Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy

Who was Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was a self proclaimed Austrian clairvoyant, who founded a movement/religion which he named anthroposophy in 1913 after he split from the occult Theosophical Society founded by Helena Blavatsky. At the time of his departure the Theosophical Society was led by Anne Besant.
According to Steiner, anthroposophy adds to the scientific knowledge a knowledge of another spiritual world which is in the first instance invisible and lies above the senses.  He maintained that through meditative training of ones organ of cognition, each individual can acquire the ability to progress to a higher universal plane.  The concepts of incarnation/reincarnation and karma are fundamental to Steiner’s ideas.
The Theosophical Society has its headquarters in Goetheanum (which Steiner designed) in Dornach, Switzerland.  Steiner has written many books and articles and may have given as many as 6,000 lectures on issues such as education, medicine, agriculture, the pictorial arts and social care.
Steiner incorporated his ideas into education, science, agriculture, art, medicine, economics and social care.  A brief description of some of his ideas are shown below and a more detailed analysis c an be seen here:

Anthroposophic medicines
Steiner believed that mistletoe had a role to play in the treatment of cancer.  His reasoning was based on his belief that because mistletoe was a parasite, it would help to cure cancer which he regarded as a parasite on human tissues and organs.  Anthroposophic mistletoe medicines include those marketed under the names Abnova viscum, Helixor, Iscador, Iscusin, Visorel, Eurixor and Plenosol.  Iscador is often touted as having the ability to boost the immune system but there is no evidence that it does so.  Mistletoe is listed by the American Cancer Society as an unproven cancer remedy.  Controlled clinical studies have indicated that mistletoe does not have any significant effect on the survival of people with cancer.  Some people can be allergic to mistletoe medicines.

Biodynamic agriculture
Steiner proposed what he called biodynamic preparations that would stimulate vitalizing and harmonizing processes in the soil through cosmic and terrestrial forces.  Initially Steiner proposed eight preparations, two of which involved packing cow manure (preparation 500) or silica (preparation 501) into cow horns, then buried for a number of months before the contents are swirled in warm water and then applied to the field.  Cow horns are utilised as antennae for receiving and focussing cosmic forces, which are transferred to the materials inside.  The other six compounds(preparations 502-507) are extracts of various plants either packed into the skulls or organs of animals (i.e. deer bladders, cow peritonea and intestines) or into peat and manure, where they are aged before being diluted and applied to compost.  The chemical elements contained in these preparations were said to be carriers of terrestrial and cosmic forces and would impart these forces to crops and thus to the humans who consumed them.

Camphill communities
Despite the undoubted dedication and care for the disadvantaged that must be reflected by most of the people running these communities and the external volunteers who help, it should be borne in mind that the foundation for the activities that take place is based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy, the religion/movement he founded.  Camphill communities could also be regarded as ideal projects for gathering together all of Steiner’s irrational ideas into the same locations.  Activities are most likely to include biodynamic gardening, eurythmics, Steiner/Waldorf pedagogy and art and craft activities with Steiner spiritual connotations and even what has been called anthroposophical medicine.  The basis of these activities is neither rational nor capable of scientific verification.  Biodynamic gardening incorporates organic farming methods and hence Steiner’s occult biodynamic preparations which I have outlined in the section on biodynamic agriculture, are unlikely to result in negative outcomes.  The same could be said for eurythmy.  They can perhaps be regarded as just a waste of time or better substituted with more rewarding activities.
However, with regard to medical matters, there are clear dangers involved in substituting proven and scientifically verified medical treatments and procedures with those such as homeopathy and anthroposophical medicine which have no such foundation.  Robert Smith Hald’s bitter account of the misdiagnosis of his wheat intolerance (which he did not discover until he was 36) and erroneous treatment by anthroposophical practitioners in several Camphill communities in the USA, caused him considerable suffering over many years.  He opens the account of his experience with the comment “Anthroposophy is a religion, and Camphill is a sect, a cult of fanatics pursuing spiritual development and ultimately perfection. They believe that sickness is the soul incarnating, and also that it has to do with karma.  They don’t believe in inoculations, so I had all the child diseases going around, some twice.  My being sick all the time was obviously not just the mumps and the measles and whooping cough, so they had the anthroposophical doctors in all the time, in between punishing me for being sick (thats why I stayed out of the house for as long as I could).  There were three doctors, one in Beaver Run, one in The Village, Copake and one that practiced in both places.”

Waldorf/Steiner schools
The degree to which Steiner’s ideas are incorporated into school pedagogy and activities may vary from school to school but many of the teachers will have undergone training in anthroposophy using Steiners publications.  School activities may incorporate eurythymy, biodynamic gardening and Steiners spiritual ideas about art.  Some schools may also have an anthroposophical doctor and embrace homeopathy.

Eurythmy is a form of dance which Steiner describes as follows: “We pass over to movements representing the possibilities of inner activity, movements which have their origin in the planets.  In their sevenfold nature we have synthesized the animal element in man. The nineteen possibilities of sound: the consonants have their source in the Zodiac; the vowels in the dance of the planets.  A cosmic activity may be brought to expression by means of human gesture and movement.  The word of the heavens is really the being of man. By means of an imitation of the dance of the stars, discovered through spiritual knowledge, we have the possibility of renewing in eurythmy the temple dancing of ancient Mysteries.” (Eurythmy as Visible Speech – Rudolf Steiner Press 1984 from Waldorf Watch.) In the same article Marie Steiner is quoted as referring to Negro dances as ‘decadent’.
One interpretation of Steiner pedagogy is described in ‘An introduction to Steiner Education’ by Francis Edmonds (Sophia Books 2004). Edmonds confirms the idea that humans are composed of ‘body, soul and spirit’.  He also states that “Darwin spent much of his time studying the grimaces in animal physiognomies in search of human origins, being so convinced that man is derived from animal origins – a fascinating study, but it led to nothing more conclusive than that animals also have emotions, likes and dislikes, advancing with desires or retreating through fear and antipathy.  It belongs to the blindness of our time that we still perpetuate the idea that man is an animal derived from an animal”.  This statement reflects not only Edmond’s patronising attitude to a great man’s enlightened scientific discovery, but is perhaps a reflection of the supreme arrogance that has often evolved with the development of the human mind and the human disregard of nature and other living creatures.  Other aspects of Steiner pedagogy presented in the book are seriously open to question and perhaps Steiner’s and Edmond’s disregard of science is well reflected in Edmond’s comment that “Modern science has little place in it for man – it leaves him a homeless and lonely figure in the universe”.
Edmond’s repeats many of Steiner’s occult ideas that I have already mentioned and different practical aspects of the pedagogy are explained in occult spiritual terms.  Colours are seen as a ‘direct language of the soul’ which is represented in particular colours and shades.  For some inexplicable reason black is associated with evil. He repeats Steiner’s classification of groups of children according to their temperaments – (i) blood – sanguine – flighty (ii) black bile – choloric – irrational (iii) yellow bile – melancholic – peevish, jaundiced (iv) phlegm – sluggish.  He suggests that children, and the stories they are told, should be grouped according to these temperaments.  I find this very idea highly objectionable and open to abuse.  There is a suggestion in the book that a girl’s hollow chest had been cured by eurythmy (another of Steiner’s ideas that places spiritual connotations on special dance movements).  Steiner even developed ideas for what he called bothmer gymnastics which according to Edmonds “sees the body as a temple from which all other temples have originated, bear witness to the divine”.
                                                                                                            Michael Thomas


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