The journal of the German association of waldorf schools is often surprisingly informative. You learn about these Steiner things waldorf schools in Sweden or the UK don’t want to speak about (because presenting ‘loony’ ideas might disqualify from state subsidies?). Here’s an article by Bernd Kalwitz (M.D. and waldorf school doctor) in Erziehungskunst, which explains that we’re covered in invisible sheaths that protect us from harmful influences; these sheaths are (sort of, but not really) shed when the child grows up. To every developmental stage, one sheath is associated. Ether body, astral body. And the sheaths which protect the ‘body’ that is in the process of being developed, so to speak.
None of this is news to anyone who has read up on the background of waldorf education. Of course not. But this is worth repeating anyway. We learn that the child’s spiritual core must incarnate in a physical, earthly body, and childhood is characterized by this process of incarnation. In the first developmental stage (up to 7), the physical body is the focus of attention; the child’s spirit must work on it, penetrate it. During this period, the child is protected by one type of supersensible sheath:
Das [said incarnation process] nimmt uns ganz in Anspruch, und wir sind in dieser Zeit von einer kosmisch-geistigen Hülle davor geschützt, dass unsere Lebenskräfte von anderen Anforderungen in Anspruch genommen werden.
This sheath is shed when the process is finished; this happens around the time when the baby teeth are also shed. The child’s ether body is ‘born’. Only then, not before, can the child begin to entertain more abstract thoughts, can investigate ideas. To engage with the abstract before this age puts the child’s health in danger, according to dr Kalwitz. Thus — no abstract activities, like reading or maths, for waldorf children before the age when the adult teeth appear. During the next seven years, the child is protected on the emotional level by a sheat that lets it develop its soul life — this goes on until the astral body is born, around puberty. And seven more years on after this, at around 21, the human I is supposedly fully developed, and another sheath is shed.
When the sheats are broken prematurely, there are horrible consequences (of course!). Premature abstract thinking ruins physical health. When the emotional life is too early sexualised, for example, the soul is in danger, and the personality remains immature. Premature development can also lead to fanaticism (which makes you wildly hypothesize a thing or two about some anthroposophists).
There’s a connection to diseases, of course. Inner development or transformation takes place through processes of warmth, for example through the fevers of childhood diseases. The doctor writes: ‘In der Fieberglut der Kinderkrankheiten schmelzen wir unseren Körper um und machen ihn zu einem Instrument unseres inneren Wesens.’ Inner ‘fire’ in another, less literal sense is also good for correct development. Unless this inner warmth is active in the battle against ‘cold’ forces (e g, materialism, intellectualism), there’s a risk for future illness and weakness, he claims.