How Do Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy Relate to Each Other?
I recently saw this article posted Facebook, accompanied by concerns that not only Waldorf Schools but a variety of initiatives arising from the work of Rudolf Steiner are coming under increasing - and essentially unfair - criticism today. A second article was soon shared as a further sign of this trend, and I've included an excerpt of the conversation that followed.
Waldorf schools, biodynamic agriculture, anthroposophical medicine and other initiatives arising from Rudolf Steiner's work are generally perceived by the public to be good and wholesome things. People mostly have excellent experiences with them, and therefore they're inclined to grow and thrive. But they're also under a certain very sophisticated and undermining attack, even in Europe where they're best established. The basis ? Much of it, that they're "unscientific" and "based on occultism", based on a kind of guru worship - or alternately, "possibly outdated" because Rudolf Steiner is no longer alive.
This is not innocuous, as evidenced by increasing restrictions on anthroposophical medicines, scrutiny of all of these initiatives by the state, and closer regulation EVEN WHERE NO HARM IS BEING DONE.
The article above is very well written, the first in a series of four. I recommend a close and thoughtful reading, as these attacks will not decrease until meticulously refuted - and until the courage and skill can be found to publicly "make the case" for the occult content itself.
Here are some of the reactions and responses to the piece :
Martin : Anthroposophists are now labelled "Querdenker" in Germany. (Note : see this succinct definition of the term from July 2021)
"In fact, Querdenker has garnered so much attention that a whole list of books has been published about this subject ..... also the German spy agency decided to watch the Querdenker movement."
We English speakers are supposed to know very little about Rudolf Steiner's untranslated works and would supposedly change our minds about him if we did.
I suggest reading this also, for the same reasons Jeff Smith states above :
The Cult of Rudolf Steiner Part 1
Michael : Martin, 1) You write as if it were "common knowledge" (meaning basically everybody, or "public opinion") that anthroposophists are Querdenker. Is that so ? You would think that the fruits of Waldorf education or of Biodynamic agriculture would justify what is behind them, not the opposite. 2) Is it even a little justified ? Do anthroposophists know what they are talking about ? Just to take an example, if an anthroposophist talks about the activity of Buddha on Mars, do they actually know what they are talking about ? (I don't mean to question whether it is true ; my point is completely different. Do they understand it ? If they can't put it in their own - and different - words, I doubt it.) 3) Anthroposophists again and again post long or short quotations from Steiner lectures. They seldom speak for themselves, except perhaps to quarrel about what he really said or how it should be interpreted. 4) I sometimes wonder whether most of us "anthroposophists" would do well to enter into a fast on quoting RS and instead in silence study and practice his Philosophy of Freedom (first !) and his Knowledge of Higher Worlds. Perhaps it would help us to think straight instead of quer. I think that the above article is biased, but I knew nothing of many of the things he was writing about. You ?
Jeff : Waiting to hear Martin's clarification too, Michael. I didn't get that he thinks anthropops are Querdenkers - but reinforcing that there is in truth a rather virulent group trying to create that impression.
Concerning your own observations - well maybe some anthros are Querdenkers to some extent. Not enough to disqualify a large body of excellent observations, thinking and fruitful work on the part of its best representatives - but enough that we need to pull up our socks, and be mindful not to undermine OURSELVES.
Michael : Jeff Smith I am not so sanguine about this.
Martin : Michael, the article is indeed biased. Where the name Peter Staudenmaier appears quoted as a worthy source, one can be assured of it.
The expression "Sticks and Stones ..... " encapsulates my attitude to it. The expression was first attested in Folk-phrases of Four Counties by GF Northall, published in 1894 for the English dialect society.
I could address each of your points separately but at the end of the day Anthroposophists will individually do as they wish. There will always be detractors and their voices will become more and more deafening as time moves on.
In our attempts to communicate the impossible it must be expected. It is the fate of any artist or art appreciator working out of a non-mainstream impulse I'm afraid.
Martin : Jeff, the German Spy Agency obviously thinks the terms Querdenker and Conspiracy theorist are interchangeable and that Anthroposophist is just a synonym. This is a phenomenon most recently linked to the Covid Op. Question the official COVID narrative at your peril.
Jeff : Michael, what do you mean by sanguine in this case ?
Niels-Peter : This problem I believe is due to various factors.
1. That the schools don't talk enough about the pedagogy's very close relationship with Steiner's esotericism, but instead focus on the popular things - natural materials - the creative subjects - the seasonal festivals - and all the other "easy" things that are popular to "sell".
2. That many teachers at a Steiner school do not have a Waldorf education. This causes problems regarding the understanding of why the curriculum looks the way it does - i.e. the esoteric reasons for it. It can also create two "camps" in the college - one that takes the esoteric foundations seriously - and one that looks more at what is popular in the eyes of the public (this is often the reason they have applied for the job of Steiner teacher)
3. Crazy attitudes from anthroposophists - such as we have seen them during COVID - and also in concrete cases at schools. Here in Odense (in Denmark) - we had a trained anthroposophical teacher who completely destroyed a large well-functioning school by claiming that half of the teaching staff were Ahriman emissaries from Nazi circles in Germany. The other half believed that - and the war broke out - and the parents fled with their children. Esotericism can make people do really strange things.
4. That far too little is said matter-of-factly about Steiner's esotericism. That really skilled anthroposophists don't stand up more and speak publicly about this. Make it a natural thing to associate with Steiner's name - so it's not just biodynamic goods - Weleda cosmetics and beautiful things in schools. This means - especially around the schools that it can appear to the outside world as if the schools are hiding something - is a cult that will not stand by their hidden agendas. And then it can be "exposed" by journalists and others.
So a much more transparent approach to the fact that Steiner's esotericism is actually totally determining the pedagogy in Steiner schools - or at least in schools where the teachers have an esoteric Walddorf training. Don't hide behind all the beauty - but be proud of the esoteric background - and talk about it completely freely and openly. Then there will be nothing hidden - and nothing to reveal either.
Jeff : Good thoughts, Niels-Peter !
There's also a saying that in the face of an attack, if your response is to explain yourself, you're already losing. With rare exceptions, none of the initiatives are doing harm, and left to its own devices, the public experiences this organically. And yet a case is being made that there is somehow danger lurking.
First of all, if there is genuine evidence of harm, it should simply be handed over to the courts, to be either proven or disproven. No contest if children or patients or consumers of biodynamic foods are being injured - it should be stopped. But if it's exonerated, anthroposophists can also stand on THAT fact.
The real issue is a campaign of insinuation that the esoteric aspects of anthroposophy make the initiatives somehow dangerous no matter how much good they do. These by the way were the tactics used against Steiner from the very beginning.
So the question is, who makes charges like these and why ? In the big picture, I'd say people with a conceptual commitment to materialism. An adamant and aggressive one. What people's individual reasons for this would be, would be just that - individual - but I think an important underlying factor is existential fear. You can have compassion for people in that situation, but you can't let the problems with this conceptual kind of materialism slide. Rudolf Steiner, for one, never did !
Materialism has a soft underbelly, and that's that in its dogmatism, it eventually pollutes and parts ways with science. Unable to adequately explain phenomena of life, soul or spirit, it denies not only their existence, but the possibility that ANYONE could understand them. And in doing that it begins to make mistakes.
As long as natural science is unable to take the phenomena of life, soul and spirit into account, understand them and work with them, it's sooner or later going to make mistakes with them, and do harm. This happens constantly with natural science. It gets many things right that we can admire and be very grateful for. But it also create dangers, that if not corrected, lead to catastrophes.
As long as scientists leave this possibility open they'll be receptive and even glad to hear it when someone points out a problem in their creations, and be eager to correct it. If their reaction is denial, however, they risk creating monstrosities. And this does happen, on the largest imaginable scale.
This is exactly how we come to food and agricultural technologies that also chronically damage our health and the natural environmental ; worldwide oversaturation with electromagnetic fields that have elsewhere in science been demonstrated to be harmful ; and universal, even mandated use of vaccine technologies that, elsewhere in science, we've been warned are gravely harmful or dangerous. And in the world of transgender therapies, doctors, psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry are rubber stamping treatments that are scientific travesties, and medically grotesquely harmful.
Science, in situations where these things happen, begins to take on every negative characteristic human thinking and action are capable of, even to the extremes of negligent murder. It ceases to be, even refuses to be SCIENTIFIC. It surrenders the necessary practice of free inquiry to the exercise of heirarchy, authority and power. In the process, it degrades science to "scientism" - an attitude something like the old doctrine of the infallibility of pope and clergy. In the end, conceptual materialism has nowhere else to hide.
Whatever reasons are given for attacking the "esotericism" of anthroposophy, I think this is the actual motivating factor. Rudolf Steiner was 100% for natural science - and 100% for extending it through what is being attacked as esotericism. He refuted conceptual materialism as an aberration of science, and modern anthroposophists need to be able to do that too. We can certainly explain whatever we understand of anthroposophy to any thinking person of goodwill, as skillfully we can. But explaining or justifying it to those who attack and undermine it would be a losing strategy from the start.
Martin, Niels-Peter, your thoughts ?
Niels-Peter : Nice clear explanation of the tendency of natural science to make very harmful things (also) because it does not respect "the finer matters" - I would then add money and greed to the explanation, as these are often the driving force behind very harmful inventions/claims - which we saw the pharmaceutical companies use to the extreme during COVID.
But - as you also mention - the natural science club also works well - namely where it is open and curious. We saw this with cold fusion - which was first received with great enthusiasm, but soon also with demands for repetition and proof - and then the idea was dead. Because it was wrong.
Also around near-death experiences, we see hard-core materialist scientists stop and wonder - investigate the matter more deeply - and reach insights that change their basic perceptions of life and spirit. It is fantastic.
I have a dream that spiritual science will work in the same way - results are presented - ideas are proposed - everyone listens - many investigate - open debate - something can be verified by others - something must remain uncertain - something can be rejected - but nothing remains stuck in the land of dogmatics and ego - because only the truth counts. But OK - it probably won't be tomorrow
I also agree that one should not enter into a dialogue with the hard-core opponents directly - that is a lost cause - but instead openly present alternative explanations - for the whole thing.
I think that to the extent we lack alternatives to the materialistic explanations of life - really, it is only near-death research that really provides a greater alternative. And this, I believe, is a task for spiritual science - to a far greater extent than we do now. Because at the moment, the soulless explanation of life is destroying our children's minds like a grinding machine - and it hurts to the core to witness.
And no - I don't exactly have the "Einstein proposal" for how we do it - but there MUST be a solution to confront materialism on a much larger scale than is happening now - as I see it.
Jeff : Niels-Peter, consider this possibility, as a way of working in the future. I'll probably refine it a little more, but will post it for discussion here more than once in the the time to come, each time with a different specific question, focused on some important present issue - for instance this one here, of attacks on anthroposophical work.
The exercise would be to discuss the matter from many sides, gather related facts and information and "think it right". This would be a path of many small but related insights, that would include the spirit fully - but would also be fully "doable" in the real world.
Think It Right !
Michael : Well said Jeff !
Jeff Smith : Thank you Michael !
Michael Hall : Jeff, you know, on this point I think we have a problem - we, not just our critics. What I am trying to say is nuanced and maybe a bit vague, but I'll try. It is a problem in the modern age to go on speaking about two worlds (the material world and the spiritual world). Partly, for sure, it is because the culture in which we grew up is so materialistic. But that may be changing; science is growing, even if slowly. Space now is not just a box of nothing; it is elegantly curved. I think there is one reality and we need one science, and of course it needs to include spirit. But to tell the truth, I have never liked or trusted the word "occult", and I still never use it willingly. If we identify ourselves publicly with hidden or secret or occult things, we are probably identifying ourselves with a sect. And it probably has its dogmas, etc. I think we should PRACTICE what we have found that is healthy and true, and then speak out of what we have learned. There is to my mind no greater book of Steiner's than the Philosophy of Freedom, and the next would be probably KOHW. I think we should start where we are, and go on from there. I even suspect that he would agree. But most anthroposophists, apparently, would not.
Jeff : Yes, there are certainly probIems on "our" side too. One is as I mentioned earlier, that people can be very loose with vocabulary, speaking without realizing it, that probably almost no one can understand them, and taking no care to connect the dots a) for newcomers and b) for critics, including ones with an impulse to tear down anthroposophy and anthroposophical work. It does not help the former, and gives the latter all the ammunition in the world. Rudolf Steiner built up understanding step by step for those he spoke to, so that he didn't lose or confuse those who were open to to what he brought, and that he created no opportunity for those who came to undermine.
A better way for us, I think, would to make VERY sure, before we speak, that we understand what we've been given through and through on the level of thinking and concepts, and ALSO that we've penetrated it well enough that we can connect it to the realities of life ; including some insight into the mindset and needs of those we're speaking TO. Rudolf Steiner was a master of recognizing the needs and understanding level of the person or audience he was speaking to.
There are many, many bridges to be built between natural science and spiritual science, but they need to be able to bear the full weight of questions, challenges and relevance to life as people live it. Perhaps we can each have some small part in building those bridges. But if we don't have the viable construction skills and safety awareness for that, we really should stay off the construction site !
Michael : The problems you list in your first paragraphs are all problems of someone who is not really speaking for himself.
Niels-Peter : There is also another problem in this, and that is that the world has a very short tradition of talking publicly about esoteric secrets. A good 100 years - that's all.
Esoteric sounds completely insane to the unprepared ear - or at least part of it does. So anthroposophists and others have a tough task, to make madness sound reasonable - without the guru's power to make the audience sweep the floor if they don't behave properly.
But that is the task - to talk publicly about the old - and new - secrets about how the world looks like behind the outer curtain - behind the veil.
So the two Jesus children - Buddha's mission on Mars - the 4 world incarnations - and the three to come - Atlantis - the group souls of the animals - the three powers of resistance - the Rosicrucians - reincarnation - karma and 2384 other "strange" things - there is no turning back. And any insecurity - or attempt to hide something - will become a weakness, and turned into victory for those who see no purpose in seeing the world as the result of the creative power of living spirit.
So this problem is probably also about how uncertainty becomes an old tradition to hide the esoteric - but it is too late - the books are in all the world's bookstores - and many of them are written by Steiner.
Martin : Niels-Peter, check out Gigi Young . She seems to be doing a good job of it in my opinion.
Jeff Smith : Not so sure Martin. My sense is that she's pretty loose with terminology. It always bothers me when people use an esoteric term without first building up an understanding and background for the listener. To me, one of Rudolf Steiner's best qualities is that he DOESN'T do that. If you're speaking to an audience fully familiar with your theme, that's one thing - but if your audience is likely to include newcomers - or people potentially hostile to what you're saying - I don't think it's wise, or that in the long term it will be particularly helpful or productive. At times some of the commentary on our anthroposophical pages sound a little like gibberish to me - and I've been studying this for a long time !
In the meantime, I'll listen to some more of her broadcasts, and see if my impression changes.
Martin : She refers her listeners to Steiner's work repeatedly, Jeff. And answers any questions as they come up, certainly to my satisfaction with the insight of a true occultist. Occasionally she uses a wrong word like "channelling" inappropriately but otherwise bringing in a whole new generation into Rudolf Steiner's work.
Jeff : All good Martin - will take that into consideration, and listen to more, including to her responses to those questions.
Jeff : Niels-Peter your first three sentences I understand, and I think you're quite right. To your fourth statement, I'd say that no one should attempt to represent anything they haven't penetrated through and through themselves, and are able to put in their own words competently.
A lot more could be said and explored about communicating with skeptics/critics. What are the person's own real life concerns ? Do they have any genuine questions lurking, that might be starting points for a non-adversarial conversation ? Is there some particular work of Steiner they might be referred to, without "casting pearls before swine" ?
And as I said in my previous comment, hard core materialism should never be given a rest concerning its own MASSIVE history of disasters.
Niels-Peter : Jeff I believe that one can present many of the results of spiritual science - without being able to stand as a personal guarantor of their evidence. As long as you do it with humility - curiosity and openly talk about where your own cognitive limits go.
I think we stand somewhere between the image-saturated language of the Bible (and other holy books) (which still works on the soul) and then the logical and clear results of pure science, and in this transitional land I think spiritual science's mixture of logic and imagination will be able to win the hearts of many - because they will perceive it as "making God/the gods visible in a slow and emotional way"
After all, spiritual science also speaks to the heart - far more than natural science, and we can take great pleasure in this, in the presentation of it.
But - of course you're also right - it's a balancing act - but one that I think is necessary, because otherwise the veil will be put on Isis again - and that's not the point.
Michael : Jeff I agree with your statement that "no one should attempt to represent anything they haven't penetrated through and through themselves, and are able to put in their own words competently." Or rather, stated more positively, that we should speak about things in a way for which we can take real responsibility.
Jeff Smith RN, born 1950. A registered nurse since 1984 - but holistic in my outlook to health since probably around 1968. Living Waters Wellness considers not just the health of the physical body, but our soul and spirit, our social forms, our environment - and as a matter of fact, our whole earth. It's a new website, and a work in progress - but by all means, have a look around !