not merely personal beliefs

Several discussions over the last few days* about an old familiar issue: why would it matter that (or if) waldorf teachers are anthroposophists, isn’t it their personal prerogative to believe in what they want to believe in, and to adhere to whatever spiritual teachings they prefer, and should we even be asking questions about this? Who would ask, for example, a christian teacher to declare his or her beliefs? Who would even consider these beliefs at all?

Well, first of all, it’s not so much a matter of asking an individual teacher to declare his or her beliefs. As far as someone’s belief system will be an influence on the teaching or the relationship with the children, that’s another matter; there might be particular questions that would be relevant to ask. But other than this, it’s a matter of personal belief, and remains a matter of personal belief. Likewise, if an anthroposophist teaches in a regular school according to mainstream pedagogical ideas, there’s hardly any point in raising any questions about this teacher’s personal spiritual outlook. It’s simply not relevant, or at least not relevant enough to warrant an interest in it, lest there be very particular reasons (for example, this outlook significantly affecting what actually goes on in the classroom in an individual case).

With waldorf schools, things are, in fact, a bit different. In waldorf schools, the matter is more complicated than this, the ‘problem’ (if you see it like that) is built into the pedagogy. Anthroposophy is not solely a matter of individual choices of the teachers; it is not just a matter of personal spirituality. Anthroposophy is the foundation and the source of the pedagogy itself, and this is not a matter of small dignity — it basically makes waldorf education what it is. Anthroposophy is what sets it apart from other pedagogical approaches. The outer differences are superficial — and you need anthroposophy to explain them, too. In short, anthroposophy matters. And it should.

A further complicating factor — at least in discussions and when it comes to correct information — is that waldorf proponents and anthroposophists tend to perceive anthroposophical knowledge as though it were almost some kind of ‘neutral’ (in want of a better word) knowledge. Steiner’s developmental model is simply conceived of as ‘psychology’. When waldorf teachers study the pedagogical foundations of waldorf, for example in Study of Man, one gets the impression that this knowledge passes as ‘pedagogy’ rather than being identified as ‘anthroposophy’; anthroposophy seems to be so self-evident that it isn’t questioned as such, its truth is, more or less at least, taken for granted, without its name even being used. When talking with ‘outsiders’ this causes much confusion — what is to the anthroposophist neutral knowledge, pedagogy in this case, is from an outsider’s viewpoint pure anthroposophy. This, obviously, is a rather ‘extreme’ example, most instances were this phenomenon acts as a confounding factor are probably more subtle. What are anthroposophical ideas have simply become — in anthroposophical eyes — knowledge about the world and man. They are thus misidentified; they’re not recognized as anthroposophical, but perceived of as part of the ‘natural’ way to view things. Perhaps there is too little discussion — clear and explicit discussion — about these things in waldorf teacher training courses. Steiner is read too uncritically and too little effort is made to put him into a perspective and to read and to compare him with other pedagogical thinkers (who were usually actually pondering pedagogy rather than using pedagogy as another outlet for their conception of the spiritual fate of the universe and of man) — and most importantly to discuss how the foundational worldview behind waldorf distinguishes it from other paths.

In any case, whether anthroposophy happens to be an individual teacher’s personal spiritual worldview or not, it must be possible to discuss how and when and why anthroposophy has a role to play in waldorf education — because the role it is playing is undeniable and huge. Without anthroposophy, there would be no waldorf in the first place. So while you can’t require from the individual teacher that he or she makes a confession of belief — although I do think questions about it are absolutely valid as far as these beliefs influence the teacher’s pedagogical practice and attitudes — there should certainly be a requirement made on these schools and other organisations to be honest about and to discuss the belief system which underlies the pedagogy, the method, and which influences — sometimes dictates — how the school is run. This is no longer a matter of a teacher’s individual belief. In contrast to other schools which are openly confessional but use mainstream pedagogical methods (and hire conventionally trained teachers), the waldorf school has anthroposophy deeply ingrained in its way of working, its way of educating, its beliefs about the child and its traditions and the teachers are trained to apply anthroposophy in practice. And this is so, even if they don’t identify it as ‘anthroposophy’ and even when they believe it’s enough that ‘anthroposophy is not taught to the children’. (The latter is largely beside the point.)

The complication that arises with waldorf education is that a teacher’s personal worldview — when the teacher is an anthroposophist or positively inclined towards anthroposophy (which I would say is at least to be expected, for why else choose this job?) — overlaps with the spiritual ideas that guide the school and inform the pedagogical method itself. Anthroposophy is not merely a personal spirituality or even conviction, it is also, at the same time, a part of the professional path; if it weren’t, we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all. And no matter how much (or little) weight an individual teacher accords various anthroposophical tenets, the fact is that the waldorf school itself is run based upon anthroposophy, its pedagogical methods are anthroposophical, the way child development is perceived has been derived from anthroposophy and all waldorf trained teachers have studied anthroposophy as a (very significant) part of their training, which is very different from ordinary teacher training.

This is all we need to know in order to understand that anthroposophy as the basis of waldorf education can’t be ignored. It’s all we need to know in order to understand that anthroposophy can’t be regarded as a personal matter only, because in the waldorf school it plainly isn’t. For the individual teacher, it might be a personal matter, too, in addition to being a professional one. But that recognition — that anthroposophy can also be the teacher’s spiritual belief system and thus part of his or her personal sphere too — should not deter inquiry into waldorf education as such and should not invalidate questions about how this — personal and (often, within the waldorf community) shared — spiritual or religious worldview influences the schools and their methods and traditions.

This is not to say that any teacher can work or any school can operate without values and ideas and whatnot. (In many cases it is probably sound to examine these ideas consciously.) It is just to say that in waldorf schools, there’s a specific set of ideas in place and they belong to one particular worldview which has pervasive influence on the pedagogy. These ideas are extremely strong and important, and should not be ignored because it is more comfortable for the schools to ignore them. Most importantly, these ideas, even if identified as, for example, ideas about ‘child development’ are ideas directly derived from anthroposophy — and they’re not somehow psychological or pedagogical ideas in general, they don’t (I’m sorry to say) stand on equal footing with mainstream psychological or pedagogical theories. Their validity is restricted to the context from which they derive — anthroposophy. Not that they aren’t interesting, they certainly are, at least for those of us who entertain ourselves with peculiar hobbies, but you have a lot of work to do in order to prove that these ideas have something to offer to the world outside of their anthroposophical context.

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* The discussions inspiring this post were this one (in English, read Joe Evans in the comments, January 21; he represents the new Steiner free school hoping to open in Bristol and although he now speaks of anthroposophy, he seems thoroughly embarrassed by it — anthroposophy is not just esoteric it seems, it’s embarrassing…) and a discussion on facebook (in Swedish).

Addendum: After I wrote this post, some new things occurred, and maybe I’d like to say something more about it, but for now this suffices. And this: can anyone understand why parents would not want to know or need to know about the worldview the pedagogy they choose contains, why they would not want to know what the worldview means for the method, what it means for the conception of child development used in the school, what it means for the daily life of the child at school and the teacher’s approach to the child? Why would a parent not want knowledge about this? Why would a parent feel burdened by this? Why would it be better not to be told enough and told thing correctly so that one, at least, can investigate it further, if one wants, before deciding? Why would it be an excuse to not offer information lest parents feel unnecessarily burdened by it? Why would it be an excuse to say — we don’t want to push this on parents? (Who would feel pushed by getting correct information?) Can there be any good reason for avoiding the topic of anthroposophy than merely the schools’ and teachers’ convenience and the potential and short-term financial gains? What I don’t get is why it isn’t much better to attract those parents who actually do want waldorf, after making an informed decision, rather than attracting lots of parents who really don’t want it, once they know that the teacher see their children as reincarnating souls? Isn’t it better — in the long run — to repel that second group, those who don’t really enjoy these ideas? And to concentrate on those who are more likely to be happy with their choice, even when knowing what it entails? (Diana sums it up so well here.) Or is it too much to do with karma– I know that Diana is fond of this angle, and I am too — and not wanting to ‘interfere’ with the child’s karma by scaring the less spiritually or anthroposophically inclined parents away?

a healthy human being is born three times

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.

french anthroposophists practicing the (perhaps not so) michaelic art of slaying dissenters

Grégoire Perra is no longer an anthroposophist. He used to be one, however, and spent many years within the anthroposophical movement, first as a Steiner school student from the age of nine and later becoming a committed anthroposophist and a Steiner teacher himself. But he chose to quit, and he wrote an article about his experiences in the world of Steiner education and anthroposophy. In a blog post, he eloquently describes the reasons compelling him to do this. I’m sure I can’t do his case justice in a short blog post, but if I can I want to try to call attention to what is going on.

His writing was not tolerated by people in the anthroposophical movement in France. They could not accept that a person should have the freedom to express himself, to tell others what he thought was true and to recount his experiences in his own words. These words, they thought, defamed the anthroposophical movement. So one anthroposophical organisation — the Federation of Steiner Waldorf Schools in France — decided to take legal action against Grégoire Perra and the organisation (UNADFI) which had published the article.* A letter in which they make the initial threats to take action is available here and Grégoire confirms that he is awaiting trial.

It is still not too late, of course, for the Steiner Federation to back off from what appears to be a rather ill-conceived and counter-productive mission. They have embarked on a journey that is intellectually barren and ethically compromised, and I for one am not at all sure why they would want to go where they seem to be heading. They are  not, by any means, a Michael bravely slaying the dragon.

If there’s one phenomenon I’m strongly averse to, it’s when people use the law as though it were a tool for clowns who can’t abide seeing their ways and ideas challenged openly. My intolerance for such shenanigans is the main reason I care about this. I intend to inform myself better of Grégoire Perra’s case, but from what I’ve seen and read so far, it appears to me that the anthroposophical movement in France, and in particular the Steiner Federation, would be well advised to act less foolishly.

What seems to have happened is this: the anthroposophical movement has come up with the idea that in order to protect themselves from the unfortunate reputation of being a cult, they would happily (and in a magnificently paradoxical way) behave as a cult would behave. A cult, which will not tolerate dissent. Cults often don’t. Anthroposophy, unfortunately, sometimes (this is not the first time) seems all too willing to join other cults in this untoward habit. Again, I can’t comprehend why; it is not criticism or dissent — even if it were unfair — that will suffocate anthroposophy, it is lack of breathing space that will. The enemy is within the movement itself. It is its own mentality — or perhaps, to speak Anthroposophese, the aberrations, nay, the pathologies of its group soul.

Naturally, this development ought to concern not only critics of anthroposophy but also — and perhaps even more — other anthroposophists.

I can certainly understand if anthroposophists and adherents of waldorf education don’t feel flattered by Grégoire Perra’s criticism and that they fear that a dissident who thinks what he thinks and writes what he writes poses a serious threat to the movement. It is understandable, even predictable, that people who are still anthroposophists don’t share Grégoire’s perspective. It is not difficult to comprehend that they feel the need to defend themselves, even against arguments which are likely to be more true than they would be able to admit. But will they be able to rescue their reputation in a courtroom? Of course not. They have lost such a battle before they have even begun fighting it.

You see, it doesn’t even matter much if they are right or wrong, they have lost already, because they have, by their very own actions, proven themselves to be a cult worthy of being called a cult. Simply by initiating a procedure of this kind — instead of arguing openly and fairly for their cause — they lose. They lose the moment they attempt to suppress another individual’s right to freely express himself. They lose, because merely by doing this, they show us their real intentions, their true mindset. They display disrespect for other perspectives on and experiences of their movement. They show their disdain for the right and freedom of other people to form their own views, make their own interpretations and to voice them. They prove they can’t tolerate criticism very well or at all. Cults usually can’t.

There is no point insisting anthroposophy is not a cult, if it acts as a cult (even Steiner had a glimpse of an understanding of this basic fact). And the movement has to show it is not a cult out there in the real world, not in a courtroom. It has to do so by anthroposophists meeting dissent with fair arguments and by presenting their side, their views and ideas, not with threats or trivial legal action.

So far everything suggests to me that the Federation of Steiner Schools in France deserves a fair bit of negative attention. Thus, let’s help give the French anthroposophical movement the reputation they vainly — and desperately, perhaps — tried to avoid by taking Grégoire Perra to court: that of a menacing cult. Because the moment they showed they can’t tolerate the existence of dissenting views or criticism, that is exactly what they are.

***

* UNADFI (Union Nationale des Associations de Défense des Familles et de l’Indivu Victimes de Sectes) is an organisation which ‘gathers and coordinates the Associations de défense des familles et de l’individu (ADFI), whose purpose is to acquire information on the cult phenomenon, with prevention and assistance for its victims’, according to Wikipedia. Read more in French here. You’ll find Grégoire Perra’s blog here, and the website of the French Steiner Federation is here.

education in the age of michael (on a speech by dorit winter)

Dorit Winter, waldorf teacher who is training other waldorf teachers, held a speech at some conference, and the notes for the speech have been published by an american center for waldorf teacher training. The quote above is from this document, which shows quite clearly the importance of anthroposophy for waldorf education, and not only the kind of anthroposophy outwardly manifested (exoteric) — not only all those ‘decorations’ that often draw people to waldorf education — but the anthroposophy of waldorf teachers practicing it as esotericists. The esotericist is a person who has become an adult, while on the other hand people who are conventional thinkers (among them, of course, non-anthroposophists) are still children, in a sense; this, I think, sums up what she says. I’m not going to elaborate on this, but she tries to explain what all of this might entail.

She also talks about the incarnating child and about karma. She quotes Steiner on how it’s torture for the soul to learn to read and write at six or seven, yet concedes (it seems, I’m not sure) that children must learn. ‘Karmic fulfillment’, she says, ‘is the true goal of Waldorf education’, and it is the task of education and of the teachers to help a process of incarnation that enhances the prospects the child has of achieving this karmic fulfillment. The wrong education causes scleroticism, hardening. The teachers cannot themselves be sclerotic, or they will be incapable of providing the right kind of education. The antidote, of course, is the esoteric path; it is, for the teacher, to become the right kind of anthroposophist.

I recommend that you read the document. I think it casts doubt (once more) on waldorf education practiced only outwardly — it casts doubt on all those who insist that anthroposophy is not so important for waldorf education. (Something people seem prone to insist when it comes to attracting non-anthroposophist adherents or obtaining public funding.) One could also question whether waldorf teachers who say anthroposophy is not very important to them can ever be good waldorf teachers — in the truest sense. They can go through the motions, as it were, practicing the outward aspects of waldorf education, but basically they’re just teachers working with anthroposophical adornments, while remaining estranged from the essence of what waldorf is. I’m not sure that’s something to be favoured. Especially not as such an attitude sometimes seems to arise from ignorance or indifference. And at other times can function as a cover for deception.

esoteric temptations, and pearls for swine

Tom H. Shea in Minnesota sent a letter to that most seductive of online journals, Southern Cross Review. Southern Cross Review, as you already know (because I told you, if nothing else), publishes the First Class lessons, the fourth lesson is available in the latest issue) in Frank Thomas Smith’s own translation. It worries some people, and some of them write to him. I’m not sure if I should be flattered by this, but my choice is, well, I will be. Thank you, Tom Shea, it was lovely! He writes:

On ‘The Ethereal Kiosk’, a blog by a very intelligent young Swedish woman, you can already find humorous remarks occasioned by her reading of your published translations. This young woman is a Steiner critic whom I have a great deal of respect for. She can be intellectually rigorous and is quite passionate in her exposing of what she sees as the weaknesses and fallacies in anthroposophy and its institutions. She purports to be a complete skeptic about spiritual matters but nevertheless has read Steiner widely and deeply in the original German. She is painfully truthful about herself and how she sees the world. These are qualities which are rare nowadays.

[…]

If you read ‘The Ethereal Kiosk’ on  Class Lessons, it is not reverential. it is humorous without resorting to ridicule, but through the blog it is now available to people who will and do ridicule Steiner.  You have put this temptation in their way.

You must view the entire letter for his other arguments against publication (scroll down, it’s the last one on the page). It’s worth noting that Tom Shea is not too keen on Frank’s seductive women pictures either. We could discuss that. It’s tempting, frankly! (I kind of like them, most of the time. But I’m odd.)

Anyway, I’d like to say some things, of course. No, it’s true, I’m not reverential. I don’t think it’s necessary. Displaying reverence would be even more unnecessary. I know Steiner put emphasis on reverence, in some contexts at least. As a non-anthroposophist — and complete skeptic… well, hm… — it would be silly to be reverent. I try to understand what he’s saying — to the best of my ability (sometimes, when writing, humour is more important than displaying one’s level of understanding) — not to be reverent. But, in some ways, I think that trying to understand is a kind of reverence, you know. Not the big gesture reverence or the undue respect kind of reverence. I don’t believe that the ‘truly human response is a reverential one’ as Tom Shea puts it.

Well. And as for the ‘wrong’ people reading the esoteric lessons. I don’t know — I say with a little sadness — if I’ve managed to influence one single individual to read the lessons. Unfortunately, people — non-antroposophists — are just not all that interested. That’s the sad truth. No harm in trying again though. Read read read! Perhaps I need to add some seductive art that you could all revere; properly, thoroughly, deeply.

psychosophy & preparations for the 6th epoch

Psychosophy has been mentioned before here on the blog. There’s a psychosophy conference in may, see this ad:

Psychosophy is ‘a spiritual scientific framework for understanding the wisdom of the soul’ that, curiously, has ‘remained largely unknown and little developed’ despite being of such huge importance. Anyway, I think you should read this article written by one of the conference participants, Yehuda Tagar:

William [William Bento, pioneering psychosophist /a] cast surprising light about the obscurity of Rudolf Steiner’s Psychosophy during the 20th Century by describing in details the tragedy resulting from the great founders of modern psychology who made use of Steiner’s teaching, but never acknowledged it, obscuring the spiritual dimension of human existence as a result: Carl Jung, Roberto Assagioli, and William James. They all chose to make use of certain results of spiritual science, without referring to its original sources.

Quite amazing, isn’t it? (One might reasonably question the truth of these claims, however.) Tagar continues:

William took us through a journey of esoteric research well grounded in experiential professional application, entering the mystery connection between the expansion of human etheric body, the vulnerability of the heart, the dynamics of the Double, the Assuras current activity, the split in the human soul, as well as the preparation for the 6th Epoch. He connected the practice of Psychosophy to the Christ impulse, contrasting the archetype of I with the archetype of the anti-I, highlighting the moral conditions required for conducting Psychosophy work as an extension of initiatory processes. The intrinsic connection between the healing of psyche, psycho- therapy, and the transformation of human astrality into Spirit Self became a logical evolutionary sequence in his dissertation; the practicality of transforming personal evil into personal redemptive spirituality became a practical guide for practitioners.

I suppose preparation for the 6th epoch is one of the most pressing questions modern psychology has yet to deal with. Good to see that, while mainstream psychology largely still ignores the issue, psychosophy is around to take responsibility. And cognitive behavioural therapy, so popular these days, will surely be entirely powerless when it comes to dealing with the current activity of the Asuras.

contradiction

Taja Gut’s book — a kind of recorded internal dialogue (or something, I can’t really describe it in english, please forgive me!) — is perhaps one of the more interesting modern books about anthroposophy. Taja Gut used to work at the Rudolf Steiner Verlag. Here’s what he says about Steiner’s contradictions.

Und die Wiedersprüche?

Sind nicht von ihn zu trennen. Sie weisen ihn als Suchenden aus, auch wenn er sich fortwährend als Finder gebärdet. Durch das Wiedersprüchliche wird sein Entwicklungsweg persönlich, individuell, glaubwürdig. Und gerade weil sein Weg ein zutiefst persöhnlicher und keine kopierbare Vorlage ist, kann ich ihm auf meinem Entwicklungsweg begegnen. Das Verwischen der Paradoxien entfremdet ihn seinem Lebensweg und verformt ihn zu einem Idol, einem toten und lächerlichen Trugbild der eigenen Verzagtheit. [Gut, Wie hast du’s mit der Anthroposophie? s 87.]

There is a chapter that deals at least partly with Steiner and racism. Perhaps not completely successfully, I think critics would say. What he has to say about cultishness and about much else is highly interesting, however. This, on p 115:

Anthroposophen, die heute noch auftreten, als hätten sie keine Fragen, bloß Antworten, und dabei nur wiederzugeben was Steiner vor hundert Jahren geäußert hat, reduzieren das Ganze stur auf ein historisches Enmanunternehmen. Und wundert sich noch, dass weder sie noch Steiner Gehör finden.

Or on p 57:

Dieser Imitationsversuch, das schleierige Gewaber manchmal, bis in Sprache hinein — da frage ich mich, geht es om Steiner, um die Verehrung oder um den Verehenden? Ich habe nämlich nicht den Eindruck , dass under denjenigen, die verbissen jedes Wort von ihm verteidigen, ein großes Interesse für Rudolf Steiner vorhanden ist. Für den Seelenbalsam, den er spendet, ja, aber nicht für ihn.

It’s a book worth reading, because it takes anthroposophy quite seriously without applying the usual highstrung rhetoric, by and large without defensiveness, and without animosity towards the world and without that so familiar air of superiority. It’s a very sympathetic approach and a book I can appreciate. Particularly interesting to read were also the sections in which Gut deals with his own relationship to Steiner and anthroposophy.

teachers don’t know much about anthroposophy

Is the claim in the title true? Perhaps it is. Perhaps some waldorf teachers today don’t know much about anthroposophy. I’m talking now about trained waldorf teachers. (I know many waldorf schools have to hire unqualified staff as teachers, people who have neither traditional teacher training nor waldorf teacher training. To assess what they know about anthroposophy is of course almost impossible.) I’ve been told, not a few times, that waldorf teachers today don’t know all that much about anthroposophy, as though this were something good. I suppose it might sound like something that ought to please me — it doesn’t. This topic is loosely connected to another question talked about here recently — would waldorf be better off without anthroposophy? (Or would anthroposophy be better off without waldorf? for that matter.)

For better or worse, back in my days (when there were also dinosaurs roaming the streets… no, just kidding), I don’t think you could say the teachers didn’t know much about anthroposophy. Rather the opposite was true — many, if not most, were committed anthroposophists, and I have a feeling that the few who weren’t, were deeply sympathetic towards it and fairly knowledgeable about it. They did not practice their things superficially, they did not go through the motions without experiencing the meaning of and knowing the reasons behind what they were doing. Picking and choosing among the pretty parts of waldorf — the ‘superficially attractive parts — would be absurd in this context, it would, in fact, be ‘anti-waldorf’. Waldorf, in this sense, is less about what is done, and not, and more about what lies behind. (Mind you, I’m not saying what they do isn’t important — I say there are even more important motives behind what they do.) In the end it’s about what gives meaning and purpose to methods, practices, rituals, whatever. It’s about the essence of what this is all for and about what is held for true and necessary — it’s not about the surface. As I’ve said (on another thread recently), without this core, you have the shell. The shell alone. And this may attract some people — that’s for sure. But you don’t get people who commit to it for the same reasons, who feel the importance of it or who even know what it’s all about. The meaning of it. The depth of it.

If the teachers don’t understand these things, you don’t have waldorf, you have a name and possibly some nice walls. Stuff like that. But that’s all there is. Let’s think about it. Let’s use a blatant example of a very anthroposophical ritual in waldorf: the advent spiral. I’m positive you can go through the procedure, whatever you think about it and whichever way you experience it. But the reason it was what it was, was that waldorf teachers were committed to and understood its meaning and its depth (in their minds at least) and, therefore, it was a matter of seriousness. It was a matter of consciousness, too. The end result was characterized by this seriousness (sometimes in a way that could, I’m sure, be frightening) and by this very conscious carrying through of the act. You can like it or not, but the fact is, it’s a different experience than when you have people simply going through the procedures while committing to them outwardly than when they do it and commit themselves inwardly. And I would say that — again, whether you like the practices or results or not — to commit only to the surface, not to the core would be the very antithesis to what waldorf is really meant to be. As it is actually characterized by what is supposed to be (quest for) the damn foundation of human existence — that is, that’s where anthroposophy is supposed to lead you. That’s as far from the superficially attractive bling-bling you’ll get. If you think about it and take the proposition seriously, it’s something very different from that. It’s supposed to teach you what humans are, even lead you to know what you are, not only how to paint your walls. Without that, there’s no point to the wall paint anyway.

But, to return to the topic, let us discuss that claim — the claim that teachers don’t know much about anthroposophy. Might it not be that many of these trained waldorf teachers, having been trained in anthroposophical pedagogy and child development theories, know more about anthroposophy than they consciously think? Perhaps it’s a question of them being unable to distinguish anthroposophical knowledge from mainstream knowledge? To a much greater extent than should be the case, they believe they have been taught pedagogy, psychology, et c — that they have acquired mainstream knowledge about the topics these subjects and the subjects they’re going to teach? That is one possible explanation. This claim comes up now and then, so apparently both teachers and parents must believe in it. Some even seem to take pride in it — why worry about anthroposophy in waldorf education when teachers know so little about it anyway?

As far as I’m concerned, the claim might basically be bullshit. Not all bullshit, but mostly. With all probability. Or, if by any chance it isn’t bullshit, it should be bullshit. We know which literature the teacher students study — mainly Steiner-based –, and I hope we’re not supposed to be convinced they don’t actually read the literature, for example Study of Man. We also know what is required of waldorf schools to be allowed to call themselves waldorf schools. It would be quite shocking if waldorf teacher training was so crap that the students weren’t even familiar with the basics when they enter their (supposedly) professional lives. What of such a training that so ill prepares the students for their chosen professional paths? If teachers trained at these institutions remain ignorant of anthroposophy, this is a major failure. These teachers should not have graduated and they should not have been employed as teachers in waldorf schools, because they have not accomplished the degree of anthroposophical understanding that a waldorf teacher needs — whether we, as critics, think the body of knowledge is bogus or not is beside the point — to fulfill his or her professional role. The teachers should not be waldorf teachers, the schools not be waldorf schools.

Even to a critic of waldorf education — someone who should, I suppose, embrace every sign that there is little anthroposophy in any school’s education — the claim seems like disastrous to waldorf. It indicates incompetence at several levels — teacher training centers, among the teachers, in the school administration, in national (and even international) waldorf organisations… But most of all, the claim is ridiculous, whether there’s truth to it or not. If it’s basically untrue, it means those who purport this view lie. If it’s true — more or less — it means waldorf has no future. Moreover, it means waldorf schools today operate under false flag in quite a serious manner.

I actually do think that the trained waldorf teachers know more anthroposophy than they consciously identify as ‘anthroposophy’. But one might ask what the modern waldorf teachers’ education is worth if it were true that they don’t know anthroposophy. They are then — obviously — not qualified to teach in a waldorf school. But neither are they qualified to teach in a mainstream school. They don’t have a regular teacher training, after all. Waldorf schools are required to fulfill certain criteria, or they can’t be waldorf schools, that is, they can’t belong to the national organisations for waldorf schools, which in turn are organised in international networks. One aspect of these criteria is knowledge of anthroposophy in the college of teachers. The schools themselves should be operated according to certain principles established by the international organisations — most importantly, by the (more seasoned and experienced, one hopes, although what that means in this context is… well, another question) teachers who work at or with the pedagogical section at the Goetheanum. Anthroposophy is a non-negotiable part of these criteria. (Steiner’s Study of Man should be mentioned again here, it’s absolutely pivotal.) If waldorf teachers don’t understand anthroposophy, they can’t run a waldorf school that meets the criteria. Waldorf teachers are supposed to continuously study and develop their understanding of anthroposophy — individually and in group. So when people say anthroposophy is not so important — or is not really even something they know much about — then, in my conclusion, they’re either not telling the truth or they’re marketing the school as a waldorf school when in fact it is no waldorf school. Why would a parent who wants a waldorf school want that?

That waldorf teachers know little or nothing about anthroposophy — were this actually true — is not something positive. It’s a sign of a movement in decline (which perhaps is a good thing but also tells us that the schools today may be even worse than they ought to be, as would seem natural in a situation like that). Having to use deceptive marketing might also be a sign of the same basic problem, with some desperation added. Even as a critic, I think ignorance — ignorance of anthroposophy — is a definite failure. With ignorance, the schools can’t be what they intend to be, and they can’t function as regular schools do either, because the teachers don’t have that competency. In fact, everyone is short-changed. And you’re not getting what the label says. Or ought to say, if waldorf officials don’t try to conceal what waldorf is actually about: education based on anthroposophical ideas.

This, by the way, is the reading list for the (now terminated) teacher training program at Plymouth University. It is a list full of anthroposophical literature. I would bet that entirely private teacher training courses at wholly anthroposophical institutions are even more Steiner-based than this, but let’s use the Plymouth students as an example: if they don’t know what anthroposophy is about (I would say even to the details), they have not read their books, much less studied them. What would that tell us about waldorf teacher training and about waldorf schools?

What if, perhaps, there are contradictory claims on this matter? Maybe how much anthroposophy waldorf teachers (and waldorf schools) admit to has to do with whom they’re talking to. Oh, no — that’s the oldest and most tired observation in this game.

karmic consequences (quick guide for teachers)

While browsing my documents I found a helpful little guide for teachers. It’s written by Robin Bacchus (PhD!). He is (or was) a program director at a Steiner teacher training program. The document is called ‘Karma and Reincarnation for Teachers’ and may still be available online but I couldn’t find it.

On page 9, there is this very handy little quick guide to karmic consequences. (They come from Steiner’s karma lectures, so nothing new.) I hope you enjoy it! Let’s speculate about which consequences I will suffer from in my next incarnation! And what will happen to some of our not so friendly friends in the waldorf fan club, one might ask? No, perhaps we’d better not delve deeper into that question…

reading esoteric lessons

Since my last post, Frank Thomas Smith has continued to publish two more of the esoteric lessons in his own translation. For anyone new to this: the esoteric lessons for the first class are very serious stuff, indeed, it is advanced anthroposophy! But don’t be shy. In the second lecture, Steiner speaks about lies, thoughts that are dead corpses (thinking is dead, materialism, et c), spirit-scoffers, Ahriman, and the role of the guardian. Among other things. He says, for example, that ‘Humor may be called for with respect to some aspects of life. But the humor must then be serious. When we compare earnestness with mere game-playing, it is not sentimentality, false piety or the rolling of eyes as opposed to games.’

Later he talks about truth:

In esoteric life there is no possibility of introducing what is so prevalent in life: interpreting lies as truth. If one tries to do this in esoteric life it is not the interpretation which matters, but the truth. In esoteric life only the truth works, nothing else. You may color something because of vanity, but what has been colored makes no impression on the spiritual world. The unvarnished truth is what is effective in the spiritual world.

Then there’s one part of the lecture I guess might be interesting to bark at:

Take one of the saddest – to the spirit saddest – occurrences of our times, my dear friends. When people think clearly they are citizens of the world, for they well know that thinking makes you human, even when it is dead in the present age.

But people are separated by their feeling into nations, and especially today they let this unconscious feeling dominate in the worst possible way. Because people feel themselves as only belonging to a certain group, all kinds of conflicts arise.

For example, one might in this context (and being a real critic, not a phony one, like I am these days) ask how thinking, feeling, willing relate to the human races. In which race do those individuals incarnate who are capable of doing the thinking… and of leading humanity in spiritual progress? So — what Steiner says sounds nice, but is it?

(Hell, you’re going to suspect I bring these things up only to wind people up. After all, I know what gets people going. And here he is, saying something that seems so nice, why am I trying to wreck it, just to agitate someone. Try figuring out which of the three beasts — which Steiner talks about in this lecture — is most connected to my spiritually deficient state of mind, and give me a diagnosis. Please.)

So let’s talk about the latest edition of Southern Cross Review. In addition the third esoteric lesson, there is among things a short story about a magician cat, which, given the canineosophical circumstances, I cannot possibly recommend to you. So don’t read it. Do not read it. (Mr Dog will hate you.) Then there is, as said, the third lesson. It’s about the spiritual world again, of course, and about the physical world, too; about reality and illusion, truth and error, and separating one thing from another. He talks about thinking, feeling, willing in the spiritual world and about memory.

And when one enters the spiritual world, he immediately senses that his feeling does not stay with him. Thinking at least goes out into the presently existing universe. It disperses, as it were, in cosmic space. Feeling goes out of the universe and if one wants to follow feeling one must ask: Where are you now? When you have become 50 years old, then you have gone back in time farther than 50 years; you have gone back 70 years, 100 years, 150 years. Feeling leads you completely out of the time in which you have lived since childhood.

And willing, if you take it seriously, leads you ever farther back in time, back to your previous earth lives. That is something which happens immediately, dear fiends, when you really come to the threshold of the spiritual world. The physical body ceases holding you together. One no longer feels within the confines of the skin; one feels split into parts.

He talks about the necessity of cultivating reverence for the spiritual in life. (I know — do you draw any educational conclusions?) He talks about honesty in meditation, but before this explains:

When a person begins to meditate, when he or she is really dedicated to the meditation, he would like to continue in tranquility. He does not want it to deprive him of life’s comforts. Well, this desire not to be deprived of life’s comforts is a strong producer of illusions and semblances. Because when you dedicate yourself completely to meditation, necessarily from the depths of your soul the question arises about your capacity for evil. One cannot do otherwise than to feel through meditation, through that penetration into the depths, everything you are capable of perpetrating. But the urge to deny this is so strong that one submits to the illusion that one is essentially a very good person.

The mantras and stuff you’ll just have to read for yourself. They are, in a very special way, quite enjoyable. (It is in the reading of the mantras that I find the biggest difference, I feel, between the German original and Smith’s English translation. Not in a bad way. Somehow, the English language suits the mantras better. Oddly, very oddly. But so it is.)

fiction

When chatting (on the critics list) about reading the Steiner book Rosicrucian Wisdom (and the peculiar reactions of anthroposophists to critics reading it), Diana and I came to touch upon another topic which I happen to find quite interesting. Diana wrote:

I think we are seeing the mental state [anthroposophists] go into – after years of training themselves to go into it, on Steiner’s instructions, in study groups, etc. – when facing even a snippet of text by or about Rudolf Steiner. It’s the “reverence” thing. Suspend judgment and pretend for a few minutes that this is all true. This is very effective in making a person come to believe, slowly, that it IS all true. It seems to make a person unable to remember, even for just a few moments, what the real world is all about.

I replied:

I occasionally wonder how anthroposophists manage to read and enjoy fiction.

(It might be wise of me to add: I’m not talking about all anthroposophists; I definitely do not think all anthroposophists have a problem with this. But I wonder how anthroposophists like Rafael manage.) Diana wrote (and here’s the point of this post):

That is a really interesting question, on so many levels. I wonder, too. I’d like some information on what fictions anthroposophists read, if they do. Not that I wish to start, or have time for, a whole other big huge interesting topic, but if any of our anthro friends reading this care to chip in, it would be fascinating and thought-provoking.
Anthroposophists, if you’re listening: do you read fiction? If so, what?

It does interest me too — it interests me a lot. What kind of fiction? Which authors? What do you think about fiction in general — is it supposed to have a purpose? Must it be enlightenening or spiritual or can it be justified on grounds of mere pleasure?

I’ve actually been reading fiction myself, that is, not just any fiction, but fiction written by anthroposophists or people who were otherwise inspired by anthroposophy. The influence can be absolutely genial… but only if the author is genial without anthroposophy (is my impression). For example, two days ago I finished writing a mystery-crime novel by André Bjerke (De dødes tjern — ‘The lake of the dead’). He also wrote the lovely little book Das Ärgernis Rudolf Steiner (older post here). I have a feeling that the author’s own experienced conflict between rationality and irrationality contributes to make the crime novel as exciting as it is. Not that anthroposophy is mentioned. It’s not. There are other nordic authors I hold in high regard (the brilliant Jens Bjørneboe), but I won’t add anything about them now. And they’re all dead. (Falk is the only one of the English speaking readers who understands Swedish — so it would be particularly interesting to know if you’ve read anything by Walter Ljungquist, Falk! There’s one book I find particularly interesting, from an anthroposophical perspective, namely Källan — ‘The spring’). Michael Ende was mentioned in another thread today. There’s Belyj, of course, whom I’ve not yet read.

Of course, the above paragraph is a digression from the topic, but I thought it might interesting to include it, too. I’m not interested only in what fiction anthroposophists might be reading but also in fiction written by anthroposophists. Any input? Any suggestions?

‘the false promise of racial progression’

Ok! I now have your attention! I know I do. Nick wrote (in a comment I’m trying to reply to; well, I actually did, on paper, in the middle of the night, which makes it complicated):

Anthroposophy offers nothing that can not be found elsewhere other than the false promise of racial karmic progression.

I know there are people who agree. I know there are those who disagree. I know there are those who redefine spiritual racism as non-racism, or even anti-racism. Or who fail to see that Steiner speaks of racial progression at all. But is Nick’s estimation correct? Is there indeed nothing but ‘the false promise of racial karmic progression’ and is it necessary to judge everything else he taught in this light? Why? (Oh, yes, I know this is topic old. But why not do it again? Besides, I’m busy with other things and need to keep you entertained.)

Right now, on the critics list, there are (once again) interesting discussions on the topic of racism. Sadly, I’m far behind in list discussions in general. It may make sense to pick a few items that could inspire thought, though. I’m thinking of a few of the Steiner-quotes that have been posted. For example this (posted by Peter Staudenmaier in this thread), from a lecture on education:

This ‘Body of the Ego’ is the vehicle of the higher soul of man. Through it man is the crown of all earthly creation. Now in the human being of the present day the Ego is by no means simple in character. We may recognize its nature if we compare human beings at different stages of development. Look at the uneducated savage beside the average European, or again, compare the latter with a lofty idealist. Each one of them has the faculty of saying ‘ I ’ to himself; the ‘Body of the Ego’ is present in them all. But the uneducated savage, with his Ego, follows his passions, impulses, and cravings almost like an animal. The more highly developed man says to himself, ‘Such and such impulses and desires you may follow,’ while others again he holds in check or suppresses altogether. The idealist has developed new impulses and new desires in addition to those originally present. All this has taken place through the Ego working upon the other members of the human being. Indeed, it is this which constitutes the special task of the Ego. Working outward from itself, it has to ennoble and purify the other members of man’s nature. [Source.]

Or this one, posted by Pete (same thread as above):

In each root race various stages must also be gone through. There are always seven of these. In the beginning of a period identified with a root race, its principal characteristics are in a youthful condition; slowly they attain maturity and finally enter a decline. The population of a root race is thereby divided into seven sub-races. But one must not imagine that one subrace immediately disappears when a new one develops. Each one may maintain itself for a long time while others are developing beside it. Thus there are always populations which show different stages of development living beside each other on earth. [Source.]

For an anthroposophical perspective (or ‘seeing things from a higher plane’), please do read Rafael’s comments in that and other recent threads. For more anthroposophical quotes on race, see Roger Rawlings’ website and for analyses look up Peter Staudenmaier’s work (and his posts on critics are usually excellent in picking apart the arguments of anthroposophists).

‘at the door of science anthroposophy has hitherto knocked in vain’

this — the post title — is a statement by Jost Schieren in a recent article in the waldorf journal, RoSE. [PDF.] The article’s intriguing title: ‘The scientific credibility of anthroposophy’. It contains a few very interesting passages; I’ll come to them. A friend sent me the link to this little gem of an article some weeks ago (thanks!) and, since then, I’ve noticed, it has, quite understandably, made the rounds on facebook and elsewhere. But let’s start from the beginning. Schieren says that while the

fruits of anthroposophy find ever wider social acceptance and appreciation,

(Do we know this for a fact?)

the tree itself is generally avoided or ignored.

That is certainly true. He goes on to say

Anthroposophy continues to be regarded as an obscure body of spiritual teaching. Apparently what people want – as the magazine Der Spiegel said a few years ago – are Waldorf Schools without Steiner. And it is in fact the case nowadays that this demand has already become reality in many schools and other anthroposophical institutions. The success anthroposophy has had in many areas of modern life seems to have gone hand in hand with a sell-out of its own basic principles.

With which I agree. Just look at — this is only one example — how waldorf schools try to distance themselves from anthroposophy and Steiner. They almost try to erase anthroposophy or at least downplay it and its importance. Yet, oddly, keeping it at the same time. Which is a confused situation.

Anyway, he talks some about the relationship between science and anthroposophy as well as accreditation for anthroposophical courses (eg, pedagogical courses). The Science Council of Germany has been reluctant to accredit anthroposophical courses as accreditation would mean ‘basing the work of a university-level institution on an extra-scientific theory of education involving methodology influenced by a particular worldview’; the way to address this issue, according to Schieren, cannot be

in the usual manner of putting forward a vigorous apology for anthroposphy as science, but rather by means of an open discussion, that would at least begin the job of giving anthroposophy its place in the scientific landscape.

That is very wise, although I do doubt suspect that ‘giving anthroposophy its place in the scientific landscape’ may be a futile pursuit. I recommend you to read this article as a whole, but I’m now going to proceed to comment a few things — out of context and in a summary fashion. Sorry.

The problem is the notion of supersensible knowledge, based solely upon untestable assertions made by Rudolf Steiner. Anthroposophists bridge this gap by a gesture of trust, but this cannot be expected of everyone.

No, definitely not. And it’s more than trust; it’s faith. (Now, Jan Luiten, would say something different: no trust is needed. Anthroposophy  is a ‘path of inquiry’, right? A path which should not build on trust, but on individual knowledge and experience gained on said path. Schieren might agree to some extent I guess, because later in the article he wants to describe anthroposophy as ‘a path of knowledge that offers a perspective on the truth and holds out the possibility of approaching it, rather than reducing it to an ingredient of a particular individual’s store of knowledge.’ There, again, we have the contrast between what it would be or could be and what it actually is to anthroposophists who work with anthroposophy in practice, for example in waldorf schools.)

To try and use the esoteric pronouncements of Rudolf Steiner as a basis for justifying the scientific nature of anthroposophy is – for the foreseeable future – not a recipe for success.

No, definitely not.

In such an undertaking it may be sensible, in principle, to demand a different concept of science, centred upon an inner empiricism or inner evidence; but to do so would necessarily imply a complete paradigm shift of the whole scientific enterprise …

ah! only that and nothing more! (It won’t happen easily, not through the work of anthroposophists alone, he admits. Personally, I don’t wish for a science devoid of… scientific thinking and reason.)

It is much more likely that the currently ruling paradigm of science will of itself come to an end, because the technocratic worldview built into it will have caused ever more disasters and destruction …

The question is, though, if what anthroposophy offers would cause less disasters and destruction. When applied to reality, would it work any better? I quite doubt it. Knowledge about the real world, not the supersensible, still seems the surest path to success.

In an earlier essay, [Heiner Ullrich] states: “In contrast to the conscious detachment, plurality and unresolved openness of scientific method, Steiner and his disciples desire dogmatic knowledge, or visionary experience, of the world as a well-ordered whole resembling an eternal, unchangeable truth. [ … ] Their way of thinking is degenerate philosophy, mere worldview. [ … ] With the formulation of the anthroposophical ‘occult science’ Steiner fell prey to all the dangers of such a way of thinking. Here the pre-modern, dogmatic-metaphysical speculation of neo-Platonism is transformed into the contrived, re-mythologised world picture of theosophy” (Ulrich, 1988, p. 174). As profoundly felt as these reproaches are, it would be wrong to suppose – as anthroposophists are sometimes wont to do – that behind them lurk the dark intentions of an “organised enemy”. What we have here is simply a contrary position, which quite naturally has attracted much argumentative attention from the anthroposophical perspective.

I think the quote is interesting, because I can’t remember having read the essay. (Is it online somewhere? In case anyone knows, I’d be happy to read it.) But, also, I like Schieren’s approach. He is so right: it is a contrary position. The world needs not fall apart because of it. This is very welcome. (Schieren’s discussion following this quote is interesting, too.) Getting back to eternal issue:

The problems with its cultural profile that anthroposophy habitually encounters do not normally stem from Steiner’s works; they are “home-made”. They reside with anthroposophists not with anthroposophy.

… we have discussed it numerous times on the blog. I brushed upon it above, because it’s a discussion we had with Jan Luiten just days ago. The intelligent, reasonable (et c) poster-people for anthroposophy aren’t always the most typical. If they ever are. Perhaps the following is more representative of the implementation of anthroposophy in, e g, waldorf schools?

A serious problem demanding mention is that of the uncritical use of Steiner’s utterances, with no attempt made on the part of users to test them for themselves or to bring their own observational ability to bear upon them. Here what counts is belief in Rudolf Steiner’s words, rather than any personal striving for knowledge.

Absolutely to the point. He continues, and this is actually even better, it’s somewhat surprising — surprisingly good –, coming from an anthroposophist and coming from the journal RoSE:

When this then leads to the issuing of compilations from Steiner’s works embellished with speculations arising from them, the sure ground of scientific rigour has been entirely vacated. A large proportion of the publications of anthroposophical authors treat the utterances of Rudolf Steiner as indubitable facts. There is much musing done upon such subjects as reincarnation sequences and conditions in the so-called spiritual world, with no apparent concern about the obvious lack of any independently thought-out contribution to the content. Even worse: the decades-long habit of studying Steiner leads to the belief that one is completely clued up and in the picture about the things he presented and consequently can (and should) instruct others about them. Through years of reading Rudolf Steiner’s works the individual ability to reserve judgement with regard to their knowledge content is usually undermined. This is rather like spending a lot of time in galleries and as a consequence fancying that one could paint like Raphael. This lack of awareness of the rational detachment necessary in relation to the utterances of Rudolf Steiner is not the source of anthroposophy’s being regarded as unscientific, it is what actually makes it unscientific.

On the other hand, if these ‘believer’ anthroposophists are in the majority, who’s to say they’re wrong? It may be more reasonable, at least for academic credibility, to focus on what wisdom can be derived from Steiner’s early works, rather than on his extraordinarily concrete pronouncements about the facts of the higher worlds — but would it be more ‘right’? And maybe, what waldorf teachers (to use this group as an example again), too, are doing, is treating Steiner’s utterances ‘as indubitable facts.’ There is a saying that goes: ‘you don’t get the anthroposophists you want’ — isn’t there? If there isn’t, there should be. You don’t actually get the ideal guys, the ones you could parade in front of the public and they’d behave impeccably and reasonably. The guys you get, communicate telepathically with imaginary penguins on the south pole and with other strange beings. And write books about it. They bleed like Christ or are afraid of computers.

An interesting exposition follows, and then a conclusion:

Epistemology thus becomes ontology. In relation to the natural world – the reality encountered by the senses – anthroposophists usually have no problem concurring with such an argument, and it is not unfamiliar to them. Applied to the spiritual world, however, it will often provoke in them the naïve realism that Steiner was so keen on superseding. They persist in believing in a self-existent spiritual world, and thus fall into outworn modes of spirituality.

This seems a bit tricky though (later in the article):

In the foregoing the attempt has just been made to outline a new, epistemologically justified concept of mind, which combines a spiritual view of man and world with the modern claim to complete human autonomy and the perspective of individual growth towards freedom. Outside of anthroposophical circles, however, such an attempt will find little acceptance. However important and decisive this concept may be in the long term, it nevertheless seems more sensible in the meantime to approach the question of the scientific status of anthroposophy by looking at its areas of application with a view to validating these scientifically.

I don’t quite like this, although I may be interpreting it in a negative way. On the other hand, it is similar to how testing whether a medicine works is different from knowing how it works. Or something like that. But I still don’t like it, not in this case (somewhat later, Schieren sort of confirms my suspicions as he writes: ‘Using the scientific approach to anthroposophy presented above generates various, medium-term, strategic advantages.’). What is it that they’re going to validate scientifically in the areas of application though? You’ve got to come up with very specific anthroposophical practices and see how they compare. That would require scientific stringency to yield any reliable results. Can we hope for that?

Schieren then mentions an example that seems a bit suspect to me (it would be interesting if someone with knowledge of medicine would like to investigate that further — I’m speaking of the reference to the thesis by Heusser, see p 6 in Schieren’s article). Schieren explicitly states that he’d rather see the question of whether anthroposophy is a science or not in the background, because then ‘It is no longer a question of whether anthroposophy is any use as a science, but of how it can be used scientifically.’ It seems an odd thing to do — push the most important aspect of anthroposophy (the most important in this particular context) in the background, in order to… validate its usefulness? Or is it impossible to discuss (science) the actual method of anthroposophy itself, because it would be scientifically untenable? But, in the end, the method should matter. Because anthroposophy isn’t just the results. In fact, following some of the arguments, the method itself might be more important, if it is to be, as Jan says, mainly a method of inquiry. The results are the fluff. It’s the method that matters. Not only for the individuals spiritual path — but it should be so also for the scientific inquiry. (Or am I wrong here? Aren’t the results a bit like gnomes — icing on the cake?)

What Schieren then says about ‘critical detachment’ is absolutely true, and it should be practiced even if (which I suspect) there’s never any hope of getting anthroposophy to be more scientific — or accepted in a scientific context — or science more anthroposophical. Under the heading ‘Systematisation’ there’s a quite comical statement: ‘There will then remain a tiny percentage of statements by Rudolf Steiner, that according to the current climate of thinking will be considered inconceivable.’ — Only a tiny percentage, huh? I’m not sure about that. And although I welcome any attempts at exploring the first point — ‘Verifiable statements. What is meant here are statements by Rudolf Steiner that can be substantiated by normal scientific methods. In my estimation, this will apply to a relatively high percentage of them’ — I doubt that these statements constitute a high percentage of Steiner’s work. (You really need to look at this — I’m not just saying so. It gets a bit entertaining, and I can’t copy all the entertaining bits!)

Another truth follows almost immediately:

Trust in the possibility of an appropriate scientific approach to anthroposophy grows among non-anthroposophists to the extent that anthroposophists throw off the habit of “we know better”. For the fact is that they do not know better; they have simply invested their trust in the fact that Rudolf Steiner knows better. This, however, is a personal decision, open to anyone, but obviously possessing no scientific validity.

I think he’s so right. It is very rare to find an article, by an anthroposophist, which makes me say: he’s so right. And to say it so often. There are so many parts of this article I really agree with, and I find Schieren’s approach sympathetic. However, I can’t shake off the feeling it’s… it’s still about putting up a facade of academic respectability… in front of a house of woo. Even though I like it (and distrust it at the same time), and think Schieren is on to something important — what about the rest of anthroposophy? What about all those religious believers? They’re the ones responsible for the practical applications. They are the ones truly in need of a facade. Schieren is not. And I agree with him also about this:

The quest for knowledge, that does not rest upon dogmatic articles of faith, but upon the individual’s own mental effort, is foremost. Anthroposophists are among those who often tend to ideologise topics which could actually be given a thoroughly objective treatment. Occasionally credence is given to an “adversary-myth”, which renders all objective debate impossible. A further cultural advance would accrue from the uncompromising rejection of all kinds of esoteric presumptuousness and unjustified uses of esoteric terms. Authentic insights arrived at by the efforts of individuals would then be the hallmark of anthroposophical discourse.

Perhaps it would, or should, but maybe, if that’s what Schieren wants, he’d do better to look elsewhere, than to anthroposophy, for it. Because, although this is definitely some great stuff, it isn’t what you’d expect from anthroposophy.

Last but not least, there’s also a small nugget in this article for everyone who relishes the racism debate:

… it is already apparent that many of the attacks upon anthroposophy – for instance, the longstanding charge of racism – are now sounding hollow. Representatives of science at university level (e.g. Heiner Ullrich) attest to the fact that Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy have nothing to do with racism.

Now — is that true, my dear friends? (Jan Luiten shouts: Yes!! Despite the fact that anthroposophy is a path of inquiry and not a set of doctrines… or?)

__________

Jost Schieren is coming to Sweden — for the waldorf teachers’ conference in January. That is, in two weeks. Here’s the program. He’s talking about anthroposophy and science (probably similar to the questions he deals with in the article), but, more intriguingly, one evening he’s going hold a lecture entitled: ‘Between Day and Night’. (I guess there’s no point in making this appeal, because I’m not going to hear anything from anyone attending the conference, but please… if anyone feels inclined to tell me more, I’m curious. I want to be between day and night. All the time.)

english translation of the first class esoteric lessons

Hitherto unavailable to non-class members in English, the lectures of GA270 are now published by Frank Thomas Smith online in his own translation, thus not the exact text used in class lessons in the UK or the US. Still, it might be the best alternative for those who don’t read German or who find Steiner’s talk a bit impenetrable in German. (For the German editions, see this website.) Because they’ve been ‘secret’ (ie, only passed on to class members), one might have easily been led to believe these lessons are more riveting — from the perspective of potential scandal or whatever one might gleefully expect — than they actually are.

The dreadful skeptics, who are always so eager to mock, might want to ponder the following texts about the beasts hindering spiritual knowledge ;-)

The Guardian of the Threshold characterizes the first beast, which lurks as fear in your will, as a beast with a crooked back and a bony face and scrawny body. This beast, with its dull blue skin, is verily what rises from the abyss and stands alongside the Guardian of the Threshold for today’s humanity. And the Guardian of the Threshold makes it quite clear to the humanity of today that this beast is actually in you! It rises from out of the yawning abyss which lies in front of the knowledge fields, and reflects what lurks in your will as an enemy of knowledge.

And the second beast, which is connected to the desire to mock the spiritual world, is characterized by the Guardian of the Threshold in a similar way. It emerges alongside the other monster, but its whole attitude is one of weakness and sleepiness. With this sleepy posture and gray-greenish body, it bares its teeth in a warped face. And this baring of teeth is meant to indicate laughter, but lies, because to mock is to lie. So it grins at us as the reflection of the beast that lives in our own feeling and, as the enemy of knowledge, hinders our search for knowledge.

(There’s a third beast, who I feel, applies better to anthroposophists themselves! So you’ve got to read the text to find out more. Read!)

You will also learn, unsurprisingly, there is but one true gate to knowledge. Well, to a certain kind of knowledge, that is.

the fiery thought king of the universe

ok, I’ve been reading too much junk today and won’t be able to read this entire article thoroughly to the end now (my eyes, sorry, but I’ve tried to skim it), but since I promised (see comments) I’d post a link to it today, I will. It’s about the dragon-slaying archangel, Michael, of course (St George, who was the object of my photographic attention yesterday, is also mentioned). I’ve chosen two passage that might be particularly interesting to discuss, they appear towards the end of the article. What do you think about this?

Let us think now in smaller terms asking another question: Do you or I believe in our neighbor? Do we acknowledge the Buddha nature or the Christ within them? Or do we hold the individuals around us captive to their past? We have seen them fail perhaps countless times. Do we think of them as hopeless and never able to progress or change? By doing so we ally ourselves with the adversary of our soul’s progress and theirs. This is probably not the case with those whom we choose to associate with most. But, how about those who live in the other neighborhoods in our town or city that are not as affluent as ours? Or the ones that are living “up on the hill” who are more affluent than we can even imagine? Or how about those of different races that we meet? Do we unconsciously cast judgment on any of them? Is there a subtle condescension in us when we speak to them or of them to others? How about those who ascribe to a different social philosophy or support a different political party—do we judge them as inferior for their beliefs and unworthy of our help or support? If we see the Buddha nature, what is sometimes called “the beginner” in our neighbors and friends and coworkers and in those who live across town or on the other side of the world, we will not lose hope for them—we will not hold them to their past “sins.” We will forgive them and be the person in their life that helps them to see the next step forward on their path. If you are able to do this, then you are working with Michael as a mirror to the divine nature within others.

What does it mean to us to be “seen” either in the monumental sense I first spoke of or in the everyday sense I outlined in the last paragraph? We shouldn’t be too quick to answer. It is hard to even think of hope or of a future for ourselves as individuals, or for our world as a whole without this essential activity of The Fiery Thought King—Michael! There would be very little spiritual progress in the world without this essential element to affirm us as individuals. Reflecting upon this, perhaps now we have a sense of the regal majesty of the being we have sought to discover expressed by this exalted moniker for Archangel Michael—The Fiery Thought King of the Universe— which otherwise in our time, might tend to elicit condescending smiles of skepticism and visions of an antiquated, naïve and sentimental culture laden with superstition. But not to those who know him.

Read the whole article here!