More Bottom-Up Exploration
of Waldorf Schooling
How can anyone take Rudolf Steiner seriously? It’s a puzzle. I’d like to think that most Waldorf faculty members — and, indeed, most Anthroposophists at large — have not carefully read many of Steiner’s books and lectures. Their devotion to Steiner's teachings, then, would be easy to comprehend, if irresponsible. They would have been exposed to only a pleasant, possibly expurgated sampling of Steinerthought. But I know that at least some Steiner devotees are thoroughly conversant with his doctrines, even the most far-out. They have studied, they have considered, and yet they believe. How can this be?
The puzzle is sadly easy to solve. A choice is presented: the mundane, or the miraculous: the ordinary, or the extraordinary. It’s not surprising that many individuals prefer the miraculous and extraordinary, dazzling stuff that seems to hold out an immense promise. Vast numbers of humans seek this promise. Few of them join Steiner’s small sect; they find other, larger movements to satisfy their mystic yearnings. But our focus here is on Steinerism, which is dangerous in itself, and which provides a case study in the spurious satisfaction of a profound human desire.
The nub is faith. What Steiner taught is utterly implausible, to rational minds. But he wasn’t addressing our rationality — he was addressing our dreams, our longings, our fears. Like innumerable other self-designated seers, he spoke precisely to our irrational nature, which unfortunately is far closer to the core of our being than is our thin, upper layer of logic. He struck deep, boring in on our immemorial, urgent rebellion against the limitations and sorrows of mortality.
And, cleverly, Steiner made gestures toward reason and science. Don't believe what I say, he told his followers. Check, test. Use your own capacities to confirm what I have said. But the capacity required is clairvoyance, which does not exist. So faith is all his followers finally have — faith and, perhaps, self-deception, if they convince themselves that they, like their leader, possess clairvoyant powers.
A distinction must be made between true faiths and false belief systems, true efforts to address mankind’s ills as distinct from gaudily packaged bottles of psychic hootch. Sincere, humble reverence for the divine deserves profound respect. But what of heretical, heterodox, or fabulist creeds? The latter are often more beguiling, but they provide nothing beyond a woozy placebo effect. The promptings of both reverence and reason should lead us to reject false prophets, among whom we should surely place Steiner.
Let’s consider several of Steiner’s spiritualistic assertions that have particular relevance to Waldorf education. Steiner claimed to revere Christ. He claimed that Anthroposophy is a science, not a religion. He claimed that Waldorf schools are not religious institutions. I look into these matters on other pages here at Waldorf Watch, but because they are so central, they deserve further examination. As on the page I titled “Foundations”, in the following discussion I will draw heavily from books issued by the Anthroposophic Press in the series “Foundations of Waldorf Education".
“During the first Christian period, that is, since the time the Mystery of Golgotha took effect upon the Earth’s evolution and gave it meaning, much that existed of the old ways had to recede and wait for humanity to later win them back.” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION AS A FORCE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 37.
Anthroposophists often assure us that Waldorf or Steiner schools are not religious institutions. Yet here we see Steiner speaking in Christian terms when delivering a series of lectures “that made it possible, two days later, to lay the spiritual foundations of the [first] Waldorf school.” — Ibid., p. xvii. Golgotha is Cavalry, where Jesus died. In Steiner's teachings, the “mystery” is how a god, Christ, inhabited the form of a man, Jesus; how He could unite with "earth forces"; and how He could change human consciousness to facilitate further human evolution. [See "Was He Christian?"] This is not a subject that would be essential to laying the foundations of a secular school; Steiner is signaling that Waldorf will be a religious institution. (And careful reading indicates that the religion in the school will be heretical: It will be Anthroposophy.)
Notice that Steiner gives an odd twist to Christ’s ministry: He says that the mystery of Golgotha gave the “Earth’s evolution...meaning.” Evolution is not a Biblical concept. Some Christian thinkers find ways to accommodate evolution in their belief system, but it takes some doing. Steiner, on the other hand, placed evolution at the core of his doctrines.
“Evolution is the great theme of this book and, indeed, of Steiner’s life work.” — Clopper Almon, introduction to Rudolf Steiner's AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. xii.
Steiner did not follow established church teachings. His doctrines derive largely from Theosophy, Hinduism, gnosticism, and simple superstition. His reverence for the Bible was severely limited. [See, e.g., "Superstition" and "Sermon".]
Steiner was not, in any normal sense, a Christian. But he did not adhere to science, either. His “evolution” is entirely different from the scientific, Darwinian account of the past: Steiner’s “evolution” is a spiritualistic process leading toward spiritual perfection. Anthroposophists often reiterate Steiner’s claim that Anthroposophy is scientific, distinguishing it from other spiritual disciplines. There’s something to be said for this notion, but not much. Steiner generally disparaged the work of scientists, even while claiming membership in their ranks. He told his followers how to check the accuracy of his statements, but this boils down to directions on becoming clairvoyant. In brief, while rejecting the findings and even methodology of science, Steiner posited invisible phenomena that can be checked only by a nonexistent form of cognition. Which is a run-around. [See "Knowing the Worlds".] Steiner posited spiritual "realities" and "truths" that cannot be confirmed. At both the beginning and end, Steiner's followers must rely on faith, not knowledge. They choose to believe what Steiner taught, as is their right. But no one should confuse faith with knowledge. Following Steiner is a choice of faith; it is a religious choice. What Steiner gave his followers is a religion. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"]
Returning to the Steiner quotation, above: What are the “old ways” that mankind has lost but will regain? First and foremost, clairvoyance:
“The content of the ancient atavistic, instinctive view....” — EDUCATION AS A FORCE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE, p. 37.
“In the time of ancient clairvoyance human beings were far less illiterate in the spirit.” —Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF MYSTERY WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), pp. 111-112.
Imagination, intuition, and clairvoyance are always interconnected in Steiner’s teachings. Clairvoyance is real cognition, according to Steiner. His basic take on clairvoyance, as it applies to Waldorf schools, runs along these lines: ◊ People used to have a natural clairvoyance.  ◊ We need to become clairvoyant again.  ◊ Waldorf teachers, in particular, need to develop their clairvoyant powers, both as Anthroposophists and as educators.  ◊ The way to become really clairvoyant is to follow Steiner’s directions, that is, accept Anthroposophical dogma.  (It is quite remarkable how the answer to every issue Steiner raises is Steiner himself. Christians think that Christ has the answers. Steiner modestly admits that actually he, Rudolf Steiner, has the answers. He didn't claim omniscience, and he allowed for varying approaches to spiritual wisdom, and yet his words often contradict both of these shows of modesty.)
There is a religion in Waldorf schools, and it is called Anthroposophy, which should not be confused with orthodox Christianity. From a Christian perspective, Anthroposophy is a gnostic heresy. [See "Gnosis".]
“What do most modern people mean when they say ‘God’? What kind of being do they refer to when they speak of God? What they mean is an Angel, their own Angel, which they call God!” — EDUCATION AS A FORCE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE, p. 91.
You see, even on the subject of God’s identity, R. Steiner was right and most other people are wrong, according to R. Steiner. Modern people are especially wrong: They have God confused with a subordinate divinity. If you have this problem, there is fortunately an easy solution: Come to R. Steiner for the real lowdown.
Steiner can hardly suppress his astonishment at the foolish error most moderns make (“their own Angel, which they call God!” — notice the exclamation mark — how could moderns be so dumb?). Ordinary Christian denominations, full of people making this dumb mistake, are in the dark, if we are to believe Steiner. Should modern-day Christians feel comfortable sending their kids to Waldorf schools? Only if they think that Biblical and church teachings are, in important ways, wrong. Jewish parents and all others parents aside from hardcore Anthroposophists should have similar misgivings. Confusing an Angel with God is bad enough, but even worse is the mistaken belief that there is only one true God. According to Steiner, there are many gods. Monotheism, he taught, cannot give an accurate picture of reality.  Oh, ye of false faith. You think your God is God! R. Steiner would lead your children in another direction. Steiner said that Waldorf teachers commune with numerous gods, and they know the real identity of these gods. [See "Polytheism" and "Serving the Gods".]
What Steiner Offers
“In teaching, we bring the child the natural world, on the one side, and on the other, the spiritual world. As human beings, we have a relationship with the natural world, on the one hand, and the spiritual world on the other, insofar as we are earthly creatures and exist physically between birth and death.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 63.
Waldorf schooling offers the whole ball of wax, the natural world and the supernatural world. Let’s take this in order:
◊ The natural world, according to Steiner, contains such things as gnomes or goblins.  Nature also contains other surprises: The earth doesn’t orbit the Sun ; Great Britain floats ; cancer can be treated with mistletoe ; most of the higher animals evolved downward from human beings ; astrology is for real ; when you look at the Sun, you are seeing Christ's point of origin ; when you look at the Moon, you are seeing where Jehovah went ; dragons used to walk the Earth ; and so forth. The list is almost endless, but this is more than enough for now.
◊ The spiritual world: Waldorf schools usually claim to be secular or at least nondenominational, yet somehow they manage to “bring the child...the spiritual world.” Steiner’s version of the spiritual world, revealed by clairvoyance, is inhabited my countless immaterial beings including Zeitgeists, Spirits of Form, Radiating Flames, and so forth.  There are multitudinous gods, in other words, and there are multiple regions (spheres, planes, worlds) within the broad spiritual world or spirit realm — most specifically, there is a soul world and, above it, a spirit world.  There are good gods and bad gods. Most of the gods have our welfare at heart; we are safe in their hands. But there is contention among some opposing types of gods, and various gods work on us in various ways. Some spiritual entities say to us such things as “I must dissolve you, suck you up and break you to pieces” — and these are the ones who like us!  We are fundamentally spiritual entities ourselves; the spirit realm is our true home. Our spirits are evolving, and different peoples stand at different levels of spiritual development. Different nations and races have different spiritual capabilities.  Before we are born, we live in the spirit realm, and we return there after death, but further along we will be reborn again on Earth: In fact, we have had many earthly lives before and we will have many more to come. This is not exactly what the Bible teaches; but reincarnation and karma are big for R. Steiner and Waldorf teachers, a point we will return to presently.
Education as an Extension of Life Before Birth
“We [Waldorf teachers] want to be aware that physical existence is a continuation of the spiritual, and that what we have to do in education is a continuation of what higher beings have done without our assistance. Our form of educating can have the correct attitude only when we are aware that our work with young people is a continuation of what higher beings have done before birth.” — THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 37.
As we have seen, “higher beings,” for R. Steiner, include multiple “gods” as well as the sorts of friendly spirits who want to break us to pieces (for our own good, of course). So, Waldorf teachers must be aware that various higher beings have worked over their students before birth, and the teachers must now continue that good work. How do they know who the higher beings are and what they were doing to the kids before sending them to Earth? R. Steiner has the answers. And we can check him — all we have to do is become clairvoyant.
Like their students, Waldorf teachers experienced a lot before their most recent births:
“When we teach, in a certain sense we take up again the activities we experienced before birth. We must see that thinking is a pictorial activity which is based on the activities we experienced before birth.” — Ibid., p. 62.
What exactly did the teachers experience before emerging from their most recent mothers’ wombs? If they can’t remember, R. Steiner will tell them. As for “pictorial activity,” this harkens back to clairvoyance, imagination, and intuition. The right way to think clearly is to imagine pictures of spiritual stuff. If you develop actual organs of clairvoyance, you will imagine really true spiritual stuff, just as R. Steiner did. [See "Knowing the Worlds".] Waldorf teachers should help children move toward clairvoyance, starting with imagination and maybe some wet-on-wet painting and a lot of eurythmy. If this is what you want for your child, Waldorf may be a good choice. If not, not. Remember Steiner's succinct summary of the Waldorf approach: “Our form of educating can have the correct attitude only when we are aware that our work with young people is a continuation of what higher beings have done before birth.”
In Anthroposophy, imagination is akin to clairvoyance.
“Insight of the spirit” “true anthroposophists,” “innermost feeling”: Steiner’s teachings hinge on nonrational, non-brain cognition: felt knowledge, which is intuitively self-evident: in a word, clairvoyance. No other mode of comprehension would allow Waldorf teachers to attain the insight Steiner prescribes. And Waldorf teachers must not compromise. (They must be true believers.)
 Steiner’s career as founder and sage of Anthroposophy was built on his contention that he possessed deep clairvoyant powers. In KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), and elsewhere, he gave instructions on how to attain initiation/clairvoyance. Steiner did not claim omniscience, nor did he claim that Anthroposophy is a complete explanation of all phenomena — he held out the possibility that further spiritual discoveries might be made — but he certainly asserted that his path is correct.
◊ “Monotheism...could never lead to a real understanding of the world....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 115.
◊ “Mistletoe is a remedy that counteracts....” — Rudolf Steiner, MEDICINE: An Introductory Reader (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 152.
We'll go into this further, below.
 Steiner usually spoke of two worlds above the physical world, and he identified nine ranks of gods.
◊ “The three worlds are 1. The physical world, the scene of human life. 2. The astral world or the world of soul. 3. The devachanic world or world of spirit. The three worlds are not spatially separate. We are surrounded by the things of the physical world which we perceive with our ordinary sense, but the astral world is in the same space; we live in the other two worlds, the astral and devachanic worlds, at the same time as we live in the physical world." — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDING A SCIENCE OF THE SPIRIT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 10-11.
The Semi-Christian language Steiner sometimes used can be misleading. More typically, he identified the nine ranks of gods as Sons of Twilight, Spirits of Fire, Spirits of Personality, Spirits of Form, Spirits of Movement, Spirits of Wisdom, Spirits of Will, Spirits of the Harmonies, and Spirits of Love. [See "Higher Worlds", and "Knowing the Worlds", and "Polytheism".]
“The Jews have a great gift for materialism, but little for recognition of the spiritual world." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM BEETROOT TO BUDDHISM Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 59.