“When we think, we die continually."

— Rudolf Steiner, 
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 56.

Waldorf schools tend to downplay rational thought. They attach minimal importance to reasoning, logic, intellect — what we normally call "thinking" — because Steiner said that real wisdom comes from other forms of consciousness. Here's a rundown.

For starters, let's define some terms. By “thinking,” I mean using the old noggin, the bean, the little gray cells: the brain. Rigorous or serious thinking is using the brain for reasoning or logical analysis. The highest, most rigorous sort of reasoning can be called use of the intellect.

Steiner disparaged the brain, saying it does not produce real knowledge. He disparaged reasoning and logic, associating them with the demon Ahriman and the loss of one’s soul. And, for the same reasons, he opposed intellect, as when he derided "so-called educated people in the universities." Having received a university education — indeed, he earned a doctorate, a Ph.D. — he was an anti-intellectual intellectual.

In Waldorf schools, Steiner’s views on thinking can have pernicious effects. Here is a statement by one of Steiner's followers: 

“Childhood is commonly regarded as a time of steadily expanding consciousness.... Yet in Steiner’s view, the very opposite is the case: childhood is a time of contracting consciousness.... [The child] loses his dream-like perception of the creative world of spiritual powers which is hidden behind the phenomena of the senses. This is...the world of creative archetypes and spiritual hierarchies.

"In mastering the world of physical perception the child encounters difficulties in that he first has to overcome a dream-like yet intensely real awareness of spiritual worlds. This awareness fades quickly in early childhood, but fragments of it live on in the child for a much longer time than most people imagine.

"In a Waldorf school, therefore, one of the tasks of the teachers is to keep the children young.” — A.C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956), pp. 15-16.

Here's how Steiner himself put it

"Although it is necessary, especially today, for people to be completely awake later in life, it is equally necessary to let children live in their gentle dreamy experiences as long as possible, so that they move slowly into life. They need to remain as long as possible in their imaginations and pictorial capacities without intellectuality." — Rudolf Steiner, A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2004), pp. 103-104.

Kids in Waldorf schools are encouraged to live in a dream world. Using your brain is especially discouraged in the early grades. This is why, for instance, reading is postponed well past the normal starting age. Theoretically, Waldorf schools compensate by encouraging development of intellect during the high school years. But in reality what often happens is that kids who — when they are young — are trained to inhabit a dream world, later — when they are older — use their “intellect” merely to shore up their dreamy fantasies. (I can attest to this firsthand: I was a pretty “intellectual” student by the end of my Waldorf high school years, yet I used my intelligence primarily to find reasons to reject modern science, most modern scholarship, and indeed — when I got to college — enlightened education in general.* I had been hooked. And my case was my no means unique. I’ve spoken with many other Waldorf graduates who report the same or similar experiences.)

Steiner understood that "thinking" is usually understood to be a conscious, rational activity. But the forms of "thinking" he advocated are quite different (and are not, I would submit, really thinking at all: they are forms of fantasizing). A chart drawn by Steiner shows three states of being with their proper, Anthroposophical forms of thought: 

“WAKING, Imaginative cognition; DREAMING, Inspired Feeling; SLEEPING, Intuitive Willing ... [P]ictorial cognition enters inspiration...and arises again from intuition.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE  (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 118. 

All three types of "thinking" endorsed by Steiner boil down to fantasy. "Imaginative cognition" or “pictorial cognition” is the creation of “imaginations,” that is, the products of imagination: mental pictures. "Inspired feeling" is the head-in-the-clouds consciousness we have when dreaming: It is emotional more than mental. "Intuitive willing" is the process of calling up the intuitively "obvious" thoughts that ring your bell: You will them more than think them. All three of these sorts of consciousness are stages of clairvoyance, according to Steiner. [See "Clairvoyance".] And all of them summon up ideas that, Steiner said, we brought with us from our previous lives in the spirit realm.

“[T]hinking is a pictorial activity which is based in what we experienced before birth.” — Ibid., p. 62. 

* I snapped out of it, eventually. But it was hard. To become rational, I eventually needed to overthrow my entire Waldorf education. [See "My Sad, Sad Story".]

Here is a collection of Steiner statements on these issues:

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

Thinking is the use of our brains to figure things out. But Steiner explicitly downplays this. Real knowledge, he says, comes from a different direction — it arrives full-blown, intuitively, psychically. It is the manifestation of "living thoughts" that are not produced by our brains — i.e., we don't have to think them up.

 “The cosmic ether, which is common to all, carries within it the thoughts; there they are within it, those living thoughts of which I have repeatedly spoken in our anthroposophical lectures, telling you how the human being participates in them in pre-earthly life before he comes down to Earth. There, in the cosmic ether, are contained all the living thoughts there are; and never are they received from the cosmic ether during the life between birth and death. No; the whole store of living thought that man holds within him, he receives at the moment when he comes down from the spiritual world — when, that is, he leaves his own living element, his own element of living thought, and descends and forms his ether body. Within this ether body, within that which is the building and organising force in man, are the living thoughts; there they are, there they still are.” — Rudolf Steiner, CURATIVE EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 37. Prepackaged, ready to go.

The true avenue to truth, Steiner says, comes out of feeling, not intellection. 

 “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 (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 35. 

Note: We pass from feeling through thought to something very different than thought: clairvoyance.

 “[T]hinking is oriented to the physical plane. Feeling really has a connection with all the spiritual beings who must be considered real ... In the sphere of feelings, human beings cannot liberate [i.e., separate] themselves from the spiritual world.” — Rudolf Steiner, PSYCHOANALYSIS AND SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), p. 70. 

Thinking does exist, of course — we do it. But it is only oriented to physical reality. Feelings and clairvoyance lead to higher truths about higher worlds.

 “The brain is an instrument for purely intellectual apprehension. Intellectualism and materialistic thinking are one and the same ... [T]he materialistic brain represents a process of decay: materialistic thinking unfolds only through processes of destruction, death-processes, which are taking place in the brain.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), pp. 147-148.

 “Human beings must embark upon the unpleasant task of abandoning the mode of thinking [i.e., intellect] which the universities produce in the so-called educated classes today....” — Rudolf Steiner, BEHIND THE SCENES OF EXTERNAL HAPPENINGS (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1947), lecture 1, GA 178.

The brain “thinks” only in a very inferior manner. 

 “When people are as blinded by materialistic thoughts as they became during the nineteenth century and right into the present ... it is not incorrect to say that the brain thinks. It is then, in fact, correct. By being firmly enmeshed in materialism, we have people who not only think poorly about the body, soul, and spirit, but people who think materially and feel materially. What that means is that materialism causes the human being to become a thinking automaton, that the human being then becomes something that thinks, feels, and wills physically.” — Rudolf SteinerFACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 115.

Intellect or brain-based thinking is associated with the arch-demon Ahriman. [See "Ahriman".]

 “The danger of succumbing to the realm of Ahriman was at its greatest around the year 333 BC. This was the moment in time when humanity began to make use of mere intellect, mere logic." — Rudolf Steiner, GUARDIAN ANGELS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 96-97. 

This is a serious matter:

 "The human being is thus in danger of drifting into the Ahrimanic world, in which case the spirit-soul will evaporate into the cosmos." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 115.  

Truth comes through imagination, which is clairvoyance. 

 “Essentially, people today have no inkling of how people looked out into the universe in ancient times when human beings still possessed an instinctive clairvoyance ... If we want to be fully human, however, we must struggle to regain a view of the cosmos that moves toward Imagination again....” — Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 256.


Critical thinking is especially hazardous. 

 "[Good children] have a respect that forbids them, even in the deepest recess of their heart, to harbour any thoughts of criticism or opposition." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, p. 10. 

Good adults should have a similar sense of veneration, at least for the people they have selected to be their gurus. 

 Hence the need to find a Guru on whom he [a seeker] can strictly rely.“ — Rudolf Steiner, SELF-TRANSFORMATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 48. 

Relying “strictly” on a guru is the abnegation of critical intelligence. Don't think for yourself — follow your guru (who, for Anthroposophists, is Steiner — rely on him strictly and do not question his teachings.)

 “A man who would receive Anthroposophy with his intellect kills it in the very act.” — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE, NATURE, AND CULTIVATION OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 1963), p. 15.

Ahriman’s cardinal evil attribute is that he is “the supreme intellectual power.” — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), p. 167.

Ahriman’s fiendish plots include this: 

 “One of the things Ahriman wants for us is that we produce lots of libraries, storing lots of dead knowledge all around us.” — Rudolf Steiner, POLARITIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF MANKIND (SteinerBooks, 1987), p. 163. 

Dead knowledge is, obviously, the opposite of "living thoughts."

Steiner taught that intellectual thought did not begin until 600-800 BC. Intellectual thought is, he said, a gift from Lucifer, another arch-demon. [See "Lucifer".] Steiner gave a lecture titled "The Intellect as a Gift from Lucifer". [See Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 117.] Intellect has its uses, enabling us to understand the physical realm of existence better; thereby, it helps us free ourselves from the physical realm of existence. So far, so good. But intellect contains snares, and Ahriman has accentuated these. Ahriman, in a sense, has corrupted Lucifer’s dangerous gift: 

 “Ahriman appropriated intellectuality ... Intellectuality flows forth from Ahriman as a cold and frosty, soulless cosmic impulse.” — Rudolf Steiner,  ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 98. 

We currently live in a materialistic age in which materialistic (intellectual) thinking prevails. 

 "[This is anecessary phase in the evolution of humanity.” — WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995, p. 235. 

During this phase, we sharpen our capacity for the sort of freedom Lucifer made possible. But the price is high. Intellect is destructive.

 “The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Ibid., p. 233. 

Ultimately, intellect is anathema for Steiner and his followers — critical thinking must be suppressed. 

 "By intellectualising he [the seeker]....diverts himself from the right path." — Rudolf Steiner, WIE ERLANGT MAN ERKENNTNISSE DER HOHEREN WELTEN? (Philosophisch-Antropologischer Verlag, 1945), GA 10, p. 32. 

Steiner tells his followers, 

 "You must not try to receive these insights [i.e., Steiner's teachings] in a sober-minded and intellectual way." — Rudolf Steiner, DIE STUFEN DER HÖHEREN ERKENNTNIS (Verlag der Rudolf Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung, 1959), GA 12, p. 66. 

Sobriety and intellect are faulty.

The goal is to reach a stage at which "our thinking ceases." — Rudolf Steiner, MEDITATION UND KONZENTRATION (Dornach, 1935), p. 33.

 "When we advance through meditation to imaginative perception we cross over an abyss, as it were. Our thinking ceases, a state of non-thinking exists between ordinary thinking and the active life-filled thinking of imagination." — Rudolf Steiner, PHILOSOPHY, COSMOLOGY, AND RELIGION (SteinerBooks, 1984), p. 133.

So, Steiner gave his followers a meditation that includes the words

 “Let now these intimations come 
To claim their rightful place, 
Supplanting thinking’s power....” 

(Temple Lodge Publishing, 2004), meditation #7. 

We must put brain-based thinking behind us. Non-thinking intervenes, until we can arrive at imaginative "thinking" (not centered in the brain but receptive to "living thoughts" — accessible through imagination).

 "[O]nce we have completely cleared our consciousness and suspended our concepts (as described in the second part of my OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE) we feel that our ordinary thinking ceases, and what we had previously produced by our own efforts as thinking dissolves. In its place we feel a remarkable enlivening through thoughts suddenly available and streaming into us as from unknown realms." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EFFECTS OF ESOTERIC DEVELOPMENT (SteinerBooks, 1997), p. 96. 

The living thoughts come from on high, from "unknown realms." Rational thoughts are very different; they are allied with extreme, destructive egotism.

 "Our fifth post-Atlantean subrace is developing a culture of reason, but at the same time it is bringing egotism to an absolute extreme ... Our fifth root race will be ruined by egotism intensified to the utmost." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY, p. 179. 

"Reason" is associated with ruin. A "culture of reason" is wicked, destructive, egotistic.

Let's take a little (unreasonable) detour for a moment and talk about gnomes (as Steiner often did). Gnomes are beneath us in many ways, but in one way they are more advanced than we are. 

 "The gnomes laugh us to scorn on account of the groping, struggling understanding with which we manage to grasp one thing or another, whereas they have no need at all to make use of thought. They have direct perception of what is comprehensible in the world; and they are particularly ironical when they notice the efforts people have to make to come to this or that conclusion ...  People are so stupid — say the gnomes — for they must first think things over ... [G]nomes become ironical to the point of ill manners if one speaks to them of logic ... Thus the gnomes, inside the earth, are actually the bearers of the ideas of the universe, of the world-all." — Rudolf Steiner, MAN AS SYMPHONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), p. 113.

We will evolve to have consciousness that will no longer deserve scorn. Following our lives in the Present Earth stage of evolution, we will rise to the Future Jupiter stage. [See "Future Stages".] When we get to Jupiter, we will think imaginatively just about all the time; intellect will begin receding into a unlamented past.

 "On the planet which will replace our Earth, the whole of humanity will have this psychic-consciousness or Imagination, the 'Jupiter' consciousness." — Rudolf Steiner, UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), p. 30. 

We aspire to a consciousness in which truth requires no thought of any kind — it is simply present around us and within us. Jupiter will be a big step up. After that we will attain Venus consciousness, and finally Vulcan consciousness. "Thinking" will then be long, long behind us. 

 “In a corresponding manner does the ‘Venus consciousness’ appear during the sixth cycle of Venus ... The last planet which can still be counted among the series of earthly transformations, and hence follows Venus, is called ‘Vulcan’ by mystery science. On this planet the provisional goal of the development of mankind is attained. The condition of consciousness into which man enters there is called ‘piety’ or spiritual consciousness ... Not much can be publicly communicated about the life on this planet. In mystery science one speaks of it in such a way that it is said, ‘No soul which, with its thinking is still tied to a physical body, should reflect on Vulcan and its life.’” — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (SteinerBooks, 1981), pp. 162-163. 

The consciousness we will attain on Vulcan will be vastly removed from Earthly, brain-centered thinking. Indeed, we shouldn't even try to think about our Vulcan futures; we should not, with "thinking [that] is still tied to a physical body...reflect on Vulcan and its life.” Thinking is a disqualification.

But Vulcan is far in the future. There are barriers confronting us before we can get there, evils and dangers that we must surmount. Sadly, as he did so often, Steiner associated such evils and dangers with lowly races. Fortunately, turning away from materialistic thinking will produce a superior race. 

 "All materialistically thinking souls work on the production of evil race-formations, and what is done of a spiritual nature causes the bringing forth of a good race." — Rudolf Steiner, ROSICRUCIAN WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 150. 

This is a cautionary quote: Thinking is important, because of its consequences. Evil thinking (materialistic, brain-centered) creates racial abominations. Good "thinking" (imaginative, imaginary) produces racial progress. In this sense, Steiner doesn't downplay thinking — except that the "thinking" he advocates is not real thinking. It is, at best, uncritical acceptance of the teachings given by a guru — which is to say, teachings given us by Steiner himself.

We need spiritual guides, Steiner taught; we need gurus. (We need him.) We do not need big-brained professors and intellectuals. We should not subject our precious youngsters to the false doctrines advance by “so-called educated people in universities.” — Rudolf Steiner, SECRET BROTHERHOODS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 97. 

This miseducation provided by wrongheaded intellectuals is perhaps clearest in medical education. (Brace yourself: This gets a little weird. Basically, evil thinking produces evil spiritual beings, spiders as it were. Using the intellect leads toward perdition.) 

 "Our young people are sent into the hospitals and scientific faculties of the universities; there the human being is explained to them ... [T]his is no way to comprehend the human being ... What we learn about the human being through such a science is something that simply and solely has significance from the moon’s separation until its return, something that out of the spider thoughts of today will then turn into spider beings ... [P]eople do not have the remotest idea of the appalling earthly destiny they are approaching by uniting with what an ancient spiritual knowledge called the sixteen paths of human perdition ... [T]here are variations of the shadowy intellect itself, various ways of uniting ourselves through this intellectual activity with the elements of spidery incrustation that will be spun over the whole earth in the future. In that time, the intellect will hold sway objectively in the manifold limbs these spider creatures will possess." — Rudolf Steiner, MATERIALISM AND THE TASK OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (SteinerBooks, 1987), pp. 266-269. 

Again, evil, materialistic thinking produces monstrosities. Our thoughts are real beings that dwell in the spirit realm. In fact, we may consider the spirit realm to consist of beings that are pure thought — incorporeal, bodiless embodiments of thought and spirit. In this important sense, thinking is highly important. But this includes all forms of "thought," including many that do not stem from careful use of the brain. Any and all inner states are reflected by spiritual states, and vice versa. Steiner's warning to us is that brainy, materialistic thinking — intellect, logic, uncolored by the heart — creates evil. Such thinking should not only be downplayed — it should be actively avoided.

We must avoid situations in which "intellect will hold sway." Thus, schooling should downplay intellect. Waldorf education aims to do this.


 “Any attempt to improve the methods of education should consist in modifying the intellectual element which has become over-dominant since the fourteenth century ....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1926), p. 31.

Especially for young children, intellect should be held at bay. Children should be left to themselves as much as possible. Don’t teach them; let them dream on. 

 “The child is not ready for school until the change of teeth ... He is best left in a gentle dream-like existence for as long as possible.” — Rudolf Steiner , A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), p. 11.]

You see, kids come with memories of the spirit real — and prepackaged “living thoughts” — as well as karmas from past lives.  Waldorf schooling is intended to retard maturation of young children. Kids aren’t ready for any form of intellectual thinking until rather late: 

 “Mineralogy, physics, and chemistry should not be introduced before...the twelfth year. The only intellectual occupation not harmful during the earlier ages is arithmetic.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1, p. 186.

You see, 

 “If you particularly emphasize the development of thinking, you actually direct the entire human being back to prenatal life. You will injure children if you educate them rationally....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 61.

In brief: Waldorf schooling downplays thinking in favor of imagination, intuition, inspiration — clairvoyance. Or, as Steiner said, Waldorf schooling should not “emphasize the development of thinking.” — Ibid.

Consider what it means to send children to a school where there is an underlying mistrust of the brain and the products of the brain: thinking.

Consider what it means to send children to a school where ideas like these are embraced:

 “The intellect destroys or hinders.”

 “[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition.”

 "You will injure children if you educate them rationally."

— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings

For more on the Waldorf attitude toward thinking,

see "Thinking Cap" and "Steiner's Specific".

To the extent that thinking of any sort 
has value, Steiner indicated, 
it lies in sensitizing you to your 
invisible etheric body:

“Thinking means: To do something inwardly just as one does it outwardly, for example when you use your arm or your hand. When you use and feel your arms you are experiencing your physical body. If you only have to give yourself another little jolt in order to make the transition from feeling your arm or leg movements to feeling your inner forces of thinking then, at that moment, you feel your second human being, your etheric human being, your being of formative forces [i.e., your etheric body"].” — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 97. 

[My sketch, based on Steiner’s, 2009.
How Steiner's sketch illustrates Steiner's words 
— or whether it does so — is left open.
This was commonly the case for Steiner's sketches.
I have fiddled with the colors, 
hoping to add a smidgen of visual interest.]

For more on etheric bodies,

An image of thinking or consciousness 
in the form of a caduceus.

We do not need to think much for ourselves, Steiner taught. Most of the thoughts worth having have already been produced by other, higher beings. Indeed, such thoughts exist in the universe now as living spiritual beings. We "think" best when we open ourselves to receiving these "living thoughts." They become our own thoughts when we join with them. 

“A living thought comes to us: Just as my thought is alive, so too the force that lives in and drives the plant seed must be inwardly alive. Soon this thought becomes for us a raying out of light." — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC LESSONS 1904-1909 (Steiner Books, 2007), p. 400. 

[R.R. sketch, 2009, 
based on b&w image on p. 401; arbitrary colors.]

Real thinking occurs in the immaterial parts of our being, the parts most receptive to thoughts from beyond ourselves. The physical brain at most reflects the thinking that occurs beyond and above it. When we "think" well, we reflect good living thoughts, i.e., beneficent spiritual thought-beings. When we "think" badly, we send forth evil thought-beings. And when we rely entirely on the physical brain, we create only materialistic, dead thoughts.

The image, above, shows various forms of human consciousness and their associated astrological connections. At the bottom of the caduceus: ordinary day consciousness, associated with the Earth; ascending, to the left, the Moon, and to the right, Jupiter; at the first intersection, "picture consciousness";  ascending further, to the left, Venus, and to the right, the Sun; at the second intersection, "sleeping consciousness";  ascending still further, to the left, Saturn, and to the right, Vulcan (no symbol); at the top, "deep trance." 

"In ordinary life people have no idea what a peculiar organ the human head really is, and how useless it is for our earthly life. It is there for beauty’s sake, it is true, because our faces please each other. It has many other virtues too, but as far as spiritual activities are concerned it is really not nearly so much in evidence, for the spiritual qualities of the head always lead back to a person’s former earth-life. The head is a metamorphosis of the former life on earth, and the fact of having a head only begins to have a real meaning when we know something of our former earthly lives. All other activities come from somewhere else, not from the head at all ... The head only looks on at all that occurs. The head is really only an apparatus for reflecting what the body does. The body thinks, the body counts. The head is only a spectator." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD — Foundations of Waldorf Education XXI (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), p. 76.

Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:

"We learn with more than just our heads. Lots of us, not just those in Waldorf schools, agree with this ... Based on the work of John Gardner at the Garden City Waldorf School in the 1950s and 1960s and Douglas Gerwin since then, Waldorf schools approach each grade of high school differently in terms of assignments, expectations, and the development of thinking." 

Waldorf Watch Response:

There are many different forms of "thinking," ranging from logic to fantasizing. Waldorf schools emphasize "thinking" that is close to, if not synonymous with, fantasy: imagination, intuition, and inspiration. Ultimately, these schools place their hope in clairvoyance. Rudolf Steiner taught that no real thinking occurs in the brain. Real thinking occurs outside the physical body; the brain merely reflects the thoughts that come in from invisible, higher parts. 

"No part of what thinking is, nothing of the act of cognition, takes place anywhere within [the] external physical organism; it all takes place in the adjacent etheric and astral bodies and so on ... Within the brain there is absolutely no thought; there is no more of thought in the brain than there is of you in the mirror in which you see yourself." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1963), lecture 7, GA 129.

Like other Anthroposophists, John Gardner deplored logical or "critical" thinking. 

"A youth whose childhood has been touched by the blight of 'critical thinking' will come to the moment of independent insight badly crippled ... Because skepticism has long since robbed him of part of his heart, he will now feel unable to embrace enthusiastically what he has come to understand." — John Fentress Gardner, THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (Waldorf Press, 1975), pp. 127-128.

The Waldorf curriculum is designed to keep children young and uninformed for as long as possible. [See "Thinking Cap".] Use of the brain is de-emphasized; instead, the young child is immersed in fairy tales, myths, and mystical teachings. The purpose is to bring the child into the occult fold, leading her/him to internalize Anthroposophical beliefs and/or attitudes. [See "Spiritual Agenda".] Then, when the child has become a junior occultist, intellectual thought is gradually and minimally developed in high school. Such mild "intellectual thought," however, is not meant to be critical — the child should use intellect only to rationalize the beliefs and attitudes s/he has embraced. The goal, in other words, is to raise children who "embrace enthusiastically what [they have] come to understand." What do they "understand?" The beliefs and attitudes carefully cultivated in them by their Waldorf teachers.

Waldorf schools are appropriate only for families who want an occult, mystical, irrational "education" for their children. Remember, 

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

[See, e.g., "Beat", "Steiner's Specific", "Criticism", and "Curriculum".]

Disclosure statement: I knew John Gardner. I attended the The Waldorf School of Garden City, which in those days had a different name. (The school changed its name after a scandal nearly tore the school apart — see "Scandal".) John Gardner was out headmaster; my mother was his secretary. I remember at least one occasion when Mr. Gardner told me not to think with my brain. — R.R. [See "I Went to Waldorf".]


Anthroposophists have an equivocal attitude toward intellect. Rudolf Steiner deprecated intellect, saying that it cannot bring us ultimate truth. [See “Steiner’s Specific”.] Intellect is cold and unfeeling, he said; it is alien to spirit, which we should approach through emotion and apprehend through clairvoyance. 

On the other hand, Steiner taught that today, living in the lowly physical realm, we need to develop intellectual powers. At our current level of development, we need to master intellect in order to continue our evolutionary advancement in higher, more spiritual future incarnations. The chief benefit of intellect is that it makes us more mentally alert, more fully conscious. Hence it strengthens us, allowing us to pursue clairvoyance of a more precise, discerning type — "exact" clairvoyance — than was available to humanity in the past. [See "Exactly".] Thus, we move toward spiritual freedom. [See "Freedom".]

White people, Steiner said, are humanity’s intellectual pathfinders — unlike members of other races, whites lead “thinking lives” in which they make extensive use of their “forebrains”. [See “Races”.] Among whites, Steiner singled out Germans, teaching that they possess unusually great intellectual capacities. [See “The Good Wars.”]

Steiner himself was an intellectual, a man of imposing intelligence whose books and lectures are conceptually demanding. When studying his work, his followers must cudgel their brains; comprehending a Steiner text is an intellectual challenge. Analyzing such texts, and forming opinions about them, requires readers to make strenuous mental efforts. Anthroposophists who proceed to write exegeses or original extensions of Steiner’s works become shining intellectual stars in the Anthroposophical firmament.

In general, Steiner’s followers credit themselves with high levels of intellectual apprehension. They congratulate themselves on possessing wisdom that most other people have not yet attained. The word “Anthroposophy” means knowledge or wisdom of the human being. Anthroposophists believe that they, virtually alone in all the world, are endowed with this knowledge and wisdom.

Outsiders, evaluating Anthroposophy from a distance, may see the matter quite differently. Not beguiled by Steiner, and arguably capable of objective judgment, they often express surprise that any apparently sensible person could embrace Steiner’s teachings. [See “Inside Scoop”.] Certainly, much Anthroposophical lore seems patently false; Steiner’s work is marked by a profusion of factual and logical errors. [See “Steiner’s Blunders” and “Steiner’s Illogic”.] 

Viewed in this light, the intellectual efforts of Steiner and his followers lose their claim to serious consideration. They are revealed to be vain exercises in rationalization; clever but futile efforts to erect a vast esoteric superstructure out of parts that prove to be absurdities. [See, e.g., “Say What?” and “Steiner Static”.] Only within a self-enclosed, intellectually isolated community — not to put too fine a point on it, a cult — could the fictions and fallacies of Anthroposophy be mistaken for truths.

Ultimately, Rudolf Steiner was correct when he warned his followers not to think too hard about his teachings. The intellect, he said, can destroy Anthroposophy. 

“A man who would receive Anthroposophy with his intellect kills it in the very act.” — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE, NATURE, AND CULTIVATION OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 1963), p. 15.

Steiner meant that cold rationality is antithetical to spiritual awareness; it cannot rise to the august heights of esoteric wisdom. But another, plainer interpretation (one that may have eluded Steiner) forces itself on us. Anthroposophy consists of falsehoods. Applying clear-sighted, objective analysis to Anthroposophy exposes these falsehoods and, in the process, causes the entire edifice to totter.

A "Quote of Note"
from the "news" page,
May, 2019:

"Imagination as living, pictorial thinking [1] is a primary aspect of the anthroposophical path of schooling [2]. Rudolf Steiner regards Imagination [3] as a foundational stage of supersensible cognition [4] ... Rudolf Steiner states that the development of sense-free logical thinking [5] is the precondition for Imagination (and supersensible cognition altogether [6])." — Anthroposophist Edward de Boer, introduction to a collection of Steiner texts, IMAGINATION - Enhancing the Powers of Thinking (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2019), pp. 1-2.

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] See the discussion of "living thoughts" in "Thinking".

[2] This refers to schooling in Anthroposophy itself, not Waldorf schooling per se. The former is the occult path of initiation prescribed by Rudolf Steiner for his followers. [See "Inside Scoop" and "Knowing the Worlds".] But imagination is indeed stressed in Waldorf schooling. The purpose is this latter case is to start children on the path that may lead, ultimately, to full, adult commitment to Anthroposophy.

[3] Distinctions must be made here. According to Anthroposophy, imagination is not fantasizing — it is not dreaming up pictures of things that never were. Instead, according to Anthroposophical belief, imagination is the formation of vivid, true mental pictures. And a further distinction must be made, between imagination (small i) and Imagination (capital I). In Anthroposophical belief, imagination (small i) produces accurate mental images of ordinary reality, whereas Imagination (capital I) produces true apprehensions of spiritual realities. Imagination (capital I) is a type of "supersensible cognition," yielding accurate visions of realities that lie beyond the reach of our senses — things that are essentially supernatural or spiritual.

[4] This, in a word, is clairvoyance. [See "Clairvoyance".] According to Anthroposophical belief, Imagination (capital I) is the first of three stages of clairvoyance. The other stages are Inspiration and Intuition. [See the entries for all these terms in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.] According to Steiner, a range of cognitive stages is available to mankind today. Simplifying greatly, we can say they are — running from lowest to highest — ordinary rational consciousness, imagination (small i), Imagination (capital I), Inspiration (capital I), and Intuition (capital I). Ordinary rational consciousness has its uses, Steiner taught, but it is also a barrier that must be overcome. Small-i imagination is, effectively, a transitional stage that may lead to clairvoyance. Capital-I Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition are progressive stages of true clairvoyance, yielding true knowledge of the spirit realm.

[5] "Supersensible" cognition is free of the senses — it does not depend on the unreliable reports we get from our eyes, ears, and so on. "Sense-free logical thinking" is a perfected, higher form of ordinary rational thought, freed from sensory input. It is "pure" thinking, produced by the mind turned back on itself, which opens the door leading toward clairvoyance. (Whether Anthroposophy values logical or intellectual thought is dubious, at best. Steiner generally dismissed intellect — it destroys or hinders, he said. [See, e.g., WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995, p. 233.] Rationalists would argue, moreover, that sensory input — the reports we get from our senses — are indispensable. The reports bring us indications from which we can deduce facts, knowledge, reality. Our senses may deceive us, certainly, as may our minds. But this means we must be vigilant and scrupulous; it does not mean that we should disregard what our senses tell us. "Supersensible cognition" is, from this critical perspective, unmoored, disconnected from the actual world. Such "cognition" becomes the very thing Steiner and his followers claim to disown: imagination as commonly understood, which is to say mere fantasizing.) 

[6] I.e., all types of clairvoyance: Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition. While de Boer is dealing with Anthroposophical initiation rather than Waldorf schooling, he lays out a key set of concepts that underlie Waldorf schooling. [See, e.g., "Soul School".]

"Quote of Note"
February, 2020:

"After ten years of school teaching I had moved into teacher education at the University of South Australia ... Most of [our students] had not even heard of Steiner Education or Waldorf Schools ... However, interestingly and anecdotally, the occasional student who came to us having experienced a Waldorf education stood out as being more confident, self-motivated and able to think critically — as observed not only by me but some of my colleagues." — Tom Stehlik, WALDORF SCHOOLS AND THE HISTORY OF STEINER EDUCATION: An International View of 100 Years (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), pp. ix-x.

Waldorf schools are almost all either exclusive private schools or high-tone state-funded academies. As Tom Stehlik suggests, students who emerge from Waldorf schools often exhibit considerable confidence and self-regard. In this, they are not unlike like kids who attended other sorts of private or "advanced" schools. Youngsters from classy, special schools are, after all, members of a privileged cohort, set apart from — and perhaps snobbishly seeing themselves as standing above — kids in more commonplace schools: lowly public schools that serve the general, run-of-the-mill populace [1].

But the self-assurance found among Waldorf students is often particularly acute. Waldorf teachers often pamper, sweet-talk, and fawn over their students, assuring them of their specialness — whether or not the kids have actually distinguished themselves in any discernible way. This is virtually a core component of the Waldorf approach: to inflate the kids' egos [2]. The result is that Waldorf graduates often stride forth from these schools prepared, in their hearts, to conquer the world. But a subsequent consequence is that when these students crash into the harsh realities of life outside the Waldorf cocoon, their self-regard may crumble. One of the chief criticisms of Waldorf schools is that they do not prepare students well for real life in the real world [3].

Aside from their super-abundant (but likely short-lived) self-confidence, Waldorf grads are often marked by another quality. These kids often have unusual, "interesting" minds. Waldorf education leads kids to see the world very differently from the way most other folks else see it. This can seem refreshing, at first blush. Waldorf grads don't fall in line with the prevailing prejudices and preoccupations of society at large — they don't mouth the same platitudes and commonplaces that everyone else spouts.

If you meet a handful of Waldorf grads, you may get the impression that these are refreshingly original thinkers. Certainly Waldorf graduates are likely to express views unlike the clichéd, commonplace perspectives you encounter elsewhere. But if you meet more and more former Waldorf students, the impression of originally may fade. You are likely to realize, eventually, that all these folks think much alike (different from other people, but markedly similar to other Waldorf grads). This should not be surprising. Children who attend Waldorf schools are immersed for years in a countercultural, mystical worldview [4]. They have been encouraged to adopt a peculiar, off-base mode of thought that stresses intuition and imagination rather than rational cogitation [5]. They have been lured into, or at least toward, the toils of Anthroposophy [6].

Tom Stehlik errs when he suggests that Waldorf students have been taught how to "think critically" [7]. Waldorf schools encourage their students to reject modern science and modern scholarship; in this sense, they encourage the kids to be "critical." But Waldorf education does not promote critical thought in the sense of carefully reasoned analysis. Waldorf education is anti-intellectual; indeed, it devalues brainwork generally [8]. A child emerging from a Waldorf school may have little or no experience with genuine critical thinking — genuine rationality.

Rudolf Steiner opposed rationality in the classroom, especially in the lower grades. So, addressing Waldorf teachers, Steiner said this:

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

Steiner opposed letting children question their teachers. Students should not even discuss what their teachers tell them.

"[W]e need to create a mood, namely, that the teacher has something to say that the children should neither judge nor discuss." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD's CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS AS THE BASIS OF PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 94.

Waldorf students should not seek clarifications or think too hard; they should sit passively.

"[T]each the children respect. The children should not raise their hands so much." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 65. 

The result of all this is that critical thinking is virtually banished in Waldorf schools. A leading Waldorf headmaster put the Waldorf view this way:

"A youth whose childhood has been touched by the blight of 'critical thinking' will [be] badly crippled ... [S]kepticism [will have] robbed him of part of his heart." — John Fentress Gardner, THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (Waldorf Press, 1975), pp. 127-128. [9]

Waldorf students are encouraged to "think" with their hearts, not with their brains. Thinking with the heart may sound nice, but it has little real meaning. We think, after all, with our brains. But this is exactly what Rudolf Steiner denied.

◊ "Within the brain there is absolutely no thought." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), p. 119. 

◊ ”[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 60.

Amazingly, Waldorf teachers today still affirm this mystical nonsense. So, for instance, a Waldorf teacher recently published this statement:

"The brain does not produce thoughts." — Henk van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 16. 

If there are any virtues in Waldorf education, they are not the ones Tom Stehlik indicates. They surely have little or nothing to do with teaching students how to think for themselves.

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] As a former Waldorf student, I can attest to the phenomenon of Waldorf snobbery. I found it in some of my schoolmates just as I found it in myself. [See "I Went to Waldorf".]

[2] See, e.g., a report written by another former Waldorf student (who attended a different Waldorf school from mine, on a different continent, in a different decade): "Mistreating Kids Lovingly".

Not all Waldorf students emerge from the schools full of vim and confidence, of course. Some are deflated by their Waldorf experiences; some stagger away wounded. [See "Who Gets Hurt".] But producing artificially amped-up grads can serve the Waldorf mission, which is to spread Anthroposophy. [See "Here's the Answer".] Waldorf graduates who shine — or seem to — can be useful emissaries. Wittingly or not, they may further the schools' proselytizing efforts.  

[3] See, e.g., two reports written by mothers who sent their children to Waldorf schools: "Our Experience" and "Coming Undone". Also see the section "Waldorf Graduates" on the page "Upside".

[4] See, e.g., "Soul School". The effect of Waldorf schooling is often a subtle but thorough indoctrination in Anthroposophical attitudes and beliefs. [See "Indoctrination".]

If Waldorf graduates are not exemplars of original thinking, then they clearly cannot be exemplars of self-motivation. And, indeed, the Waldorf indoctrination process aims more at instilling Anthroposophical attitudes and motives than Anthroposophical ideas. [See the section "We Don't Teach It" on the page "Spiritual Agenda".] Waldorf schools claim to help students to become free agents, but in fact Anthroposophy all but rules out genuine human freedom. [See "Freedom".]

[5] See "Thinking Cap" and "Thinking".

[6] See, e.g., "Sneaking It In".

[7] Note how much Stehlik qualifies his assertion, as if he knows it is questionable. He says his evidence is anecdotal. He says he is talking about only an "occasional" Waldorf student, and he says that only "some" of his colleagues saw what he saw. 

[9] Like Steiner, Gardner said that intellect should not be developed until high school, perhaps late in high school. If a child has not been damaged by the "blight" of critical thinking, s/he will then be able to embrace the insights attained intellectually in later years, Gardner argues. The problem is that if children have been immersed in irrational, mystical thinking throughout their formative years, their indoctrination in such thinking may be so complete that no real rationality will be possible in later years.

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 : what we know and what we don't