Waldorf’s View of the Natural World

A Tangled Tale


Rudolf Steiner’s worldview represents an aversion to reality, an aversion that he decked out in the garb of occult “wisdom.” His doctrines come, in part, from the heretical tradition of gnosticism. As Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke has pointed out: “Rudolf Steiner...blended modern Theosophy with a Gnostic form of Christianity....” [1] Steiner claimed deep knowledge of gnostic Christian teachings. When critics said he “was merely reviving the ideas of Christian Gnosticism,  Steiner asserted that he independently investigated the spirit realm, confirming the truth of many gnostic and occult teachings through the use of clairvoyance. [2]

In gnosticism, the physical universe is often described as having been created not by God Almighty but by a demiurge — a subordinate god who opposes spirituality. This lower god is sometimes said to be Yahweh, the god of Israel, whom we generally refer to as Jehovah (and whom most Western monotheists identify as God Almighty). The physical universe created by the demiurge is deemed inherently illusory and evil — we must get past it to find truth. [3] Most rationalists call the physical universe reality, without necessarily denying the existence of a spiritual plane beyond the physical. But for gnostics, nature, the physical world, is a dreadful place, to be avoided or transcended. A modified form of this antipathy to nature is reflected in Anthroposophical lore and, at least sometimes, in Waldorf school curriculums: Nature should be honored as a gift and manifestation of the gods; but it should also be feared and rejected, as a false realm of illusion and animality.

The teachers at my Waldorf school [see "I Went to Waldorf"] imparted a sort of bipolar appreciation of nature. Nature's beauties were important, apparently. Our teachers professed a love of nature — they displayed crystals and pine cones and colorful leaves in the classrooms. Yet at the same time, our teachers subtly urged us to look beyond nature — they conveyed the impression that nature was, in some unspoken way, unworthy of us. Certainly, we were shielded from an understanding of nature's true operations.

In the elementary grades, our teachers would occasionally take us on "nature walks." During these, we were encouraged to note spiral patterns (e.g., in the petals of flowers), or striking symmetries (as in plants with two or three nearly identical heads), or interesting branch patterns (as in deciduous saplings). These were patterns or archetypes that, it was implied, reflected "indwelling" forces — i.e., spiritual forces.

We were not taught Darwinian evolution, nor were we introduced to many standard biological concepts, so the families of various plants and animals were largely unknown to us. We were also largely steered away from the knowledge that a) much of the color in nature is an evolutionary adaptation promoting procreation (sex), and b) most creatures spend a great deal of their waking time searching for whom they may devour (nature is red in tooth and claw). The "facts of life" were, for the most part, withheld from us. Instead, we were guided toward a misleading teleological idea of the "purpose" behind natural phenomena. (The hallmark of Darwinian evolution is that no mutation is purposeful; changes occur randomly, and some serendipitously provide a survival benefit, so creatures with these characteristics tend to survive and reproduce, while the others fall behind in the competition for survival.) Waldorf covertly adopted what would today be called a creationist approach, emphasizing spiritual influences and intentions — but the school gave these some odd Steinerian twists. [4]

In his meetings with the teachers at the first Waldorf school, Steiner said that the Waldorf curriculum is meant to fulfill the “intentions of the gods” [5]. These intentions can be comprehended only through an appreciation of dualism: the stark contrast between physical and spiritual realities. As Waldorf students, we were constantly reminded of this dualism, although usually indirectly. One instance: In upper grades we were taught about the interactions of "telluric" and "etheric" forces — that is, Earth forces and super-Earthly forces [6]. There is some truth in this paradigm, of course. Almost any religious faith hinges on the idea there there is a spiritual realm beyond the reality our senses can perceive. Even on the purely physical plane, a sort of dualism can be identified: The things present on the Earth are affected by things above the Earth. The atmosphere and the Earth interact, as in the cycle of rainfall and evaporation. Moreover, astronomical bodies (mainly the sun and moon) have influences on the Earth (warmth, light, tides). Looking farther out, it may be that meteors and comets delivered the basic building blocks of life (organic compounds) to the surface of the Earth. Extremely distant exploding stars produced most of the heavier elements that ultimately arrived on Earth. Possibly a planet once collided with Earth, creating the moon from the debris. Likewise, the Earth certainly influences the moon (capturing it in orbit and slowing its spin until it always holds one face toward us). Earth's influence on the sun or any other celestial object is, however, far smaller (and in the cases of truly distant objects, essentially nil). 

Now please understand: Nothing even slightly resembling the sensible things I have just said was included in our curriculum. When our teachers spoke of "telluric" and "etheric" forces, they were alluding primarily to spiritual and/or astrological forces. In his yearbook messages to both my class and the class before mine, our headmaster referred to the heavens in astrological terms. For the preceding class, he wrote: In 1962 the heavenly constellation was such that at one time millions in the East feared the end of the world.” [7] Addressing my class, he wrote: “For some onlookers, a special star has shone over your class from its beginning many years ago.” [8] To outsiders, such language may seem innocuous. Those who have studied Steiner, however, know that Anthroposophists do not use terminology of this sort lightly. Steiner often spoke of the “powers” of celestial bodies and constellations: e.g., “In the course of its development, the good portion of humankind will learn to use the Moon forces to transform the evil part ... ” [9], or “In cholerics, you will generally find an abnormally developed sense of balance (Libra) [i.e., kids under the influence of the astrological sign, Libra] ... In sanguines (Virgo)...the sense of movement predominates. In the same way, in melancholics (Leo) the sense of life predominates...”, etc. [10]

Nudging kids toward mysticism and astrology does them a severe disservice. Waldorf students are generally taught, subtly but repeatedly, that the unreal is real and the real is unreal. Enormous confusion can result. And kids' heads may spin even more when their teachers flash mixed signals about fundamental matters, such as the nature of nature. Allow me, please, to toss in a quick aside before we press on. Our school stood on a large expanse of level land. For reasons that were never explained to us, the school hired bulldozers and dump trucks to come in and create artificial hills, one for each of our two main playgrounds. Steiner found significance in hills, because they rise toward the sky and thus are infused with etheric influences. “We could show that here is the Earth, and the Earth grows a little bump, a hill. This hill, however, is filled with the forces of the air and also of the Sun.” [11] The creation of machine-made, totally unnatural hills was a betrayal of our school's professed love of nature and our teachers' frequently expressed antipathy to technology. [12] Those little false hills did not manifest the gods' will so much as the falsity that ran wide and deep through our schooling. But it is a small point. Let it go.


Nature is not utterly debased, according to Steiner. The natural world is infused by the spiritual world; indeed, all of physical reality is just a condensation of spiritual reality. In this sense, nature deserves our respect, even our reverence. Moreover, with the Crucifixion, Christ's blood — his essence, as it were — flowed into the Earth. So, Steiner taught, the natural realm on the Earth has a sort of holiness, and for this reason Anthroposophists are often advocates of "green" beliefs, promoting conservation, organic gardening, and ecological sensitivity.

But the other pole, the aversion to nature, still stands tall in Anthropological doctrines. Nature is not wholly evil, but elements of evil run through it. It is the abode of “elemental beings” or “nature spirits,” lowly and generally amoral beings. Some of these entities have been given names such as “goblins.” Yes, Steiner taught that such mythical creatures as goblins are real. They are more or less antithetical to humans, although their actions can benefit us — they represent stages of existence that are beneath us, yet they may serve us. Animals also represent such low stages — they are beneath us, yet they have their uses.

Let’s start by hearing about the animals, since they actually exist. During an early period of our evolution, according to Steiner, man shed the various animals out of himself, one by one. Man did not evolve upward from the animals; rather, animals evolved downward from man. Humans existed before any of the animals came into existence. Then, as humans developed, we cast aside various lowly portions of ourselves. These became the animals.

“The higher animals did not yet exist ... Man was there, but in quite a different form ... Afterward, man evolved higher, and left behind him the fish-form which had been contained within him ... Again man evolved higher, and separated the birds from himself. Next the reptiles and amphibians came out of man ... Later still, man put the mammals out from himself....” [13] 

The main point to note in Steiner’s absurd account is that animals are beneath us; we had to rid ourselves of them. They represent inferior characteristics we had to shed on our evolutionary ascent — they are the debris we left behind. Unless we continue to reject them, we will slip backwards spiritually.

Nature spirits may represent another form of debris. Inferior humans who fail to climb the evolutionary ladder “fall out of evolution” [14], after which they deteriorate to subhuman status in the form of nature spirits. This fate entails losing the ability to reincarnate, which means losing the capacity to make progress from life to life. 

“Such souls lose the possibility of incarnation and find no other opportunity ... [T]here are no more bodies bad enough [to house them] ... Beings that stay behind at such stages appear in a later epoch as subordinate nature spirits.” [15] 

Steiner said that losing the ability to reincarnate makes you a merely “natural” being. 

“Quite a number of people have been born [who]...are not reincarnated, but are human forms filled with a sort of natural demon. There a quite a large number of older people going around who are actually not human beings, but are only natural.” [16] 

To be “natural,” in Steiner’s teachings, is to be inferior and wicked.

Goblins, specters, undines, phantoms, and so forth, are overlapping examples of nature spirits. The four main types of nature spirits are gnomes (aka goblins), sylphs, undines, and fire spirits (aka "salamanders".) These are higher than the "subordinate" nature spirits that wicked people may become, but they are nonetheless beneath us. One handy term to cover them (not quite accurate, but handy) is "fairies." As a rule, nature spirits are not our friends. If they are not quite immoral, they are often amoral. Concerning goblins, for instance, Steiner said: 

“There are beings that can be seen with clairvoyant vision at many spots in the depths of the earth ... Many names have been given to them, such as goblins, gnomes and so forth ... What one calls moral responsibility in man is entirely lacking in them ... Their nature prompts them to play all sorts of tricks on man.... ” [17] 

They belong to a different “world” from ours — they are part of nature in a way we are not. 

“Gnomes are...unable to grasp how there can be anything but an ineffectual relationship with our world.” [18] 

Other nature spirits may have better intentions, at least sometimes, but don't trust any of them without strong assurances.

Nature spirits can be detected by peering through seams in the natural world, Steiner claimed. For this purpose, "occult vision" — that is, clairvoyance — must be employed.

"[O]ccult vision [may attain] an impression of other beings standing immediately behind the veil of nature ... This is especially the case if we devote ourselves to the peculiar play of a body of water tossing in a waterfall and giving clouds of spray, if we yield ourselves to the forming and dissolving of mist and to watery vapour....” [19] 

Rationally, we should say that anyone who semi-sees “fairies” a swirl of mists is experiencing an optical illusion. But Steiner, the opponent of rationality, accepted false impressions as truth. He wanted to pierce “the veil of nature” — he taught that nature is a deceptive screen that we need to get past.

The four main types of nature spirits — the four forms of fairies — can seem almost charming, and their representations in Waldorf classrooms can exert a kind of charm. But Steiner described other elemental beings, some of which are distinctly nastier than goblins. Let’s look at these, then circle back to consider the basic four. The nastiest group consists of phantoms, specters, and demons, and they literally represent wrongdoing. Phantoms, the mildest of the lot, are wraiths that come to Earth through the physical bodies of wrongdoers. They are 

“beings which have been created in the physical body through the effect of lying and slander ... Such flit and whirr about in our world and belong to a class that we call ‘phantoms.’ They form a certain group of elemental beings related to our physical body and invisible to physical sight.” [20]

Specters embody transgressions associated with our “etheric” bodies. Steiner said that we have three nonphysical bodies in addition to the physical body — the etheric body, the astral body, and the “I.” Lowly specters are comfortable in our lowest incorporeal bodies, our etheric bodies. 

“All that leads to want of harmony, all that makes for bad adjustments between continued into the etheric body.” [21] 

Wrongs committed by humans (inharmonious behavior, bad relationships) cause detritus to drop from the spiritual worlds and manifest in our environment: 

“The accumulation in the etheric body caused through these [wicked] experiences of the soul...brings about detachments from the beings working in the spiritual worlds and these likewise are now to be found in our environment — they are the ‘specters’ or ‘ghosts.’” [22] 

Don’t be misled by the idea that specters and ghosts come from the spiritual worlds — they are not truly spiritual beings. Steiner sometimes called nature spirits “elemental beings” or "elementals" precisely in order to stress their lack of spirit: 

“To call them elemental spirits shows the greatest possible ineptitude, for it is just [i.e., exactly] spirit that they do not possess. It is better to call them elemental beings....” [23]   

The worst nature spirits are associated with our “astral” bodies. Higher than etheric bodies, our astral bodies journey into spiritual worlds every night when we sleep. Evildoing can cause an astral body to pick up wicked invisible hitchhikers or “enclosures” during the night. These wicked spirits, which Steiner identified as demons, then ride to Earth tucked inside the astral body. 

“In all that works [evilly] from soul to soul in our world, from the giving of bad advice to all those methods which people employ in order to overwhelm others...[this] is expressed in the night in the astral body. The astral body gets these ‘enclosures’ and thereby beings are detached from other worlds and whirr through our world again as elemental beings. They belong to the class of demons.” [24]

Nature spirits can sometimes be beneficial to us, enabling us to develop and evolve above them. Indeed, when nature spirits behave themselves, they may fulfill the intentions of the gods, assisting us as the gods intend. Steiner placed the four basic types of nature spirits in the soil, air, water, and fire: goblins in the ground, sylphs in the atmosphere, undines in liquid water, and "salamanders" in flames. In giving form to the "four elements," nature spirits lay a sort of foundation for our lives on Earth. But the hostility and mischievousness of naughty nature spirits cause troubles. 

"Take the gnomes and undines: they are, so to say, in the world which borders on human consciousness; they are already beyond the threshold. Ordinary consciousness is protected from seeing these beings, for the fact is that these beings are not all benevolent ... [I]n the moment when man breaks through into the world wherein they live and are active, he finds there not only the well-disposed beings but the malevolent ones as well ... The main difference between the ill-disposed beings and the well-disposed is that the latter are always drawn more to the plant and mineral kingdoms, whereas the ill-disposed are drawn to the animal and human kingdoms ... Now someone might say: Why then are these malevolent gnome and undine-beings there, if they engender parasites? Well, if they were not there, man would never be able to develop within himself the force to evolve the structure of his brain." [25] 

According to Steiner, most things can be turned to good account, even the actions of malevolent nature spirits. But their malevolence is real, and we must tread cautiously.

The benefits we receive from nature spirits are not easy to describe (and not worth worrying about, since these doctrines are nonsense). Trying to explain, Steiner discussed our "auras," if you can believe it: 

"Here on earth, a person's aura carries a kind of remnant of the things he received when he had ascended to the spiritual world [in sleep or death]. Having left behind the realms of wisdom, of beauty, of truth [spiritual realms we exit when descending to Earth again], mankind must enter the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms [i.e., nature] ... The person who does not give in to his animal instincts is not necessarily wise. The wise human being — wise in the sense implied by strength of heart — is the one who possesses moral ideas [animal instincts are lowly, sometimes sexual: earthy; wisdom is supernatural] ... [O]ur materialistic age is distinguished by the way it so thoroughly involves the sphere of sexuality in artistic considerations — a piece of mischief for which our age is responsible ... [I]t is our physical body that connects us with the realm of physical becoming, [and] our brain connects us with certain elemental beings...the elemental beings of the myths and sagas. There they are called elves, fairies, and so on.” [26]

Here is one of the most affirmative statements Steiner made about nature beings. See how it strikes you. 

“The predecessors of our Earth-gnomes, the Moon-gnomes, gathered together their Moon-experiences and from them fashioned this structure, this firm structure of the solid fabric of the Earth, so that our solid Earth-structure actually arose from the experiences of the gnomes of the old Moon ... Now let us pass over from the gnomes to the undines, the water-beings ... These beings have not the need for life that human beings have ... [They] have rather a need for death ... They only feel their life to be truly theirs when they die ... And now let us proceed to the sylphs. In the course of the year we find the dying birds ... Dying birds possess spiritualized substance ... [T]hey desire to give this spiritualized substance over to the higher worlds ... But here an intermediary is needed. And these intermediaries are the sylphs ... And when we pass over to the fire-beings [i.e., salamanders], only think how the dust on the butterfly's wings seems to dissolve into nothing with the death of the butterfly ... When in the course of the year the butterfly-world approaches its end, all this becomes glittering and shimmering ... [I]nto this glittering and shimmering the fire-beings pour themselves; they absorb it.” [27]

Some of Steiner's language and concepts may seem attractive, but his essential attitude toward nature was, at best, ambivalent. He found some value in the natural world — but he also found much that he considered lowly, vile, even evil. He wanted to get past nature, moving through the "veil" toward "higher" worlds. The effort to do so may or may not be advisable — such worlds may or may not exist. 

If trying to get past nature means detaching ourselves from reality, then Steiner's advice was surely perilous. Children can be educated to live in a world of Moon-gnomes, suicidal sylphs, and other imagined apparitions involved with death, or they can be raised to live and thrive in the real world, the one described in science and, perhaps, mainstream religions. Choosing to go with Steiner almost certainly means choosing an alienating cult — alienating from reality, from ourselves, and from truth.


Nature is deceptive — within it lurk demonic snares, which may cause you to use your intelligence too much. Or so Steiner said. The natural world consists of matter, which is the antithesis of spirit (although it is condensed spirit — don't expect complete logical consistency from Steiner). The snares of nature have been placed in our path by our spiritual foes, who want to trip us up with illusion. 

“I must emphasize this again and again, that the saying ‘the world is Maya’ is so vitally important." [28

The greatest liar, the author of so many illusions that await us in the world of matter, is the devil Ahriman. 

“Ahriman infused into human observation something like a dark smoke cloud that prevents penetration to the spiritual. Through Ahriman's agency man is enmeshed in lies, in maya, in illusion.“ [29]

The minions of Ahriman hide just below the surface of the Earth, and they strive to create a race of subhumans residing within the elements. 

“Were [the minions of Ahriman] to be successful, man would become extremely clever in the material realm — incredibly clever and intelligent. They cannot achieve their end directly, but they aim at doing so indirectly. And their efforts, which have actually been going on for thousands of years, have in fact succeeded in producing a whole race of sub-human beings. Their method is as follows. [paragraph break] Suppose a man has strong and rude instincts. These beings will clutch at his instinctive nature and seize hold of it. The man then falls victim to the Ahrimanic powers. He is completely given up to his passions and leads a wild and dissolute life. When a man has in this way become a prey, during his earthly life, to the Ahrimanic powers, then these powers will be able to hold on to his instinctive nature and tear it out of him after death. There exists already on the Earth a whole population of beings who have arisen in this way. They are there, in the elements of earth and water, a sub-human race.” [30]

All in all, nature is a tricky place. Respect it. But fear it. And leave it behind ASAP.

— Roger Rawlings


An Elaboration

You will not find complete consistency in Steiner's teachings. The degree to which nature is corrupt, depraved, or evil changes from book to book, lecture to lecture. But the overall notion is plain enough: The spirit realm (or at least the part of it inhabited by the good gods) is far better than the lowly, material, dead or at least very sick physical realm.

Yet there is good in nature, or in parts of it, anyway. Here's the bright side:

We see nature around us, and we see also that man enters into his physical existence through the forces of this same nature. We know through our study of Spiritual Science [i.e., Anthroposophy] that we do not rightly regard nature if we only pay attention to its external physical features. We know that divine forces permeate it and we only become aware of our origin from nature in the true sense of the word when we perceive this divine element that weaves and works within it. In this we perceive the Father principle of nature. All that permeates nature as the divine is the Father principle in the sense of the old religions and also in the sense of a rightly understood Christianity — whether it be the flowers of the field that we observe, and how they grow, or the roll of the thunder and the flash of the lightning; or whether we watch the sun in its path across the heavens or gaze upon the shining stars; or whether again we listen to the brooks and the streams rushing along — when we become aware of what is revealed so mysteriously in this external revelation of nature as the origin of all ‘becoming,’ then we are at the same time aware of what places us as men within this world through the mystery of physical birth.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SEARCH FOR THE NEW ISIS, DIVINE SOPHIA (Mercury Press, 1983), lecture 1, GA 202.

But do not expect complete consistency in Steiner's teachings. 

“[T]here are entities in this next-door world...which could only be made known to human beings under certain conditions. They have a specific function in the whole universe and especially also in human evolution.

“...Today I want to talk to you about one class of such entities, the class whose function in the great scheme of things is connected with human birth and death ... If one were to speak of them, and of the whole way in which these elemental spirits [sic] live, one would be speaking of something that would seem like red-hot coals to people.

“...[T]he divine spirits who guide world destinies have to use elemental spirits who actually are the enemies of everything human beings seek and desire for their welfare and well-being here in the physical world.

“...[T]he gods always rule for a time within a particular sphere of elemental spirits and then human beings enter into this same sphere and use the elemental spirits. In earlier times, the elemental spirits of birth and death essentially served the divine spirits who guided the world; since our day — and this has been going on for some time now — the elemental spirits of birth and death are serving technology, industry and human commerce.

“...[T]hese elemental spirits are the enemies of human welfare and want to destroy it. We have to see things straight and not have any illusions concerning the radical nature of this. Civilization must progress in the fields of technology, industry and commerce. But by its very nature such a civilization cannot serve the well-being of humanity in the physical world; it can only prove destructive to the human weal.

“ ...The elemental spirits of birth and death are, of course, messengers of Ahriman. The iron necessity of world evolution forces the gods to use Ahriman's messengers to control birth and death. When they ask the elemental spirits to act on their behalf they do not allow the powers of these messengers to enter the physical world. But as civilization goes into its decline, from the fifth post-Atlantean period [i.e., the fifth age since Atlantis sank] onwards, this element has to come in again, so that catastrophe may be brought about.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FALL OF THE SPIRITS OF DARKNESS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), lecture 4, GA 177.

The natural world, the Earthly sphere, the physical world — this realm might have been better except for a recent event. The Archangel Michael fought a war in Heaven, as it were, and cast his defeated enemies down to the Earth.

“Events in which humanity is now caught up...are more significant than is often realized today. I have sought to show that momentous occurrences in the spiritual world form the background to these events. I have also spoken of the profoundly significant battle which took place in the spiritual regions of the world [i.e., the cosmos: the "spiritual worlds"] between the early 1840s and the autumn of 1879. This was one of the battles which occur repeatedly in world and human evolution and are customarily represented by the image of Michael or St. George fighting the dragon. Michael won one such victory over the dragon on behalf of the spiritual worlds in 1879. At that time the spirits of darkness who worked against the Michaelic impulses were cast down from the spiritual realm into the human realm. As I said, from that time onwards they have been active in the feeling, will and mind impulses of human beings. Present-day events can therefore only be understood if one turns the inner eye to the spiritual powers which are now moving among us.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FALL OF THE SPIRITS OF DARKNESS, lecture 13. [For more on this, see “Michael".]

The Earthly realm, and in particular the human portion of the Earthly realm, is haunted by demonic powers cast down from on high. We must hope that any beneficent spirits moving among us will assist us against the spirits of darkness present in our environs. Sadly, many of the spirits moving around and among us now are our foes.

The degree to which nature is corrupt, depraved, or evil 
changes from book to book, lecture to lecture. 
But the overall notion is plain enough: 
The spirit realm 
(or at least the part of it inhabited by the good gods) 
is far better than the lowly, material, dead 
or at least very sick physical realm.
Our allies are, mostly, above;
our foes are, worrisomely,
below or, as is sometimes said,
here below.

(The parts of the spirit realm
inhabited by evil gods 
offer us little if any unalloyed aid, of course.
At best, they offer us temptations 
that can be turned to good account only 
through the intervention of beneficent spirits,
especially the Sun God.
Concerning evil gods, demons, and the like,
see, e.g., "Evil Ones".
Concerning the Sun God, 
see "Sun God".)

[Anthroposophic Press, 1987.]

From the back cover:


"Steiner explains in this history of the development 

of human consciousness that the world has [sic: had] 

already ended in the fourth century A. D. 

At that time it became impossible to find the spirit in nature. 

Since that time we have been living in an 

increasingly spiritual world on a disintegrating, dying earth

[i.e., our true life is now separate from, and higher than,

 life on the lowly, "dying" — spiritless — earth]."

The following is a bit difficult to follow, 

but I think you'll find the effort eye-opening.

I urge you to read the entire lecture, 

"Ahrimanic Elemental Beings", 

in the book NATURE SPIRITS.

“[W]e are surrounded by beings who, in accordance with the cosmic plan, have been charged with the mission to carry over into the future that which man himself is unable to transmit from one earthly life to another, especially the abstract content of our libraries, for instance ... These beings must enlist into their service others who had long been alien to them, who had experienced a totally different evolution from the spiritual beings associated with man. These beings with their different evolution I have called in my books ahrimanic beings. Despite their different evolution there are occasions when they come in contact with our own, when, for example, we build a motor car. They are beings who are able by virtue of their ahrimanic cosmic forces to understand modern techniques such as the construction of a motor car. They transmit to future ages the technical achievements of civilization.

"...[W]hen a medium is in a trance entity of this kind which is subject to ahrimanic influences and whose function is to transmit the achievements of civilization to the future slips into the brain. Instead of being the bearer of the human ego, the medium is, temporarily, the vehicle of an elemental being which is neglecting its duty in the cosmos.

"...Ahrimanic beings exist in the cosmos and possess an intelligence far superior to that of mankind ... Something of this intelligence passes over to their progeny, the elemental beings who slip into mediumistic brains, so that in this way significant information may be revealed by mediums ... Though we may learn much of importance from them, this is not the right path to spiritual knowledge. [The right path is the use of clairvoyance of the kind Steiner possessed, according to Steiner. Steiner proceeds to give an example of true clairvoyant vision, in contrast to faulty mediumistic vision.]

"...The souls of those who have recently died are surrounded by strange demonic forms. At the entrance to this intermediate world which the dead must enter and in which we can accompany them with a certain clairvoyant vision, we meet with demonic figures with enormous webbed feet — enormous by earthly standards — like the duck or the wild duck species and other aquatic animals, huge webbed feet that are perpetually changing shape. These beings have a form somewhat similar to that of the kangaroo, but half bird, half animal.

"...If, as you are standing among the autumn crocuses, you try to evoke the state of consciousness that is able to follow the dead, you will see, wherever an autumn crocus is growing, a being of the kind I have just described, with webbed feet and strange kangaroo-like body.

"...We can only know what the elemental beings are, the progeny of the ahrimanic powers, when we enter into the world immediately bordering our own [through true clairvoyance] ... The deceptive and highly hallucinatory element in everything connected with mediumistic consciousness is explained by the fact that those who contact these beings have no understanding of their real nature." — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), lecture 10, GA 243.

Does the divine cosmic plan — i.e., the carefully wrought intention of the good gods — encompass all spirits and all of their actions, the "good" and also the "bad"? Do evil spirits actually, in the end, serve the cause of divine beneficence? Steiner often indicated that this is the case. But, then again, he often indicated the opposite. We may lose our souls, he said. If we succumb to Ahriman, we may commit what amount to spiritual suicide. This danger is probably greater now than ever.

"[T]oday...the spirit-soul [man's combined spirit and soul] is asleep. The human being is thus in danger of drifting into the Ahrimanic world, in which case the spirit-soul will evaporate into the cosmos. We live in a time when people face the danger of losing their souls to materialistic impulses [i.e., excessive involvement in the physical realm]. That is a very serious matter. We now stand confronted with that fact." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 115.

To the extent that Anthroposophy finds 

virtue in the natural world,

a reverent attitude toward nature is cultivated.

This helps explain the presence of "nature tables" 

in many Waldorf classrooms.

Some critics see these as pagan altars.

From an essay by Dan Dugan []:

"’What is the altar in Room One?’ a visiting public school teacher challenged parents assembled at Oak Ridge Elementary School on May 7, 1997. They had gathered for a meeting with Superintendent of Schools Jim Sweeney to discuss the school's 'Waldorf Method.' She was referring to a Waldorf school tradition, the 'nature table,' and implying that it had a religious significance. Does it?

“Every lower-grade Waldorf classroom that I've visited has had a nature table. It's an important part of the Waldorf way. The teachers create the tables with seasonal themes, making artistic arrangements of natural objects such as plants, wood, and rocks, and symbolic objects such as candles, Menorahs, figurines, and polished crystals.

“...Uhrmacher describes a full-blown morning prayer ceremony. Note the ritual use of bell and candle, and the students' assumption of the occultist posture of prayer:

“'Clock time registers 8:50. Miss Bronte [2nd grade teacher] sweeps to the back of the room to turn off the lights and then she says, "Let's have a golden tone this morning. Who has never done this?" A few students raise their hands. Miss Bronte chooses Ariana to ring the golden tone. With great enthusiasm and anticipation, acting as though she has never done this before, Miss Bronte holds the xylophone for Ariana, who with a flick of the wrist creates the golden tone. The class listens quietly in the darkened room.

“'Next, Miss Bronte strikes a match against the grey rock on the nature table. In unison the class says, "Candle, candle, burning bright, thank you for your loving light." The students stand and cross their arms in front of their chests and recite a verse by Rudolf Steiner that I am told is the one verse said, with some variation, in every Waldorf classroom between first and fourth grades:

“The sun, with loving light,

Makes bright for me each day.

The soul, with spirit power,

Gives strength unto my limbs.

In sunlight, shining clear,

I reverence, O God,

The strength of humankind

Which thou so graciously

Has planted in my soul,

That I with all my might

May love to work and learn

From thee come light and strength

To thee rise love and thanks.

“Students recite the words clearly. Next, with accompanying hand movements, students sing another song. Then they snuff the candle with great attention and ritual...” — P. Bruce Uhrmacher, WALDORF SCHOOLS MARCHING QUIETLY UNHEARD (dissertation, Stanford School of Education.) May, 1991, pp. 108-109.

Dugan quotes Steiner: 

“[W]hen he [Goethe] was seven he built himself an altar to nature, taking his father's music stand and placing on it plants from his father's herbarium and also minerals and crowning it all with a little incense candle that he lit by focusing the beams of the morning sun with a burning-glass; an offering to the great god of nature, a rebellion against everything imposed on him by education.” — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1988), p. 113.

Dugan then comments: 

“This is pretty explicit, ‘an altar to nature,’ and ‘an offering to the great god of nature.’” Presumably this is the sort of altar Waldorf teachers recreate in their classrooms. Note that the passage comes as part of Steiner's "practical advice to teachers." Driving the point home, Steiner told the Waldorf teachers that Goethe — whom Steiner often praised as an exemplar — represented the correct educational approach: “In the very essence of his nature, Goethe was always a human being longing to be educated in the way people ought to be educated today.” — Ibid., p. 113.

Steiner taught that animals descended from us —  

they diverged from the main current of human evolution.

Similarly, evil races split off from the good —  

they, too, diverged from the ascending stream  

of human evolution:

"Just as older conditions which have degenerated 

to the ape species seem grotesque to us today, 

so do materialistic races remain at the standpoint of evil, 

and will people the earth as evil races. 

It will lie entirely with humanity as to whether 

a soul will remain in the bad race

or will ascend by spiritual culture to a good race.” 


(Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 150.

Vertical man, horizontal animal.

[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on one in 


a collection of Steiner lectures.]

In general, Steiner taught that earthly things are lowly;

man distinguishes himself by separating himself from the earthly.

"The child learns to walk; that is to say, he learns to raise himself from the position in which he was incapable of lifting his body from the earth level towards the heavenly heights of the Cosmos. He is now in that position which, above all, distinguishes man from the animals. Having learnt by his own inner forces to assume it, he turns his gaze away from the earth at which the animal is compelled to look by reason of its nature and form." — Rudolf Steiner, "Pre-Earthly Deeds of Christ" (Steiner Book Centre, 1976), GA 152.

Of course, in reality, some animals 

stand erect much as humans do

 — but Steiner discounts them.

And, of course, no four-legged animals 

spend all their time looking downward —

think of giraffes, or horses, or dogs, or cats...

In fact, most animals, most of the time,  

direct their gaze horizontally,

looking at their surroundings —

just as humans do.

“[T]he butterfly is essentially a being belonging to the light — to the light in so far [sic] as it is modified by the forces of the outer planets, of Mars, of Jupiter, and of Saturn ... [T]he butterfly does not participate in what is directly connected with earthly existence, but only indirectly, in so far as the sun, with its power of warmth and light, is active in this earthly existence. Actually a butterfly lays its eggs only where they do not become separated from sun activity, so that the butterfly does not entrust its egg to the earth, but only to the sun. Then out creeps the caterpillar, which is under the influence of Mars-activity, though naturally the sun influence always remains present. Then the chrysalis is formed, and this is under the influence of Jupiter-activity. Out of the chrysalis emerges the butterfly, which can now in its iridescent colours reproduce in the earth's environment the luminous Sun-power of the earth united with the power of Saturn.” — Rudolf Steiner, MAN AS SYMPHONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1970), lecture 5, GA 230. 

According to some ancient thinkers 
(others, of course, held other views), 
physical reality is fundamentally composed 
of four basic "elements":
fire, air, water, and earth.

Traditional signs of the four elements.

[Rudolf Koch, THE BOOK OF SIGNS 
(Dover Publications, 1955), p. 50.]

The four primary types of nature spirits 
or element beings may be considered to be 
the "spirits" of the four elements:
salamanders: fire,*

sylphs: air, 

undines: water, 

gnomes: earth.

In modern times, Steiner endorsed this paradigm, 
and Anthroposophists embrace it today. 

"Elemental beings — also called etheric elemental beings, usually assigned to the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire. Among these beings are creatures such as dwarves (earth)**, undines (water), sylphs (air) and salamanders (fire). Our visible physical world is a modification of these invisible elemental beings ... [A]ll visible substances come into being by materialization of these elemental entities. When these substances are destroyed, the elemental beings are freed again. The elemental beings are invisible to the untrained eye." — Henk van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Sophia Books, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 36.

Science currently recognizes 114 elements, not four.
And none of the ancient four qualifies as a real element.

* The "salamanders" in question are etheric beings, not the real-world amphibians — although some of the ancients did think real salamanders were impervious to fire. This is just one indication of the value of "ancient wisdom," on which Steiner pinned so much importance.

** Van Oort has chosen an uncommon designation, here. More commonly within Anthroposophical circles, earth nature spirits are referred to as gnomes or goblins.

A salamander (left, above), sylphs (right, above),
an undine (left, below), and gnomes (right, below).
These images represent the traditions
Steiner drew from, they do not show 
Steiner's specific reworkings
of the traditional conceptions.
I've taken the images from Manly P. Hall's
(H. S. Crocker Co., 1928),
an interesting if disagreeable source.

“[T]he third set of lectures [in this book] concerns the astral-etheric beings known as elemental spirits, whose existence is rarely acknowledged today beyond the sphere of folklore. We discover how indebted we are to these beings, both benevolent and malevolent, for our continued existence. Steiner gives an account of their different levels of consciousness and, in doing so, throws light on some of the characters from traditional nursery tales. Many of us will be familiar with the wise but gruff dwarf, the water sprite or mermaid who tries to lure the human being into its own fluid consciousness-world, and the unearthly beauty of the fairy queen which would entrap men and render them powerless, as if they slept. The fact that the elemental spirits, like irresponsible children, might choose to sport with the unprotected human consciousness should not undermine the fact that these spirits ‘wish man to make a move onwards with his consciousness, so that he may participate in their world.’” — Ann Druitt, introduction to HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), a collection of lectures by Rudolf Steiner, pp. xvii-xviii.

According to Steiner, nature spirits — despite their less savory aspects — make contributions to the cosmic commonweal. Among other things, they enable plants to grow. 

“And so we picture, from below upwards, in bluish, blackish shades the force of gravity, to which an upward impulse is given by the gnomes; and flitting all around the plant...[is] the undine power that blends and disperses substances as the plant grows upwards. From above downwards, from the sylphs, light is made to leave its imprint in the plant and molds and creates the form which descends as an ideal form and is taken up by the material womb of the earth; moreover fire spirits flit around the plant and concentrate cosmic warmth in tiny seed points. This is sent down to the gnomes together with the seed power, so that down there they can cause the plants to arise out of fire and life." — Rudolf Steiner, HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 125-126. 

It's good to see Steiner affirm the force of gravity, here. At other times, he said that "gravity" is just a word; gravity exists only on solid planets. [See, e.g., "Steiner's Blunders".]

[R.R. sketch, 2009. 
There is no plant in my sketch because 
there is none in the book's.] 

“It is a remarkable thing that animals and man, who in their lower organs are in fact earth-bound, should experience as poison what has become corrupted on the earth in the belladonna, whereas birds such as thrushes and blackbirds, which should really get this in a spiritual way from the sylphs — and indeed through the benevolent sylphs do so obtain it — should be able to assimilate it, even when what belongs up above in their region has been carried downwards to the earth. They find nourishment in what is poison for beings more bound to the earth.

"Thus you get a conception of how, on the one side, through gnomes and undines what is of a parasitic nature strives upwards from the earth towards other beings, and of how the poisons filter downwards from above.

"... And so you have gained a picture of those beings which are just on the boundary of the world lying immediately beyond the threshold, and of how, if they carry their impulses to their final issue, they become the bearers of parasites, of poisons, and therewith of illnesses. Now it becomes clear how far man in health raises himself above the forces that take hold of him in illness. For illness springs from the malevolence of these beings who are necessary for the upbuilding of the whole structure of nature, but also for its fading and decay.

"These are the things which, arising from instinctive clairvoyance, underlie such intuitions as those of the Indian Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva ... Brahma is intimately related to all that is of the nature of the fire-beings, and the sylphs; Vishnu with all that is of the nature of sylphs and undines; Shiva with all that is of the nature of undines and gnomes. Generally speaking, when we go back to these more ancient conceptions, we find everywhere the pictorial expressions for what must be sought today as lying behind the secrets of nature.” — Rudolf Steiner, MAN AS SYMPHONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1970), lecture 8, GA 230.

— A Natural History of Fairyland
by Marjorie Spock
(Anthroposophic Press, 1980).

“That fairyland and its denizens should be as much a concern of scientists as they have long been of poets and painters and storytellers was one of Steiner’s deep convictions. For he was a close observer of their [i.e., the fairies’] life and work, and it was clear to him that they were of profound importance to the earth.” — Waldorf educator Marjorie Spock, FAIRY WORLDS AND WORKERS, p. 8. (The book’s dedication: “In memory of RUDOLF STEINER who understood so well the living forces behind Nature.”)

"Four races of Little People (as tradition also calls fairies) serve the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Gnomes are the caretakers of the earth-realm, undines or water spirits [are] wielders of fluids. Sylphs are the element of light and air. Fire-spirits reign over processes of heat." — Ibid., p. 10.

"[I]t would be a mistake to picture the Little People carrying on their work in a do-gooding spirit. Virtue does not interest fairies; it would scarcely occur to them that they 'serve' Nature ... They simple react to their environment in love or loathing. For they are ruled exclusively by feeling — feeling more intense by far that any familiar to most human beings." — Ibid., p. 10.

"Since gnomes and human beings alike are earthbound creatures, we will probably find gnomes — or cobolds, or goblins, as they are sometimes also called — the fairy race closest to our understanding." — Ibid., p. 11.

"Gnomes are immensely clever Little People, with large heads out of all proportion to their tiny bodies ... [T]o them anyone who has to think to get facts is half asleep ... Since they are wide awake already, they perceive what is without having to mull it over in their heads." — Ibid., p. 11.

"It is no easy feat for people of our time to see the fairies. Yet there are four professions which offer their practitioners unique opportunities to know them. Farmers, fishermen, foresters and miners work not just at the threshold of fairyland but well inside it ... Insightful farmers learn to transform dead wastes into life by composting ... Fairies are strongly attracted by this practice. They swarm to the farmer's aid ... Taught by Rudolf Steiner, the biodynamic farmer adds a further lure: Four kinds of sprays are readied ... To strengthen gnome activity in roots a spray of treated cow manure is used... [etc.]." — Ibid., pp. 27-28.

"It is wise, on encountering a  fairy, not to be too overeager in one’s scrutiny. Little People — like those other innocents, animals, and children — have an intense dislike of being stared at. They love to stare at us, of course, but will turn away at once and disappear the moment we return the favor. They have grown shy in the face of our disbelief in them.” — Ibid., p. 28.

"It is not hard to detect that gnomes are wintry ... There is frostbite of mind in them, and a chilly remoteness from others in their rugged individualism ... We live with undines when we feel with spring, experiencing the upward freeing of the tide of life ... We live with sylphs when we imagine ourselves moving with the raying light as it suffuses the whole universe in summer ... We live with fire-spirits in the mellow warmth that is carried deep into the earth in autumn ... This is to live with Nature where she really lives." — Ibid., pp. 30-31.

"[F]or centuries elemental beings have been receiving less and less ... Human beings [today] neglect them with the consequence that they turn to another world, the realm of death ruled by [the demon] Ahriman ... Human beings [must] once again give them what they need. Then they will be able to help human beings again. This fact is of such importance that Rudolf Steiner spoke of it ... [Homemaking is] especially well suited to what the elemental beings seek ... Cleaning vegetables is not exactly a popular activity. Yet just this leads one directly into the elemental world. If a carrot is scraped and rubbed, a potato peeled or washed, elemental beings are freed.” — Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, THE SPIRITUAL TASKS OF THE HOMEMAKER (Temple Lodge Publishing, 2008), pp. 37-39. Schmidt-Brabant is a follower of Steiner's. According to SteinerBooks: "In 1975 he became a member of the Executive Council of the General Anthroposophical Society at the Goetheanum [the Anthroposophical headquarters] in Dornach, Switzerland, and served as Chair of the Council from 1984 until his death in 2001."

Detail from a drawing by a Waldorf student.

Bear in mind that Waldorf schools do not 
necessarily or absolutely teach antipathy to nature. 
Steiner's message was mixed: Nature has its virtues as well as 
its troubling deceptions and lures. 
Here is a pleasing image of nature created by a Waldorf student 

Here are some items from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:


"Prairie Moon [Waldorf School] was one of three schools named a 'Kansas Green School of the Year.' The others were Hesston Elementary School and Tomahawk Elementary School in Shawnee Mission [Kansas, USA]. The awards were presented during a ceremony April 1 in Topeka. “These schools really are models for how all of us can be more green,” said Wilson, of KACEE [the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education]. The state organization will present the students at Prairie Moon with a big green banner on May 7." [4-8-2011]

• ◊ • ◊ •

Waldorf Watch Response:

Is it ever wrong to be right? Perhaps not. But it is possible to be right for the wrong reasons. Waldorf schools are right to promote green values. But their reasons for embracing such values are wrong — their reasons are occult nonsense. Waldorf Anthroposophists believe, for instance, that nature is the abode of elemental beings, otherwise known as nature spirits. Some nature spirits live in water, some live in the air, some live in fire, and some live underground. The underground nature spirits are called gnomes or goblins. (I am not making this up.) 

“A gnome is only visible to someone who can see on the astral plane, but miners frequently possess such an astral vision [i.e., clairvoyance]; they know that gnomes are realities.” — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 27, GA 93a.

Gnomes are useful in various ways, but they also tend to be naughty. (I am not making this up. Really.) 

"Many names have been given to them, such as goblins, gnomes and so forth ... What one calls moral responsibility in man is entirely lacking in them ... Their nature prompts them to play all sorts of tricks on man....”  — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), pp. 62-63. 

The good things gnomes have done include (in a manner of speaking) creating the physical Earth. (I am not making this up. I swear, I am not!) 

“The predecessors of our Earth-gnomes, the Moon-gnomes, gathered together their Moon-experiences and from them fashioned this structure, this firm structure of the solid fabric of the Earth, so that our solid Earth-structure actually arose from the experiences of the gnomes of the old Moon.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE RIDDLE OF HUMANITY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), lecture 9.

The problem with the Waldorf view of nature is that it populates (as it were) the natural world with creatures that never existed while misjudging and undervaluing the creatures that actually do exist. (Steiner was dismissive of animals, calling them mere cast-off fragments of human nature.) When Waldorf teachers who believe in gnomes teach children to respect the Earth, they are teaching them a right lesson for a wrong reason. True morality — and true stewardship — is not born of fantastical delusions. Our moral duty is to the real planet we live on and the real creatures we share it with. We should preserve the Earth because that is the rational, compassionate, and responsible thing to do. We should save the Earth for the future generations of all the real species — including, of course, our own species. (And we can let the gnomes, sylphs, and other imaginary "nature spirits" look out for themselves.)

[For more on the Waldorf view of nature, see "Gnomes", "Neutered Nature", "Evolution, Anyone?" and "Biodynamics".]


“The plant realm is the soul world of the Earth made visible. The carnation is a flirt. The sunflower an old peasant. The sunflower’s shining face is like a jolly old country rustic. Plants with very big leaves would express, in terms of soul life, lack of success in a job, taking a long time with everything, clumsiness, and especially an inability to finish anything; we think that someone has finished, but the person is still at it. Look for the soul element in the plant forms! 

“When summer approaches, or even earlier, sleep spreads over the Earth; this sleep becomes heavier and heavier, but it only spreads out spatially, and in autumn passes away again. The plants are no longer there, and sleep no longer spreads over the Earth. The feelings, passions, and emotions of people pass with them into sleep, but once they are there, those feelings have the appearance of plants. What we have invisible within the soul, our hidden qualities — flirtatiousness, for example — become visible in plants. We don’t see this in a person who is awake, but it can be observed clairvoyantly in people who are sleeping. Flirtation, for example, looks like a carnation. A flirt continually produces carnations from the nose! A tedious, boring person produces gigantic leaves from the whole body, if you could see them.” — Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 128.

• ◊ • ◊ •

Waldorf Watch Response:

Note that Steiner made these remarks when addressing Waldorf teachers. Equally important, the remarks depend upon belief in clairvoyance. (Only belief in clairvoyance prevents these remarks from being utterly absurd; and even then...)

Steiner speaks as a clairvoyant, telling Waldorf teachers what his clairvoyance reveals, and the teachers evidently take him at his word. Waldorf education — like its underlying belief system, Anthroposophy — depends on belief in clairvoyance. If clairvoyance is a fantasy, if in fact it does not exist, then the rug is pulled out from under Waldorf education and Anthroposophy. And, as far as anyone reliably knows, clairvoyance is a fantasy, it does not exist. A "clairvoyant" is either deceiving him/herself, or attempting to deceive us, or both. [See "Clairvoyant Vision", “Clairvoyance”, “Exactly”, "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness", and “Fooling (Ourselves)”.]


Mother Nature's Child Film Screening at Da Vinci Waldorf School

February 12, 2013

Free film screening that explores nature's powerful role in children's health.

"Mother Nature's Child: Growing Outdoors in a Media Age" will be shown at Da Vinci Waldorf School, Saturday, Feb. 16, 10 a.m. to noon. Da Vinci Waldorf School is located at 150 W. Bonner Rd., Wauconda [Illinois, USA]. 

This film explores nature's powerful role in children's health and development through the experience of toddlers, children in middle childhood and adolescents. It asks the questions: Why do children need unstructured time outside? What is the place of risk-taking in healthy child development? How is play a form of learning? What does it mean to educate the 'whole' child?

• ◊ • ◊ •

Waldorf Watch Response:

One of the attractive features of Waldorf education is the schools' embrace of green values. Nature and all things natural are revered, at least provisionally. This is the flip side of the schools' antipathy to modern technology, and it has its charms. It may even, at some levels, contain wisdom.

You should bear a few things in mind, however. The Waldorf view of nature is essentially mystical and superstitious. According to the Waldorf view, nature should be respected because it is the creation of the gods. (Gods, plural. The Waldorf belief system, Anthroposophy, is polytheistic. See "Polytheism".) This does not mean, however, that nature is wholly beneficent or trustworthy. Rather, according to Rudolf Steiner, the physical universe is a false realm of illusion or maya. 

“I must emphasize this again and again, that the saying ‘the world is Maya’ is so vitally important." — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 64. 

Moreover, according to Steiner, nature is the abode of "nature spirits" — invisible, subhuman beings such as gnomes or goblins whose behavior is often amoral. "

There are beings that can be seen with clairvoyant vision at many spots in the depths of the earth ... Many names have been given to them, such as goblins, gnomes and so forth ... What one calls moral responsibility in man is entirely lacking in them ... Their nature prompts them to play all sorts of tricks on man....”  — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), pp. 62-63. [See "Neutered Nature" and "Gnomes".]

The announcement of the screening of "Mother Nature's Child" raises some other issues that are worth pondering. Note the references to "unstructured time outside" and "risk-taking." The supervision of children at Waldorf schools is often dangerously lax. There are many reasons for this, such as the belief that children should be free to enact their karmas, and the belief that playtime is a reenactment of life before incarnation on Earth. But equally important is the Waldorf notion that teachers don't need to watch children carefully because the kids' guardian angels will do this work. In Waldorf doctrine, there are many ranks of gods standing above humanity. The lowest rank considers of the gods who are commonly called angels. According to Rudolf Steiner, each human being has a guardian angel. This is a pleasing belief, and perhaps you share it. But do you agree that, because of this belief, teachers should send kids outdoors, in all weathers, for unstructured and largely unsupervised play periods? Is this a form of "risk-taking" you want for your young child?

You might also mull over the Waldorf conception of the "whole child." Holistic education seems like a fine ideal, and Waldorf schools often make the attractive claim that they educate a child's "head, heart, and hands." Sounds good. But look a bit deeper, and you may find reason for concern. In Waldorf belief, a child is a reincarnating being who has a karma, an astrological sign, both a soul and a spirit, three invisible bodies (the etheric, astral, and ego bodies), a temperament (phlegmatic, melancholic, sanguine, or choleric), a racial identity reflecting her/his level of spiritual evolution, a brain that doesn't really think, a heart that doesn't pump blood, a hidden double or doppelgänger, and so on. The Waldorf view of human beings, in other words, is fully as mystical and superstitious as the Waldorf view of nature. Unless you share the Waldorf perspective, you will likely come to the conclusion that much of what happens in Waldorf schools is irrational and, potentially, harmful. [For more on such matters, see, e.g., "Oh Humanity", "Holistic Education", "What We're Made Of", and "Our Parts".]

“You will injure children if you educate them rationally. — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 61.

Our natural, physical world — a place of illusion — 
is separated from the higher spirit realms by an abyss,
according to Steiner.
Here is one of the creatures lurking in the abyss, 
as described by Steiner.
(This is my copy of an image engraved on a window 
in the Goetheanum, the Anthroposophical headquarters. 
A little too much Disney has crept into my rendering, I think. 
The image at the Goetheanum is creepier.)

The relationship between humans and animals, 

as described by Steiner, is odd

(as you might expect). Here is just one indication:

“The ancients thought that the animal that primarily develops the heart, that is all heart and therefore the most courageous, is the lion ... [T]he lion has quite short intestines; their development is curtailed. The minute 'intestine' in the human ear is formed most delicately ... [T]he eagle is under the sway of the upper forces ... [T]he ancients called the part of man that constitutes the digestive system 'bull'. That gives us the three members of human nature: eagle — head; lion — breast;  bull — abdomen ... [T]hese ancient people expressed, in such symbols, certain truths that we acknowledge again today ... These people dreamed true dreams.” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM COMETS TO COCAINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 50-51.

Some parts of this statement almost seem to make sense. But consider. Steiner is saying that the ancients were fundamentally correct (their dreams were true; Anthroposophists "acknowledge" or accept the ancients' truths today). Thus, in discussing the "symbols" used by the ancients, Steiner is asserting that those images were true — the ancients, you see, were clairvoyant. Steiner's basic position on such matters is that the ancients were right about many, many things, whereas modern science is wrong about almost everything. In sum, Steiner embraced ancient ignorance while rejecting modern knowledge. [See "The Ancients" and "Science".]

[R.R. sketch, 2009, 

based on illustration on page 51


As for Mother Earth herself:

“The earth was once a giant animal which, in keeping with its size, was rather lazy, turning only slowly about its axis in space, but which looked out into space through these dragon birds which were simply movable eyes ... You can comprehend the earth if you imagine it as an animal that has died.” — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 69. 

[R.R., sketch, 2009 — 
my copy of Steiner's sketch.]

“This is what the surroundings of the earth looked like ... [L]et's call this warmer layer 'fiery air.' It was not blazing hot, as modern scientists incorrectly assume ... [P]eculiar animals lived in the fiery air ... These flying animals were even able to emit something like electricity and to send it down to the earth ... [T]hese birds were small dragon birds ... Further down, on the muddy earth, there were animals remarkable for their gigantic size ... [T]hey had huge eyes that emitted light ... [Y]ou would have seen a gigantic light coming toward you with a body larger than a whale ... [Y]ou could have climbed on it with a ladder. It would indeed have been like mountain climbing ... So you see things were really different back then." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM CRYSTALS TO CROCODILES (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002, pp. 101-104. 

[R. R. sketch, 2009, 
based on the illustration on p. 101.]

[R.R., 1993.]

"People gaze open-eyed at the rainbow. But if you look at the rainbow with a little imagination [i.e., basic clairvoyance], you may see there elemental Beings. These elemental Beings are full of activity, and they demonstrate their activity in a most remarkable manner. At the yellow you see some of them streaming out from the rainbow, continually coming out of it. They move across, and the moment they reach the lower end of the green they feel drawn to it. You see them disappear at this point [green]. On the other side they come out again. To one who views it with Imagination, the whole rainbow is a revelation of the spiritual. It is in fact a spiritual cylinder, wonderful to behold. And you may observe too how these spiritual Beings come forth from the rainbow with extreme fear, and then how they go in with an absolutely invincible courage. When you look at the red-yellow, you see fear streaming out, and when you look at the blue-violet you have the feeling: there all is courage and bravery of heart.

"Picture it to yourself. What I see before me is not just a rainbow! Here beings are coming out of it, there beings are disappearing into it . Here is anxiety and fear, there is courage.  And now the courage disappears again. That is the way to look at the rainbow!" — Rudolf Steiner, ART (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), pp. 241-242.

“We see countless elemental beings in spring just around Easter time ... [W]e see them come together in a general cloud (red) and form a common mass within the Earth soul (green). But in doing so these elemental beings lose their consciousness to a certain degree and enter into a sort of sleeping condition.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE CYCLE OF THE YEAR AS THE BREATHING-PROCESS OF THE EARTH (Anthroposophic Press, 1984), p. 40. 

[R.R. sketch, 2010, based on the one in the book. 
Neither version is informative.]

Anthroposophists often find meaning behind the forms of nature.

Natural objects expressing these forms may be cherished and displayed —

their corrupt material qualities are outweighed by 

their presumed spiritual, even magical essences.

Spirals, as in the nautilus, are taken as representations

of spiritual evolution: a recursive process of gradual advancement. 

Concentric forms with precious cores, as in geodes, are prized as symbols

or manifestations of inner glory, inner spiritual connection.

Crystals enact, inspire, and perhaps even aid

 gradual, purifying spiritual growth.

[R.R., 2010.]

But vileness lurks.

Forces of creativity are also 

forces of demonic influence.

Below is another image found in 

the Goethenum's windows.

In this case, the spiral form is manifested 

as an Ahrimanic being.

"The creatures of Ahriman with the body of snails 

correspond to the principle of creating forces,

taking innumerable form variations in the animal world, 

and here especially in the world of molluscs."


(Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, 1972), p. 31.

[R.R. sketch, 2009.]

For a quick review of mythical beings that Steiner said really exist,
please use this link: 

“The kingdom into which the Dragon [i.e., Ahriman] was driven has become ‘Nature,’ and is now so constituted as to be visible to the senses ... The Adversary has found his abode in man. Michael has remained true to his nature. When man turns to Michael with that part of his life which has its origin in the higher spirituality, then there arises in the soul of man the inward fight of Michael and the Dragon.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING, IV (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1957), Michaelmas, VI, Michael and the Dragon, GA 36. 

The Waldorf view of nature is a bit like a negative image:
attractive, perhaps, but with the true substance drained away.

[R.R., 2010.]

Life can be hard, disappointing, painful.
People often respond by turning to fantasy worlds —
and often they convince themselves that such worlds are real.
But they aren't.
The only truth, reality, and beauty
that really exist, exist here, in the real world.

In re animals: For some surprising information
about elephants, see "About Those Pachyderms..."

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, 
use the underlined links, below.



Steiner unconsciously making a fool of himself, over and over

No laughing matter: Steiner’s quack medicine

Human nature as conceived by Steiner and acted upon in Waldorf schools


Macrocosms, microcosms, and fallacies


Quack agriculture: astrology and magic

What's what, clearly

The quality of Steiner’s thoughts

Bizarre ideas about the universe: Vulcan, the Zodiac, Mars, etc.


Waldorf escapism

The formatting at Waldorf Watch aims for visual variety, 
seeking to ease the process of reading lengthy texts on a computer screen. 

Some illustrations on the various pages here at Waldorf Watch 
are closely connected to the contents of those pages; 
others are not — they provide general context. 


[1] RUDOLF STEINER (WESTERN ESOTERIC MASTERS SERIES), anthology edited by Richard Seddon (North Atlantic Books, 2004, general editor's preface by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke), p. 7.

[2]  Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), pp. 12-13. For connections and distinctions Steiner drew between Anthroposophy and gnosticism, see ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 175-180. Steiner held that modern humans cannot simply adopt the gnosticism of the past: We have reached a different level of development. The new “wisdom” he offered, Anthroposophy, extends gnostic teachings into our age with appropriate spiritual refinement/repackaging, he indicated.

[3] See, e.g., THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, “Gnosticism.” Platonists believe that a demiurge created the universe. Gnostics accepted the idea from them. Because gnosticism is not an organized religion, there is doctrinal variation. Steiner’s gnosticism is generally consistent with what we might call mainline gnosticism.

The natural world is okay, Steiner said, if we perceive it as a sort of garment of the spirit realm. Then it is "true nature." But if we look on the natural world — or, indeed, physical reality in general — as the only reality, then it amounts to hell. Discussing benevolent spiritual beings who aided humanity in the past, Steiner said that Earthly life is darkened by the powers of Ahriman, a dreadful demon. 

"These former divine companions confronted, as an inimical world, what even in earlier times was called 'hell.' But the efficacy of these spiritual beings stopped short at the gates of hell. These spiritual beings worked upon humankind. The forces of humankind extend even into hell. This signifies nothing other than humankind’s subconscious projection into Ahrimanic forces in the wintertime and also into the ascent of these Ahrimanic forces in the spring. The divine spiritual beings felt this as a world opposed to them. They saw it rise up out of the Earth and felt it to be an exceedingly problematic world." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CYCLE OF THE YEAR AS BREATHING-PROCESS OF THE EARTH (Anthroposophic Press, 1984), p. 41.

Spending time in the hardened, material world where the powers of Ahriman are great is clearly dangerous, but Steiner said it is necessary for us as we evolve. We move away from the purely spiritual realm in order to return to it with greater impetus. Thus, Anthroposophical doctrine includes ambivalence toward the material, natural world. 

"Understood psychologically, there seems in Anthroposophy to be a cosmological ambivalence towards matter which expresses the experience of many spiritually-minded and creative people, not least of Steiner himself, toward the world." — Geoffrey Ahern, SUN AT MIDNIGHT (James Clarke & Co., 2009), p. 116.

[4] For an explication of Steinerian evolution, see “Evolution, Anyone?

Underlying the bipolarity of the Waldorf approach to nature is Steiner's doctrine that Christ, the Sun God, came to earth and remains now on/in/around the earth

“Christ, the Sun God, who was known by earlier peoples under such names as Ahura Mazda, Hu, or Balder, has now united himself with the earth...." — Margaret Jonas, introduction to RUDOLF STEINER SPEAKS TO THE BRITISH (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), pp. 4-5. 

The Earth, then, must be revered for Christ's sake. However, the Earth also contains such nasty beings as goblins, phantoms, specters, and demons. Physical nature, then, must be viewed askance.

[5] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.

[6] One meaning of “ether” is “air.” However, in 19th century physics, “the ether” was thought to be an undetectable medium that pervaded the entire universe. (See Steiner accepted this now-discarded theory, with modifications, and he extended it into the spirit realm. 

[I]f one truly wants a concept of the ether, one must approach it from two sides ... It is interesting that the great German philosophical Idealists...did not form the concept of the ether. They could not strengthen, could not empower their inner soul life enough to conceive of the ether.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 290. 

For Steiner, “the etheric” suggests everything that is not purely, grossly earthly — air, outer space, and beyond.

[7] ‘63 PINNACLE, Waldorf School of Adelphi University (Kansas City: Inter-Collegiate Press, 1963).

[8] ‘64 PINNACLE, Waldorf School of Adelphi University (Kansas City: Inter-Collegiate Press, 1964).

[9] Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 393.


[11] Rudolf Steiner and Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 196. 

It may not be coincidental that the first Waldorf school stood on a hill: 

“It is certainly easier to climb than the Swiss mountains, but the pleasure we get in climbing up this hill to our dear Waldorf School is a spiritual pleasure more than anything else.” — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 60. 

Steiner situated headquarters of the Anthroposophical movement on a hill: 

“The First Goetheanum was erected on the hill in Dornach (1913-1922/23).” — Rudolf Steiner, COLOUR (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 3. 

When that building was destroyed by fire, it was replaced on the same site. 

“The [second] Goetheanum building now standing on the hill at Dornach is intended as a contribution towards the opposing of destructive forces being unleashed within the human soul ... ” — Christian Thai-Jantzen, introduction to Rudolf Steiner's ARCHITECTURE AS A SYNTHESIS OF THE ARTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. xiii.

[12] All members of my senior class were required to read Friedrich Georg Juenger's THE FAILURE OF TECHNOLOGY (Henry Regency Company, 1956). This book became the focus of our weekly “discussion” group (which was, of course, heavily attended — and dominated — by faculty). Juenger’s thesis is that to use of modern technology interferes with the acquisition of spiritual wisdom.


[14] Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 69.

[15] Ibid., p. 70.

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.


[17] NATURE SPIRITS, p. 62.

[18] Rudolf Steiner, CHANCE, PROVIDENCE, AND NECESSITY (SteinerBooks, 1988), p. 95.

[19] NATURE SPIRITS, pp. 28-29.

[20] Ibid., pp. 83-84.

[21] Ibid., p. 84.

[22] Ibid., p. 84. (Beings working in the spiritual worlds are not all beneficent or moral. Steiner sometimes spoke of demons, evil gods, spirits of darkness, and other spiritual beings who, we may infer, could be the sources of "detachments" that present themselves in our lower world as "specters" or "ghosts.")

[23] Ibid., p. 62.

[24] Ibid., pp. 85-86.

[25] Rudolf Steiner, MAN AS SYMPHONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1970), lecture 8, November 3, 1923, GA 230.

[26] Rudolf Steiner, THE RIDDLE OF HUMANITY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), lecture 5, GA 170.

[27] Rudolf Steiner, MAN AS SYMPHONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1970), lecture 9, GA 230. 
[28] Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 64.

[29] Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1973), lecture 12, GA 112.

[30] Rudolf Steiner, MAN’S LIFE ON EARTH AND IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLDS (Anthroposophical Publishing Company, 1952), pp. 83-84. 

This fascinating book, which is not fully consistent with some of Steiner’s other productions — he sometimes had trouble keeping his stories straight — includes air-fire beings, earth-water beings, Jahve (Jehovah on the Moon), Ahriman, Lucifer, Jupiter beings, Mars beings, Saturn beings, and much, much more. A sampling:

"When therefore we look out into the atmosphere which surrounds our Earth, and within which we ourselves are living, we have there around us a world of beings, who are composed merely of air and warmth. They are the same kind of beings whom I have called in my books and frequently spoken of in lectures as the Luciferic beings." — Ibid., p. 81.

"Turning now again to the beings whom I called Ahrimanic and who have their stronghold below the surface of the Earth — the earth-water beings — how do these compare with Jahve and the Mercury and Venus beings? ... The Ahrimanic beings wage war continually on Jahve and on the Venus and Mercury powers, and are determined to usurp from Jahve his rightful sovereignty." — Ibid., p. 87.

"And so we find these air-fire beings making sallies from their strongholds not only upon the Ahrimanic powers, but upon the influences that should be continually reaching man from Mars, Jupiter and Saturn." — Ibid., pp. 88-89.

[R.R., 2017.]