Our Occult Innards

Madame Helena Blavatsky, one of the founders of the religion called Theosophy, was effectively Rudolf Steiner’s mentor. If Steiner never sat at her feet, he was nonetheless powerfully affected by her spiritual vision; his own teachings derive, to a large extent, from hers. The title of Madame Blavatsky’s magnum opus is, tellingly, THE SECRET DOCTRINE. Many religions, certainly including Blavatsky’s Theosophy and Steiner’s Anthroposophy, make a fuss about their “secrets” and “mysteries.” Generally, possession of “mystery knowledge” is supposed to be confined to initiates — insiders, the select few. The thrill of possessing privileged, holy knowledge is great among true believers. To be an initiate is to be saved, one of the elect, one of the wise, one of the good.

Claiming to possess occult secrets can have some unfortunate side-effects, however. Sometimes the secrets turn out to be mere bits of discarded science — ideas that educated people once considered true but that science has since rejected: The sun orbits the earth, the universe is filled with an invisible ether, racial differences are deep and extremely important — and other such fallacies. [1] In other instances, esoteric secrets never had any rational validity but their antiquity is counted in their favor. They are thought to have been handed down by the ancients who, occultists believe, were closer to God, or had truer intuitions, or possessed greater clairvoyant powers, than the degenerate people of today. Thus we find belief in sprites or spirits of all sorts, bizarre conceptions of the movements and powers of the planets, faith in various forms of spells and magic and alchemy — and so forth. No matter where the various occult “secrets” come from, they encourage true believers to deny modern scientific information. Today’s spiritualists often reject vaccination, deny the causes of AIDS, repudiate Einsteinian physics, turn thumbs down to Darwinian evolution, and even close their eyes to firmly established historical events such as the Holocaust. [2]

Let’s examine some of the “mystery knowledge” that Rudolf Steiner revealed to teachers at the first Waldorf school. I’ll concentrate mainly on statements Steiner made about human nature and the human body, drawing quotations from several Steiner texts, especially THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE: Foundations of Waldorf Education. [3] The concepts Steiner expressed in these lectures undergird the study of many subjects at Waldorf schools. [See "Oh Humanity".] As Anthroposophist educator Roy Wilkinson has written, “It should be pointed out that any study of physiology or anthropology [at a Waldorf school] is taken according to the understanding of the human being as given by Rudolf Steiner.” [4] Wilkinson actually understates the case. Steiner’s views on human nature inform the entire Waldorf curriculum, to varying degrees in the various subjects. After all, the only way to teach students is to reach them, and the only way to do that is to understand who and what they are.

A word before we plunge in. Wading through Steiner’s rambling, obscure, obtuse comments can be a chore — and finding sense in them may sometimes seem impossible. But the attempt is necessary for anyone who wants to know what goes on inside Waldorf schools. Bear in mind that the statements quoted here represent the “Foundations of Waldorf Education.” This stuff is loony, but it is fundamental. In an attempt to add some clarity, I will interject explanations as we go along. I will also occasionally supplement Steiner’s words with brief comments about the education I received at a Waldorf school. 


Here are some of Steiner’s amazing remarks:

Thinking with Your Bones: “The ancients...believed that people thought with their bones ... We can thank the capacity of our skeletal system for everything we have in abstract science ... Our skeleton has considerable knowledge, but because we cannot reach down into the skeleton with our consciousness, our awareness of that knowledge fades and is reflected only in the geometric pictures drawn by human beings. The human being is directly coupled to the cosmos, and with the development of geometry, something the human being does in the cosmos is modeled [i.e., geometry reflects human spiritual activity].” [5] When Steiner stated that the ancients thought that humans think with their bones, he could have gone on to say how wrong they were. But he did just the opposite (as usual for him): He embraced ancient, dead “knowledge” and incorporated it into his theology. Hence, geometry is not a branch of mathematics governed by rational laws; geometry — like virtually everything else presented to students in a Waldorf school — is deemed to be the expression of cosmic, spiritual activities. Our math teacher continually urged us to see past the forms we created with compass and straight edge: to find beyond them a spirit of perfection. Geometry embodies truths that, ideally, we should feel deep in our bones. We learned that the circle is the perfect form; the equilateral triangle is “highest” of all angular shapes; the “Golden Mean” embodies a timeless aesthetic ideal; the “Platonic realm” is more real than coarse physical reality; and so forth and so on.

◊ Thinking with Your Bones, the Sequel“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.

No Brainer: Spend a while on this next one; Steiner had a gift for clarifying and blurring at one and the same time. Unless you have spent many years in a Waldorf school, this will probably seem to be gibberish: “As we appear physically, we are clearly divided into the head system, the chest system, and the abdominal system, including the limbs ... If you say that we differentiate between the human head, chest, and abdomen-limbs, then people will be of the opinion that each of these must have its own well-defined boundary. People want to draw lines when they differentiate, but when we speak of reality, this is impossible. In our heads, we are mainly head, but we are head in our entire being, only the rest is not primarily head ... The chest is the actual chest, but only in the main since the whole human being is also chest ... It is the same with the abdomen ... [T]he head has qualities of the abdomen ... The beautiful structure of the outer cortex [of the brain] is, in a sense, a degeneration. It represents more of a digestive system in the outer portions of the brain ... [Because] we can feed the brain nerves better than animals do...we have the possibility of more fully developing our higher cognition. However, the brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition....” [6] At my Waldorf school, physiology was taught by our headmaster. Without attributing the concept to Steiner, he stressed the tripartite nature of the human body: head system, chest system, and abdomen-limb system. He also apparently agreed that the head is not the seat of true cognition: He once explicitly told me not to think with my brain.

Sun in the Morning and the Moon at Night: “[W]hen ancient people...spoke of the head as consonant with the sun and the chest with the moon, they were not incorrect ... To understand human nature, it is very important to recognize that a major portion of the chest is invisible. The chest reveals its physicality only on one side, that is, toward the rear; toward the front it blends into the soul state [i.e., spiritual existence].” [7] We students were led to appreciate the importance of the chest system, primarily because it contains the heart (which opens outward to the cosmos, as Steiner suggests in the present passage). One of our Friday high school assemblies was given over to a speech by an aspiring chiropractor. Afterwards, our headmaster said the presentation was excellent, but that chiropractic ascribed to the spine an importance that really belongs to the heart. Steiner himself frequently said that the heart is a sense organ: “The heart is not a pump ... Basically the heart is a sense organ within the circulatory system, yet exactly the opposite is taught nowadays.” [8]

◊ Sun Power: “[T]he wasps' nests, as well as all of the beavers' constructions, are built by the cleverness that flows to earth from the sun ... [O]ne must say: it is indeed the sun! Gentlemen, it really is so. In this manner, through the pure facts themselves, one comes to recognize how the cosmic surroundings of the earth affect living beings ... [T]he soul life of animals exists only in groups — hence, [they have] group souls [i.e., shared souls]. Man, however, has his individual soul ... A human being is actually built up in such a way that, when observing him correctly, one can say: he builds up everything in himself that the beaver builds outwardly ... We are, indeed, not earthly beings but sun beings ... [I]f the facts are viewed correctly they lead you to realize that the world is really a unity and that we are dependent upon the earth's surroundings, which consist not merely of a shining, warming sun but also of a clever sun, an intelligent sun." [9] This passage may leave you breathless, but it is a good example of Steiner's reasoning as well as the practical value of his teachings. We are Sun beings or, more generally, spiritual beings — the Earth is not our true home. Our true home, in a sense, is the Sun, which is an intelligent force, a spiritual force. Indeed, we are surrounded by living spiritual forces and beings, and our true nature is like theirs. How can we know this? Well, one way is to observe how humans build up their inner structures (bones and so on) the way beavers build dams. And how do beavers build dams? The same way wasps build nests: They are guided by the clever Sun. Q.E.D., no? Hence, we are Sun beings and our medicine must always bear astral influences in mind. For instance:

◊ I.Q. and Sex: “Persons born between December and March were conceived between March and May. Their births date back to conceptions that took place in the spring nine months earlier, between March and May, and hence to a time approaching summer ... [T]he sun's effects are always stronger then. So, what does the sun do? It subdues human sexual forces just a little...and these subdued sexual forces become intelligence. That is why such a person has an easier time of it [in school, etc.], while those born in summer must work somewhat more in acquiring their cleverness. ... Those conceived in spring and born the following winter tend to acquire forces of intelligence more easily ... All this must be known so that the differences can be compensated for through education ... " [10] We can see all sorts of mischief arising from such ideas. Waldorf school teachers think they are right to pigeonhole students based on birthdate, astrological sign,"temperament," body type, race, and so forth — all of which are entirely bogus indicators.

What Nerve: “Physiologists believe that they are onto something when they speak of sensory and motor nerves, but they are actually only playing with words ... They say that someone cannot walk because the nerves that set the legs in motion, the motor nerves, are paralyzed. In truth, that person cannot walk because he or she cannot perceive his or her own legs [i.e., someone with higher consciousness would not be paralyzed].” Doctors foolishly ascribe most forms of paralysis to nerve damage. Steiner corrects them: Paralysis reflects a spiritual deficiency, a failing of “perception” — which, for Steiner, means clairvoyance or one of its allied forms of thought such as imagination. The gods give us these problems so that we can overcome them and, thus, make spiritual progress. “Our age has of necessity become lost in a series of errors so that we can have the opportunity to work our way through these errors and become free human beings.” [11] Couldn’t the gods think up a less troublesome approach for helping us?

Eating Fat Empties Your Head: To grasp the following, you need to know that we are reincarnated. Your “soul” is your individual spiritual identity renewed with each new incarnation, while your “spirit” is your undying spiritual component, representing the authority of the spiritual realm and carried from incarnation to incarnation. Your “spirit-soul” is the combination of both spirit and soul. “[I]t would be incorrect to allow children to eat too much fattening food. If [we] do so, since the fat blocks the spirit-soul, the head separates from the spirit-soul and becomes empty.” [12] This brief statement calls for at least two responses. • Here we see Steiner actually giving good, practical advice, something he rarely did. Avoid fattening foods. Correct. But, as usual, his reasoning is outlandish. At a conventional, secular school, the study of physiology would focus largely on health and how to maintain it — indeed, the course might be called “Health.” The teacher would discuss the cardiovascular system, and how to attain cardiovascular fitness. There would be discussion of the transmission of diseases, and how to protect yourself. There would be discussion of the brain and nervous system, and the importance of avoiding concussions or spinal injuries. And certainly healthful eating habits would be discussed. At our school, such subjects were left by the wayside, in the Anthroposophical haze. • I do not recall that the terms “spirit” and “soul” were differentiated at the Waldorf school I attended, and I don’t remember the term “spirit-soul” being used. However, the faculty frequently spoke of either spirit or soul when addressing us. We were led to understand that we are primarily spiritual beings, which seemed okay since we heard the same thing in church. But we didn’t know what Anthroposophists mean by this concept, for instance that our heads could be emptied out due to an anti-spiritual diet. The school did, however, make careful (if not fully explained) dietary recommendations that we were supposed to convey to our parents.

Body, Soul, and Spirit — A Work in Progress: “We know that when we look at the complete human being, we see the human body, soul and spirit ... The body is part of the stream of genetic heredity; it carries inherited traits and so forth. The soul is part of that prenatal existence [i.e., life in the spirit realm before birth] most closely connected to the body. However, what is spiritual in modern human beings exists only as a tendency ... So here, where we wish to lay the foundation for a good pedagogy [i.e., Waldorf education], we must take into account what is present only as a spiritual tendency ... What we call Spirit Self [the first component of our spirit nature] is present only as a tendency ... Then there is a second highest aspect of the human being that we call Life Spirit [the second component of spirit nature]. The Life Spirit is barely perceptible in modern human beings. It is something very spiritual that will develop in the distant future. The highest part of the human being is something that presently exists only as a barely perceptible tendency, the actual Human Spirit [also called Spirit Man, the highest component of spirit nature].” [13] Basically, humans today are still mired in the physical realm. We have bodies, and connected to them we have souls. Our spirits are still vague, however — we find only spiritual tendencies in ourselves, not spiritual fulfillments. Our physical bodies are in several ways our enemies. To make real progress, we will have to realize our spiritual tendencies and rid ourselves of our physical existence. (But if physical existence is reality — if we are now living our one and only life in the real world — Steiner’s guidance is worthless or worse than worthless, alienating ourselves from ourselves, and shutting us off from reality.)

The Head’s Chest: “In the head we have the actual head, and we also have the torso — that is, everything associated with the nose. And we have a limb component that extends into the cavity of the body — that is, everything surrounding the mouth. In this way, we can see how the entire human being is present in the head. But...the head’s ‘chest’ is stunted. It is stunted to the degree that we only vaguely recognize the connection between the nose and the lungs ... [T]he nose transforms the breathing process so that it is directed toward the physical. It would be a mistake to view the lung as less spiritual than the nose ... [A]lthough the nose sits shamelessly in the middle of the human face, the lungs, even though they are more closely related to the soul, modestly hide their existence.” [14] I’m almost tempted to think Steiner was joking, here. At least, he was apparently trying to be witty. He was serious about his central point, however, which is unfortunate, since it is remarkably foolish. The nose is certainly connected to the lungs: We breathe by using our noses, mouths, and lungs. But the nose is not, therefore, a miniature torso. Nor does the nose “transform” the breathing process into something physical. Breathing is a physical process, needed to keep the physical body alive. As for the shamelessness of the nose and the modesty of the lungs...

We Have Several Bodies, Some of Them Nonphysical: “If we wish to speak about the human body, we must speak of the sentient body (the least perceptible body, which we also call the astral body), the etheric body and the coarse physical body. [The astral and etheric bodies are assemblages of nonphysical forces.] The etheric body lives in our physical body, completely forming and permeating it. However, it is...imperceptible to the external senses ... The human being also has a sentient body that lies deeper still [this is the astral body, which is even more imperceptible] ... Now we may ask what occurs when a human being draws what lives in the temporal body [i.e., etheric body] as instinct, drive, and desire into his or her I, that is, into the Sentient Soul [the “I” is one's spiritual ego] ... Here we cannot differentiate quite so clearly...because in the soul of modern human beings everything is all mixed up.” [15] Something is all mixed up, obviously. Never accuse Steiner of saying anything clearly. Summary: Each of us has a physical body, and tightly connected to it is an invisible etheric body. Higher than that is the astral body. Higher still is the “I,” which is our divine selfhood. (Plants and animals have etheric bodies; animals have astral bodies; but only humans have I’s.) Sometimes Steiner spoke of the  “I” as a nonphysical body, but here he separates it as something beyond bodies. The “I” is even more imperceptible than the astral body. The reason all these things are imperceptible might just possibly be that they don’t exist. Steiner claims that they do exist, and he could perceive them using an “internal” sense: clairvoyance. [See "Clairvoyance".] Indeed, all of Steiner's teachings — and thus the entire basis of Waldorf education and Anthroposophical medicine — depends on clairvoyance. If there is no such thing as real clairvoyance (and there isn't), then there is no basis for Waldorf education or Anthroposophical medicine.

Kids’ Ages and Stages: Steiner taught that children pass through three stages of development, and that anything approximating a normal education should be postponed until the third stage: “Until the time of the change of teeth [i.e., replacement of baby teeth by adult teeth — around age 7], children want to imitate. Until the time of puberty [around age 14], they want to stand under authority, and then [over age 14] they want to use their judgment in the world ... What do human beings actually desire when they arrive from the spirit-soul world [i.e., the spirit realm] and clothe themselves in bodies? Human beings want to bring what they previously lived through in the spiritual world ... Before the change of teeth, human beings are, in a sense, focused on the past ... Children live so much in the past and, in many respects, reveal, not the physical, but the prenatal, the spirit-soul past [i.e., past life in the spirit realm]. After human beings have gone through the change of teeth, they actually live constantly in the present ... Before puberty it is not wise to offer systematized instruction because children have a correct inner concept of truth only following puberty.” [16] • One of the many criticisms made of Waldorf schools is that they set low academic standards. Postponing “systematized” education until high school lends evidence to this criticism. At my Waldorf, class work became more formal in high school, but it remained essentially devoid of rigorous intellectual challenges. • Note that young children are focused on the past, including the prenatal past. Steiner taught that children come into this life with memories of past lives. We’ll return to this point. [As for the concept that childhood consists of three seven-year-long periods, see "Most Significant" and "Incarnation".]

A Matter of Matter and Energy: “The human soul is a stage upon which not simply a human, but a cosmic process plays out ... [U]nless you penetrate such views, it is impossible to be a good teacher ... The Earth is saved from death because human beings created matter and energy ... [T]he blood, through its connection to the nerves, acts to create matter and energy ... [T]he blood is continuously on the path toward spirituality and meets resistance there ... [Scientists] formulate, for example, something like the Law of Conservation of Energy and Matter ... [W]e should not form a Law of Conservation of Energy and Matter, but rather seek out the beings for which this law has meaning [i.e., we should try to understand ourselves, not any putative world existing aside from ourselves].” [17] An antiscientific bias is evident throughout the curriculum Steiner developed. We were continually advised that science has severe shortcomings and that we should not consider ourselves limited by those shortcomings. But does this mean that scientific laws do not have meaning for us? And should we take credit for creating matter and energy, and for saving the Earth from death? Neither scientists nor followers of orthodox religions would agree with these propositions. (By the way, the law concerning energy is called the law of the conservation of energy, period. Matter is something else again — it certainly can be destroyed, whereas energy cannot.)

Evolving in Reverse: Steiner taught that science has evolution backwards. People did not evolve from animals; just the opposite: “Today, much that scientists say about nature...is very confused ... If the evolution of the Earth did not include human beings, then most animals would not exist ... At a particular stage in their earthly development, human beings, to develop further, needed to rid their nature, which then was much different than it is now, of the higher animals. We can perhaps comprehend this cleansing if we imagine how, in a mixture in which something is dissolved, the dissolved substance precipitates and falls. In the same way, human beings in an earlier stage of development were one with the animal world, and then the animal world precipitated out.” [18] In at least one Friday assembly of the entire high school, our headmaster spoke of a Steinerian form of evolution, although he did not attribute it to Steiner. But he firmly stated that animals descended from man, man did not descend from animals. When he discussed this subject in private conversations with students, he was more forthcoming, referring to Steiner and his lectures. Biologists would fall of their chairs if they heard the statements made by Steiner and our headmaster.

Tug-of-War Between the Physical and Spiritual: We shed the animals; we also shed other parts of ourselves in order to move toward spirituality: “[W]e are always shedding and peeling on the outside. If the spirit is not sufficiently strong, then we must cut off some parts, such as fingernails, because the spirit wants to destroy them by absorbing them from outside ... The chest and abdomen...fight against the destruction of the penetrating spirit-soul and fill people with matter. From this you can see that the human limbs extending out beyond the torso are really the most spiritual part of the human being, because in the limbs the process of creating matter occurs the least.” [19] As far as I can recall, the extreme spiritual importance of the limbs was not ever spelled out for us. However, we were made to understand the great seriousness of eurythmy, a spiritual form of “dance” in which the pelvis is held still while the limbs make elaborate, graceful motions. [See "Magical Arts".] Here is Steiner’s recondite explanation: “In a certain sense, we take from earthly life only the physical medium [the only benefit we get from physical life is our body], the actual human being who is the tool or instrument for eurythmy [the value of a body is that it lets us do eurythmy]. But we allow this human being to make manifest what we study inwardly [in making kids do eurythmy, we “allow” them to manifest spiritual states], what is already prepared in us as a result of previous lives [these spiritual states were prepared in our past lives]; we transfer this to our limbs, which are the part of us where life after death is being shaped in advance [our arms and legs shape the lives we will have after death]. Eurythmy shapes and moves the human organism in a way that furnishes direct external proof of our participation in the supersensible world [eurythmy actually “proves” the existence of the spirit realm]. In having people do eurythmy, we link them directly to the supersensible world.” [20] In the lower grades, at least, we all had to take eurythmy. Thus, by Steiner’s lights, we were all linked directly to the supersensible world. This was Waldorf’s goal, although it was never explained clearly to us or to our parents.

Making Sense: Steiner taught that human beings have twelve senses: “First, we have the four senses of touch, life, movement and balance. These senses are primarily permeated by will ... The next group of senses, namely smell, taste, sight and temperature are primarily senses of feeling ... I need to add that the sense of I [the highest human spiritual component] and the senses of thought, hearing and speech are more cognitive senses ....” [21] Like most of what we have read here, this flies in the face of science, reality, and truth. We do not, for instance, have a sense of life. We know we are alive because our physical senses tell us so, and because our brains — those organs Steiner derided — give us consciousness. Nor do we have a sense of speech — we have speech centers in our brains that enable us to speak, and our brains are likewise able to interpret speech (which comes to us principally through hearing and/or vision). Steiner padded his list, making claims with no basis is fact. I don't mean to oversimplify. In a general way, it is usually sufficient to refer to five human senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste), but the true story is much more complex. Various animals have various senses, and we humans have sensory experiences that do not fit neatly within the old schema of five senses. [22] But this is a question for rational, scientific discussion — and note that all the senses that actually exist are firmly rooted in the physical body. Steiner rooted only four senses in the physical body, and he posited eight nonphysical senses in order to accommodate his occult paradigm (there are twelve senses, he said, just as there are twelve signs of the zodiac — indeed, each sense is associated with one of the signs). His scheme is divorced from reality. (We will return to this point.)

Milk of Knowledge: Oddly enough, Steiner associated breasts with the abdomen-limb system rather than the chest. Men, women, and children may all be surprised to learn the following: “Women create milk in direct connection to the upper limbs — that is, the arms. The milk-producing organs are an inner continuation of the limbs [spiritually, breasts extend from arms and legs]. In the animal and human kingdoms, milk is the only substance that has an inner kinship to the nature of the limbs [remember that the limbs are the most spiritual components of the physical body]. In a certain sense, milk is born out of the nature of the limbs, and therefore, has the power of the limbs’ essence still in it. When the mother gives a child her milk, the milk acts as the only substance, or at least the main substance, to awaken the child’s sleeping spirit [mother’s milk gives a spiritual kick-start].” [23] When the spirit awakens, interesting results follow. Steiner taught that kids are born with innate intuitions of the spirit realm. A child whose spirit has been awakened can focus on its past lives in that realm. [24] Ideally, the child then remains in a spiritually enhanced haze until its baby teeth fall out — at about age seven — which is when it is okay for children to start learning to read. [25] But not until seven more years have passed, as we have already seen, should children begin to receive a “systematized” education — at about age 14. That’s the Waldorf way, anyhow. In other schools, systematic education begins a bit earlier. 


Steiner divided and subdivided phenomena, and he added phantom phenomena, to create patterns that conformed to his numerological preferences. [See "Magic Numbers".] Thus, he divided man's nature into three categories, and then he subdivided each of these into three subcategories. The main categories are body nature, soul nature, and spirit nature. Here they are, along with their subcategories. Overall, this is Steiner's schema for the ninefold nature of human beings:


Body Nature

1. Physical Nature

2. Etheric Nature

3. Soul Nature (a)

Soul Nature (b)

4. Sentient Soul

5. Intellectual Soul

6. Spiritual Soul

Spirit Nature

7. Spirit Self (a)

8. Life Spirit

9. Spirit Man [26]

I'll discuss the parts of human nature, as conceived by Steiner, in a moment. But first you need to know that Steiner said there are additional, unknown natures — which we can disregard, thank goodness. Moreover, Steiner reshuffled the ninefold deck in order to create sevenfold and and fourfold listings:


1. Physical Nature

2. Etheric Nature

3. Astral Nature 

(combining Soul Nature (a) and Sentient Soul)

4. Intellectual Soul


5. Spirit Self (b)

(combining Spiritual Soul and Spirit Self (a))

6. Life Spirit

7. Spirit Man [27]



1. Physical Nature

2. Etheric Nature

3. Astral Nature 

4. The I

(combining Spirit Self (b), Life Spirit, and Spirit Man) [28]

These three schemas are not wholly consistent with one another, so a certain amount of confusion will persist after even a painstaking analysis, should you care to undertake one. In order not to inflict pointless pain, I will keep my analysis, here, fairly brief.

The fourfold schema is the clearest, reflecting Steiner's basic concepts. Steiner was reacting against both materialism and orthodox Christianity. Materialism or science describes man as purely a physical being; psyche, emotions, and spirit are products of the operation of the physical organism. On the other hand, orthodox Christianity — like most faiths — posits a dualistic view: Man is both physical and spiritual.

Steiner insisted that the physical organism is the lowest and least important of man's components, and he was even more insistent that man's spiritual nature is multifaceted. Specifically, he related the fourfold nature of man to four forms of cognition he said man can attain.

Physical body: ordinary sensory perception

Etheric body: imagination

Astral body: inspiration

I: intuition

As a human being matures and develops, Steiner said, s/he manifests these four bodies on a seven-year schedule: physical body at birth, etheric body at about age seven, astral body at about age fourteen, and the "I" at about age twenty-one. As these bodies are realized, the human being gains the capacity for the associated forms of cognition. Imagination, inspiration, and intuition are all "supersensible": They do not rely on ordinary senses but on the "super" senses of the three nonphysical bodies. The path of initiation requires us to develop and perfect these forms of knowledge, which are variations of clairvoyance. [29]

The ninefold schema makes subtle distinctions within this general outline. Steiner was drawn to the numbers three and nine (three squared) for a variety of reasons. Three is important in Christianity (the triune God has three members), for instance. Steiner was a "Christian" in a gnostic, not orthodox, sense. [See "Gnosis".] He was fascinated by trinities of many kinds. ["Trinities confront us everywhere." See "Trinity".] In occultism generally, the number three often expresses the hidden, higher "truths": beyond mere duality, accessible only to the initiated. Steiner taught that three is the number of divine revelation. [See "Magic Numbers".] With this in mind, Steiner developed a theory of social organization which he called Threefolding (society consists of economic, political, and cultural spheres which should be kept distinct). [See "Threefolding".]

Let's examine the three main subdivisions within the ninefold constitution of man, along with the three components of each division:

Body Nature: We have physical bodies, clearly. Our "etheric" bodies are tightly linked to these, providing the needed life forces. The soul nature ((a), not (b): Steiner often used the same words for different things, creating needless confusion) is our individual spiritual identity, varying from life to life (we reincarnate many times, Steiner said). The soul and etheric body link the physical body to higher realms. The human being is a microcosm of the universal macrocosm, with levels of human nature reflecting — and connecting to — levels of the spirit realm.

Soul Nature (b): The larger nature of the human "soul" connects us to the "soul world" — a level of spiritual existence above the material level but below the spiritual level. The various components of soul nature (b) have developed over time, during our evolution. For instance, the sentient soul developed during ancient Egyptian times, while the intellectual soul developed during Greco-Roman times. In our personal development, we recapitulate the overall development of humanity.

The sentient soul is somewhat misnamed, since it enables us to apprehend reality only as generally undifferentiated beings, lacking self-awareness and any real power of thought. We became more fully present, individualized, and thoughtful when developing the intellectual soul (Steiner accepted the proposition that intellect developed for the first time in ancient Greece — all previous peoples were intellectually benighted). Today we are capable of still higher cognition thanks to the spiritual soul, which can be dated to 1413 AD.  (Steiner also referred to the sentient soul as the consciousness soul, the understanding soul, and/or the responsive soul. Using multiple names for the same thing is another source of needless confusion caused by Steiner .) We are now capable of "felt" thought, the mind working in conjunction with the heart of apprehend more deeply than intellect alone would permit: Supersensible cognition in a better, higher form than ancient, atavistic clairvoyance becomes possible. 

Spirit Nature: Our spirits are higher than our souls: They are immortal citizens of the spirit realm. In developing and unlocking the components of our spirits, we make possible our ultimate, full ascension into the spirit-world (a higher realm than the soul-world). The spirit self (a) is manas (a Sanskrit term, not  very enlightening), which may be considered the reincarnating self. It is the transformed, more purely spiritual astral body. The life spirit is buddhi, a yet-higher component, which is the transformed etheric body — developing it moves us farther toward pure spiritualization, breaking linkages with material reality. Spirit Man is atma, the transformed physical body. The god within, it links us to the Godhead while more completely severing our physical bonds. However, none of these highest levels of consciousness will be fully attained during life on Earth — we will have to evolve much further on other planets. [30]

I realize that much of what I am laying out here is vague. The only way to fully grasp Steiner's meaning is to delve deeply into the many subjects I discuss throughout the essays on this website — or, since Anthroposophists would surely deny that any real knowledge can come through me, you may need to submit to the process of Anthroposophical initiation. [31]

The intermediate schema, the sevenfold nature of man, probably need not detain us. It is the same as the fourfold and ninefold schemas, slightly revised. Steiner frequently divided his teachings into categories of seven. Thus, our evolution consists of seven major stages (conditions of consciousness), each of which can be subdivided into seven lesser stages, each of which... Similarly, as we have seen, children mature through seven-year-long periods. In addition, there are seven "sacred" planets, and so forth. [32] Occultists (and gamblers) often place high value on the number seven, for its supposed good fortune and mystic significance (in numerology, seven is associated with both scholarship and mysticism, which makes it particularly apt for Theosophy and Anthroposophy, which claim to present sure knowledge of mystical matters). 

Complicating things slightly: Steiner often taught that we are threefold beings, consisting of body, soul, and spirit.

Go back to the ninefold nature of man, detailed above. Our three parts are then the three subdivisions of our nine parts:

body nature, soul nature, and spirit nature. This is, in fact, how Anthroposophists usually describe the human constitution.

Here is a pastel sketch Steiner did depicting the threefold nature of humanity.

[See the cover of WHAT IS ANTHROPOSOPHY?
(Anthroposophic Press, 2002.)]
We exist on the physical, etheric, and astral planes.

 [Hawthorn Press, Anthroposophy Series, 1990.]

In his book, OUR TWELVE SENSES, Albert Soesman helpfully describes the human senses as enumerated by Rudolf Steiner. Four are physical senses, four are soul senses, and four are spirit senses. The breakdown works fine for anyone who puts credence in such forms of occultism as numerology and astrology. Everyone else may be surprised to learn that we have so many senses, and that some of the "soul" and "spirit" senses are clearly associated with the physical body (e.g., vision and hearing), while some of the "physical" senses clearly are not (e.g., life sense and self-movement sense).

Twelve makes a nice, neat sum, since it corresponds with such dozens as the dozen signs of the zodiac — and indeed Soesman lists the appropriate astrological sign for each sense. (Steiner's numerological inclinations are as fundamental to his teachings as his astrological inclinations.) Three is the number of divinity revealing itself, Steiner taught, and four is the number of creation. Twelve — three times four — is the number of the celestial constellations or, more generally, it is the key number for spatial relationships. "[T]he number twelve is a clue for all things that co-exist in space. Science, which at the same time was wisdom, was always conscious of this. It said: ‘It is possible to find the right way by connecting the spatial relationship of everything that occurs upon the earth with twelve permanent points in space — the twelve signs of the Zodiac in the cosmos.’ These are the twelve basic points with which everything in space is connected. This declaration was not an arbitrary yield of human thinking; but the power of thought in those early times had learned from reality and so ascertained the fact that space was best understood when it was divided into twelve constituent parts, thus making the number twelve a clue for all spatial relations." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EAST IN THE LIGHT OF THE WEST (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1940), chapter 9, GA 114.

Our physical senses, as per Soesman as per Steiner, are 

touch (Libra), 

life sense (Scorpio), 

self-movement sense (Sagittarius), 

and balance (Capricorn). 

Our soul senses are 

smell (Aquarius), 

taste (Pisces), 

vision (Virgo), 

and temperature sense (Leo). 

Our spirit senses are 

hearing (Cancer), 

language sense (Gemini), 

conceptual sense (Taurus), 

and ego sense (Aries). [33] 

Quite astonishingly, Steiner's followers today — in the 21st Century — continue to espouse such teachings.

Depending on which Steiner text you happen to consult, the evolutionary relationships between the parts of the human physical/spiritual organism may seem to vary. Here's one thumbnail description of part of the story:

"The different members of these beings can be investigated by occult means [i.e., clairvoyance] just as in the case of man when we distinguish his members as physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego and what is to evolve from them as spirit-self, life-spirit, and spirit-man. In his present phase of development man consists essentially of the four members first named, so that we can say that his highest member is the ego or ‘I’ and the lowest is the physical body." [34]

According to the belief system underlying Waldorf education, we gradually incarnate over a period of 42 years (and our total spiritual evolution lasts longer still: Having begun many, many incarnations ago, it lasts throughout this life, and it will extend through many, many future lives). We undergo a process of continuous spiritual development, leading to higher and higher stages of spiritual self-realization and spiritual insight. The Waldorf curriculum is designed to foster the early stages of this process (as attainable at mankind's current evolutionary level) and to set each student's feet on the path to the succeeding stages. The goal is the acquisition of "exact clairvoyance" [see "Exactly"], which essentially means becoming a deeply perceptive, and wholly committed, Anthroposophist. This is the underlying purpose of Waldorf schooling.

Here is the schedule (or one version thereof) for the stages of incarnation:

Event  -  Age

Birth of physical body  -  0 years (natal day)

Full incarnation of etheric body  -  7 years (marked by loss of baby teeth)

Full incarnation of astral body  - 14 years (marked by puberty)

Full incarnation of "I"  -  21 years (adulthood)

Full incarnation of sentient soul  -  28 years (development of spirit self)

Full incarnation of mind soul  -  35 years (development of life spirit)

Full incarnation of consciousness soul  -  42 years (development of spirit body

(Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 102-103n, and 148-149.]

Sometimes Anthroposophists speak of the "birth" of the etheric body, astral body, etc. But more accurately, all elements of human nature are brought into this life from the preceding life in the spirit realm. The various parts of our nature develop (i.e., they fully incarnate) at the dates indicated, but we have all of them within our essential spiritual nature from the beginning of earthly life, if only in kernel form.

People who are not really human [see "Steiner's Bile" and "Nuts"] do not develop or evolve in this way. They may fall out of evolution (or at least they leave the correct stream of evolution), they may sink into the abyss, they may be relegated to an irreclaimable moon, or they may suffer other forms of perdition. [See "Hell".] If any subsequent form of evolution is open to them, it is too awful and strange for us to discuss. "[A]t a certain stage, a separate celestial body becomes 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 no words can portray, so utterly unlike is it to anything within the range of man's experience on Earth." — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), “Present and Future Evolution of the World and of Mankind”, pp. 309-310.

Failing to heed Steiner and his followers can entail a heavy price.

For further information about

Steiner's view of human nature,

see "Our Parts".

For Steiner's teachings about blood,

see "Blood".

[R.R., 2010.]

“A little child can easily change the oxalic acid in its abdomen into folic acid. So its organs receive sufficient folic acid. Folic acid also provides the base on which the soul and spirit can develop. But when a person grows old and can no longer generate sufficient folic acid, the soul and spirit go away." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 137. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on Steiner's. Caption below the image on the left: "Folic acid as the basis for soul and spirit".  Caption below the image on the right: "Folic acid as the basis for earth soul and earth spirit".]

Steiner associated each part of the human being with a spiritual hierarchy.
Here are these correspondences, reading from bottom to top:

physical body: Archai

etheric body: Archangels

astral body: Angels

sentient soul: Powers

intellectual soul: Authorities

consciousness soul: Dominions

manas: Seraphim

buddhi: Cherubim

atman: Thrones

[Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC LESSONS 1904-1909 (Steiner Books, 2007), p. 346.
R.R. sketch, 2009, based on image on that page.]
Note: Sometimes Powers are ranked lower than Authorities,
in which case the intellectual soul is aligned with Powers
and the sentient soul with Authorities.

"Each region of the zodiac can be looked upon as the home of particular spiritual beings and a centre of forces. 
There are 12 signs of the zodiac and 12 corresponding parts of the human organism ... 
While the forces of the zodiac correspond to the human physical structure, the planets and their forces are mirrored in the internal organs ... 
Thus for example: Sun: Heart : Aurum (gold); Moon: Genitals: argenum (silver); Mercury: Lungs: Cinnabar (mercury)." 
— Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 47. R.R. sketch, 2009, based on sketch on p. 48.

As is often the case in Anthroposophy,
this concept is an ancient fallacy reworked slightly by Steiner.

Here is an illustration of the correspondences imagined in Medieval times
between the human body and the signs of the zodiac.
[Image from 


AND HOAXES OF THE OCCULT AND SUPERNATURAL (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995), p. 18


Because of the supposed influence of the zodiac on particular parts of the human body,

Steiner taught that the human body has a twelve-fold constitution,

and indeed specific parts of the body — in particular the head — can be seen to be twelve-fold as well.

"Now we have also spoken of how the head itself is actually a transformation of the whole body — namely of the body of the preceding incarnation. And we find another twelve-fold division in the head, where the principal representatives of the sense organs come together. That, too, is a genuine twelve-foldness. The following diagram shows how matters stand.

"We will let this [here Steiner sketches a schematic diagram] represent the whole human body, dividing it among the twelve signs of the zodiac so that the head is given to the Ram, the throat to the Bull, and so on. And now, bearing in mind what has been said about the composition of the whole of the sense organism, this part here, which has been allocated to one sign, must be divided again among all twelve signs. Thus, here the whole process must be repeated again. I urge you to take note of this characteristic, which is true of all the great laws of the cosmos. Whenever there is a twelve-fold order, one part of it will have an independent existence as well as being just one part of the whole. In this case it is the head which, as a part of the whole, is allocated to one constellation, but also, as the unique, special case, is allocated to all twelve constellations. If what has been said is true, one must presuppose that the body of one incarnation becomes the head of the next incarnation. In the next incarnation, what is now the whole head must serve a single sense. A second sense will be formed out of what at present is manifest as the organs of speech, the larynx and everything in its vicinity. This will be metamorphosed and transformed in the next incarnation. A third sense will be formed from the expressive capacities of the arms and so on. The whole of the body that we bear in this world will become the head of our next incarnation; it will undergo a systematic metamorphosis so that the present twelve-fold order of the body can reappear as the twelve-fold order of the head." — Rudolf Steiner, THE RIDDLE OF HUMANITY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), lecture 13, GA 170.

Sometimes there is no substitute for simply letting Steiner have his say. “When we place man in the universe in accordance with his true identity — on earth he is, so to speak, a miniature image of himself — we must place him in the eagle sphere as regards his head ... The lion is the representative of the animals which are in the real sense sun animals ... The lion prospers best when the planets above the sun and the planets below the sun are in a constellation where they exert the least influence on the sun itself ... [W]hat lives in the lion's gaze lives also in the organization of the human chest and heart ... [W]e must put the human being into the diagram in such a way that we place the heart and lungs in the region of this sun activity ... When we turn to the inner planets...we have first the Mercury sphere. This has to do with the finer parts of the metabolic system ... [T]he region of Venus...is connected with the somewhat coarser parts of man's metabolic system ... We come next to the sphere of the moon. (I am drawing this in the sequence customary today in astronomy; I could also draw it differently.) There we enter the region which exerts influence on the metabolic processes, for these are connected with the moon ... [T]he facts of human earthly evolution are such that, to an ever increasing degree, eagle forces wish to concentrate one-sidedly on the human head, lion forces on he human rhythmic system, and cow forces on the human metabolism and all human activity on earth." — Rudolf Steiner, HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 23-26. [RR sketch, 2009, based on the one on p. 23.] I don't want to help increase the sales of any Steiner books, but if you want any more of this stuff, you should scare up a copy of HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD. There's plenty more to be had between its covers. In brief, we are microcosms — we contain within ourselves the effects of all the stars and planets, as well as the best attributes of all the animals. We're It, the center, the berries, the cat's pajamas, the Sun and the Moon. Most medical schools overlook these facts.

"Blood always means renewal. If we only had blood in us, therefore, we would be like creatures that grow all the time ... [But] if we were nothing but nerve, we would be all the time tired and worn; we would really be dying all the time. We therefore have two opposites principles in us — the nervous system that makes us get old all the time, actually handing us over to death all the time, and the blood system which is connected with the nutrition system and lets us grow young all the time, and so on." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM LIMESTONE TO LUCIFER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 194-195. [R.R. sketch, 2009, emulating the style of illustration often used in Anthroposophical publications, suggesting translucency.]

The image above approximates the schematic on p. 154 of Rudolf Steiner's

THE APOCALYPSE OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1993).

[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005.]

Below, a rough sketch of a rough sketch that Steiner tossed off. (I’ve made my own choice of colors.) Ranged along the top are the "planets": Saturn, Sun, Moon, Mars, Earth (green, vague), Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan. (Yes, Vulcan). At the bottom is the human being: physical body (blue) around the etheric body (orange) around the astral body (red) around a stack: reading, top to bottom, sentient soul, intellectual soul, consciousness soul, and "upper trinity" (i.e., manas, budhi, and atma). Each human part is connected to its equivalent planet. For example, “The human being was never on Mars, but his intellectual soul is connected esoterically with this planet in such a way that its forces have been taken from there.” — Rudolf Steiner, CORRESPONDENCE AND DOCUMENTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1988), p. 71. [My sketch, 2009, based on the one in the book.]

Here are the associations Steiner depicted: 

physical body: Saturn


etheric body: Sun

astral body: Moon 

sentient soul: Moon 

intellectual soul: Mars 

consciousness soul: Mercury


manas (spirit self): Jupiter

budhi (life spirit): Venus

atma (spirit man): Vulcan

“The ancients thought that the animal that primarily develops the heart, that is all heart and therefore the most courageous, is the lion ... [T]he lion has quite short intestines; their development is curtailed. The minute 'intestine' in the human ear is formed most delicately ... [T]he eagle is under the sway of the upper forces ... [T]he ancients called the part of man that constitutes the digestive system 'bull'. That gives us the three members of human nature: eagle — head; lion — breast;  bull — abdomen ... [T]hese ancient people expressed, in such symbols, certain truths that we acknowledge again today ... These people dreamed true dreams.” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM COMETS TO COCAINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 50-51. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on illustration on page 51.]

Some parts of this statement almost seem to make sense. But consider. Steiner was saying that the ancients were fundamentally correct (their dreams were true; Anthroposophists "acknowledge" or accept the ancients' truths today). Thus, in discussing the "symbols" used by the ancients, Steiner was asserting that those images were true — the ancients, you see, were clairvoyant. Steiner's basic position on such matters is that the ancients were right about many, many things, whereas modern science is wrong about almost everything. In sum, Steiner embraced ancient ignorance while rejecting modern knowledge.

The four figures represent not just parts of human nature but actual human races in ancient, ancient days: reading from the top, eagle people, human people, lion people, and bull people. We evolved most directly from the human people. Our spirit may be taken as a benevolent force shepherding souls into Earthly incarnation and then beyond. We find this representation of ourselves (or the higher spirits nurturing us) in other Anthroposophical artworks, such as I have copied here:

My sketch, 2010, based on a portion of a painting by Walther Roggenkamp 
[John Fletcher , ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER (Mercury Arts Publications, 1987), p. 219.]

"The whole soul configuration of the human being is in the ear. In our ears we actually carry with us a tiny human being, for the human being has feeling, will and understanding. We are made up of lots of tiny human beings." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 75. [My sketch of Steiner's sketch, 2009.]

"We are made up of lots of tiny human beings." This complicates matters, a bit.

Steiner did not always talk of tiny, inner human beings, but sometimes he did,

and sometimes he specified particular tiny, inner human beings.


"Chest Man"

"Head Man"

"Limb Man",


Sometimes, but not always (he was not big on consistency), Steiner said

that there are essentially three inner humans within each outer human:

"[Y]ou can read about it in my books, especially in the book RIDDLES OF THE SOUL and in various lecture courses; all I shall do now is to remind you that man consists of three members — the nerve-senses man, that is, all that sustains man in the activity of his mind and spirit; the rhythmic man, which contains the whole rhythm of breathing, the circulation of the blood and so on; and the metabolic-limb man, in which is to be found everything that is metamorphosed by means of the different substances." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (Anthroposophic Press/Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 7, GA 311.

One of the teachers at my Waldorf school warned white students against receiving blood transfusions from nonwhites. Her warning was consistent with Steiner's teachings. 

• “[T]his question of race is one that we can never understand until we understand the mysteries of the blood and of the results accruing from the mingling of the blood of different races." — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD (Health Research Books, 1972), p. 13. 

• Steiner asked "How can a negro [sic] or an utterly barbaric savage become civilized?" — Ibid., p. 13. 

• Steiner said the answer depends on blood and whether a race "be on the up- or down-grade of its evolution...." — Ibid., p. 13. 

• Steiner taught that whites are evolving upwardly while other races, having risen as high as they can, degenerate. "The white race is the future, the spiritually productive race." — Rudolf Steiner, VOM LEBEN DES MENSCHEN UND DER ERDE - ÜBER DAS WESEN DES CHRISTENTUMS (Verlag Der Rudolf Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung, 1961), p. 62. 

• According to Steiner, whites can advance to higher spiritual levels because they are capable of high clairvoyant abilities. But mingling whites' blood with blood from other races would cut off this possibility. "The physical organism of man survives when strange blood comes in contact with strange blood, but clairvoyant power perishes under the influence of this mixing of blood, or exogamy." — THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD, p. 42. Exogamy is sexual pairing outside one's own ethnic group, tribe, or race. It is equivalent to miscegenation, one of the prime bugaboos of racists. 

• In sum, Steiner taught that different races have different blood, and this is reflected in the differences between their racial or folk souls. "[T]he blood of mankind is acted upon in a twofold manner; that two races originate, by the blood of mankind being acted upon; on the one side we have that which we call the Mongolian race, on the other that which we may describe as belonging to the Semitic race. That is a great polarity in humanity, and we shall have to trace much that is of immense importance back to this polarity, if we wish to understand the depths of the Folk-souls." — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1929), lecture 6, GA 121.


No discussion of the human constitution would be complete without delving into the mysteries of sex. Here’s Steiner’s take:

Steiner taught that a lowly form of clairvoyance is fueled by rechanneled sexual energy. He said that Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg monkeyed around with such. “[T]ransformed sexual energy is the basis of Swedenborg's clairvoyance." [35] Of course Swedenborg, like just about everyone else except Guess Who, didn’t have the highest, “exact” form of clairvoyance.

According to G. Who, mixing sexual energy into spiritual seeing is the wrong approach, as the ancients understood. “[I]n olden times people knew how to protect themselves. They knew that people approaching the spiritual world had to recognize both their weaknesses and the fact that strength of character, inner discipline, and doing away with any unrestrained emotional impulses are necessary for ascending into the spiritual worlds in the right way. Ancient initiates were aware of human weakness and took steps to prevent any possibility of mixing the two spheres. [paragraph break] How did they do it? Simply by keeping people away from the opposite sex whenever truly spiritual matters were being spoken of. That is, the female sex was not allowed to participate in gatherings in which spiritual scientific matters were discussed.” [36]

Now, before anyone gets too indignant, realize that Steiner says that such precautions are no longer needed. Women can now participate, but sex must still be kept firmly under control. “Now these times are long gone, and spiritual scientific movements such as ours should attempt to do away with such constraints. However, the spiritual realm must still be kept totally free of the other sphere I mentioned; these two realms are not to be mixed.” [37] Swedenborg only attained a low level of clairvoyance because he did not observe this rule. He repressed his sexuality, but he tried to rely on sexual energy for his psychic explorations. “[I]n Swedenborg’s case, repressed sexuality filled his Imaginations [i.e., visions] that would otherwise have remained empty, but only to a certain extent ... Swedenborg, then, is a good example of what to avoid in approaching the spiritual world in modern times.” [38]

If you find a certain squeamishness about sex under Steiner’s words, you may be onto something. But, pressing on: To be male or female means embodying a cosmic principle that is the polar opposite of the principle manifested by the opposite sex. “[T]he polarity between masculine and feminine has a cosmic archetype in the polarity between comet and moon.” [39] That, I think, is clear enough.

However, things are a bit more complicated than they might seem at first blush, especially when we consider the three human nonphysical bodies (ether body, astral body, and "I"): “[W]e must be clear that masculine characteristics exist in every woman, and feminine characteristics in every man. We also know that the ether body of a man is female, and that the ether body of a woman is male; this immediately makes the matter extremely complicated. We must realize that the male-female polarity is thus reversed in the ether bodies of men and women, as are the cometary and lunar effects. These effects are also present in relation to the astral body and I-being.” [40] 

I’m almost speechless, so I’ll let Rudolf continue: “[T]he relationship between the moon (representing the universal masculine) and the cometary nature (representing the universal feminine) is decisive and reflects itself in the product of the sexes. [paragraph break] Feminine spiritual life, whether in a man or in a woman, projects something primitive and elemental into our existence, and this is also what a comet does ... We can express it this way: a woman acts more out of passion and feeling, in contrast to dry, masculine reasoning.” [41]

Now, before anyone gets too indignant, remember that this is all very complex. “The male brain is stiff, resistant, and more difficult to manipulate than a female brain, which easily overcomes obstacles that a male brain erects through its density. Consequently, the female brain can more quickly follow what is new in our view of the world ... These facts are very important in terms of cultural history, but just about the only place we can discuss them today is in anthroposophic groups. Except for our groups who will seriously consider the fact that a male brain is less comfortable than a female brain?” [42] Who, indeed?

— Roger Rawlings

Waldorf student artwork courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.

Various other images from http://www.fromoldbooks.org/

and http://karenswhimsy.com/

Steiner promoted the ancient, and false, belief

that humans exemplify four "humours" of "temperaments."

For information on this, please use the following link: "Humouresque"

For explications of the Biblical verses from which Steiner

elaborated his conception of the "I", see "Moses".

I don't want to leave you with the mistaken impression that Steiner's view of human nature is simplistic.

As we evolved, we accumulated our various components.

"From the middle of the sixth course of the Sun onward, man himself is [i.e., was] so far advanced that he can [i.e., could]  unconsciously work on his physical body. In this respect he now relieves the 'Sons of Twilight.' Through this activity in dullness, he creates the first germinal predisposition to the living spiritual being, which one calls life-spirit (Buddhi). Only at later stages of his development will he become conscious of this spirit of life. As from the seventh Saturn cycle onward, the Thrones voluntarily poured their power into the predisposition to spirit-man which was formed at that time, so the Cherubim now pour out their wisdom, which thenceforward is preserved for the life-spirit of man through all subsequent stages of development. From the middle of the seventh course of the Sun onward, the germ of spirit-man (Atma), already formed on Saturn, appears again. It combines with the life-spirit (Buddhi), and the animated monad (Atma-Buddhi) thus comes into being." — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1959), chapter 15, GA 11.


“One must therefore imagine the earth, when it condenses as a refined etheric body out of its astral precursor, to be a conglomerate of an etheric mineral basic mass and of etheric plant, animal, and human beings. Filling the interstices as it were, and also permeating the other beings, are the creatures of the elementary realms.

“This earth is inhabited by the higher spiritual entities, which, in the most diverse ways, are active in the realms we have mentioned. They form a spirit community, so to speak, a spirit state, and their dwelling-place and workshop is the earth, which they carry with them as a snail does its shell. In all this it must be borne in mind that what today is separated from the earth as Sun and Moon, is still entirely united with the earth. Only later do both heavenly bodies separate from the earth.

“The ‘higher man’ (spirit-man, life-spirit, spirit-self, Atma-Buddhi-Manas) has as yet no independence at this stage. He still constitutes a member of the spirit state, and for the time being is bound to the Spirits of Form, as a human hand is bound to a human organism as a dependent member.” — COSMIC MEMORY, chapter 17.


You may also want to bear in mind that there was originally just a single mega-proto human, who later divided to become us.

Our constituents are themselves beings, monads, who joined to become our monad or self-enclosed being, us as we were, as it were.

It's complicated. But it has worked out pretty well.

“[I]t was out of Nirvana that the actions of a Buddha or a Christ arose, at least in part ... How does the human being ascend to Nirvana? We must look back into Lemurian times [i.e., the period when we lived on the lost continent of Lemuria]. There we find man, as he is on the earth, at first going on all fours. These beings, in which at that time man, ‘pure man’, (as Monad) incarnated, went on all fours. Through the fact that the Monads incarnated in them, these beings gradually raised their front limbs and attained an upright position. Now for the first time Karma begins [i.e., began]. Karma, as human Karma, first became possible when human beings made use of their hands for work. Before this man made no individual Karma. It was a very important stage of human development when man, from a horizontal, became a vertical being, thereby freeing his hands. In this way his development led over into the Atlantean epoch [i.e., the period when we lived on the lost continent of Atlantis].” — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 16, GA 93a.

Our nature changes and improves as we evolve.

Just as a young child does not yet have a true human ego or "I",

humanity as a whole lacked this high attribute until fairly recently.

“Each individual people, yea, even all the smaller subdivisions of peoples have their special task ... [I]t was just to the pre-Christian and post-Christian cultures of Europe that the task, the mission was given to educate the ‘I’ through the different stages of the human being, to form it and gradually to develop it. As we have shown to be the case in the Germanic Scandinavian people, the ‘I’ was in primal ages still clairvoyantly shown to man from the spiritual world. It was shown that this ‘I’ was bestowed upon man by an Angelic Being, who stands between man and the Folk-soul, by [the Norse god] Donar or Thor. We have seen that each single individual felt himself to be ‘I’-less, impersonal; to him the ‘I’ was a gift, presented to him from the spiritual world ... [T]he East did not experience the whole process of receiving the ‘I’ as though coming from a higher spiritual world, with the assistance of a divine spiritual individuality such as Thor. This was experienced in Europe, and hence the European felt this gradual ascent to the individual ‘I’ as the emerging from a kind of group-soul ... To this group-soul was given the name Sif. That is the name of the spouse of Thor ... Sif signifies the group-soul of the individual community from which the single individual grows forth. Sif is the being who unites herself with the God of the individual ‘I’, with the giver of the individual ‘I’, with Thor. The individual man recognized Sif and Thor as the Beings who gave him his ‘I’. The Northman still felt thus about them, at a time when to the peoples in other parts of Europe other tasks had already been given in the educating of man up to the ‘I’.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1929), lecture 10, GA 121.

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



Steiner unconsciously making a fool of himself, over and over

No laughing matter: Steiner’s quack medicine



Macrocosms, microcosms, and fallacies

The Waldorf view of the natural world

Quack agriculture: astrology and magic

What's what, clearly

The quality of Steiner’s thoughts

Bizarre ideas about the universe: Vulcan, the Zodiac, Mars, etc.


Waldorf escapism


[1] E.g., Thomas R. DeGregori, “The Deadly Perils of Rejected Knowledge,” (posted September 13, 2002 , American Council on Science and Health).

[2] See, e.g., the discussion “Holocaust denial material recommended on yahoo anthroposophy list,” beginning with message 174 at groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/messages  .

For Steiner's view of alchemy, see "Alchemy".

[3] Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE: Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996). 

[4] Roy Wilkinson, THE CURRICULUM OF THE RUDOLF STEINER SCHOOL: Guides to Teaching in Rudolf Steiner Education. (Robinswood Press, 1975,) p. 18. Note that Waldorf schools and “Steiner” schools are essentially the same.


[6] Ibid., pp. 59-60. 

[7] Ibid., pp. 159-160. 

[8] Rudolf Steiner, POLARITIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF MANKIND, (Steiner Books, 1987), p. 56.

[9] Rudolf Steiner, FROM COMETS TO COCAINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 212-215.

[10] Ibid., pp. 213-214.

Steiner, by the way, was born in February.

(And here's a tiny niggle: December - March is a four month period, whereas March - May is just three months. Steiner's math was off.)

[11] Ibid., p. 58. Both quotations come from the same passage.

[12] Ibid., p. 196.

Addressing children at the first Waldorf School, Steiner said: “You each have a physical body, a soul, and a spirit.” — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 54.


The spirit can be considered to have three components: spirit-self, life-spirit, and spirit-man (or human spirit). These are approximately equivalent to concepts from Eastern mysticism: Manas, Budhi (or Buddhi), and Atma(n). [Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), p. 332, translator’s note; also Gary Lachman, RUDOLF STEINER (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2007), p. 141.] These three terms may also be understood as reflecting evolutionary stages of consciousness, with Atma(n) being the highest level obtainable by humans. Atma(n) corresponds to the transformed physical body, Budhi to the transformed etheric body, and Manas to the transformed astral body. [Rudolf Steiner, EVIL (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), pp. 208-209, note #1 for part 3, chapter 1.] Mankind has not yet evolved to the stage when these spiritual components will be fully realized. Make of all this what you will.

[14] THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 205. This may be a rare instance in which Steiner attempted to convey his point (one that he nonetheless considered important) through the use of wit or humor. At least, I hope that he realized how absurd his statement sounds.

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

[16] Ibid., pp. 155-158. 

[17] Ibid., pp. 77-78. 

[18] Ibid., pp. 69-70.

[19] Ibid., pp. 195-196. 

[20] Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 247.


[22] See, e.g., "Human sensory reception" and, more generally, "Senses" in THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA. (I most recently checked these items on October 11, 2015.)


[24] See, e.g., A.C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956), pp. 15-16

[25] “[O]ur children learn to read a bit later than others do, and they learn to write letters [A, B, C] later than children in other schools.” — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION  (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 70-71.]

[26] References to the various terms I've used are scattered throughout Steiner's works. A Google search will provide a quadzillion hits. Sources include THE ESSENTIAL STEINER (Lindisfarne Books, 2007), Henry Barnes, A LIFE FOR THE SPIRIT (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND THE WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), Gary Lachman, RUDOLF STEINER (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2007), Roy Wilkinson, RUDOLF STEINER (Temple Lodge Publishing, 2001), and Geoffrey Ahern, SUN AT MIDNIGHT (James Clarke & Co., 2009).

For one explication of the ninefold nature of man, see Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), chapter 2, GA 99.

[27] E.g., Rudolf Steiner, THE INNER NATURE OF MUSIC AND THE EXPERIENCE OF TIME (Anthroposophic Press, 1983), lecture 6, GA 283: "When I wrote my [book] THEOSOPHY, I had to speak of a ninefold nature, further dividing the three individual members. I arrived at a sevenfold from a ninefold organization."

[28] E.g., Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS UPON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1961), lecture 8, GA 102: "The different members of these beings can be investigated by occult means just as in the case of man when we distinguish his members as physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego and what is to evolve from them as spirit-self, life-spirit, and spirit-man. In his present phase of development man consists essentially of the four members first named, so that we can say that his highest member is the ego or ‘I’ and the lowest is the physical body."

[29] E.g., see "Rankings" and "Gnosis".

[30] See "Everything" and the essays that follow it.

[31] See "Inside Scoop".

[32] Seven, Steiner taught, is the number of perfection. See "Magic Numbers".

[33] Albert Soesman, OUR TWELVE SENSES (Hawthorn Press, Anthroposophy Series, 1990), p. 142.

[34] Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), pp. 62-63.

[35] Rudolf Steiner, COMMUNITY LIFE, INNER DEVELOPMENT, SEXUALITY, AND THE SPIRITUAL TEACHER (Anthroposophic Press, 1991),  p. 78.

[36] Ibid., p. 79.

[37] Ibid., p. 80.

[38] Ibid., p. 80.

[39] Rudolf Steiner, THE REAPPEARANCE OF THE CHRIST IN THE ETHERIC (SteinerBooks, 2003), p. 63.

[40] Ibid., p. 64.

[41] Ibid., pp. 64-65.

[42] Ibid., pp. 65-66.

[R. R., 2010.]