Spotlight on Anthroposophy
The author discusses how she and her family enrolled their child in a Waldorf school—without consciously deciding or agreeing to join a new religious movement—and found themselves involved in Anthroposophy. She shares some background on Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf schools, and his esoteric religion, Anthroposophy, which is inextricably entwined in Waldorf schools’ curriculum, pedagogy, and school activities. Her introduction to Steiner’s doctrine focuses on identifying Steiner’s macro-microcosmic worldview and racist underpinnings. She questions why some Waldorfers often downplay or deny their fervor and involvement in Anthroposophy and criticizes the movement’s leadership for denying Steiner’s racist doctrine as documented in the “Dutch Report.” The author shares her own misgivings about the group’s religious foundation and argues that some of Steiner’s followers work to conceal the religious context of Waldorf education. Some personal recollections of peculiarities during her family’s experience with Waldorf education are discussed, including a benign Anthroposophic prescription for the author’s sick child and removal of her daughter from the Waldorf school.
A friend of mine who helped start a Waldorf School liked to say, “If you turn on the porch lights the moths will come.” I would add that an assortment of other insects might also appear, not necessarily seeking the light. My friend is alluding to Waldorf schools being a magnet for Anthroposophists and Steiner enforcers, but her allegory is also a fitting metaphor for my family’s association with such a school and how we were burned in the process. As it was, my husband and I were not seeking occult illumination for ourselves, or our daughter, when we moved to Wisconsin so that our child might attend a Waldorf school. Ironically, we were drawn to the flame after a conscientious search for a progressive, nonsectarian education system with an emphasis on creativity, art, and global diversity. The school’s full color booklet and interviews validated that our quest was over. The following personal saga relates how, in retrospect, we unwittingly found ourselves immersed in Anthroposophy, what we experienced, and how traumatic circumstances led to our climactic exit. It also shares what my later extensive reading and research revealed concerning the founder of Waldorf education, his doctrine, which impacts all aspects of follower’s lives, and the real meanings of the doublespeak appellations—“art”, “verse”, “dance” and “doctor.”
Rudolf Steiner, Founder of Waldorf Education
The esoteric persuasions of Rudolf Steiner—the Austrian mystagogue who died in 1925—survive and influence contemporary occult experience in America. They are perpetuated through a schismatic branch of Theosophy which Steiner expanded to accommodate his worldview and entitled “Anthroposophy.” The most successful vehicle for the dissemination of Anthroposophy is the network of Waldorf Schools established in accordance with the founder’s precepts—though many parents have little, if any, historic understanding of Steiner or his religion, Anthroposophy. The Waldorf School Movement is superficially perceived as a trendy, alternative education system because it is promoted as nonsectarian, art based, multicultural, scientific, new education. Critical investigation, however, reveals to the contrary that these schools are instead centers of occult initiation—modern mystery schools—where every aspect of the curriculum is rooted in Anthroposophy and its incorporated magic and rituals. Steiner saw Anthroposophy as a spiritually complete Rosicrucian path which will guide pupils to higher worlds through an esoteric training, and although this principle of initiation is adhered to by Waldorf Schools, it is accomplished, often without participants’ understanding or sanction.
Born on 27 February 1861, in Croatia, Steiner grew up in Neudforfl near the Austro-Hungarian border where his father worked as a telegraph operator for the Austrian Railway. As a child, Rudolf Steiner believed he saw the apparition of an aunt who had committed suicide walk through a door, into the middle of a room, make some odd gestures and say, “Try now and in later life to help me as much as you can,” before vanishing into the stove (Wilson, 1987, p. 170). As a grown man he disclosed that after seeing this ghost he was clairvoyant, able to see the spirit world and communicate with the dead. While a student, Steiner published philosophical studies and edited Goethe’s works. These—especially Goethe’s mystical writings—remained influential throughout his life. He believed that Goethe had come into contact with a Rosicrucian source and had experienced a “lofty Initiation” (Steiner, 1981b, p. 9). Similarly, he was to embrace the mysticism associated with the Rosicrucian tradition for all of his adult life, eventually promoting Anthroposophy as a spiritually complete Rosicrucianism. In 1884, Steiner became tutor to the four sons of Pauline and Ladislas Specht in Vienna: one of the children suffered from hydrocephalus or water on the brain. Steiner lived with this family for six years and experimented with ways of teaching, claiming that the sick child’s concentration and learning ability could be improved if the boy were prepared to receive the instruction (Washington, 1995, p. 150).
Steiner was an active participant in the pan-German movement during the 1880s. In the late 1880s, early in his career as esoteric evangelist, he wrote that it was not possible to go public with his occult convictions at that time saying, “In all this, the public display of esoteric ideas was out of the question. And the spiritual forces standing behind me gave me only one piece of advice: ‘Everything in the guise of Idealistic philosophy’” (Steiner & von Sievers, 1988, p. 11). In 1897 he moved to Berlin where he edited The Magazine Fur Literatur, claiming to have brought a “spiritual current to bear on literature” by guiding the magazine into esoteric paths:
Gently and slowly I guided it into esoteric paths, carefully but clearly, by writing an essay for the 150th anniversary of Goethe’s birth: ‘‘Goethe’s Secret Revelation,” which merely repeated what I had already indicated in a public lecture in Vienna about Goethe’s fairy-tale “The Green Snake and the beautiful Lilly.” (Steiner & von Sievers, 1988, p. 14)
He married Anna Eunicke in 1899 and the following year he was asked to give lectures to the members of the Berlin Theosophical Society. Confidently, at the age of forty, he presented himself as a Master, in accordance with his occult beliefs that teaching at a younger age was in error. Steiner met Annie Besant while attending the Theosophical Congress of 1902 in London. On October 20, 1902, Steiner became General Secretary of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, which was at that time under the leadership of Col. Henry Olcott as Blavatsky had died. Steiner led the German and Austrian branches of Theosophy for ten years. (Annie Besant was to replace Olcott in 1907). Collin Wilson commented on the emergence of this prominent Theosophical leader in his book Afterlife: An Investigation of the Evidence for Life After Death:
And then—it seemed to happen overnight—Dr. Steiner had become head of the Berlin Lodge of the Theosophical Society, and was being accepted by an increasing number of people as a kind of Messiah. Its membership increased remarkably. Mrs. Besant had met Steiner, and been impressed. She had seemed a little concerned about the strange, mystical Christianity preached by Steiner, but then, Madam Blavatsky had taught that all religions are roads to the same truth, so that was no cause for alarm. Steiner certainly seemed to accept Madame Blavatsky’s basic teaching that the present human race is the fifth ‘root race’ (the fourth were the inhabitants of Atlantis) and that we all go through many reincarnations … [He] talked with staggering authority about the childhood of Christ and the various spiritual movements in Western history. (Wilson, 1987, pp. 167-168)
In 1904 the Master moved out of Anna Eunicke’s house and into the Berlin Theosophical headquarters where the occultist Marie von Sievers lived. She became Steiner’s adoring and devoted disciple, helping him organize his life and attending his lectures. His wife Anna Eunicke died in 1911, and Steiner eventually married Marie von Sievers in 1914.
All his adult life Steiner participated in various secret societies and magical orders, establishing some of his own. For example, he joined the Masonic rite led by Heinrich Klein and Franz Hartman, who initiated Steiner into the “Brothers of Light and the Rosicrucian Illuminati” (King, 1970, p. 206). He also bought a membership in “Memphis-Misraim” from Theodore Reuss in 1905 (Koenig, http://www.cyberlink.ch/~koenig/steiner.htm paragraph 8), and used that ritual as a basis for his “Mizraim Aeterna,” which he hoped would restore the Eleusinian mysteries. Rituals of “Mystica Aeterna” were celebrated only in the presence of Rudolf Steiner and by members of the Theosophical Society (Koenig, paragraph 17). The mystagogue created an “Esoteric School” that held closed meetings and utilized some Masonic rituals. In 1921 the “Esoteric School” was transformed into the “Free University for Hermeticism” (Koenig, paragraph 39). Steiner borrowed extensively from Blavatsky’s doctrine and took from the French occulist Eliphas Levi’s Dogma and Ritual of High Magic (Koenig, paragraph 45). Steiner’s Apocalyptic Seals are almost identical to Levi’s seals pictured in the book. Steiner inspired others, like Max Heindel, to found the Rosicrucian Fellowship in Oceanside, California (Jenkins, 2000, pp. 82-83), and L. Ron Hubbard of the Church of Scientology.
Steiner told followers of his clairvoyant abilities and other psychic powers, claiming to read the Akashic record to obtain information and channel Zarathustra. The Akashic Record is believed to be an invisible chronicle that records every word spoken and deed performed by mankind since the beginning of time. Occult believers say this record can be found in the ether and read by clairvoyants. Steiner taught believers how to read to the dead and to meditate on the deceased’s handwriting in order to communicate with those that have died. He lectured profusely on topics such as reincarnation, hypnotism, occult science, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, mystery centers of the middle ages, astral bodies, gnomes as life forms, angels, karma, Christian mysticism, how to see spiritual beings, modern initiation, Atlantis, Lemuria, etc. Steiner’s sermons, setting out his occult teachings, were recorded by his disciples and published in more than 350 volumes. In a paper such as this, it is only possible to scratch the surface of the vast body of tenets that he imparted to his followers.
During his time as General Secretary of the Theosophical Society, Steiner built Rosicrucian Temples. One lay beneath the Stuttgart House, although many of his followers who met upstairs knew nothing of its existence. In 1912, after a doctrinal rift with Annie Besant over her claim that Jiddu Krishnamurti was a reincarnation of Christ, the charismatic prophet instigated a schism in the Theosophical Society. Steiner took most of the German and Austrian believers with him to establish his own esoteric religion, Anthroposophy, in order to be free from Besant’s theological restraints and impositions. Steiner and some followers moved to Dornach, Switzerland, to build their utopia which included an enormous mystical temple known as the Goetheanum. The original intricately carved and painted wooden building burned down during Steiner’s day but was replaced by a subsequent temple designed by Steiner and constructed out of concrete. The second Goetheanum remains the world headquarters and spiritual center for Anthroposophy today.
Steiner also developed a spiritual medicine system based on his “Spiritual Science” which incorporates alchemical, astrological, Cabalistic, and other magical concepts. His views on illness are unorthodox when compared to contemporary scientific medicine, but they are still upheld and promoted by his followers. For example, Steiner viewed certain bacilli as “nothing else than physically embodied demons generated by lies,” (Steiner, 1981b, p. 69) and he claimed that certain children with learning disabilities are not really human but inhabited by beings that do not belong to the human race:
The girl L.K. in class 1…is one of those cases that are occurring more and more frequently where children are born and human forms exist which actually, with regard to the highest member the ego, are not human at all but are inhabited by beings who do not belong to the human race…They are very different from human beings where spiritual matters are concerned. For instance they can never memorise sentences, only words. I do not like speaking about these things, as there is considerable opposition about this. Just imagine what people would say if they heard that we are talking about human beings who are not human beings. Nevertheless these are facts. Furthermore, there would not be such a decline of culture if there were a strong enough feeling for the fact that some people, the ones who are particularly ruthless, are not human beings at all but demons in human form. But do not let us broadcast this. There is enough opposition already. Things like this give people a terrible shock. People were frightfully shocked when I had to say that a quite famous university professor with a great reputation had had a very short period between death and re-birth and was a re-incarnated negro scientist. But don’t let us publicize these things. (Steiner, 1986, pp. 36-37)
Errors resulting from devotion to the dark god, Ahriman, will be punished in the form of diseases in a following lifetime. Too much sex and desire for sensual pleasure in a past life will be paid back with a case of pneumonia in the next life. Karma will punish selfishness with malaria. Developing healing forces and overcoming diseases enables the human to evolve onwards and upwards on Steiner’s evolutionary path, towards his prophetic future. Vaccines are frowned upon by many Anthroposophists because they interfere with karmic compensation:
… Let us assume that many epidemics, communal causes of illness, can be traced to the fact that victims are seeking to remove what they have karmically fostered within themselves. This is the case, for instance, with smallpox which is the organ of unlovingness. Although we may be in a position to remove the possibility of this disease, the cause of unlovingness would still remain, and the souls in question would then be forced to seek another way for karmic compensation either in this or in another incarnation. (Steiner, 1995a, p. 144)
Steiner taught that before the age of nine children, generally, should be broken of left handedness. Some Waldorf teachers attempt to change children’s dominant hand in order to help them in future incarnations:
The phenomenon of left-handedness is clearly karmic, and, in connection with karma, it is one of karmic weakness. Allow me to give an example: A person who was overworked in their previous life, so that they did too much, not only physically or intellectually, but in general, spiritually, within their soul or feeling, will enter the succeeding life with an intense weakness (Steiner, 1923 lecture, http://www.bobnancy.com/ retrieved March 3, 2003. Click on “waldorf” then “developing child”, then “Left-handed Cross-dominance,” scroll to May 25, 1923 lecture).
Steiner’s alchemy attempts to heal all the members comprising the human being, which includes his concept of man as having an astral, etheric, “I” and physical body. An important component of his healing art is Curative Eurythmy. It is a magic based system of angelic communication incorporating Cabalism, astrology, zodiac, numerology, sigils, gestures, the alphabet, copper wands, color, and more, that supposedly connect the participant to Steiner’s spiritual world invoking various spiritual beings’ healing powers.
Yet another of Steiner’s contributions to humanity is “Biodynamic Farming,” an Anthroposophic based farming practice in which organic methods are imbued with magical/spiritual components. For example, cows are sacrificed at certain times of the year and their body parts used for magical purposes. Primary Moon forces (beings) are believed to come to rest in horns. In one ritual fresh dung is stuffed into cow horns and buried in the ground in autumn to attract various beings in the cosmos for better crop fertility. In spring the horns are dug up and the contents emptied into warm water and stirred in a specific manner for a specific time. Rotation must be fast to cause a vortex and the direction of the stirring changed once or twice a minute. This substance, known as preparation 500, is diluted with water and sprayed over fields. Biodynamic practitioners claim this type of farming produces more nutritious food. A group of New Zealand Biodynamic apostates believe that cow horns on living cows act as antenna attracting world etheric and world astral forces, while deer radiate forces outwards through their antlers (Atkinson, http://rimu.orcon.net.nz/garuda/books/cowhorns.html , p.1).
In 1919, drawing on his life’s work as a mystagogue, Steiner developed Waldorf education based on Anthroposophy and his expertise on mystery schools. Steiner died in 1925, before the Nazis came to power in 1933. Waldorf schools remained open in Nazi Germany for years due to the amiable relationship between some Anthroposophists, Waldorf leadership, and the new rulers in Germany. The schools received criticism from some party members for not being stringently Nazi: they were however defended for being anti-intellectual and serving as a model for indoctrination. Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess was Anthroposophy’s chief protector within the Nazi hierarchy and it was only after he flew to Britain that the last Waldorf school was closed in Germany in 1941 (Leschinsky, 1983, p. 255).
Waldorf Education is a good example of an imposed alternate reality with an anti-cult backlash formed in opposition to the schools. The sociologist, psychiatrist, and others interested in investigating cultic studies might find the schools and controversy to be of interest. Lamentably, critical research on Anthroposophy and Waldorf published in English is lacking. Most books about Steiner, Anthroposophy, and Waldorf, are published from within the enclosed world of Anthroposophy. Contributing difficulties for the researcher are the secretive, hierarchical, occult tradition, from which Steiner emerged, and editorial deletions and revisionism in the publications of his recorded lectures by disciples. Those that study Waldorf might find that many involved in the schools have absolutely no comprehension of the subtext informing Waldorf education and that the uninformed people tend to “normalize” the environment. Scholars may also discover that Anthroposophy motivates all Waldorf classroom activity and that, for those “in the know,” the pedagogy and curriculum serves as an Anthroposophic mystery initiation for both teacher and pupils. Because of this, Anthroposophists are drawn to Waldorf Schools. Scholars might see that Anthroposophical beliefs are the reasons for some of the more unusual practices, as well as the sometimes humorous, but too-often tragic, scenarios that surface when the esoterically uninformed flutter with the moths drawn to the light.
Anthroposophy–Doctrine of the Group
Sects drawn to occult illumination much like what would today be termed “New Age,” were already firmly entrenched in the America of the nineteenth century. After a period of spiritual experimentation, the Theosophical Society, founded in 1875 by Helena P. Blavatsky, emerged in New York City. Theosophy spawned spiritual progenies such as I Am, most modern Gnostic sects, modern astrology, as well as Anthroposophy. These spiritual movements “integrated spiritualist ideas with a great deal of Hindu and Buddhist thought, including the theories of karma and reincarnation” and popularized Hermetic teachings in America. “Theosophy enjoyed a global boom by the early 1880s” and had an enormous impact on all subsequent occult movements (Jenkins, 2000, p. 41) including Anthroposophy.
Rudolf Steiner was a white magician and one of the most knowledgeable occultists of his time (Merkur, 1993, p. 61). He saw the universe as a vast, living being, inhabited by a multitude of spiritual beings at various stages of development, whose forces create the physical world. He was a macro-microcosmic thinker, and the old hermetic axiom once embraced by alchemists—“As above, so below”—is essential to Steiner’s Anthroposophical perspective. This fundamental tenet of magic is a radical divergence from contemporary scientific thinking. Otherwise stated as “the universe a vast human being, the individual a small universe”, this maxim of “truth” was originally adopted by occult thinkers free from the restraints imposed by scientific models of the universe and the Darwinian theory of human evolution. Although the attitude is viewed as erroneous by modern science, magic expert Michael Greer writes, in Circles of Power, that throughout history people have persisted in viewing the interaction between consciousness and matter as a reality independent of the mind. He adds that there are still those who embrace this principle of macrocosm (great universe) and microcosm (little universe) as a more useful model for experience than the scientific belief system accepted in American culture (Greer, 1997, pp. 13-14). They follow in a long succession, embracing this construct previously widely disseminated by Cabalists, Hermeticists, Gnostics, Neoplatonists and Rosicrucians as they exerted influence for centuries. “As above, so below” appropriates continuity with the past, right to the present day, in the eclectic teachings revered by the disciples of the Austrian mystagogue of the last century, who borrowed extensively, from this esoteric tradition, to concoct his own belief system—Anthroposophy.
Steiner is reputed to have said that Elizabeth Vreede “understood his work more deeply than anyone else” (Vreede, 2001, back cover). Once appointed the head of the Mathematical-Astronomical Section of the School of Spiritual Science by Steiner himself, Vreede reiterated Steiner’s belief that stars are the discarded physical bodies and external forms of divine, spiritual beings; “members of a ‘spiritual colony’ that, although invisible, works directly into the material realm … [H]uman souls are fellow members in this community of spirits in the life between death and rebirth” (Vreede, p. 284). In her book Anthroposophy and Astrology, Vreede gives a summary of the Anthroposophic macro-microcosmic world view. After explaining Steiner’s concept that plants on earth correspond to the living mirrored image of the beings of the star world and describing plants as beings with self-consciousness in a group soul which exists “as the offspring of the spirits of wisdom” (p. 286), she writes:
The plant world receives its forms from the starry heavens, and the animal world its form from the zodiac. Human beings receive their form from the whole sphere of the heavens, not from the single constellations, just as we also bear in our head an image of the entire stellar universe. Again we find the human being as the synthesis, the perfect embodiment of the entire cosmos. (Vreede, 2001, p. 287)
In other words, a tulip is created by a certain group of spiritual beings’ forces, while the lily is created by another group of beings, whereas, animals get their form from the gods of the Zodiac. All beings in the cosmos make up man. Man is the world and the world is man. Macro-microcosmic thinkers perceive the world from inside and outside of their bodies, rather than objectively from within their skulls. Their world is animistic, teeming with spiritual beings whose powers create and regulate the physical world. In March 1910, Steiner gave a series of sermons on the topic of Macrocosm and Microcosm, addressing his audience: “I have tried to make it clear that in the microcosm, in the nervous system, in the brain, men are mirror-images of the activities and beings of the macrocosm” (Steiner, 1968, p. 147).
Steiner taught that the physical human being is comprised of an etheric body, astral body, and an “I” body. This belief gives Anthroposophic believers the ability to leave their physical bodies during their day-to-day earthly existence in order to commune with spiritual beings in the cosmos. In Waldorf education, Steiner’s “True Nature of Man” —more commonly known by the uninformed as his “child development model” —is based on his concept of man as physical, etheric, astral, and “I”. It is extremely helpful to be familiar with Steiner’s conclusions about these soul and spirit bodies of man in order to understand his pedagogy. For example, the emphasis on delaying first grade and reading until the etheric body enters (signaled by growth of secondary teeth), and delaying intellectual thinking until after the age of fourteen when the astral body supposedly incarnates. According to Steiner, these spiritual bodies incarnate in seven-year increments, after birth, as the physical body grows. They are believed to leave the physical body after death and reincarnate after a period of cosmic existence spent with spiritual beings in the universe. The physical body is the hereditary body of flesh and bones. Beings in the cosmos cause the physical body to grow as well as hold it together. Beings that live in the chest move the blood as the heart is not a pump. Plants, minerals, man and animals have physical bodies.
The etheric body incarnates around the age of seven. “It is visible to the seer and has approximately the same form as the physical body. It is a body of forces” (Steiner, 1981b, p.22). “A whole people” (ethnic and “racial” groups) share the rudiments of a common etheric body (Steiner, 1981b, p. 47). The etheric body in the male is female, and visa versa. It appears as “a form of light extending everywhere, but only slightly, beyond the form of the physical body” (Steiner, 1981b, p. 23). The loosening of baby teeth and growth of secondary teeth is a sign that the etheric body is incarnating. The etheric body never leaves the physical body until death, “except during certain states of Initiation” (Steiner, 1981b, p. 33). It loosens if a person gets a fright or sneezes. If a body part falls asleep and tingles it is because the etheric body temporarily has left that part of the physical body. “If a hand, for instance, has gone to sleep, the seer can perceive the etheric part of the hand protruding like a glove; parts of the etheric brain also protrude when a man is in a state of hypnosis” (Steiner, 1981b, p. 34). Man, plants and animals have etheric bodies.
Humans and animals have astral bodies that bear feelings such as sorrow or joy. The astral body whirls about in space seeking the appropriate parents for the reincarnation process. To a “seer,” it resembles a bell-shape opening downwards (Steiner, 1981b, p. 46). “A whole people” share a common astral body that “lives within a kind of astral cloud and is the body of the Folk-Spirit” (Steiner, 1981b, p. 47). It is released into the physical body between fourteen to twenty-one years of age. Steiner taught that all human astral bodies leave the physical body during sleep. They “wind their way, in spiral form, out of the physical body” into the cosmic community of spiritual beings, returning to the physical body upon waking (Steiner, 1959, p.104). While united with planetary beings, the astral body drinks the forces of beings associated with Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Sun etc. These planetary beings give the astral body what it needs to exist. During sleep, the astral body is in “union with the starry world, the astral world” (p. 105) and returns to the microcosm when the person wakes.
Spiritually advanced man has an individual “I” body. This separates him from animals and lower humanity, making him divine. The “I” leaves the physical body and accompanies the astral body during sleep. The “I” is the body that can be trained to remember past lives in Greece and Atlantis, etc. The spiritually advanced will develop “I’s” that can remember past lives, and, after death, this body will be able to locate those that it worked with during a previous life on Earth. “The anthroposophical movement is to help and guide people to remember in the right way” (Steiner, 1990, p. 14). Anthroposophists who have developed their “Is” reincarnate in core groups that have been spread around the globe and will instruct others who have not developed their “Is” in what they may “think, feel, will and do”. The “earth and all it can yield will belong to those” who develop their “Is” (pp. 23-24).
One of the more influential yet eccentric medieval alchemists to embrace the micro-macrocosmic theory of ancient Greece was Paracelsus (1493-1541). His writings have exerted an influence for centuries right up to modern branches of Theosophy and Anthroposophy (Roob, 1997, p. 15). Claiming to have visited with magicians in Egypt and Arabia, he is said to have traveled to India before settling in Basle, Switzerland, where he taught medicine at the university and developed his version of alchemy which incorporated Cabala, astral magic and Christian mysticism. All Cabalistic signs, according to Paracelsus, could be reduced to two—the macrocosm and the microcosm. He taught that the sign of the macrocosm is a six-pointed star; the sacred symbol of Solomon’s Seal. The microcosm, a five-pointed star or pentagram, represented man and all occult forces. These signs had magical power over supernatural beings. (Spence, 1996, p. 257 & p. 276). Likewise, Steiner taught his pupils about star magic as documented in the book Rosicrucianism and Modern Initiation: Mystery Centres of the Middle Ages. In the lecture recorded in chapter five he claimed that once, while on a spiritual journey in the spirit world, he became aware of a lonely occult school in Central Europe that imparted the “overpowering” and great wisdom of the meditation known as Solomon’s Key. According to him, this wisdom goes right back in history through the Middle Ages to Aristotle in Greece: the tradition originated in Asia and Alexander the Great brought it to Greece via Macedonia. This symbol played a major role in the Central European mystery school that Steiner clairvoyantly discovered while in the spiritual world. Supposedly, the master of the occult school would instruct pupils to make a star with their bodies by standing with their feet apart and their arms stretched out above. By assuming this position the pupils “became conscious that they really do exist” (Steiner, 1965, p.64). After deep meditation the pupils learned that they could write themselves into space and feel the very marrow in their bones. They went so far inside of themselves that they left their bodies and they learned to know the lines of force that the gods had drawn to establish and found the world (p. 67). Having discovered the paths to the gods through Man and by placing themselves in the spirit-being of man, the pupils learned to look back into past Atlantean times and even further (p. 68). “The teacher would say to the pupil: ‘Behold, Man is a Microcosm; he imitates in his organism what goes on in the great Universe’” (p.69). This concept of man as pentagram was a favorite topic of study for medieval wizards and alchemists. The image is found in numerous Renaissance magic textbooks and alchemical sources. It reappears in Steiner’s Anthroposophical teaching today, and, remarkably, in the lesson books and classroom rituals of Waldorf pupils.
During the Renaissance, influential magicians such as Agrippa of Nettesheim (1486-1533) and others, like Giordano Bruno, Robert Fludd and John Dee, disseminated macro-microcosmic ideas. Agrippa was one of the predominant sources of Renaissance magic (Yates, 1972, p. 109) and his work was well known by Steiner who described him in the book Mysticism and Modern Thought. Agrippa’s Christian Cabalistic, alchemical, and magical philosophy is very close to the Rosicrucianism expressed in the Rosicrucian Manifestos associated with the mythical Christian Rosenkreutz, and it was a major source for most Renaissance magicians’ work. Many texts were published about the great macrocosm and the little world of man, the microcosm, in an attempt to order and to present the philosophy based on the congruent design of the cosmos and its correspondences in man. Man became the world and the world man. He took his place at the center of the universe, the mid-point between spiritual realms and the physical realm, gaining power over matter and the ability to “participate[th] with Spirits and Angels” (Clulee, 1988, p. 149).
In a lecture entitled The Relationship of Man to the Sun, Steiner recapitulated his own doctrine by telling his audience that Agrippa knew “quite well that in the several planets of our system are spiritual Beings of specific character and kind” (Steiner, 1965, p. 49). He went on to say that Agrippa assigned to each planet what he called “the Intelligence of the planet.” Agrippa believed that stars were a sign “of the presence of spiritual Beings.” He knew that the beings united with “stars are Beings who rule the inner existence of that star or planet, rule … its movements in the Universe” and “hold sway indeed over its whole activity.” “The Intelligence of the ‘Earth Star’ was man himself.” Man had been given “the task to regulate and rule the Earth” by the “World-Spirit.” “Through what he is, through the forces and powers he bears within his being, Man gives to Earth the impulse for her movement round the Sun, for her movement altogether in cosmic space.” Man is “Lord of the Earth” (Steiner, 1965, pp. 50-51). In turn, Agrippa’s magical universe had been influenced by the doctrines of the legendary Hermes Trismegistus —“the patriarch of natural mysticism and alchemy”—(Roob, 1997, p. 8), which claimed that man was the image of God and gifted with omnipotence. Like Agrippa and earlier magicians, Steiner was also to systemize the influence of the planets, numbers, Hebrew words, the Zodiac, angels and other supernatural beings, relating their connection to specific organs of man.
Appearing throughout Steiner’s doctrine are references to his trinity of Ahriman, Lucifer, and what he calls “the Christ Spirit.” Two thousand years ago, the Christ who existed in the Sun, came to Earth and inhabited Jesus’ body for a period of three years: this Christ spirit had also inhabited other great spiritual leaders of human kind such as Zarathustra. Lucifer had a human incarnation about 5000 years ago in China, and Ahriman incarnated in the West in 1998. Steiner’s path of initiation enables disciples to remember past lives and gain the ability to recognize fellow believers in future reincarnations. This ability to remember past lives was considered crucial to his predicted Sixth Epoch:
It is the deeper task of the anthroposophical movement to enable a number of human beings to enter their next incarnation with an I each remembers as his or her own, individual I. These people will then form the nucleus of the next period of civilization. Then these individuals who have been well prepared through the anthroposophical spiritual movement to remember their individual I will be spread over the earth. For the essential characteristic of the next period of civilization is that it will not be limited to particular localities, but will be spread over the whole earth. These individuals will be scattered over the earth, and thus everywhere on earth there will be a core group of people who will be crucial for the sixth epoch of civilization. These people will recognize each other as those who in their previous incarnation strove together to develop the individual I. (Steiner, 1990, pp. 22-23)
With the help of the Akashic record and his professed clairvoyant abilities, he laid out the evolution of the Earth in a series of epochs and rounds—Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan. Earth consists of 7 epochs, and present humankind exists in the later part of the Fifth Epoch on Earth. Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan, are prophesied future periods. He taught that believers who develop their “I” will remember each other and reincarnate together in “core groups” to instruct others in what to “think, feel, will and do,” and that they will inherit the earth:
To put it bluntly, we can say that the earth and all it can yield will belong to those who now cultivate their individualities. Those, however, who do not develop their individual I will be dependent on joining a group that will instruct them in what they should think, feel, will and do. In the future development of humanity this will be felt as a regression, a second Fall. Therefore, we should not regard the anthroposophical movement and spiritual life as mere theory but rather as something that is given to us now to prepare what is necessary for the future of humanity. (Steiner, 1990, p. 24)
Steiner’s lectures are peppered with racism and anti-Semitism. His racist doctrine is similar to other occult variants like ariosophy, sometimes attracting interest from far-right publishers and distributors. Peter Staudenmaier studies racism and Steiner texts including untranslated German lectures such as those recorded in Die Geistigen Hintergrunde des Ersten Weltkrieges, (1974). (GA 174b). On the Internet discussion group, email@example.com Staudenmaier translated some German Steiner text into English (see posts from September 2002 titled “skin color and spirit” archived at http://www.waldorfcritics.org/active/archives.html ). He concludes that Steiner accepted as obvious the basic Theosophical notion that intelligence and beauty are correlated with “racial characteristics” and links this to the classical Theosophical concept that “primitive peoples” are the “degenerative remnants” of older “racial forms.” Staudenmaier notes that Steiner subscribes to “esoteric Darwinism” in which inferior “races” of his lifetime were believed by him to be descendants of the earlier Lemurian and Atlantean root races which were devolving physically and spiritually toward an animal state. In contrast, the fifth root race, the Aryans, continued evolving upwards, towards universal humanity. Followers will be saved from Steiner’s prophetic, apocalyptic “War of All Against All”—when white humanity will destroy “colored” humanity who has not taken the spirit deep within the skin.
White humankind is still on the path of absorbing the spirit deeper and deeper into its own essence. Yellow humankind is on the path of conserving the era when the spirit will be kept away from the body, when the spirit will only be sought outside of the human-physical organization. But the result will have to be that the transition from the fifth cultural epoch to the sixth cultural epoch cannot happen in any other way than as a violent battle of white humankind against colored humankind in myriad areas. And that which precedes these battles between white and colored humankind will occupy world history until the completion of the great battles between white and colored humankind. Future events are frequently reflected in prior events. You see, we stand before something colossal that—when we understand it through spiritual science—we will in the future be able to recognize as a necessary occurrence. (Steiner, 1974, p. 38, translated by P. Staudenmaier).
In a 1915 sermon in Stuttgart, Steiner said that advanced spirituality is tied to external skin color and that white skin is a sign of spiritual progress:
This carrying down, this thorough impregnation of the flesh by the spirit, this is characteristic of the mission, the whole mission of white humanity. People have white skin color because the spirit works within the skin when it wants to descend to the physical plane. That the external physical body will become a container for the spirit, that is the task of our fifth cultural epoch, which has been prepared by the four other cultural epochs.
And our task must be to acquaint ourselves with those cultural impulses that tend to introduce the spirit into the flesh and into the ordinary. If we recognize this completely, then it will become clear to us that where the spirit is still supposed to function as spirit, where in a certain way the spirit is supposed to be retarded in its development—because in our time its task is to descend into the flesh—that where the spirit is retarded, where it takes on a demonic character and does not fully penetrate the flesh, then white skin color does not appear, because atavistic powers are present that do not allow the spirit to achieve complete harmony with the flesh. (Steiner, 1974, p. 37, translated by P. Staudenmaier).
Racial selectiveness was important to Steiner’s doctrine which includes the notion that beauty and intelligence correlate with “racial characteristics”:
If the blondes and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense if men do not arrive at a form of intelligence that is independent of blondeness. In the case of fair people, less nourishment is driven into the eyes and hair: it remains instead in the brain and endows it with intelligence. Brown- and dark–haired people drive nourishment into their eyes and hair that the fair people retain in their brains. (Steiner, 1981a, p. 86)
Steiner’s doctrine of “esoteric Darwinism” was steeped in Blavatsky’s basic theosophical teachings; “savages” are considered degenerate remnants of older racial forms devolving into apes. A year before he died he was still preaching the same sermon:
[W]e are not justified in thinking that human beings were originally like the savages of today. The savages have developed into what they now are—with their superstitions, their magical practices and their unclean appearance—from states originally more perfect. The only superiority we have over them is that, while starting from the same conditions, we did not degenerate as they did. I might therefore say: The evolution of man has taken two paths. It is not true that the savages of today represent the original condition of mankind. Mankind, though to begin with looked more animal-like, was highly civilized. … Just as the present savages have fallen from the level of the human beings of primeval times, so the apes are beings who have fallen still lower. (Steiner, 1987, p.126)
In 1904, early in his Theosophical career, he taught that the “backward races” were the descendants of the earlier Lemurian and Atlantean root-races which survived the Atlantean flood. Steiner’s clairvoyant powers enabled him to see far back in time, before the beginning of the world, long before that marked by historians and scientists. His psychic abilities enabled him to describe Atlantis in elaborate detail, when humans still had magical powers and could lift their hands above plants to make them grow rapidly, and when man drove vehicles that floated in the air. These “backwards races” should have died out, but Ahriman thwarted this cosmic plan. Instead of evolving towards a more advanced spiritual state and higher stages of evolution with more “beautiful bodies,” they physically and spiritually regressed. Steiner and other Theosophists asserted that these “lower races” were devolving toward an animal state, while the fifth root-race, the Aryans, led by Manu, was saved from the Atlantis flood and continues to evolve towards a higher Sixth race. Steiner taught that a “universal human” would eventually return to pure spirit, free from the restraints of the physical body in his future Vulcan phase of cosmic evolution.
Anthroposophists continue to uphold Steiner’s racist teachings claiming that there is “no question of a racial doctrine.” This is documented in an article entitled No Question of a Racial Doctrine, Dutch Report is Ready, published in the magazine about life in the Anthroposophical Society, Anthroposophy Worldwide, No. 4, May 2000, page 3. The article records that on April Fool’s day, 2000, the “Anthroposophy and the Question of Race Commission”—a panel of Anthroposophists appointed to study and report on whether or not Steiner’s doctrine is racist—presented a 720 page final report to the public which has not yet been published in English (see van Baarda, et al, 2000 for source of the report in Dutch). The magazine article states that the Dutch report “confirmed the findings of its 1998 interim report that Rudolf Steiner’s complete works contain neither a racial doctrine nor racist comments”. Critics of Anthroposophy who have studied Steiner’s doctrine and the Dutch report observed that notably racist works were not included in the study and that some racist passages from included works were omitted. Despite their findings, however, the Commission admits that there are sixteen discriminatory remarks by Steiner that “would be illegal in the Netherlands if proclaimed publicly by anyone today.” The Commission recommended that “these sixteen quotes, as well as sixty-seven, easily misunderstood remarks” should be published with accompanying explanations in the future. “[T]he Commission found no racism in Dutch Waldorf schools, only some use of stereotypes in ethnology lessons.” Some Anthroposophists in Europe have placed ads in major daily newspapers distancing themselves from Steiner’s racism, while other Anthroposophical Society members criticized them for doing so. Ted van Baarda, head of the Commission, was concerned about facing these questions due to Anthroposophists’ “loyalty to Steiner.” The Commission, however, was not to “evaluate spiritual science but rather the effect of such remarks on the public.” The report was to “identify the facts in order to develop a strategy for dealing with attacks,” because, as van Baarde emphasized, “We cannot afford to lose.” Presumably he means that initiates are obligated to proselytize Steiner’s racist doctrine for society’s redemption and the fulfillment of his prophecies.
Peter Staudenmaier studied the Dutch report and commented on the Commission’s statement—“The Commission confirmed the findings of its 1998 interim report, that Rudolf Steiner’s complete works contain neither a racial doctrine nor racist comments.” On December 12, 2002, in a post to firstname.lastname@example.org entitled “It takes an expert” Staudenmaier wrote:
This is what Anthroposophists are asked to believe. Since nobody acquainted with Anthroposophy’s central works can possibly believe this, it raises an obvious question about Anthroposophy’s basic ability to deal with the manifest content of its own teachings. The standard Anthroposophist response is that, yes, indeed, it *does* take an expert to understand Steiner’s works. Aside from the patently elitist and authoritarian implications of this stance, it is unconvincing even according to its own logic, because so many of the self-proclaimed experts on anthroposophy know astonishingly little about what Steiner actually wrote on racial topics and about the historical and intellectual context of those writings. That is precisely why informed critics of Anthroposophy are routinely greeted with the charge of arrogance: even simple, unadorned quotations from Steiner are enough to unsettle the Anthroposophist consensus on these matters, because they show that any thinking person can make sense out of Steiner’s racial teachings without bowing to the self-appointed experts.
I very much hope that the Dutch report is made available in English soon, so that people can peruse its pages and decide whether Steiner’s quoted passages—even if blatantly incomplete and decontextualized—contain racial doctrines and/or racist comments. (Staudenmaier, 2002, December 12, http://www.waldorfcritics.org/active/archives.html search archive).
Steiner’s hierarchical scheme of human evolution is subtly incorporated into the Waldorf curriculum. As part of their “history” lessons, pupils learn ancient Indian religious stories as well as Persian, Egyptian-Chaldean, Greco-Roman and Germanic-Nordic myths which are meant to jog past life memories. Uninformed parents might interpret the lessons as “multiculturalism”; in reality, however, pupils are being passed through a covert mystery initiation, corresponding to Steiner’s doctrine of the spiritual evolution of the Aryan. Steiner believed that Manu saved an “advanced” group of people from the Atlantis flood, guiding them to India. They evolved “upwards” after a Persian initiation, Egyptian initiation, etc., and according to Steiner, will continue to evolve “higher” during his predicted future periods of Earth. The following example from a Waldorf pupil’s main lesson book reflects how Anthroposophic myth-making is woven into the curriculum:
The Journey from Atlantis to India
Thousands of years ago there was a vast continent named Atlantis. The people used their magic for evil and greedy purposes. On Atlantis there was a wise man called Manu. Great love lived with Manu. Often he would spend time alone thinking with his heart about God. One day when Manu was sitting by a pond he saw a small fish that needed help. As the fish grew, Manu continued to help the fish. When the fish was as big as a whale he told Manu that the great rains were coming to wash away evil in the world. Manu built an Ark and filled it with plants and kind people. The huge fish pulled the Ark to the Northern Mountains of India. The people were overjoyed at the sight of the rainbow and for the first time they saw the bright blue skies! (Personal collection).
Steiner prophesied that the pure and advanced will evolve into various forms on their way to becoming pure spirit, free from the restraints of the physical body. These future evolutions of man include a plant-like body during Jupiter and a bee-like state when Earth becomes Venus. By the Vulcan period, man’s present organs of reproduction will atrophy and the spiritually advanced will instead have a highly evolved larynx as an organ of regeneration; man will give birth by speaking another into existence. In other words, in future, followers will return to spirit and become the creator, the “universal human.” At one point along Steiner’s path of evolution, possibly during Earth’s future Venus period, two wings or antenna will develop on the forehead and the heart will become an organ of knowledge—the brain of the “chest-being.” He also predicted that in the future man will fly. Those who don’t comply with Steiner’s way, who do not develop their “I”, will be destined to life in his eccentric hell, when during Jupiter, they will become “subordinate nature spirits.” (Steiner, 1995b, p. 70)
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, in Germany, Steiner and many others who undertook occult quests, were inspired by the works of Goethe, who equated Christ with the Sun. During this period, there was a push by volkisch movements to return to Germany’s roots of neopagan sun worship—replacing Christ worship—in order to restore the “true” Teutonic religion of the ancient Aryans (see Noll, 1995). Steiner’s enlightenment incorporated a Sun trinity that consists of the physical Sun, the second Sun, and most importantly, the first Sun. “Laggard beings” that should have evolved into spirits of wisdom, but instead remained behind, live and work on the physical Sun. Within solar flares, laggard angelic beings from Steiner’s Ancient Sun period which “are in fact ahrimanic beings” reside (Vreede, 2001, p. 41). In the corona, laggard angelic beings, that remained behind from Steiner’s Old Moon condition, dwell. Within sunspots the laggard spirits of personality exist, archai who completed their human stage on Steiner’s ancient Saturn (p. 41). All the beings that live on the physical Sun studied by science “must all be regarded as having ‘remained behind’” (p. 41). Within the human chest there exists a second Sun, dwelling place of the spirits of Yaweh Elohim, who breathed breath into the human being. These beings cause the circulation of the blood. “In the blood, in rhythm, in pulsebeat, the second sun dwells within us” (p. 42). And last but not least, “the first and highest Sun is the Sun of Christ.” “The Christ Sun has united itself with the Earth” (p. 43).
Many people participating in Waldorf schools do not know much, if anything, about the esoteric subtext. Followers of Steiner often claim that Anthroposophy is not a religion but rather a philosophy, and Steiner was a scientist, artist, educator and philosopher. Religion scholars, however, have classified Anthroposophy as a religion and Steiner’s doctrine certainly meets criteria for being classified as such: it includes worship of Christ the Sun Being as well as archangel Michael who is the messenger of the Sun and of the Christ; there is belief in various supernatural beings such as angels and demons, as well as gnomes, sylphs, salamanders, and undines which are “elemental” spirits that dwell in earth, air, fire and water; there is a destiny of followers and assurance of eternal life in the form of reincarnation; a path to follow to gain psychic sight in order to see spiritual beings that surround mankind, use of rituals, the promise of a good reincarnation in Steiner’s prophetic future if one develops one’s “I.” Followers stand to inherit the earth and “all it will yield”. As in any religion, there are local communities of like-minded believers.
Doublespeak—Our Personal Experience
You are either in or out, esoterically informed or uninformed. My husband and I were not spiritual seekers pre-Waldorf and remain so post-Waldorf. In the personal essay that follows, I shall attempt to tell our story: how I the Freethinker, (one who does not accept the belief in beings concealed behind the material world) found myself propping up a religious movement without my knowledge. How I, who values life as extremely precious because it is most likely finite, found myself, along with my husband and daughter, participating in a religious movement that embraces reincarnation as a main doctrinal tenet—but only learning this after we left!
Looking back from a more informed perspective, no longer living in an esoteric knowledge void, there seem to be several factors that contributed to our confusion about the movement. The first has to do with how the group presented itself and our passive acceptance of the group’s presentation of information. We did not actively seek out our own information or our own understanding of Rudolf Steiner until after we left and began searching for reasons for the peculiar experiences and practices that we had encountered in the group. The Waldorf school did not present itself as a religious movement but, instead, claimed to be a scientific, art-based, nonsectarian school, having a multicultural emphasis incorporating stories and festivals from around the world as well as having an environmental focus. We believed Waldorf’s claim, because Steiner was portrayed as a scientist, educator, and philosopher. We had never heard of Rudolf Steiner before looking into Waldorf, and assumed that he was as advertised. Initially, it never dawned on us that he was a religious leader and that Waldorf would be a hub for the dissemination of his beliefs. Even during our time in Waldorf, Steiner was never referred to as a mystic, mystagogue, Rosicrucian, Theosophist, religious leader, religious educator, occultist, guru, esoteric, or clairvoyant, etc. Words that would normally help an uninformed person garner a better sense of the movement as a religious phenomenon were not employed. Use of these sorts of words would automatically place Waldorf in a clearer context for the uninformed, but they were missing at our ex-school.
In the occult tradition, the group also used veiled vocabulary devised by Steiner i.e., the use of words having alternate meanings to the definitions we were familiar with which are generally accepted by mainstream society. For example, “psychic sight” was termed “imagination” by Steiner. Developing “imagination,” which you’d expect at an art-based school, really meant developing “psychic sight.” Even the word “art“ takes on a different meaning with acquired esoteric knowledge. “Art” becomes “The Art” (of Magic). The secularization of religious words became an effective tool for hiding the esoteric core from us as uninformed parents. “Sermon” became “lecture,” “occultist” became “scientist,” “prayer” became “verse,” Steiner’s scheme of reincarnation—“The True Nature of Man”—became “child development model,” “nature altar” became “nature table,” “pentagram” became “star”, “religion” became “science” and “sectarian” became “nonsectarian.” Another word with dual meanings, “materialistic,” was also used ubiquitously at our school. Its definition within Waldorf culture was “non-spiritual”—very different from my understanding of the term in those days, i.e., “seeking wealth, goods, comfort and pleasure.” The word “reincarnation” was never used in our presence at the school and was not mentioned in brochures we read or meetings we attended, despite the fact that reincarnation is a main doctrinal tenet of Anthroposophy crucial to Steiner’s “child development model,” his prophetic future, and Waldorf’s curriculum and pedagogy. In fact, we only learned about the importance of reincarnation in Waldorf after we left the school and I began reading his sermons. Although, in passing conversation, a devout Anthroposophist teacher, while picking up her daughter from our house, did let it slip that Steiner is expected to reincarnate in a green, hilly place in North America, possibly the area where our ex-school is located. This puzzling comment was added to my mental list of Waldorf peculiarities and concerns. It was another piece of the puzzle that eventually led to my awakening. (I have since discovered that some Anthroposophists involved with the schools speculate on whether or not a child might be the reincarnation of Steiner!) I later learned from an Anthroposophist that words such as “occultist” or “mystic” are considered “labeling and name calling” (although believers have no problem using such words amongst themselves, and Steiner utilized them as well).
The third factor contributing to our confusion about Waldorf being “nonsectarian” has to do with our education. Neither my husband, nor I, nor our child, had a background in occultism prior to joining. We knew little about Theosophy, and we did not have a detailed grasp of turn-of-the-last-century German history or Renaissance history that might have made things clearer. My family and other esoteric-illiterate members of the group served as an effective veil of “normalcy,” contributing to the general confusion that runs rampant in Waldorf.
It has long been customary for the Anthroposophical movement to offer only the “outer form” of Anthroposophy to parents not “in the know,” as reflected in the following collection of quotes by Anthroposophists. A press agent for Anthroposophy says:
The task that needs to be lovingly taken up, says Barkoff, is utterly concrete: convey information, supply visible impressions (e.g., the bread baked by children at a school, or a tour of the top floor of the Goetheanum), or tell simple human stories. Anthroposophy needs to be dealt with as a phenomenon. The press agent has to convey the outer appearance of things rather than the essential core. A deep esoteric background is necessary to make the essential core comprehensible. (Jungel & Stockmar, 2000, p. 12)
A sixty-year veteran of Anthroposophy—teacher, writer, and lecturer, Roy Wilkinson—states:
It has been known for parents to say that they like the school, but wish it were divorced from certain “crazy” ideas which they may have garnered, or which a teacher may have expressed. The Waldorf school and the “crazy” ideas are, however, inseparable. Waldorf schools would not exist if they were not related to these ideas. (Wilkinson, 1996, p. 17)
Another well-known Waldorf educator writes:
[A]s practiced in the C.I.A., there is a “need to know” element in the discourse-dynamics, even in a school! The Receptionist does not “need to know” of the arcane spiritual background of geology teaching in Class 6. (Whitehead, 1993, p 15)
And another example:
[M]atters pertaining to the use of certain textual material (thoughts, quotations, verses, etc.) which is available to the Waldorf school teacher as an aid for his practical and inner development as a teacher, are another example where a safeguard is needed from indiscriminate sharing. (Leist, 1987, p. 15)
An Anthroposophist in the Netherlands writes:
Anthroposophy has always been valued in the cultural life of the Netherlands. Its contribution to education, health, care of the handicapped, agriculture, architecture, and other areas of society is widely recognized and respected, often without knowledge of the philosophical ideas behind it. The latter was not necessary and still is not necessary. What matters most for society is the active work for the good of humanity; anthroposophy does not have to be “sold.” (Dunselman, 2000, p. 3)
Not all Anthroposophists deny that Waldorf is a religious school or wish to hide this fact. Eugene Schwartz, once director of Waldorf teacher training at Sunbridge College, Spring Valley, New York, made the following remarks about the Waldorf controversy, excerpted from his talk given on November 13, 1999, at a conference to which he invited Waldorf critic Dan Dugan to speak. A transcript of the talk, Waldorf Education—For Our Times Or Against Them?, can be found in the “articles” section on http://www.waldorfcritics.org :
I think we owe it to our parents to let them know that the child is going to go through one religious experience after another. And if any of the teacher trainees in the room feel that I’m not saying that clearly enough to you, well here it is guys, if I haven’t said it to you a hundred times already: when we deny that Waldorf schools are giving children religious experiences, we are denying the whole basis of Waldorf education. (paragraph 21)
To deny the religious basis of Waldorf education – I would say it again – to satisfy public school superintendents, or a talk show host, or a newspaper reporter is very, very wrong. And the Waldorf leadership, I would say is waffling on this matter. I would say we are religious schools. Religious schools plus; religious schools with a difference; religious schools light—whatever you want to call it. (paragraph 23)
The time has come for us to stop pussyfooting around [theories] that will sound too strange if we tell parents what we are really doing. Don’t say I didn’t tell you guys—ten years ago! Stop pussyfooting around. Tell everybody what we are about. The day they walk into the school, let them know then. (paragraph 25)
If we are really to be a movement for cultural renewal, it is our responsibility to share with the parents those elements of Anthroposophy which will help them understand their children and fathom the mysterious ways in which we work. Yes, we are giving the children a version of Anthroposophy in the classroom; whether we mean to or not, it’s there. (paragraph 26) (Schwartz, 1999, November 13, retrieved from http://www.waldorfcritics.org ).
Schwartz later wrote to Dan Dugan to say that he was fired from Sunbridge after giving his speech and was demoted to Waldorf teacher.
The school’s booklet that we, as prospective parents, had received in the mail, “Rudolf Steiner Waldorf Education,” had the mystic’s name emblazoned in large fiery red Anthro-font on a flaming yellow cover. Among Steiner’s followers, even typeface was prescribed by the master for the movement literature. Steiner’s name was, however, meaningless to us at the time, because we were ignorant of Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. Published by The Robinswood Press in Stourbridge England, the brochure did not mention “Anthroposophy” once. Nor was there any mention of the school’s religious affiliation or explanation of the “spiritual” or esoteric basis of Waldorf. Although in retrospect, I recognize the real meaning of a Waldorf student’s “painting,” depicting the Anthroposophic icon of the Sun and rainbow, pictured in the booklet. The explanation, a veiled reference to cosmic beings and reincarnation, states “A 7 year old explores the world of color, one of the many ‘worlds’ to be discovered when children enter school.” (Steiner schools fellowship, 1989, p.1)
Although “Anthroposophy” was not mentioned in the brochure, and is not yet a household word in America, within days of our involvement with Waldorf we began to hear this word. Like others who also inadvertently stumbled into an Anthroposophic reality by choosing an art-based, nonsectarian school for their children, I, too, wondered why people couldn’t pronounce the word “anthropology”.
Early on in my career as Waldorf mom, before we had a computer and access to the Internet, I had consulted my Webster’s New World Dictionary but found no mention of the word. I also asked a teacher what “Anthroposophy” was and he said, “the study of man”—which really didn’t help my understanding very much. The word “Anthroposophy” was often used as a simple explanation or answer to a question; for example, a teacher might have responded to a puzzled parent’s question, “In Anthroposophy we do it this way.” Sometimes Anthroposophy was explained as “Steiner’s philosophy.” So for years we struggled along, trying to function in a Waldorf reality without understanding that their worldview is ideologically at odds with ours. There we were, a family of freethinkers, unwittingly striving to usher in Steiner’s esoteric prophesies, initiating our daughter in an Anthroposophic mystery school, volunteering and donating to the cause, all in the name of “education.”
Volunteerism was required of all parents. My many hours, however, never seemed to satisfy the faculty because I naturally worked from my non-Anthroposophic perspective, oblivious of Steiner’s esoteric doctrine, while Anthroposophists followed the dictates of their world view, because:
The person in whom anthroposophical wisdom appears must be completely unimportant compared to this wisdom; the person as such does not matter at all. It is only essential that this person has developed so far that his or her personal likes, dislikes, and opinions do not taint the anthroposophical wisdom (Steiner, 1990, p. 17).
This caused in me a mounting sense of their deep ingratitude.
On several occasions, I had wondered if Waldorf was a new religious movement because my family had experienced peculiarities arising from the pedagogy. Because my concerns were always alleviated by other group members (some with and some without esoteric knowledge), with whom we had become friends, I tended to ignore my mounting confusion and frustration. We were perpetually congratulated for choosing Waldorf for our daughter’s education, and other schooling systems were put down with regularity. Waldorf was the best education available and all children in the world should have the privilege of attending such schools, so we believed.
Overhearing some Waldorfers discussing the seating arrangement of a class, where dark haired children were to sit by the windows to absorb light, I paused, wondering “what is going on?” In another surrealistic Waldorf moment there was talk of switching left-handed children over to the right hand. Wasn’t this practice frowned upon now? When I learned that black and brown crayons were not permitted in the kindergartens, I asked my daughter’s teacher how it would be possible for African Americans to draw themselves. The teacher told me that she would show the child how to “smudge” their color from an assortment of other colors. I remarked that it seemed racist. What was going on? I later learned from reading Steiner that “black is the spiritual image of the lifeless” and that dark skin is a sign of spiritual inferiority. Once I was assured that Anthroposophy was “so new,” but in the future all schools would implement such educational advancements. Although some people at the school seemed to be so well meaning, kind, so earnest in their “strivings”, and so devoted to offering the best education possible to children, something was “off” and, like others at the school, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
In winter 2001-2002, long after we’d left the school, an attempt was made to answer other questioning parents trying to fathom Anthroposophy and the school’s connection to it. Teacher M. Karlstad tried to soothe concerns in an article, Pleasant Ridge and Anthroposophy, published in the school’s paper CALYX. Making reference to Steiner’s teachings, she admits in so many words that Anthroposophy is an “egregore”—the magic term for the collective energy or group soul believed to be created by a group working on the physical plane. This being is supposedly supported and enlivened by high spiritual beings that support the group’s activities—though the average person would not grasp this. She also recognizes that Steiner describes Anthroposophy “as a path of knowledge,…one way for the spiritual in the human being to find its way to the spiritual in the universe,” but she doesn’t give details about Steiner’s path, such as his color meditations, and fails to explain that the path, when practiced, supposedly makes the spirit world active and visible in the physical realm. She believes that “Anthroposophy is neither religious nor secular,” because it transcends religion and “either/or categories” and reassures parents that teachers and staff don’t have to be Anthroposophists, but are only asked to be “open” to Anthroposophy, and to work from that perspective. Sadly, once again, she perpetuates the myth that Waldorf is nonsectarian, that Anthroposophy is philosophy, scientific and “not religious,” and that being spiritual is something other than being religious. She clearly states that Waldorf differs from other educational systems because it “acknowledges a spiritual basis to our lives and includes development of the spiritual side of our being,” noting that this is what makes Anthroposophy “appear as if it were a religion.” Ms. Karlstad also talks about the future…
Rudolf Steiner frequently described Anthroposophy as a living, spiritual being. The word “being” can also be translated as “force.” It’s important for people to think of this spiritual being or force in a way that feels free and allows them to decide for themselves if this is something that resonates with their own perceptions of the world. In Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts (1924), Steiner described Anthroposophy as a path of knowledge, as one way for the Spiritual in the human being to find its way to the Spiritual in the Universe (Karlstad, 2001-2002, p. 2).
At our school, faculty and staff are asked to be open to the ideas of Anthroposophy, not to be anthroposophists. That means to be willing to look at, and at times have lively debate about, the educational ideas that have arisen out of Steiner’s relationship to Anthroposophy. These ideas are the philosophical (not religious) foundation upon which the pedagogical work of Waldorf schools is based. Talking about Anthroposophy as a philosophy and not a religion may be interpreted as doublespeak, but the spiritual realm is about much more than religious dogma. What draws many people to Waldorf education is the deep spiritual foundation that encourages us to put aside any dogmatic beliefs we have about the spiritual world and come to a new study of the spiritual world based on a 20th century [sic] scientific outlook (Karlstad, 2001-2002, p. 2).
(…) Anthroposophy is neither religious nor secular. It is a spiritual Idea trying to find a new place in our thinking that transcends either/or categories. There is an important difference between an Anthroposophical approach to education and other approaches. Anthroposophy acknowledges a spiritual basis to our lives and includes development of the spiritual side of our being as an important part of the curriculum. This makes it appear as if it were a religion. Rather it is a new way of looking at the world. Several hundred years from now, the idea that our lives have spiritual dimension may be easily incorporated into everyday, public discourse without reference to any specific religion, or to Anthroposophy (Karlstad, 2001-2002, pp. 2-3).
Years earlier, when I had asked a Waldorf teacher what Anthroposophy is, the answer I got was—“the study of man.” I would have preferred a more honest approach, an open dialogue about the very real differences that exist in a Waldorf reality. Better yet, I wish the brochure I’d received in the mail as a prospective parent, all those years ago, had informed me that Steiner’s esoteric religion is fundamental to Waldorf education and that reincarnation is a main tenet of the school’s pedagogy and curriculum. This kind of information would have spared my family a lot of bewilderment, grief and inconvenience.
Having been asked to hold a fund-raiser for the school, I planned an art competition. The winning pupil’s work would be printed on T-shirts to be sold to raise money. I received a phone call, then a visit. The phone call informed me that competition was not permitted at the school. Not discouraged, and supportive of the idea of a non-competitive environment, I suggested that instead T-shirts be printed with a pattern of tiny portraits contributed by all the children attending the school. These portraits would be quickly drawn by pupils with black markers on small pieces of paper, then arranged and silk-screened on shirts. Then I learned that markers were not permitted at the school. Assuming that this was an environmental concern, which I applauded, I recommended dark pencils be substituted. Then I learned that pencils were not permitted in the kindergarten and that young children should not draw linearly! How odd this seemed to me! I was familiar with the work of Rhoda Kellogg and Howard Gardner who have documented the innate ability of children universally to express them selves with lines. Also, the Canadian scientist Dr. John Kennedy has shown that children born blind draw linearly. As a young child I had participated in my mother’s studio art classes and had never been prevented from drawing lines. I closely watched my own daughter’s linear expressions unfold after giving her a pencil at a very early age—saving every drawing, planning to document one child’s artistic expressions and progression through childhood. Was not Waldorf art-based? Why was line-making in the early grades taboo?
When the representative from the school who had phoned me arrived at my house she told me that Waldorf is not an art school, that there is no art or art room in Waldorf and that the wet-on-wet paintings made by pupils were something else—but what were they, if not art? Why had I moved across states after graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and giving birth to our daughter in Ohio, to give my child what we were led to believe was an art-based, progressive, nonsectarian Waldorf education? The reality was slowly sinking in—Waldorf did not offer the kind of art I had expected. There was no free artistic expression. Typical children’s drawings were missing from the classrooms. I said to the visitor, “Waldorf is like a cult, you all follow Steiner, he is your guru. I have never felt so oppressed, this is like a religion.” I was right, but I did not know that I was right. The visitor assured me that this was not so and that she had “never felt so free.” I had no inkling at that time that thousands of Steiner’s sermons had been published and distributed by devotees from within the closed world of Anthroposophy. In those days I had not entered the occult world consciously, I was in an “information void” trying to function in an Anthroposophic environment without any knowledge of the occult subtext. I still believed that Steiner was as advertised—a scientist, educator and philosopher—instead of an occultist, mystagogue and Anthroposophist. Long after we left Waldorf, as I sifted through sermon after sermon, I came across the following hint as to why young “reincarnating” pupils might be prevented from using lines, and instead, exposed to color:
You see, when the soul arrives on earth in order to enter its body, it has come down from spirit-soul worlds in which there are no spacial forms. Thus the soul knows spacial forms only after its bodily experience, only while the after-effects of space still linger on. But though the world from which the soul descends has no spacial forms or lines, it does have color intensities, color qualities” (Steiner, 1964, p 23).
In kindergarten, my daughter painted sheets of wet watercolor paper that had the corners rounded off. At first, only single colors of yellow or blue were used. I thought this was odd and wondered why the children didn’t paint images. I asked the teacher why they were only allowed one color and what the purpose for these “paintings” was. She said it was Steiner’s “color theory” and that the children were developing their “imagination.” After leaving the school, I learned from Anthroposophist Audrey McAllen that:
The colours which the child uses for the expression of the harmonious connection with his body before the change of teeth are blue and yellow; out of these colours the soul weaves its connection with the hereditary body and transforms it (McAllen, 1985, p. 44).
In other words, painting a sheet of wet watercolor paper with yellow or with blue helps the reincarnating soul connect with the physical body. Later I noticed that children were painting “discs” of color surrounded by a counter color. For example, a blue disc surrounded by red or visa versa. Years later I was to learn that Steiner also offered his adult pupils meditative exercises that resembled my daughter’s disc paintings. Disciples were to perform the following exercise seven times in the mornings:
Concept of a blue circular disc with red surrounding. Then transformation into a red disk with blue surround. Reconversion into the original state.
Do this seven consecutive times.
Conceive through inner observation how the thinking thereby becomes mobile and free in itself and ultimately is raised to a condition free from the body (Steiner, 1988b, p. 17).
The more I studied Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and Anthroposophy, the more I began to see the “discs” as planets or suns. I now think of the Waldorf color exercises in terms of mandalas and talismans. After discovering Theosophist Annie Besant’s and Charles W. Leadbeater’s book, Thoughtforms, published the year before Steiner became General Secretary of Theosophy in Austria and Germany, I began to understand that these types of abstractions of the spiritual world were in vogue during Steiner’s day and influenced him. On my daughter’s rounded papers she also painted images of suns and rainbows that I later understood to be Anthroposophical icons. I have since learned from Chassidic Rabbi Yonassan Gershom that the Waldorf paintings represent “the creative energy of higher spiritual worlds.”
My mind raced back to my first impression of the children’s artwork at the Waldorf school in Minneapolis. Nobody was drawing houses, horses, cars and trucks—the usual things children make in primary school art class. Instead, the walls were covered with artwork that was literally fuzzy around the edges, without clearly defined forms and boundaries. To me, all the children’s paintings looked alike. I saw no individuality in them at all … So what was going on here? I later spoke at the Goetheanum, the Anthroposophist headquarters in Dornach Switzerland, where I saw the artwork on the walls was also done in the same abstract swirls of pastel colors. This, I was told, is because the paintings represent the creative energy of higher spiritual worlds. Clearly the Anthroposophists have been conditioned from childhood to “see” these swirling colors as representing something spiritual. (Gershom, 1997, May, http://www.pinenet.com/~rooster/multi.html brain page 6).
Steiner taught that color is the living organ of spiritual beings and that color can heal—a concept I was not familiar with until reading about Anthroposophy and consulting other occult sources. Steiner said that beings come to earth on the wings of color. With my acquired knowledge, I now can grasp why an Anthroposophic doctor advised us to give our child red, yellow, and orange crayons with which to color. Waldorf proponent Mary C. Richards wrote, “Art is taught, not to make children into artists, but to expose them to the healing influence of color” (Richards, 1980, p. 26).
Waldorf’s meticulous adherence to specific wall colors of classrooms, per Steiner’s instructions, is related to color devotion. The reason for use of color in Waldorf takes on new meaning after discovering the following sermon by Steiner to his disciples given upstairs at the Stuttgart House (below which lay the red and blue Rosicrucian temple):
You will best realize the significance of colour if we describe how it affects the occultist. For this it is necessary that a person should free himself completely from everything else and devote himself to the particular colour, immerse himself in it. If the person devoting himself to the colour which covers these physically dense walls were one who had made certain occult progress, it would come about that after a period of this complete devotion the walls would disappear from his clairvoyant vision; the consciousness that the walls shut off the outer world would vanish. Now, what appears first is not merely that he sees the neighboring houses outside, that the walls become like glass, but in the sphere which opens up there is a world of purely spiritual phenomena; spiritual facts and spiritual figures become visible. We need only reflect that behind everything around us physically there are spiritual beings and facts … The worlds which surround us spiritually are of many kinds, many different kinds of elementary beings are around us. These are not enclosed in boxes or in such a state that they live in various houses … But they cannot all be seen in the same way; according to the capacity of clairvoyant vision, there may be visible and invisible beings in the same space. What spiritual beings become visible in any particular instance depends on the colour to which we devote ourselves. In a red room, other beings become visible than in a blue room, when one penetrates to them by means of colour. We may now ask: what happens if one is not clairvoyant? That which the clairvoyant does consciously is done unconsciously by the etheric body of a person not clairvoyantly trained; it enters a certain relationship with the same beings. (Fletcher, 1987, p. 95)
In other words, devote yourself to color and you will see through the walls and see the spiritual beings that surround mankind in the neighborhood. Which beings are seen will depend on the color the person devotes himself to. After discovering Steiner’s colored planetary seals I deduced that Sun corresponds to white or gold, Saturn to blue, Moon to violet/or silver, Mars to red, Mercury to yellow, Jupiter to orange and Venus to green. Behind the planets are spiritual beings. Steiner instructed that paint should be made of plant material, and the Anthroposophic company, Stockmar, produces the only brand of paint used in Waldorf schools. This paint must be suspended in water in order for it to have a transparent quality and shine with its own light. Pupils in Waldorf apply this paint to wet paper with rounded corners. “We know that out of the plants’ world of color the activities of the planets speak, placing themselves in a way before the workings of the stars …” (Vreede, 2001, p. 287). I first truly understood my daughter’s paintings as talismans and mandalas after delving into Rosicrucian based magic books for the first time in my life. It was there that I first learned about color from an occult perspective.
TALISMAN An object (stone, metal, paper, etc.) which is meant to attract, channel, or act as a battery for some type of force or energy in order to perform a specific function (Whitcomb, 1999, p 543).
Complementary colors, when placed side by side, are said to attract the energies associated with the colors and can act as attractors for Akashic currents (Whitcomb, 1999, p. 264 and Greer, 1997, p. 86). I also learned that heavy watercolor paper is commonly used in the magic world to make healing talismans because paper and “fluid condensers” can hold etheric charges (Greer, 1997, pp. 222-223). I began to see the rationale behind my daughter’s piles of wet-on-wet color-washed watercolor papers. I finally understood that colors were thought efficacious for healing in Steiner’s world because color is the organ of the spiritual world.
Some ex-Waldorf parents have reported that their children have been wrapped in colored silk and made to paint paper with color for healing purposes. Steiner taught that “our etheric body may be assisted by spiritual beings by using corresponding colour” (Fletcher, 1987, p. 95), and he said:
A nervous, that is to say excitable child should be treated differently as regards environment from one who is quiet and lethargic. Everything comes into consideration, from the colour of the room and various objects that are generally around the child, to the colour of the clothes in which he is dressed … An excitable child should be surrounded by and dressed in red and reddish-yellow colours, whereas for a lethargic child one should have recourse to the blue or bluish-green shades of colour. For the important thing is the complementary colour, which is created within the child. In the case of red it is green, and in the case of blue orange-yellow.” (Muller, 1987, pp. 7-8).
He warned and advised:
To delight in art that is materialistic increases the difficulties of the Kamaloca state, whereas delight in spiritual art lightens them. Every noble, spiritual delight shortens the time in Kamaloca. Already during earthly life we must break ourselves of pleasures and desires which can be satisfied only by the physical instrument” (Steiner, 1981b, p. 35).
In first grade, Anthroposophic drawings were copied by pupils from the teacher’s drawings on the board. They used large bees wax block crayons also produced by the Anthroposophic company Stockmar. The crayons helped to prevent line-making. Fuzzy images of faceless gnomes mining in metal mines and faceless humans with angels standing behind them, began to appear. I was assured that Waldorf was just teaching children stories from around the world. After leaving, and after spending countless hours studying Steiner’s sermons, the pictures in my daughter’s lesson books took on new meaning. I saw stars as pentagrams. I understood an image of microcosmic man when I saw him. I knew what images of the Sun represented. I began to match Steiner’s adult teachings to the pupils’ work. When I saw my child’s drawing of gnomes mining in a metal mine I recognized Steiner’s Anthroposophic context. Steiner taught that gnomes actually exist and can be found in metal mines!
I should like to relate quite simply and plainly how such beings show themselves to clairvoyant sight. There are beings that can be seen with clairvoyant vision at many spots in the depths of the earth, especially places little touched by living growths, places, for instance, in a mine which have always been of a mineral nature. If you dig into the metallic or stony ground you find beings which manifest at first in remarkable fashion – it is as if something were to scatter us. They seem able to crouch close together in vast numbers, and when the earth is laid open they appear to burst asunder. The important point is that they do not fly apart into a certain number but that in their own bodily nature they become larger. Even when they reach their greatest size, they are still always small creatures in comparison with human beings. The enlightened man knows nothing of them. People, however, who have preserved a certain nature-sense, i.e. the old clairvoyant forces which everyone once possessed and which had to be lost with the acquisition of objective consciousness, could tell you all sorts of things about such beings. Many names have been given to them, such as goblins, gnomes and so forth…Their nature prompts them to play all sorts of tricks on man, as every miner can tell you who has still preserved something of a healthy nature sense—not so much the miners in coal mines as those in metal mines. (Steiner, 1995b, p. 63)
I now comprehend that the Anthroposophical concept of “art” is very different from mine. I have a completely different understanding of what Waldorfers mean when they say they develop imagination—they mean they develop psychic sight. And by art, they mean “The Art” (of magic). Steiner said “If you bring children as many living pictures as possible, if you educate them by speaking in pictures, then you sow the seed for a continuous retention of oxygen for continuous development, because you direct the children toward the future, toward life after death” (Steiner, 1996, p. 62). Even an innocuous picture of a butterfly has a deeper meaning when you come across Steiner’s explanation for this lesson, a child’s first Anthroposophic introduction to reincarnation:
[T]he presentation of living pictures, or as we might say of symbols, to the mind, is important for the period between the change of teeth and puberty. It is important that the secrets of Nature, the laws of life, be taught to the boy or girl, not in dry intellectual concepts, but as far as possible in symbols. Parables of the spiritual connexions of things should be brought before the soul of the child in such a manner that behind the parables he divines and feels, rather than grasps intellectually, the underlying law in all existence….An example may serve to make this clear. Let us imagine that we want to tell a child of the immortality of the soul, of the coming forth of the soul from the body. The way to do this is to use a comparison, such for example as the comparison of the butterfly coming forth from the chrysalis. As the butterfly soars up from the chrysalis, so after death the soul of man from the house of the body. No man will rightly grasp the fact in intellectual concepts, who has not first received it in such a picture. A child who has experienced this, will approach the subject with an altogether different mood of soul, when later it is taught him in the form of intellectual concepts. It is indeed a very serious matter for any man, if he was not first enabled to approach the problems of existence with his feeling. Thus it is essential that the educator have at his disposal parables for all the laws of Nature and secrets of the world. (Richards, 1980, p. 55)
My examination and documentation of other Waldorf pupil’s lessons verifies that they too copied Anthroposophy-for-juniors off the board during class, and not only in picture form. One child wrote, “OUT OF HEAVEN INTO BIRTH FROM THE STARS TO THE EARTH I HAVE FLOWN.” Another child transcribed, “In September Michael is near, he will help us overcome all fear.” Yet the schools frequently deny that they teach Anthroposophy to children. Recently, a forty-eight page ad for Anthroposophy appeared in Utne Magazine, entitled “An Emerging Culture, Rudolf Steiner’s Continuing Impact in the World.” The ad states:
Opponents of Waldorf education, which is based on Steiner’s insights into child development, equate the curriculum with anthroposophy, which they claim to be a religion. Waldorf advocates respond that Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy is deteminedly [sic] nonreligious and isn’t taught in Waldorf schools anyway (Bamford & Utne. 2003, June, p. 11 advertising section sponsored by Rudolf Steiner Foundation and Utne Magazine).
It frustrates me when people deny that Anthroposophy is a religion and that the schools don’t teach Anthroposophy to children because the evidence suggests otherwise. My daughter’s books show that indeed she was taught Anthroposophy, in picture form as well as in written form—“The human being is like a little universe inside a big one. Sun, moon and stars find their likeness in mans head, trunk and limbs”—“The Sylphs, Salamanders, Gnomes and Undines are the earth’s scribes”—“The body is the house of the spirit,” etc. If you deconstruct the lessons, the curriculum and the pedagogy, you cannot ignore the fact that Waldorf is a mystery school, a magical lodge for juniors.
When Steiner developed Waldorf, he deliberately veiled Anthroposophy by “organically” incorporating it into the classroom. Anthroposophy is inextricably intertwined with Waldorf’s daily classroom activity and lessons. In 1920 he asked the first Waldorf teachers not to call a prayer a prayer but, rather, a verse:
We will also talk about a prayer. But there is just one thing I should like to ask you. You know, with these things the outer form is of the utmost importance. Never call the verse a ‘prayer’ but a ‘school opening verse’. Do see to it that people do not hear the expression ‘prayer’ used by a teacher. This will go a long way towards overcoming the prejudice that this is an anthroposophical school. (Steiner, 1986, p. 45)
Eugene Schwartz has also clarified that the verse is a prayer:
I have a 9-year-old daughter; she’s in third grade at Green Meadow Waldorf school. And these are some of my experiences. I know every morning she says a verse, and, as Dan [Dugan] pointed out, it’s a verse that speaks to God. I would call it a prayer: that’s what I used to tell my class. You’re speaking a prayer. I want you to stand still, I don’t want you to move around, I want you to really be respectful because we’re talking to God now. And a child said, “You mean we’re praying?”, and I said yes, we’re praying. (Schwartz, 1999, November 13, paragraph 17).
Teachers not as open as Eugene Schwartz are imposing worship of Steiner’s Sun Being on children without parental sanction. As my daughter’s parent, I was unaware of this prayer during our Waldorf haze. I did not know that this prayer was being prayed each morning by my daughter at her “nonsectarian” school. I learned about it after leaving, when in my research I came upon this:
The sun, with loving light,
Makes bright for me each day.
The soul, with spirit power,
Gives strength unto my limbs.
In sunlight, shining clear,
I reverence, O God,
The strength of humankind
Which thou so graciously
Has planted in my soul,
That I with all my might
May love to work and learn
From thee come light and strength
To thee rise love and thanks.
Students recite the words clearly. Next, with accompanying hand movements, students sing another song. Then they snuff the candle with great attention and ritual. (Uhrmacher, 1991, pp. 108-109)
Probably, because the prayer was called the “morning verse,” it didn’t register that the day began with prayer. Also, my young child never mentioned it. Now I know more about mystery religions and more of the history of volkisch groups in Germany during the late 1800s to early 1900s and their desire to return to neopagan Sun worship—the “true” religion of the Aryans. At the time, I was unfamiliar with Steiner’s concept of a “threefold Sun” and the Aryan Christ. I also knew nothing about the importance of establishing a daily ritual of Sun adoration for the magician in training.
Like many occultists before and since, Steiner also devised a magic system that he dubbed Eurythmy. Eurythmy was passed off in Waldorf as “a form of dance” and that’s what we believed it to be. When my daughter was sick, the faculty took an interest and suggested that my daughter do eurythmy exercises which could help her. We agreed and the next thing we knew our daughter came home absolutely furious, begging us to tell the Eurythmist to stop humiliating her. According to our child, the Eurythmist took her out of class, into a room, and told her not to be afraid because she had helped many people. Then she draped my daughter in silk and “spoke as if she was praying.” We wrote a letter asking the Eurythmist to stop the exercises. Later, I learned from another ex-Waldorfer that her child had taken “Therapeutic Eurythmy” because she was being bullied by another child. This mother had received Eurythmy reports from the Eurythmist and sent me copies. At first I could not comprehend them. It was only after delving into Rosicrucianism, Cabalism and other magic books that they began to make any sense. From Golden Dawn Initiation books I learned that the Hebrew Beth or B means “house, value 2. Beth is the symbol of all habitations and receptacles, of anything that contains. It is virile and paternal; a glyph of active and interior action” (Cicero, 1998, p. 74). In The Universal Human I stumbled across a quote from Steiner saying, “…when the Hebrews wrote, for example, what corresponds to our B, they always felt something like a picture of outer conditions, something that formed a warm hutlike enclosure. The letter B always evoked the image of something that can enclose a being like a house” (1990, p. 53). Inch by inch I became more familiar with the concepts of magic, so that when I read the reports again, I recognized the meaning of this:
The final exercise in the session was a story about a Big Brown Bear. The sound and movement she practiced was of course the B. Often it is the case with individuals who have a perfectionist nature that they are quite sensitive to what is around them. The B exercise helps to build a protective sheath around a person which both sustains what is within and protects from what is without. Putting the sound on a spiral further enhances this protective quality (Virginia Efta’s Therapeutic Eurythmy Report January – February 1999).
The Eurythmy reports were a total of six pages and document use of other ritual magic practices like tracing a five-pointed pentagram, use of “copper rods” ie., magic wands that supposedly channel forces, and vibration of vowels which are thought to connect patients to spiritual beings that work inside of them. In Anthroposophy, speech sounds as well as music reflect the Word and, consequently, “are in a formative relationship to the organs of the physical body. In cases of specific illnesses, therefore, the organ affected can be reached by the reiterated practice of specific speech sounds and rhythms” (Raffe, Hardwood, & Lundgren, 1974, p. 26). This is why the child was made to practice the B in the form of “Big Brown Bear.” Because some people believe that God created the world by speaking it into existence, words and letters are believed to be very powerful magic. This accounts for the warning, “But such exercises, like medicines, should be first prescribed by a physician [Anthroposophical doctor] before they are carried out by a curative eurythmist” (Raffe et al, 1974, p. 26). Both the eurythmist and the Anthroposophical doctor must be highly trained in Steiner’s magical arts before operating their magic.
Brian Vickers points out in the book Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance that the occult tradition does not recognize the distinction between words and things or between literal and metaphorical language, as clearly distinguished in the contemporary scientific tradition.
Words are treated as if they are equivalent to things and can be substituted for them. Manipulate the one and you can manipulate the other. Analogies, instead of being, as they are in the scientific tradition, explanatory devices subordinate to argument and proof, or heuristic tools to make models that can be tested, corrected, and abandoned if necessary, are, instead, modes of conceiving relationships in the universe that reify, rigidify, and ultimately come to dominate thought. One no longer uses analogies: One is used by them. They become the only way in which one can think or experience the world (Vickers, 1984, p. 95).
Steiner’s cosmic dance would connect the pupil to the spiritual world because it was a channel through which the spirit would reveal itself to human consciousness, “a path of experience to the zodiacal signs” (Powell & Worberg, 2002, p. 32). And as Steiner claimed, “In causing people to do Eurythmy we link them directly with the supersensible world” (Steiner, 1970, p. 71). This modern form of temple dance is based on Steiner’s concept of cosmic principles that he claimed underlie the power of speech and music. By mirroring the heavenly world upon earth, Eurythmy supposedly reveals the mysteries of the stars. “A central goal of this practice is to find a living relationship to the starry heavens, especially to the spiritual realm of the signs or constellations of the zodiac” (Powell & Worberg, 2002, p. 32). “It is a path through which man may again find a way to that self-knowledge which is also a knowledge of the universe” (Raffe et al., 1974, p. 27). Eurythmy will bring the powers of the soul into the proper relationship with the human body and will strengthen the earthly and cosmic forces, enabling man to realize his “I”. Like the ancient Cabalists and Renaissance magicians of the past, “…Steiner regarded the human body as the creation of the cosmic Word. Man is a microcosm spoken from the macrocosm” (Raffe et al., 1974, p. 26). “For words are form…” asserts Anthroposophist Marjorie Spock, “All things were made by him (the Word that was God) … As we contemplate the world of nature which that Word made, we find in it four elements: solids, liquids, gases, warmth—elements rediscovered in the small microcosmic words human voices utter” (Spock, 1980, pp. 36-37). With correspondences to the Zodiac, with words and letters of power, lines of force, numerology, symbols, sigils, breath work, gestures, tones, colors, and copper wands, Steiner promised to connect man to the macrocosm via Eurythmy, enabling him to experience it in a cosmic way.
It is the arms which essentially lead man into this freedom, and which are the supreme instruments to reveal the life of the soul. From the horizontal, which they alone can properly express, they can reach upward into the sphere of lightness, and downward into the sphere of weight…Thus they relate man to the universe. (Raffe et al., 1974, p. 13).
And as Steiner points out, “The limbs are the part of the human body which more than any other part passes over into the life of the next incarnation. They are the part which points to the future, to what comes after death” (Steiner, 1970, p. 70). In her book entitled Eurythmy, Marjorie Spock noted the twelve basic consonants and their correspondences to the zodiac as follows: “Leo, T or D; Cancer, F; Gemini, H; Taurus, R; Aries, V; Pisces, N; Aquarius, M; Capricorn, L; Sagitarius, G; Scorpio, S; Libra, K; Virgo, B or P” (Spock, 1980, p. 78).
The Eurythmy Association of North America’s Commemorative Issue Newsletter makes some clear statements about how eurythmy fits into Waldorf life:
Eurythmy can contribute greatly to the spiritual life of Waldorf schools. Of all the arts, eurythmy is an anthroposophical art and has the greatest potential for transformation. Eurythmy is also a social art and has the ability to enliven and harmonize the life forces. It is helpful to set aside time for eurythmy before meetings of teachers, parents, and the board, for instance. Faculty and children can do eurythmy at school assemblies. Public courses might be offered during main lesson time or evenings. The experience of festival offerings can be deepened with the inclusion of eurythmy works…. (Friedman, 1998/99, first draft of guidelines…retrieved March 3, 2003 from www.eana.org/SUMMER%201999.pdf p. 7, last paragraph).
In the back of this 45-page newsletter is something called A Review of a Study: The Influence of Eurythmy on the Life Span of Eurythmists. The author of this review, Thomas Poplawski, states that a Chicago psychologist named Earl Ogletree, a longtime admirer of eurythmy, was interested in how the practice of eurythmy would affect the lives of those who practice it. Ogletree said “since eurythmy enhances and facilitates the flow of healing forces, one could extrapolate that professional eurythmists would be healthier, relatively free of diseases and in better physical and mental health than non-eurythmists” (Poplawski, a review of a study, retrieved from www.eana.org/SUMMER%201999.pdf p. 38).
He apparently studied 211 Anthroposophists—106 of whom were eurythmists. His findings? Non-eurythmists lived to an average of 80.58 years and eurythmists lived an average of 73.92 years. Poplawski notes that “not only do eurythmists not live much longer than the average…in fact they seem to live significantly shorter lives!” (Poplawski, a review of a study, retrieved from www.eana.org/SUMMER%201999.pdf p. 38). He quotes Roy Wilkinson who proposes that “the healing effect of practicing eurythmy brings out something in the eurythmists which could manifest in a possible worst form” adding, “There is also the question whether curative eurythmists donate some of their own strength which they do not recuperate in sufficient measure” (Poplawski, a review of a study, retrieved from www.eana.org/SUMMER%201999.pdf p. 38). Other Anthroposophic experts offer their theories about why eurythmists have a shorter lifespan, including the idea that eurythmy can cause “disarray” in eurythmists’ “forces.” Retired Waldorf teacher Hans Valentien says this could happen because eurythmists engage their “own life forces to a much greater degree than is normal” and, eventually, the disarray “can lead to cancer” (Poplawski, a review of a study, retrieved March 3, 2003 from www.eana.org/SUMMER%201999.pdf p. 38).
In the early years of Waldorf, I did not know that some fairy tales being taught were occult parables. Nor had it dawned on me that the “festivals” celebrated throughout the school year were in reality Anthroposophic rituals devised by Steiner with deep esoteric meaning. Young Waldorf children didn’t write anything down, but by third grade my daughter was being taught violent “Holy Bible Stories” with an Anthroposophic twist like the following reference to “Michael” excerpted from one of her lessons entitled “Abraham and Isaac”:
Soon after they arrived to mount moria and made a small fire and lade his son a pon it and raised his knife a bove his head and Isaac’s sole fled from his body and Abraham was just about to plung the knife in Isaac’s chest when Miciel stept out of the clouds and said “Abraham pot down that knife you have proovin yourself werthy.”
I became more and more concerned about the curriculum. What was going on? Waldorfers assured me that since Christianity is an integral part of American culture it was good for children to be familiar with Bible stories. However, part way through the school year, we decided to remove our daughter from the overt religious third grade curriculum. Instead, she attended a little school in Jamaica for three months as we have family ties there. We noticed an improvement in our daughter’s demeanor and willingness to attend school. We also realized that she was very behind the Jamaican pupils. Within months her reading and writing greatly improved and we all liked the new school very much. The school in general seemed to be a happier and “lighter” place. The Jamaican school closed for holidays, and we returned to the United States for the summer, planning to reorganize our lives, make appropriate visa arrangements and move to Jamaica—we even paid school fees to the Jamaican school.
Back in Wisconsin, school was winding down for summer and since we’d already paid Waldorf’s fees for the full year, we decided to place our child back in Waldorf for the remaining weeks so that she could reconnect with friends and full fill legal attendance requirements. During that brief period she became depressed, standing alone on the playground. School closed and over the summer my daughter became quite ill, so we cancelled our Jamaican plans, and put her back in Waldorf that fall. My husband believed it was our best schooling option in our rural location, though I was not so certain.
During the early manifestation of her illness, in the summer, after the loss of the initial pounds, we had sought the help of a doctor—a friend and fellow Waldorf-parent. He assured us that our child was “fine” and “just growing.” Time slipped by, more weight dropped, and on our next visit blood tests were ordered to check vitals and for diabetes. Later, upon visiting our home, the Waldorf-parent-doctor advised us to “get comfortable with death.” At one point he recommended that we seek the help of a Chinese doctor who had a medical degree from China. On a subsequent visit to the Waldorf-parent-doctor’s office, he handed us over to a kind young homeopath/doctor with no experience concerning my child’s illness. The homeopath gave my daughter a remedy and began monitoring her every couple of weeks during which time more and more weight was lost and our situation became dire. In those days I believed that homeopathy was science-based medicine and that we were in the best of care. All the doctors we saw had medical degrees. What I didn’t realize until later was that during our time in Waldorf, while under the influence of Waldorf educators and practitioners, our judgment had become skewed. We’d become suspicious and fearful of the regular mainstream medical establishment, avoiding it, as we floundered with the advice of familiar Waldorf-affiliated-doctors only. As our situation progressed for the worse, we also began to phone hotlines and read books in an attempt to learn more about my child’s illness. My husband met with the Chinese Buddhist doctor, recommended by our doctor friend, in another attempt to secure medical help for our child. The monk advised my husband to place photographs of his deceased mother around the house and to speak about his mother to our child. He believed that my husband’s mother’s spirit might have entered our daughter wanting attention. I thought the monk’s advice was bizarre and continued to search for help, but not in the right places.
On September 26, 1998, my husband and I waited for the Anthroposophic doctor who makes his rounds in Waldorf schools. Faculty members had suggested we schedule an appointment to meet with him, informing us that he was a medical doctor with credentials, who visits Waldorf schools around the country. Trusting the faculty and with great anticipation, we hoped that he could help us with our problem.
Sitting at the school, waiting for the Anthroposophic doctor to arrive, did not strike me as odd. I did not wonder what type of doctor we were about to meet with; nor did it seem unusual that the school was providing a doctor in the first place. Waldorf was once again our world. The small room attached to the sick room was draped with silk scarves. I remember feeling that things seemed foreign to me that day. I had not spent much time at the school in recent months because we’d been in Jamaica plus I was avoiding the school as much as possible because, unlike my husband, I had developed a strong aversion to it—even driving past the school made me feel ill. Long before my daughter became sick, before our break from Waldorf in third grade, I had found myself crying about the school for reasons I did not understand and could not articulate—the school made me sad.
A seemingly gentle and caring man entered the small room and listened attentively as I tearfully disclosed my family’s predicament. Our nine-year-old was gravely ill, depressed, and had lost a lot of weight, because she refused to eat. The Anthroposophic doctor made a diagnosis: my child had lost the will to live. He announced one of the potential cures—we were to give our daughter red, yellow, and orange crayons to color with! I looked at my husband in disbelief. When the doctor instructed us to make the sign of a flame out of Aurum cream over my child’s heart at bedtime, I was dumbfounded! I asked the doctor to repeat himself. Indeed, I had heard correctly. I was to make a flame of Aurum cream over her heart at bedtime. Mystified, I asked the doctor what the flame should look like and he showed us with his hand. He told us to apply the gold cream from below the heart upwards, towards the sky at bedtime. I was so baffled by his instructions that he took it upon himself to draw a small diagram of a torso on a prescription pad sheet, with an arrow demonstrating the direction in which the gold flame was to be applied. Some other recommendations were made then he suggested we purchase the medicines from “Uriel,” giving us Uriel’s telephone number. During this encounter with the Anthroposophic doctor I had an epiphany of sorts. After paying him his fee of $50, we left the school and I turned to my husband and said with certainty, “We are in a real live cult!”
Soon after our visit with the Anthroposophic doctor, the woman homeopath/doctor that we were seeing every two weeks informed us that she would have to hospitalize our child. The reality sunk in. I realized that the homeopath could not help us. We had lost precious time. With fear and trepidation about the medical establishment instilled in us by Waldorfers, we made our way to a hospital four hours away in Iowa City. Insurance sent us back to a hospital in Wisconsin—a mere forty minutes away from our house. This hospital had an experienced, professional staff that helped us. I shall always regret not going there first—before my child reached a critical point. The new doctor told us that a child should never lose weight and that a couple pound drop would have caused her concern. I told our therapist about the flame and the Anthroposophic doctor, I also told her that Waldorf made me feel sick. She said that usually she would not advise a school change during such circumstances, but that in our case she would recommend one. We made an appointment with the local public school’s faculty despite our fear of public school instilled in us by Waldorf, the media, and childhood experiences and enrolled our daughter in public school. My family ended up having a positive experience with that school. Recovery was long and difficult, with frequent visits to the hospital over the following year, but my daughter made progress and has fully recovered. She is a healthy, happy teenager now. But even with the experience of being immersed in an alternate reality, we still did not have the historic or esoteric information necessary to comprehend and decode the Anthroposophic doctor’s recommendations or some of our unusual Waldorf experiences.
After leaving Waldorf I began studying Anthroposophy and related new religious movements and have been able to fathom aspects of the alchemical prescription we were given. I learned of a sculpture designed and carved by Rudolf Steiner, with some help from his disciple Edith Marion, who left the magical Order of the Golden Dawn in England to work with Steiner at developing his spiritual art and Eurythmy in Dornach, Switzerland. The sculpture depicts Steiner’s trinity of Ahriman, Lucifer, and Christ the Sun Being—the Aryan Christ. Carved over “the Christ’s” heart is a flame just like the one I was to rub on my child’s heart at bedtime with gold cream. Further reading of Steiner’s The Universal Human brought to light Steiner’s teachings of the Sun Being’s healing powers at sunset.
It is therefore important that the deeds of Christ Jesus are always seen in relation to the physical sun, which is the external expression of the spiritual world that is received at the point where Christ’s physical body is walking around. When Christ Jesus heals, for instance, it is the sun force that heals. However, the sun force must be in the right place in the heavens: “That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.” It is important to indicate that this healing power can flow down only when the external sun has set but still works spiritually. (Steiner, 1990, p. 65)
The alchemical instructions given to us by the Anthroposophical doctor stated that Aurum (gold/sun) cream should be applied in the shape of a flame over my sick child’s heart at bedtime—sundown, when the Christ heals and casts out demons. A homeopathic paper published in Homeopathy Times, November, 1994 entitled Some Light on the (Mis)understanding of Aurum Metallicum, by Dr. Rajesh Shah, reinforced the concept that gold should be prescribed for the suicidal (Shah, 1994, http://www.indiaspace.com/homoeopathy/aurum.htm , paragraph 14).
Other “deeper” aspects of the prescription have also revealed themselves with reading. Linked to the doctor’s instructions to apply “Oxalis cream over abdomen” is Steiner’s concept that human beings make formic acid from oxalic acid. Formic acid can be found in human beings and insects, especially concentrated in ants. He taught his followers that the formic acid ants secret is very good medicine (Steiner, 1998a, p. 144). He believed that the air is full of oxygen, nitrogen, and formic acid, which is intelligence and that it is “more difficult to transmit a telegram in a region where there are not ant colonies than it is in a region where they exist, because the electricity and the magnetism needed for telegraphy depend upon formic acid (Steiner, 1998a, p.155). He preached:
It is uniquely the case with a human being that throughout life until death, a person possesses the capacity to make formic acid from oxalic acid. But then a human being loses this capability, and the physical body dies. Then the human soul has to wait before once again receiving a body, which in a child properly transforms oxalic acid into formic acid…
If you carefully observe a dying individual, you’ll get the feeling that there is an effort on the part of this person, even in the process of dying, to find out whether the body is capable of creating formic acid. Then, at that point when the body is no longer capable of the task, death takes over. A human being goes into the spirit world and can’t endure any longer being in the body. We say that a human being dies at a certain point in time, and after a long period of time comes back in another body. Meanwhile this person is in the spirit world (Steiner, 1998a, pp. 155-156).
He taught that you can get oxalic acid from wood sorrel or clover, and that “if a person has a problem with the liver or intestines, you have to give oxalic acid. The strange thing, however, is that the person to whom you give oxalic acid will, after a certain amount of time, begin to produce formic acid within!” (Steiner, 1998a, p.147). When humans stop making formic acid from oxalic acid, their physical bodies die and their spirit bodies leave. Steiner explains:
This is all due to formic acid. We also have understanding and knowledge within us because we have formic acid. Formic acid would not exist if it weren’t for oxalic acid being present beforehand.
These are the things you begin to understand only if you now ask yourself what the situation is with oxalic acid. You see, oxalic acid is present everywhere where there is life. Wherever something is alive, there is oxalic acid. But there is also an etheric body. One function that the etheric body carries out is that it immediately renews oxalic acid. However, oxalic acid will never become formic acid of a type that a human or animal organism can use unless the astral body transforms the oxalic acid into formic acid. For it is a fact that the formic acid that is derived from the process in the retort is a formic acid that will be of no benefit to the human or animal body. You’ll be deceived if you believe that it can really help at all, because in reality it is dead. The formic acid created in humans and by insects is alive, and appears wherever sensations and feelings arise and the soul element is present. A human being must develop formic acid within if such a person wants to generate the soul element from the basic level of life processes that exist in the lower body, where oxalic acid plays a very important role. Then the soul element lives in the formic acid of the breath and rises to the head, where it can continue to function and become effective. The soul element needs this process that converts oxalic acid into formic acid within a human being. (Steiner, 1998a, pp. 151-152)
The doctor was attempting to heal my daughter’s Anthroposophic spiritual bodies. By rubbing Oxalis cream on her abdomen, she would develop formic acid within and have life. “It’s the formic acid that attracts and mobilizes soul and spirit, otherwise the spirit will go away” (Steiner, 1998a, p. 154).
Steiner appears to have based his medicine on Hermetic ideas dating back to the 1600s and before. Evidently, Rosicrucian doctors spread their occult truths to the people at large,
[f]or it was one of their fundamental principles, that from the small circles in which they were united, Rosicrucians should go out into the world—generally working…as doctors of medicine. But at the same time, while they practiced medicine, they spread knowledge of many things in the wide circles into which they came.” (Steiner, 1965, p. 91)
The scholar, Geoffrey Ahern, who so far has written the only critical, in depth book on Anthroposophy published in English, notes that Steiner was to accept an alchemical synthesis stemming from a blend of Gnostic Alexandrian and Aristotelian thought, Egyptian technology, and Mesopotamian astrology. Steiner believed “that gold corresponds with the sun, silver with the moon, copper with Venus, lead with Saturn, iron with Mars, tin with Jupiter and quicksilver with Mercury.” This “thinking was magical: macrocosmic astrological influences were all important” (Ahern, 1984, p. 149).
Interestingly, even before discovering other esoterically informed Waldorf critics on the Internet and delving into Steiner’s doctrine, we were able to pin point our negative experiences in a letter. About three months after leaving Waldorf the development officer asked us to engage in an exit interview. I told my husband that I would never sit before that faculty again but agreed to answer their questions in letter form. Why had we removed our daughter from Waldorf? This is what we wrote:
February 17, 1999
We feel that a clearer distinction should be made to prospective parents on the sectarian nature of Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School. It would be helpful if the institution were more responsible in clarifying the “mystic Christian” character of the school. Had we known that the curriculum and operation of the school were based exclusively on Rudolf Steiner’s insight, clairvoyance, aesthetics, eurocentricity, and religious beliefs (as interpreted by his disciples) Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School would not have been our choice for X.
The lack of enthusiasm and inspiration that X demonstrated during her years at Pleasant Ridge always concerned us. She felt unchallenged during her school day and expressed it often. Her attitude and frustration played a role in our decision to take X out of Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School. She is doing very well at Westby Elementary School. Her demeanor has improved, and she never cries before or after school, as she used to, but rather looks forward to her day.
Lack of teacher control in X’s classroom at Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School was also troublesome to us. We believe this problem took away much of her potential in her education at Pleasant Ridge.
Our communications with the faculty and staff in coming to this decision were as complete as we needed them to be.
Thank you for the opportunity to express our views in our departure.
Sharon Lombard and XX.
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.
I believe that we will utilize our strength, integrity, vision and hope towards true renewal. The Waldorf movement does not “own” beauty, art, songs, and the idea of reverence for the earth. These ideals belong to us all and we will impart these principles to our own family and community. Furthermore, we will impart these things to others in a way the Waldorf movement could never do. We will impart these things with love. That is the thing that is missing from them, love (Usher-Paulson, 2002, October, 20. “Hello from Charmaine,” email@example.com private communication).
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.”
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This material was originally prepared for a presentation at AFF’s annual conference, June 14-15, 2002, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Orlando (FL) Airport.