Tackling the Question,

How Can Smart People

Believe This Stuff?

"You can be intelligent

and think the most foolish things."

— Rudolf Steiner


You can unlock the mysteries of the universe. You can know the higher worlds beyond this world — the transcendent spiritual realms that are closed to our ordinary senses. You can do so by developing your powers of clairvoyance.

This is Rudolf Steiner's promise. [1] It is the brass ring held aloft by his system of "spiritual science," Anthroposophy — and it is the ultimate objective of his educational system, Waldorf schooling. It is the promise of radical, regimented subjectivity.

Gaining access to the universe's deep secrets means becoming an "initiate" — one who has been granted entrée into the occult inner circle. Steiner affirmed that every real human being can enter the circle [2], but you have to earn your admission. Secrets will remain locked unless you are worthy.

"[E]veryone may be certain that Initiation will find him under all circumstances [i.e., initiation will be available], if he gives proof of an earnest and worthy endeavor to attain this knowledge. It is a natural law among all Initiates to withhold from no man knowledge that is due to him; but there is an equally natural law which lays down that no word of esoteric knowledge shall be imparted to anyone not qualified to receive it." [3]

Steiner shows the way to initiation in his book KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, which is also available in a somewhat more accessible form under the title HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS. [4]

In theory, you don't need Steiner's help — you don't need the "knowledge" initiates could lay on you, since it is all available within you.

"We must say to ourselves: 'Within my own feelings and thoughts the highest mysteries lie concealed, but until now I have not perceived them' ... [W]e carry body, soul, and spirit about with us...." [5]

If you decide you want to become clairvoyant, you should be able to work out the mysteries on your own (they reside within you). Still, getting a leg up from Steiner could save you some time. Steiner's key books are meant to give you the needed boost. In addition to KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, you should pore over OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE. [6] (For introductions to these texts, see "Knowing the Worlds" and "Everything".)

So, how can you "unseal the lips of an Initiate" in order to hear some of the secrets? [7] Steiner explains:

You must "begin with a fundamental attitude of the soul. In Spiritual Science this fundamental attitude is called the path of veneration." [8]

Veneration of worthy objects and beings is surely meritorious. Venerating God is the highest virtue. But Steiner means that veneration should be extended to himself and his doctrines, without applying the measures of critical assessment.

"[True seekers] have a respect that forbids them, even in the deepest recess of their heart, to harbour any thoughts of criticism or opposition." [9].

In this, true seekers are much like children who do not question their elders. Critical thought — rational analysis — is taboo. Like a good child, you must forego "any thoughts of criticism or opposition." You must approach a guru's room as you would a holy place.

"Have you ever paused outside the door of some venerated person, and have you, on this your first visit, felt a religious awe as you pressed on the handle to enter the room which for you is a holy place?" [10]

This is the correct approach, Steiner says. If you want to enter Steiner's room, you must must feel religious awe at the prospect of meeting the great man. In short, you must check your brains at the door: no criticism allowed. [11] The attitude Steiner advocated requires closing one's eyes. Don't look outward at reality ("the outer world"), look inward toward your vivid, felt "inner life":

"The power obtained through devotion can be rendered still more effective, when the life of feeling is enriched by yet another quality. To achieve this the student learns to give himself up less and less to impressions of the outer world, and to develop instead a vivid inner life." [12]

The spiritual aspirant must emphasize emotion and subjectivity rather than clear-eyed observation and thinking. One must reject the "external," including "external civilization." Being caught up in this modern civilization makes knowledge of the higher worlds extremely difficult.

"Now the one thing that everyone must at once admit, is the difficulty for those involved in the external civilization of our time to advance to the knowledge of the higher worlds." [13]

Modern civilization is dominated by ordinary science (natural science, physical science), which is limited to investigation of the physical plane of existence. It blinds us; we must overcome it. Most certainly, Steiner indicated, we must reject what he referred to as "scientific trash" — that is, the findings of objective investigation, experimentation, and logical analysis. [14] These are the essence of ordinary science, and they stand as obstacles in our path. Although Steiner called his own system "spiritual science," he generally abhorred real science. "Knowledge" of the "higher worlds" generally requires rejecting the knowledge ordinary science provides concerning the ordinary (mundane, physical, "low") world. Steiner sometimes indicated that ordinary science would eventually catch up with his spiritual science; it would then confirm his teachings. Indeed, he sometimes said that there is no real contradiction between ordinary science and spiritual science. But more often, he harshly criticized ordinary science. [See "Science".] And indeed the gap between Steiner's occult "knowledge" and real, factual, scientific knowledge has only widened in the years since Steiner's death, as ordinary science has progressed. But Steiner would not wish you to be swayed by such difficulties. You must not "harbour any thoughts of criticism or opposition." So look inward, and feel — feel — your way to wisdom.

Let's get real for a moment. Having a "vivid inner life," a "life of feeling," is fine. It is necessary. It is even inevitable. People are awash in feelings all the time — when we have emotive dreams, or when we remember embarrassing episodes, or when we watch tear-jerking movies, to give just three commonplace examples. But does deep feeling bring us "knowledge"? The epistemological challenge for humans is to occasionally rise above the welter of our emotions to attain rationality and clarity. Steiner didn't advocate surrendering to the chaotic play of emotions, he taught that we should discipline our feelings, training them to be correct. If we learn to feel in a disciplined manner, our feelings — indeed, our passions — will run truly and reliably:

"We should no longer need to restrain our passions because these follow the right course on their own." [15]

Most techniques of spiritual or psychological healing require self-discipline. But Steiner aimed not for true mental health but for "clairvoyance" — which is a delusion. [16] Steiner said that we can look inward and intuit the truth because we are, deep down, attuned to the cosmos. This is an attractive idea, appealing to our human vanity — or to our human insecurity, our desperate desire to believe that we are important in the great scheme of things. It's no accident that Steiner taught that the highest of our nonphysical bodies is the "I" or the "ego." [17] Our egos are precious to us. We want to feel affirmed, important, saved. We want to transcend our limits and our mortality. But the sheer power of these desires can easily lead us astray, as Steiner would do in our quest for psychic powers.

There are three stages of initiation, Steiner informs us: Probation, Enlightenment, and Initiation proper.


During Probation, the aspirant should focus on certain physical phenomena, not trying to understand them as such, but developing the feelings they inspire.

"To begin with, the attention of the soul is directed to certain events in the world that surrounds us. Such events are, on the one hand, life that is budding, growing and flourishing, and, on the other hand, all the phenomena connected with fading, decaying and withering ... Whenever [the aspirant] observes a definite kind of blooming and flourishing, he must banish everything else from his soul ... [A] feeling which heretofore, in a similar case, would merely have flitted through his soul, now swells out ... He must now allow this feeling to reverberate within himself...." [18]

The point of such meditation is to gradually grow incorporeal "organs" that will permit clairvoyance.

"[J]ust as natural forces build out of living matter the eyes and ears of the physical body, so will organs of clairvoyance build themselves from the feelings and thoughts thus evoked. A quite different form of feeling is connected with growth and expansion, and another equally definite with fading and decaying ... Both these feelings are forces which, when duly cultivated and developed to ever-increasing intensity, lead to the most significant spiritual results. A new world is opened to the student ... The soul-world, the so-called astral plane, begins to dawn on him." [19]

Viewed rationally, the process Steiner advocates is indistinguishable from self-hypnosis and fantasization. The spiritual realm may exist, but clairvoyance and organs of clairvoyance almost certainly do not. [See "Clairvoyance".] At each stage of Steiner's exposition, we would do well to pause and attempt to find our footing in reality, if only for a moment. When Steiner begins talking about marvels, we need to subdue our feelings (Wow! Great Stuff! Tell me more!), and ask whether we we are being led away from discernible reality. Clairvoyance. Organs of clairvoyance. The astral plane... Steiner does not merely lead us, as a final destination, into fantasy; he begins our journey with fantasy. And each subsequent stage of the journey becomes all the more fantastical.


Occult "enlightenment" is antithetical to rational enlightenment. In the real world, the Enlightenment was an intellectual stage in the 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason. It gave rise to the culture and governmental structures of the modern Western world. Steiner's view is firmly in the opposite, cultic camp. For him, "Enlightenment" is a state of mind in which "The spiritual world...becomes light" — i.e., the spiritual world becomes knowable, the spiritual world is no longer dim as it was during Probation. [20]

To reach occult enlightenment, one has to flex incorporeal organs and undertake exercises such as staring at stones and animals:

"Spiritual Science describes that which, for clairvoyant organs, flows from the stone, as 'blue', or 'blue-red'; and that which is felt as coming from the animal as 'red' and 'red-yellow.'" [21]

Steiner puts the colors in quotation marks to stress that the words he is using don't really apply — he speaks of "red," "yellow," "dark," "light," but he wants us to remember that the words he necessarily chooses (the only ones available in ordinary language) are inadequate. At best, these words are metaphors for spiritual conditions that are beyond the reach of ordinary language:

"[T]he words 'dark' and 'light', as well as the other expressions used, do but approximately describe what is meant. This cannot be otherwise, if ordinary language is used, for this language was created to suit physical conditions." [22]

This is a typical occultist ploy: As we move toward higher subjects, words start to become unreliable — the keepers of the secrets can't really say what they mean. Spiritual truths are well-nigh ineffable. Hocus-pocus and mystification are emphasized instead, with the obvious purpose of flimflamming the gullible. Oddly enough, "ordinary language" is sufficient for the Holy Bible, yet Steiner finds such language inadequate for his needs, which must be lofty indeed.

At the risk of being wearisome, I'll repeat: At each stage of Steiner's exposition, we would do well to pause and attempt to regain our footing in reality. Don't be suckered. Don't yield to Wow! Great Stuff! Tell me more! unless you are truly overwhelmed by the irresistible force of Steiner's words. (And if you find his words, irresistible, perhaps you should strive even harder to regain your footing in reality. In other words: resist.)


After passing through Probation and Enlightenment, the seeker can finally undergo genuine Initiation.

"Initiation is the highest stage of an esoteric training concerning which it is possible to give indications in a book intended for the general public." [23]

Initiation lets one enter the

"Temple of Higher Cognition (Wisdom) ... Only now do we begin to understand the world properly." [24]

The Initiate has great clairvoyant power — but, as the quotations here suggest, s/he still has a long way to go to reach spiritual apotheosis. The Initiate "begins" to understand things, but there are many further stages of spiritual progress lying ahead, stages that can't be revealed to "the general public" (i.e., you and me). This limitation (the knowledge that much will still be kept hidden from us) is somewhat disappointing, but it is more or less par for the course. The essence of spiritual science is Mystery or Gnosis. [See "Gnosis". Also see the discussion of Steiner's Mystery Plays: "Plays". Keeping secrets from you and me is standard procedure in Anthroposophy and the Waldorf movement: see "Secrets".]

The Initiate passes through a series of trials that lead to successive spiritual advancements. After the first trial, for instance, s/he can begin to read

"a particular system of writing ... This occult script is inscribed forever in the occult world. Once the soul has attained spiritual perception, the script is revealed to it." [25]

Steiner and other mystics sometimes refer to this occult writing as the Akashic Record, a celestial storehouse of knowledge. [26] Steiner claimed to have access to the Record, which accounts for his near-omniscience.

The Initiate can proceed along the spiritual path independently, but to speed the journey, Steiner suggests making use of more-advanced sages (such as, presumably, himself — he's the one who's kindly telling us all this).

"[W]e shall be more likely to reach our goal if we follow the instructions of experienced esoteric researchers, who are proficient in deciphering the hidden script." [27]

Reliance on even so great a guide as Steiner has it limits, however. The Initiate's third trial

"is without any tangible, distinct goal. Everything is up to us. We find ourselves in a situation where nothing moves us to act. We must each find our own way, by ourselves and out of ourselves." [28]

Clairvoyance, ultimately, is a private communion.

Some of the results of Initiation are a little surprising. [29] I have mentioned organs of clairvoyance. Our incorporeal bodies turn out to have a number of similar organs, which are associated with — but distinct from — the organs of our physical bodies. Our nonphysical organs become increasingly well defined and potent as we make spiritual progress.

"The further we advance, the more regularly structured our soul organism becomes ... To the clairvoyant it [the nonphysical body] looks like an independent body, containing certain organs. These organs...may be seen spiritually in the following areas of the physical body: the first, between the eyes; the second, near the larynx; the third, in the region of the heart; the fourth, in the neighborhood of the pit of the stomach or solar plexus; the fifth and sixth, in the lower abdomen or reproductive organs ... [E]sotericists call these formations chakras (wheels) or 'lotus flowers' ... One of the first things to occur when an esoteric student begins practicing the exercises [concentrating on stones and animals, etc.] is that the light of the lotus flowers intensifies; later the flowers will also begin to rotate. When this happens, it means that a person is beginning to have the ability to see clairvoyantly ... The organ in the vicinity of the larynx has sixteen 'petals' or 'spokes'; the one near the heart, twelve; and the one near the solar plexus, ten." [30]


That's probably a sufficient sample of Steiner's wisdom on the subject of initiation. If you want to learn more about how to set your lotuses glowing and spinning, you can read KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT. I certainly encourage you to do so. But for now, I'd like to turn the discussion back to a subject I raised earlier. The path of initiation Steiner presents must strike most rational people as ludicrous: clairvoyance, occult script, lotuses, and the rest of it. As I said, if you want to enter Steiner's room, you need to check your brains at the door. And yet some Anthroposophists and Waldorf faculty members, people who believe Steiner, are actually quite smart. How can this be? How can smart people possibly subscribe to such a loony set of doctrines? [31]

The answer is multilayered. Steiner addressed some of the most significant questions facing mankind, questions that any thoughtful person must find compelling: What is the structure of the universe? What is the meaning of life? Does God exist? What does the future hold? Moreover, Steiner was both highly intelligent and highly educated; he possessed a doctoral degree and he edited the "scientific" works of Goethe. [32] His credentials have impressed many, including luminaries such as Saul Bellow — who dabbled in Anthroposophy before coming to his senses and heading for the exits. [33]

Compared to other mystics, Steiner seemed coherent. His work, dense and often opaque, was nonetheless well-crafted and well-presented when compared with the all-but-impenetrable prose penned by such competitors as Helena Blavatsky. [34] Steiner was encyclopedic, expressing opinions on an awesomely large number of topics — architecture, art, education, medicine, psychology, science, you name it. He sprinkled his lectures with references to many philosophers, scientists, scholars, and religious figures, whose measure he had presumably taken. Steiner was, in short, impressive. Puzzling out his meaning, attempting to comprehend both the details and broad contours of his teachings, presents an intellectual challenge that some very smart folks have found appealing. It is possible to study Steiner for a long time before penetrating to the void at the heart of his professed sagacity.

All intellectuals yearn for knowledge, and most intellectuals are familiar with the gratification of knowing (or thinking they know) more than others know. Steiner claimed extraordinary sweeps of knowledge for himself, and he offered such sweeps to his apostles. Most particularly, he offered esoteric "knowledge," occult "knowledge," mystery "knowledge." Curiosity, the search for what is hidden, is a deep human motive — indeed, it may be a primary motive for all creatures possessing brains. [35] For smart folks, particularly intellectuals, this motive is especially strong, so the allure of special, secret keys to universal mysteries can be all the more bewitching for them. But this very bewitchment can, clearly, lead seekers far astray.

Few smart people are satisfied simply taking others' words for things — they want to think for themselves, reaching their own conclusions. Steiner allowed for independent investigation and research by his followers. Calling his doctrines "spiritual science," he urged Anthroposophists to develop their own powers of clairvoyance, to make their own explorations of the "higher worlds." Most spiritualistic systems require faith, sometimes blind faith, from their adherents. Initiation, in most traditions, means entering secret fraternities where one memorizes and forever conceals arcane lore. As we have seen, there are elements of this in Steiner's doctrines. Indeed, believing much of what Steiner said calls for considerable credulity. But Steiner held open the attractive possibility that his teachings could be objectively confirmed and even improved upon — operating autonomously, Anthroposophists can make their own spiritual discoveries. For this reason, Steiner argued, Anthroposophy is not a religion but a path to objective knowledge, a science. [36] All of this has appeal to at least some subsets of intellectuals.

The question becomes, however, whether smart Anthroposophists are — despite their intelligence — simply deceiving themselves. [37] Any system of "thought" that locates cognition outside the brain in "organs of clairvoyance" must invite such suspicions. The Anthroposophical advocacy of imagination and intuition, which can cut the mind loose from any secure anchors, only intensifies the problem — it is possible, after all, to imagine or intuit almost anything. [38] The studious work performed and published by intellectual Anthroposophists suggests that, at the least, these thinkers often substitute rationalization for reasoning.

◊ Anthroposophists strive mightily to justify Steiner's teachings, even when those teachings are manifestly wrong. Thus, they try to defend Steiner's assertion that the planets don't orbit the Sun, for instance, and that the heart is not a pump. [39]

◊ Some strive to justify Anthroposophical medicine [40], or to find sense in the astrological bases of biodynamic farming [41], or to affirm Steiner's conception of the "whole child" (inborn memories of past lives, three nonphysical bodies, twelve senses, and so on). [42]

◊ Some write learned books such as WHO WROTE BACON? [43], a literary study that relies on Steiner to figure out whether Bacon wrote Shakespeare's works or whether both Bacon and Shakespeare were spiritually manipulated by a more hidden power, and AMERICAN HERALDS OF THE SPIRIT [44], which distorts the work of Emerson, Melville, and other American authors, to make their work seem consistent with Anthroposophy.

◊ Other Anthroposophical scholars pore over Steiner's works to assemble gullible dissertations such as THE FUTURE OH HUMANITY AND OF THE EARTH AS FORESEEN BY RUDOLF STEINER [45], and MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY [46].

The credulity of many Anthroposophists brings to mind the case of Theosophist E. L. Gardner who, deceived by trick photographs purporting to show fairies (pixies, imps), wrote a book hailing this "proof" of the spirit realm: FAIRIES - The Cottingley Photographs and Their Sequel. [47] Gardner's work parallels that of other smart guys who were fooled by the same phony photos, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote a book fully as silly as Gardner's': THE COMING OF THE FAIRIES. [48] Conan Doyle's reputation never recovered, whereas Steiner — who also affirmed the existence of fairies [49] — is still taken seriously, at least in some circles.

Intelligence is not a perfect defense against trickery and foolishness. Intelligence needs to be sharpened and perfected, yielding wisdom, if it is to have real effect. Anyone who believes that genuine thinking does not occur in the brain may have difficulty mastering the use of brain, learning to think rationally, learning to apply logic, learning to distinguish what is real from what we wish were real. [50] All human beings have an natural tendency toward certain forms of self-deception, including — according to neurological research — an innate predisposition to believe in the supernatural. [51] This predisposition does not prove anything about the supernatural realm; it only means that our brains are wired in such a way that we are inclined toward interpreting the world spiritualistically. Supernatural beliefs feel right to us — we "intuit" such beliefs without demanding clear evidence to support them. We "know" them to be true, even though in fact we know nothing of the sort — we have no firm evidence or substantiation, merely a deeply felt wish. Anthroposophists make themselves particularly prone to this sort of mental malfunction by failing to recognize that intuitions are unreliable and clairvoyance is a sham. [52]

How does the malfunction occur? Why do we intuit spiritual presences and "realities"? According cognitive psychologists, we think about physical objects differently than we think about psychological objects (i.e., creatures with minds). A block of wood is just a physical object, in our view — we generally don't see anything particularly marvelous about it. But we feel very differently about living creatures, beings that have minds. We tend to forget that such creatures are themselves physical, and that their feelings and thoughts are produced by a physical object called a brain. Instead, we tend to think that feelings and thoughts exist separately from the brains that produce them and the bodies that experience them. This leads us to feel that minds are not bound to bodies, and therefore the notion of bodiless "souls" feels right to us. [53]

From the concept of bodiless souls, obviously, it is easy to jump to the idea that entirely nonphysical beings exist, beings that have no physical bodies at all but are wholly spiritual. In Steiner's doctrines, such beings include a vast array of "gods." [See "Polytheism".] Steiner never offers any evidence for the actual existence of the gods he discusses. Instead, he relies on our innate willingness to believe in such bodiless spirits. And a great many of us, including some very smart people, are quite willing to believe despite the absence of proof.

Allied to our common disposition to believe in spirits is our predisposition to "find" intention behind the phenomena of nature. Because we know that minds have intentions, it feels right to us to believe that most events and objects result from someone's intentions. We are inclined to think that things were planned, they didn't just happen. If the world exists, then it must have been intended — it is a "creation" — which means that there must have been a "creator." We may know, in our rational brains, that some things happen by accident. We may even know that, according to science, it is possible that the universe itself came into existence for no perceptible reason — maybe it just happened. We are capable of thinking such thoughts, but they feel unnatural — even repellant — to us. We would much rather exist in a meaningful world than in a meaningless one — so we insist that there is a meaning, even if we have no real reason for thinking so. [54]

People have an especially hard time accepting the possibility that our own existence may result from random events. We reject this possibility with almost knee-jerk promptness. Of course, it may be true that God or gods created us, and that our lives have spiritual meaning. But our reflexive eagerness for spiritual affirmation does not, in itself, confer such meaning. Indeed, Anthroposophists and others may flee to spiritualism not because they have good reason to do so, but because they are emotionally unable to bear the possibility that the universe is neutral and uncaring. So, we find instances such as this:

"Darwin...had the intellectual toughness to stick with the deeply discomfiting consequences of his theory, that natural selection has no goal or purpose. Alfred Wallace, who independently thought of natural selection, later lost faith in the power of the idea and turned to spiritualism to explain the human mind. 'Darwin had the courage to face the implications of what he had done, but poor Wallace couldn't bear it,' says William Provine, a historian at Cornell University." [55]

Turning to spiritualism because the evidence leads us to it would be one thing; turning to spiritualism because we can't bear to face facts is something else. Steiner and his followers turn away from what they consider the cold, repellent visions of modern science; they posit instead the comforting idea that the universe is aswarm with all sorts of spiritual beings who are focused on us and our well-being.

In sum, neurological science suggests that a belief system like Anthroposophy is built on illusions resulting from the way our minds naturally, but imperfectly, function.


Let's shift our focus, slightly, to think about magic. [56] Not wanting to feel helpless in the face of a universe that may be indifferent or even hostile to us, we often convince ourselves that we have access to special powers that can protect us. We use spells, incantations, clairvoyance, invocations, and so forth, to bring various spiritual beings over to our side. Virtually all ancient peoples had such beliefs and practices, and many people living today have them. Such beliefs and practices are a source of courage. During the long course of human evolution, individuals who armed themselves with magic gained an evolutionary advantage — they became brave enough to carry on. So they survived and handed down the brain circuitry inclines toward magical thinking. As a result, their descendants were born with a predisposition toward magical beliefs and practices. Generation after generation, this predisposition became more and more deeply embedded in us — that is, our brains wound up with wiring that leads almost all of us, including the brightest among us, to incline toward superstition rather than plain sense. (Einstein, it is said, sometimes tapped on wood.)

So where does this leave us today? The only thing we can conclude about our bias in favor of supernatural beliefs is that this bias has been useful to us. Perhaps we should affirm this usefulness and continue embracing magic. But this becomes more and more difficult as science advances and we learn ever more about how the universe actually functions. A dissonance is set up, a strain between our emotional needs and the objective knowledge that gradually has accumulated in our brains and books and laboratories. Turning backwards, to magic and superstition, becomes increasingly difficult to justify — we increasingly see it for what it is, an affirmation of ignorance.

One particular implication of all this involves our children. Raising the young in an atmosphere of mysticism — such as the occultism underlying Waldorf education as conceived by Steiner — means leading them badly astray. Waldorf schools may provide an emotionally comforting retreat from the harsh, real world. Waldorf schools may swaddle children in mental blankets of attractive color and pattern. But surely the truest satisfactions, and the best preparation for life, can be found in a compassionate, moral, and reasonable introduction to reality, not in a retreat from reality. We must find out salvation in truth, not seek it vainly in delusion.

A still larger implication also needs to be faced. If there is no rational reason to accept Anthroposophy, the same argument might be applied to all other supernatural systems, including orthodox religions. This is worth considering in our most solemn and reverent meditations. But we needn't reject all religion in order to see the problems inherent in Steiner's doctrines. My purpose is not to assail any mainstream faith. If you are a devout adherent of such a faith, your beliefs are a matter between you and your God — no one else should attempt to intrude on them. So I would simply say this. An important distinction can be drawn between established religion, on the one hand, and superstition, occultism, and hocus-pocus, on the other. Steiner's doctrines distinctly fall into the latter category. If great faiths such as Judaism and Christianity do not arise from human self-deception, heretical creeds like Anthroposophy almost certainly do. [57]

Many Anthroposophists consider themselves to be hardheaded realists, dispassionate investigators of the spiritual realm. But the tools they employ in these investigations have no power. Like Steiner, they "look" inward, employing imagination, intuition, and — if they can develop it (they can't) — clairvoyance. Any resulting "visions" or "insights" they attain arise almost certainly from the unconscious layers of their brains, from their yearning psyches, not from the objective, real universe. They gaze within and see what they want to see, which often may be scarcely distinguishable from what Steiner told them to see. The spiritual "investigations" conducted by Anthroposophists are, in the end, indistinguishable from fantasy.

[R.R., 21st Century.]



Steiner understood the difference between intelligence and wisdom.

"You can be intelligent and think the most foolish things. The most foolish things are thought out in the most intelligent ways today. Thus if we look at many things in modern science we have to say that it is really intelligent in every respect, but it definitely is not wise." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM BEETROOT TO BUDDHISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 166-167.

Steiner was clearly correct about the general proposition: Intelligent people can be very wrong. Intelligence does not guarantee wisdom. The question for any parent considering a Waldorf school is where to find truth, in modern science, for instance, or in the mysticism that is Anthroposophy? I hope I have made my opinion clear. Steiner's statement, above, applies to Anthroposophy itself. The thinking behind Waldorf schools is an elaborately thought-out tangle of fantasy.

Not all teachers at all Waldorf schools are full-fledged Anthroposophists. But many are.

"As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118.

If you are considering a Waldorf school for your children, bear in mind that you may be entrusting a large portion of the children's education and well-being to people whom I would describe as well-meaning but self-deceiving fantasists.

The three stages of initiation — probation, enlightenment, initiation — are actually a hierarchy of delusion. The "higher" a seeker thinks s/he is, the more deluded s/he is. A Waldorf teacher who thinks s/he is an Initiate, possessing clairvoyant powers, is disconnected from reality. Students given into such a person's care may suffer in direct proportion.

— Roger Rawlings


For more about initiates, see "Adepts".

For more on the perplexing question

why some smart people (not many, but a few)

believe Steiner, see "Why? Oh Why?",

"Fooling (Ourselves)", and "Nuts".


“When it is said that something should remain esoteric, this simply means that it should remain within the circle of those who participate in everything that is presented in the sphere of esotericism. If things go wrong here, the esoteric is carried into the exoteric and then one is always facing a danger. This happens whenever anything that should be kept within a limited circle is carried out into the world so that there is no possibility of keeping up with it. ... During the years we have been pursuing our studies of Spiritual Science I have endeavoured to develop things in such a way that it can be clear to everyone who really goes into them that they are intelligible even before clairvoyance is attained. I have been at pains to make public nothing that cannot be comprehensible in its own domain. It follows therefore that only those who are willing to see human beings pass into the Eighth Sphere [the demonic realm of Lucifer and Ahriman] can have any valid objection to this spiritual-scientific Movement.” Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT MOVEMENT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), lecture 5, GA 254.

Usually, initiation is conveyed by a spiritual guide or master who oversees one’s spiritual education. However, in Steiner’s system, it is possible to initiate oneself.

“The soul's awakening to such a higher state of consciousness [i.e., clairvoyance] may be called initiation.

“The means of initiation lead from the ordinary state of waking consciousness into a soul activity, through which spiritual organs of observation [i.e., nonphysical organs of clairvoyance] are employed. These organs are present in the soul in a germinal state; they must be developed ... A boundless enrichment of [the initiate’s] soul experiences occurs ... There are such cases of self-initiation ... Nothing need be said here about self-initiation, for it can appear without observing any kind of rules. “ — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), pp. 256-257.

Self-initiation is circular, subjective, and very nearly solipsistic. You are your own guru, your own teacher. The wisdom you seek is the wisdom you already possess, arising from within. Your feelings and thoughts are (you tell yourself) inherently correct, reliable, unarguable. Turning inward, you see outward — your intuitions are True. You yourself are the authority you wish to acknowledge, the savant on whom you can rely.

This, indeed, touches on the essence of Anthroposophical epistemology. Stemming from the romantic tradition of gnosticism, this conception of knowledge teaches that we already have, within us, the essential truths. They are buried, hidden, but accessible. Our nature, microcosm, reflects the true nature of the universe, macrocosm. Divine truth is woven into our very being. [See "The Center".]

The allure of this vision is obvious. But the danger and fallacy of this vision should also be obvious. Whether you initiate yourself or receive initiation from another, you gaze inward. You trust subjectivity. So objectivity, or the pursuit of it, dies. Genuine communication, rational discourse, is cut off. Each inward-turned mind affirms its own desires and prejudices. There can be no true meeting of the minds when each mind considers itself to possess authoritative, undeniable Truth clear of the errors infecting other minds. Each ego assuages itself, but the line between self-knowledge and self-deception disappears — and all the little egos dwell in their own disconnected bundles of fantasy.

That way lies madness.