Here's the Answer
To the Question
What Are Waldorf Schools?
Waldorf or Steiner schools operate in accordance with the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, who founded the first Waldorf school in 1919. Steiner was an occultist who claimed to have precise knowledge of the spirit realm thanks to his "exact clairvoyance." He laid out his spiritual "discoveries" in such books as OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE. He called his body of teachings "Anthroposophy," a word (pronounced an-throw-POS-o-fee) meaning knowledge or wisdom of the human being.  Steiner claimed that Anthroposophy is a science, although in fact it is a religion involving prayers, meditations, reverential practices, and spiritual observances. 
Waldorf faculties usually acknowledge that their educational approach arises from Anthroposophy, but they usually deny that they teach Anthroposophical doctrines to their students. In a restricted sense, this denial may be true at many of the schools. But in a larger sense, the denial is false , and we have Steiner’s word for it. Addressing Waldorf teachers, Steiner said the following:
“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 [in a Waldorf school] 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.” 
Since Anthroposophists believe that their doctrines are the great, universal Truth underlying all other knowledge, they think that the presence of Anthroposophy is “justified” at virtually every point in every subject studied. Devout Anthroposophical teachers may be circumspect about it, bringing their beliefs into Waldorf classrooms subtly, covertly — but they bring them.
Although Steiner himself sometimes said — especially when speaking in public — that Waldorf schools do not teach Anthroposophy to the students, he sometimes said just the opposite in private, when speaking with Waldorf teachers. Thus, for instance, he once chided a Waldorf teacher for failing to frame Anthroposophy in a form that young students could grasp:
“The problem you have is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child’s level.” 
Giving Waldorf teachers a “directive” to bring Anthroposophy down to a child’s level is, of course, quite different from directing Waldorf teachers to leave Anthroposophy out of the classroom. Despite denials, Waldorf schools certainly do try to teach the kids Anthroposophy or at least to shepherd them toward it.
Not all Waldorf teachers are deeply committed, uncompromising Anthroposophists, but Steiner said that they all should be:
“As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside ... As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” 
Indeed, one of the most important facts about Waldorf schools is that they are meant to spread Anthroposophy:
“One of the most important facts about the background of the Waldorf School is that we were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” 
Waldorf education is meant to usher students toward true spiritual life, which is inherently Anthroposophical:
“As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present only because its staff consists of anthroposophists.” 
Waldorf teachers serve as priests in a religion that recognizes many spiritual powers or gods (plural, gods: Anthroposophy is polytheistic). The goal of Waldorf schooling is not so much to educate children as to save humanity by leading it to Anthroposophy. Waldorf teachers consider themselves to be on a holy mission:
◊ "The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office, a ritual performed at the altar of universal human life." 
◊ “We [Waldorf teachers and others] can accomplish our work only if we do not see it as simply a matter of intellect or feeling, but, in the highest sense, as a moral spiritual task. Therefore, you will understand why, as we begin this work today [opening the original Waldorf school], we first reflect on the connection we wish to create from the very beginning between our activity and the spiritual worlds ... Thus, we wish to begin our preparation by first reflecting upon how we connect with the spiritual powers in whose service and in whose name each one of us must work.” 
◊ “Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods, that we are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.” 
In sum, the goals of Waldorf schooling are inseparable from the goals of Anthroposophy, although Waldorf teachers generally deny this, for fear of a public backlash:
“[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck." 
What is Anthroposophy? It is a religion:
"[T]he Anthroposophical Society...provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." 
"It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true." 
"Yesterday, I was sitting on pins and needles worrying that the visitors would think the history class was too religious." 
Steiner wasn't concerned that the history class was religious; he worried that outsiders might think it was excessively religious. That there will be some religious content in a Waldorf class goes without saying. Waldorf schools, you see, are religious institutions, with "a religious element" introduced into "every subject." And the religion the schools champion is Anthroposophy.
Hence Steiner was able to say this to Waldorf students:
“[D]o you know where your teachers get all the strength and ability they need so that they can teach you to grow up to be good and capable people? They get it from the Christ.” 
Take care when Steiner and his followers refer to "Christ." They do not mean the Son of God worshipped in regular Christian churches; they mean the Sun God, the divinity of the Sun known in other faiths by such names as Hu and Apollo.  This need not detain us at this moment, however. The key point for us now is to recognize Steiner's admission that Waldorf teachers are true believers; they believe that they draw their authority from a god. Their work as Waldorf teachers is religious. Even when encouraging their students to love beauty, their purpose is fundamentally religious.
“We [Waldorf teachers] must, in our lessons, see to it that the children experience the beautiful, artistic, and aesthetic conception of the world; and their ideas and mental pictures should be permeated by a religious/moral feeling." 
So, to wrap this up: Waldorf schools are covert religious institutions. They exist to spread the religion created by Rudolf Steiner: Anthroposophy. They go about this task cautiously, secretively — but they go about it. Sending a child to a Waldorf school means sending her/him to an institution where many, if not all, of the teachers may be true-believing Anthroposophists who would like to lead the child and the child's family toward the "true spiritual life" — that is, spiritual life as understood in Anthroposophy. 
 This is the etymological meaning of the word — the meaning derived from the word's roots (anthropo, meaning human, and sophia, meaning wisdom). When challenged about the importance on Anthropsophy in their schools, Waldorf representatives sometimes try to pass off the matter by referring to this definition. However, in practice, the word "Anthroposophy" has come to mean the spiritual system (the religion) established by Rudolf Steiner. (Ironically, this system contains little real wisdom or knowledge about human beings.)
 See, e.g., “Sneaking It In”.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.
 Rudolf Steiner, ibid., pp. 402-403.
 Rudolf Steiner, ibid., p. 118.
 Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p.156.
 Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 24.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 33.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 55.
The worldwide Anthroposophical headquarters.
Essentially a cathedral, it serves the role of mother church
for the Anthroposophical movement.
[Public domain photo, downloaded December, 2015.]
WHAT ACTUALLY GOES ON
"[T]he world from which the soul descends [at birth] has no spatial forms or lines, [but] it does have color intensities, color qualities ... [It] is a soul-permeated, spirit-permeated world of light, of color, of tone; a world of qualities not quantities; a world of intensities rather than extensions.” — Rudolf Steiner. [See "Magical Arts".]
“It is obvious that knowledge of the human being must be the basis for a teacher's work; that being so, teachers must acquire this knowledge for themselves, and the natural thing will be that they acquire it through Anthroposophy. If, therefore, we are asked what the basis of a new method of education should be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is behind it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 4.
Steiner's followers today still base Waldorf schooling on Anthroposophy. Here is the description of a course offered not long ago by Rudolf Steiner College, a training center for Waldorf teachers:
"The Philosophical Foundations of Waldorf Education (7.5 credits). Waldorf education is based on Anthroposophy, a transpersonal and phenomenological world-view [sic]. It is necessary for the Waldorf educator to grasp this view of the human being because Waldorf pedagogy arises directly from this understanding. The curriculum and methods arise from an understanding of this ontology." — Rudolf Steiner College 2011-2012 Catalogue.
What Anthroposophists Believe, in Brief
The Anthroposophists on a Waldorf faculty believe that human evolution began during a period called Old Saturn. In the diagram shown here, Old Saturn is represented by the sphere on the upper left.* Following life on Old Saturn, we evolved to live on Old Sun (the second sphere from the left) and then Old Moon (the third sphere), becoming more densely physical as we proceeded. Each of these phases was a long developmental period during which the entire solar system manifested in a new, more evolved form. We are now in an intensely physical phase called Present Earth (the fourth sphere).
The main spheres in this sequence — numbers one through seven — are arrayed in a downward slope followed by an upward slope (the overall pattern resembles a large V). But hanging below Present Earth is a phase that Anthroposophists generally do not like to discuss — it is the dreadful Eighth Sphere, a place or phase analogous to Hell. [See "Sphere 8".]
In the future, those humans who do not descend to the Eighth Sphere will move upward to Future Jupiter (the fifth sphere), then Future Venus (the sixth sphere), and finally Future Vulcan (the seventh sphere). These virtuous humans (white souls, chiefly Anthroposophists) will become less and less physical — and more and more spiritual — at each stage. [See "Future Stages".]
For Rudolf Steiner's followers, the things I am discussing are gospel; they comprise the history of humanity as described by their guru. [See "Guru".] Following our life on Future Vulcan, we will continue evolving through five additional phases, but these will be so wondrous that even Steiner himself could scarcely describe them. Consequently they, like the Eighth Sphere, are usually omitted from Anthroposophical accounts.
The entire course of our evolution is guided by numerous good gods as well as good magicians and spiritual sages, people like Christian Rosenkreutz and other members of the White Lodge. [See "White Lodge".] But our evolution is opposed by the evil gods, black magicians, and other malefactors. Our ultimate victory in this saga is not guaranteed, but Anthroposophists believe it will come if we accept Steiner's teachings and act upon them. Humans are so loved by the gods that, indeed, the entire universe was created for our benefit, and — indeed! — the gods actually worship us: We are their religion.
When we attain our ultimate fulfillment, we will become God the Father.
Let that sink in.
Waldorf teachers rarely explain such matters explicitly to their students or even to the parents of their students, but this is what the Anthroposophists among them believe, and this belief system colors most if not absolutely all of their actions. True-believing Waldorf teachers don't care very much about ordinary education — they see themselves as priests shepherding young souls toward evolutionary perfection. Among other things, this means helping students fulfill their karmas. It also means lovingly aiding brown, red, yellow, and black students to improve spiritually so that in future incarnations they may return as members of higher (whiter) races. This is what Steiner taught.
* Old Saturn was not the Saturn we see in the sky today; Old Saturn was the first incarnation of the entire solar system. The Saturn we see in the sky today is a remnant of Old Saturn, Steiner taught — Saturn is a planet that preserves some of the essence of the first incarnation of the solar system.
Old Sun was the second incarnation of the solar system. Old Moon was the third. And so on.
When speaking in public, Rudolf Steiner often claimed that Waldorf schools are not meant to teach Anthroposophy to the students. He said, for instance,
“We are not interested in imposing our ‘dogmas,’ our principles, or the content of our world-view on young people ... We are striving to include in our instructional methods a way of dealing with individual souls that can originate in a living spiritual science.” 
In one sense, this is true enough. The intellectual content or “dogmas” of Anthroposophy may not usually be taught, in explicit declarations, to students at Waldorf schools. But in another sense, Steiner’s claim hinges on a distinction without a difference. If Waldorf pedagogy arises from “a living spiritual science” (i.e., vibrant, active Anthroposophy), then the “individual souls” of the students are continually being worked upon by Anthroposophy. The students may not learn the terminology of Anthroposophy, but they will likely absorb Anthroposophy’s day-after-day, class-after-class effects.  Indeed, this is the purpose implicit in Steiner's statement.
Steiner came close to saying as much, on a different occasion, when he stated the following:
“[W]e believe that spiritual science differs from any other science in filling the entire person.... ” 
A little set of logical deductions: a) If children are to be worked upon by living spiritual science (Anthroposophy), and if spiritual science fills the whole person, then the children will be filled by spiritual science. b) If students will be filled with spiritual science (Anthroposophy), then a clear function of Waldorf education is to spread Anthroposophy. The spreading can occur by pouring spiritual science into the students (with or without explicating the dogmas), or by arousing parents’ interest in the schools (perhaps explicating a few dogmas, probably a little at a time), or both. Remember what Steiner said:
“One of the most important facts about the background of the Waldorf School is that we were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one [i.e., one of the most important functions of the school was to spread Anthroposophy]. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” 
Waldorf students are not "taught" Anthroposophy, perhaps; but they are "filled" with it. A distinction without a practical difference.
Steiner was reasonably candid about the importance of Anthroposophy to Waldorf schools:
“The anthroposophical movement is the basis of the Waldorf School movement.” 
Still, he continued to maintain that Waldorfs don’t teach Anthroposophy.
“[W]e had to create our curricula and educational goals on the basis of a true understanding of the human being, which can only grow out of the fertile ground of anthroposophy. Then we would have a universally human school, not a school based on a particular philosophy or denomination.... ” 
It is impossible to know whether Steiner believed his own statements, but we can usually understand his meaning. In this case, his position was that Anthroposophy is not a philosophy or denomination. It is spiritual science. It is objective truth. It represents “true understanding.” Thus, Steiner could argue that a Waldorf school is “not a school based on a particular philosophy or denomination,” because he defined Anthroposophy as being neither of these things. But whatever label we put on it, Anthroposophy is the basis of Waldorf education, and the beliefs or "findings" of Anthroposophy are often shockingly esoteric, occult, or simply bizarre.
Steiner himself sometimes undercut his claim that Anthroposophical dogma is not taught at Waldorf schools. As we have seen previously (some points bear repeating), he once admonished a Waldorf teacher in these words:
"The problem you have is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child's level." 
Note that Steiner did not say that the teacher had erred in presenting Anthroposophy in class; he only said that the teacher had not presented Anthroposophy in a form the students could grasp.
The reality is that Anthroposophy is presented in Waldorf classes, usually in disguised form, but sometimes openly. And Waldorf students should learn not to complain about this.
"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 ... Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” 
Since Steiner promoted Anthroposophy as the key to human wisdom, he was here effectively acknowledging that Anthroposophy will pervade every subject in the Waldorf curriculum. When will Anthroposophy be “called for by the material”? Almost always.
Footnotes for "Discomfort"
 RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 26.
 In an account of my own experiences as a Waldorf student, I put it like this: “Imagine being educated by a group of dedicated but secretive Catholics or Communists or Mormons or Fascists — or secretive members of any ideological group: For year after year, you are taught to think and speak and act in accordance with the group's ideology, but you are never told precisely what that ideology is, and you are never shown any of its central texts. That's what going to Waldorf was like.” I liken the process to subtle brainwashing. You don't learn the precise words for stating your group's beliefs, but you are filled with those beliefs at an almost subconscious level. [See “I Went to Waldorf”.]
 RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 79.
 Ibid., p.156. (I am intentionally repeating this quotation.)
 Ibid., p.162.
 Ibid., p.186.
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 402-403.
 Ibid., p. 495.
The following statement is from a Waldorf school's website:
"Steiner's philosophy, which he named Anthroposophy, can be applied to all walks of life and provides guiding principles for [our] teachers' work. It is important to note, however, that Anthroposophy itself is not taught to the children." [10-9-2010, http://www.michaelhouseschool.com/rudolf_%20steiner.htm.]
This disclaimer, phrased one way or another, is made almost universally by Waldorf and Steiner schools. We base our work on Anthroposophy, but we don't teach Anthroposophy to the kids. How reassuring do you find this? Consider an analogy. Imagine that a school says "All of our methods are based on voodoo. However, we do not teach voodoo to the children." Would you be reassured? Would you send your child there?
Several of Steiner's books have titles containing the word "occult": AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE, OCCULT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS, OCCULT HISTORY, and the like. To many people, this must seem extremely strange, and perhaps frightening. “Occult” is a worrisome word, even if we use it precisely as Steiner intended — that is, referring to truth or knowledge that is hidden.  Basic to the Waldorf worldview is the notion that most real knowledge is hidden, and it can be discovered only through the process of occult initiation, which involves developing powers of "exact" clairvoyance.
We might pause over this proposition. Do you agree that we live in a universe populated by vast numbers of mysterious gods? Do you agree that the gods have hidden from us precisely the knowledge that we need? And do you agree that only clairvoyant initiates such as Rudolf Steiner can make this knowledge known? If you decide to associate yourself with a Waldorf school, you are associating yourself, to one degree or anorher, with these strange concepts.
Steiner unashamedly identified himself and his followers as occultists. Bear in mind, the people who, by and large, run Waldorf schools today are Steiner's followers. Here are a few of Steiner's statements affirming occultism:
◊ “You see, if we want to progress in occultism, we must do many things that run contrary to the ordinary course of events.” 
◊ “In occultism, we learn to grasp life more earnestly, we learn to perceive that the things which are not palpable, which cannot be observed by the senses, are still a reality.” 
◊ “In occultism, we can continue the sentence, ‘Of the Tree of Life man shall not eat’, by adding the words, ‘and the Spirit of Matter he shall not hear.’" 
◊ “[I]n occultism we call the Moon the ‘Cosmos of Wisdom’ and the Earth the ‘Cosmos of Love.’" 
◊ “Now the spiritual beings who are given off from the Second Hierarchy and sink themselves into the kingdoms of Nature, are those beings whom in occultism, we designate as the Group-souls of the plants, the animals — the Group-souls in the single entities.” 
◊ “In occultism, we distinguish also the state of warmth which is not simply a state of matter in vibration, but a fourth substantial state.” 
◊ “In occultism we differentiate in man firstly his actions, in so far [sic] as by actions we understand everything which proceeds from any kind of activity connected with his hands; secondly speech and thirdly thoughts. Everything which in this sense he accomplishes with his hands brings about its karmic results in his next earthly existence.” 
Footnotes for "Occultism"
 "Occult means 'hidden' or 'mysterious ... It ceases to be 'occult,' however, once one has mastered it." — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC DEVELOPMENT (SteinerBooks, 2003), p. 2.
 Rudolf Steiner, PSYCHOANALYSIS AND SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990) p. 88.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE TEMPLE LEGEND (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997), p. 249.
 Rudolf Steiner, CHRIST AND THE HUMAN SOUL (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2008), p. 63.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS UPON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1961), p. 95.
 Rudolf Steiner, COMPILED LECTURES BY RUDOLF STEINER (Health Research Books, 2007), p. 34.
Note that Health Research Books is not an Anthroposophical publisher, but it offers various Anthroposophical texts among a wide array of books espousing alternative visions. Approaching Anthroposophy on a tangent is sometimes helpful — there may be less intentional obfuscation and deception. It is always advisable, however, to proceed to the offerings of true Anthroposophical publishers — such as Rudolf Steiner Press and Anthroposophic Press — to be sure you are receiving the real lowdown.
Concerning the hierarchies of spiritual beings or gods, you might consult THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES (Anthroposophical Publishing Company, 1928). A sample:
"Other Beings, however, were also present in a certain way, in the former solar system, of which ours is the successor. But these Beings did not rise so high as the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; they stopped on lower Stages, they had come over in a condition when they still had to pass through a certain development, before they could be creatively active, before they could offer sacrifice. These Beings are those of the Second threefold Hierarchy ...The Beings of the Second threefold Hierarchy are: the Kyriotetes or Dominions or Spirits of Wisdom; then the so-called Mights, Dynamis (or, as Dionysius, the Areopagite, and after him the Teachers of the West call them, Virtutes, Virtues), or Spirits of Motion, and the Spirits of Form, who are also called by the Teachers of the West — Potentates, which mean Powers." — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 5, GA 110.
Concerning group souls of animals, plants, and even minerals, you might consult THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1982). A sample:
"We know that man is that being in our cycle of evolution who has an individual ego here on the physical plane — at least during his waking life. We know further that the beings which we call animals are so conditioned that — speaking loosely — similarly-formed animals have a group soul or group ego which is in the so-called astral world. Further, the beings which we call plants have a dreamless sleeping consciousness for the physical world here but they have group egos which dwell in the lower parts of the devachanic world; and, finally, the stones, the minerals, have their group egos in the higher parts of Devachan. One who moves clairvoyantly in the astral and devachanic worlds has intercourse there with the group souls of the animals, plants and minerals in the same way as here in the physical world he has intercourse during the day with other human souls or egos." — Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN, lecture 10, GA 102.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1973), p. 98.
 Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 17, GA 93a.
What if a Waldorf school provided an excellent education but also attempted to guide students in the direction of occultism: Would you feel comfortable sending your child there?
Let's go a step further and reframe the question like this: What if a Waldorf school provided an excellent education and also attempted to lure students toward occultism but frequently failed in this attempt: Would you feel comfortable sending your child there? Would you be willing to gamble that your child would be one of the fortunate students who were unharmed?
The only safe Waldorf schools would be ones that completely renounced the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. But then they wouldn't be Waldorf schools.
If Waldorf education has a secret agenda (luring students toward accepting Anthroposophy sooner or later), it also has an apparent agenda that is powerfully appealing. The schools offer things that many families yearn for. A nurturing environment. Yes! Give us that! Outdoor play. Yes! Wholesome snacks. Yes! Art. Yes! Personal attention. Yes! Nature, organic foods, spiritual aspiration, loving kindness, reverence, sweetness, beauty... Yes, yes, yes!
There is so much goodness within the Waldorf movement. Yet Waldorf is fatally flawed precisely because it is founded on Rudolf Steiner’s irrational occult doctrines.
Learning that involvement in the Waldorf movement can be destructive takes a long time, usually. Most of the people who are now prominent critics of Waldorf schooling were once deeply involved with Waldorf, deeply committed to it.* But a day of realization came for each one. They realized, one by one, that they had been lied to, misled, manipulated, cheated. A day came when truth shone through the mists of Waldorf occultism — a day when they understood that Steiner and his devoted followers are occultists.
The people who run Waldorf schools almost certainly have good intentions. Parents who send their children to Waldorf schools surely have good intentions. Yet intentions are not enough. (Remember the old adage: The road to a very bad place is paved with good intentions.)
The sad truth is that, no matter how high the aspirations, any movement rooted in occultism is erroneous, flawed, false. It poses grave dangers. It leads us away from reason, and reality, and truth.
* I can’t list them all; I don't know them all. But here are a few names: Dan Dugan, Diana Winters, Steve Galliford, Maura Kwaten, Margaret Sachs, Pete Karaiskos, Debra Snell, Grégoire Perra, and — what’s his name? — oh, yes, Roger Rawlings. And others. A growing list of others who have staggered away from the Waldorf movement, wounded but finally aware. (You wlll find statements by the people I have named scattered here and there throughout Waldorf Watch.)
"In the year 1907 Rudolf Steiner published the collection OCCULT SEALS AND COLUMNS ... [T]he seven Seals and Columns decorated the Lecture Hall at the Congress of European Sections of the Theosophical Society, held in 1907 in Munich, where Rudolf Steiner and his pupils were responsible for the arrangements ... The designs of the seven Columns were afterwards reproduced in fully plastic form in the great wooden pillars supporting the large dome of the first Goetheanum [the Anthroposophical headquarters]." — George Adams, note in Rudolf Steiner's VERSES AND MEDITATIONS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), pp. 227-228.
Discussing this seal, Steiner said:
“In earlier times, men also had group souls [i.e., shared souls] ... These group souls were originally in the astral world and then descended to live in the physical body. When one investigates the original human group souls in the astral world, one finds four species from which humans have sprung. Were one to compare these four kinds of beings with the group souls that belong to the present-day animal species, one would find that one of the four is comparable to the lion, another to the eagle, a third to the cow, and a fourth to the man of ancient times before his ego had descended. Thus, in the second picture, in the apocalyptic animals, lion, eagle, cow and man, we are shown an evolutionary stage of mankind.” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), p. 52. [See "Four Group Souls".]
"Rudolf Steiner designed seven columns. Each column was related to one of the traditional seven planets (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn) and to the corresponding type of metal (gold, silver, iron, mercury, tin, copper, lead). The seven different capitals of the columns [bore] two-dimensional emblems [of the planets] ... The same sequence was also represented in [bas] relief in seven different types of metal ... [They] can be regarded as pictorial or sculptural representations of the types of spiritual influence the planets exert on the earth." — H. van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Sophia Books, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 93.
Depictions of the seals and columns can be found is books such as the following:
[Anthroposophic Press in 1972.]
[Health Research Books, 1969.]
[Mercury Arts Publications, 1987.]
While emblems of the sort we have been discussing are openly displayed in various Anthroposophical buildings, they are unlikely to be prominent in most Waldorf schools — they are too overtly occult. Other mystical symbols, however, are frequently used in Waldorf schools. Among these are the decorations that are often hung from Christmas trees erected in the schools. These symbols are shown on the cover of the following Steiner text, published by the Anthroposophic Press in 1967:
According to Waldorf belief, these emblems have the following meanings: The pentagram (shown at the top) is the symbol of man; below that is the Tao, symbolizing divinity as apprehended on Atlantis; then the Alpha and Omega (the beginning and end) bracketing Tarok, symbolizing ancient Egyptian occult knowledge; then the triangle, symbolizing man's three spiritual members; and finally the square, representing the fourfold nature of man. [See "Christmas".]
In addition to creating a form of education based on his occult doctrines, Rudolf Steiner also created a form of medicine — "Anthroposophic medicine" — based on those doctrines. Anthroposophic medicine — which by mainstream standards is little better than quackery — is often practiced in and around Waldorf schools. This is, in itself, a reason to be leery of the Waldorf movement.
Medicine is a complex subject. Delving into it deeply, here, would take us far from our central subject, which is the nature of Waldorf education. You can get an inkling, however, by pausing over the title of a single Steiner text. THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD was published by Rudolf Steiner Press, in 1967, and distributed by the Anthroposophic Press:
With Every Fiber
When speaking in public about Waldorf education, Steiner usually denied that his educational policies contain a religious agenda. Yet if we look just a little below the surface, we can find the truth. Consider the following remark made by Steiner:
“Imagine that we wanted to convey a simple religious concept — for instance, the immortality of the human soul — to a class of young children. [Steiner suggests using the analogy of a caterpillar that doesn’t die but becomes a butterfly.] ... A Waldorf teacher, an anthroposophically oriented spiritual researcher, would not feel, ‘I am the intelligent adult who makes up a story for the children’s benefit,’ but rather: ‘The eternal beings and powers [i.e., the gods], acting as the spiritual in nature, have placed before my eyes a picture of the immortal human soul, objectively, in the form of the emerging butterfly. Believing in the truth of this picture with every fibre of my being, and bringing it to my pupils through my own conviction, I will awaken in them a truly religious concept.’” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), Vol. 1, pp. 49-50.
Such a teacher would not be explaining a religious concept in an objective, dispassionate manner. S/he would be fervently conveying one of his/her most deeply cherished religious beliefs ("bringing it to my pupils through my own conviction"). S/he would be attempting to "awaken" a similar "conviction" in the students. This is proselytizing.
Waldorf students draw lots of geometric mandalas — Steiner found mystical meaning in geometry. He said, for instance,
“Basic geometric concepts awaken clairvoyant abilities.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOURTH DIMENSION: Sacred Geometry, Alchemy, and Mathematics (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 92. [See "Mystic Math".]
Steiner's occult universe is elaborate and highly structured. Compared to reality, however, it is simplistic.
[To delve into Steiner's "clairvoyant" descriptions of humanity's past, present, and future, see "Everything" and the essays that follow it — beginning with "Prehistory 101". One of those essays, "Matters of Form", includes a summary of human evolution as described by Steiner.]
Waldorf schools can be extremely attractive. You have to look closely to see what they actually are behind their charm and allure: They are Anthroposophical dream factories, places of fantasy, occultism, and phantasmagoria. Children raised in the warm, loving fantasy world that Waldorf schools often provide may feel comfortable and secure — but they may have little hold on reality.
Waldorf schools aim to immerse their students in an Anthroposophical atmosphere day after day, week after week, year after year, with the result that the kids' thinking, and attitudes, and perceptions, and preferences, and dreams are often deeply influenced. As I have said, the kids usually don't learn Anthroposophical doctrine, chapter and verse. Yet they often come away bearing the imprint of Anthroposophy on their hearts and minds.
As a Waldorf alumnus who has canvassed other Waldorf alums, I can attest that many kids leave Waldorf schools accepting, more or less consciously, such Anthroposophical doctrines as these (the list is partial and a bit repetitive, as Waldorf beliefs tend to be). Having attended a Waldorf school myself for 11 years, I emerged firmly convinced of the following:
◊ 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 (occult) knowledge
◊ the natural world is a place of illusion (maya)
◊ science is faulty and unreliable
◊ modern technology is faulty and wicked
◊ the arts have spiritual — even magical — powers
◊ intellect and the brain generally do not bring us truth
◊ imagination and intuition are preferable to intellect and the brain
◊ unlike the brain, the heart does not lie
◊ ESP or clairvoyance is real
◊ meditative exercises improve the soul
◊ 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" exist
◊ there are deep and significant differences between races
◊ the ancients were generally 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 develop through a succession of lives (reincarnation)
◊ myths and indeed fairy tales are generally true at a deep level
◊ Christ is extremely important, but churches generally misrepresent him
◊ Waldorf schools are unique, pure refuges in a nasty, violent world
Not all Waldorf graduates hold such beliefs, and most of these beliefs are not the sole property of Anthroposophy. Still, it seems clear that Waldorf schools often draw their students toward acceptance of Anthroposophy or at least what we might call Anthroposophy-lite: spiritual yearnings, attitudes, and conceptions that are consistent with Anthroposophical teachings.
Perhaps you subscribe to some of the beliefs I've listed here. They are not all pernicious; some may indeed be true. But some are clearly false, and the overall effect of such a constellation of esoteric conceptions is to weaken a child's grip on verifiable reality, luring her or him toward a vision that, at least arguably, is unreal and unsupported. But at this moment we need not debate whether the Anthroposophical worldview is true. My point here is that Waldorf schools — despite their assurances to the contrary — actually do lead children into the nexus of Anthroposophical belief. This is, ultimately, their purpose. If we stipulate that schooling should prepare students for productive lives in what is usually called the real world, we must recognize that Waldorf schools have a different aim.
To Tell or Not to Tell
Steiner often urged Waldorf teachers to conceal much from outsiders.
"We should be quiet about how we handle things in our school, we should maintain a kind of confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school, except for the parents who come to us with questions, and in that case, only about their children, so that gossip has no opportunity to arise." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 10.
But on other occasions, he urged more openness:
“If, therefore, we are asked what the basis of a new method of education must be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is behind it. [paragraph break] An old German proverb says: Please wash me but don’t make me wet! Many projects are undertaken in this spirit but you must above all both speak and think truthfully. So if anyone asks you how to become a good teacher, you must say: Make Anthroposophy your foundation, for only by this means can you acquire your knowledge of the human being.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 4.
Click on this link to go to the remaining parts of
Waldorf Watch consists of a great many pages, many of which contain multiple sections. Throughout, I have tried to write in such a way that even newcomers — who know little or nothing about Rudolf Steiner and his doctrines — will be able to follow the discussion. One drawback to this approach is that I often have to repeat points I have made before, elsewhere at the site. I ask for your forbearance. When you come upon quotations or other material that I have presented previously, please remember the reason for this redundancy, and skip ahead. Further down on that page or the next page, you should soon find less familiar material. — R.R.