and literature and science — a world graced by the genius of humanity.
In truth, the real world is far more beautiful and multilayered than the dreams Steiner ginned up. Of course, there is much suffering in our world. But so is there in Steiner’s fantasized worlds — he taught of evil gods, black magicians, disease, cosmic error, souls filled with ugliness, the abyss...  Reality stands up well in comparison with such dark conceptions. And reality has the inestimable advantage of being reality.
But what about the dreariness that infects so much of our real lives? We are so often dissatisfied, bored, weary. Even when our circumstances are not oppressive, we often find oppression within out own minds and hearts. Steiner taught that the cure will be our evolution to higher, better forms of consciousness. That would be nice, of course. But if the universe and our lives are not as he described them, which is extremely probable, then his solutions have no bearing, they are worthless.
I don't pretend to have solutions for everything that ails us. I cannot lift the impoverished into affluence; I cannot cure the sick. But humanity as a whole, working together — cooperatively and rationally — might well find solutions to many of our tribulations. We will do so, however, only if we see our situation for what it really is, and strive to find remedies that actually work, in the real world. Fantasizing mystical deliverance will avail little, and it may in fact deflect us from undertakings that hold the promise of actual improvement in the human condition.
Steiner offered political prescriptions for the reorganization of society, along with recommendations for improvements in education, agriculture, medicine, and other fields. His primary focus, however, was on spiritual matters, so in assessing his work, this must be our focus, too. The darkness that concerned Steiner most is the darkness that often afflicts the human spirit. He addressed the inner pain that infects the wealthy along with the impoverished, the healthy along with the ill
If his focus was wise, his offered remedies were largely empty. He prescribed various meditative exercises that, he said, would lead to the development of clairvoyance. He offered the hope of occult initiation. Little good, I'm afraid, can come from such delusions.
Steiner recommended meditating on natural phenomena, both the living and the dead. Such exercises, undertaken rationally, may actually be beneficial, although they cannot produce the mystical rewards Steiner promised. Sit and gaze at a tree for a few minutes — any tree, or, indeed, any natural object. Try to drink it all in; try to observe everything about it. Pretty soon, you’ll realize that you can’t. You can’t know every twist and turn of one tree's trunk, every limb and twig and leaf of that single organism. You can get a general impression of any natural object you study, but grasping all the details of its form and function is far beyond our powers of observation and memory. If you stared at one tree every day for the rest of your life, you still could not know it completely. And that’s one physical object, one out of a virtual infinitude of phenomena that present themselves for our contemplation. The real world is a place of unbounded variety, constant surprise, rewarding challenges and wonders, if we only look at it with clear eyes.
The tragedy of mysticism (and I use the word “tragedy” quite intentionally) is that it gazes upon the universe with clouded eyes. It replaces a wondrous reality with a far less superb fantasy. Even an imagined universe as densely detailed as Steiner’s palls in comparison with the reality Steiner disparaged.
And here’s a related point. If a spirit realm exists apart from the material realm I've been calling reality, it certainly deserves our most careful and concentrated attention. But any true description of the spirit realm must be consistent with genuine knowledge. If a religion falls apart in the face of scientific fact, it is an unsound faith, one that does not deserve to survive. Put it this way: There is no necessary opposition between true scientific knowledge and true religious faith. Truth at any level must admit the truths of all other levels. This is why, for instance, the Vatican has an observatory. Catholicism, seeking to profess universal truth, is committed to having a scientifically correct understanding of the physical universe. Such knowledge would not weaken true faith — it would inestimably strengthen true faith. “Life emerged on earth thanks to a 12 billion-year-old process of stars caught in a cycle of collapsing, re-forming and collapsing again, said the former director of the Vatican Observatory. Over time ‘there has been a continuous transformation of energy (in the universe) into ever-more-complex forms of material,’ said U.S. Jesuit Father George Coyne ... The sun in earth’s solar system is a third-generational star, he said, which means it has gone through a process of birth, death, rebirth, death and rebirth. ‘If this process hadn’t happened in the universe, we wouldn’t be here,’ he said.”  Such scientific information presents challenges for Catholic theologians, but many of them do not shy from the task.
Many Tibetan Buddhists take a similar approach to science, accepting scientific truths and wrestling to accommodate them. “Tibetan monks and nuns spend their lives studying the inner world of the mind rather than the physical world of matter. Yet for one month this spring a group of 91 monastics devoted themselves to the corporeal realm of science. Instead of delving into Buddhist texts on karma and emptiness, they learned about Galileo’s law of accelerated motion, chromosomes, neurons and the Big Bang, among other far-ranging topics ... [S]cience has been given a special boost by the Dalai Lama, who has long advocated modern education in Tibetan monasteries and schools in exile, alongside Tibet’s traditions.” 
At least some Catholic theologians, along with at least some Buddhist monks and nuns, embrace the realities revealed by science. Steiner claimed to do the same. He claimed, in fact, to do it better than anyone else. He said that his practiced the science of the spirit, applying scientific principles to the study of the spirit realm. He said that his spiritual findings were — or would prove to be — wholly consistent with the findings of natural science.
Those were his claims. But his actual behavior was quite different. For the most part, instead of acknowledging scientific truths, he denied them. He preferred astrology to astronomy, alchemy to chemistry. He derided astrophysicists for their clever but erroneous descriptions of the stars. He repudiated medical knowledge, agricultural knowledge, Einstein's theories of relativity, Newton's theories of gravity, optics, orbital mechanics...  Of course, in practice, Catholics and Buddhists may often take antiscientific stands, but out concern here is with Steiner and his followers, For Steiner, most real science is trash.  When he heard scientists at all, he found their statements stupid. “I once had the opportunity of telling an excellent chemist about our efforts to produce radiant, shining colors for the paintings in the Goetheanum [his headquarters] and how we were experimenting with colors made from plants. He replied, ‘But we can already do much better than that; today we have the means to produce colors that are iridescent and begin to shimmer when it is dark.’ That chemist did not understand anything I was saying; he immediately thought in terms of chemistry.”  Steiner wanted colors that shine spiritually, as perceived by clairvoyance (which does not exist). He wanted a fantasy, not reality.
A position commonly taken by people of faith is that scientific explanations are incomplete because they do not take spiritual realities into account. Sometimes Steiner expressed this view, but often he went much farther, saying that scientific findings are totally wrong, even at the level of the material universe. Even as he pretended to embrace science, he threw science away. And in doing so, he threw reality away. His repudiation of science and reality was often categorical. Thus, at various times, he expressed opposition to “scientific simpletons” with their “scientific trash” and their “logical, pedantic, narrow-minded proof of things.” He deplored “primitive concepts like those...of contemporary science.” He proclaimed, "[S]cience speaks under the influence of the demonic Mars-forces." Hence, "[W]hen we listen to a modern physicist blandly explaining that Nature consists of electrons...we raise Evil to the rank of the ruling world-divinity.” 
The universe of Newton, Einstein, and other great scientists exists; we can be sure of this. The universe described by Steiner does not exist, or at least we cannot know that it exists, which in practical terms is the same thing. Steiner’s visions have no practical application in the real world — a point his followers strongly deny, of course. They turn to such compilations of Steiner’s works as INVESTIGATIONS INTO OCCULTISM SHOWING ITS PRACTICAL VALUE IN DAILY LIFE.  Think about that title. I suggest that it is preposterous, laughable — and dangerous. Humans have impulses that lead them to believe in the occult; but these are the impulses we must overcome to live full, sane lives. Indeed, they may the among impulses we need to overcome in order to be truly faithful and reverent. If we are to find God, we will not do it in the teachings of fantasists such as Rudolf Steiner.
Having rational discussions with Anthroposophists can be difficult. Steiner’s followers often assert that only their own opinions have any validity. Here is a statement that appears in many Anthroposophical publications. It refers to the school of Anthroposophical knowledge established by Steiner: “No person is held qualified to form a judgment on the contents of this work, who has not acquired — through the School of Spiritual Science itself or in an equivalent manner recognized by the School of Spiritual Science — the requisite preliminary knowledge. Other opinions will be disregarded....” 
This rather unwelcoming (shall we say close-minded?) attitude finds justification in Steiner’s own words. Referring to transcripts of lectures originally circulated only among his followers, Steiner said “The right to judge such private material can, of course, be conceded only to someone who has the prerequisite basis for such judgment, and regarding most of this material this would mean at least knowledge of the human being and of the cosmos insofar as these have been presented in the light of anthroposophy, and also knowledge of what exists as ‘anthroposophical history’ in what has been imparted from the spiritual world.” 
A rational discussion can occur only if the parties agree that all participants have views worth considering. Steiner and his followers tend to reject this out of hand. They claim that they alone comprehend the wonderful, abstruse truths of Steiner’s doctrines — and that all other views are commensurately irrelevant.
One of their premises is that real knowledge of how the universe works is hidden from all except the initiated. Those of Steiner’s followers who consider themselves initiates think they possess such knowledge. They may dispense it to the rest of us in their own good time, but until then we outsiders are left in the dark. This, too, is consistent with the example Steiner set. He wrote works for the general public, and he revealed some — but only some — hidden knowledge in them. “The hidden knowledge which is gradually taking hold of mankind, and will increasingly be doing so, may in the language of a well-known symbol be called the Knowledge of the Grail. We read of the Holy Grail in old-time narratives and legends, and as we learn to understand its deeper meaning we discover that it most significantly pictures the heart and essence of the new Initiation-knowledge, centering in the Mystery of Christ. The Initiates of the new age may therefore be described as the 'Initiates of the Grail.' ... We are now living at a time when the higher knowledge needs to be far more widely received into the general consciousness of mankind than hitherto; it is with this view in mind that the present work has been written." 
But even in these works, Steiner withheld much. Here is a passage from the same book (it refers to the distant future): “From Venus, a a certain stage, a separate celestial body becomes detached [i.e., will become detached]. This — as it were an 'irreclaimable Moon' — includes all the beings who have persisted in withstanding the true course of evolution. It enters now upon a line of development such as now words can portray, so unlike is it to anything within the range of man's experience on Earth. The evolved mankind on the other hand, in a form of existence utterly spiritualized, goes forward into the Vulcan evolution, any description of which would be beyond the compass of this book."  Perhaps someone with better language skills could have described things that Steiner said were indescribable or best left undescribed, but his language — cloudy, vague, evasive — was certainly not up to the task. Indeed, he used language that served better to conceal than to explain. But this is necessary, Steiner would rejoin: The uninitiated may not be told the secrets for which they are unprepared.
The “hidden” or “mystery” knowledge that Steiner and other “initiates” claim to possess is not available through any ordinary means, Steiner insisted. “These things cannot be — nor are they meant to be — discovered by dint of reasoning and reflection.”  They are available only through high powers of clairvoyance, allowing initiates to do such things as, for instance, reading the Akashic Records, which comprise an invisible celestial encyclopedia. “[I]f we are able to raise our faculty of perception [i.e., clairvoyance] and look through the visible world to the invisible, we arrive at length at a point where we have [i.e., we see] before us what might be compared to a mighty spiritual panorama wherein all the past events of the world are displayed. These abiding traces of all spiritual happenings may be called the ‘Akashic Records’....” 
The truths known only to initiates can hardly be expressed in ordinary language. Steiner spoke of warmth, light, planets, and other matters in words that seemed to have ordinary, clear meanings, but he often backed away quickly and explained that his words actually referred to other things, things so deep and strange that most people cannot possibly comprehend them. “[T]he beings and events seen in this field are not of a kind to be perceived by outer senses ... All we receive of them are the impressions of purely spiritual sound, spiritual light and spiritual warmth. They do not find expression in material embodiment.”  So in discussing things like sound, light, warmth, Venus, or "an irreclaimable moon," Steiner didn’t mean sound, light, warmth, Venus, or "an irreclaimable moon" (notice how Steiner distances himself from his own words, putting them in dismissive quotation marks).
All of this is greatly complicated by the extraordinarily elaborate nature of the many realms above and below mankind, populated by vast hordes of invisible beings, most of which are evolving so that what is true at any one moment may change radically in the next moment — according to Steiner. Steiner claimed to be able to investigate most if not all of these things, but he always stressed that evolution causes constant change. "It is a very complicated matter, as you may well imagine, when the Spirits of the different Hierarchies have to coordinate their forces in such a way that the mission of the Earth can be fulfilled and ultimately a state of equilibrium or balance be achieved. You will understand therefore that statements such as those made in our last lecture are valid only in so far [sic] as they refer to a definite period in evolution and that the whole picture changes immediately one depicts evolution at another period."  It is all very, very complicated. Steiner will say one thing one day and another thing the next — the "whole picture changes." So, any apparent contradictions should be overlooked since this is how things are, in the weird scheme of cosmic evolution.
Still another complication is that when Steiner revealed hidden knowledge to insiders, his words were often taken down and then published. But because Steiner himself did not review all of the resulting transcripts, some errors may have crept in. (Only Steiner, of course, possessed enough hidden knowledge to make the needed corrections.) “The results of my anthroposophical work are, first, the books available to the general public; secondly, a great number of lecture courses, originally regarded as private publications and sold only to the members of the Anthroposophical Society. The courses consist of more-or-less accurate notes taken at my lectures, which for lack of time I have not been able to correct ... [T]he public and the private publications are in fact two quite different things, built upon different foundations ... Whoever reads these privately printed lectures can take them to represent anthroposophy in the fullest sense ... It must be borne in mind, however, that faulty passages occur in these lecture-reports not revised by me. [paragraph break] The right to judge such private material can, of course, be conceded only to someone who has the prerequisite basis for such judgment...” 
So, take it all in all, we outsiders are at an enormous disadvantage. We really cannot penetrate to the truths possessed by Steiner and his initiated confederates. Thus, our views are of no value.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps we outsiders are perfectly capable of reading Anthroposophical texts and gaining a perfectly serviceable understanding of their meaning. We must make allowances for the cloudiness of Steiner’s verbiage, and we must bear in mind that errors may have crept into some texts — but Anthroposophists must do the same. We outsiders lack the clairvoyance that initiates use to confirm and correct Steiner — but in reality, initiates lack clairvoyance also, since clairvoyance is a delusion.
No, I’m afraid that all the denials and defenses put up by Anthroposophists do not withstand scrutiny. The opinions of outsiders who have studied Anthroposophy carefully cannot be brushed aside on the excuse that we do not possess the needed background, the needed psychic powers, the needed attitudes, the needed depth of comprehension. We can understand Anthroposophy well enough, and at least some of us may come to the opinion — which merits consideration, at least — that Anthroposophy is erroneous on many counts — perhaps, indeed, on nearly all counts.
We skeptical outsiders may also come to a secondary conclusion, or call it a suspicion. Steiner protested too much. He gave multiple reasons why his views should not be challenged. He said over and over, in various ways, that the only people who can understand him are the people who agree with him; all the rest of us should hold our tongues, we simply don’t understand, indeed we cannot possibly understand. But aren’t Steiner’s protestations precisely what one would expect from a dissembler? Someone who wishes to seem mysterious and wise, and who wants to avoid being pinned down and thus found out, would use precisely the tactics Steiner employed. Steiner's statements certainly are different from any that a true scientist or investigator — which is what he claimed to be — would ever make. Imagine Einstein, for instance, making Steiner-like stipulations: No one can understand the General Theory of Relativity unless he approaches it with an attitude of devotion, having been admitted to the inner circle of “mystery” physicists who possess certain occult secrets (and perhaps a secret handshake). This is not the way science works. It is not the way intelligence works. It is not the way the search for truth works.
“Anthroposophy” — a word Steiner coined — means human wisdom. But the stipulations Steiner laid down reveal that Anthroposophy stand in opposition to genuine human wisdom.
- Roger Rawlings
This page offers you the truth.
But naturally it can't provide the complete and final word on all matters touching Waldorf education.
There's more to be said, just as there was a lot of ground to cover before arriving here.
To consider what counts as good, common-sense
educational policy in Waldorf schools, see "Common Sense".
Life can be hard, disappointing, painful.
People often respond by turning to fantasy worlds —
and often they convince themselves that such worlds are real.
But they aren't.
The only truth, reality, and beauty that really exist
exist here, in the real world.
Steiner's repudiation of real knowledge went beyond antipathy to science;
he essentially derided all modern scholarship and knowledge.
"Today's historians, sociologists, economists, and politicians who derive their rules and laws solely from the physical plane...are like someone who, when faced with an onerous task, begins to tackle it by lying down and going to sleep on a couch ... This is indeed in most cases how those belonging to the life of culture and the life of the various scientific disciplines set about their work."
— Rudolf Steiner, SECRET BROTHERHOODS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 97.
The demon Ahriman, the chief intellectual power in the universe,
wants to lure us into accepting the dead knowledge of modern scholarship:
“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.
Intellectuals — victims of maya or illusion — are possessed by various spirits, Steiner taught.
One Anthroposophist has expressed this in the following words:
"[D]ifferent Spirits — normal and abnormal Archangels, normal and abnormal Archai; in all, therefore, no less than four distinct ranks of Beings — work in conjunction or in contrast to one another, in diverse ways. No wonder therefore if historians, sociologists, philosophers, seeing only what appears in the world of Maya and being more impressed with the external outcome now of the one, now of the other kind of spiritual influence, will give so many apparently conflicting definitions of [important terms]."
— George Adams Kaufmann, SOULS OF THE NATIONS (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1938), lecture 2.
All in all, Steiner and his followers disparage the work of "so-called educated people":
"The time must come when [we] take up the irksome task of thinking not only in the way thinking is taught by the so-called educated people in the universities ... [We must] take...this view of the world which derives its direction, its concepts and ideas out of the spiritual world. Humanity must not be allowed to remain in the dormant state it wants to retain with those abstract, generalized concepts not only striven for but called noble by the [modern] age."
— Rudolf Steiner, SECRET BROTHERHOODS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 92.
Spotlight on Anthroposophy
Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 2, No. 2
by Sharon Lombard
Leaving Waldorf was a very difficult time for my family. Our world was turned upside down and inside out. Although some people have positive experiences with the schools, others have troubling encounters with the movement. Years ago an ex-Waldorfer observed:
I think most parents get "attached" to their kids being in the Waldorf schools and they just want to look the other way when something uncomfortable comes up. Or, they view the teaching as somehow superior because it is not of this "materialistic" world we live in. Especially when a parent starts their child in the younger grades. By the time the child is in the school for a number of years, the school has become so much a part of their identity that they cannot face the possibility of letting go. It's very subtle but one begins to feel it is more and more difficult to relate to others outside the Waldorf circle. Eventually I felt I was living on some sort of "Anthroposophical island." This alienation, coupled with my troubling questions finally convinced me that something was very wrong ("Heather", private fax to Dan Dugan, May 8, 1996).
Recently, Waldorf parent Nicole Foss reflected:
If Anthroposophy were only a church, our paths would never cross, but Anthroposophy does not restrict itself to its circle of True Believers. Instead it sets up schools where these disguised beliefs are foisted upon unsuspecting parents whose opinions can be disregarded because they don't "know the path." These parents are expected to follow unknowingly the requirements of a religion which denies to them that it even exists, and may be criticized in their ignorance for anthroposophical incorrectness. No wonder so many parents initially feel bewildered and later angry for having been deceived (Foss, 2003, March, 16."Percedol," http://www.waldorfcritics.org/active/archives/WCA0212.html ).
An ex-Waldorf teacher who has recently filed suit against the New York Waldorf School for racial discrimination, Charmaigne Usher-Paulson, expresses her feelings of loss on a private Internet forum of ex-Waldorfers:
I realized today, that we all are in mourning. We mourn the loss of what could, should have been. The sorrow, anguish, and anger that are laced within our words demonstrate the sincerity of our aspirations for true community and our reaction to deception.
You cannot love people if you are duping them. Ms. Paulson also writes: "When you are involved in the movement you are either "in" or "out". If you do not espouse and adhere to the group, then you are "out"" (2002, October, 21. "Lawsuits"" private communication).
After beginning my study of Anthroposophy, while emerging from Waldorf, I was cast into a state of grappling with metaphysical concepts like never before. I endured nightmares prompted by the realization that I had been duped and from reading Steiner's bizarre subtext. I agonized to discern "what is real or unreal," while at the same time facing my daughter's illness. It was a period of much sadness, confusion, and anger. Discovering Waldorf's subtext forced me to confront my own reality and reaffirm my own perspective on life. Knowledge of Anthroposophy enabled me to put Waldorf into context and to recognize its omnipresence in my daughter's lesson books. By reading Steiner, I gained an understanding of our experiences as well as the words with which to speak about them. I came to know that as an infidel, Anthroposophy is incompatible with my perception of reality, and, as an artist, it conflicts with my vision of art. Steiner's racist doctrine coincides with my experience of Apartheid — the reason I left my native South Africa. I went on to take a couple of classes on cults and new religious movements at the University of Miami and have become fascinated with alternate realities and cultic studies. I now have a much better grasp of beliefs, believers, groups, leaders, followers and my own personal worldview. Ironically, I had sent my daughter to Waldorf to get an education, when ultimately, it was I who got the education.
Steiner told his followers that an "occultist will never dream of imposing dogmas," instead:
he is one who tells what he has seen and tested in the astral and spiritual worlds or what has been revealed to him by trustworthy and reliable teachers. He does not desire to convert but to quicken in others the sense that has awakened in him and to enable them to see likewise. (Steiner, 1961, chapter X, paragraph 1, http://wnelib.com/Steiner/Lectures/Places/Paris/19060606p01.html ).
While Steiner's "desire" inadvertently awakened me to the veiled esoteric base of Waldorf schooling, it did not lead me to "see likewise"; to the contrary, it was "to quicken" me to leave the group and eventually become a Waldorf critic. My research brought to light who the founder of Waldorf really was, how his doctrine steeped in the occult impacts all aspects of his followers" lives and how to decode Anthroposophic double-speak. A pluralistic society allows room for all, but Waldorf needs to be more open in clarifying its esoteric base. Prospective parents are entitled to be informed of the concealed Anthroposophic mission of this schooling system. Some may experience the warmth of belonging as freedom; I was scorched by the harsh light of Anthroposophy. You are either a moth drawn to the light, or you are instead drawn to the porch. As a friend observed, "You are drawn to Waldorf not because of what it is, but because of what it is not." [http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/lombard_sharon_csr0202j.htm]
When considering Rudolf Steiner's educational philosophy, remember that it is based on occult doctrines. Waldorf schooling is intended for people who possess multiple invisible bodies, and who live in an environment full of invisible corpses. Here is some of what Steiner says about what happens to us after we die and prior to our next earthly incarnation:
“After death this whole, damaging world of passion becomes perceptible to the ego, and the ego then feels itself drawn to every being and every thing that has enkindled such a passion, in order that this passion may again be destroyed in the ‘consuming fire’ in the same way it was created. Only when man in his backward journey [a review process after death] has reached the point of his birth have all the passions of this kind passed through the fire of purification, and, from then on, nothing hinders him from a complete surrender to the spiritual world. He enters upon a new stage of existence. Just as, at death, he threw off the physical body, then, soon after, the ether body, so now that part of the astral body falls away that can live only in the consciousness of the outer physical world. For supersensible perception there are, thus, three corpses: the physical, the etheric, and the astral corpse. The point of time when the latter is thrown off by man is at the end of the period of purification, which lasts about a third of the time that passed between birth and death. The reason why this is so can only become clear later on, when we shall consider the course of human life from the standpoint of occult science. For supersensible observation, astral corpses are constantly present in the environment of man, which have been discarded by human beings who are passing over from the state of purification into a higher existence, just as for physical perception there are physical corpses in the world in which men dwell.” — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), chapter 3, GA 13. [The image of purifying fire, above, is not Anthroposophical: it comes from an alchemical text (see J. C. Cooper, AN ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TRADITIONAL SYMBOLS (Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 67. For Steiner's views on alchemy, see "Alchemy".]
The following was not written about Anthroposophists,
but it might have been. If it is not applicable to all Anthroposophists,
it certainly applies to a significant subset of them:
"These believers have abandoned...their trust and belief in the world of science, law and rationality ... They have replaced the world that has failed them with a new, glorious world filled with prophets and mystical signs ... They are utopians ... They see criticism of their belief system, whether by scientists or judges, as vicious attempts by Satan to lure them back into the morass. The split...is between those who embrace reason, who function in the real world of cause and effect, and those who...now seek meaning in a mythical world of intuition, a world that is no longer reality-based, a world of magic."
— Chris Hedges, AMERICAN FASCISTS (Free Press, 2006), pp. 35-36.
Waldorf student art courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools
Steiner noticed that most people notice that the universe we see around us is nothing like the universe he described. His explanation was that we just happen to live in a time when we and our surroundings are made of dense material (physical stuff, consisting of atoms or sublunar what-have-you), and we just happen to live in a locality where the laws of science hold more or less true. But at other times, or at other distances, things are the way Steiner described. He claimed to know this thanks to his clairvoyance, a faculty that — inconveniently for him — does not actually exist. But it's what he claimed. "What people discover on the earth by way of natural laws loses its validity more and more as they distance themselves from earth." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 98. [My sketch of a portion of Steiner's sketch, 2009. The connection between Steiner's words and his sketches is often obscure.]
We can seek knowledge through occultism
or through science and rational scholarship.
Which approach works best should be clear.
Reality is grand enough.
Why look elsewhere?
(Especially if the alternative is only a pipe dream.)
[Celestial images, in various spectra: NASA.]
Steiner had remarkable knowledge not just of the occult past but also of the occult future. Following the Earth phase of human evolution, we will proceed to the Jupiter phase. Steiner's visions were, in multiple ways, alluring. For some people, they make sense — or, at least, they offer an appealing explanation of life and its meaning. The challenge for the rational mind is deciding whether such allures and appeals have any basis in reality.
• “Just as wisdom shines towards us on the Earth, so on Jupiter there will come fragrantly towards the Jupiter beings that which is evolving here on Earth as love — from the purely sex-love to Spinoza's ‘Divine Love.’ It will send out perfume as plants send out their various aromas ... Future evolution will bring about the full community of the spirit, that is, on Jupiter the belief will begin to prevail that there is no health and happiness of the one without the health and happiness of all the rest, and indeed to an equal degree.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS UPON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1961), lecture 6, GA 102.
• “A lily is the visible expression of a word that was once spoken by the creator. Much depends on which words and vowels one speaks, which thoughts and feelings one sends out, because they will become visible during the Jupiter, Venus, etc., earth conditions [i.e., the form our planet will take during Future Jupiter, Future Venus, etc.]. The mineral, plant and animal kingdoms here on earth are likewise the expression of what Moon dwellers once said and thought. That's why mantras and the words of meditations have the letter sequence and the word sounds that they do, because they only have their effect in that particular sequence. What we do and create will be visible on Jupiter, for instance Koeln Cathedral will be visible as a larger formation, Raphael's paintings will surround Jupiter like clouds or a mirage. Our music will resound as music of the spheres over there on Jupiter.” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM THE LESSONS OF THE ESOTERIC CLASS (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), GA 266. [R.R. sketch, 2010 — not, perhaps, wholly accurate.]
The ultimate test of the truth of Steiner's doctrines lies with you. Read his words and reach your own conclusions. Here's one of innumerable available examples. Steiner thought the following point was important enough that he made an illustration to accompany his words. "[T]he human embryo merely rests in the mother's body; it is given form by the sun's forces ... The moon forces become evident, above all, as the inner influence of the lower, metabolic nature of man ... With their whole being human beings are placed into the polarity of the sun forces and moon forces." — Rudolf Steiner, MATERIALISM AND THE TASK OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1987), pp. 240-241. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on illustration on p. 241.]
Waldorf school aim to educate "the whole child."
This means a child who has twelve senses, both a soul and a spirit,
four bodies (some of which have not yet fully incarnated,
and two of which fly away at night)...
a child who is a reincarnated being,
who has lived many many previous lives (on Earth and elsewhere),
who has a karma,
who has an astrological sign and identity,
who exemplifies one of four temperaments,
who stands at a certain level of racial/evolutionary development,
who should be kept young as long as possible...
a child whose brain does not really think,
whose heart is not a pump,
who should be helped to develop clairvoyance...
a child who began existence on Old Saturn
and who is headed toward existence on Future Vulcan...
If this is how you see your child, then a Waldorf school
may be just what you are looking for.
But if not ...
"[F]rom the eighth pre-Christian century to the fifteenth century A.D....human beings predominantly employed their etheric body when they engaged in thinking ... [I]n the fifteenth century people began to think with their physical bodies. When we think, we do so with the forces the etheric body sends into the physical body." — Rudolf Steiner, MATERIALISM AND THE TASK OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1987), pp. 178-179. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on illustration on p. 179.]
“[T]he astral body makes itself very much at home everywhere in the [physical] body. It gets too strong. It attacks all the organs and wears them down. And that is the consequence of rapid arsenic poisoning. If someone takes a lot of arsenic, quickly, his astral body begins to become terribly active, whirling, whirling, whirling ... The ether body gives life, the astral body gives sentience. But there can be no sentience unless life is suppressed. To draw it in diagrammatic form, therefore, it is like this. There you have the astral body [darker areas], there the ether body [lighter areas]. They are always fighting one another. If the ether body wins we get a bit sleepy; if the astral body wins we come wide awake ... [T]he astral body gets what it needs...from the arsenic human beings produce themselves." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM ELEPHANTS TO EINSTEIN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), pp. 19-20. [R. R. sketch, 2009, based on the sketch on p. 20.]
"Is there a formula in numbers, or any other means by which we can express the respective relationships of force in the physical, the etheric and the astral bodies? ... I shall now sketch the relationship of these for you on the blackboard. If we consider deeply this figure on the blackboard...it is like a part of the occult script [i.e., the Akashic Record] on which we can meditate ... When, in meditation, we give ourselves up to this occult sign and evoke a certain inward feeling of the relationship of these...surfaces to one another, we obtain an impression of the mutual proportions of the physical body, etheric body and Ego." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Kessinger, facsimile of 1929 edition), pp. 40-42. [Illustration from p. 40; I have added color to the b&w image.]
Our poor brains. They have their uses, according to Steiner —
but these uses are distinctly limited.
Use of the brain saps our energy, ages us, and hastens our death.
Fortunately, the ill effects of our brains and nervous systems
are offset by our blood, which has occult significance.
Why would someone promoting antiscientific, unenlightened doctrines
that have no basis in reality disparage the use of the brain?
It's a puzzle.
[R.R. sketch of the brain/nervous system and blood system,
2009, based on the illustration on p. 194 of
Rudolf Steiner, FROM LIMESTONE TO LUCIFER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999)
—a collection of Steiner's lectures.
You may also want to consult
Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD
(Health Research, 1972.)]
To look into Steiner's teachings about brains and thinking,
To consider Steiner's teachings about blood, see "Blood".
I am, clearly, a harsh critic of Rudolf Steiner and the educational system he founded.
Yet, trying to be fair, I may sometimes err by making Steiner's teachings seem more
attractive than his followers themselves have sometimes done.
Here is the illustration that was my model for the drawing, above:
[FROM LIMESTONE TO LUCIFER, p. 194.]
“[P]eople have completely forgotten how to consider things within the universe ... Animals usually go away before there is a volcanic eruption or the like; people stay put. Why do the animals move away? Yes, when the different influence comes, the different influence of the stars, it is like this with the animals. An animal is essentially made in such a way that it has its legs here [see drawing], there its spine, the spinal vertebra, and there its head. As the stars move along there, the whole spine is always exposed to the stars, vertebra by vertebra exposed to the stars, and they belong together; they belong together so much that we have 28 to 31 vertebrae in the spine and the moon takes 28 to 31 days to complete its orbit. The connection is as close as that.
"But humans walk upright. With them, only the head, this little bit of head, is exposed to the starry heavens. Their spine has been lifted out. So in humans only the blood is exposed to the star influence and not the nervous system." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 128-129. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on sketch on p. 128.]
If you're tempted to think there is even a particle of sense in Steiner's statement, ask yourself this: Are all of the stars directly overhead? Obviously not. Stars are scattered all over the sky — some are nearly overhead, but most are spread every which way. Starlight (and, theoretically, astrological influence) reaches us from stars high above, and stars midway up the arc of the sky, and stars down near the horizon. Every which way. So starlight hits us from all sides, and it hits upright bodies just as much as it hits horizontal bodies.
The other obvious flaw in Steiner's statement is that there is no such thing as astrological influence or "star influence." That's superstition, nothing more. This is typical of Steiner's statements. If you think about them, they start collapsing left and right, forming heaps of deflated flapdoodle.
[FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS, p. 128.]
"Try to picture the sun and moon both contained in the earth and oysters that had no shells, but were slime. When lumps of this substance separated off, new oysters developed, and so forth. They were so huge and lay right next to each other so that you could not have told them apart. What did the earth look like at that time? It looked like our brain, whose cells also lie next to each other. They only difference is that these cells die off, whereas in that very ancient time the huge oysters cells were one next to the other, and the sun constantly developed forces, because it was inside the earth. Yes, gentlemen, the earth was here [see drawing], and there was a giant oyster, another next to it, and many other huge lumps of slime, which continuously propagated ... If you had looked at the earth at that ancient time, it would have resembled a gigantic creature that contained within it the forces of the sun and of the moon." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM CRYSTALS TO CROCODILES (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002, pp. 143-144. [R. R. sketch based on sketch on p. 143.]
What are we to make of such flapdoodle? Here's one suggestion: Call it flapdoodle and walk away.
[FROM CRYSTALS TO CROCODILES, p. 143.]
Here are excerpts from
"Waldorf Education — One Family's Story"
When I was at the Waldorf School I didn't see it as a cult, in fact, I remember thinking the idea ridiculous when I heard that this was being said by some people. It was only after leaving, when I joined the Waldorf Survivors online support group and read articles on the Internet that I began see that the behaviour of Waldorf people was what many people would call cultish.
When we joined the school we knew nothing of Anthroposophy and had never heard of Rudolph Steiner. We were attracted by what appeared to be an alternative style, arts-based, child-centred education.
Once in, however, we gradually became indoctrinated. I admit that I in particular, was very vulnerable. I was very disillusioned by conventional education because of my own experiences. Waldorf people think they have the answer to everything and I believed them. They encourage you to believe that conventional education is very damaging to children.
...You are expected to devote a great deal of time to helping and supporting the school. I do not see this as unreasonable in itself as it helps to keep the fees down, but this together with the unconventional lifestyle you are expected to follow, has the effect of isolating you from people outside of the community.
...Anthroposophists have their own type of alternative medicine ... Anthroposophists don't believe in vaccination and were explaining why they felt it to be damaging. Some of the new parents were becoming concerned as they had had their children vaccinated. It was then said that they were not to worry because any damage would be healed because they were in a Waldorf School. Looking back, I can't believe I accepted this.
The thing is, once you accept these ideas, the thought of your children going to any other school fills you with fear.
...Teachers at Waldorf Schools are usually Anthroposophists. It is claimed that this is not taught to the children, and it is not taught directly. However, everything they teach is influenced by their beliefs.
...When you join a Waldorf School they are not open with you about their true purpose. They will tell you as much as they think you will accept. Then gradually they indoctrinate you with their ideas.
I think the word indoctrinate is justified because they put great pressure on you to conform. Free thinking is just not allowed.
...I feel this is different from expressing opinions. I often disagree with friends, but I do not try to make them feel guilty. Nor do I insist I am right. This sort of nonjudgmental attitude is simply not tolerated at a Waldorf School. They ARE right. The is no other alternative.
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.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE ORIGINS OF NATURAL SCIENCE (Anthroposophist Press, 1985), p. 51.
 "Sir Isaac Newton." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 03 Jul. 2009.
 THE ORIGINS OF NATURAL SCIENCE, p. 51.
 For Steiner’s conception of gravity, see “Secrets”.
 See “Everything”.
 Carol Glatz, “Recycled stars make right materials for life, says Vatican astronomer”, CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE, June 26, 2009.
 Amy Yee, “Tibetan Monks and Nuns Turn Their Minds Toward Science, NEW YORK TIMES, June 30, 2009, p. D3.
 Dismissing a rationalist, Steiner once said “He did not want any fairy tales told to children, or to teach children anything other than scientific trash....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE RENEWAL OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 94. Steiner always preferred fantasies such as fairy tales as opposed to the truths of science.
 HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 122.
 Scientific simpletons: Rudolf Steiner, THE KARMA OF UNTRUTHFULNESS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 276.
Scientific trash: Rudolf Steiner, THE RENEWAL OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 94.
Pedantic proof of things: Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 240.
Primitive concepts: Rudolf Steiner, HOW CAN MANKIND FIND THE CHRIST AGAIN (Anthroposophic Press, 1984), p. 54.
Demonic Mars forces: Rudolf Steiner, “The Spiritual Individualities of the Planets” (THE GOLDEN BLADE 1966).
World-ruling divinity: Rudolf Steiner, "Concerning Electricity", ANTHROPOSOPHIC NEWS SHEET, No. 23/24, June 9, 1940.
 Rudolf Steiner, INVESTIGATIONS INTO OCCULTISM SHOWING ITS PRACTICAL VALUE IN DAILY LIFE (Kessinger, facsimile of 1920 edition).
 The prefatory note can be found in, e.g., CHRIST IMPULSE AND DEVELOPMENT OF EGO-CONSCIOUSNESS, SECRETS OF THE THRESHOLD, COSMIC AND HUMAN METAMORPHOSES, WONDERS OF THE WORLD, THOUGHTS ON EASTER, and INNER NATURE OF MAN AND LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH, all by Rudolf Steiner. During the Christmas season, 1923-24, Steiner announced plans for a school of spiritual science (i.e., Anthroposophy). See Johannes Kiersch, A HISTORY OF THE SCHOOL OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE (Temple Lodge Publishing, 2006). The primary center for Anthroposophical studies today is located at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland.
 Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER, AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (SteinerBooks, 1980), p. 388.
 Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), p. 305.
 Ibid., pp. 309-310.
 Ibid., p. 300.
 Ibid., p. 105.
 Ibid., p. 299.
 Rudolf Steiner, MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 97.
 RUDOLF STEINER, AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. pp. 386-388.
[public domain photo].