Rudolf Steiner founder of Waldorf Schools
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
When books and an individual come into collision and there is a hollow sound, this need not be the fault of the books!
- Rudolf Steiner
This article appeared in "Conscious Choice" magazine in Chicago and
mentions his humble beginnings as the son of a railway official born in a
small Croatian village.. He was on the front cover titled "The spiritually
gifted life of Rudolf Steiner". "The Truth About Rudolf Steiner" the founder
of "Waldorf" Schools, author of about 25 books, presenter of over 6000
lectures, a man who was simply decades ahead of his time - a true forerunner
and messenger of love and freedom. Here is more information about him and
the Waldorf Schools.
Rudolf Steiner was born 1861 in Kraljevica (Croatia) of Austrian
Catholic parents. He is viewed in America as German philosopher. Steiner's
anthroposophical teaching, presented as "spiritual science," is an
extraordinary synthesis of "organic" ideas in nineteen-century German
thought with theosophical material and fresh occult intuitions. The model
for fuller knowledge of individual beings is the organic idea of a
self-evolving and self-directing organism, which Goethe saw in the "primal
plant." The method for generalizing such knowledge is one of intuitive
thinking. Steiner espoused a "monism of thought": a valid world image is
ever building as individual spirits live in (miterleben) the organic world
Heralding Nietzsche's independence of thought, Steiner followed him in
rejecting both natural teleology and objective moral laws. Yet he maintained
that Nietzsche was always protesting and tragically dashing his free spirit
against an alien culture and a limited science of nature. Nietzsche's
doctrine of "eternal recurrence," however, was a factor which led Steiner to
give sympathetic attention to Indian thought. Nature is, after all, but one
manifestation of spiritual reality, which reveals itself more directly in
thought and in art. Among Indian ideas which Steiner adopted while a
theosophist is fourfold construction of man on earth as having the physical,
the either, the astral bodies, and the "I" with their respective powers of
development and transformation.
While the higher aim of Steiner's pedagogy was to develop special
powers of spiritual insight, the cultivation of moral balance, a harmony of
virtuous dispositions intermediate between excesses and defects, was
considered a prerequisite.
Josip Remenar - SutrA magazine - New York
"His ideas are all based on his insights into the nature of the human
being and his insights into the spiritual life. Steiner believed people
should come to know higher worlds through their own searching.
The best known and most widely accepted idea of Steiner's is Waldorf
education. Steiner designed the Waldorf system in 1919 for the children of
workers at the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, at
the request of factory owner Emil Molt. His creation was based on his theory
of the three developmental stages. Early childhood, until age7, whenchildren learn best
through physical activity and play; age 7 to 14, when children learn
through feeling and the imagination; age 14 and up, when children can begin
to develop their intellect. Waldorf schools are rich in the arts and
storytelling. Seasonal festivals, fairy tales, myths, and legends feed a
child's creative spirit. This educational approach was way ahead of its
time, applying the theory of multiple intelligences and sensory experiential
learning some 60 years before
the theory was introduced in our culture. Teachers create the
educational experience and the same teacher stays with the class from first
to eighth grade. Teachers also run the school. While Waldorf is based on
anthrposophy, the philosophy is not taught to
children. "The whole idea of Waldorf is NOT to fill a child up with
information and not to inculcate a dogma, but to allow children to
develop into adults who can think for themselves," said Edwards.
Parents who send their children to Waldorf Schools are not necessarily
students of anthroposophy. "There is a wide range of reasons people send
their children to our school," says Colleen Everhart, high school
chairperson and drama teacher at Chicago Waldorf. "Some are familiar with
anthroposophy and want an education based on that, others follow a holistic
way of living and
eating organic food; others want an alternative form of education."
"The pre-schoolers gather round a candlelit table; holding hands they
sing the blessing. Soon they will eat organic bread rolls, which they helped
bake. This is snack time at Waters Edge School, A Waldorf initiative and a
brainchild of Rudolf Steiner - this on located in the north of Chicago
suburb of Wauconda." "This was the education I wished I had had; this was
the education I was
determined to give to my son...."
by: Claudia Lenart
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Waldorf Education?
Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf education is based on a
developmental approach that addresses the needs of the growing child and
maturing adolescent. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education in to an
art that educates the whole child-the heart and the hands, as well as the
head. For more information, please go the Waldorf Education page.
Are Waldorf schools religious?
Waldorf schools are non-sectarian and non-denominational. They educate
all children, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The
pedagogical method is comprehensive, and, as part of its task, seeks to
bring about recognition and understanding of all the world cultures and
religions. Waldorf schools are not part of any church. They espouse no
particular religious doctrine but are based on a belief that there is a
spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life. Waldorf families
come from a broad spectrum of religious traditions and interest.
What is the curriculum like in a Waldorf school?
Waldorf Education approaches all aspects of schooling in a unique and
comprehensive way. The curriculum is designed to meet the various stages of
child development. Waldorf teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine
inner enthusiasm for learning, that is essential for educational success.
Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children learn primarily through
imitation and imagination. The goal of the kindergarten is to develop a
sense of wonder in the young child and reverence for all living things. This
creates an eagerness for the academics that follow in the grades.
Kindergarten activities include:
a.. storytelling, puppetry, creative play;
b.. singing, eurhythmy (movement);
c.. games and finger plays;
d.. painting, drawing and beeswax modeling;
e.. baking and cooking, nature walks;
f.. foreign language and circle time for festival and seasonal
Elementary and middle-school children learn through the guidance of a
class teacher who stays with the class ideally for eight years.
The curriculum includes:
a.. English based on world literature, myths, and legends
b.. history that is chronological and inclusive of the world's great
c.. science that surveys geography, astronomy, meteorology, physical
and life sciences
d.. mathematics that develops competence in arithmetic, algebra, and
e.. foreign languages; physical education; gardening
f.. arts including music, painting, sculpture, drama, eurhythmy,
g.. handwork such as knitting, weaving, and woodworking
The Waldorf high school is dedicated to helping students develop their
full potential as scholars, artists, athletes, and community members. The
course of study includes:
a.. a humanities curriculum that integrates history, literature, and
knowledge of world cultures;
b.. a science curriculum that includes physics, biology, chemistry,
geology, and a four-year college preparatory mathematics program;
c.. an arts and crafts program including calligraphy, drawing,
painting, sculpture, pottery, weaving, block printing and bookbinding;
d.. a performing arts program offering orchestra, choir, eurhythmy
e.. a foreign language program;
f.. a physical education program.
Does Waldorf education prepare children for the "real" world; and, if
so, how does it do it?
It is easy to fall into the error of believing that education must
make our children fit into society. Although we are certainly influenced by
what the world brings us, the fact is that the world is shaped by people,
not people by the world. However, that shaping of the world is possible in a
healthy way only if the shapers are themselves in possession of their full
nature as human beings.
Education in our materialistic, Western society focuses on the
intellectual aspect of the human being and has chosen largely to ignore the
several other parts that are essential to our well-being. These include our
life of feeling (emotions, aesthetics, and social sensitivity), our
willpower (the ability to get things done), and our moral nature (being
clear about right and wrong). Without having these developed, we are
incomplete-a fact that may become obvious in our later years, when a feeling
of emptiness begins to set in. That is why in a Waldorf school, the
practical and artistic subjects play as important a role as the full
spectrum of traditional academic subjects that the school offers. The
practical and artistic are essential in achieving a preparation for life in
the "real" world.
Waldorf Education recognizes and honors the full range of human
potentialities. It addresses the whole child by striving to awaken and
ennoble all the latent capacities. The children learn to read, write, and do
math; they study history, geography, and the sciences. In addition, all
children learn to sing, play a musical instrument, draw, paint, model clay,
carve and work with wood, speak clearly and act in a play, think
independently, and work harmoniously and respectfully with others. The
development of these various capacities is interrelated. For example, both
boys and girls learn to knit in grade one. Acquiring this basic and
enjoyable human skill helps them develop a manual dexterity, which after
puberty will be transformed into an ability to think clearly and to "knit"
their thoughts into a coherent whole.
Preparation for life includes the development of the well-rounded
person. Waldorf Education has as its ideal a person who is knowledgeable
about the world and human history and culture, who has many varied practical
and artistic abilities, who feels a deep reverence for and communion with
the natural world, and who can act with initiative and in freedom in the
face of economic and political pressures.
There are many Waldorf graduates of all ages who embody this ideal and
who are perhaps the best proof of the efficacy of the education.
From Five Frequently Asked Questions by Colin Price
from Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
Why do Waldorf schools teach reading so late?
There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read
relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly
to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early.
Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the "tiredness toward
reading" that many children taught to read at a very early age experience
later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that
continues into adulthood. Some children will, out of themselves, want to
learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long
as it comes in fact from the child. Early imposed formal instruction in
reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and
learning may begin to falter.
If reading is not pushed, a healthy child will pick it up quite
quickly and easily. Some Waldorf parents become anxious if their child is
slow to learn to read. Eventually these same parents are overjoyed at seeing
their child pick up a book and not put it down and become from that moment a
voracious reader. Each child has his or her own optimal time for "taking
off." Feelings of anxiety and inferiority may develop in a child who is not
reading as well as her peers. Often this anxiety is picked up from parents
concerned about the child's progress. It is important that parents should
deal with their own and their child's apprehensions.
Human growth and development do not occur in a linear fashion, nor can
they be measured. What lives, grows, and has its being in human life can
only be grasped with that same human faculty that can grasp the invisible
metamorphic laws of living nature.
From Five Frequently Asked Questions by Colin Price
from Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
Would a child be at a disadvantage if he were transferred from a
public school into a Waldorf school, or out of a Waldorf school into a
Children who transfer to a Waldorf school in the first four grades
usually are up to grade in reading, math, and basic academic skills.
However, they usually have much to learn in bodily coordination skills,
posture, artistic and social activities, cursive handwriting, and listening
skills. Listening well is particularly important since most of the
curricular content is presented orally in the classroom by the teacher. The
human relationship between the child and the teacher is the basis for
healthy learning, for the acquiring of understanding and knowledge rather
than just information. Children who are used to learning from computers and
other electronic media will have to adjust.
Those children who enter a Waldorf school in the middle grades often
bring much information about the world. This contribution should be
recognized and received with interest by the class. However, these children
often have to unlearn some social habits, such as the tendency to experience
learning as a competitive activity. They have to learn to approach the arts
in a more objective way, not simply as a means for personal expression. In
contrast, in their study of nature, history, and the world, they need to
relate what they learn to their own life and being. The popular ideal of
"objectivity" in learning is misguided when applied to elementary school
children. At their stage of development, the subjective element is essential
for healthy learning. Involvement in what is learned about the world makes
the world truly meaningful to them.
Children who transfer out of a Waldorf school into a public school
during the earlier grades probably have to upgrade their reading ability and
to approach the science lessons differently. Science in a Waldorf school
emphasizes the observation of natural phenomena rather than the formulation
of abstract concepts and laws. On the other hand, the Waldorf transferees
are usually well prepared for social studies, practical and artistic
activities, and mathematics.
Children moving during the middle grades should experience no
problems. In fact, in most cases, transferring students of this age-group
find themselves ahead of their classmates. The departing Waldorf student is
likely to take along into the new school a distinguishing individual
strength, personal confidence, and love of learning.
From Five Frequently Asked Questions by Colin Price
from Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
Why do Waldorf schools recommend the limiting of television, videos,
and radio for young children?
A central aim of Waldorf Education is to stimulate the healthy
development of the child's own imagination. Waldorf teachers are concerned
that electronic media hampers the development of the child's imagination.
They are concerned about the physical effects of the medium on the
developing child as well as the content of much of the programming.
There is more and more research to substantiate these concerns. See
Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don't Think and Failure To Connect: How
Computers Affect Our Children's Minds For Better and Worse by Jane Healy;
Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander; The
Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn; and Evolution's End: Claiming The Potential of
Our Intelligence by Joseph Chilton Pearce.
What about computers and Waldorf Education?
Waldorf teachers feel the appropriate age for computer use in the
classroom and by students is in high school. We feel it is more important
for students to have the opportunity to interact with one another and with
teachers in exploring the world of ideas, participating in the creative
process, and developing their knowledge, skills, abilities, and inner
qualities. Waldorf students have a love of learning, an ongoing curiosity,
and interest in life. As older students, they quickly master computer
technology, and graduates have successful careers in the computer industry.
For additional reading, please see Fools Gold on the Alliance For Childhood'
s web site, www.allianceforchildhood.org and The Future Does Not Compute by
How do Waldorf graduates do after graduation?
Waldorf students have been accepted in and graduated from a broad
spectrum of colleges and universities including Stanford, UC Berkeley,
Harvard, Yale, Brown, and all of the top universities. Waldorf graduates
reflect a wide diversity of professions and occupations including medicine,
law, science, engineering, computer technology, the arts, social science,
government, and teaching at all levels. Waldorf high schools can provide
specific data on the university affiliations, professions, and
accomplishments of their graduates. A list of Waldorf high schools is
available on the Alumni Information page.
What is Eurythmy?
Eurythmy is the art of movement that attempts to make visible the tone
and feeling of music and speech. Eurythmy helps to develop concentration,
self-discipline, and a sense of beauty. This training of moving artistically
with a group stimulates sensitivity to the other as well as individual
mastery. Eurythmy lessons follow the themes of the curriculum, exploring
rhyme, meter, story, and geometric forms.
A Waldorf class teacher ideally stays with a group of children through
the eight elementary school years. What if my child does not get along with
This question often arises because of a parent's experience of public
school education. In most public schools, a teacher works with a class for
one, maybe two years. It is difficult for teacher and child to develop the
deep human relationship that is the basis for healthy learning if change is
If a teacher has a class for several years, the teacher and the
children come to know and understand each other in a deep way. The children,
feeling secure in a long-term relationship, are better able to learn. The
interaction of teacher and parents also can become more deep and meaningful
over time, and they can cooperate in helping the child.
Serious problems between teachers and children, and between teachers
and parents, do arise. When this happens, the college of teachers studies
the situation, involves the teacher and parents-and, if appropriate, the
child-and tries to resolve the conflict. If the differences are
irreconcilable, the parents might be asked to withdraw the child, or the
teacher might be replaced.
In reality, these measures very rarely need to be taken. A Waldorf
class is something like a family. If a mother in a family does not get along
with her son during a certain time, she does not consider resigning or
replacing him with another child. Rather, she looks at the situation and
sees what can be done to improve the relationship. In other words, the adult
assumes responsibility and tries to change. This same approach is expected
of the Waldorf teacher in a difficult situation. In almost every case she
must ask herself: "How can I change so that the relationship becomes more
positive?" One cannot expect this of the child. My experience is that with
the goodwill and active support of the parents, the teacher concerned can
make the necessary changes and restore the relationship to a healthy and
From Five Frequently Asked Questions by Colin Price
from Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
How can a Waldorf class teacher teach all the subjects through the
eight years of elementary schooling?
The class teacher is not the only teacher the children experience.
Each day, specialty subject teachers teach the children eurythmy,
handcrafts, a foreign language, instrumental music, and so on.
The class teacher is, however, responsible for the two-hour "main
lesson" every morning and usually also for one or two lessons later in the
day. In the main lesson, she brings all the main academic subjects to the
children, including language arts, the sciences, history, and mathematics,
as well as painting, music, clay modeling, and so on. The teacher does in
fact deal with a wide range of subjects, and thus the question is a valid
A common misconception in our time is that education is merely the
transfer of information. From the Waldorf point of view, true education also
involves the awakening of capacities-the ability to think clearly and
critically, to empathetically experience and understand phenomena in the
world, to distinguish what is beautiful, good, and true. The class teacher
walks a path of discovery with the children and guides them into an
understanding of the world of meaning, rather than the world of cause and
Waldorf class teachers work very hard to master the content of the
various subjects that they teach. But the teacher's ultimate success lies in
her ability to work with those inner faculties that are still "in the bud,"
so that they can grow, develop, and open up in a beautiful, balanced, and
Through this approach to teaching, the children will be truly prepared
for the real world. They are provided then with the tools to productively
shape that world out of a free human spirit.
From Five Frequently Asked Questions by Colin Price
from Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
What is the tuition at a Waldorf school? Is there financial assistance
Enrollment and tuition costs vary from school to school and are
comparable to other private schools in the same geographic location that are
not subsidized through church affiliations. In the United States, Waldorf
schools are independent and are supported by tuition income, fees, and
charitable contributions. Each school develops its financial aid assistance
policies and determines the amount of tuition assistance it can offer. There
is no North American general fund at this time to assist individual children
to go to a Waldorf school. For the most current tuition information, you may
contact individual schools directly through our Affiliated Schools list.
I've looked in your search engine and can't find a school in my area.
Are there any other schools?
If you are looking for a kindergarten, there may be a stand-alone
Waldorf kindergarten in your area. Contact the Waldorf Early Childhood
Association at www.waldorfearlychildhood.com, email
Are there resources for Waldorf home schooling?
Yes. Waldorfhomeschooling.org offers many resources. Waldorf home
schooling conferences are held in California every year, organized by Rahima
Baldwin-Dancy, author of You Are Your Child's First Teacher.
Are there any Waldorf schools for developmentally disabled children?
Somerset School in California and Beaver Run in Pennsylvania are both
specially geared towards children with special needs. Rudolf Steiner worked
with developmentally disabled for several years, and there are both schools
and adult communities based out of Anthroposophy. Please visit the Camphill
Association of North America's website for more information.
Where can I find an international list of Waldorf schools?
For a list of Waldorf schools around the world, click on Bund der
Freien Waldorfschulen (Germany). You will then be able to search by country.
Other lists and resources may be found in our Links section.
Starting a Waldorf School
Initiative groups follow many different patterns in their development,
but in recent years a certain trend has evolved which seems to be helpful to
many groups. The initiative groups usually begin study groups for adults,
and after a few years start a playgroup for children. After a year or two
more they may feel ready to found a kindergarten, and several years later
may have grown to the point where a school can be founded. As you can see,
it takes time to initiate a school, and it can easily take seven years or
longer from the beginning of the first study group to the opening of the
first grade. The timing varies from one community to another, but all have
found that it is essential to have a strong foundation in Waldorf Education
and Anthroposophy if their school is to grow and thrive, and such a
foundation is not laid overnight. A Waldorf school is not just an
alternative to public schools or another independent school; its curriculum
and philosophy proceed from the worldview and the insights into the nature
of the child that Rudolf Steiner has given us in Anthroposophy. If there is
not a core community surrounding the school initiative that is thoroughly
familiar with and committed to that philosophy and pedagogy, then it is
unlikely that the initiative will prosper.
Communities also find that while enthusiastic parents are essential
for helping to found a school, this same enthusiasm can lead one to decide
to found a school too quickly. Just as Waldorf schools are nonprofit
organizations that are not created for the financial benefit of any
individual, so their founding must also have an element of selflessness
rather than being created to benefit certain children and their families. We
know this can be a difficult thing to hear, but the pace of development is
probably the single greatest factor in determining the future strength or
weakness of a school. A weak, hastily built foundation remains with a school
for its lifetime, and one sees the effects of it again and again. We all
want schools that will flourish and thrive, and it's quite possible to found
such schools if one works hard and does not rush.
Many communities have been inventive in meeting their own children's
needs in the years before a school is started. They have had regular
festival celebrations for families, organized puppet shows, painting
classes, or other activities. Some have developed programs for
elementary-aged children who are unable to go to Waldorf schools. These
programs usually focus on the Waldorf story curriculum, the arts, and
festival celebrations. They meet after school or on Saturday mornings.
Leaders of such programs do not need to be fully trained Waldorf teachers.
Often they are parents who are educating themselves about Waldorf Education
through summer courses and other studies.
Returning to the basic pattern, which has evolved in recent years, we'
d like to go over the steps one by one, sharing with you some of what the
schools themselves have told us.
The Truth About
This 20th Century Spiritual Genius Helps Us Grasp the Concepts of
HigherWorlds, Reincarnation, and the Working of the Human Soul.
by Ralph White
Conscious Choice, June 2003
Exactly one hundred years ago something spiritually remarkable was
happening in Central Europe. A figure had emerged with the most profound
insight into the deepest mysteries of the human experience: death,
reincarnation, the existence of higher worlds, and the destiny of human
evolution. He was highly educated in Western philosophy and science, widely
read in cultural and artistic matters, and possessed a magnetic gift as a
public speaker and writer. Over the course of the next 25 years he gave over
6,000 lectures, none of them the same, wrote 25 books, and founded major new
impulses in education, agriculture, medicine, and numerous other
disciplines. A century later the schools that developed from his spiritual
insight into the
development of the child constitute the world's most widespread,
independent approach to education. His organic approach to farming and
agriculture preceded the back to the land movement of the '60s by half a
century and is now widely practiced. And villages inspired by his work for
"those in need of special care" -- physically challenged and disabled adults
and children, are found on every continent. Surely such a figure would be a
household name among the millions in North America who consider themselves
part of the consciousness community -- people concerned with the very issues
to which this individual had devoted his life. It would be hard to imagine
that someone so dedicated to serving humanity and so successful in his
efforts would be mostly unknown to the many who take pride in their
commitment to spiritual and social renewal. Yet that is exactly what has
happened. Somehow, Rudolf Steiner -- perhaps the most spiritually gifted and
accomplished figure of the 20th Century --remains marginalized by most
cultural creatives today. A man who felt his destiny was, above all, to give
to the modern world a correct and scrupulous understanding of karma and
reincarnation, has been largely forgotten as a spiritual teacher while the
Tibetan Book of the Dead and all things Buddhist have become hip and
fashionable. How can this be? Clearly, it didn't help that Steiner died in
1925, that he never came to America, and that all his lectures were given in
German. New readers can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer volume of his
the difficulty of knowing where to start, and the frequent use of
To be sure, Steiner's books are never easy reading. Each one demands
the intense mental effort of grasping totally new thoughts that seriously
expand the mind and the imagination. The result, however, is that the reader
emerges with a magnificent conception of the journey of spiritual evolution
that encompasses the mystery centers and civilizations of the ancient world,
the medieval and renaissance mystics, the full spectrum of philosophy, and
the attainment of knowledge of higher worlds. An awakened reader also
develops an overwhelming sense of the vastness of human existence. When we
read Steiner on what he calls "the life between death and rebirth" we are
not perplexed by arcane accounts of the various bardo
states that often require a lama for explication. Instead, he paints a
lucid picture of the moment of death when a vast tableau of our life rises
before us. This is followed by the phase he calls kamaloca in which the soul
relives its life backwards, this time infinitely more sensitive to the
effects produced on others by its actions. This is really the moral
purification or ennoblement of the soul that has come down to us in twisted
form as purgatory. After this extended period when we truly grasp the
consequences of our actions, the soul is said to journey out into devachan,
the sphere of the planetary intelligences, imbibing cosmic wisdom until the
"midnight hour of existence" is reached and it begins its journey toward
rebirth. Then, aided bythe magnificent super-angelic beings that have come down to us in
meager and distorted form as the plump little cherubim and seraphim of
church decoration, we shape the contours of our future incarnation to
balance the actions of our previous life. As Saul Bellow, for years a
serious student of Rudolf Steiner, has commented, this is a view of human
life and death that is hair-raising. And it must be said that even if only
five percent of what Steiner describes is true, then our lives and deaths
are the wildest cosmic ride any of us could ever ask for.
A Gifted Mortal Now, how did he know all of this? Most mortals have a
hard enough time just making it through the day without finding time to
contemplate these spiritual subtleties. Rudolf Steiner, however, was blessed
by clairvoyant vision from the age of nine when he first became aware of
spiritual beings beyond the material plane. But he was far from a
woolly-minded mystic. Despite his humble beginnings as the son of a railway
official in a small Croatian village, he went on to pursue a rigorous
education in technical and scientific subjects in Vienna, and then to
receive a doctorate in philosophy.
At the age of 24, his intellectual gifts were recognized and he was
invited to edit the scientific works of the great German poet and
playwright, Goethe. He then spent years immersed in scholarship in the
Goethe-Schiller Archives in Weimar before moving to Berlin and teaching at a
workers' educational institute, along with figures like Rosa Luxemburg. It
was only after the 20th Century had begun and he had turned 40 that he began
to speak openly of esoteric matters. Until that point, he had been known as
a philosopher, scholar, writer, editor, and cultural commentator. Suddenly,
he completely shocked his contemporaries by giving detailed, sophisticated
talks on the most profound spiritual subjects that clearly displayed a level
of knowledge unrivaled by anyone at that time in the Western world. It is
difficult for most of us to imagine what the early years of the last century
were like. Many people of cultural influence and social prominence were
strongly drawn to the new spiritual wisdom then appearing through people
like Steiner in Central Europe and Gurdjieff and Ouspensky in Russia. It was
a time of immense optimism and Steiner rapidly drew to himself a significant
following as he began a tireless series of lectures all over Europe. The new
century seemed to promise unimpeded progress and work was begun in
Switzerland on a striking new building, the Goetheanum, which was intended
to become a
center for the deepest spiritual mysteries.
Unfortunately, the outbreak of the First World War intervened, an
event that Steiner observed at close hand through his contacts with a
high-ranking member of the German General Staff. His views on how it came
about, partially detailed in the book The Karma of Untruthfulness, contain
much that is of value to us as we contemplate how we have been manipulated
into the war in Iraq. Steiner was never blind to the dark side of existence.
In fact, he felt strongly that the development of a deeper understanding of
evil was an essential spiritual requirement of the modern age and he did all
he could to
awaken people to the increasingly powerful influence of regressive,
materialistic impulses. After the war, he continued to teach widely
and write. He discouraged any tendency of others to view him as a guru,
believing that such a role was no longer appropriate in the modern age when
the spirit of individual freedom is paramount. His constant emphasis was on
the possibility of awakening through meditation higher faculties that
slumber in the souls of all humans and the crucial necessity of doing this
if people were to respond to the urgent spiritual requirements of the day.
He saw his teaching as a contemporary
successor to the holy wisdom understood in the ancient cultures of
India, Persia, Egypt, and Greece. Then it had been confined to mystery
centers like Delphi and Ephesus where only the carefully selected could be
initiated into the deepest mysteries of existence. Now, however, it was
available to all and the opportunity was presented to humanity to lift
itself beyond the materialism of the 19th Century to a renewed sense of
membership in a spiritually alive cosmos. Now we could bring to the inner
world the same rigorous, objective, scientific spirit that we had applied to
the outer world, and we could do so with autonomy and without superstition.
However, if the world failed to awaken, he foresaw dire consequences that
might abort our evolution and deny the very purpose for which human beings
had come into existence His work attracted the hostile attention of the
early Nazis and they violently disrupted a number of his lectures. He,
however, refused to be cowed or deterred in any way. In the last five years
of his life many people began to approach him to ask how Anthroposophy or
Spiritual Science, the titles he gave
to his work, could be applied to practical realms. Farmers, teachers,
doctors, and priests all longed for renewal in their fields and Steiner's
response was gracious. He had only to be asked. Then he felt spiritually
bound to give all he could. His lecture series on education, offered
originally to workers and management of the Waldorf tobacco factory in
Stuttgart who wanted to start a school, became the seed of the worldwide
Waldorf School movement. His talks to farmers
in Silesia became the source of the whole movement for biodynamic
agriculture that he viewed as essential if both human and environmental
health were to be maintained. He even gave a wonderful lecture series to
professional beekeepers as he could see that the decline of the honeybee
presaged the demise of healthy food and the rural environment.
What Was He Really Like?
He was simply decades ahead of his time -- a true forerunner and
messenger of love and freedom. But what was he like as a person? Did any
whiff of scandal ever emerge from his life, as it has so often with so many
leading spiritual figures? From the many accounts written by those who knew
him, he was a warm and extremely helpful person of immense integrity whose
weakness may simply have been a great willingness to give private time and
counsel to the many who
asked for it. Despite the photographs that always portray Steiner as a
stern-faced, serious individual, he was apparently extremely funny. He
was also a man of artistic talent as a sculptor and architect who saw the
arts as a vital bridge between the material and spiritual worlds. Why do we
know so little about this extraordinary individual almost 80 years after his
death? It's true that the Anthroposophical Society has branches worldwide,
Waldorf Schools proliferate, biodynamic farming is widely practiced and
respected, and there are literally thousands of initiatives all over the
planet inspired by his work in fields as varied as socially responsible
banking, treatment for drug addiction, herbal and homeopathic medicines,
even puppet-making. But the anthroposophical community has, until recently,
to hold itself somewhat apart from the rest of the holistic movement,
perhaps because Steiner's legacy is so all encompassing that it can appear
complete in itself, requiring little outreach to others. Steiner was
certainly possessed of a comprehensive spiritual genius, but we
know him today mostly through the practical dimensions of his work.
His stunning spiritual research into higher worlds, his encyclopedic
knowledge of esoteric wisdom, and his profound insights into the working of
the human soul all remain strangely ignored by a public yearning for deeper
truths. We desperately want to know the truth about reincarnation, we hear
frequent references to angels, we remain fascinated by the remnants of
ancient mysteries still visible in stone circles and Egyptian monuments. Yet
this man who -- more than any other figure of the last century -- has the
capacity to enlighten us on all these matters, remains mostly unread in
holistic circles. The more than 200 books by and about Rudolf Steiner
available in English constitute an amazing treasure trove of sacred wisdom.
Casual reading they are
not, but the rewards far outweigh the effort involved. While academic
philosophy remains hopelessly detached from real world issues, we have
in Steiner a truly modern spiritual philosopher who felt that he incarnated
with a crucial mission to return to the world the kind of knowledge for
which human hearts increasingly cry out. At a time of immense international
danger, when war and terrorism dominate the
headlines and a sense of foreboding hangs heavy in the air, we may
find ourselves increasingly thankful that this seemingly distant figure,
with words of acute relevance to the present time, showed us how to grasp
and lead the struggle for the soul of humanity in which we now find