Help 5

Checking a Handbook

Here is a brief paper I wrote at the request

of an attorney who was involved in a lawsuit

centering on a Waldorf school.

(I have eliminated the names of the school

and all the individuals involved.)

In the paper, I analyze some portions of a handbook

created by the school for the parents of its students.

I reprint the paper here in the hope that it

may assist other families contending

with other Waldorf schools.

In the final section of the paper,

I list Anthroposophical beliefs that I was taught

as a Waldorf student.

Many months later, I wrote an expanded

version of this list.

You will find the expanded version

at the bottom of this page.

I have edited my paper, lightly, for use here.

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To the Court:

The following is an analysis of points raised by the Parent Handbook of the XXX Waldorf School.


On p. 12 of the Parent Handbook, the school says “Our school is not a religious school.”

This is largely a matter of semantics. On p. 5, the school makes statements that reveal the spiritual/religious nature of the school. a) “[T]he Waldorf curriculum continues to be informed by Anthroposophy today.” b) “Anthroposophy is a world-wide spiritual movement and philosophy.” A spiritual movement having a philosophical component — this description fits the general understanding of the word “religion.”

Background: Anthroposophy is the spiritual system created by Rudolf Steiner, whom the ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA identifies as a spiritualist. [1]

Steiner called his system “spiritual science” or “occult science” (somewhat as Christian Scientists and Scientologists attach the label “science” to their belief systems). Anthroposophy’s main tenets are laid out in Steiner’s book AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE, which the publisher (Rudolf Steiner Press) says contains much of Steiner’s “spiritual teaching.” [2]

Most people would consider a system of “spiritual teaching” to be a religion. They would be justified with reference to Anthroposophy because Anthroposophy entails faith, reverence, prayers, meditations, spiritual guides, observances, and other religious identifiers. It lays out the path to spiritual improvement for its adherents, and it threatens spiritual loss and perdition for everyone else. Denying that this is a religion is clearly dubious. [3]


• On p. 4, the school speaks of the “spiritual being of the developing child” and goes on to say that “We acknowledge the existence of spirit.” Spirituality is central to the school’s conception of itself.

• On p. 6, the school mentions “morning verses” recited by the students. “The teacher lights a candle” creating a mood that includes “reverence.” Later in the day, “a verse of thanksgiving” is recited. These are prayerful events, and indeed the actual “morning verses” used in most Waldorf schools come from the book PRAYERS FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN. [4] These "verses" address and thank God. They are clearly prayers.

• On p. 8, describing the third grade curriculum, the school says the children are in a transition period in which the age of dream is passing.” This is a reference to the Anthroposophical doctrine that young children live in a dreamlike consciousness that connects them to the spirit realms. This period ends at about age seven when the “etheric body” incarnates. These are religious beliefs, not scientific truths. [5]

• On p. 11, the school identifies religious festivals celebrated at the school, including Michaelmas, Martinmas, and Advent. (On p. 12, the school accurately says these are “seasonal;” festivals, and indeed observances such as Michaelmas can be traced back to pagan religions. But note that the school also emphasizes “reverence” in the same passage.)

• On p. 12, the school says “Waldorf education is based on the spiritual nature of the child.” This is fundamentally a religious stance. The school also says that “no particular religion or philosophy is taught” but that a "fundamental tenet [sic] underlying the Waldorf school and community experience is recognition of the human spiritual dimension.” The school also says that many religions will be studied, and each family’s particular religion will be respected. All of this is consistent with the recognition that Anthroposophy is a religious system that incorporates elements of many religions but that calls itself a “science.”

From all of this, and other indications, it is clear that spirituality and religion play central roles in the XXX Waldorf School. None of this is altered if we call Anthroposophy “spiritual science” or “occult science” instead of a religion per se.

The point at issue is whether a child should be sent to a school having such an ideology without the informed consent of both parents.


On p. 4 of the Handbook, the school says it is on the path to attain accreditation as “a full-fledged Waldorf school.” This will be achieved when the requirements set up by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) are met. On p. 5, the school also says “Waldorf teachers study Anthroposophy and the works of Dr. Steiner as part of their training to become Waldorf teachers.”

These are key points. AWSNA and Waldorf-teacher training institutions work to ensure that Waldorf teachers embrace Anthroposophy. For instance, here is the primary element of teacher training at the Center for Anthroposophy (New Hampshire): "1) study of the basic books of Rudolf Steiner, including HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS, THEOSOPHY, AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE, and INTUITIVE THINKING AS A SPIRITUAL PATH: A Philosophy of Freedom.” These are occult texts, laying out the religious or “spiritual-scientific” doctrines of the Waldorf belief system. [6] Waldorf teachers study these books during their initial training and they continue to study them afterwards, sometimes allowing parents of the school’s students to participate in such study. As the XXX Waldorf indicates on p. 12 of the Handbook, “Interested parents and staff come together on occasion to study Waldorf education and/or Anthroposophy.”


There are many, but two of the most central are incarnation and karma.

In Waldorf belief, children eventually incarnate four separate bodies, three of which are invisible. According to a Waldorf spokesperson, “Waldorf education is based upon the recognition that the four bodies of the human being develop and mature at different times.” [7] Note that Waldorf education is "based" on these weird concepts. The Waldorf curriculum is geared to these incarnations, which occur around the ages of seven, fourteen, and twenty-one. [8]

Interestingly, the XXX Waldorf School endorses the idea that children go through such phases, although it omits reference to the invisible bodies. “From birth to around the age of seven, the major task of the child is to build the physical body ... From age seven to around the age of fourteen, the young person learns primarily ... From age fourteen on, the young adult takes up the challenge of clear thinking.” — Parent Handbook, p. 6. Thus, Steiner's account of three seven-year-long childhood stages is affirmed.

The other central doctrine I will mention is karma. Waldorf schools believe that each child arrives on Earth with a karma resulting from past lives. From this perspective, the goal of Waldorf schools is to help students fulfill their karmas. According to a Waldorf spokesperson, "[T]he purpose of education is to help the individual fulfill his karma. The teacher is an intermediary and his task is to guide the incarnating individualities [i.e., children] into the physical world and equip them for earthly existence, bearing in mind what they bring with them from the past and what they are likely to take with them into the future.” [9]

The XXX Waldorf School evidently agrees that karma or “destiny” is highly significant. “The full development of these capacities is of profound importance to each human being's ability to resolve life's riddles, to take up the task of destiny [emphasis added], and to grow and live in a spirit of fulfillment and positive contribution.” — Parent Handbook, p. 25.

The statements that Waldorf schooling is “based on” incarnation and that the “purpose” of the schools is to help with karma may seem incompatible, but they are actually closely intertwined. In Waldorf belief, children arrive on Earth from the spirit realm, and Waldorf teachers are here to help the children successfully bring all four of their bodies to Earth and then for the children to use all their capacities to fulfill their karmas.

Note that if these are the purposes of Waldorf schools, then ordinary education — conveying information to the students — takes a back seat. and indeed, Waldorf schools often provide a poor academic education. [See “Academic Standards at Waldorf”.] This has been a problem from the very beginning. After students at the first Waldorf school took state-mandated examinations, Steiner reported to the faculty: “We should have no illusions: The results gave a very unfavorable impression of our school to people outside.” [10]

The key issue here, then, Is this: Should a child be sent to a Waldorf school if at least one parent denies the importance of incarnation and karma, and worries that Waldorf may provide a poor education?


Yes, although they often do this subtly, indirectly. Nonetheless, this is one of their main goals. Speaking to Waldorf teachers, Steiner said, “You need to make the children aware that they are receiving the objective truth, and if this occasionally appears anthroposophical, it is not anthroposophy that is at fault. Things are that way because anthroposophy has something to say about objective truth. It is the material that causes what is said to be anthroposophical. We certainly may not go to the other extreme, where people say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” [11]

Since Anthroposophists believe that their doctrines are the great Truth underlying all other knowledge, they think that the presence of Anthroposophy will be “justified” at virtually every point in every subject studied.

The XXX Waldorf School appears to share this perspective. “The Waldorf educational curriculum was developed by Dr. Steiner as a practical application of many of the insights, ideals and worldview embodied in the philosophy of Anthroposophy. Waldorf teachers study Anthroposophy and the works of Dr. Steiner as part of their training to become Waldorf teachers, and the Waldorf curriculum continues to be informed by Anthroposophy today.” — Parent Handbook, p. 5.

This certainly indicates that the curriculum at XXX Waldorf School is shaped (“informed”) by Anthroposophy, which in turn implies that Anthroposophical concepts and beliefs probably turn up in the curriculum at more than a few points.

How much Anthroposophy children pick up at XXX Waldorf School probably varies from child to child and teacher to teacher. But there can be little doubt that at least some Anthroposophical doctrine is conveyed, since the “Waldorf curriculum [is] informed by Anthroposophy.”

As a former Waldorf student, I can attest that much Anthroposophy was conveyed to me by my teachers — sometimes in class, and sometimes in discussions, assemblies, or other venues. Here are Anthroposophical doctrines I was taught:

• spiritual phenomena (archetypes) are more real than physical phenomena

• spirit worlds exist and can be studied objectively

• the natural world is a place of illusion (maya)

• numerous spirit beings such as angels exist, and some people can perceive them directly

• science is faulty and unreliable

• modern technology is wicked and faulty

• the arts have spiritual — even magical — powers

• intellect and the brain generally do not bring us truth

• imagination and intuition are preferable

• ESP or clairvoyance is probably real

• meditative exercises improve the soul (I was assigned several)

• the stars and planets have esoteric powers (astrology)

• humans are evolving, but not in the way Darwin described

• various forms of "earth spirits" or "nature spirits" probably exist

• there are deep and significant differences between races

• the ancients were wiser than modern humans

• dreams can be reliable sources of knowledge

• it is possible to commune with spiritual beings and with the dead

• we are subject to karma or fate or destiny, which we make for ourselves

• we probably have multiple lives (reincarnation)

• Jesus is extremely important, but churches generally misrepresent him

• some people develop special powers that give them access to hidden (occult) knowledge

• Waldorf schools are unique, pure refuges in a nasty, violent world

The resulting question is whether a child should be sent to a Waldorf school if at least one parent expresses grave concerns about such beliefs.

— Roger Rawlings

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[3] See “Is Anthroposophy a Religion” at Watch Watch:

[4] Rudolf Steiner, PRAYERS FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995) — see pp. 45 and 47. Note that the innocuous verse quoted in the Handbook is given only as an example. "For example..." (p. 6) It would be interesting to know what "verses" are actually used in the school. If the verses from PRAYERS FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN are ever used, then the use of prayers in the schools would be clearly established.

[5] Here is how this belief is often expressed:

a) “Childhood is commonly regarded as a time of steadily expanding consciousness.... Yet in Steiner’s view, the very opposite is the case: childhood is a time of contracting consciousness.... [The child] loses his dream-like perception of ... spiritual powers which is hidden behind the phenomena of the senses. This is ... the world of creative archetypes and spiritual hierarchies [gods] ... This awareness fades quickly in early childhood, but fragments of it live on in the child for a much longer time than most people imagine ... [I]n a Waldorf school, therefore, one of the tasks of the teachers is to keep the children young." — A. C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956), pp. 15-16

b) "Although it is necessary, especially today, for people to be completely awake later in life, it is equally necessary to let children live in their gentle dreamy experiences as long as possible, so that they move slowly into life. They need to remain as long as possible in their imaginations and pictorial capacities without intellectuality." — Rudolf Steiner, A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 103-104.

[6] HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS is a guide to the development of clairvoyance, which Waldorf teachers use to study the spirit worlds as well as to understand the souls of their students. That there is no such thing as clairvoyance should, perhaps, give us pause. Indeed, because Waldorf schools depend so heavily on a nonexistent "power," there is in fact no rational basis for Waldorf education. [See "Clairvoyance", "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness", "Foundations", etc.]

THEOSOPHY lays out many of Steiner's occult teachings. When Steiner first became an occultist, he joined the Theosophical Society and soon became head of the German branch. Later, he broke away to create his own movement, which he named Anthroposophy. (Theosophy places God — theos — at its center; Anthroposophy places man — anthropos — at the center.) In reality, Steiner's teachings changed very little after the switch. Even while a Theosophist, Steiner referred to his own teachings as Anthroposophy, and the Theosophy his followers now study is Steiner's version, which departs significantly from standard Theosophy. It is, in a word, Anthroposophy. [To examine Theosophy, visit, for instance, the website of The Theosophical Society. Also see "Basics".]

AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE is Steiner's magnum opus, in which he describes the spiritual realities he claims to have ascertained through clairvoyance. The original title of the book was AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE, but his followers belatedly realized that the word "occult" worries most people, so they made the change for PR purposes. Nonetheless, occultism is the core of the Waldorf belief system. Other Steiner books bear such titles as OCCULT HISTORY, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD, AN OCCULT PHYSIOLOGY, OCCULT SEALS AND SIGNS, and so forth. Even if we define "occult" as merely meaning "secret" or "hidden," we might want to reflect. Waldorf education is based on "secret" or "hidden" spiritual knowledge gained through the use of clairvoyance. How comfortable should we be with this? [See "Occultism", "Exactly", "Occult Lodges", "Everything", etc., at Waldorf Watch.]

INTUITIVE THINKING AS A SPIRITUAL PATH: A PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM: In the Waldorf belief system, intuition is a high form of clairvoyance that we will perfect when we live on Vulcan (a future stage of our evolution). Waldorf schools emphasize intuition along with lower forms of clairvoyance: inspiration and imagination. Most people use these words without reference to clairvoyance; but in the Waldorf belief system, even such a simple statement as "We encourage imaginative thinking" is actually a reference to clairvoyance. [See, e.g., "Thinking", "Thinking Cap", "Steiner's 'Science'", and "Vulcan" at Waldorf Watch.]

Originally, INTUITIVE THINKING AS A SPIRITUAL PATH — published in 1893 as THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM — was straightforward philosophy, not an occult text. Steiner thought the book would establish him as the next great German philosopher. This did not happen, and soon after his disappointment, Steiner astonished his family and friends by announcing that he was now an occultist (previously, he had been a secular intellectual who mocked occultism). Thereafter, he revised his book to make it consistent with his new, mystical beliefs. [See "What a Guy", "Freedom", and "Philosophy" at Waldorf Watch.] Waldorf schools still like to refer to Steiner as a philosopher (it sounds so much better than "occultist"), but Steiner wrote no further philosophical texts after switching to occultism.

[7] Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents, and Teachers (SteinerBooks, 2017), p. 4.

[8] See “Incarnation” at Waldorf Watch.

[9] Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.

[10] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 725.

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

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Waldorfish art, R.R.

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A couple of years after writing the above paper,

having given the matter further thought,

I wrote an expanded version of the list

of Anthroposophical beliefs

that I picked up during my years

as a Waldorf student.

Here is the result

[see, e.g., "I Went to Waldorf"]:

As a Waldorf student, I was taught — directly or indirectly — numerous Anthroposophical tenets. Generally, our teachers hinted at these tenets rather than expounding on them forthrightly. We students were often unsure precisely what our teachers meant by various indications and suggestions they offered us. Nonetheless, over the years, much of the essence of Anthroposophy seeped into our minds and hearts. Hence, I came away from Waldorf education believing or inclined to believe most of the following propositions, either as certainties or as strong probabilities. I absorbed some of these tenets as conscious convictions; others inhabited my mind as nebulous but defining biases; and still others were impressions so lightly stamped on my thinking that I was scarcely aware of them — metaphysical vapors, unconscious inclinations, unexamined (and thus unarguable) intuitions...

Taken all in all, these were the chief legacy of my Waldorf schooling.

(Please excuse a certain amount of overlap among the items on the list. Because the tenets of Anthroposophy were not clearly and consistently explained to us, the messages we received tended to be jumbled and obscure. I have organized the list, but not rigorously; I've tried to replicate the feel of our school's cloudy mental universe. In many instances, I have sharpened or defined ideas that were left vague among the students — I have brought into focus Anthroposophical meanings that were hazy in our comprehension then. This is a more complete list than the one I have posted on some other pages.)

• Numerous spirit beings (ranks of gods) exist, and some people can perceive them directly

• Spiritual phenomena (archetypes) are more real than physical phenomena

• Spirit worlds exist and can be studied objectively

• Some people develop special powers that give them access to hidden or occult knowledge (many Waldorf teachers possess such knowledge)

• The natural world is a place of illusion (maya); in some sense, the physical world is unreal

• Various forms of "earth spirits" or "nature spirits" exist (gnomes, fairies, undines...)

• Natural and organic things are vastly preferable to anything manufactured (even if nature itself should be viewed askance)

• Mysterious, paranormal, and mystical phenomena (fabulous animals, flying saucers, ghosts...) are probably real

• Myths, legends, and even fairy tales are essentially true; the beings described in them really exist at some level

• The ancients were wiser than modern humans

• Modern science is faulty and unreliable

• Modern technology is faulty and wicked (do not watch TV, avoid computers...)

• Modern culture is depraved; modern art forms are perverse and harmful

• Most people in the modern world are spiritually and even mentally blind; their values and thoughts are generally shallow, empty, and damaging

• The arts have spiritual — even magical — powers

• Intellect and the brain generally do not bring us truth

• Imagination and intuition are preferable to the rational use of the brain

• Truth is chiefly found through emotion (soul life is emotional life)

• ESP or clairvoyance is probably real

• Dreams can be reliable sources of knowledge

• Meditative exercises improve the soul (I was assigned several)

• Spiritual states can be manifested or incarnated through certain bodily disciplines, such as the unique form of movement taught in Waldorf schools (eurythmy)

• The stars and planets have esoteric powers (astrology)

• Humans are evolving, but not in the way Darwin described

• There are deep and significant differences between races

• Different races have significantly different blood types (do not accept blood transfusions from “lower” races)

• Animals evolved from humans, not vice versa

• We are subject to karma or fate or destiny

• We probably have multiple lives (reincarnation)

• It is possible to commune with spiritual beings and with the dead

• Christ is extremely important, but churches generally misrepresent him

• All religions are fundamentally alike — all reflect the same spiritual realities (which are bodied forth in Waldorf schools)

• Church attendance is not generally necessary, but reciting prayers written by Rudolf Steiner is spiritually productive (many of our teachers, while clearly spiritual, belonged to no church; but they led us each morning in reciting Steiner-written prayers)

• True religion is an inner process of personal revelation; nonetheless, guidance by spiritual masters is needed

• Waldorf schools are unique, pure refuges in a nasty, violent world

If I had tried to put together such a list soon after leaving Waldorf, it would have been much shorter. Only decades later, having studied Anthroposophy in some detail, do I understand that virtually all of my boyhood beliefs — which I thought had arisen from my own heart and soul — came from Anthroposophy. At age eighteen, as a newly fledged Waldorf graduate, I did not recognize how thoroughly my Waldorf teachers had influenced me. I was a junior mystic, an apprentice transcendentalist, and I thought that my opinions and prejudices were beyond argument — they went without saying — they were implicitly and unquestionably true. I came out of Waldorf both insufferably cocksure and woefully misguided. (And benighted and adrift.) I did not realize that my views resulted from a long, systematic, quiet process of indoctrination.