IS ANTHROPOSOPHY A RELIGION?
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IS IT A RELIGION?
Anthroposophists and Waldorf faculty members deny many things. Crucially, they often deny that Anthroposophy is a religion. For instance, at the Waldorf Answers website, the denial is absolute:
“No, anthroposophy is not a religion, nor is it meant to be a substitute for religion.” 
Yet there is persuasive evidence to the contrary. Here are the words of Christopher Bamford, editor-in-chief of SteinerBooks:
“[S]teiner felt...he had to infuse Theosophy, which had an anti-Christian bias, with the real meaning of Christ....” 
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, the author of several books on occult and esoteric subjects, puts the matter this way:
“Rudolf Steiner...a pivotal figure of twentieth-century esotericism...blended modern Theosophy with a Gnostic form of Christianity, Rosicrucianism, and German Naturphilosophie.” 
To cite one more authoritative source, the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION says this:
“Anthroposophy is continuous with the Rosicrucian stream of the Christian esoteric tradition.” 
Summarizing, then, we can say that Anthroposophy combines Theosophy, certain gnostic or esoteric forms of Christianity, and perhaps another spiritualistic thread or two.
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There can be no doubt that Christianity, in whatever form, is a religion. If Anthroposophy is Christianity blended with other spiritualistic traditions, we are justified in at least suspecting that Anthroposophy is indeed a religion. But let’s delve deeper. Bamford and Goodrick-Clarke agree that Steiner “infused” or “blended” Christianity with Theosophy. Steiner himself made no secret of the importance of Theosophy in his life and thought.  Steiner was a Theosophist before breaking away to set up Anthroposophy as a separate spiritual movement, and he was outspoken in his admiration for a key leader of Theosophy, Helena Blavatsky:
“One thing can be said of the writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Only one who does not understand them can underestimate them. Anyone who finds the key to what is great in these works will come to admire her more and more.” 
Well, then, let's consult Helena Blavatsky, asking her whether Theosophy is a religion. She gives a typically scrambled occultist answer:
“It is perhaps necessary, first of all, to say, that the assertion that ‘Theosophy is not a Religion,’ by no means excludes the fact that ‘Theosophy is Religion’ itself. A Religion in the true and only correct sense, is a bond uniting men together — not a particular set of dogmas and beliefs. Now Religion, per se, in its widest meaning is that which binds not only all MEN, but also all BEINGS and all things in the entire Universe into one grand whole ... Thus Theosophy is not a Religion, we say, but RELIGION itself....” 
So, is Theosophy a religion? No. Or, in other words, yes. It is the essence of religion. It is Religion.
So the two major sources from which Steiner drew, Christianity and Theosophy, are religions. According to its adherents, Christianity is the one true religion of salvation. And according to its adherents, Theosophy is the one true overarching, whole-encompassing Religion. What, then, is Anthroposophy? It is a combination of these religions. The result, the blending of these sources, must necessarily be a religion as well. A religion added to a religion yields a religion. (Claiming that the result is a science, not a religion — because it provides the path to Truth — is unconvincing. Virtually all religions claim to provide the path to Truth. Indeed, making this claim in a system of meditations, prayers, and other spiritual exercises — a system such as Anthroposophy — is an identifying characteristic of religion.)
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Of course, to find the most compelling evidence of the religious nature of Anthroposophy, we need to examine the work and words of Anthroposophy's founder, Rudolf Steiner. The evidence there is overwhelming. Note, for example, that Steiner wrote many prayers for others to use — a compilation of his prayers is titled PRAYERS FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN. Note the first word in the title. Additional prayers, meditations, and spiritual exercises penned by Steiner can be found in such books as START NOW! and BREATHING THE SPIRIT.  Writing prayers for use by others is the activity of a religious leader, while reciting prayers written or prescribed by a religious leader is the activity of faithful adherents. In this context, it is important to note that Steiner wrote prayers to be recited by students in Waldorf schools. Here is one:
Steiner attempted to disguise the nature of this prayer, just as Waldorf schools generally deny that they are religious institutions , just as Anthroposophists generally deny that Anthroposophy is a religion. Steiner cautioned his teachers against allowing outsiders to know that Waldorf students are required to recite prayers. With specific reference to the prayer I just quoted, Steiner said:
“We also need to speak about a prayer. I ask only one thing of you. You see, in such things everything depends upon the external appearances. Never call a verse a prayer, call it an opening verse before school. Avoid allowing anyone to hear you, as a faculty member, using the word ‘prayer.’” 
So the teachers were not allowed to admit the truth, which is that the “verse” is self-evidently a prayer. Not only does Steiner call it a prayer ("We...need to speak about a prayer"), but the substance and phrasing are clearly those of a prayer: The children address God, thanking her/him, and offering him/her love. When they recite this "verse," they are praying.
Also revealing is Steiner’s decision to hold Sunday services for Anthroposophically inclined Waldorf students:
“We hold the Sunday services within the context of the school. They are part of the school ... I would certainly deny any association with a Sunday service outside the school. It only makes sense if there are a number of children receiving religious instruction from an anthroposophical basis and there is a Sunday service in our school for these children." 
Children who are taught about religion don't need Sunday services; only children who are taught to embrace a religion need them. Because the services were held on Sundays, we can infer that the religion being practiced was Christianity or an offshoot of Christianity — i.e., Anthroposophy. Steiner’s meaning is clear. "[R]eceiving religious instruction from an anthroposophical basis" is tantamount to being taught Anthroposophy. Steiner often denied that Waldorf schools teach Anthroposophical dogma, and I believe this is generally true. But as I have argued in other essays, Anthroposophy can be injected into a child's psyche/soul by subtle, indirect, manipulative methods that I have called brainwashing.  Children at Waldorf schools can absorb the spirit and viewpoint of Anthroposophy without needing to learn the precise phrasing of specific doctrines. Explicitly, Steiner said that in the Waldorf school “there are a number of children receiving religious instruction" based on Anthroposophy, and he wanted to provide appropriately Anthroposophical "Sunday services" for them. And so, as we will see, Steiner acknowledged that Anthroposophy works much as "other religious groups" do.
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Not all Anthroposophists deny that Anthroposophy is a religion or that Waldorf schools are religious. Here are two statements made by Anthroposophist and Waldorf teacher Eugene Schwartz:
"I'm glad my daughter gets to speak about God every morning: that's why I send her to a Waldorf school. She's learning stories from the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Scriptures ... She's learned that God created the world in seven days; she's learning about Abraham, and the terrible existential struggle he had when he was asked by God to sacrifice his son. She's going to learn about the king, the battles, the Israelites. [S]he's learning it as truth. She comes home filled with this, bubbling up with it. She speaks about it as she crochets socks for her sister, she talks about it as she gets out her violin and begs to practice. She's filled with it. That's why I send her to a Waldorf school. She can have a religious experience. A religious experience. I'll say it again: I send my daughter to a Waldorf school so that she can have a religious experience." 
"I would like to say if a public school superintendent came up to me and said [he would] like to start a Waldorf program, can you help me? ... I would say 'Yes, let me give you these ten books by Rudolf Steiner, starting with THEOSOPHY, OCCULT SCIENCE, THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM. Read them and let's talk.’ And if he came back and talked I'd go further: ‘Do you realize how much Christianity there is in our school? Do you realize that we are thinking about these children in the light of reincarnation and karma? That's how a teacher's working with them. Do you want me to say this to your parents? Do you know, Mr. Public School Superintendent, the degree of courage that it's going to take to have a Waldorf program in your district?’ If he hasn't jumped out of the window by then, maybe we can work with something. But how many public school superintendents have courage? Do we really think they are the people who are going to move Waldorf education forward into the future? I doubt it." 
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The following is an excerpt from a message historian Peter Staudenmaier posted on the free speech forum, waldorf-critics: groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/1286. I have modified it slightly for use here.
“The leading historian of anthroposophy today is Helmut Zander, whose background is in the history of religion. In a 2002 article, Zander thoroughly explores the question of whether anthroposophy is a religion.  Zander's basic argument there is that Steiner rejected the label of 'religion' for his own spiritual teachings in order to posit anthroposophy as the transcendence of religion and science, a move that Zander considers unconvincing to non-anthroposophists.
“Other German historians of religion share this view, and characterize anthroposophy as ‘the most successful form of “alternative” religion in the [twentieth] century.’  One of the better overviews of Steiner’s place within the broader religious landscape of early twentieth century Germany is Thomas Nipperdey's book RELIGION IN UMBRUCH: Deutschland 1870-1918. 
“Such classifications are by no means uniformly contested by anthroposophists themselves; consider for example the entry ‘Anthroposophy’ by anthroposophist Robert McDermott in ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION. 
“For further background on this question, I recommend the very extensive discussions of anthroposophy in Wouter Hanegraaff's book NEW AGE RELIGION AND WESTERN CULTURE.” 
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Having established that Anthroposophy may justifiably be termed a religion, let’s shift focus slightly and ask how often this religion shows up in Waldorf classrooms. Steiner, as we have seen, claimed that Waldorf schools are not meant to teach Anthroposophy to the students. Here’s another form of this denial:
“We are not interested in imposing our ‘dogmas,’ our principles, or the content of our world-view [sic] 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.” 
But Steiner was propounding a distinction without a difference. If Waldorf pedagogy arises from “a living spiritual science” (i.e., Anthroposophy), then the “individual souls” of the students are continually being worked upon by Anthroposophy. And if Anthroposophy works much as other religious groups do, then the students are receiving religious ministrations.
Steiner came close to saying as much when he explained
“[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 Anthroposophy. b) If Waldorf schools aim to fill their students with spiritual science (Anthroposophy), then a clear function of Waldorf education is to spread Anthroposophy. The spreading could occur by pouring spiritual science into the students (usually without divulging the dogmas), or by arousing interest among the students' parents, who of course would influence the students at home. Either way, directly or indirectly, the schools would spread Anthroposophy. And this is in fact what Waldorf schools aim to do. As 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. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” 
This is "one of the most important facts about" Waldorf schools; this is their aim. Waldorf schools set themselves up as conduits of the religion known as Anthroposophy. They are, in other words, religious institutions.
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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 Waldorf schools don’t explicitly 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 the meaning of his statements. 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 is “not a school based on a particular philosophy or denomination,” because he had waved his wand (metaphorically speaking) and defined Anthroposophy as being neither of these things. But calling a religion something other than "religion" does not, in reality, change the nature of the religion. A religion by any other name is still a religion.
Steiner himself sometimes undercut his claim that Anthroposophical dogma is not taught at Waldorf schools. For example, speaking to Waldorf teachers, he said:
“For the seventh, eighth, and ninth grade independent religious instruction we could move into a freer form and give a theoretical explanation about such things as life before birth and after death. We could give them examples. We could show them how to look at the major cultural connections and about the mission of the human being on Earth. You need only look at Goethe and Jean Paul [i.e., Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, a German author] to see it. You can show everywhere that their capacities come from a life before birth.” 
Teaching students about reincarnation, in a school which has its “basis” in “the anthroposophical movement,” would clearly be teaching them Anthroposophical dogma. Karma and reincarnation are central tenets of that faith. And note that Steiner was not saying that kara and reincarnation should be taught in the abstract. He said that they should be presented as living truths, as facts for the students to embrace. "You can show everywhere that [great men's] capacities come from a life before birth.”
Steiner’s most important admission about the place of Anthroposophy in Waldorf schooling came in the following statement, which he made in private during a meeting with Waldorf faculty members:
“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 one system that provides true explanations of virtually all phenomena, physical and spiritual, he was here effectively acknowledging that Anthroposophy will pervade virtually every subject in the Waldorf curriculum. And it will do so in order to provide the concepts, principles, and conclusions that reveal "objective truth" about the subjects being studied. Anthroposophy will not go unspoken; it will be present in the instruction.
When will Anthroposophy be “called for by the material” in Waldorf schools? Almost always. Waldorf teachers have little choice in the matter. Anthroposophy is, for them, the truth. To omit the Anthroposophical perspective from academic classes would be to omit the truth, in which case the teachers would be knowingly telling the students falsehoods. The good intentions and professionalism of the teachers would prevent them from doing so.
So, when will Anthroposophy be present in a Waldorf school? Almost always. And because Anthroposophy is a religion, this means that religion will be omnipresent in a Waldorf school. In other words, to repeat this crucial point: Waldorf schools are religious institutions.
We can drive this point home further with the following anecdote. Rudolf Steiner once corrected a Waldorf teacher who had brought Anthroposophy into the classroom. Here's what Steiner said:
"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 tell the teacher that he had erred by bringing Anthroposophy into the classroom or by openly teaching the students about Anthroposophy. He told the teacher he had erred by not explaining Anthroposophy in language the students could grasp. "You did not transform anthroposophy into a child's level." This is completely different from saying that Anthroposophy should not be taught. In fact, it is the opposite of saying that Anthroposophy should not be taught. It is an explicit admission that Anthroposophy belongs in the Waldorf classroom. It belongs there in a form the students can understand. It belongs there in a form that will affect the students as strongly as possible. It belongs there because that is the whole point of Waldorf education. This is the "directive" Steiner gave to Waldorf teachers: "bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children."
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Waldorf art is almost always spiritual —
implicitly spiritual or explicitly.
[An emulation of Waldorf-style art, R.R.]
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A New Religion;
and a Rather Strange One
We need not, at this moment, attempt to survey the doctrines of Anthroposophy. It is sufficient to understand that Anthroposophy bears some resemblance to Christianity, in that it centers on Christ.* We have Steiner's word for the centrality of Christ in Anthroposophy:
"Those who are not cowards know Christ is always revealing Himself; therefore, we may accept what He has revealed in the form of anthroposophy as a true Christ-revelation. Members [of the Anthroposophical movement] have often asked me how they can establish a relationship with Christ. This is a naive question; for everything we strive for, every line we read of our anthroposophical science, is an entering into a relationship with Christ. In a certain sense, we really do nothing else." — Rudolf Steiner, TOWARD IMAGINATION (SteinerBooks, 1990), p. 36.
The Christ of Anthroposophy is not, however, the deity worshipped in any major Christian denomination. The Christ of Anthroposophy is one of a vast horde of gods. He is the Sun God (Ra) who elected to come down to Earth. He did not redeem us in the sense Christians usually mean; he redeemed us by imparting a new impulse to our evolution. Or so Steiner taught. (The following is dense, but it is a representative sample of Anthroposophical religious teaching. Work your way through it as well as you can.)
"We have often emphasised that one...important point in the development of humanity on earth was reached when the Christ-Impulse was given at the beginning of our era ... When we look back beyond the Atlantean into the Lemurian age, we come to that point in time when the first rudiment of the human ego was implanted in the human being ... We know that the implanting of the ego in man is part of the collective development of the earth. The earth passed through the Saturn, Sun and Moon ages, and then only did it become the structure it is to-day. On Saturn the germ of the physical body was laid, on the Sun that of the etheric body, on the Moon that of the astral body, and the germ of the ego was added on the earth ... The Christ-Impulse would have been given to man at the middle of the Atlantean epoch. Now, however, on account of the luciferic influence, man had to wait as long a time for the Christ-Impulse as had elapsed between the intervention of the luciferic influence and the middle of the Atlantean epoch. There was the same span of time between the entrance of Lucifer and the middle of the Atlantean epoch, as between that time and the arrival of the Christ-Impulse. Thus, through man's having acquired a likeness to the gods before he was meant to do so, we have to describe a delay of the Christ-Impulse." — Rudolf Steiner, "The Entrance of the Christ-Being Into the Evolution of Humanity", a lecture, GA 116.
So, Anthroposophy teaches about our evolution "on" Saturn, the Sun, and the Moon. Those stages of our development occurred before we arrived "on" Earth. Here on Earth, we lived on the continents of Lemuria and Atlantis before reaching the continents we dwell on today. We should have received the "Christ-Impulse" — the beneficent influence of the Sun God — while we lived on Atlantis, but Lucifer interfered, and thus Christ's evolutionary influence did not become real for us until the Roman era when the Sun God, incarnate in the body of a man named Jesus, was Crucified.
There is much more to the Anthroposophical account of evolution, but we can leave it aside for the moment. It is a complex story, involving many, many gods and their activities on many, many worlds. Christ was very important to us here on Earth, but other spirits were equally important to other souls living on other planets. Thus, for instance, Buddha served Mars much as Christ served Earth.
◊ “Buddha...became for Mars what Christ has become for the earth.” — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH (SteinerBooks, 1985), p. 72.
◊ “The Buddha wandered away from earthly affairs to the realm of Mars ... [T]he Buddha accomplished a Buddha crucifixion there.” — Ibid., p. 207.
Anthroposophy should not be confused with Christianity. Nor should it be confused with Buddhism or any of the world's other major religions. It is a new, strange religion. It is Anthroposophy.
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The Goetheanum, Anthroposophy's headquarters,
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“One question that is often asked is: ‘Is a Waldorf school a religious school?’ ... It is not a religious school in the way that we commonly think of religion ... And yet, in a broad and universal way, the Waldorf school is essentially religious.” — Waldorf teacher Jack Pettish, UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION(Nova Institute, 2002), p. 134.
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“The mission of Anthroposophy to-day is to be a synthesis of religions. We can conceive of one form of religion being comprised in Buddhism, another form in Christianity, and as evolution proceeds the more closely do the different religions unite — in the way that Buddha and Christ themselves are united in our hearts.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Buddha and Christ: The Sphere of the Bodhisattvas”, ANTHROPOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 1964), GA 130.
Sometimes Steiner acknowledged the truth, wittingly or not. Anthroposophy, a synthesis of various religions, is itself a religion. (A cocktail consisting of several alcoholic drinks is itself an alcoholic drink. A philosophy synthesizing several philosophies is itself a philosophy. A spiritual system synthesizing several religions is itself a religion.)
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Anthroposophy purports to be a method of acquiring knowledge about the spiritual realm. Its adherents say it is a science, not a religion. But centering on a panoply of good and evil gods, Anthroposophy aims for far more than the acquisition of "knowledge." Anthroposophy, a synthesis of various religions, is itself a religion, combining teachings from Theosophy, gnostic Christianity, and Hinduism, with admixtures from other spiritual belief systems including Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. The practice of Anthroposophy entails faith, reverence, prayers, meditations, spiritual guides, spiritual observances, submission to the gods, and efforts to fulfill the will of the gods. Anthroposophy lays out the path to spiritual improvement and salvation for its adherents, and it threatens spiritual loss and perdition for everyone else. Anthroposophists believe that they are on the side of the gods, and they believe that their critics are on the side of the demonic powers.
Anthroposophy is a religion. (But perhaps I am repeating myself. I apologize. But the denials of this reality are repeated almost endlessly, which means we must rebut the denials nearly as often.)
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"Waldorf schools are not part of any church. They espouse no particular religious doctrine but are based on a belief that there is a spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life. Waldorf families come from a broad spectrum of religious traditions and interest [sic]. Monadnock Waldorf School [in New Hampshire, USA] observes the cycle of the year through both traditional and lesser known [sic] festivals, most importantly Michaelmas in the autumn and Advent in the winter."
Waldorf Watch Response:
As far as I know, no one has accused Waldorf schools of being "part of any church." But the religious nature of Waldorf or Steiner schools is obvious even from the denial quoted here. The schools have a "belief" in the "spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life." This is the essence of religion. Moreover, the schools "observe" such festivals as Michaelmas and Advent. These are religious observances. Michaelmas is the "mass" or celebration for the archangel Michael. Advent is the celebration of the coming ("the advent") of Christ.
And what do Waldorf teachers think they are doing, even as they conceal their purposes behind such misleading statements as calling Rudolf Steiner a "scientist"? They think they are fulfilling the religious purpose of channeling the gifts of the gods to all beings here on Earth. As Steiner himself said to Waldorf teachers,
“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.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.
It is perfectly true that "Waldorf families come from a broad spectrum of religious traditions." But all Waldorf students are steered in a single direction: toward the religion created by Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy.
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From the back cover:
"This collection of special prayers is a wonderful companion for parents and carers seeking to help children on their journey through childhood. There are verses for every occasion: for the mother to speak as the incarnating soul prepares to be born; for the baby after its birth; for very young and older children; as well as prayers for morning and evening, and graces to be spoken at table."
THE ILLUSTRATED CALENDAR OF THE SOUL.
“The year has a life of its own, and the human soul can share in that life and become part of it. In listening week by week to the language of the year, the soul will find a way to discover also its own nature ... In this Calendar the verse given for each week is intended to help the soul into an experience of that week as part of the life of the whole year. The Calendar is designed to express all that echoes in the soul when it unites itself with that life." — Rudolf Steiner, p. i.
VERSES & MEDITATIONS.
From the back cover:
"Featuring over 90 of Rudolf Steiner's best-loved verses and meditations, this volume collects a range of material on various themes, such as working with spiritual beings, connecting with loved ones who have passed over, developing selfhood, and celebrating festivals and seasons."
Bear in mind that Anthroposophists often use the word "verse" when speaking of a prayer. Indeed, Steiner sometimes indicated that virtually all of the spiritual/mental activities he recommended amount to forms of prayer. For instance:
"Rudolf Steiner described how in the three successive stages of the life after death the spiritual Hierarchies [i.e., ranks of gods] progressively receive and transmute the fruits of man's earthly life. Expressing it in these meditative sayings, he recommended the practice of thinking thus concretely about the Dead. 'We utter a simple and good, a wonderful and beautiful prayer, when we think of the connection between life and death, or of one who has passed through the gate of death, in this way.'" [p. 236.]
PRAYERS AND GRACES.
This volume, compiled by a priest of the Christian Community, includes prayers from many sources — predominantly Rudolf Steiner. There are prayers for meal times, prayers for children, prayers for the dead, etc. One of Steiner's prayers, on p. 57, asks for "strength and power from spirit lands." Another, on the same page, is addressed to "Ye who watch over the souls in the spheres." One on p. 62 enumerates gods of nine different ranks. [For more on the gods of Anthroposophy, see "Polytheism".]
Steiner sometimes described the purpose of his movement in terms that are clearly religious, even while using the misleading term "science." For example:
"The mission of the Spiritual Science Movement [i.e., Anthroposophy] is to prepare those who have the will to allow themselves to be prepared, for the return of the Christ upon earth ... In order to be led to real Christianity, the men of the future will have to receive that spiritual teaching which Spiritual Science is able to give." — Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1973), p. 189.
Steiner's conception of "real" Christianity is, however, far removed from the teachings offered in mainstream Christian churches. [See "Was He Christian?"]
Logically, if we are to understand whether Anthroposophy is a religion, we need to decide what we mean by the word "religion." Here is the Anthroposophical view:
"Religion means the establishment of a connection with the divine." — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, RUDOLF STEINER: An Introduction to His Spiritual World-View (Temple Lodge Publishing 2005), p. 229.
This is precisely what Anthroposophy is meant to do: to help us comprehend and connect to the divine. Thus, by Anthroposophy's own standards, Anthroposophy is a religion.
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Here is an excerpt from
The Rudolf Steiner Threat to Victorian Education
by Ian Robinson
(Victoria is a state in Australia.)
There is no doubt that Steiner's Anthroposophy in general, and in its educational aspect in particular, is a religion. It possesses all the characteristics we are familiar with in other religions:
There is a 'founding father', Rudolf Steiner, who is revered by his followers.
There are a number of texts written by Steiner which are seen as holding the key to spiritual truth and all other aspect of life by his disciples.
The ideas in these texts arose out of the religious and mystical experiences of their author.
The followers of Steiner see themselves as having privileged access to the truth through the insights of Steiner.
The Steiner system touches all aspects of the life of its followers, and especially their spiritual and philosophic beliefs.
The followers of Steiner see themselves as an elite of initiates, often misunderstood by an ignorant general populace who have not yet seen the (Steiner) light.
There are, within the movement, different 'sects' with slightly different views of how the founder is to be interpreted.
The system of Anthroposophy has remained fixed and unalterable in its main tenets since the death of its founder.
Steiner 'Education' is not something separate and distinct from Steiner religion, but is an integral part of it:
“The subjects you teach will not be treated in the way they have been dealt with hitherto. You will...have to use them as a means with which to develop the soul and bodily forces of the individual in the right way.” [PRACTICAL ADVISE TO TEACHERS, p. 9.]
As a religion, Steiner 'Education' has no part in a secular education system.
— Ian Robinson
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The first Waldorf school opened in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919. On Feb. 5, 1924, Rudolf Steiner held a long discussion with the school's teachers about the relationship between the school and the Anthroposophical Society (the formal organization responsible for Anthroposophical activities, based at the Goetheanum, in Dornach, Switzerland). Steiner had recently formalized his own connection with the Anthroposophical Society, becoming its official leader. He was also, at this time, head of the Waldorf School.
During the discussion, Steiner made clear that maintaining official separation between the school the the Society had been advisable to date, but he now was considering how the two organizations might draw closer together, even if only informally.
Background: The Anthroposophical Society had become more explicitly, openly esoteric as a result of actions taken at a conference during the previous Christmas. The Waldorf School had always presented itself as neither esoteric in general nor Anthroposophical in particular. But Steiner's remarks during the faculty meeting on Feb. 5 showed how this has been largely a pose — while not formally associated with the Anthroposophical Society, the school had been, from the start, Anthroposophical to its core. During the meeting, Steiner exposed this secret as well as the other great secret underlying Waldorf schooling: He admitted that Anthroposophy is a religion.
Here's a play-by-play. (The entire discussion lasts for many pages. If you want to read it all — which I recommend — you'll have to get the book, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Vol. 2.)
Toward the beginning of the discussion, Steiner said,
"Formally, the Waldorf School is not an anthroposophical institution; rather, it is an independent creation based upon the foundations of anthroposophical pedagogy. In the way it meets the public, as well as the way it meets legal institutions, it is not an anthroposophical institution, but a school based upon anthroposophical pedagogy." 
Note the careful phrasing. The school is not "formally" Anthroposophical. "In the way it meets the public," it is not Anthroposophical. This is the school's pose. But the underlying reality is quite different.
Picking up the same passage where it left off:
"...a school based upon anthroposophical pedagogy. Suppose the Independent Waldorf School were now to become officially related to the School of Spiritual Science [the education wing of the Anthroposophical Society] in Dornach. Then the Waldorf School would immediately become an anthroposophical school in a formal, external sense. Of course, there are some things that would support making such a decision. On the other hand, consider whether the Waldorf School can fulfill its cultural tasks better as an independent school with an unhindered form than it can as a direct part of what emanates from Dornach." 
Steiner preferred the latter course — the school should not be Anthroposophical "in a formal, external sense" (i.e., as perceived by outsiders). But we can see that informally, internally the school was deeply Anthroposophical. After all, the only reason to even consider attaching the school to the Society was the school's devotion to Anthroposophy. The school's Anthroposophical nature was what "would support making such a decision."
Steiner contemplated the possibility of tying the school more tightly to the Anthroposophical Society, but he also stressed the benefits of maintaining the legal and public-relations fiction that the school was independent.
"[I]f the school suddenly became an [openly] anthroposophical school, that would upset both the official authorities and the public." 
The public would be upset because the school would be exposed as an occultist institution. German educational authorities would be upset for the same reason, and also because the school would be revealed as taking orders from a foreign organization, the Society based in Switzerland.
Steiner wanted the public and the officials to be misled, but he spoke candidly to the teachers.
"[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." 
That, basically, says it all. Waldorf is Anthroposophical, but out of a need to mislead outsiders, the school has to pretend otherwise. The survival of the school depends on denying Waldorf's "anthroposophical character," a character that creates goals that "coincide with anthroposophical desires."
Steiner discussed various useful misrepresentations and misconceptions about the Waldorf School. The school was named "Independent," and the Waldorf School Association was generally perceived as the institution controlling the school.
"You see, the outside world views the Waldorf School Association as the actual administration of the school." 
But in reality, the school was run by Anthroposophists for Anthroposophical purposes. Specifically, the school was actually guided by Rudolf Steiner himself, who now was officially the head of the Anthroposophical Society.
The school's only openly acknowledged involvement with the Anthroposophical Society came through the religious instruction provided by the Society in the school. This arrangement allowed the school to deny that it was, itself, religious. Instead, the Anthroposophical Society and other, outside religious institutions provided religious instruction at Waldorf.
"When the school was founded, we placed great value upon creating an institution independent of the Anthroposophical Society. Logically, that corresponds quite well with having the various religious communities and the Anthroposophical Society provide religious instruction, so that the Society provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." 
Pause here. THIS says it all. Steiner acknowledges that the Anthroposophical Society is a religious group: "the Society provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." The Anthroposophical Society is one of a number of "religious groups" involved in the school. The Society is a religious group. Anthroposophy is, thus, a religion — and here we have Steiner saying so.
Picking up the last quotation where it left off:
"...just as other religious groups do. The Anthroposophical Society gives instruction in religion and the services. That is something we can justifiably say whenever others claim that the Waldorf School is an anthroposophical school." 
Discussing how to mislead outsiders, Steiner clearly stated the very things he wanted to deny. Anthroposophy is a religion, and the Waldorf School — which is committed to Anthroposophy — is a religious institution. But Steiner remained committed to denying these realities — he stressed how Waldorf "can justifiably" make its denials. The justifications were, however, a matter of legalisms and hairsplitting: legally, formally, the school was not associated with the Anthroposophical Society; and, apparently, the school was run by the Waldorf School Association, which was not legally, formally Anthroposophical. But the truth is that the school was run by Anthroposophists who were devoted to the religion of Anthroposophy. (Offering instruction in other religions also conforms to the aims of Anthroposophy, which borrows doctrines from many faiths.)
During the meeting, Steiner both revealed the truth and continued to stress denials of the truth.
"A teacher: 'Hasn't a change already occurred since you, the head of the Waldorf School, are now also the head of the Anthroposophical Society?'
"Dr. Steiner: 'That is not the case. The position I have taken [as head of the Society] changes nothing about my being head of the school.'" 
Perhaps the teacher and Steiner found this answer cogent, but none of the rest of us are likely to. If Steiner, head of the Waldorf School, had recently become head of the Communist Party, there would clearly be reason to think that something important had been revealed concerning the Waldorf School: People would have reason to suspect that the school was, at a minimum, sympathetic to Communism. Steiner’s new post as head of the Anthroposophical Society carried the same sorts of implications.
As the meeting continued, Steiner considered ways to bind the school more closely to the Society without getting the school's neck broken. He wanted to satisfy the Waldorf faculty's desire for direct connection with the Anthroposophical Society's School of Spiritual Science (the institution at the Goetheanum that taught Anthroposophical doctrines to the membership):
"I think you should decide to become members of the School of Spiritual Science as individual teachers, but with the additional remark that you want to become a member as a teacher of the Independent Waldorf School. I think this will achieve everything you want, and nothing else is necessary for the time being." 
Thus, the Waldorf School itself would not be formally connected to the School of Spiritual Science, but Waldorf teachers would establish such connections for themselves as individual representatives of the Waldorf School. The effective result would be to tightly bind the school to the Anthroposophical Society without doing this openly or formally.
"Through such an action, you would accomplish something you actually want, namely, making the Independent Waldorf School part of the overall cultural mission of anthroposophy." 
Independent, my eye. The school would remain, in name, independent; but in reality, it had always been deeply immersed in Anthroposophy, and now the immersion would become even deeper: "the Independent Waldorf School [would be] part of the overall cultural mission of anthroposophy."
To summarize: We here see Steiner describing the deceptions that the Waldorf School had been involved in; he revealed the real nature both of the school and of Anthroposophy; and he proposed possible future steps that would bring the school into closer connection with the Anthroposophical Society without establishing an official bond (which might cause the school to get its neck broken).
Steiner's two biggest misrepresentations were 1) Anthroposophy is not a religion, and 2) Waldorf schools do not promote Anthroposophy. Here we have seen Steiner revealing the truth hidden behind these misrepresentations. Steiner presumably thought that deceiving outsiders was justified; it served a higher morality. Yet the fact is that he advocated deception; he promoted unethical conduct on the part of Waldorf faculty members. We need to see his falsehoods for what they are, and adjust our thinking accordingly.
The Waldorf school movement is built on falsehoods, especially the falsehoods we have examined just now. The deceptions practiced by many Waldorf schools today began with the establishment of the very first Waldorf School, in accordance with the wishes of Rudolf Steiner himself. [See "Secrets".] The truth is that Waldorf schools exist to promote the religion called Anthroposophy.
— Roger Rawlings
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The worldwide headquarters of Anthroposophy is the Goetheanum, located in Dornach, Switzerland. The structure is intended to embody, in physical forms, the spiritual meaning of Anthroposophy. We can gain an important insight into the nature of Anthroposophy, then, by noticing that the Goetheanum is, in effect, a cathedral. Steiner meant the Goetheanum to be the successor of humanity's previous temples and churches, and he hoped it would be the inspiration for many more Anthroposophical religious centers.
Speaking to priests of the Christian Community (the openly religious Anthroposophical adjunct), Steiner described the purpose of the Goetheanum thus:
“[T]he inner spiritual impulse that is intended to flow from the Goetheanum through the anthroposophical movement always contains an aspect that goes far beyond any theoretical understanding, indeed beyond any understanding altogether ... The tasks human beings must undertake today are growing great again ... [H]uman evolution cannot proceed further unless forces from the Mysteries [i.e., gnostic revelations] enter into evolution once again....” 
Front face, second Goetheanum,
The Goetheanum’s purpose — which surpasseth understanding — is to help Anthroposophy to save mankind by promoting our proper evolution, which requires a renewal of holy mysteries. This purpose is explicitly religious, albeit polytheistic:
“It means that the human being is endeavoring to rise up with his forces into the divine, spiritual region; there he meets with the gods....” 
Importantly, Steiner's words belie the usual claim made by Anthroposophists, that their ideology is a science, not a religion. "Spiritual science" aims for knowledge of the spirit realm. Knowledge. But note that Steiner said the impulse of Anthroposophy "goes far beyond any theoretical understanding, indeed beyond any understanding altogether." This is not knowledge but the transcendence of knowledge. This is religion. The Goetheanum is meant to manifest the thrust of this new religion, the new force that can bring the Mysteries "into evolution once again."
The present Goetheanum, a concrete structure, was preceded by an earlier Anthroposophical cathedral, the first Goetheanum, which was built of wood. Both were/are huge buildings, with large central meeting halls or auditoriums. The wooden Goetheanum was destroyed by fire on New Year's Eve, 1922. Anthroposophists blamed right-wing arsonists, although no proof has ever been offered. By Steiner’s own account, that original Goetheanum was used to establish a new priesthood. Afterward, he addressed priests of that order, the Christian Community, using these words:
“In that moment over there in the now burnt-down Goetheanum when you inaugurated a new priesthood in the movement for a Christian renewal, in that moment a new age of the mysteries began, a new age for the Act of Consecration of Man and for an understanding of apocalypse, of revelation.” 
So, on at least one occasion, the first Goetheanum was used for an openly religious purpose. Indeed, that purpose — the investiture of priests — is precisely the sort of divine ceremony for which cathedrals are created. Note, also, that the Christian Community priests — the immediate beneficiaries of the religious ceremony held within the Goetheanum — turned to Steiner for instruction about the true meaning of a book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. The text from which I have been quoting is a collection of Steiner's works titled THE BOOK OF REVELATION AND THE WORK OF THE PRIEST. Steiner’s relation to these Anthroposophical priests is comparable to the Pope’s relation to Catholic priests.
After the fire, a second structure, built of concrete, was erected as a replacement. Resembling a gargantuan outcropping of opaque crystal, Goetheanum #2 houses classrooms and offices in addition to the auditorium. The building’s colored glass windows (in effect, stained glass windows), “organic” sculptural forms, and other features are intended to convey spiritualistic meaning. A large sculpture of Christ and other spiritual beings stands in a special recessed area. The arched ceiling above the auditorium displays a huge mural representing occult mystical phenomena. The floor plan is cruciform, as in most cathedrals: a long axis intersected about two-thirds of the way up by a shorter transverse axis.  The nave or auditorium, which has a large pipe organ, is used for diverse events including lectures, eurythmic performances, and presentations of Steiner’s mystery plays. The stage sets often suggest portals into spirit realms. A rostrum resembling a pulpit can be set at the center front of the stage. 
The group that we might call the inner priesthood of Anthroposophy — the College of Cardinals, as it were — is headquartered at the Goetheanum, within the School of Spiritual Science.
“According to its constitution, the task of the School of Spiritual Science is to conduct research in the field of spirit in ways that can complement and take further the results obtained by mainstream academic research ... In Rudolf Steiner‘s plan, three Classes were to form the core and esoteric practice of the School. This work was to be rooted in mantric and meditative inner schooling. He was only able to create a First Class [he died before creating the other classes] ... The circle of First Class Holders [oversees] the appointment of new Class Holders.” 
The members of the First Class provide spiritual guidance for Anthroposophists worldwide — they attempt to use their inner powers, bolstered by special spiritual practices, to attain clairvoyant knowledge of the spirit realm. They are the inner initiates.
A quick reprise: Huge building, big meeting hall, colored glass windows, statue of Christ, pipe organ, cruciform layout, ceiling with a mural of the spirit realm, pulpit/rostrum, spiritualistic activities including the investiture of priests, center for the inner circle of initiates... This is a cathedral.
Main hall, first Goetheanum,
Steiner revealed perhaps more than he meant to when discussing the creation of the Goetheanum's colored glass windows:
“These creations [the windows] will move the souls of those who gather together up there on the hill [the Goetheanum stands on a hilltop] and show them the path leading to the spirit. [paragraph break] May this holy mood pervade this building; may every strike of the cutter on the glass be carried out with the feeling,: ‘I am shaping something for the souls listening up there on the hill, something that will lead them out through space into the realms of spirit.’” 
The Goetheanum is a place of holiness. It leads people not just to knowledge of the spirit realm, it leads them literally into the spirit realm. In serving the advancement of human evolution, it shows people the "path," the way toward humanity's ultimate perfection, its ultimate ascension to divinity. This is the path to salvation.
"‘Find thus, O Man, the path to the spirit!’” 
The holiness of the Goetheanum and its windows is the holiness of the ultimate religion, the true path, Anthroposophy.
Steiner taught that, by following the true path, humans will ultimately become gods. This is the same evolutionary course that has been followed by many upwardly evolving spirits superior to us in the celestial hierarchies, Steiner said. Those spirits — who themselves have become gods — passed through their own "human" phase during their ascent. If we are wise, we will follow them upward.
“[T]he gods who dwell in exalted regions had not always been gods, but had once been human beings ... [H]uman beings can become a god [sic] only when they are ripe for that condition ... Two paths are therefore open to humanity. Either a person can live patiently in anticipation of...deification (theosis), or one can imagine oneself prematurely already a god [hubris]. The first path leads to true deification; the second, to folly and madness.” 
According to Steiner, ancient seekers partially understood but also partially misunderstood these realities. True comprehension of the true path has become available only since the advent of Christ, particularly Christ as revealed in Anthroposophy. Steiner’s formulation of these matters was often opaque and disingenuous. Still, we can glean his meaning.
“Anthroposophy did not come to found sects or new religions. It came to call to life again what is the religion of humanity, the synthesis of all religions, the religion that is already there — Christianity. Not only is it able to call Christianity into fresh life, but for those who have been bereft of Christianity by modern science and the doubts arising from it, it is able to bring about, in the fullest sense, a resurrection of the religious life. Amongst all the other life-giving forces, Anthroposophy is able at this present time to enliven us and to bring about the resurrection of religious experience for all mankind.” 
By "Christianity," Steiner often meant Anthroposophy itself — Christianity as redefined by Steiner ("Christianity [called] into fresh life"). This Christianity is the “synthesis of all religions,” Steiner taught, because it is the culmination of all religions. All previous faiths were steppingstones leading toward this Christianity (Anthroposophy). But notice that Anthroposophy contains many elements not found in orthodox Christina faith: reincarnation, karma, multiple gods, Ahriman, Buddha... Anthroposophy itself is the synthesis Steiner advocated — it is the “Christianity” Steiner advocated. In this sense, “Anthroposophy did not come to found...new religions” — Anthroposophy revived an existing religion, Christianity. This is sophistry, but we can recognize a truth within Steiner’s statement. Anthroposophy, aka an occult reinterpretation of Christianity, is a religion. It brings about “the resurrection of religious experience for all mankind.” [To consider whether Anthroposophy is truly Christian, see "Was He Christian?"]
The ultimate payoff for mankind in following the true path as described by Steiner will be stupendous:
“[W]e shall have gradually achieved the transformation of our own being into what is called in Christianity ‘the Father.’” 
This is a stunning vision. It is a vision that, by the standards of mainstream Christianity, is blasphemous. But perhaps we need not concern ourselves with that issue at this moment.* Let's return to Steiner's comments about the windows of the Goetheanum:
“If all our labours are made living by the spirit on whom I call here this evening, if all the work on this hill is filled with the spirit of love — which is at the same time the spirit of true art — then from our building [the Goetheanum] there will flow out over the earth the spirit of peace, the spirit of harmony, the spirit of love. There will then be a chance for the work on this hill to find successors, so that many such centres of earthly and spiritual peace and harmony and love may spring up in the world ... The god dwelt in the Greek temple, and the congregation can dwell in Romanesque or Gothic churches. Now let the world of spirit speak through the building of the future.” 
Here Steiner clearly locates the Goetheanum in a holy line of descent: temples, churches, the Goetheanum.
The Goetheanum is not a collection of study halls, libraries, and laboratories. It does not embody a disinterested scientific examination of ultimate truths. It embodies a messianic intention, the potential salvation of humanity. Steiner said that love as well as wisdom will flow from the Goetheanum — as from Anthroposophy itself — spreading across the world. Humanity's eyes will be opened, the true path will be recognized, and many new Anthroposophical churches and cathedrals will rise, inspired by the first such cathedral, the Goetheanum, the "building of the future," the harbinger of mankind's future spiritual ascent.
This, at any rate, was Steiner's intention.
— Roger Rawlings
The movable rostrum at the Goetheanum —
The monumental statue in the Goetheanum
The main hall of the second Goetheanum,
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Variant of a mystical Anthroposophical seal,
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Like virtually any religion, Anthroposophy offers rewards to its adherents, and it threatens punishments for those who do not adhere. Thus, Steiner described various forms of what we might call perdition:
Individual humans may descend to lower and lower stages in successive incarnations until they fall out of evolution.
"Beings that stay behind at such stages appear in a later epoch as subordinate nature spirits." — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 70.*
At the end of our current cultural epoch, evil humans will form an "evil race" that will be consigned to a hellish fate.
"The evil race, with its savage impulses, will dwell in animal form in the abyss." — Rudolf Steiner, UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), p. 103.
Salvation will be gained by only a select few:
“The best of all humanity must be chosen and prepared for survival beyond the time of the great War of All against All, when people will oppose them who bear in their countenances the sign of evil....” — Rudolf Steiner, EVIL, (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997), p. 194.
Who will the "best of all humanity" be? Who will "be chosen"? Those who have heeded Steiner, of course. Like so many cult leaders before him, Steiner effectively promised his followers salvation, while consigning everyone else to destruction.
"[O]ur epoch and its civilisation will be destroyed by the War of All against All, by evil. Human beings will destroy each other in mutual strife ... A tiny handful of men will make good and thus insure their survival in the sixth epoch of civilisation." — Rudolf Steiner, "The Work of Secret Societies in the World" (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), GA 93.
In the distant future, when good humans are preparing to move on to Vulcan, those evil humans who have somehow remained will be sent to an "irreclaimable moon":
“[A]t a certain stage, a separate celestial body becomes [i.e., will become] detached. This — as it were, an ‘irreclaimable moon’ — includes all the beings who have persisted in withstanding the true course of evolution. It enters now upon a line of development such as no words can portray....” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1979), pp. 309-310.
These are the dooms that the religion of Anthroposophy would save us from. The salvation offered by Anthroposophy is “correct” spiritual knowledge that permits us to move upward in an evolution leading to Vulcan and beyond.
* People who descend in this way become subhuman. They no longer reincarnate, so they no longer evolve from life to life — they enter an undying, subhuman state. Ahriman and his cohorts hope to drag all humans down to such a hellish condition.
“[S]ubhuman entities are subject to the rule of powers I always refer to as ahrimanic. These ahrimanic powers with their diverse sub-spirits — including sprite- and goblin-like beings who dwell in the elements of earth and water — have set themselves a [specific] task ... [These] beings, who have their fortress directly under the earth’s surface, exert influences that rise into our metabolism ... [They] battle to harden us and make us resemble them ... If someone has fallen prey during his lifetime to the ahrimanic powers...these beings can ‘harvest’ this after his death to create a whole population, a subhuman populace of the earth, which does indeed already exist ... And if we ask what such ahrimanic beings intend with this subhuman populace, it is this: to draw this kind of instinctual nature from a human being and make it into a being of earth and water. And beings of earth and water do now actually populate the strata directly below the earth's surface. There they dwell. People who can use spiritual vision to observe mines know such entities very well: they exist there, having been torn from a human being at the moment of his death. And there waits Ahriman, there wait the ahrimanic powers for a person's karma, caused by instincts, drives and passions, to lead him down into an incarnation where he takes special pleasure in such a being, and therefore finds in a particular life on earth that he does not wish to return to the world of spirit. Having left his physical body...he will seek instead to be embodied in a kind of subsensible being of this kind, to remain united with the earth: no longer to die but choosing to remain united with the earth as a subsensible entity ... [A]hrimanic beings...[seek] to entice so many people into their race that eventually the earth will be populated entirely by subhuman ahrimanic entities of this kind.” — Rudolf Steiner, SPIRIT AS SCULPTOR OF THE HUMAN ORGANISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2014), pp. 108-109.
If Ahriman does not prevail, good highly evolved spirits may be able to reach back and redeem the lost subhumans. But there are no guarantees. Ahriman means who have his way, if he can.
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Rendering of the large west window
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