anthroposophy, disease and vaccination

Waldorf schools are infamous for low rates of vaccinated students and for occasional outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases. To some extent, waldorf parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their children have certain characteristics in common with other groups of parents who refuse vaccination (supposed risks, wanting to lead a ‘natural’ life, and so forth). However, there’s also an other element guiding the decisions of some waldorf parents, namely anthroposophy. In anthroposophy, disease is seen as a natural and often necessary event in a person’s life and as an opportunity for development and maturation. Illness is not merely a meaningless suffering. Basic to this understanding of disease is the anthroposophical knowledge of the human being, which includes a belief in visible and invisible aspects of man (for example: in addition to the physical body, there are three supersensible ‘bodies’) and the belief in an eternal spirit. This soul-spiritual core of man goes through repeated earth lives. Each life has something to teach, and the individual is supposed to progress to ever higher evolutionary stages. Diseases and other hardships have a role to play in this cosmic scheme of continuous development and progression of individual men as well as of mankind at large.

Childhood diseases and their symptoms, such as fever, are considered as positive events in a child’s life, enabling the child to incarnate in his or her inherited physical body. This physical body is, in some sense, ‘foreign’ to the incarnating child, and through disease, the child is assisted in making this physical shell his or her own, to adapting it to his or her individuality. Childhood diseases actually act as a kind of regulative force; they help the child develop in a balanced way, according to anthroposophical beliefs. This is why childhood diseases usually appear during childhood, this is the time when they are needed. (When these diseases appear in adults, something more serious is amiss.) Also, the fever common in childhood and accompanying most childhood diseases helps counteract premature ‘hardening’ — which is, anthroposophically speaking, a bad thing; it’s associated with Ahriman. Fever is luciferic — that is, an opposing force to anything ahrimanic. Thus, vaccination deprives the child of an opportunity for assistance in the incarnation process and poses a risk concerning premature hardening processes. This is not insignificant, from a spiritual viewpoint. The spiritual risk of vaccination is, supposedly, higher before the first seven-year cycle of the child’s life has ended. These first seven years are characterized by hardening of the organism, which culminate at the change of teeth; the key factor for natural development, anthroposophically speaking, is not that it happens but the pace at which this happens.

Another anthroposophical aspect worth noting in this context is the belief in karma. As already noted, Anthroposophy holds that the spiritual core of the human being is immortal and goes through repeated lives on earth. Before we’re born, we choose which circumstances to incarnate into — with the aim of furthering our spiritual progression. This means, we also choose our diseases because we ‘need’ them, for reasons which may be inconceivable to us during our earthly existence but which appear clearly to us during the time we spend in the spiritual realm after death and before rebirth. Consequently, we can place ourselves in a setting where we will be confronted with a disease we need to live through (or, in some cases, even die from), either because of something — for instance, a personality flaw — from a past life which needs to be rectified or as a preparation for lives to come.

This was written based upon several recent texts in Swedish. A few references for further reading:

http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA235/English/RSP1972/Karm01_index.html
http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/ManfKarma/ManKar_index.html
http://www.rsarchive.org/Medicine/
http://www.rsarchive.org/RelAuthors/GlasNorbert/How_To_Look_At_Illness.php
http://www.informedfamilylife.org/2005/01/childhood_fevers.html
http://goodlight.net/vacexpert/suportng.htm
http://www.anthromed.org/Article.aspx?artpk=764
http://www.anthroposophischeaerzte.de/fileadmin/gaad/PDF/Aktuelles/Leitlinien/Masern-Leitlinie_2009.pdf
http://www.skepdic.com/anthroposophicmedicine.html
http://www.acsh.org/healthissues/newsID.412/healthissue_detail.asp
http://www.alternative-doctor.com/vaccination/west.htm
http://www.anthromed.org/Article.aspx?artpk=432

Edit: As Roger points out in his news section, the ‘unvaccinated’ in the very first passage is supposed to be ‘vaccinated’… Has been corrected.

35 thoughts on “anthroposophy, disease and vaccination

  1. Thank you, Alicia, a very good summation!

    The correct antidote to this mindset, IMO, is Susan Sontag’s thesis in “Illness as Metaphor” that metaphorical and spiritual interpretations of illness are almost always punitive. We only insist on assigning “meanings” to illnesses we don’t understand the cause of or for which we have no effective treatments; once cause is understood or treatment is possible, spiritual “meanings” tend to fall away.

  2. Thanks.

    Although Steiner tended to suggest spiritual causes to diseases that were understood at the time of his life, it’s also important to remember that back then, it was inevitable that lots and lots of children died of diseases that are today easily preventable. This sort of complicates anthroposophical medicine, because — in important matters like this — it seems stuck in the knowledge current in Steiner’s days. His explanations as to why childhood diseases appear are obviously coloured by the fact that there was nothing you could do anyway. Today there is; and it seems ludicrous that hundreds of thousands of children die each year in the world due to what are now — in the age of vaccines — banal diseases that they wouldn’t need to get in the first place.

  3. Thank you Alicia ~ if only parents that enroll their children in Waldorf schools would understand that it is NOT science that fuels their fundamental belief of child development but Anthroposophy. To my mind this level of deception is the most disturbing aspect about Waldorf schools.

    It is as if the blind are leading the blind.

    Perhaps it should be a requirement that only parents who were not immunized and lived through these diseases could then choose not to immunize their children.

    The irony is that parents who choose Waldorf and dismiss the foundation of Waldorf education, Anthroposophy, could in the end compromise their child’s physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual well being. The very things they are trying to preserve.

  4. “His explanations as to why childhood diseases appear are obviously coloured by the fact that there was nothing you could do anyway.”

    Yes. From this angle (a symathetic one), karma is actually a humane belief: it’s an insistence that although your suffering may appear random and cruel, it actually has a meaning. This is comforting if you have no other conceivable resource or explanation. And if we can find no possible meaning, we’ll just keep expanding where we look for meanings: if there is no explanation to be found in this life, maybe the explanation is in another life, past or future. The belief in karma is just one variation of the human insistence on meaning in our lives.

    As soon as there is an explanation and better yet, a treatment or preventive, for a particular disease, however, the suspicion that the person actually caused his or her own illness falls away, and appears ignorant and cruel.

    Today I believe the humane approach would be to cease and desist teaching a doctrine that says people cause their own illnesses for moral or spiritual reasons.

    Failing that: at least own up to your beliefs. That is, Waldorf/Steiner schools need to disclose this belief system to prospective parents, who may not wish their children to be subjected to it at school.

  5. Margaret — ‘The irony is that parents who choose Waldorf and dismiss the foundation of Waldorf education, Anthroposophy, could in the end compromise their child’s physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual well being. The very things they are trying to preserve.’

    Oh absolutely. It’s (often) an over-eagerness to do things perfectly — make the perfect choices (not the default ones, like going to the local state school) — that ends in anything but perfection… sometimes disaster.

    As for the vaccination — I think it’s difficult to require things, but I do think waldorf schools need to stop nurturing this anti-vaccine culture, because they know exactly that they’re having a problem, and that a ‘we don’t recommend either for or against’-approach won’t help. And, also, they need to be upfront about this problem, because parents who don’t want their children to contract these diseases (the vaccines aren’t a 100%) need to know the risks with sending their children into an environment where an epidemic isn’t unlikely.

    Diana — Yes, and I remember just reading about an incident where Steiner was asked by a parent if their young child could be a reincarnation of another child who had died a few years before this child’s birth. The parents thought this, for some reason (which isn’t all that difficult to understand, from an emotional viewpoint, albeit not a scientific one…). He then replied, it is reported, that yes, indeed, on rare occasions a child can choose to reincarnate again in the same family after a very short time.

    ‘Today I believe the humane approach would be to cease and desist teaching a doctrine that says people cause their own illnesses for moral or spiritual reasons.

    ‘Failing that: at least own up to your beliefs.’

    Agreed. And the latter really is crucial, in particular for a movement which runs institutions such as schools and clinics.

  6. ‘Eczema appearing on the elbows is because your soul needs “elbow room”; eczema on the palms of the hand reflects a need to “take hold” of life.’

    Yep, nice.

    An interesting thing about eczema like psoriasis is that it can, sort of, turn inward, I think, affecting joints. Not that there’s a spiritual explanation for this.

  7. In my 30’s I had a pretty vexing case of eczema. I still have it, but it’s very mild now in comparison – just an occasional irritation. I researched and semi-believed all sorts of crackpot theories about my eczema, including the basic homeopathic notion that if you don’t just tolerate hellishly intolerable skin conditions, you’ll “drive them inward” and give yourself something worse (as the link suggests; ulcerative colitis, for instance). Complete nonsense.

  8. But psoriasis arthritis does exist:
    http://www.psoriasis-association.org.uk/arthritis.html

    I have eczema too, not really bad but enough to be annoying. It’s in several places, but what sort of baffled me was that when I had the adhesive eye-patch in december, I got excema under the sticky stuff. Not only that — a few weeks later, it had moved to the eyebrows of the other eye… which never had the patch! I still haven’t managed to cure it, it’s still there, on both eyes. Extremely annoying. Recently it seems to have spread to under the eye as well. I’ve given up on cortisone treatments and all that pharmacy stuff. The benefits are marginal — sometimes I think that stuff even makes matters worse.

  9. Yes, you have to be really careful with the steroids – they truly are dangerous in the long run. Unfortunately, in my experience, the topical creams do absolutely nothing; for an actual outbreak, only oral steroids relieve the insanity. But then again, spiritually speaking, I’m a tough nut to crack; no doubt I need my eczema to spiritually counteract my many deficiencies of soul. I’d agree with the anthros there …

  10. I suppose I do too…

    Of all the creams and stuff I’ve used, I am — actually… — most fond of weleda’s ‘skin food’. I think it’s the only cream I’ve used that didn’t cause worse rashes. It doesn’t cure eczema, but it relieves the itching. (And it’s splendid for dry skin, which is what I originally started using it for — it’s the only one I’ve found that helps. Ironically, perhaps. Since it stops the itching, I don’t have to scratch dry winter hands until they bleed; and this is almost like being ‘cured’. As for the eczema, it’s not that effective, but it’s nice to have less itching.)

  11. I occasionally buy the shea soaps from L’Occitane. (Their products are aesthetically pleasing as well.) Certainly much better than supermarket soaps, in any case… I’m too lazy for lotions though.

  12. Jumpin’ Jehosaphat, Batman!

    Again, I appreciate a good old Darwin Award as the next man/woman or child. What bothers me with the anti-vaccination lunatics is the fact that it’s the kids that take the brunt. I am sure that one day it’ll be pitchforks, hang ropes and nice bonfires-time but not until they have managed to reintroduce those colorful timeless epidemiological classics as polio and the black plague.

    Had it only been the anti-vaccination idiots themselves that bought the farm with their ‘natural’ choices we could all just sit back and have a good old belly laugh and a warm fuzzy feeling every time one these assholes removed themselves from the gene pool and stopped spreading disease.

    Seriously, is it so hard to just turn off the religious Newage bullshit and do the right thing?

    Oh, the same thing goes for organic food. Stop encouraging these idiots. Its the same crowd that got that particular Newage killer started too, I guess its the bastard child of biodynamic.

    Great post, thanks.

  13. But the food tastes good! (Not everything organic, it depends on the producer and the quality. Biodynamic is splendid!)

    Naturally, all anti-vaccine folks don’t have the same reasons (I mean: most of them don’t have the same reasons anthroposophists have). But combined, in numbers, there are enough of them to spread diseases that were going extinct in western societies. The anthroposophists alone would be too few, I gather. You need all these other ones as well — lots of waldorf parents are anti-vaccines without knowing much about the anthroposophical reasons. They’re just into ‘natural’ and no ‘toxins’ and ‘rescuing childhood’ and all that stuff, and they feel right at home in waldorf even though the anthroposophical ideas underlying vaccine refusal are quite different. (But, of course, not spoken about — at least not much.)

  14. Brilliant! I think it’s amazing that not only by refusing to inject all sorts of chemicals into my children which millions of years of nature have deemed unnecessary by having an alternative arrangement in place called the ‘immune system’ not only am I being unfair/abusive to them but to your children too! If someone gave you a jar of mercury and aborted human foetuses and all the various other things contained in vaccines and asked you to inject them into your own child would you do it? I guess so as you are obviously so convinced that you espouse your views on forums such as these, but at least have the decency to come back on here and apologise when t all goes ‘tits up’

  15. You help spread disease, yes. That could endanger other people’s children. Not mine, because I don’t have any.

    Vaccines don’t contain a jar of mercury and aborted foetuses — please do inform yourself before going berserk on my blog.

    ‘I guess so as you are obviously so convinced that you espouse your views on forums such as these’

    It’s not a forum — it is my personal blog, damn it.

    ‘but at least have the decency to come back on here and apologise’

    Since it is my blog, I do come back here regularly. If nothing else, I do come back here to moderate comments — there are limits, and I decide which they are.

    And, nope, I won’t apologize for your being misinformed, in an obvious state of confusion and, apparently, unable to read properly.

  16. Anyway — what I’m writing about in the post you didn’t manage to read are the anthroposophical motivations for not vaccinating. They’re spiritual, and have nothing to do with either mercury or those foetuses (which exist only in your imagination and in the nasty propaganda propagated by some irresponsible people and organizations). Thus, your objection aren’t only irrelevant to vaccination as such — they’re particularly irrelevant here.

    I’ve never ever seen an anthroposophist claim that vaccines are bad because of foetal content (I think anthroposophical doctors know how vaccines are made, actually). Perhaps they occasionally refer to other components of the vaccines — but this is still not the main point, far from it.

    (Even Steiner acknowledged that no substance is bad in itself — toxicity is a question of amount. Applies to ‘harmless’ or ‘natural’ substances as well. Interestingly enough. As for mercury — it was/is used as an anthroposophical remedy. In very tiny doses of course. I guess, mostly homeopathically…)

  17. “refusing to inject all sorts of chemicals into my children which millions of years of nature have deemed unnecessary”

    Sure ziggy, “unnecessary” … if you believe the ones who die just had bad karma.

  18. “not only am I being unfair/abusive to them but to your children too!”

    Yes – it’s a notion called “public health.” Look up the term, ponder how such a thing might work.

  19. “Since it is my blog, I do come back here regularly. ”

    This is cracking me up. Yes, we see Alicia here fairly often.

    No, anthroposophists could not give a rat’s ass about “aborted fetuses in vaccines.” Ziggly: read up. None of your “fear of toxins” mongering relates to anthroposophical vaccine refusal. Seriously learn what you are talking about first.

    “When it all goes tits up”? – an unpleasant turn of phrase.

  20. Sheesh – I actually think Steiner had more level-headed things to say about vaccination than some of his followers today, who simply cannot stay calm when they even think about vaccination. I think Steiner did actually understand how vaccines work, and he never ranted about toxins and poisoning and conspiracies in this regard. He just said there is a spiritual cost-benefit calculation to do re: vaccination. You postpone or evade your karma to a certain extent if you get vaccinated. But he also said you could balance out these effects with a spiritual education.

    This “toxins and aborted fetuses” psychosis is not from Steiner. To Steiner’s credit. Steiner parents should learn what Steiner DID say about vaccination – ‘cus it’s bad enough in its own right.

  21. ‘“Since it is my blog, I do come back here regularly. ”
    This is cracking me up. Yes, we see Alicia here fairly often.’

    Ha, yes! Oddly enough. I don’t know how Leper came to the conclusion I would not show up here again after her deluded statements. After years of blogging, all it would take to stop me would be a couple of misguided comments.

    ‘I actually think Steiner had more level-headed things to say about vaccination than some of his followers today’

    I wonder if Leper is a Steiner follower or perhaps a waldorf school parent who just feels at home in an atmosphere which excuses or even reinforces anti-vax beliefs (no matter of what kind). Because, clearly, her objections to my post had nothing whatsoever to do with anthroposophical beliefs about vaccination — I doubt she’s even familiar with them, or why else the irrelevant comment?

    ‘I think Steiner did actually understand how vaccines work, and he never ranted about toxins and poisoning and conspiracies in this regard.’

    Well, he did entertain one conspiracy — that, in the future (not sure how long into the future), vaccines would be used to inoculate children against spirituality. In a more concrete manner than just the incarnation or karma stuff. This is not a belief I’ve seen anthroposophical doctors propagate though.

    It seems to me he understood how they worked, how they were made, and so forth, at least the basics. There were only a few vaccines available, so he couldn’t speak of the vaccines of today or their ingredients. Most interesting is, I think, that he says that only when karma allows it, will vaccines be developed. I e, the appear at a stage of humanity’s evolution when a particular disease is no longer needed, karmically speaking. He contradicts himself a lot, because he also talks about how vaccines can be spiritually bad — but it seems to me that he is in some ways less rigid than many modern anthroposophists.

  22. Yes. Thinking about it later I realized that my statement was not entirely correct, that he did refer to various conspiracies around vaccines, at least potential ones. I think the gist of what I said was correct, however: he spoke in a generally more level-headed way about vaccination than many of his followers today, and didn’t consider vaccination an unmitigated evil. More like something to put in the minus column on a crude plus/minus spiritual accounting, while recognizing that spiritual accounting is NOT some kind of crude Excel worksheet. He didn’t say avoid vaccination at all costs, he saw a place for it, and he acknowledged some of its benefits. He also spoke of ill effects of vaccines and even that is not unreasonable; I wouldn’t agree with him on *what* the ill effects might be, but it certainly makes sense to think of vaccination in terms of risk/benefit and to acknowledge there are sometimes vaccine injuries. Even spiritual ones, for all I know … If Steiner were around today, I suspect he would not like the vaccine hysteria in some of his followers.

  23. ‘I think the gist of what I said was correct, however: he spoke in a generally more level-headed way about vaccination than many of his followers today, and didn’t consider vaccination an unmitigated evil.’

    Yes.

    ‘to acknowledge there are sometimes vaccine injuries.’

    Exactly. The problem is that anti-vax people don’t understand that there is such a trade-off to be made. And that the gains of vaccination are vastly greater than the negative side-effects, thus the vaccination programs are merited.

  24. Spiritual perspectives on epidemics! new book published by Rudolf Steiner Press. (Note: includes information on karmic influences!) on.fb.me/pKJltv

  25. In German, I think. There are several of these topic collections in German, and I think it’s a translation of one of them. (They announced several similar ones at the same time, on topics that I recognize I’ve seen in German.) It’s in their autumn releases — but I can’t find any of the books they announced on Facebook among their new and upcoming releases on their website. Maybe it’s not updated yet. Here’s the facebook post:

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.206318042762822.50461.145435915517702&type=1

    They then write: ‘More information to follow in next couple of weeks!’

  26. thanks, just wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing something!
    (if you click on the image, you can see all the others in the series, in succession)

  27. I find the whole reincarnation/karma idea pretty disgraceful; it reminds me that all organised religions have a means of social control that benefits those in power. For Catholics it is the idea of sin and fogiveness – propped up by money in the form of ‘indulgencies’ – and for Buddhism it is the the continuence of the deserving rich and the undeserving poor, propped up by donations to the monks. For other religions one can see rewards in the after-life as occupying the same political function. But what binds all these beliefs together is the assumed second class status of those who do not believe. Signals of one’s belief to the cohort often take the form of odd observances (such as denying healthcare) and the tragedy is that so often it’s children who suffer the consequences and are brainwashed into continuing the practices with the next generation. It’s all quite horrible.

  28. I guess that sometimes truth is disgraceful. Cats do exist, for some inconceivable reason, as mr Dog says.

    In this case, though, one can seriously doubt the truth of the propositions in question.

    Interestingly, these things — spiritual enlightenment, forgiveness, atonement, progression, and so forth — almost always cost money. Anthroposophy doesn’t really, not in the same clear-cut way. I’ve never seen the suggestion that you reincarnate better if you donate to the Goetheanum. Though perhaps that’s implicit… ;-)

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