My Life Among the Anthroposophists
by Grégoire Perra
My Life Among the Anthroposophists
I. My Waldorf Education
The Choice of My Parents
Rituals and Ceremonies
The School's "Celebrations"
This ritual took place every week. Another important "celebration" in the life of the school was the "Spiral of Advent." It required special ceremonial preparations, which I will describe. In a room set aside for the occasion, the teachers made a large spiral of fir branches on the floor. Its center was in the middle of the room. The windows were covered with black curtains to create almost total darkness. In the morning, the children entered the room in complete silence, all carrying in their hands unlit candles that the Master or Mistress had given them. They saw, flickering in the center of the spiral, the flame of a large candle. One at a time, the children had to walk to the center of the room by carefully following the path of the spiral; the children lit their candles from the flame that was there; then they turned around and traced the spiral in the opposite direction — and meanwhile, the rest of the gathering sang a hymn. The impression produced by such a ritual is very powerful. It is supposed to represent the internal path that the soul must follow at the approach of winter, to find the "light" within oneself. This ritual enacts Anthroposophical beliefs about the internalization of the soul, which occurs at this period the year under the influence of Libra, brought to embodiment in the form of the spiral. (Read Steiner's THE TWELVE HARMONIES OF THE ZODIAC, Ed Triads, or his CALENDAR OF THE SOUL, Ed E.A.R.)
One more significant ritual was "the fire of Saint John." On the Saturday falling closest to the longest day of the year, students gathered around a big fire. Forming a circle around it, we intoned songs. Then, once the fire had died back, each student had to jump over the flames. This was akin to a game for us, but we also felt that it contained a sacred and symbolic dimension. Later, I learned that the purpose of this event, instituted by the teachers, was to symbolize the elevation of the human soul that occurs at this time of year, according to Rudolf Steiner in the book FOUR COSMIC IMAGINATIONS OF THE ARCHANGELS (Triad Publishing) or as Steiner stipulated in a letter he wrote to the Christian Community about the significance of St. John. 
So we lived in a sort of permanent religious atmosphere, experiencing the seasons of the year in a state of mystical reverence, while our rational minds received little stimulation from our classes that were considerably abridged by these "celebrations" and by the many artistic activities included in the Waldorf program. This environment created a kind of artificially enlarged religiosity in me, a nebulous reverence that led me to abandon rationality in the sweetness of devotion. Later, as an adult — after deciding to leave the Anthroposophic community and its lifestyle compounded of rituals — I had great difficultly ridding myself of these habits. Indeed, Waldorf's influence was imprinted so strongly in me that I had to constantly strive not to abdicate the use of my brain, not to immerse myself in a life organized by incessant rituals. I had to fight not to yield to an inner passivity and lack of judgment that I tended to regard as the hallmarks of a harmonious life. I also had to constantly goad myself to try new things, like going on a trip or seeking to discover horizons that were unknown to me, as if my ideal life was that of a monastery punctuated by prayers, mantras, and "celebrations." I am not one of those who believe that religion is inherently harmful, an opiate necessarily producing blind obedience. But I see harm in a religiosity that stifles the growth of rationality, which is needed for the individual to become independent and responsible. Waldorf schooling promotes a uniform religiosity that overflows into all areas of school life. Even in science class, we were taught to observe the experiments with an attitude of devotion. I can even say that this atmosphere stimulated in me, at times, certain abnormal mental states. Thus, I remember that when a mythic tale was used as an introduction in Geography, I had the distinct feeling out of my body floating outside of time. That at least is how I pictured the experience after I had returned to myself.
Myths and Tales
My strongest memories from my first four years in this school concern the legends and myths we were told. Such tales filled most of the morning class (the "main lesson") and they were reinforced in afternoon art classes where we took up again the material we had heard in the morning.  We listened to tales from the great mythologies — Celtic, Norse, Greek, Egyptian — and after lunch we painted scenes from these myths. Sitting near the front of the classroom, sucking my thumb until a very advanced age, I listened to our fantasizing teacher, who deployed these frescoes in my imagination. He was so elated by these stories that he spluttered continuously, to the point that students in the first row had to hide behind their notebooks. At times, he stopped to wipe the spittle that had accumulated on the desks, causing the girls to feel their gorge rise. One could certainly rejoice that the students' imaginations were nourished and stimulated by myths. But, on other hand, we had nothing else important going on, we were taught almost nothing in other subjects. Our reasoning minds were, in effect, asleep. This created in me a kind of indefinite prolongation of the dreamy state of childhood, as well as an atrophying of my volitional and reflective faculties. We were never asked to exert our memories. There was never any testing or evaluation, in accordance with the doctrine that students should not be graded until they they are much older. We were accustomed to enjoying the beautiful stories that we were told, without having to make any accompanying mental effort. I became a kind of consumer of the imagination — a "myth junkie." 
Science Courses and Arts
Without the Slightest Trace of Thought
Difficult Social Relations
The Eighth Grade Play
Passage to the Upper Classes
II. My Years of Study
Anthroposophic Conferences Near the School
Too Much Waldorf Talk in Private
So, learning about the life of a person who had lived through the central events of her time awakened in me a deep interest. But it was actually a kind of trap. When I met her at school that day, I told her of the esteem I felt for her story. She invited me to come see her at home to discuss it all. I received this invitation during my last year as a student at the school. She welcomed me in and began narrating again her life in Russia, before starting to drift more and more often onto the subject of Anthroposophy. She invited me to come to her home once a month, on Sundays, all through my senior year. To get there, I traveled two and a half hours round-trip. I sat in her little room decorated with paintings of Rudolf Steiner. Sometimes she would read me passages from the works of the Master, in a tone at once serious and exalted. Then she began to tell me the history of the school I was attending. I regret not taking notes at the time, because I learned a lot of things that probably will fall into oblivion. But one event especially struck me, remaining tucked away in my memory to reappear years later. It was the arrival on the faculty, many years ago, of a teacher who left a special mark on the history of the school. This character claimed to be, in effect, clairvoyant. He also wrote books on Anthroposophic meditation and karma which are still on sale today.
My Sister's Eleventh Grade Play
My sister had left the school three years earlier to join my mother in the south of France. There she enjoyed a healthier and more structured home environment, and she thrived in her schooling. For my part, despite the entreaties of my mother, my attachment to the school was too strong for me to leave and join her also, although my situation as a teenager in the Paris region was perilous. I rarely saw my father and generally had to make my own way. The plan to stage a play inspired my sister to want to reconnect with her old class, which had been her social circle for more than eight years. She was not vindictive and decided to let bygones be bygones concerning the abuse she had suffered. So I asked the drama teacher, who was in charge of the tour, if my sister could accompany us and assist me in with the stage lighting, especially since it was very complex that year and required the continual use of an assistant. The drama teacher agreed, but the class teacher did not.  The class teacher called my sister and demanded that she agree in writing to return to the school for twelfth grade if she wanted to accompany this tour. The tone of her call was dry and imperative. My sister refused, but she was still able to participate in the tour because the drama teacher decided to ignore the demands of the class teacher. If I tell this seemingly insignificant story it is because I want to make the point that Waldorf students are supposed to yield completely to their Anthroposophic teachers. Theirs is not a normal form of schooling, but a kind of commitment that goes beyond the usual limits.  At no time did any official responsible for this class ask if it was good or not for my sister to return to Paris and to leave her new environment in the south of France. Dropping out of the school at the end of eighth grade was viewed as a kind of betrayal that she was later supposed to remedy. Using a form of extortion in an attempt to achieve this did not bother the conscience of the class teacher. Often, when I myself became a Waldorf teacher, I could see how Anthroposophic teachers treated students who had left the school and then returned for a school fair or an open house: They refused to acknowledge or speak to them. At the end of the tour, my sister came to me saying:
Karma Prohibits Abortion
During the summer of 1990, I decided to take a trip to foreign countries. With no money and no idea of how to "go exploring" and "see the world," I followed the advice of an Anthroposophist and wrote to the Goetheanum [the worldwide Anthroposophical headquarters] for a complete list Anthroposophic institutions caring for children and adults with disabilities. Indeed, during twelfth grade, I became aware of this type of institution while performing some "social work" at an institute for Anthroposophical curative education in Paris. I spent three weeks there and was struck by the atmosphere in this place, comparable in many respects to that of a Waldorf school, but more pronounced.  Indeed, because children with severe disabilities do not have the capacity to tell their parents what happens to them in such institutions, Anthroposophic caregivers do not hesitate to openly practice Anthroposophic rituals and other ceremonies with them. The caregivers only need to be vigilant during health checks and inspections. So [for my tour of foreign lands] I went successively in two institutions of this kind, the first in Germany, in Schlessig-Holstein, and the second in Ireland, near Kilkenny.
There was in this institution a young Scandinavian girl named Bodil with whom I became friendly. She told me her story. Ten years earlier, she visited a Camphill to work during the holidays, then she decided to stay all year, and then beyond. Now, without a school diploma and without qualifications, she realized she could not go anywhere else. She had cut her ties with her family and friends and had no base to return to in her country. She also had no more savings, since she did not receive a salary. She told me that all this was probably due to the fact that in a previous incarnation she had been a Viking who had done much harm to Ireland, and now she must make amends. She felt trapped. Distress was evident in her eyes. This is probably the reason that, when I was approached by the leaders of this Camphill inviting me to stay among them all year round, I declined, although not without some hesitation. Indeed, the idea of living in such a community was appealing to me, even if I was getting fatigued after just one month. But I felt deep within me that I had to return to France to continue my studies.
Within this Camphill, the leaders adopted a resolutely hostile attitude toward psychology and psychoanalysis, which they saw as incarnations of evil. "There are no psychologists here!" the main leader proudly repeated, although many patients there had significant psychological disorders that should have received skilled care. "We are all therapists!" he stated, when I expressed misgivings. It becomes clear why he took this line when you read the harsh criticism that Rudolf Steiner directed at psychoanalysis. Even Jung found no favor in his eyes, since Jung failed to open himself to the "spiritual wisdom" of Anthroposophy.  After my departure, I exchanged letters with a young German who had decided to stay for a year. She was responsible for a teenage girl who suffered from a growth disorder and significant symptoms of paralysis. In a Camphill, each worker is attached to a "house," led by one family, and must specifically assist one or two disabled children. One day, I received a letter in which my correspondent said that the paralyzed teenage girl in her care had died after suffocating in her sleep, and the police had come to ask questions and launch an official investigation. My pen pal seemed completely traumatized. I received no further news from her. This event is, in my opinion, typical of what can happen in this kind of institution when very important responsibilities are assigned to young people who lack qualifications, requiring them to bind themselves to disabled children from morning to night as if they were their own offspring (sometimes even sleeping in the same room!), without an institutional framework that would allow them to develop some perspective and to receive the necessary support in the event of problems of the kind that befell this young German.
Entering the Anthroposophical Society
Divided within Myself
During my college studies, I continued to follow the Anthroposophic conferences at the Rue de la Grande Chaumiere, reading Anthroposophic magazines and also the books of Rudolf Steiner. I remember being in the paradoxical situation of working as an intern at a secular publishing house  while carrying around Anthroposophic journals in my bag. It was as if I were cleaved in twain.
In my opinion, such a cleavage is characteristic of Anthroposophists. The esoteric teachings of Rudolf Steiner constitute a body of secret knowledge. Of course, we must spread it, but it deals with mysteries that only the elect are meant to possess. It is therefore inherently something that we do not pass around; instead, we guard it closely among ourselves. Even when we disclose it, we do so under the seal of secrecy.  It is a kind of virus that is injected into individual bodies but that should never leave the interior of those bodies. The process of cleavage is particularly enacted if you become a member of the School of Spiritual Science.  Indeed, it is forbidden for members of the School to pass the School's mantras and lessons to ordinary members of the Anthroposophical Society. A member of the School of Spiritual Science is thus doubly separated from the world, because he is divided even from ordinary Anthroposophists.
III. My Entry into the Profession
Young Teacher of History and Geography
in a Waldorf School
Working in an Anthroposophic Bookstore
Between the time I became inactive in the Anthroposophical Society and my return to full involvement in the Anthroposophic community, there were two intermediate steps for me.
The Christian Community
Member of the Editorial Board of
an Anthroposophic Review
In this trying situation, I did something that would deeply affect the next decade of my life. I picked up the 800 pages that I had written for my university thesis, and I began transforming certain passages into Anthroposophic articles, which I then sent to an Anthroposophical magazine. In these revisions, I did not hide my Steiner-inspired thinking. On the contrary, I framed the articles as openly Anthroposophic, studying Shakespeare in the light Steiner's teachings. My first article was entitled "Shakespeare and the Mystery of the Blood".  Carefully written, pertinent, abstruse, and especially Anthroposophic, it quickly piqued the attention of the magazine's steering committee. They accepted it for publication.
I should say that I was never paid for any such articles. Indeed, soon after the publication of the first, the managing editor contacted me and told me that I could receive compensation for my work, but most members of the editorial staff declined payment so that the magazine might flourish. The things she said made me understand that asking for payment would be improper. So I had a choice, but only formally. This is often held up as a special mark of the Anthroposophic community, under what Rudolf Steiner called the "fundamental social law," insisting that everyone work "freely" for the benefit of the community. As I had not decided to write articles in order to make money, but to spread ideas I believed in, I agreed that the magazine should give me nothing. Despite my financial plight, I thought receiving money to spread Anthroposophic doctrine would be indecent. Even when I was invited to give lectures, I always refused anything other than symbolic stipends. In contrast, other authors or translators for the magazine were paid handsomely for their work, which they accepted without qualm. I later knew Anthroposophic speakers who received large sums for the activity of lecturing. Similarly, some people circling around the training of Waldorf teachers had found a vein from which they derived substantial resources. I wanted to write articles and contribute to Anthroposophic conferences in a generous spirit. Probably this saved me from a certain kind of inner corruption.
My articles were quickly appreciated by readers of the magazine. It must be understood that few writers bridge the large gap that exists between the doctrines of Anthroposophy and the wider culture. Most of the time, Anthroposophists do not know what Steiner said about the latter in his works. They are quite unable to analyze cultural works from an Anthroposophical perspective. The number of individuals in France who manage such analyses can counted on the fingers of one hand. But now, before the eyes of the editorial staff, up from nowhere popped someone writing articles that seemed to achieve this objective. They not only published me immediately, but they asked me to join their team.
As a member of the staff, I continued to write my articles on Shakespeare, but also on other topics, including the latest films. Having absorbed, through my readings, what Steiner had said about symbols, I could indeed easily expand my work to subjects other than plays. In a journal that had, for years, published and republished Steiner lectures and articles by his dead disciples, my writings caused a stir. Here was someone who used Steiner's concepts to study modern and popular works, such as THE LORD OF THE RINGS, fantasy films, etc.
A Philosophy Teacher in a Waldorf School