reality and fantasy

Here are two messages I posted in October, 2009:

I’ve edited them slightly for use here. 

Below them is the full text of the NEW YORK TIMES 

article about the scandal at the Waldorf school I attended. 


I've argued that Steiner was willfully ignorant. He knew a lot, but mainly about occultism, Gnosticism, mythology, and the like. He intentionally turned his back on the work of "so-called educated people in the universities" [1] — that is, he rejected real knowledge about the real world.

In order to become a follower of Steiner, one has to do the same. This helps explain why, as Peter Staudenmaier has pointed out, Anthroposophists very rarely provide factual evidence to support their statements. They see no point. "Truth," for them, is subjective — it is feeling, not rational thinking. Steiner repeatedly emphasized the superiority of subjective, felt perception. 

"[T]hinking is oriented to the physical plane. Feeling really has a connection with all the spiritual beings who must be considered real." [2]

According to Steiner, if you feel the presence of unseen beings, you are onto Truth (provided that you have followed his directions on how to be clairvoyant) — you are connected to the realm of living spirit. But if you think about things with your brain, you are confined to the dead realm of mere mechanism. This means you are in danger of becoming an empty shell, an automaton whose thinking and even feeling is corrupted. 

"The task [of both Anthroposophy and Waldorf schooling] is to raise the spirit-soul into the realm of the spiritual, so that the human being is no longer a thinking and feeling automaton ... [H]uman beings are in danger of losing their spirit-soul ... The human being is thus in danger of drifting into the Ahrimanic world [the realm ruled by a demonic enemy of human evolution], in which case the spirit-soul will evaporate into the cosmos.” [3]  

So Anthroposophists not only see little point in rational discussion, they see positive danger in it. Being rational leads toward Ahriman and the loss of one's soul. Among other things, this is why 

"You will injure children if you educate them rationally....” [4]

Discussion becomes difficult when one group sees the other as representing hellish powers. Then, too, there's another barrier. Rationalists consider various states, prized by Anthroposophists, as indicators of insanity or, at least, mental problems. Dan Dugan recently referred to stroke symptoms, and his point was well taken. A spiritualist is delighted to feel the presence of unseen beings; a rationalist considers this a probable sign of psychological and perhaps physiological illness.

Talking across the divide is very hard. Still, I think Peter Staudenmaier is certainly right to invite Anthroposophists to at least cite passages in Steiner's works to support their contentions about those works. This hardly seems like too much to ask.


Returning to the matter of feeling 

the presence of unseen beings: 

There is, of course, a question of where to draw the line. Thinking that God exists is one thing; I'd put it on the OK side of the line. Having faith in God is another thing, still (IMO) on that side of the line. Feeling God's presence (what used to be called "enthusiasm") is something else, perhaps straddling the line. Feeling the presence of angels may still be on the line, but it also may raise some serious doubts. Finally, feeling the presence of still other unseen beings is almost surely on the worrisome side of the line, IMO; people who feel such presences may be in serious trouble and need psychiatric help. 

Steiner taught that many invisible beings exist, including goblins, ghosts, Asuras, nymphs, and other suchlike. I would certainly be concerned for anyone who felt the presence of such beings. My concern would deepen for anyone who "saw" them, "heard" them, or "communicated" with them. Many of Steiner's followers think they can do these things. My old Waldorf school nearly self-destructed when effective control of the place was given to a "psychic" former student, Richard Walton. According to THE NEW YORK TIMES:

"What was described as 'internal chaos' began when Mr. Walton, who has said that he is able to communicate with 'certain beings in the spiritual world,' allegedly used these 'powers' to advise school officials on matters ranging from language curriculum to what music to play at a school dance." [5] 

When the school's occult core was exposed, many parents rebelled and withdrew their kids, horrified at the secrets that had been held from them.

To clarify: I did not know Richard Walton. The uproar at the school transpired long after I graduated; it did not touch me directly or determine my attitude on any of these matters. I find the TIMES story interesting, though. As I've suggested before, "clairvoyance" may be little more than delusion, akin to self-hypnosis. Consider the process Steiner described: You feel something. ("Wow! What's that?") You formulate a thought about it. ("Must be a spiritual being!") This leads you toward developing your power of clairvoyance, so called. In reality, the process may be little more than talking yourself into believing fantasies — specifically, the fantasies that you started out bound and determined to believe. You wanted to believe XYZ, and by golly, you have convinced yourself that XYZ is true! Wow, indeed. [6]

Steiner said that you almost always need a guru, someone to set you in the right direction. A seeker 

“would find himself plunged into the stormy sea of astral [i.e., soul] experiences if he were left to fend for himself. For this reason he needs a guide who can tell him from the start how these things are related and how to find his bearings in the astral world. Hence the need to find a Guru on whom he can strictly rely." [7] 

The guru tells you what to make of your spiritual experiences; s/he tells you what to believe; and you "strictly rely" on what the guru says. But, of course, you selected a guru who would lead you toward the sort of beliefs that appealed to you. And now, following your chosen guru, you wind up believing (or "knowing") what you were prepared to believe all along. 

I must admit, I don't see much truth coming out of such a process. It strikes me as sad, really. We live in a beautiful, exciting world. I'm sorry when people choose to turn their backs on it and seek fantasy substitutes. There is no substitute, IMO. And we don't need one, IMO.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a walk through the woods outside my door. It's a mild, sunny day; the autumn leaves are brilliant gold; there are asters still in bloom; there are squirrels and raccoons and deer (and nary a goblin nor nymph), and I want to go drink it all in. It thrills my soul. (Yes, believe it or not, I have one. IMO, anyway.) [8]

— Roger Rawlings


FYI, here is the complete text of 

the NEW YORK TIMES article:

'Psychic' Ex-Student's Influence Shakes Waldorf School

by John T. McQuiston

Special to The New York Times

GARDEN CITY, L.I., Feb. 16 [1979] — The Waldorf School, founded here 32 year ago on the philosophy that a teacher must nurture the intuitive and spiritual nature of students as well as their physical and intellectuals needs, has been deeply split by charges that some staff members, including the former headmaster, came under the psychic influence of a former student.

The resignations of the headmaster, the high school principal, the librarian and four teachers — and the withdrawal of scores of students — have left the private school’s immediate future in doubt. And next week, Adelphi University will decide whether to continue the student-teacher training program it has operated in affiliation with the school.

Marvin A. Iverson, the dean of graduate arts and sciences at Adelphi, said today that the university’s affiliation with Waldorf would be formally reviewed at a meeting of the Graduate Academic Affairs Committee on Tuesday, and that there was “no anticipation of continuing the program with Waldorf.”

The Center of the Dispute

The program involves the training of 20 student teachers a year, who then sought teaching positions within the loosely affiliated network of about 80 Waldorf schools in the United States and Europe.

One of these student teachers, 25-year-old Richard Walton, who was a former student at Waldorf, is at the center of the dispute that has divided the faculty, students and parents at the preparatory school in this relatively prosperous, conservative residential community 25 miles east of Manhattan.

What was described as 'internal chaos' began when Mr. Walton, who has said that he is able to communicate with 'certain beings in the spiritual world,' allegedly used these 'powers' to advise school officials on matters ranging from language curriculum to what music to play at a school dance.

As his influence reportedly grew among leading faculty members and with John F. Gardner, a former headmaster and, at the time, director of the Waldorf Institute, other staff and faculty members became resentful, called a meeting and voted to seek the resignations of those who accepted his suggestions.

Departure Deplored

As a result, Peter MacNair the high school principal, Edward Blatchford, a teacher and ninth-grade advisor, and John Bickart, a teacher and 10th grade advisor, resigned, followed by several others, including Carroll Scherer, the librarian, Andrew Leaf, the headmaster, and Mr. Gardner.

Mr. Gardner’s departure from the Waldorf Institute was regarded as “very serious” by Dean Iverson of Adelphi. “With his resignation,” said the dean, there is “no one of his stature at Waldorf to continue the teacher-training program.”

Joanne Pisano, a co-chairman of the school’s parent group, said tonight that she doubted the end of the long affiliation between Waldorf and Adelphi “would have any serious affect [sic] on the Waldorf system.”

She said she preferred not to comment on the change of administration at Waldorf, saying only that “things are going well now.”

The school’s new headmaster, Peter A. Curran, a former history teacher at the school, was away on vacation and could not be reached to comment on next Tuesday’s meeting at Adelphi. Classes are to resume at Waldorf on Tuesday. The school was closed this week for a mid-winter holiday.

Pleasing? Attractive? Realistic? 

In any event, this exemplifies one form 

of the Anthroposophical vision. 

[Monica Gold.] 

And here's another form. 

Anthroposophy can sometimes 

be mistaken for Christianity, but 

it has far more ties to pagan mysticism. 

The painting below is by the artist 

whom Steiner selected 

to paint the Goetheanum's 

ceiling murals. 

[Arild Rosenkrantz.]

Anthroposophists often assert that the gods worship us. For instance, 

“Man is the religion of the Gods. From the depths of being rises the image of the God-willed man.” — Margarita Woloschina, “Eurythmy as the Mystery Art of Our Time” []  

Another example: 

“[I have] quoted Steiner’s overwhelming statement that ‘man is the religion of the divine beings [i.e., the gods].’” — Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND THE WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), p. 162.

Steiner certainly taught that the gods focus much of their attention and care on us

“The aim of the creative activity of the Gods is the Ideal Man. That Ideal Man does not really come to life in physical man as he is at present, but in the noblest spiritual and soul life that is possible through the perfect development and training of aptitudes which this physical man has within him. Thus a picture of Ideal Man is ever present to the mind of the Gods. This is the religion of the Gods.” —  Rudolf Steiner, THE INNER NATURE OF MAN AND LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1928), lecture 2, GA 153.

We can all sympathize with the desire to believe that God loves us — or that the gods do. We all want to believe that we are important, that our lives have meaning and value, that what we think and do is significant. We want to assure ourselves that we are not mere assemblages of dust, not robots made out of meat, not naked monkeys. We quite rightly want to deny that our lives are random, empty affairs that end quickly and pointlessly. Such ideas appall us. No! We are important! Our lives are important!

This deeply felt human desire explains the appeal of Anthroposophy. Not only are we important, Steiner taught — we stand at the absolute center of the created universe. Everything revolves around us; everything was made for us. Verily, the gods lavish their care and concern on us.

These are alluring ideas, certainly. But are they based on anything except our fear that, actually, we are small and ephemeral? Are they anything more than rather pathetic attempts to prop up our frail egos, telling ourselves lies about ourselves?

History shows that for millennia, we have told ourselves such lies. The Earth is the center of the universe. The Sun orbits the Earth. We are wholly superior in all ways to all the other creatures who share our planet. Most assuredly we did not evolve from apes.

History also shows that, gradually, we have had to wean ourselves from such erroneous beliefs. It is still hard for us to let these ideas go, but let them go we must. And as we toss them away, we need to toss out Anthroposophy as well. It is merely one of the more recent versions of our ancient self-deceiving misconceptions about ourselves.

But where does this leave us? Does this mean that our lives are meaningless and we ourselves are unimportant? Of course not. We are capable of love, intelligence, creativity, joy, pity, kindness, altruism, reverence. Our lives are blessings, gifts. We stand upright in a universe of beauty and majesty. But we do not magnify any of this by lying to ourselves; indeed, we only diminish ourselves through such lies. Our glory must be that we embrace life as it truly is, and that — with our eyes open and with respect in our hearts — we rise to fulfill our potential to live compassionately, humbly, and wisely. We need to grow up, affirm what is true, and set aside the myths we believed as children.


[1] Rudolf Steiner, SECRET BROTHERHOODS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 92.

[2] Rudolf Steiner, PSYCHOANALYSIS AND SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), p. 70.

[3] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 115.

[4] Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 61.

Steiner didn't always reject rational thought, as he conceived it. He argued that his doctrines are "scientific," and he said that in our current stage of evolution we need to step away from the spirit realm into the material realm, briefly. But he taught that the path toward spiritual salvation runs through feeling, schooled and sharpened so as to produce exact clairvoyance. Becoming a seer means focusing on subjective responses. Feelings create "thoughts" that lead to clairvoyance. 

“From the stone there flows into the soul one kind of feeling, and from the animal another ... Out of these feelings and the thoughts that are bound up with them, the organs of clairvoyance are formed.” — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Forgotten Books,, p. 29.

Steiner disparaged thinking that is done in the brain; the "thinking" that yields "truth," he said, is seated in invisible, nonphysical organs. 

"[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition." —Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 60.

[5] John T. McQuiston, "'Psychic' Ex-Student's Influence Shakes Waldorf School", THE NEW YORK TIMES, Feb. 16, 1979, p. 48.

[6] For the sake of clarity, I’ve oversimplified. The process Steiner prescribed is complex. But we can perhaps see it most clearly by breaking it down to its essentials: It begins in feelings, which are unreliable, and it ends, supposedly, in clairvoyance, which is unreal. It is bogus, in other words. So all the subtle complexities along the way mean nothing: The process starts in nothing reliable and ends in nothing real.

[7] Rudolf Steiner, AT THE GATES OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1986), “Occult Development”.

[8] Anthroposophists are sometimes surprised that I use words like “mind” and “soul.” Doesn’t this prove that I believe in spiritual realities of the kind Steiner described? No. Like everyone else, I have a brain. In its complex functionings, my brain endows me with consciousness. The upper levels of this consciousness (the part I’m conscious of, as it were) might be called my mind. The lower level (the part I’m often unconscious of) might be called my psyche. Putting these together, I have what we might call a soul. I’ve got one, you’ve got one. This doesn’t mean that anyone’s soul is immortal, however. I don’t kid myself that I existed before I existed, nor that I will continue to exist after I cease existing. Sad as my death will be for the entire universe, it will happen, and then — poof — my mind and psyche, my soul, will be no more. As far as I know, anyway. (And as far as you know. And as far as Steiner knew. A little modesty would become us all. IMO.)

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


adepts : putting it to use

criticism : left brain, right brain

dreams : good and not so good

Goethe : Steiner and

reality and fantasy

thinking : try not to use your brain