What Lies Behind the Arts
at Waldorf Schools
With a Look at Festivals
Waldorf schools place great emphasis on the arts. The rationale is not aesthetic. Rather, Rudolf Steiner taught that various art forms have spiritual — even magical — properties.
◊ Eurythmy ◊
For Steiner, the highest art is eurythmy (which, not coincidentally, he invented). Eurythmy is a form of bodily movement that looks a bit like slow-motion modern dance, but actually it is intended to teach the proper stances to manifest spiritual states of being — calling upon influences from our past lives and preparing the basis for our future lives. (The main tenet, here, is reincarnation, a belief that can be found at the root of many Waldorf practices.)
According to Steiner, eurythmy enables the physical body to make direct connection with the spiritual realm. Our physical bodies are, in a sense, merely tools that enable us to do eurythmy. Eurythmy gives outward form to the inner meaning of language — it is often called "visible speech." In the process, it gives us access to aspects of our previous lives, and it creates — in our limbs — effects that will carry over into our next lives.
Here is an explanation by Steiner, couched in his typically difficult mystical terminology.
“In a certain sense, we take from earthly life only the physical medium, the actual human being who is the tool or instrument for eurythmy.* But we allow this human being to make manifest what we study inwardly, what is already prepared in us as a result of previous lives;** we transfer this to our limbs, which are the part of us where life after death is being shaped in advance.*** Eurythmy shapes and moves the human organism in a way that furnishes direct external proof of our participation in the supersensible world. In having people do eurythmy, we link them directly to the supersensible world.”**** 
At the Waldorf school that I attended, we did eurythmy while manipulating therapeutic copper rods and holding our pelvises strictly still. Occasionally, we prepared eurythmic performances for school assemblies. In my class’s first such performance, coming in about the third or fourth grade, we enacted the creation of the world — the emergence of light, the separation of light from darkness, the separation of dry land from the waters, and so on. We portrayed angels and archangels and the fulfillment of God’s commands. (In a wholly nonsectarian, non-denominational way, of course. Waldorf schools usually deny that they have a religious agenda.)
In sum, eurythmy is Anthroposophy set in motion. It is the enactment of the Waldorf religion, Anthroposophy.
* That is to say, our physical bodies enable us to do eurythmy. When we die, we leave our physical bodies but we take with us the effects of our physical lives. (Implicitly, eurythmy improves our physical lives and thus it improves what we take with us into our lives after death.)
** Doing eurythmy means making manifest the spiritual influences we brought from our previous lives.
*** Our limbs (used so much in eurythmy) are the parts of us that shape our coming lives in the spirit realm after death.
**** Doing eurythmy connects us directly to the spiritual or "supersensible" realm (the realm that lies beyond or above the reach of our senses).
◊ Painting ◊
Crucial as eurythmy may be, other forms of art are also emphasized at Waldorf schools. At my school, we were taught to produce misty watercolor paintings with no straight lines or clear definitions. This was wet-on-wet watercoloring (wet brushes spreading watery paint over wet paper), a technique that effectively prevents a child from creating recognizable images of the real world, especially when only large, wide brushes are used. There was certainly something otherworldly about the images we created, bearing no resemblance to ordinary physical reality. Our paintings were in effect talismanic representations of the spirit realm — rich in color but devoid of harsh lines and clear-cut forms:
“You see, when the soul arrives on earth in order to enter its body, it has come down from spirit-soul worlds* in which there are no spatial forms. Thus the soul knows spatial forms only after its bodily experience, only while the aftereffects of space still linger on** ... But though the world from which the soul descends has no spatial forms or lines, it does have color intensities, color qualities.*** Which is to say that the world man inhabits between death and a new birth (and which I have frequently and recently described)**** is a soul-permeated, spirit-permeated world of light, of color, of tone; a world of qualities not quantities; a world of intensities rather than extensions.” 
The paints we used in our watercoloring were, from an Anthroposophical perspective, magical: Their hues provided entree into the spirit realm while simultaneously providing spiritual beings with access to our world.
“We have seen that colours...are windows through which we can ascend spiritually into the spiritual world....” 
Children using colorful paints are being directed toward such windows, according to Steiner. But, also, the colors bring spirit entities into the room. Thus, a clairvoyant can find different spiritual beings in a rooms of varying colors:
“In a red room, other beings become visible than in a blue room.... ” 
The use of color, in other words, is supposed to be a major part of a child’s spiritual training. This also helps explain why Waldorf classrooms are often painted in varying colors, here a beige room, there a pink or green room. The colored walls are meant to pull the students into varying spiritual states:
“Imagine we look at a surface shining all over with the same shade of strong vermilion ... We shall not be able to help feeling that this whole red world permeates us ... In this infinite red space we shall be able to feel as though before the judgment of God ... Suppose we do the same with a more orange surface, we shall feel that what comes to meet us...wants to arm us with inner strength ... With a yellow surface we feel as though transported back to the beginning of our cycle of time...our first earthly incarnation ... If we accompany green into the world...we experience an inner increase in strength in what we are in this incarnation ... With a blue surface you would [feel the desire] to overcome your egoism....” 
The main point for us at the moment is that, at Waldorf schools, colors are not used for art’s sake. Instead, the students are led to perform actions, such as painting, that are intended to lead them toward occult spiritual “truths.” And they do this in rooms that are often intended to direct particular spiritual entities toward them. If you are a believer in spiritual entities and states, you may like the sound of all this. But perhaps you should ask yourself whether Steiner’s versions of these matters are consistent with yours. If you are an orthodox Christian, Muslim, or Jew — or a follower of almost any other major faith — they are not.
* In Waldorf belief, humans have both spirits and souls, and there are spirit and soul worlds in the spirit realm. The combination of our spiritual natures is sometimes called the "spirit-soul."
** The human soul knows forms as found in the physical universe only while it is incarnated in a physical body or briefly thereafter.
*** The spirit realm (from which we descend to be born on Earth) has no forms or lines, but it has qualities such as color. Steiner develops this idea further in the next sentence: The spirit realm is a place of light, color, tones, qualities, intensities — it is permeated by soul and spirit.
**** This is an allusion to reincarnation. In Waldorf belief, we alternate lives on Earth with lives in the spirit realm. In Anthroposophy, life on Earth is often called life between birth and death; life in the spirit realm is often called life between death and birth.
◊ Music ◊
As you might expect, music is also not simply an art, according to Rudolf Steiner. It is steeped in mystical power. A music class, like a painting class, like a eurythmy class, is actually a cultic ritual — or so Steiner intended.
Steiner explained that composers get their musical ideas while asleep, during which time the higher parts of their beings leave their physical bodies and travel into the spirit world.
“When a man falls asleep, his astral body* goes out from his physical body, his soul then lives in the devachanic world**. Its harmonies make an impression on his soul ... The composer...takes his model from the spiritual world. He has in himself harmonies which he translates into physical terms. That is the secret connection between the music which resounds in the physical world and the hearing of spiritual music during the night....”*** 
In essence, Steiner says that composers go to the spirit realm, hear melodies there, and then translate these melodies to forms we can hear with our physical ears. Music is thus inherently spiritual.
In Waldorf belief, people who play or listen to music are theoretically being lured toward occult spiritual experiences.
“[O]n listening to music, he has an inkling...of the spiritual world.” 
Steiner is speaking, in this passage, of the composer listening to music. But other listeners share a similar spiritual experience: Composers are not the only ones who hear spiritual harmonies at night. Children in a Waldorf music class are actually being ushered toward esoteric mysteries. Steiner taught that musical tones operate much like colors, providing access to the spirit realm. Bear in mind that Steiner wasn’t speaking metaphorically — he meant this quite literally. A child listening to or making music is moved to the occult world of spirits.
“The world of sound will deepen and enliven the life of the soul in a very similar way ... We shall experience the tone [i.e., a musical note] as an opening made by the gods from the spiritual world, and we shall climb through the tone into the spiritual world.” 
Just as a parent may initially like Steiner’s statements about spiritual entities and color, it is quite possible that a parent may agree with Steiner that music can enliven a student’s soul. But, once again, I would urge you to be sure that Steiner’s literal meaning is acceptable to you. His version of spirituality includes not only reincarnation but also multiple gods (“an opening made by the gods”). Anthroposophy is polytheistic, gnostic, occult. If you want your child to be led toward polytheism, gnosticism, and occultism, well and good. But if you don’t, a Waldorf school may not be the best place for your child.
* In Waldorf belief, we have three invisible bodies in addition to our physical bodies. The astral body is the second of the three invisible bodies.
** That is, the spirit realm. ("Devachan" is Sanskrit for the heavenly realm, the home of the devas or gods.)
*** Note Steiner’s use of the word “secret.” Occultism centers on secrets: knowledge that initiates have but the rest of us don’t. This is the basis of Steiner’s claim to being a spiritual guide: He possessed secrets. To a lesser extent, Waldorf teachers who are devoted to Steiner’s doctrines believe that they share such secrets. And secrets don’t remain secret if they are revealed to others, for instance to you.
◊ Literature ◊
“Epic poetry turns to the upper gods, drama to the lower gods. True drama shows the divine world lying below the earth ... In contrast, epic poetry sees the spiritual world sink down." 
From the Waldorf perspective, literary art has spiritual effects like all other arts.
“The question I have in mind is ... ‘What is the actual positive reason for introducing art into our lives?’ It is only during our materialistic age that...we have forgotten the supersensible origin of art.” 
According to Steiner, “supersensible” phenomena are imperceptible to our regular senses but quite clear to clairvoyants like himself. Art of all types comes from the supersensible world — the spirit realm, the devachanic world — and it leads us back to that world.
In some ways, literature is even more potent than other arts, because it consists of words that convey meaning. According to Steiner, the effect of literature is to carry us toward “truths” that need no logical confirmation.
“We experience poetry much more externally than architecture or sculpture ... We actually forget time and space, or at least space, and are lifted out of ourselves ... Supersensible knowledge can be described as a transformation of ordinary abstract knowledge ... It is nonsense to require the same sort of logical, pedantic, narrow-minded proof of things in higher realms as is desirable in the crasser realms of the sciences, mathematics, and so forth.” 
The arts are not a place for narrow-minded proof — this is true enough. But does it then follow that what we receive from art is truer than what we receive from science or math? Steiner’s system requires us to stop thinking logically and instead immerse ourselves in fuzzy states of mind — dreamy, colorful, harmonic — where we will become spiritually initiated. Confession: I was an English major in college and later I became member of a college English department. I believe in the power of literature. But that is quite different from believing that any form of art trumps reasoning as a way to learn about reality. If you doubt me, I’ll hand the microphone back to Steiner. Here is a statement he made about novels written by blacks:
“[I]f we give these Negro novels to pregnant [white] women to read, then it won’t even be necessary for Negroes to come to Europe in order for mulattos to appear. Simply through the spiritual effects of reading Negro novels, a multitude of children will be born in Europe that are completely gray, that have mulatto hair, that look like mulattos!” 
Some Anthroposophists have claimed that the remark I’ve just quoted is a joke. If so, it is a “joke” that only a racist would tell or find amusing. But I submit that the remark is serious, not a stab at humor. Steiner was perfectly consistent in arguing that art has spiritual origins and spiritual effects. And he taught that the physical world is imbued with spiritual realities (such as the beings clairvoyants see in colored rooms). A novel, then, comes from spiritual sources and has spiritual effects extending into the physical realm. A novel written by a “Negro” carries “Negro” spiritual powers, which would — according to Steiner’s thinking — have injurious effects for white readers (who are more spiritually advanced, according to Steiner). 
For more about the uses and misuses of literature in Waldorf schools, see “Oh My Word”.
◊ Others Arts, All Arts ◊
Among the doctrines Steiner adopted from various religions are karma and reincarnation. Focusing on these concepts helps us to comprehend what Steiner meant about art arising from the spirit realm.
“Prebirth experiences are carried over into the world of the physical senses. What we see if we survey the architectural and sculptural works of art created by humankind is nothing other than an embodiment of unconscious recollections of our life between death and rebirth.”* 
Art comes out of our nightly excursions into the spirit realm, and it also comes out of our previous lives in the spirit realm. We live in that realm between our earthly lives, according to Steiner. The spirit realm leaves its marks on us (Steiner taught that children are born with memories of the spirit realm — see “Thinking Cap”). During our lives on Earth, we are visitors from a faraway place that we often revisit. We go there during our many hours of sleep and during our communings with the powers of art. Art helps us to make our return visits, and it provides us with links to the great beyond during our periods of physical existence on Earth.
So there you have it.
“Now we have a realistic answer to the question why human beings create art.” 
Art at Waldorf schools is a vehicle for occult beliefs. What we get from art are secret “truths” that need no proof, but that Rudolf Steiner possessed. According to him. Hardly anybody else has ever known as many occult secrets as he knew. According to him.
If you are a mainstream Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, or rationalist, you may have great difficulty accepting Steiner’s statements on these matters. In that case, you probably should steer clear of schools where Steiner’s doctrines are honored. Occultism and true faith are quite different, as are occultism and rationality. There are traces of many religions in Steiner's doctrines, but they exist alongside doctrines that violate each major faith. There are traces of science and reason in Steiner's doctrines, but only faint traces, engulfed in baseless mysticism. Steiner advocated the occult and the irrational. We find this everywhere we look in his doctrines, including his discussions of art.
* When we are born on Earth ("the world of the physical senses"), we carry within us the effects of our previous lives in the spirit realm (our "prebirth experiences"). The art we create in the physical realm embodies our unconscious memories from the spirit realm ("life between death and rebirth").
Please use this link if you want to see
the second half of "Magical Arts".
 THE GOETHEANUM: School of Spiritual Science (Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press, 1961), p. 25.
Here is a more complete statement of Steiner's view of the arts. An abyss separates Earthly life from the spirit realm. "Supersensible" cognition — that is, gaining knowledge through extraordinary means, specifically clairvoyance — enables us to pass over the abyss. The arts are especially helpful in this effort. They are a replacement for ordinary religion, which Steiner said is dead. (His own teachings, Anthroposophy, are the substitute — they are the religion pushed by Waldorf schools, although Anthroposophists shy away from the word "religion.")
“[T]he anthroposophical world-conception is capable of giving a strong impetus to cognition as well as to religious experience. In the case of cognition it stresses the fact that one must travel a road of purification before passing the gate to the spiritual world. On the other hand, it stresses the truth that religious life leads far beyond the facts observable by a person with only ordinary earthly consciousness. For Anthroposophy recognizes that the Mystery of Golgotha, the earth-life of Christ Jesus, though placed among historical events comprehensible to the senses, can be comprehended in its fulness only supersensibly.
“Fortunately the abyss on the edge of which man lives, the abyss opening out before him in religion and cognition, can be bridged. But not by contemporary religion, nor yet by a cognition, a science, derived wholly from the earth.
“It is here that art enters. It forms a bridge across the abyss.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION (Anthroposophic Press, 1964), lecture 4, GA 276.
 Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 247.
◊“The art of Eurythmy could only grow up out of the soul of Anthroposophy; could only receive its inspiration through a purely Anthroposophical conception.” — Rudolf Steiner, EURYTHMY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2006), pp. 65-66.
◊ "There is perhaps no other art through which one can experience man's relationship to the cosmos so vividly as one is able to do through the art of eurythmy Therefore this art of eurythmy, based as it is on the etheric forces in man, had to appear just at the time a modern Spiritual Science was being sought. For it is out of this modern Spiritual Science that eurythmy had to be born." — Rudolf Steiner, EURYTHMY AS VISIBLE SPEECH (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1984), p. 259.
Eurythmy is "visible speech": A poem or other text is enacted in such a way as to express its meaning through physical motion. Steiner had very strict views on this.
"A certain eurythmist was showing a poem by Albert Steffen. As she finished, Dr Steiner got up and said, 'That will not do'; and he went on to say that for this poem he had already given a form and this being so, no other form should be used. 'For any poem there is only one true form' — his voice, stern and earnest, remains in my memory." — Juliet Compton-Burnett, "The Last Months", A MAN BEFORE OTHERS: Rudolf Steiner Remembered (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), pp. 190-191.
Steiner taught that eurythmy has curative powers.
◊ "[B]y learning to bring the limbs into proper control, we can do much to counteract on the one hand feeble-mindedness, and on the other hand the tendency to mania. And here the way is marked out for us at once to Curative Eurythmy. In the case of a feebleminded child, what you have to do is to bring mobility into his metabolism-and-limbs system; this will stimulate also his whole spiritual nature. Let such a child do the movements for R, L, S, I (ee), and you will see what a good effect it will have. If, on the other hand, you have a child with a tendency to mania, then, knowing how it is with his metabolism-and limbs system, you will let him do the movements for M, N, B, P, A (as in Father), U (as in Ruth), and again you will see what an influence this will have on his maniacal tendency. We must always remember how intimate the connection still is in the young child between physical-etheric on the one hand, and soul-and-spirit on the other. If we bear this continually in mind, we shall find our way to the right methods of treatment." — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 103.
◊ "It can really be said that this dance is a remedy against jealousy and false ambition." — Rudolf Steiner, EURYTHMY AS VISIBLE SPEECH, p. 190.
Media accounts of Waldorf events are often superficial, failing to mention Steiner’s spiritualistic purposes. (One reason may be that these purposes are unimaginable to most people, so the need to delve into Steiner’s doctrines doesn’t occur to many. And, of course, reporters working on deadline don’t have much time for serious research of this sort.) Here is part of an item that appeared in early February, 2009. I will withhold the name of the school involved:
“[X] Waldorf School, an independent, co-educational, non-sectarian school, announced its fourteenth annual gala performance of the unique art of Eurythmy February 14th and 15th ... Eurythmy, an enlivening of the art of dance inaugurated by Rudolf Steiner, reveals the essence of music and the spoken word in gesture and movement, in a breathtaking blend of choreography, sound, light, and color.” — Business Wire, Feb. 11, 2009.
The article says nothing about linking people directly to the supersensible world. Parents considering a Waldorf school for their children probably should bring Steiner quotations to meetings with school representatives. Ask for clear, convincing explanations of the quotations. Also seek convincing explanations of the school's policies and goals. It would be especially important to determine, if possible, the depth of that particular Waldorf school's devotion to Anthroposophy. [See "Advice for Parents" and "Clues".]
 Rudolf Steiner, THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION (Anthroposophic Press, 1964), p. 23.
 Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF MYSTERY WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2010), p. 111.
 Rudolf Steiner, lecture given on October 15, 1911, quoted in ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER, John Fletcher (Mercury Arts Publications, 1987), p. 95.
 Rudolf Steiner, UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), pp. 160-161.
The walls may be painted in a special way intended to be conducive to spirituality.
"Rudolf Steiner encouraged artists to paint walls with transparent radiant color. He used the word 'lasur' to describe this new way of coloring walls — where color would feel as though it were in the space and not just on the wall. This provided a pure experience of color — as though one could 'spiritually pass through the walls.' In 1907 and 1908 Steiner spoke of new impulses in the arts and demonstrated these new directions. In a lecture given in 1911 he spoke especially of the importance of transparent color on walls. The early attempts were often unsuccessful because the application of fluid color on vertical surfaces had not been achieved. Rudolf Steiner developed organic paints to be used on the two interlocking domes of the first Goetheanum building: first the white coats, then the medium to carry the pigments. Plant colors were also developed and used for the murals on these domes. Although Steiner's original formulas lay dormant many years, research continued to re-establish organic mediums and plant color production. These were available in the 1970's and further developed in the 80's and 90's and used in the completion of the second Goetheanum." [http://www.lazurebylogsdon.com/what_is_lazure.htm. Also see http://www.lazure.com/lazure.html.]
 ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER, p. 136.
Steiner taught that we live in the physical world, the soul world, and the spirit world. He distinguished between soul and spirit. The soul is your personal spiritual essence and is renewed with each incarnation; your spirit partakes of higher spiritual essences and is immortal. The spirit world can be termed devachanic:
“The three worlds are 1. The physical world, the scene of human life. 2. The astral world or the world of soul. 3. The devachanic world or world of spirit. The three worlds are not spatially separate. We are surrounded by the things of the physical world which we perceive with our ordinary sense, but the astral world is in the same space; we live in the other two worlds, the astral and devachanic worlds, at the same time as we live in the physical world.” — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDING A SCIENCE OF THE SPIRIT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 10-11.
“Devas” are gods. The gods of the astral world speak to us through colors:
“The pupil gradually comes to recognize a certain resemblance between the physical and astral worlds ... [S]piritual beings, called gods or devas, now reveal themselves through the colours. The astral world, then, is a world of beings who speak to us through color.” — Rudolf Steiner, ibid., p. 14.
 ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER, p. 136.
 UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING, p. 162.
“[E]verything lives in music ... [T]he sun and the spheres speak in music ... [T]he sun...really does sound forth to us in music if we are in the world of Devachan.” — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDING A SCIENCE OF THE SPIRIT, p. 15.
Devachan is the world of spirit, the devachanic world. If Devachan is higher than the astral world, then music is “higher” than art forms that use physical colors or sounds.
“Music and language have their origins in the ‘Music of the Spheres’ ... What is the ‘Music of the Spheres’? It is a supersensible experience of the initiate who can penetrate to higher realms and hear — so to speak — the voices of the gods. Those who have such a gift tell us that music and language are reflections of those heavenly voices ... [T]he origins of art lie in the religious life.” — Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION, The Waldorf School Approach (Sophia Books, The Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996) , pp. 60-61.
 THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION OF THE ARTS, pp. 40-41.
 ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY , p. 238.
 Ibid., p. 240.
Literature is often read aloud in Waldorf schools, sometimes as accompaniment for eurythmy. The purpose is occult.
"If the art of speech is to be resuscitated — preferably more in the form of a narrative style, or as the kind of poetry developed by the ancient Greeks — and to revise also the art of declamation, which the older German poetry is based on, it is necessary to do something about speech formation. This is the point." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD'S CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 199.
Through the "proper" use of speech, one can hook into the powers and wisdom of the ancients — primarily clairvoyance. The ancients had clairvoyance, most of us now don't, but we all can have it — in a new, improved form — by following Steiner's instructions. The process entails moving upward from imagination to other clairvoyant capacities.
"In the picture of the descent of world evolution down to man you have that scale which human beings have to reascend, from Imagination through Inspiration to Intuition. In the poem transformed into eurythmy you have Imagination; in recitation and declamation you have Inspiration as a picture; in the entirely inward experience of the poem, in which there is no need to open your mouth because your experience is totally inward and you are utterly identified with it and have become one with it, in this you have Intuition." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTMAS CONFERENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1990), p. 36.
 Rudolf Steiner, ÜBER GESUNDHEIT UND KRANKHEIT (Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1994), GA 348, p. 189.
 This is a big and horrible topic. [See “Steiner’s Racism”.]
 ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY, p. 241.
 Ibid., p. 241.