“Waldorf education is based upon
the recognition that the
four bodies of the human being develop
and mature at different times.”
— Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli
If you have been reading the pages at Waldorf Watch sequentially from the beginning up to this point, you will likely find the following the densest and most difficult material yet. We will thrash our way through a lot of strange occult concepts and terms, most of them taken from Rudolf Steiner's teachings but others taken from the sorts of occult traditions Steiner consulted in formulating his own doctrines. I urge you to go slow and absorb as much of this stuff as you can — it is essential to a deep understanding of Waldorf education. But you don't need to master absolutely all the subjects we will touch on here before proceeding to other things. If you find yourself becoming exasperated (occult teachings such as Steiner's are nonsense, after all), you can take a break by leaping ahead to some of the news items presented further down on the page. You can always return to this dense, introductory rigmarole when you have regathered your strength.
One of the key concepts underlying Waldorf education is the proposition that children develop through a succession of seven-year-long phases. [See “Most Significant”.] What happens during these phases? The children undergo multiple “births” as their various invisible “bodies” arrive in the physical world. The Waldorf curriculum is intended to help with these incarnations.
To start our examination of this surpassingly strange matter, let’s define some terms. According to Waldorf belief, a fully incarnated human has four bodies: a physical body, an etheric body, an astral body, and an ego body (carrying the spiritual "I" or "ego"). Only the physical body can be seen with ordinary vision; the other three bodies are invisible. Here are descriptions of our three invisible bodies according to the Waldorf belief system, Anthroposophy. [For more, see The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]
etheric body, or etheric form, or etheric organism
In Anthroposophy, this is the first of our nonphysical bodies. Also called the life-body or formative-forces-body, it consists of "life forces" — living formative forces that sculpt the individual physical body. The etheric body incarnates (i.e., is born) at about age seven, an event marked in the physical body by the replacement of baby teeth by adult teeth. After the etheric body develops adequately, its forces provide strength to the knowledge-acquiring faculty called imagination (the first stage toward clairvoyance). The etheric body is not unique to human beings; plants and animals have etheric bodies, too.
astral body, or astral organization
According to Steiner, this is the second of our nonphysical bodies. Also called the faith body or sentient body, it consists of "soul forces" — living forces that fine-tune the physical body (which has been shaped by the etheric body). The astral body contains the senses (twelve in all).* It incarnates at about age 14, an event marked by the sexual changes of puberty. After the astral body develops adequately, it empowers the knowledge-acquiring faculty called inspiration (the second stage toward clairvoyance). Animals have astral bodies, much like humans; plants do not have astral bodies.
ego body, or ego being, or ego organization
According to Steiner, this is the third of our nonphysical bodies, consisting of "spirit forces" (spirit is higher than soul: see the astral body). The essence of the ego body is the spiritual "I" or ego, which conveys divine human selfhood, giving us the power of human self-transformation. (Do not confuse the spiritual ego with the psychoanalytical ego, a secular concept.) The ego body is born at about age 21. After the "I" or ego develops adequately, it enables the knowledge-acquiring faculty of intuition (the third stage toward clairvoyance). Only you can perceive your own "I" — your true inner identity is unknowable to everyone else. Neither animals nor plants have "I"s.
* Of course, we have senses before the astral body fully incarnates. The process of incarnation should be seen as a gradual sequence of events that begins at the moment of physical birth if not earlier. Some aspects of the etheric body, astral body, and "I" are with us from the start, but in quite incomplete form.
THE WIDER OCCULT COMMUNITY
Anthroposophical/Waldorf beliefs derive, ultimately, from the strange teachings promulgated by a disparate array of mystics and spiritualists. Rudolf Steiner read widely in esoteric texts, extracting concepts that he wove into his own evolving belief system. Here are definitions and explications of some terms used in the wider occult community. Bear in mind that beliefs found outside Anthroposophy do not serve, in and of themselves, as validations of Anthroposophy. False ideas held by one group do not validate the similar false beliefs held by another group. Steiner drew from longstanding occult traditions — untrue though they are — and his teachings have, in turn, fed back into the welter of today's occult creeds. Remember, too, that the following passages are not wholly consistent with Anthroposophical teachings — some diverge a considerable distance — nor do they fully agree with one another (indeed, some contradict others). These passages serve, at most, to sketch a broad swath of occult beliefs that provide the context of Steiner's own occult teachings.
"Aura An envelope of vital energy ... The aura is not visible to ordinary vision, but may be seen by clairvoyance ... No two clairvoyants see exactly the same aura. Some say they see the entire aura, divided into different layers or bodies ... Some of the different bodies said to exist are:
"1. Etheric [body], penetrated by...energy vortexes, which enable the universal life force to enter and nourish the organism....
"2. Astral or emotional [body], the seat of emotions and the vehicle for consciousness in out-of-body...experiences....
"3. Mental body, the seat of thought....
"4. Causal body, the closest to the Higher Self.
"5. Spiritual body." — Rosemary Ellen Guiley, HARPER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYSTICAL & PARANORMAL EXPERIENCE (Castle Books, 1991), pp. 41-42.
"Universal Life Force A vital force or energy that transcends time and space, permeates all things in the universe, and upon which all things depend for health and life ... [I]t is known by many different names [in different occult traditions]." — Rosemary Ellen Guiley, HARPER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYSTICAL & PARANORMAL EXPERIENCE, p. 626.
"Ether According to occult belief, the fluidic substance that fills all space, pervades all matter, and is active in all processes of life." — Nevill Drury, THE DICTIONARY OF THE ESOTERIC (Watkins Publishing, 2002), p. 95.
"Etheric plane [T]he level of reality...midway between the astral plane (the level of concrete consciousness) and the physical plane (the level of substances that can be perceived by the senses)." — John Michael Greer, THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE OCCULT (Llewellyn Publications, 2009), p. 161.
"Etheric body In modern magical lore, the densest level of the human subtle body, closely connected to the human physical body ... Most [accounts] distinguish two layers or aspect of the etheric body. The first of these, the etheric double, occupies the same space as the physical body ... It is a lattice of forces shaping and sustaining the physical body ... The second aspect of the etheric body is the aura ... [T]he presence and proper functioning of the etheric body is essential for physical life...." — John Michael Greer, THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE OCCULT, p. 161.
"Etheric body [T]he matrix that holds the physical body together and which, at death, separates completely ... [T]he etheric body is midway between the physical and astral...." — Nevill Drury, THE DICTIONARY OF THE ESOTERIC, p. 95.
"Etheric double [I]n theosophy, the invisible part of the ordinary, visible, physical body ... [I]t is an exact replica of the denser physical body ... During sleep it does not leave the physical body [unlike the astral body, which does leave]...." — Lewis Spence, AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OCCULTISM (Dover, 2003), p. 150.
"Astral plane [T]he level of reality that corresponds to the human experiences of dream, vision, out-of-body experience, and ordinary consciousness. The astral plane is located between the etheric plane, the level of subtle life energy, and the mental plane, the level of abstract consciousness and meaning." — John Michael Greer, THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE OCCULT, p. 43.
"Astral plane Occult concept of a plane of existence and perception paralleling the physical dimension, but one phase removed from it, and also containing the imagery of the unconscious mind. Occultists believe it is the plane reached by astral projection...." — Nevill Drury, THE DICTIONARY OF THE ESOTERIC, p. 20.
"Astral world (plane or sphere) [I]n Theosophy...the world of emotions, desires, and passions. Into it man passes at physical death...." — Lewis Spence, AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OCCULTISM, p. 41.
"Astral body [I]n Theosophy that body which functions in the Astral World ... It is the instrument of passions, emotions, and desires ... When it separates from the denser body — which it does during sleep, or by the influence of drugs, or as the result of accidents — it takes with it the capacity for feeling...." — Lewis Spence, AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OCCULTISM, p. 41.
"Astral body The 'double' of the human body, usually regarded by occultists as its animating force, providing the body with 'consciousness.' The astral body has a luminous, shining appearance, and is capable of passing through physical matter." — Nevill Drury, THE DICTIONARY OF THE ESOTERIC, p. 20.
"Astral body In magical philosophy...the vehicle of emotions and desires, and of all the activities of mind that deal with sensory perceptions ... The most widely known feature of the astral body is its ability to separate from the physical and etheric bodies and travel through the astral plane ... [T]he astral body is built up from the energies of the seven planets of traditional astrology as the soul descends toward incarnation." — John Michael Greer, THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE OCCULT, p. 43.
"Astral projection The process of separating the astral body from the physical and etheric bodies, producing what is often referred to as an out-of-body experience." — John Michael Greer, THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE OCCULT , p. 43.
"Mental plane [A] realm of abstract consciousness located between the astral plane...and the spiritual plane ... [The mental plane is] the plane of meaning, pattern, and the laws of nature and mathematics ... It is outside space and time." — John Michael Greer, THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE OCCULT, p. 304.
"Causal body In theosophical usage, one's 'personal god,' the principle force in one's inner being ... Sometimes associated with the immortal soul." — Nevill Drury, THE DICTIONARY OF THE ESOTERIC, p. 45.
"Higher self One's spiritual self, realized fully through meditation as the divine essence that links the human being to God." — Nevill Drury, THE DICTIONARY OF THE ESOTERIC, p. 142.
"Subtle bodies In occult philosophy, the several different nonphysical aspects of the self associated with the different planes of being." — John Michael Greer, THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE OCCULT, p. 458.
"Spiritual body [T]he highest aspect to the human individual ... Conscious awareness of the spiritual body...is considered the highest level of magical attainment...." — John Michael Greer, THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE OCCULT, p. 448.
"Spiritual plane In occult philosophy, the highest of the levels of being, the primary level from which all other planes unfold ... The spiritual plane is considered to be beyond...human understanding, so most occult writers have the common sense not to try to say much about it." — John Michael Greer, THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE OCCULT , p. 448.
Like many of the sources from which it draws, Anthroposophy is a complex, multi-layered body of teachings. Such complexity can be alluring. A single falsehood, standing alone, may be readily pierced and rejected; it has little power to sway us. But a rich tapestry of untruths, multicolored and vibrant, may exert a powerful, persistent attraction.
Anthroposophy — like many other occult systems — offers us an intricately detailed alternative reality. Susceptible individuals may lose themselves within it — they may plunge into its fabulous landscapes and remain for the rest of their days in a world that is far removed from what rational, scientifcally grounded folks would call reality.
THE BEAT GOES ON
Steiner taught that the process of incarnation does not end at age 21. In fact, it continues at least until age 42 (and our total spiritual evolution lasts longer still: Having begun many, many lives ago, it lasts throughout this life, and it will extend through many, many future lives). We undergo a process of continuous spiritual development, leading to higher and higher stages of spiritual self-realization and spiritual insight. The Waldorf curriculum is designed to foster the early stages of this process (as attainable at mankind's current evolutionary level) and to set each student's feet on the path to the succeeding stages. The long-term goal in our present lif is the acquisition of "exact clairvoyance" [see "Exactly"], which essentially means becoming a deeply perceptive, and wholly committed, Anthroposophist. This is the underlying purpose of Waldorf schooling as understood by true-believing, Anthroposophical members of Waldorf faculties.
Here is the schedule (or one version thereof) for the stages of incarnation:
EVENT - AGE
Birth of physical body - 0 years (natal day)
Full incarnation of etheric body - 7 years (marked by loss of baby teeth)
Full incarnation of astral body - 14 years (marked by puberty)
Full incarnation of ego body (activation of "I") - 21 years (adulthood)
Full incarnation of sentient soul - 28 years (development of spirit self)
Full incarnation of mind soul - 35 years (development of life spirit)
Full incarnation of consciousness soul - 42 years (development of spirit body)
[See, e.g., Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND THE WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 102-103n, and 148-149. I have compiled the schedule based on Easton's assertions, which reflect Steiner's teachings.]
Sometimes Anthroposophists speak of the "birth" of the etheric body, astral body, etc. But more accurately, all elements of human nature are brought into this life from the preceding life in the spirit realm. The various parts of our nature develop (i.e., they fully incarnate) at or near the dates indicated, but we have all of these parts (in incipient form) within our essential nature from the beginning of earthly life.
According to Steiner, the outline of progressive development shown here applies only to real human beings. People who are not really human do not develop or evolve in this way. They may leave the correct stream of evolution, fall out of evolution, sink into the abyss, or suffer other forms of perdition. [See "Steiner's Bile", "Nuts", and "Hell".]
We have explained some of the terms used in the schedule, above. But others need to be examined. So here is a thumbnail summary:
Incarnating and/or Developing
Around Age 28
Sentient Soul According to Steiner, our souls have three parts (or, in a manner of speaking, we possess three separate souls). The first soul level is the sentient soul, which forms unexamined, vague impressions and feelings. The sentient soul then passes these to the next soul level, the mind soul, which we will discuss presently. Humans first developed the sentient soul during the Egypto-Chaldean period, according to Steiner. The individual human today incarnates her/his sentient soul when reaching a level of personal development equivalent to that of the Egypt-Chaldeans. All three members of the soul are influenced by astrological forces. The sentient soul is especially influenced by the Moon.
Spirit Self Anthroposophists believe that humans possess both souls and spirits. The soul is one's transitory spiritual identity, which one possesses during a single Earthly life. The spirit is one's immortal spiritual identity, which one carries from life to life through the process of reincarnation. [See "Reincarnation".] Just as the soul has three parts, so does the spirit. Spirit self is the first, lowest level of spirit. It develops following the incarnation of the sentient soul. The spirit self is the transformed astral body, the reincarnating self. It consists of a high human consciousness (but by no means the highest), the spirit forming and living as "I," infusing and elevating the astral body.
Incarnating and/or Developing
Around Age 35
Mind Soul According to Steiner, this the second of our three souls or soul members, the "intellectual soul" that reflects on the impressions created by the sentient soul. The mind soul enables one to think about one's sensations and feelings. Humans first developed the sentient soul during the Greco-Roman period, according to Steiner; only then did we become capable of rational thought. The individual human today incarnates her/his sentient soul when reaching a level of personal development equivalent to that of the Greco-Romans. The mind soul is especially influenced by Mars.
Life Spirit According to Steiner, this is the second part of our spiritual nature, also called Budhi or Buddhi. It is the transformed or elevated etheric body — the etheric body when it is permeated by the "I." The transformation of the etheric body is a gradual process, not completed in a single Earthly life. At death, the life spirit accompanies the "I" into the spirit realm in preparation for one's next Earthly life. The life spirit then returns with the "I" to Earth and continues its work transforming the etheric body.
Incarnating and/or Developing
Around Age 42
Consciousness Soul This is the highest of our three soul members, according to Steiner. Also called the spiritual soul, it connects one's inner consciousness with the outer world. The consciousness soul enables one to think about one's thinking; consciousness then becomes self-aware. This soul is under the particular influence of the Spirits of Wisdom (gods six levels higher than humanity), which means it has ties to the sphere of Jupiter. However, it is also heavily influenced by Mercury. Humans developed the consciousness soul only during our current epoch, the Post-Atlantean Age (i.e., the period since Atlantis sank).
Spirit Body This, according to Steiner, is the highest component of one's spirit, also called spirit man or Atma(n). Spirit man is the transformed physical body — our physical envelope elevated and spiritualized, having been infused by the "I." In a somewhat different usage, spirit man is the highest human consciousness. It is the Godhead as reflected in man, hence the God within. It makes an individual human an independent spiritual being. (When a distinction is drawn between the spirit body and spirit man, then the spirit body is the spiritual vessel housing one's higher inner self, the spirit.)
Such, in broad, general strokes, is the outline of our incarnating nature. Bear in mind that Steiner and his followers have given varying descriptions of all these things, and sometimes they have used different terms for them, so nothing is absolutely clear-cut. To delve into these matter further, see, e.g., "What We're Made Of", "Our Parts", and the relevant entries in The Semi-Steiner Dictionary and The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.
INCARNATION IN THE NEWS
OK. Having defined some terms and after surveying the territory, let’s look at some items from the Waldorf Watch “news" page. Among other advantages, this will remind us that Steiner’s occult doctrines still rule the Waldorf roost today. These "news" items also expand the discussion to include other central Waldorf beliefs. In this sense, what you are about to read presents a fairly comprehensive portrait of Waldorf schooling as it exists in the world today.
We will focus in, again, on the three incarnations that occur during childhood; these are the incarnations of greatest concern in Waldorf education. Belief in these incarnations, and in the invisible bodies that young people come to possess, is fundamental in the Waldorf universe, and it will lead us to many other Anthroposophical beliefs. We will wander far afield, following the twists and turns of Anthroposophical thinking. In the process, we will get a fairly broad sense of the overall Waldorf worldview, even if we do not learn much more about the incarnations and "bodies" that Waldorf faculties believe in. (There isn't much more to learn, really, since these things are fictitious.)
Because the items were written as separate pieces rather than as sections of a single essay, you will discover some repetition and overlap. Be patient, please. Repetition can actually be helpful when we are delving into matter that resist rational assent. We have to remind ourselves that, yes, this is actually what Rudolf Steiner and his followers have wrought.
ITEMS FROM THE NEWS PAGE
Set to Fail?
Preface to the first news item below:
When parents choose and defend Steiner schooling, do they understand what they have gotten involved in? In many instances, probably not. They may love the schools and the teachers, but often they do not know the doctrines underlying the Steiner approach. Devout, Anthroposophical teachers at Steiner schools believe that children gradually incarnate three invisible bodies; the Steiner curriculum is geared to these incarnations. The first of the invisible bodies is the "etheric body," which incarnates at about age seven when children lose their baby teeth. Later the "astral body" and the "ego body" are incarnated.
At night, the astral and ego bodies fly up to the spirit realm, while the physical and etheric bodies stay earthbound.
“Here (left) we have the physical body and the ether body (yellow). It fills the whole of the physical body. And here (right) we have the astral body, which is outside the human being at night (red). At the top it is very small and hugely bulging down below. Then we have the I (violet). This is how we are at night. We are two people in the night." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 102.
[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on the image in the book.
All four bodies reunite in the morning, as indicated by the arrows.]
But, what does this have to do with Steiner schooling? Consider the controversial stance Waldorf schools take toward reading instruction. Waldorf schools generally do not teach kids to read until they are at least seven years old. Why?
"The answer can be found in Waldorf's alternative theory of child development, which is based on Rudolf Steiner's clairvoyant insight on the human being. The timing of [the Waldorf] proscription against reading corresponds with the 'cutting of the teeth,' which Steiner indicated as a developmental milestone, with the incarnation of the etheric body in children. Steiner says early reading will hinder the later spiritual development of children." — Open Waldorf, a website that essentially defends Steiner schooling.
The Steiner approach raises several questions that parents need to mull over. Here are a few, bearing on the article excerpted below: Do you think reading is harmful for children? Do you believe in clairvoyance? Do you believe in the etheric body? Or, to boil all this down: Do you want your children to be taught reading in a timely manner, or do you want to wait for the children's etheric bodies to incarnate first?
From The Dominion Post:
Steiner pupils set to fail standards
[by] MICHELLE DUFF
Her kids are set to fail at school every year until they're about 11 years old — but mum Monica Brice couldn't care less.
Along with 151 other Wellington [New Zealand] families, Mrs Brice is imploring Education Minister Anne Tolley not to judge her children against national standards which she says will be impossible for them to meet.
The parents of children at Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School in Lower Hutt are upset their school has to implement national standards, when the holistic philosophy of Steiner education means children do not start learning to read until they are seven...
[But] state-integrated schools have their operational costs met by the taxpayer, which means they must comply. Nationwide 55 schools are still breaking the law by not including national standards targets in their charters.
The controversial policy benchmarks children academically against standards in years 1 to 8.
Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School principal Karen Brice-Geard, who is on the Federation of Rudolf Steiner Schools in New Zealand, confirmed she was negotiating with the Education Ministry. ‘We are trying to find a way that we can be compliant and retain our special character.’
Mrs Tolley said the schools chose to receive government funding rather than be private.
National standards were not optional, and the school could explain to parents not to expect children to meet the standards straight away.
Waldorf Watch Response:
Steiner or Waldorf schools do not teach reading until the students’ “etheric bodies” incarnate at age seven, an event marked by the loss of baby teeth.
If this sound nutty to you — welcome to Steiner education.
Steiner schools claim their students catch up sooner or later, but there is little firm evidence to support this claim. According to Steiner educational belief, the “astral body” incarnates at about age fourteen, after which children are better able to think for themselves. Proving these strange concepts is difficult, since the etheric and astral bodies are invisible (or, to put this more sensibly: They do not exist).
When Steiner schools accept public funding, they may cause headaches for themselves, as we see in this case. Just as parents sometimes don't realize what is really going on in the Steiner schools they find so pleasant and attractive, Steiner faculties sometimes don't realize what they are letting themselves in for when they reach into the public till.
If we accept that the educational policies put in place by education officials in various countries are based on solid research, then we must hope that the officials uphold these policies and apply them to all schools, including Steiner schools. This will force Steiner schools to make fundamental changes — in effect, it will force them to stop being Steiner schools. The alternative will be for Steiner schools to resign from public education systems — i.e., stop accepting public funding.
From This Waldorf Life:
I experienced another delightful and informative parent evening in my daughter’s class at the Emerson Waldorf School [North Carolina, USA] ... Our teacher then shared with us some basic information ... She explained the 3 stages of development and the role we play as parents ... Ages 0-7 — Parents are like 'priests' in the sense that we make the decisions for the schedule, the routines, the meals, the clothes, when it is play time, when it is bedtime, etc. ... Once a child starts to lose their [baby] teeth [s/he enters] a new growth phase for ages 7-14. Our role now becomes that of benevolent Queens and Kings ... By the time hormonal changes take place — for some it will be earlier than later [sic] — they will begin the next phase of development — for ages 14-21. Your role is now that of a Shepherd.
Waldorf Watch Response:
There is no factual basis for the notion that childhood consists of three seven-year stages, but this is one of the fallacies Waldorf schools like to promote, and it is central to the Waldorf curriculum. (Steiner emphasized the number seven because of its occult significance — he taught that seven is the number of perfection. [See "Magic Numbers".] Thus, he spoke of seven planets in the solar system and seven stages of earthly evolution. Such bogus patterns excite Steiner’s followers, who accept them as revelations of the gods' divine cosmic plan.)
You may also want to bear in mind that if you are a “priest” for your child, Waldorf teachers consider themselves higher priests (bishops, as it were), passing the Word to you. You supervise your child while Waldorf teachers supervise you. (Notice how the blogger refers to her child’s teacher as “our teacher.” This is apt, whether or not the blogger realized the implications. Waldorf teachers believe they should instruct both child and parent, as we see in this instance.) The overriding Waldorf attitude toward parents is that, until they are fully lured into the Anthroposophical universe, they are outsiders who should be told as little as possible about what really happens inside Waldorf schools. [See. e.g., “Faculty Meetings”. For more on the self-appointed priestly office of Waldorf teachers, see "Schools as Churches".]
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