At some point in one’s early explorations of Waldorf education, one will surely come across a host of unfamiliar terms and concepts relating to anthroposophy. My intention in this short piece is to take a brief look at the essence of anthroposophy and to hopefully interest people in looking further.
One place to start is with a quote by Rudolf Steiner on the yearning felt by those with whom anthroposophy resonates:
Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge to guide the Spiritual in the human being to the Spiritual in the universe. It arises in man as a need of the heart, of the life of feeling; and it can be justified only inasmuch as it can satisfy this inner need. He alone can acknowledge Anthroposophy who finds in it what he himself in his own inner life feels impelled to seek. Hence only they can be anthroposophists who feel certain questions on the nature of man and the universe as an elemental need of life, just as one feels hunger and thirst.
So it is a yearning, a feeling that impels a man or woman to seek what lives deep within the soul and to find its echo in what lives in the cosmos. Anthroposophy is a path of inner and outer knowledge, of finding that bridge between the macrocosm and the microcosm.
Thus anthroposophy is not a religion, though to those who confuse religious practice with a spiritual path, this can seem disingenuous. It’s about God, they protest. All this talk of angels and that picture of Mary in the kindergarten mean that it is religious.
No – anthroposophy is not a religion or religious practice though it can inform and enrich both. Angels and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, are spiritual beings which all human beings can relate to. They do not necessarily point to a religious orientation, though of course they are important to religious people. Anthroposophy can help us deepen our understanding of Mary and of angels.
Of course, those who have no time for the understanding that what is material is simply a manifestation of the spiritual – that every human being, like everything in our living world, is imbued with spirit – will of course reject anthroposophy straight away.
For others, difficulties arise elsewhere. The word itself can pose problems – many people with a wry smile declare it unpronounceable. Others work out how to say it (and may also make the effort to spell Rudolf Steiner’s name correctly as well!) and keep an open heart and mind to the possibilities. Others fiercely declare their lack of interest or even opposition. Anthroposophy, it seems, can often call up strong reactions in people.
And yet, if one looks at what the word actually means, this becomes a puzzling phenomenon. Anthroposophy simply means “knowledge of the human being” (anthropos: human being; Sophia: knowledge). What is there to argue with in that?
So it is unlikely that the meaning of the word – or even Steiner’s longer description above – cause offense. More likely, people gather their negative impressions of anthroposophy from things they’ve read or people they’ve met. Weird and wonderful notions about everything under the sun abound on the internet, of course, and while one can discover great stores of knowledge, one can also be sucked into a whirlwind of disinformation, half truths, lies and malice. Anthroposophy, dealing as it does with the most profound inner and cosmic wisdom, is especially vulnerable to such obfuscation. Its scope is too vast for it to be readily pinned down into simple (or simplistic) rules and formulations and thus it takes effort, good will and more than a little patience to get to grips with it. As for meeting with difficult anthroposophists – what can I say? It takes all kinds!
And back to our primary division – that between those who understand the reality of spiritual world and those that don’t or won’t – this is of course a place where one encounters irreconcilable differences. Unless they have a great deal of tolerance and openness to that which they have no experience of, those who have no relationship to a spiritual path will find the very existence of anthroposophy to be baffling or distressing. Much hostility to anthroposophy has its roots right here. We live in a grossly materialistic age and for many, many people something like anthroposophy is not just to be avoided, but to be fought against, sometimes vehemently.
Other people who do have a spiritual or religious life (especially those whose religious life is anything but spiritual.) find difficulties with anthroposophical research into karma and reincarnation. Usually associated with Eastern religious thinking and experience, both, however, are also part of the larger tradition of human spiritual development, including Western Judeo-Christian thought. However, like much of the essence of spiritual knowledge, such understanding has, over the millennia, been obscured or denied. There may have been very good reasons for this in the past, but one of Rudolf Steiner’s central tasks was to reawaken knowledge of karma and reincarnation within Christian esoteric life.
Here is a clue to how many people can find a relationship to anthroposophy: by examining their thoughts about esotericism. Over the years, when asked by people whether the work of Rudolf Steiner is compatible with their religion, I have developed the following answer: it is not whether one is Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian that matters; it’s whether one has a relationship to the esoteric core of one’s own religion. For it is there, in that esoteric core, that world religions (including forms of paganism) meet.
In this core we find universal cosmic beings who have, at different times, brought great gifts to humanity. All of these beings – Moses, Zarathustra, the Gautama Buddha and Christ Jesus – can be approached by and understood by modern human beings. Anthroposophy can be a great help in such a task.
Further, anthroposophy can help us when we turn, for instance to the education of children or to caring for the Earth. With the former, we can learn to understand how each human being carries within a picture of the changing and evolving consciousness of all humanity over the millennia and how, by learning how this manifests and unfolds in each child, we can best help that individual fully incarnate on the Earth and realize his destiny. This is what underpins Waldorf education (listen to my free audio download entitled From Myth to History: The Changing Consciousness of the Human Being on the Christopherus website for more).
And when it comes to stewarding the Earth with consciousness and love, anthroposophy can help us understand how cosmic rhythms can be harnessed to enhance and heal the patch of earth that we are caring for. This is what underpins biodynamic agriculture and gardening.
So these are a few thoughts that I share with you about anthroposophy. Anthroposophy is what informs our Christopherus curriculum but I should hasten to say that no one who uses our or any other Waldorf material or who sends their child to a Waldorf school is expected to be an anthroposophist. But it is always a healthy practice to be informed about what one is entering into! And as a homeschooling parent – as any parent or teacher - it is you that will be guiding your children out of what lives within you. Tools such as our curriculum and books can help foster and inform what you do. But at the end of the day, you are the core.
And so it is worth having a good think about what lies within that core. What are your thoughts about what a human being is and how s/he relates to the spiritual and material worlds? What is human development all about? What is the point?
Anthroposophy – knowledge of the human being – can be rather handy as one seeks answers to such questions. It is based on observation, experience and knowledge. And if human beings really are spiritual beings, if there really is a spiritual world which the material world is but a manifestation of, then it follows that an awful lot of experience, observation and knowledge, to have relevance to the human condition, must also be spiritual. Which means that it is “supersensible”, i.e. not available to us by material means.
So we can read what Rudolf Steiner and other anthroposophists say. And most importantly, we can develop the means whereby we too can become aware of the spiritual worlds and access the wisdom there. This can be a long and daunting process but inner development, no matter how paltry the results might seem to be, is never a waste of time. You may go down roads you never knew existed, you may come up against walls you did not expect and you might plummet depths you thought impossible. But you will never waste your time.
Of course, what is most rewarding is that the more one works on one’s inner path, the more one can connect to the larger spiritual world. The still small voice within, once heard, brings the possibility of access to voices of Divine Beings. Microcosm and macrocosm form one metamorphosing unity.
To help you on your path, here are a few links from our own website:
This article by William Ward on Is Waldorf Education Christian is helpful.
As is Denis Demanett’s article on the religious experience of small children.
Daniel Hindes has very informative website which is helpful for the dispelling of weird rumors and nonsense that one hears about Rudolf Steiner, anthroposophy and/or Waldorf education.
SEKEM is an amazing project in Egypt which arises out of anthroposophy, combining biodymanic agriculture, Waldorf education and anthroposophical art as well as anthroposophical medicine and which also has a relationship to Islam.
The Goetheanum is the world center of anthroposophy and through their website, you can see some of the scope of anthroposophical work. The website has sections in various languages.
Those of you interested in how anthroposophy has enriched Christianity might like to look the website for the Christian Community.