Sneaking It In
to the Kids
"Anthroposophy will be in the school."
— Rudolf Steiner,
THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION
(Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 23.
Waldorf education generally sneaks Anthroposophical beliefs into the classroom at all grade levels. But one portion of the Waldorf curriculum is especially guilty of pressing Anthroposophical doctrines on the students. Sadly, cruelly, it is a part of the curriculum aimed at the youngest students, those who are least able to think for themselves, the ones who are least able to resist. Many of the stories told to Waldorf students in the lowest grades embody Anthroposophical theology. Indeed, the "Biblical" stories told to young Waldorf students often bear only the most tangential relation to the actual contents of the Bible — the stories are often subtly modified to be Anthroposophical, not Judeo-Christian. Likewise, the myths and legends and fairy tales told to Waldorf students often contain Anthroposophical doctrines.
In some instances, Waldorf teachers make their Anthroposophical messages plain to the students; in other cases, they do not. Sometimes the surprising, occult "content" of the stories exists mainly in the teachers' minds. In these instances, the students may not receive the messages the teachers intend. But in other instances, when the teachers are more forthright, the Anthroposophical belief system makes clear appearances in the classroom, and then the children are clearly subjected to indoctrination. [See "Indoctrination".]
Overall, an Anthroposophical mood or atmosphere is created in Waldorf classrooms. The intention is not so much to teach young kids specific Anthroposophical concepts (usually) as to plant seeds of Anthroposophical inclinations in the children’s souls (always). The "Bible" stories and myths and legends and fairy tales that recur throughout the Waldorf curriculum combine to encourage kids to feel and dream as their Waldorf teachers wish — they are intended to start the kids down the path toward Rudolf Steiner’s embrace.
We'll take a brief survey.
Here are some quotations from AND THERE WAS LIGHT, a book that revises Bible stories to conform to Anthroposophical belief. We will also dip into other, similar Anthroposophical texts.
Waldorf teachers use such books to guide their class work with their young students. When the teachers recite these stories in class, they are presenting Anthroposophical dogma in only slightly disguised form. We'll begin with a story that may seem unobjectionable, since it stays close to Judeo-Christian tradition. But telltale signs of Anthroposophical occultism begin to intrude, signs that will become more pronounced in subsequent stories. Waldorf teachers who present such material in class are conducting none-too-subtle indoctrination of the youngest, most susceptible children. The process may justifiably be termed brainwashing.
Starting at the beginning, let's consider a story about events that occurred before the creation of the world. This is the Anthroposophical version of the tale of Lucifer's rebellion — the fall of Lucifer and his angelic cohorts when, in heaven, they revolted against God. I'll quote excerpts from AND THERE WAS LIGHT, then I will add some commentary.
“Lucifer stayed with the lesser angels and asked them, ‘Will you help me build a throne? I will sit upon it and be your god’ ... [The archangel] Michael saw what Lucifer was doing. Full of dread, he brought the news to God Father ... God Father spoke, ‘Tell Lucifer to destroy his heart. I will give him a new, shining heart’ ... But Lucifer had stirred up many angels; he did not want a new heart ... [T]he spirits separated into two groups. Michael’s group was above, Lucifer’s below ... Lucifer and his angels fought [against the good angels] desperately ... Their faces became gloomy and ugly. Claws grew out of their fingers ... Lucifer and his followers were cast from heaven ... Since that time there exists a dark, lower world. The evil spirits [of the lower world] forged a throne for Lucifer ... Michael closed the cleft in heaven. A scar remained where it had been.” — AND THERE WAS LIGHT, pp. 8-9.
◊ Waldorf schools usually claim to be nonsectarian and nondenominational. Yet Waldorf students are told religious story after religious story. These stories reinforce the spiritual atmosphere in Waldorf classrooms.
◊ In the Waldorf belief system, Lucifer is one of the two great demons who oppose the proper spiritual evolution of humanity. The other is Ahriman. The importance of Lucifer is stressed in many Waldorf stories. [See "Lucifer" and "Ahriman".]
◊ Lucifer has a corrupted heart. In Waldorf belief, the heart is not a pump but a crucial sense organ, the seat of feelings that (unlike the ditherings of the deceitful brain) lead us to spiritual truth. Through stories like this one, young Waldorf students are taught the great importance of the heart. [See "Steiner's Specific" and "Reality and Fantasy".]
◊ "God Father" is a unique formulation. God Father appears to be Jehovah, but in Anthroposophy Jehovah is a rather minor god, not the One and Only Lord God of Creation. [See "Genesis".] Likewise, the name "God Father" echoes the term "God the Father," although in Anthroposophy God the Father is merely the god of Saturn, one of an array of gods. [See "The Father".] The closest equivalent to "God Father" is "All Father", the designation of Odin, the highest Norse god. Waldorf students are told a great deal about Odin. [See "The Gods".]
◊ Steiner also taught that the Archangel Michael is the god who rules over the current stage of our evolution. He is the warrior god who serves as the champion of Christ, the Sun God. [See "Michael" and "Sun God".] Michael works to repair the damage caused by Lucifer and Ahriman. Through many stories, Waldorf children are taught the great importance of Michael.
So this story, which stays fairly close to orthodox Judeo-Christian ideas, nonetheless begins to veer into occult doctrines. Waldorf teachers who tell young students stories such as this are, at a minimum, introducing the kids to a perspective that is consistent with Anthroposophy.
The first day of Creation, as described in Anthroposophy, is rather different from what we find in the Bible.
“As God Father sat upon his throne, he called out seven words through heaven. The seven colors of the rainbow appeared and shone in seven circles around his throne ... Behind the rainbow, majestic fire angels lifted a great cloud curtain, revealing a hall of heaven that had never been seen before. In the hallway were thousands upon thousands of sleeping souls, countless as the stars in heaven ... The fire-angels lowered the curtain and opened the gate of heaven ... Light began to shine, to blaze and sparkle brightly. The darkness withdrew to the depths. Fire-angels stripped flames from their garments, and the new world grew warm. It bubbled and flamed and flashed. Thunder rumbled and rolled so loudly that the evil spirits in the deep huddled in fear. Above them the angels’ eyes, like a thousand suns, sparkled from the bright light of the first day of creation.” — AND THERE WAS LIGHT, p. 13.
◊ To repeat: "God Father" may appear to be Jehovah or God the Father — but in Anthroposophy, he is neither of these. (In Anthroposophy, Jehovah is a Moon god and God the Father is the god of Saturn.) The closest equivalent of "God Father" in Waldorf/Anthroposophical lore is "All Father", taken from the Norse designation for the highest Norse god, Odin. [See “Genesis", "The Father”, and "The Gods".] Steiner indicated that Odin certainly exists.
◊ Seven words, seven colors, seven circles… In Anthroposophy, seven is a magic number — Steiner called it the number of perfection. [See "Magic Numbers".] Here, Waldorf students are introduced to the importance of the number seven as well as the spiritually potent effect of language — "he called out seven words." (Streit does not specify the seven words, but Genesis 1:1, in Hebrew, consists of seven words. In the standard English translation, these become ten words: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Esotericists have long taught that the number seven has mystical importance in the Bible.)
◊ In Anthroposophical doctrine, fire-angels or "Fire Spirits" are gods two levels above man, and they played a major role in the Creation. [See the entry for "Fire Spirits" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia; cf. the entry for "fire spirits".] Here, Waldorf students are told of the existence of fire-angels.
◊ To minds steeped in Norse mythology, the term "hall of heaven” will likely evoke thoughts of Valhalla, the hall in Asgard, land of the gods. [See "The Gods".] Both halls are populated by souls — overseen by a pantheon of gods — awaiting their summons onto the field of action. Here, Waldorf students are told of such a hall ("a hall of heaven that had never been seen before").
◊ The hall contains human souls waiting to be incarnated. In this story, we see the gods checking on the sleeping souls, then setting about the task of creating a world for them to inhabit. Consistent with Anthroposophical doctrines, the Creation is described as a cooperative act of numerous gods. [See, e.g., the entry for "creation of heaven and earth" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.] Anthroposophy is polytheistic ["Polytheism"], and incarnation (as part of the process of reincarnation) is a basic tenet [see "Incarnation" and "Reincarnation"]. Here, Waldorf students are introduced to such concepts.
◊ Streit’s account starts with an apparently monotheistic perspective, but it quickly shifts to a more polytheistic view. Note that the more active spirits are the fire-angels, not God Father. In Anthroposophy, the highest form of divinity is the Godhead, which is amorphous and inherent, not active in and of itself. [See "God".] Here, Waldorf students are told a tale that is has clear polytheistic implications (numeorus gods are active under a supervisory spirit who does little but sit on his throne and speak a few potent words).
◊ According to Waldorf belief, evil beings are consigned to the Abyss — the deep chasm separating Earth from the higher worlds. [See "Hell" and "Higher Worlds”.] The nature of these evil beings is not spelled out in this tale, but Steiner taught of various demons and "evil gods" as well as fallen or subhuman spirits. Here, Waldorf students are introduced to at least some of these concepts ("the evil spirits in the deep huddled in fear").
Here is a description of the seventh day of Creation, according to the Waldorf belief system.
“When everything had been created, God Father looked upon His work and saw that it was good. He gave the angels dominion over the new creation. The Elohim ruled over the sun and the sun light, the moon and stars. The Cherubim held power over lightning and thunder. The rocks, the water, the air and the fire — all were given their rulers.” — AND THERE WAS LIGHT, p. 29.
◊ Once again, monotheism and polytheism seem to seek an uneasy balance. "God Father" is presented here as looking upon "His work", although we saw previously that much if not most of the work was actually performed by a host of other gods. Now, instead of asserting his own authority over the created universe, God Father cedes authority to the angels, Elohim, Cherubim, and so on. All parts of the universe is now "given their rulers." (Orthodox Judeo-Christian teachings say that these "rulers" are the angelic assistants of God the Father. But Steiner explicitly taught otherwise, saying that Angels are gods one level higher than humankind, Elohim are gods four levels higher, and Cherubim are gods eight levels higher. [See “Polytheism”.]) For Waldorf students, tales such as this at least hint at these various conceptions.
◊ Astrology plays a large role in the Waldorf belief system, with gods dwelling on planets and stars (Jehovah, for instance, is a Moon god, Christ is the Sun God, Lucifer hails from Venus, and so forth). In this tale, we see gods being given dominion over stars and planets and their component parts. [See “Planetary Spirits”.]
◊ Waldorf students are taught, at least indirectly, that the natural world is imbued with hidden spirits (Steiner called these "nature spirits" or "elemental beings"). They are also often taught that the ancient conception of "four elements" (earth, air, fire, and water") is true. This tale alludes to such beliefs. (It refers explicitly to "rocks, the water, the air and the fire," and it says each of these has its own ruler. Nature spirits are not gods, according to Steiner — but note that the story does not tell which spirits rule which elements. These spirits may be lower than gods. Steiner taught that the earth is the realm of gnomes, air is the realm of sylphs, fire is the realm of fie spirits, and water is the realm of undines. Gnomes are especially prominent in Waldorf culture; gnome dolls and figurines can be found in many Waldorf classrooms.)
Comparing the Anthroposophical version of Creation with the Biblical version shows significant differences. Children who are told the sorts of stories found in AND THERE WAS LIGHT are not being given orthodox Bible stories. Here are the ending verses in Genesis 1 and the beginning verses in Genesis 2, telling of the sixth and seventh days of Creation. Note that the multiple gods mentioned in the Anthroposophical version are not mentioned here; also, according to the Bible, earthly dominion is given not to the gods and nature spirits, but to man, whereas dominion over forces beyond the Earth is implicitly retained by God. And, certainly, according to the Bible there is one God, one Creator; the Bible is not polytheistic.
“27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
“28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
“29 Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
“30 ‘And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground — everything that has the breath of life in it — I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.
“31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the sixth day.
“1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
“2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
“3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.’” — THE HOLY BIBLE, New International Version.
If you want your children to believe the Bible, you should not send them to a school where they will be immersed, instead, in the mystical visions of Anthroposophy. The same holds if you want your children to accept the findings of modern science — don't send them to a Waldorf school.
AND THERE WAS LIGHT was written by Anthroposophist Jakob Streit. Another Anthroposophist, the widely published Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, wrote a complementary volume, COMMENTARY ON OLD TESTAMENT STORIES (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 2001), which we should dip into from time to time. Wilkinson produced his book as a study aid for Waldorf teachers. He outline points he thinks Waldorf teachers should keep in mind and, where appropriate, convey to their students. COMMENTARY ON OLD TESTAMENT STORIES is a "Waldorf Curriculum Guide".
Here is Wilkinson's discussion of the Creation story in the Bible. You my want to note the ways Wilkinson's account parallels Streit's. Both authors provide a vision based on Rudolf Steiner's teachings.
"The Biblical story of the creation is couched in magnificent language which everyone can appreciate. To understand what is implied is not so easy. Fortunately, Rudolf Steiner has given an account of evolution from the spiritual scientific aspect [i.e., Anthroposophy] and this, though complicated, clarifies the matter considerably. He describes three so-called planetary conditions of the earth. The first is a huge globe of heat, a manifestation of spiritual beings, in which our whole solar system was included as an undifferentiated mass. There was a development from the heat element into a sort of gaseous substance and light. At a third stage there was a condensation to liquid ...
“'In the beginning'
"This refers to the beginning of Earth evolution...an interweaving of the elemental substances of heat, gas and liquid which are really the embodiment or means of expression of spiritual beings.
"The word in the original Hebrew is Elohim. It is a plural and Elohim are high ranking [sic] spiritual beings, called in Greek the Exusiai, or by other [i.e., Anthroposophical] designation, Spirits of Form. God as a collective term is justified insofar as the Elohim work as a group, combining their individual talents with the aim of creating the human being." — COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT STORIES, pp. 9-11.
The Waldorf meaning of the Creation story is radically unlike anything you will hear in a synagogue, church, or mosque.
◊ "Spiritual science," in Waldorf belief, is Anthroposophy, the occult system created by Rudolf Steiner. Anthroposophy is also sometimes called occult science or esoteric science.
◊ A key concept in Anthroposophy — one not near the hearts of anyone who takes the Bible literally — is evolution.
◊ Evolution as described by Steiner has no connection to the biological process traced by modern science. Steiner taught that we have evolved through "planetary conditions" or "planetary stages" — we began on Old Saturn ("a huge globe of heat"), progressed to the Old Sun (gas and light), and then to the Old Moon (liquid), before coming to Present Earth, the fourth of our planetary stages. [See "Old Saturn", "Old Sun", "Old Moon, Etc.", and "Present Earth".] Each of the planetary stages encompasses the entire solar system, including the Earth as it exists during that period.
◊ According to Anthroposophy, our evolution is overseen by numerous "spiritual beings" or gods, who have a divine plan for our development to higher and higher forms.
◊ "In the beginning..." Wilkinson explains that this phrase in the Bible refers not to the real beginning of the universe but to the beginning of our current, fourth planetary stage — life on Earth in its present incarnation.
◊ The most shocking part of the Waldorf version of creation entails God. In Waldorf belief as expressed by Wilkinson, God is not Jehovah, God Almighty, the Creator, or Allah. “God” is a committee of high-ranking spiritual beings. Anthroposophists see the Old Testament as a set of stories about the activities of numerous gods of varying ranks. Here, Wilkinson says that the gods called Spirits of Form (aka Elohim or Exusiai) were instrumental in creating us.
◊ Wilkinson's discussion of the word "Elohim" is, at best, debatable. Here is a truer account: "Though Elohim is plural in form, it is understood in the singular sense. Thus, in Genesis the words, 'In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth,' Elohim is monotheistic in connotation, though its grammatical structure seems polytheistic. The Israelites probably borrowed the Canaanite plural noun Elohim and made it singular in meaning in their cultic practices and theological reflections." — ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA. Thus, while Wilkinson argues that "Elohim" connotes a polytheistic universe, in fact the Bible is monotheistic.
◊ The Spirits of Form are equivalent to the angelic order called Powers. See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, EXCURSUS ON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1937), lecture 4, GA 124.
You may want to ponder the Waldorf understanding of Lucifer’s fall and, subsequently, mankind’s fall. True-blue Waldorf teachers would use different words than the following when they address young children, but they would seek to convey the following concepts.
"There had been certain beings in the spiritual world who had failed in their normal progress and they had become self-willed. They are known as the Luciferic beings [i.e., Lucifer and his minions]. Ever since human beings had been endowed with astrality, i.e., the possibility of having feelings, passions, desires...they were open to Luciferic influence. For their own purposes these beings made human beings aware of themselves earlier than planned by the creators [sic]; they awakened the senses of humans (opened their eyes) ... [Humans] began to lose consciousness of the divine in favor of the terrestrial. By becoming conscious of themselves in the world of the senses [i.e., in the physical world], they acquired the ability to choose freely between good and evil." — COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT STORIES, p. 20.
Here are some of the Anthroposophical doctrines contained in this narrative. Some can be reconciled with the Bible, others cannot.
◊ Sin, in the Waldorf view, involves the failure to evolve properly. [See “Sin”.] Thus, those spirits who allied themselves with Lucifer “failed in their normal progress” — that is, their normal evolution. [See “Abnormal”.]
◊ Evolving in the wrong direction means asserting your own will rather than following the divine plan of the gods. This is what Lucifer and his minions have done — they became “self-willed.”
◊ As humans have evolved to higher, more spiritually potent levels (we became “endowed with astrality”), we have developed our own capacities for inner existence (“having feelings, passions, desires...”), which has opened us to being influenced by Lucifer.
◊ Lucifer and his minions pushed us to evolve too quickly in one way, derailing the plan of the gods by making us too self-aware too soon (they “made man aware of himself earlier than planned by the creators”).
◊ At least partially as a result of Lucifer's interference in our development, we became earthly, physical, “terrestrial,” which distanced us from the spirit realm.
◊ This was good, in a sense — we developed the possibility of free choice (we could “choose freely between good and evil"), so in this sense Lucifer helped us. But the potential cost of Lucifer's influence is extremely threatening: We are increasingly cut off from the intentions of the good gods who created us (we are not doing what was “planned by the creators”).
◊ "Creators," plural — once again, we are reminded that Anthroposophy is polytheistic. We were not created by a sing;e God but by a host of gods.
We should note that Wilkinson’s explanations of Anthroposophical doctrine are sometimes questionable; nonetheless, they represent a view from inside the ranks of Waldorf teachers.
Returning to Streit, let's see what happened to Adam and Eve when they were expelled from Paradise. These are words that a Waldorf teacher might use in addressing young children:
"Michael accompanied Adam and Eve to the earth. In the evening, it grew cold. Shaking with cold, Adam and Eve built a small hut out of bushes and made garments of leaves ... Adam and Eve could no longer hear the heavenly music or the angels' voices ... Michael came to Adam and Eve to comfort them. 'You have not lost heaven completely. Pray to God. Then the thread of light, which binds your souls to heaven, will not tear. At night this thread draws you toward the heavenly light." — AND THERE WAS LIGHT, p. 34.
◊ In the Bible, the fall of mankind occurred because we sinned; we were cast out of the Garden of Eden. But according to Waldorf belief, mankind's "fall" was our developmental departure from the spiritual worlds, a departure that entailed our necessary descent to Earth. (Steiner taught that before life on Earth as we know it now, we passed through evolutionary stages "on" Saturn, the Sun, and the Moon as they existed in previous incarnations of the solar system. Along the way, although evolving, we became progressively less spiritual and more physical. Likewise, individual humans are born on Earth after descending from the spirit worlds where we lived before birth — we moved from spiritual realms to the physical, earthly realm.) The "fall" is thus our descent into physical existence.
◊ in Waldorf belief, Christ is the Sun God and Michael is the Archangel of the Sun. Michael has special responsibility for overseeing human evolution, so he accompanied us to Earth. [See "Sun God" and "Michael".]
◊ Descending to Earth means being cut off from the spirit worlds ("Adam and Eve could no longer hear the heavenly music or the angels' voices") — but our exile is not absolute. According to Steiner, when we sleep at night, we ascend again into the higher worlds (our astral bodies and our "I"s make this trip, while our physical and etheric bodies stay below). This is what Michael tells Adam and Eve to comfort them: At night, the thread leading back into the heavens “draws you toward the heavenly light." Or, in Steiner’s own words, "[T]he astral body...is outside the human being at night ... [Also] the I. This is how we are at night. We are two people in the night [one above and one below]." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 102. [For more on the etheric and astral bodies and the "I", see "Incarnation".]
Here is yet another Anthroposophical author explaining the "real" meaning of a Bible story. In this case, EveLynn B. Debusschere takes on the story of Cain and Abel:
“The Old Testament story of Cain and Abel reveals the transition from Lemuria to Atlantis ... Cain and Abel do not represent individuals of that time, but rather, they represent humanity at the beginning of Atlantis. Cain, the first born son of Adam and Eve, is the last born of the Lemurian age and the first born of the Atlantean age ... As Cain’s heritage is from before the Fall, he is not aware of the difference between good and evil, but as the world begins to absorb the contrast of good and evil, Cain becomes capable of doing evil, and 'Cain attacked his brother Abel and murdered him' (Gen. 4:8).” — Evelynn B. Debusschere, THE REVELATION OF EVOLUTIONARY EVENTS (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 1997), pp. 22-24.
◊ Anthroposophists believe that before our current historical period on the Earth as we know it now, humans lived on two lost continents, first Lemuria and then Atlantis. [See “Prehistory 101“ and “Atlantis and the Aryans”.]
◊ In Waldorf belief, many of the individuals in the Bible are actually composite portraits of humanity at various stages of spiritual evolution. In this case, Cain and Abel stand for human beings as they were when they moved to Atlantis.
◊ Quoting the Bible, the author tries to make her extremely unbiblical narrative seem consistent with orthodox teachings: "Cain attacked his brother Abel..." But the attempt is misleading. I invite you to look for references to Lemuria and/or Atlantis in the Bible. (Hint: There are none.)
◊ Like many tales of all sorts, the story of Cain and Abel can be seen as a conflict between good and evil. But the Anthroposophical take on this battle is essentially pagan, positing a war between gods who are good and other gods who are evil. (Steiner spoke of such opposing bands of gods, for instance: “[W]e are watching the battle waged by the good gods against the evil gods....” — Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS, Vol. 2 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1974), p. 251.) [See “Evil” and “Evil Ones”.] The battles between good and evil gods are reflected in strife between good and evil humans here below.
You may not be familiar with the following "Bible" story:
"And it came to pass that an angel of God led Adam into a cave. The angel shows Adam a book in which the seventy-two Signs of Light were written. All the wisdom of the world was written in the book. The angel taught Adam to read the signs in the book and said, 'Before you die, you must give this book to a man whose soul is filled with the light of God, so that the wisdom of the angels may continue to shine on earth' ... The Book of Life was not written on parchment; it was Light written in Light." — AND THERE WAS LIGHT, p. 45.
◊ In the Book of Revelation, the "Book of Life" is the record kept by God, listing the names of the saved. Some references to such a book may also be inferred from passages in the Old Testament. But the book described in this Anthroposophical story is different. This Book contains "all the wisdom of the world," and it is "Light written in Light." In Waldorf belief, there is a transcendent encyclopedia of all knowledge written on akasha, a universal light or ether. This Book is the Akashic Record, and it can be read by great clairvoyants such as Rudolf Steiner. [See "Akasha".]
◊ The story tells of the Book being passed on to a successor of Adam, a man who has divine wisdom. This savant would be an Initiate, a wise leader who possesses spiritual knowledge hidden from others. Anthroposophy is built on the belief in initiation. Rudolf Steiner is viewed as one of the greatest initiates. [See "Guru".]
◊ In Anthroposophy (a word meaning human wisdom), wisdom is all-important. As a gnostic belief system, Anthroposophy teaches that salvation comes not through faith or good works (even though these are important), but through the possession of secret divine wisdom. Here, children are told of "the wisdom of the angels" which must be preserved and spread among men. [See "Gnosis".]
◊ The wondrous book contains "signs." Waldorf belief contains many references to mystic signs and runes. One Steiner text is called OCCULT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS. Here, Waldorf students are introduced to such ideas. [See "Signs".]
◊ Seventy-two is a magical number, in Waldorf belief. Steiner taught that there are 72 planetary gods,* and the average human life is 72 years, and we breathe about 72 times a minute, and so forth — so everything makes sense, in an occult sense. And these are the sort of lessons Waldorf schools instill through unbiblical "Bible" stories.
* Steiner attributed this tenet to Iamblichus. See the lecture "Spiritual Wisdom in the Early Christian Centuries", GA 213.
Noah is a different figure in Waldorf belief than in the Bible:
"In heaven God chose a strong soul and said, 'You shall go to earth where your name shall be Noah. On the earth, try to lead men toward the Good. I will be with you.' Then God called the angel of birth and said, 'Lead this soul [i.e., Noah] into a house on earth wherein the good still shines. This soul shall renew my ways on earth.'" — AND THERE WAS LIGHT, p. 86.
◊ According to Waldorf belief, Noah was a great spiritual guide, an Initiate, who descended from the higher worlds to live in Atlantis. [See "Old Testament".] Having great clairvoyant powers, he led the most highly evolved humans to safety when Atlantis sank. God sent Noah to Earth, into a house of righteousness, and Noah subsequently became a great leader.
◊ "The Good," in Anthroposophy, is evolution leading toward spiritual perfection. People who are unable to evolve must be left behind, as so many were when Atlantis was destroyed. The Biblical story of the Ark, then, becomes a metaphor for what Waldorf teachers think really happened in human history — we evolved on Atlantis, then Noah and his followers left that doomed continent while many other individuals (less highly evolved) were left behind and perished. [See "Evolution, Anyone?" and "Atlantis and the Aryans".]
◊ The story refers to "the angel of birth." In Waldorf belief, Angels — that is, gods who stand one level higher than humans — have many specific roles and identities. Archangels stand two levels higher than humans, and they have wider responsibilities; Archai are three levels higher than humanity, and their ambit is wider still. In this case, one "angel" has responsibility for overseeing human births on Earth. Many Waldorf stories drive home similar lessons, all of them consistent with Anthroposophical dogma. [See "Polytheism".]
Here is Waldorf teacher Ray Wilkinson's description of Noah and the Flood:
"Many people, and also giants, now lived on the earth but humanity had become wicked ... The story refers to the sinking of the continent of Atlantis ... Noah, or Manu, as he is known elsewhere [i.e., in other religions and/or mythologies], was the leader of the sun-oracle of Atlantis [i.e., a center of occult solar knowledge on Atlantis] ... He was the most advanced leader and he was obviously still in touch with the creators of the Earth, the Elohim or Spirits of Form ... Noah gathered together people sufficiently mature [i.e., sufficiently evolved] and, knowing that the catastrophe was coming, emigrated to the center of Asia ... Here he set up a cultural or mystery center from which the early Post-Atlantis civilizations were inspired." — COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT STORIES, pp. 24-25.
◊ Atlantis, Manu, Spirits of Form — these are Anthroposophical concepts, derived from sources other than the Bible.
◊ Giants are mentioned in the Bible — think of Goliath — but Anthroposophists generally mean a distinct race, the sorts of giants described in Norse myths. The counterparts of such giants are dwarfs, also a distinct race, also described in Norse myths. [See "The Gods".]
◊ In Waldorf belief, Noah was an occult leader, the leader of the "sun-oracle," having connections to Christ, the Sun God. "Oracles," according to Steiner, are prophets/seers or the places where prophets/seers hold forth. [See, e.g., "Vulcan".]
◊ Noah was more "advanced" than other spiritual leaders, and he selected "sufficiently mature" people to accompany him from Atlantis to Asia. These are references to human spiritual evolution, a process that Steiner taught occurs through various types of epochs. Higher nations and races develop, displacing earlier, lower peoples. A sad strain of racism runs through Anthroposophy. Thus, in describing what happened after Atlantis was destroyed, Steiner said “[I]t was the normal human beings that were...the most capable of evolving. [Abnormal] peoples whose ego impulse was developed too strongly... became...the Red Indians of America. [Likewise, the abnormal] people whose ego-feeling was too little developed...became the subsequent Negro population of Africa ... The human beings who had developed normally [i.e., ancestors of whites] lent themselves best to progress.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE BEING OF MAN AND HIS FUTURE EVOLUTION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981), pp. 118-119. [See "Steiner's Racism".] Note that in this account, not all less-evolved people died when Atlantis went under: Some emigrated to other lands and became less-evolved races. [See "Races".]
◊ In Waldorf belief, the mechanism for evolution is reincarnation, which is tied to karma: We evolve through many, many lives, creating our own karma as we go. [See "Karma".]
◊ Although elsewhere Anthroposophists speak of "God," here we see numerous gods — "Elohim or Spirits of Form" — and these are identified as the "creators of the Earth." [See "Polytheism".] Bear in mind that, for Anthroposophists, creators of the Earth are not the same as creators of the universe or of man. Many, many gods of various ranks were involved in these creations.
As you can see, very little of Wilkinson's description has a basis in the Biblical account of the Flood. But these are the sorts of concepts that initiated Waldorf teachers have in mind when telling "Bible" stories to their students. How much Anthroposophical doctrine actually registers on the students varies from class to class, depending on the precise wording each teacher chooses when telling these stories, and how the teacher elects to answer the students' questions.
The following is another "Bible" story about the mysterious book kept in a cave:
"After visiting the [sinful] city, Noah's soul was deeply troubled. The Archangel Raphael helped Noah to understand the acts of life and the meaning of death, to distinguish good and evil spirits. Raphael took Noah to the cave of the Holy Book, which Adam had [seen] ... What did he find in the wisdom of the Holy Book? ... He learned to understand the powers of the sun, moon, and stars. He was able to fathom the past events of the earth, the present, and the future." — AND THERE WAS LIGHT, p. 93.
This story, meant for young Waldorf students, makes fairly clear reference to some Anthroposophical concepts (e.g., the Akashic Record and astrology) while alluding to other concepts that might be construed as consistent with either Anthroposophy or the Bible, depending on the choices made by individual Waldorf teachers.
◊ The possibility of finding hidden knowledge that confers virtual omniscience is central to Anthroposophy. Indeed, "occult science" — that is, possession of comprehensive hidden knowledge — is precisely what Steiner offered his followers. [See his book AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE; for a summary, see "Everything".] The prospect of acquiring great hidden knowledge is clearly conveyed here. The term "occult," as used in Anthroposophy, refers to mysterious, hidden knowledge.
◊ The "Holy Book" in this story is obviously not the Bible, which is not hidden in a cave. Instead, this "Holy Book" enables Noah to acquire something akin to omniscience: knowledge of the stars, the planets, the earth, the past, and the future. The idea that such a hidden record exists is clearly conveyed in this story. In Anthroposophy, this record is the Akashic Record. [See "Akasha".]
◊ Astrology ("the powers of the sun, moon, and stars") is alien to mainstream Christianity but it looms large in Waldorf belief. [See "Astrology" and "Waldorf Astrology".] The concept of astrological or celestial powers in the stars and planets is clearly conveyed here.
◊ Biblical teachings about prophecy are mixed. The Bible identifies several prophets, and the final book of the New Testament is a work of prophecy. On the other hand, at least some Biblical passages indicate that knowledge of the future is denied to humanity — no one knows the hour of her/his death, for instance, or the hour of Christ's return. Prophecy is far more affirmed in Anthroposophy. Anthroposophists believe that Steiner saw the future, and this story affirms the possibility of such prevision (Noah "was able to fathom...the future").
◊ The "meaning of death" is quite different in Anthroposophy than in Christianity. According to Anthroposophy, we die, spend a while in the spirit realms, and are then reincarnated. According to mainstream Christianity, we die, are judged, and go to our reward or punishment. (The day of judgment may come immediately or, depending on Biblical interpretation, it may be delayed. But Christianity teaches that we live one life on Earth and are then judged, largely on the basis of our faith — or lack of faith — in Christ.) This story at least raises the issue of death's meaning.
◊ Both Christianity and Anthroposophy speak of "good and evil spirits," but again the doctrinal differences are great. In Christianity, God is omnipotent and thus He is never truly endangered by Satan and his minions. In Anthroposophy, there are many good gods and many evil gods, and the balance between good and evil is precarious. Good should triumph, but there is no guarantee. [See "Evil Ones".] The message conveyed to young Waldorf students on this score will depend on the words and tone adopted by their teacher.
Here is Wilkinson writing about Abraham and the ram (see Genesis 22:13):
"In the Platonic year [a period of approximately 26,000 regular years] the earth comes under the influence of a particular sign of the Zodiac every 2160 years. This period marks the duration of a cultural epoch ... The new age of Aries, the ram, began in 747 B.C. ... Abraham saw the ram, i.e. he looked forward to the new age; but the ram's horns were caught in a thicket. Horns are symbols for two centers in the head connected with clairvoyance. When the ram is sacrificed, it means that in the new era men will no longer have the faculty of clairvoyance." — COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT STORIES, p. 35.
◊ Once again, we see astrology being imposed on the Bible: the zodiac, the age of Aries, implicitly the sign of the ram, and so on.
◊ Steiner claimed that ancient people had natural clairvoyance: This is what allowed them to create "true" myths, fairy tales, and Old Testament stories.* But over the course of time people evolved to a condition in which clairvoyant powers have been lost. Fortunately, however, Steiner himself developed "exact clairvoyance" to learn deep spiritual truths, such as the real meaning of the stories in the Bible. (So Steiner said, anyway — and so his followers believe.)
◊ In Waldorf belief, a "cultural epoch" is a period of human civilization, such as the Greco-Roman Age, lasting over two millennia. (There are also "great epochs" that are much longer.) As Wilkinson indicates, the stages of our evolution are closely connected to the astrological powers of the stars. Or so Anthroposophists believe.
The sort of "logic" found in Anthroposophy is reflected here. The Bible includes a story about a ram. There's an astrological sign called the ram. Therefore, the Bible story must be about our evolution through astrologically influenced stages. (For more about the sort of "thinking" encouraged in Waldorf schools, see "Thinking Cap". For the use of clairvoyance by Waldorf faculty, see "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".)
* The idea that the Bible is the inspired Word of God can sometimes be found in Anthroposophical discourse, but generally it is absent. There is no One and Only God in Anthroposophy, and thus the Bible cannot be the Word of this nonexistence monotheistic God.
The surprising Waldorf version of the Exodus:
"The exodus from Egypt is [sic] contemporary with the fall of Troy. The ancient world of divinely led humanity gives way to that of the individual, independent personalities with ego characteristics. The Israelites are experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is a step on the path of spiritual development ... The Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness ... [They] had to experience the realities of the harsh physical world. Earth forces were still active. Their god [Jehovah] was drawing near to the earth and he was experienced in the earthly elements ... Between the creator gods (the Elohim [sic]), Jehovah and Christ, there is a close connection. Christ is a manifestation of the Elohim; Jehovah is his servant. Christ was worshipped by many different peoples under a different name as a being of the sun-sphere [i.e., the worshipped him as the Sun God]. He descended to the earth in stages before incarnating in the body of Jesus. During the Moses era the Christ being was in the earth's atmosphere; hence the Jews experienced him in the elements — as a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire." — COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT STORIES, pp. 54-55.
◊ Many people will be surprised that the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt is really, to a significant extent, a story about Christ. According to Steiner, Christ is the Sun God, while Jehovah is associated with the Moon — Judaism, hence, is the Moon religion. [See "Sun God" and "RS on Jews".]
◊ Note the reference to Troy. Steiner taught that the Bible is "true" in some ways, but he extended equal credence to many other traditions, myths, legends, and religions. Many different peoples have worshipped many different gods — but under Anthroposophy, large numbers of these gods are rolled up together: They turn out to be the same god(s) seen differently or at different stages of evolution. [See "Altogether".]
◊ According to Steiner (according to Wilkinson), Christ and Jehovah are two of the Elohim, the Creators of man ("Between the creator gods (the Elohim), Jehovah and Christ..."). Christ later came to Earth to become the human Prototype. [See "Prototype".] Jehovah moved to the Moon, and from there he exerted special influence on mankind at one time. He is essentially obsolete today, however, just as Judaism is obsolete, according to Steiner. "Judaism as such has long outlived itself and no longer has a legitimate place in the modern life of peoples." — Rudolf Steiner, "Robert Hamerling: Homunkulus", first published in DEUTSCHE WOCHENSCHRIFT, vol. 6, nos. 16 and 17, 1888; GESAMMELTE AUFSATZE ZUR LITERATUR 1884-1902 (Dornach, 1971), GA 32, p. 152.
◊ Wilkinson's conception of "homelessness" imposes an Anthroposophical gloss on the desert wanderings of the ancient Hebrews — this period of intense suffering was all to the good, since it raised the Hebrews to a higher level of consciousness (before Hebrew consciousness became obsolete). In Anthroposophical doctrine, the purpose of the Jewish nation was to prepare the way for Christ. Jews had to become spiritually conscious enough to fulfill this mission; but once it was fulfilled, the Jewish nation no longer had a reason to exist. [See "Also Forbidden".]
◊ Before the epoch of Exodus and the fall of Troy, human beings did not possess "ego characteristics" — they were not, in a modern sense, really human. They were characterized by shared "group souls" [see, e.g., "Four Group Souls"] rather than "individual, independent" identities. The ancient Hebrews helped humanity cross the barrier into modern human selfhood, the possession of individual souls and egos [see "Ego"], before we evolved to a condition more advanced than that of the ancient Hebrews — according to Steiner.
A Waldorf version of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho:
"Christ, the spirit of the sun, was approaching ... Jericho was situated in a remnant of fertile ground which had all around been destroyed by volcanic activity ... The city was decadent. The spiritual force of the the Israelites may have won the day as did the pope when confronted by Attila ... When the Gibeonites brought stale bread and old wine, they were demonstrating that they recognized that their spiritual resources were outmoded ... Joshua supposedly cried for the sun and moon to stand still. As recorded in the Bible this is a wrong translation. The call was a supplication to the spiritual being of the sun: 'Spirit of the Sun, shine on Gibeon. [sic]'" — COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT STORIES, pp. 68-69.
◊ Again, Christ makes an appearance in the Old Testament, according to Anthroposophists. Remember, however, that the Anthroposophical Christ is the Sun God. Anthroposophy strays as far from the New Testament as it does from the Old.
◊ The Pope also appears here, tangentially.* But Steiner considered mainstream Christian denominations — certainly including Catholicism — nearly as obsolete as Judaism. The true faith (which Anthroposophists refer to as "spiritual science") is Anthroposophy.**
◊ Also tangentially: Steiner had many interesting things to say about volcanoes. Humans are at least partially responsible for volcanic eruptions, due to the use and misuse of their willpower and thoughts. [See, e.g., "Past and Future".] The volcanic plain on which Jericho was located indicates, in Anthroposophical interpretation, the self-willed decadence of the people of Jericho. (But whether in fact there were any volcanos near Jericho at any time is, at a minimum, open to question.)
◊ Steiner and Wilkinson correct the Bible's assertion that Joshua called for the Sun and Moon to stand still ("As recorded in the Bible this is a wrong translation"). In fact, they claim, Joshua was calling on Christ, the Sun God ("The call was a supplication to the spiritual being of the sun"). Anthroposophy repeatedly "corrects" the Bible.
◊ As in other Anthroposophical interpretations of Old Testament stories, Judaism is presented as merely a preparatory stage for the incarnation of Christ; Judaism in and of itself lost its validity when its purpose was fulfilled and Christ walked the Earth — according to Steiner.
* The story alluded to: Pope Leo I met with Atilla the Hun in 452 and convinced him not to invade Italy.
** Steiner considered himself to be engaged in a battle with at least some portions of Catholicism. "Catholic clerical factions...are now resorting to a web of lies in order to destroy spiritual science [i.e., Anthroposophy]." — Rudolf Steiner, SPIRITUAL SCIENCE AS A FOUNDATION FOR SOCIAL FORMS (Anthroposophic Press, 1986), p. 20.
Perhaps this is a sufficient survey of the Waldorf versions of Old Testament stories. Anthroposophical texts twist Bible stories, turning them into Anthroposophical stories. Waldorf teachers who tell the Anthroposophical version of these tales to the young children in their charge are setting the children's feet on the path toward Anthroposophical belief. A young child who has innocently internalized the Anthroposophical perspective may bear it in her/his heart and mind for many succeeding years — possibly until the end of life. [For more on the Waldorf version of the Book of Genesis, see "Genesis" and "Old Testament". For the changes Anthroposophy inflicts on Christianity, see, e.g., "Was He Christian?", "Sun God", "Christmas", "Prototype", "Sermon", "Gnosis", "Michael", "Power Words", and "Christ Events".]
MYTHS, LEGENDS, FAIRY TALES
Waldorf schools use myths, legends, and fairy tales much as they use Bible stories: as vehicles for implanting Anthroposophical views and attitudes in the students.
The myths given greatest importance at Waldorf schools are those of northern Europe: Norse myths. Steiner taught that Norse myths convey special insights into human evolution and, indeed, he said that they parallel many of his spiritual "discoveries." [See "The Gods".] Waldorf teachers generally believe that virtually all myths and legends are true, at some level, but they are particularly convinced that Norse myths are true. Steiner's taught that the Norse gods really exist and the events described in Norse myths really happened (or will happen). Here is Waldorf educator Charles Kovacs indicating how teachers should introduce Norse myths to Waldorf students. Imagine him standing at the head of a classroom, talking to the children:
“The stories I am going to tell are very special. They are wonderful stories of strange beings called ‘gods’ and of giants and dwarfs ... These stories were not just made up; they came about in a different way ... As long as Adam and Eve were still in paradise they could see God ... Then came the children of Adam and Eve, and their children’s children; they could still see God, but not very often ... The more people became used to living on earth...the less they could see God ... [B]ut very many of them, not just a few, could see the angels ... There were many peoples in the world who worshipped the angel-gods, and they had wonderful stories about them. The most wonderful stories were told among people who are called Norsemen ... When these brave, fierce Norsemen had fought a battle, they came home to celebrate their victory with a great feast ... The most important part of the feast was when a man called a ‘bard’ took a harp and sang or recited a poem ... These bards could see the angel-gods better than the others. This is how the stories I am going to tell you came about. They are stories that these wise bards among the Norsemen heard from the angels, from the angel-gods.” — Charles Kovacs, NORSE MYTHOLOGY, Waldorf Education Resources (Floris Books, 2009), pp. 7-9.
In this speech, Kovacs creates a weird blend of pagan myths and Biblical teachings. He goes from gods, giants, and dwarfs to Adam and Eve and then back to the Norse angel-gods. The blurring of distinctions is typical of Anthroposophy generally and Waldorf education in particular. Overall, Kovacs follows the Steiner/Waldorf line: Norse gods really exist and Norse myths are true (they are not fictitious; they were not "just made up"). This is how, far too often, Norse myths — and, to a lesser degree, other myths and legends — are presented to impressionable young children in Waldorf schools.
Points worth noting re. Kovacs' statement:
◊ Norse myths are polytheistic: There are many, many gods. In addition, there are other beings invisible to ordinary vision, such as dwarfs (gnomes) and giants (the gods’ enemies).
◊ “God,” in the polytheistic Anthroposophical universe, is a sort of metaphor for the highest gods and the amorphous Godhead. [See “God”.]
◊ The special stories Kovacs introduces outline the Anthroposophical account of mankind’s gradually changing consciousness as humans have descended into physical existence.
◊ In Anthroposophy, “Angels” are gods one level higher than humanity. Steiner taught that there are nine ranks of gods. [See "Polytheism".] Here, the children are told that after people lost the ability to see the highest gods, they could still see the lowly “angel-gods”.
◊ Thus, Norse myths are true: They are the tales the “wise bards among the Norsemen heard from…the angel-gods.”
To the modern, rational mind, the Waldorf belief system is almost inconceivably backward and foolish, but Steiner's followers are perfectly serious. The following is from Anthroposophist Ernst Uehli:
“[The Norse god] Thor, like [the Norse god] Odin, renounced his ascendance and became, therefore, the leader of the Germanic peoples’ experience of the ego-birth. Had he ascended he would have become an archangel being. He stayed at the angel level. Out of this renunciation grew the tremendous power that made him leader of the Germanic ego-birth. Rudolf Steiner...characterizes him as one of the mightiest angels there ever was.” — Ernst Uehli, NORSE MYTHOLOGY AND THE MODERN HUMAN BEING (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 1999), p. 69.
This statement is full of Anthroposophical jargon, but the main thing we should recognize is that Anthroposophists accept the proposition that Thor is a real being. Thor, the Angel, the “leader of the Germanic ego-birth,” really exists. And how do we know this? Because Rudolf Steiner said so, designating Thor a mighty angel indeed. According to Steiner, Thor is an Angel who renounced further evolution to help mankind. Steiner taught that, like other Norse gods, Thor was known to Germanic/Nordic man.
"German-Nordic man has an interest in an Angel-being who is endowed with special power ... And that Being is Thor ... [Thor is] a Being who could have risen to far higher rank had he followed the normal course of evolution, but who renounced advancement comparatively early and remained at the stage of a [sic] Angel ... Thor plays an active part in the implanting of the individual ego [in human beings] ... [T]he pulsation of the blood [in the human body] corresponds to the thunder and lightning [ruled by Thor] ... Germanic-Nordic man sees this clairvoyantly...." — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), pp. 134-135.
We should note the special emphasis Steiner and his followers place on Germany. According to Steiner, white Europeans stand above other racial types, and Germans stand at or near the apex of white European development. These beliefs are naturally repellant to members of other nations and races, and Waldorf schools operating far from Germany tend to suppress them, wholly or in part. These schools often place emphasis on local mythologies, not the myths of far-off northern Europe. Still, Norse myths typically remain present to some degree (on the surface or below) in Waldorf schools worldwide.
It is almost unnecessary to describe the Waldorf versions of specific Norse myths, which Waldorf teachers usually tell with at least a suggestion that they are literally true. Thus, the Waldorf "meaning" of a Norse myth, at least at the surface, is the myth itself, its literal description of the actions of gods, giants, dwarfs, and other "real" beings — these are things that happened, or are happening, or will happen.
Overall, Norse myths express belief in the following, among other conceptions. These beliefs are generally consistent with Anthroposophical doctrines, so teaching the kids these myths effectively introduces the kids to Anthroposophy:
◊ polytheism — there are legions of gods
◊ there are other immaterial beings
* Anthroposophy rejects the Biblical account of Creation. There is no One and Only God who created the universe. However, Anthroposophy recognizes the Godhead — a rather amorphous creative force — and within it the Christ being (the logos, the Word), the divinity that became the Sun God. Gods such as the Elohim are sometimes referred to as "Creators," but their role is actually limited, and many other gods also contributed to Creation — according to Steiner.
We will dig into Norse myths at some length, but first — as a sort of preamble — let's make a few short excursions in other directions.
Norse myths are not, by any means, the only myths told at Waldorf schools. Myths, legends, and fables from many lands are sprinkled throughout the Waldorf curriculum. And these tales are often told as if they were historical accounts, not fabulous inventions. A fundamental confusion between fantasy and reality can result in the students’ minds. Two quick examples:
One of the books in the Waldorf Resources series is ANCIENT GREECE by Charles Kovacs (Floris Books, 2004). It consists of Waldorf retellings of ancient Greek mythology. Children listening to these tales as told in Waldorf schools will quickly enter a mental space in which myth and history blur (and this is intentional: the premise, strange as it seems to rationalists, is that myths are true).*
In relating the myth of Prometheus bringing fire to mankind, Kovacs says this:
“A race of giants, called Titans, had been masters of the world until [the gods] defeated them in a terrible battle ... At that time, life on earth was difficult. There were many wild animals around but people had no weapons to fight them with and lived in fear and dread ... Today we take fire for granted ... But in those days people ate their food raw and huddled together in the cold and dark....” [p. 14]
Giants, gods, man, fire. And where is the line between fantasy and reality? There is none. Today we have fire, but in those days we didn’t. What days are we talking about? The days before a giant stole fire from the gods and gave it to us. The phrasing of the story makes this sound like an historical event.
Next Kovacs tells us about Pandora and her box.
“[S]he lifted the lid. As soon as the lid was open...hundreds of little winged creatures came out ... [T]hey were nothing other than hundreds of illnesses and worries ... Pandora opened the lid again and out came something that was like a great shining white butterfly, and that was Hope. And so, when we are sick or have worries, it is Hope that can help us overcome our difficulties.” [p. 17]
Kovacs shifts subtly from the myth to reality, again blurring the difference. Pandora let Hope out of the box, “and so” we now have Hope to help us. Why do we have it? Because of Pandora’s actions. Once again, the phrasing of the story makes this sound like an historical report.
And thus we get reports like this: “One [Waldorf grad] told me that in her teens she was surprised to learn that the Greek gods were not historical figures, so thoroughly did the [Waldorf] curriculum meld myth and history.” — A former Steiner dorm parent.**
* I have repeated this point several times, intentionally. It seems incredible, but it is what Anthroposophists believe.
“Myths...are the memories of the visions people perceived in olden times ... At night they were really surrounded by the world of the Nordic gods of which the legends tell. Odin, Freya, and all the other figures in Nordic mythology were...experienced in the spiritual world with as much reality as we experience our fellow human beings around us today.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 198.
** See "Dorm Dad".
The legends of King Arthur and his knights are often emphasized in Waldorf schools. If you dig just slightly beneath the surface, the reason become evident.
"As Galahad, Percivale, and Sir Bors travel together to the castle where the Holy Grail is kept, cosmic events in the evolution of humanity are revealed ... [The knights receive] a revelation of the transition from Lemuria to Atlantis ... Rudolf Steiner explains that in the evolution of the human form, the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body, or the ego could work especially strongly [at one phase or another], dominating over the other three members. Through this, four human types developed ... [T]he human shape gradually constructed itself out of the eagle, lion, and bull natures. These transmuted themselves into the human form." — THE REVELATION OF EVOLUTIONARY EVENTS, pp. 71-72.
These are all Anthroposophical doctrines:
◊ Lemuria and Atlantis existed.
◊ Humans have four bodies (physical, etheric, astral, and ego).
◊ Proto-humans had four different physical/soul natures. Steiner taught that, early in our evolution on Earth, the beings who would become humans exemplified four natures: There was the bull race, the eagle race, the lion race, and "man" — these last were the proto-humans who were the most harmoniously developed. Each type of proto-human shared a single collective or "group" soul.* The effects of that period remain today: The modern female body comes largely from the lion race, the modern male body from the bull race. [See "Four Group Souls".]
◊ Moreover, according to Steiner, "low" or unevolved humans are still largely characterized by group souls, and the distinction between such low humans and animals is slim.
”You must realise clearly that certain higher animals, particularly animals that live much in the company of man, such as domestic animals, have a kind of self-consciousness, resembling that of the lower savages of to-day.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Man's Relationship with the Surrounding World” (General Anthroposophical Society, 1941), GA 98.
◊ In Waldorf belief, the human form (especially as seen in "higher" races) is nearly ideal. It is the temple in which resides the human soul, which is considered the microcosm of the cosmos. [See "The Center"; also see "Races".]
* See the reference to "group souls" in the discussion of the Exodus, above.
The legend of the search for the Holy Grail has particular meaning in Waldorf schools. For Anthroposophists, the Grail signifies occult or mystery knowledge.
“[I]n this arising of the Holy Grail there stands before us everything that went into the post-Christian renewal of the principle of the ancient Mysteries. Fundamentally speaking, the phrase the 'Holy Grail', with all that belongs to it, involves a reappearing of the essence of the Eastern Mysteries.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MYSTERIES OF THE EAST AND OF CHRISTIANITY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 4, GA 144. Also see Rudolf Steiner, THE HOLY GRAIL (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), p. 11.
Taking this a step further, the Grail becomes Anthroposophy itself, the mystery knowledge that Waldorf teachers think they possess. [See "Grail".] Or, as we will see momentarily, the Grail becomes an emblem for the spirit realm in general.
The quest for the Grail is told in many forms in Waldorf schools. The most central version concerns the knight Parsifal. One book in the Waldorf Education Resources series is devoted to Parsifal and his efforts to find the Grail: PARSIFAL AND THE SEARCH FOR THE GRAIL (Floris Books, 2002), by Charles Kovacs.
Although the story of Grail quest builds on wisdom from the ancient East, according to Steiner, still in Anthroposophical circles it is presented a distinctly European or "Christian" (i.e., Anthroposophical) tale. The quest for the Grail represents the pursuit of a form of spiritual wisdom that can be obtained only by highly evolved humans — people who have felt the "Christ Impulse" (i.e., the impetus given evolution by the Sun God's ministry on Earth):
"Here in Europe there was a deep understanding of these things. I have often told you of the great stimulus given to the evolution of man by the Christ Impulse ... The seeking soul finds the spiritual world; the soul finds the Holy Grail which has now become the symbol of the spiritual world. Individual Initiates have experienced what is here described. They have gone the way of Parsifal, have become as kings looking down on the three bodies [i.e., the physical, etheric, and astral bodies]. The Initiate says to himself: ‘I am king over my purified astral body which can only be purified when I strive to emulate Christ.’ [sic]" — Rudolf Steiner, "The European Mysteries and Their Initiates", ANTHROPOSOPHY QUARTERLY, volume IV, no. 3, GA 57.
Clearly, in Waldorf schools, the Grail myth is not merely an adventure story about a brave knight undergoing trials as he seeks a lost treasure. It is a deeply important spiritual account. Individual Waldorf teachers make their own decisions about how to present the Grail myth to young students, but the story is considered so crucial that — like some Norse myths — it recurs later in the Waldorf curriculum, when older students can give it more mature consideration. Young students are exposed to these stories, and older students are required to study them again at a more advanced level. Waldorf teachers hope to launch the students on their own quest for the Grail:
"Rudolf Steiner recommended this story for pupils of Class 11 (age 16-17 years) as a way of introducing them to...one of the central problems of our time — the journey of the consciousness soul* ... Like Parsifal they will go through their own individual way of finding the Grail...." — PARSIFAL AND THE SEARCH FOR THE GRAIL, p. 7.
* According to Anthroposophical teachings, the "consciousness soul" is a member of the human spiritual constitution that bestows and mirrors mature conscious reflection. It does not fully incarnate until age 42. [See "What We're Made Of".]
From the great seriousness of a holy parable studied by high school students, let's return to the simple atmosphere of preschool. Even simple fairy tales are used, in Waldorf kindergartens and nursery classes, to teach Anthroposophy. Here is "Hansel and Gretel":
“The story portrays spirit and soul descending into a physical body and ascending again, enriched, to the spiritual world ... The story could also be looked upon as an initiation process. Soul and spirit are engaged in developing higher organs ... Yet another interpretation would be to consider the story as one of human evolution. With the expulsion from Paradise the human being enters the material world. Through his experiences he regains the faculty of spiritual perception in a new way and regains his spiritual home enriched.” — Roy Wilkinson, THE INTERPRETATION OF FAIRY TALES (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 1997), pp. 13-14.
Wilkinson provides his colleagues with various interpretations of "Hansel and Gretel," all of which embody Anthroposophical doctrines.
◊ Anthroposophists believe that we have both spirits and souls.
◊ They also believe that we descended to life on Earth from spiritual worlds, and we will ascend again.
◊ Initiation — the process of gaining access to hidden spiritual knowledge — is near the heart of Anthroposophy. [See “Inside Scoop”.]
◊ “Higher organs” are nonphysical, invisible organs, predominantly organs of clairvoyance. (“[O]rgans of clairvoyance build themselves...” — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 28.)
◊ Evolution is another central concept in Anthroposophy — we have evolved from Old Saturn and are on our way to Future Vulcan.
◊ We lost “paradise” by coming to Earth (a sadly material place), but we will move on. [See “Matters of Form”.]
◊ The “faculty of spiritual perception” is clairvoyance. Ancient people had it; we tend not to have it now — but we can regain it, in an improved form, by following Anthroposophy.
Such are some of the Waldorf beliefs hidden below the entertaining surface of “Hansel and Gretel” — according to Waldorf belief. Individual teachers will choose their own words in framing the story, and — as Wilkinson indicates — they can elect their own (Anthroposophical) interpretation of the story. Non-Anthroposophical interpretations are not considered and presumably would not be presented in class.
Here is "Snow White", Waldorf-style:
“In human development there are certain obvious stages of development. For the first seven years of its life the child is, so to speak, carried by heavenly powers. Then a change takes place ... [W]hen Snow White is seven, it is she who is the most beautiful. She has grown into her own being to a certain extent. The significance is that a new type of human being is coming into existence ... When the queen thinks she is eating Snow White's lungs and liver, she aims at acquiring the new powers ... Snow White...wanders alone in the woods and comes to a little hut which is the home of the seven dwarfs. The significance here is that the child's soul (and the human soul in general at a certain stage) is still in connection with the elemental powers ... The negative powers now attack the developing soul ... The elemental beings can assist humans to some degree but some things are beyond their powers ... [A] higher power is needed to awaken [Snow White]. The power of the higher self, in the form of the prince, arrives ... [T]he old magical powers must die. It is the beginning of a new era." — THE INTERPRETATION OF FAIRY TALES, pp. 16-17.
◊ “Human development,” in Anthroposophy, is the spiritual evolution described by Steiner. The “stages of development” include the three seven-year-long phases of childhood. [See "Incarnation" and "Most Significant".]
◊ The “heavenly powers” are the many gods recognized in Anthroposophy. [See "Polytheism".] Steiner taught that young children remain in contact with the gods (they are "carried by heavenly powers").
◊ In Anthroposophical belief, at age seven a child incarnates her/his etheric body. [See "Incarnation".] This is a key turning point, a major transition. At a higher level, Snow White is evolving to become a more spiritualized, more advanced human being possessing new spiritual powers. This is the journey that the maturing child should ultimately take: becoming, truly, a "new type of human being."
◊ The Queen wants to gain the new powers possessed by Snow White; she thinks she will get them by eating Snow White’s organs. (Snow White, of course, escapes.)
◊ The basic narrative of Anthroposophy traces our evolution into new historical epochs; time and again, "It is the beginning of a new era." The death of the Queen/witch shows human spiritual evolution, as we set aside old powers ("the old magical powers") and move toward our new, higher powers. The handsome prince who awakens Snow White embodies the "higher power" of the evolved human spiritual ego, the transformed Self.
Earlier, I said that it is almost unnecessary for us to look at specific Norse myths. Nevertheless, poking around through the Waldorf versions of various Norse myths can be illuminating. Here is the meaning of the myth sometimes called "The Treasure of the Gods":
"The story deals with the Luciferic influence (the Fall in the Bible) which brought the human being into physical existence and to consciousness of self as an individual earlier than the creator gods had intended. The result was separation from the divine, separation into races, different languages and dissension.
"...[G]olden hair signifies innocent wisdom, direct communication with the divine. When Sif's golden hair is replaced by that manufactured by the dwarfs, it symbolizes replacement of heavenly wisdom by that of the earth.
"...Thor represents the ego power. The union of Thor and Sif* therefore signifies group consciousness, a group ego." — Roy Wilkinson, THE NORSE STORIES AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE, Wilkinson Waldorf Curriculum Series (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 1999), p. 43.
* Thor is the Norse god of thunder; Sif is a goddess, Thor's wife.
Wilkinson slips the following Anthroposophical doctrines into his interpretation of "The Treasure of the Gods":
◊ Lucifer (who is not mentioned in Norse myths, at least by this name) is described by Steiner as one of the two arch-demons who threaten humanity. The other is Ahriman. It is partly through the influence of Lucifer ("the Luciferic influence") that we descended to our present condition in the physical universe. [See "Lucifer" and "Ahriman".]
◊ The idea that blond people are purer, more highly evolved, and closer to the gods runs through much of Anthroposophical lore. [See "Atlantis and the Aryans".]
“If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense ... Blond hair actually bestows intelligence. In the case of fair people, less nourishment is driven into the eyes and hair; it remains instead in the brain and endows it with intelligence. Brown and dark-haired people drive the substances into their eyes and hair that the fair people retain in their brains.” — Rudolf Steiner, HEALTH AND ILLNESS, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1981), pp. 85-86.
◊ The multiplicity of gods is a basic Waldorf belief, as is the idea that there are many "creator gods" — that is, many gods helped bring us into existence and have contributed to our subsequent evolution. [See "Polytheism".]
◊ Here we see the god Thor identified with the human spiritual ego — i.e., the spiritual part of ourselves that incarnates at about age 21, giving each mature individual a unique identity. [See "Incarnation".] Steiner taught that Thor has indeed been instrumental in our acquisition of the spiritual ego.
◊ Group souls, according to Steiner, are souls that all members of a group (such as a species, a nation, or a race) share. Animals do not have individual egos, but they share group souls. Humans have individual egos, but they also share various group souls. (This idea reached Steiner through Theosophy. See "Basics".)
◊ The most appalling Anthroposophical tenet reflected here concerns race ("separation into races"). As Wilkinson says, evil gods or demons are thought to have interfered in human evolution, thus producing — among other things — humanity's division into different races.
“Lucifer and Ahriman...fought against this harmonious tendency of development in the evolution of humanity, and they managed to change the whole process so that various developments were shifted and displaced. While there should have been basically only one form of human being...Lucifer and Ahriman preserved [earlier human types] ... Thus, forms that should have disappeared remained. Instead of racial diversities developing consecutively, older racial forms remained unchanged and newer ones began to evolve at the same time. Instead of the intended consecutive development of races, there was a coexistence of races. That is how it came about that physically different races inhabited the earth and are still there in our time although evolution should really have proceeded [unimpeded].” — Rudolf Steiner, THE UNIVERSAL HUMAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1990), p. 75. [See "Steiner's Racism".]
Consider what it means for such ideas to seep into Waldorf classrooms, even in the form of entertaining stories from long ago. As always, how explicit these ideas become depends on decisions made by individual teachers.
Here is the Waldorf take on the Norse myth sometimes called "Loki's Punishment":
"The story is one of the suffering of humanity brought about by the influence of Lucifer.
"Lucifer brought human beings to the physical world and Luciferic forces are at work in them ... The ego forces prevail but suffering is involved.
"...Loki was tied to a rock in a cave with bands that turned to iron...on [his] neck, loins and round the legs ... These are parts of the body where the Lucifer influence has been strong — speech, reproduction and will impulses....
"In the picture of Loki's suffering is reflected what men and women experience through his influence." — THE NORSE STORIES AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE, p. 71.
◊ In Norse myths, Loki is a prankster god, sometimes depicted as a humourous figure despite being fundamentally evil. In general, according to Waldorf belief, Loki represents Lucifer. Steiner taught that Lucifer is evil yet he also brings us gifts having real value. [See "Lucifer".]
◊ As we have seen, mankind's fall, according to Waldorf belief, is the descent to the physical Earth. Lucifer/Loki is the agent who caused this descent. (In Waldorf belief, "Luciferic" forces and beings or influences reflecting the power of Lucifer.)
◊ Steiner taught that the ego* is wicked when it leads to egoism, but "ego forces" are good when they allow us to develop our divine spiritual identities. [See "Ego".]
◊ Steiner taught that Lucifer and Ahriman — the two great demons — affect us in very particular ways, with this influence centered in particular parts of our bodies. We see this doctrine here ("these are parts of the body where the Lucifer influence has been strong").
◊ Although Anthroposophists often like to say that Lucifer ultimately serves the good gods, we see this myth presented as a cautionary tale — in effect, a sermon, warning of the suffering we will endure if we follow Lucifer. When told in a Waldorf class, this myth becomes one of the many religious lessons given to the students. [See, e.g., "Prayers".]
* In such teachings, Steiner spoke of "ego" in a more or less normal sense, as a part of our psyche. More typically, Steiner spoke of "ego" as a spiritual member of our constitution, the "ego body" that is the fourth of our bodies, higher even than the astral body. The spiritual ego conveys spiritual selfhood.
It is hard to overstate the importance Waldorf schools attach to Norse myths. While recognizing that myths are not precisely equivalent to objectively verifiable statements of fact, the schools usually accept Steiner's assurance that Norse myths are mystically true and they convey crucial lessons children should internalize. Telling children these myths is meant to inculcate Anthroposophy in an easily absorbed form.
"Rudolf Steiner once remarked that he could find no other mythology that spoke to the human condition in the way Norse myths do ... These pictures create an important, imaginative basis for children to more deeply understand human development and human consciousness. Especially in the inexorable move toward the twilight of the gods in these myths, we find a picture which speaks to the journey of every child who passes through the portal of the 'nine-year change.'" — James Pewtherer, editor's preface in Ernst Uehli's NORSE MYTHOLOGY AND THE MODERN HUMAN BEING (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 1999), pp. 5-6.
◊ In Anthroposophy, and specifically in Waldorf schools, imagination is not considered simple inventiveness, fantasizing, or picturing things in the mind. Imagination, in the Waldorf view, starts with these but grows to become a form of clairvoyance. [See "Steiner's 'Science'".]
◊ Occult conceptions of human development and human consciousness are central to both Anthroposophy and Waldorf education. We "develop" ourselves as we incarnate additional bodies and as we evolve upward spiritually. We improve our consciousness not by becoming more rational or intellectual, but by drawing closer to clairvoyance. (According to Steiner, intellect has some value in our present, extremely physical stage of evolution, but not much beyond this stage.)
◊ In Norse myths, "the twilight of the gods" is the ultimate battle of gods and giants in which all are destroyed — but a basis is created for further evolution in a new universe. Rudolf Steiner incorporated this vision into his own doctrines. Waldorf students are led toward a vision of humanity passing (evolving) through a long, sometimes tortuous series of stages in which the entire universe itself undergoes cyclical changes — emergence, maturation, decline, destruction, then re-emergence. [See "All v. All" and "Everything".]
◊ The "nine-year change," in Waldorf belief, is a crucial development occurring around the ninth year of a child's life: The child leaves the dreamlike consciousness of early childhood and awakens to the existence of the self as a separate entity present in a universe of other beings and phenomena. [See "Crossing the Rubicon" in THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA.]
"[T]here is in the Norse stories a great depth of knowledge...relics of the old Mystery wisdom. They present a picture of evolution, of the creation and development of the human being and his connection with higher beings, the fading of the old world conception, and the birth of the ego which leads to new powers of perception ... The stories hint at the coming of Christ but they also show that humanity must suffer before the Christ impulse can take hold." — James Pewterer in THE NORSE STORIES AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE, p. 5.
◊ "Mystery" wisdom or knowledge is hidden, occult knowledge — which Anthroposophists think is found predominantly in their own system, Anthroposophy, which combines and reconciles occult wisdom from various spiritual traditions. [See, e.g., "Best".] Anthroposophy is thus occult knowledge revealed to grown initiates, but in Waldorf schools such knowledge is indeed often kept more or less hidden — it is usually conveyed or hinted at covertly rather than being explicitly stated.
◊ "[T]he fading of the old world conception" refers to the evolution of humanity's comprehension of the spirit worlds and spiritual truths. This evolution led from prior, partially mistaken world conceptions to the current pinnacle of spiritual wisdom, found in Anthroposophy.
◊ The "ego" is the fourth human body, and/or the spark of divine individual identity.
◊ "[N]ew powers of perception" are what Anthroposophy theoretically enables: in sum, clairvoyance.
◊ Christ, or the Sun God, plays a crucial role in Waldorf beliefs. Steiner and his followers think they perceive intimations of Christ in virtually everything, including ancient, non-Christian myths. Waldorf students are always led toward this vision of Christ. (Certainly Anthroposophists always work toward this vision. "[E]verything we strive for, every line we read of our anthroposophical science, is an entering into a relationship with Christ. In a certain sense, we really do nothing else." — Rudolf Steiner, TOWARD IMAGINATION (SteinerBooks, 1990), p. 36.)
The god Baldur is the primary Christ figure in Norse myths, or so Anthroposophists believe. Steiner taught that Baldur — like the other Norse gods — really exists, and the stories of his life and death both reflect real events in Baldur's experience and they provide symbolic representations of the life and death of Christ.
"At the time of Baldur, the human organization [i.e., constitution] was different. The astral and the formative [i.e., etheric] bodies were free and more in motion. They were not tightly bound to the physical body as later. The ego, therefore, worked more deeply into the physical organization ... The killing of Baldur at the behest of Loki is...an evolutionary happening. It came about slowly through the effect of the poisoning that changed the blood due to changes in nourishment." — Ernst Uehli, NORSE MYTHOLOGY AND THE MODERN HUMAN BEING, pp. 37-40.
Such elaborate interpretations bend Norse myths out of shape. (In the story of Baldur's death, a dart hits and kills Baldur. This is a quick process, not at all a gradual evolution.) But such interpretations are central to the Waldorf approach, and they are what Waldorf teachers try to convey, if only indirectly. Thus, for instance, Waldorf schools try to lead families toward the Anthroposophical conception of health and medicine. [See, e.g., "Steiner's Quackery". For Anthroposophical beliefs about blood, see "Blood".] Children who absorb the essence of Waldorf-told Norse myths become — the schools hope — more inclined to open themselves to Anthroposophical approaches in all spheres of life.
Many, many other myths are told to Waldorf students. In most cases, the Waldorf versions of these myths are crafted to convey Anthroposophical messages of the sort we have discussed here.
We can end our survey at this point, but I encourage you to get ahold of Anthroposophical books like the ones I have quoted and check them for yourself. Waldorf teachers smuggle Anthroposophy into the classroom in many ways. The teachings about myths, legends, and Bible stories form just one of these methods, but perhaps a particularly potent one.
Students who attend Waldorf schools for only a few years — and particularly students who enter in the higher grades — may emerge largely unscathed. They almost certainly will detect a strange, spiritual vibe in the school, but it may not penetrate their consciousness very deeply. But children who enter in an early grade — and particularly students who remain in the school for most or all of their school years — will almost always be deeply affected. By the end, they will have undergone a long, orchestrated conditioning process. The process is especially insidious in the earliest years, when visions and feelings are implanted that may last a lifetime.
To further examine the ways that Anthroposophy suffuses Waldorf education, see, e.g., "Magical Arts", "Spiritual Agenda", "Soul School", "Waldorf Curriculum", "Eurythmy", "Mystic Math", "Lesson Books", "Foundations", "Methods", etc.
"Anthroposophy will be in the school." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.
— Compilation and explication
by Roger Rawlings