The concepts of normality and abnormality play big roles in Steiner’s thinking. Thus, Steiner taught that there are both normal and abnormal spiritual beings. All spiritual beings are evolving. The normal ones evolve at the proper rate, but abnormal ones fall behind for one reason or another.

There are also normal and abnormal humans. The abnormal ones are flawed, backward, incomplete.

Here is a typically dense example. Steiner is talking about “group” or “folk” souls — the souls shared by entire groups of human beings. These souls are generally Archangels, that is, they are spiritual beings two steps higher than humanity. An Archangel who has special responsibilities for supervising human evolution during a particular period is the “Spirit of the Age.” Normal humans abide by the Spirit of their Age; but abnormal humans are guided by an abnormal spirit. An abnormal spirit of one type may stand in for a normal spirit of another type. (Don’t worry about distinguishing one sort of spirit from another; on this page, our focus is on the concepts or normality and abnormality in their various guises.)

"In those persons who are stimulated by the true Spirits of the Age at their normal stage are the true representatives of their time. We can look upon them as men who were destined to appear; we feel certain that their activities were predetermined. There are also others, however, in whom are active those Spirits of Personality who are, in reality, Spirits of Form. Those are the Spirits whom we called 'Thought Spirits', who during the old Moon-cycle moved advanced to their present rank. Man is the stage upon which the activities of these Beings is coordinated. This is demonstrated by the mutual interaction between language and thought, by the reciprocal relationship not only between the Spirits at the same stage of development, but also by the reciprocal relationship between the normal Archangels who determine national sentiment and temperament and...‘backward’ Spirits of Form ... Within man there are not only normal and abnormal Archangels, but also the Archangels in contrast to the abnormal Spirits of Personality who from within determine the pattern of thought of a particular epoch." — Rudolf  Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf  Steiner Press, 1970), pp. 46-47. [1]

According to Steiner, an abnormal human is retarded — that is, s/he has fallen behind, just as other abnormal spiritual beings may fall behind. But there are traces of abnormality in all of us. Abnormality is basically the condition of being incompletely developed — and who among us is completely developed? We are all evolving, trying to become complete, whole, divine. [2]

"It is obvious, in the first place, that a thorough knowledge of education for healthy children should already be possessed by one who wants to educate incompletely developed children. For the very things we notice in incompletely developed children, in children who are suffering from some illness or abnormality, can also be discerned in the so-called normal life of soul; only, they show themselves there less plainly, and in order to recognize them we must be able to practise a more intimate and close observation. In some corner of the life of soul of every human being lurks a quality, or tendency, that would commonly be called abnormal." — Rudolf  Steiner, EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS (Rudolf  Steiner Press, 1998), p. 17.

Being abnormal is not the same as being evil, although the two conditions are often related. Highly evolved beings are, almost by definition, good or moral; less evolved beings are generally less good, and may indeed by bad. Still, subtle distinctions should be recognized.

◊ “At all stages there are members of the Hierarchies [i.e., spiritual beings, gods] whose development is incomplete and man lives both under the influence of the normal beings and of those who have remained behind [i.e., the abnormal spiritual beings]. These were termed the Spirits of Adversity but it must be remembered that they are not evil in themselves.” — Richard Wilkinson, RUDOLF STEINER - An Introduction to His World-view, Anthroposophy (Temple Lodge Publishing, 2001), p. 199. 

◊ "Now on each planet there are also Spirits who have remained behind in evolution, they have remained stationary and not wished to progress. You will recognise a law from this: If the most outstanding fall and commit the 'great sin' of not advancing with evolution, then they become the very worst of all. The noble sense of liberty has been reversed into wickedness, into its opposite. Those are the Spirits of Temptation, and they must be taken gravely into account; they lead to the evil side of egoism, even today they are still in our environment, these evil Spirits of Saturn." — Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), lecture 9, GA 99.

Ordinary child psychologists have no clue about the real causes and proper treatment of abnormality in humans, Steiner said. An abnormality should not be removed, it should be encouraged to develop, so that the child as a whole may develop.

"[L]ife of soul, which can show itself in varied expressions and manifestations, may be normal or it may be abnormal. But now the only possible grounds we can have for speaking of the normality or abnormality of the child's life of soul, or indeed of the life of soul of any human being, is that we have in mind something that is normal in the sense of being average. There is no other criterion than the one that is customary among people who abide by ordinary conventions; such people have their ideas of what is to be considered reasonable or clever, and then everything that is not an expression of a “normal” life of soul (as they understand it) is for them an abnormality. At present there is really no other criterion. That is why the conclusions people come to are so very confused. When they have in this way ascertained the existence of “abnormality”, they begin to do — heaven knows what! — believing they are thereby helping to get rid of the abnormality, while all the time they are driving out a fragment of genius!" — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS, pp. 18-19.

What we have just seen may seem nice — but note that, as usual, Steiner based his doctrines on a rejection of the actual knowledge attained by experts and scientists. His prescriptions are always based on mystical fantasy. For instance, he would treat abnormality by having children perform eurythmy, a form of spiritual dance.

Here is Steiner discussing a boy whom he has brought on stage before an audience. Steiner wants to show how much he has helped this small boy in the years he has been treating him:

"And now, if you will begin to observe the child for yourselves — (to the boy) Come here a minute! — you will find many things to notice. Let me draw your attention, first of all, to the strongly developed lower half of the face. Look at the shape of the nose and the mouth. The mouth is always a little open, which has an effect on dental development. It is important to note these things, for they are unquestionably bound up with the whole soul-and-spirit constitution of the child ... The formation you see here in the jaws — the jaws belong, of course, to the limb system — is wholly part of the head system ... [T]he arms, and also the legs, have not the proportions they would have if they were brought into right relation with the upper part of the body, but have grown too big.... 

"Here (in the front) you have that part of the whole head organisation which has its substances supplied to it from the rest of the organism ... The back of the head is, as regards substance, of cosmic origin. Here (in the front) as we remarked, the head is pressed together. In all probability this points back to a purely mechanical injury, either at birth or during pregnancy, a mechanical injury in which we can see nothing else than a working of karma.... 

"[T]he whole breathing system...is very little under control ... This is connected with the whole way in which the lower jaw is formed ... Consequently, the boy is unable to develop within him the right and necessary quantity of carbon dioxide; he is deficient in carbon dioxide ... What ought to happen is that gradually, in the course of life, the whole system of movement in man should become a servant of the intellectual system. (To the boy) Stand still a minute! And now come here to me and do this! (Dr. Steiner makes a movement with his arm as if to take hold of something; the boy does not make the movement.) Never mind! We mustn't force him. Do you see? It is difficult for him to do anything; he has not the power to exercise the right control over his metabolism-and-limbs system....


"What would have been the right educational treatment for this child in very early years? Obviously a special effort should have been made to begin with curative eurythmy even before he was able to walk, simply moving his limbs oneself [sic] in eurythmic movements. If this had been done, then the movements carried out in this way in the limbs would have been reflected in the nerves-and-senses organism, and since at that early age everything, is still supple in the child, the form of the head could actually have grown wider." — Ibid., pp. 106-110. [3]

Abnormality can work both against humanity and for humanity. Some of the manifestations of this principle are a bit surprising:

"You must always look towards the Sun sphere for that cosmic 'Lodge', that community in the Universe, where these Spirits of Form plan to establish the earthly harmony and to fulfil the mission of Earth-evolution. Lest the activity of the abnormal Spirits of Form should provoke too great a disharmony amongst mankind, one of the Spirits had to detach Himself from the community. In reality, therefore, only six Spirits of Form or Elohim work from the Sun; one of these Spirits had to detach Himself lest the simultaneous activity of the abnormal Spirits of Form, who are really Spirits of Movement, should disturb the balance or harmony. It was the Spirit who in the Bible, in Genesis, is called Jahve or Jehovah." — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS, p. 99.

Abnormality exists on a continuum with the right and proper; even hallucinations can be seen as merely a low level of a great and true condition:

"Hallucinations, pictures that appear before human consciousness and that do not reveal a corresponding reality upon closer, critical examination — such hallucinations, such visions, are something diseased if we consider them from the standpoint of human life as it unfolds between birth, or conception, and death. When we describe hallucinations as something abnormal, however, as something that certainly does not belong to the normal course of life between birth and death, we have in no way grasped the inherent nature of hallucination.

"... If the body conceptualizes as body, it conceives hallucinations; that is, it brings hallucinations into consciousness. If the spirit conceptualizes as spirit, then it has imaginations; if the soul, which is the mediator between the two, begins to conceptualize, that is, if the soul conceptualizes as soul, then neither will the unjustified hallucinations pressed out of the body arise, nor will the soul penetrate to spiritual realities. Instead it will reach an undefined intermediary stage; these are fantasies. Picture the body; between birth and death it is not an instrument for conceptualizing. If between birth and death it conceptualizes nevertheless, it does so in an unjustified and abnormal way, and hallucinations thus arise. If the spirit conceptualizes in really rising out of the body to realities, then it has imaginations. The soul forms the mediator between hallucinations and imaginations in faintly outlined fantasies.

"If the body conceptualizes as body, hallucinations arise.

"If the soul conceptualizes as soul, fantasies arise.

"If the spirit conceptualizes as spirit, imaginations arise." 

— Rudolf Steiner, THERAPEUTIC INSIGHTS (Mercury Press, 1984), lecture 3, GA 205.


[1] In passing, we should note a couple of things. The implications of  this passage bear on the question of human freedom. Steiner claimed to champion freedom, yet he also taught that our actions are often beyond our control — e.g., “their activities were predetermined.” [See "Freedom" and "Karma".]

Note, too, how Steiner claims that human beings occupy a central spot in the affairs of the cosmos — “Man is the stage upon which....” [See "The Center".]

[2] Truly, grotesquely incomplete, perverse, or evil souls are not trying to evolve upward — they are evolving downward, into horror.

[3] If you’d like to see the entire passage, with no excisions, you can find it at http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/19240701p01.html. The translation there is slightly different, but in all important points there is agreement between the edition from which I have quoted and the edition at the rsarchive.

Eurythmy is “visible speech,” having a movement for each letter of the alphabet. [See "Eurythmy".] Here is Steiner’s general prescription for feeblemindedness:

"[B]y learning to bring the limbs into proper control, we can do much to counteract on the one hand feeble-mindedness, and on the other hand the tendency to mania. And here the way is marked out for us at once to Curative Eurythmy. In the case of a feebleminded child, what you have to do is to bring mobility into his metabolism-and-limbs system; this will stimulate also his whole spiritual nature. Let such a child do the movements for R, L, S, I (ee), and you will see what a good effect it will have. If, on the other hand, you have a child with a tendency to mania, then, knowing how it is with his metabolism-and limbs system, you will let him do the movements for M, N, B, P, A (as in Father), U (as in Ruth), and again you will see what an influence this will have on his maniacal tendency. We must always remember how intimate the connection still is in the young child between physical-etheric on the one hand, and soul-and-spirit on the other. If we bear this continually in mind, we shall find our way to the right methods of treatment." — EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS., p. 103.

[R. R.  2010.]

— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings

To visit other pages in the sections of Waldorf Watch
that include "Abnormal", use the underlined links, below.

also see "History, the Past"
and "History, the Future"


epochs : great and not so great

going up : creation and science

Old Saturn : starting out

Old Sun : dim light

origins : ours, not others'

Present Earth : here now

tenth hierarchy : us, later

also see "Human Nature, Human Potential"


auras : Steiner on

blood : and race

decay : Attila and leprosy

our parts : human constitution

temperaments : our types

will : and self-hypnosis

also see "Evil, Perdition"


moral view : Anthroposophical ethics II

morality : Anthroposophical ethics I

sin : Steiner on

sphere 8 : the wages

The formatting at Waldorf Watch aims for visual variety, 
seeking to ease the process of reading lengthy texts on a computer screen.