Philosopher, mystic, theosophist and clairvoyant
Introducing the founder of Waldorf education, alternative farming methods (bio-dynamic farming), alternative health practices and dietary advice - Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was way ahead of his time.
Rudolf Steiner was quite a learned man. He was an expert on Goethe's scientific work and tried integrating scientific knowledge with spiritual knowledge. All the practical methods he developed were responses to questions by his followers.
Read quotes from his teachings about Anthroposophy.
The Young Rudolf Steiner
Steiner's father, Johann, had left his position as huntsman in the service of Count Hoyos in Geras to marry (the Count had refused his permission). He became a telegraph operator on the Southern Austrian Railway, at the time of Rudolf's birth stationed in Murakirly in the Murakz region, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (present-day Donji Kraljevec, northernmost Croatia). Steiner's mother's maternal name was Franziska Blie. In the first two years of his life the family moved twice, first to Mdling, near Vienna, and then, through the promotion of his father to stationmaster, to Pottschach, located in the foothills of the eastern Austrian Alps in present-day Burgenland.
From 1879 to 1883 Steiner attended and then graduated from the Technische Hochschule (Technical University) in Vienna, where he studied mathematics, physics, and philosophy. In 1882, one of Steiner's teachers at the university in Vienna, Karl Julius Schrer, suggested Steiner's name to Professor Joseph Krschner, editor of a new edition of Goethe's works. Steiner was then asked to become the edition's scientific editor.
In his autobiography, Steiner related that at 21, on the train between his home village and Vienna, he met a simple herb gatherer, Felix Kogutski, who spoke about the spiritual world "as someone who had his own experiences of it...." This herb gatherer introduced Steiner to a person that Steiner only identified as a "master", and who had a great influence on Steiner's subsequent development, in particular directing him to study Fichte's philosophy.
In 1891 Steiner earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Rostock in Germany with a thesis based upon Fichte's concept of the ego, later published in expanded form as Truth and Knowledge.
Steiner in his Theosophical years
A turning point came in 1899, when Steiner decided to publish an article in the Magazin fur Literatur, titled "Goethe's Secret Revelation", on the esoteric nature of Goethe's fairy tale, The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. This article led to an invitation by the Count and Countess Brockdorff to speak to a gathering of Theosophists on the subject of Nietzsche in 1900. Steiner continued speaking regularly to the members of the Theosophical Society, becoming the head of its newly constituted German section in 1902. It was within this society that Steiner met and worked with Marie von Sievers, who eventually became his second wife (1914).
By 1904, Steiner was appointed by Annie Besant to be leader of the Esoteric Society for Germany and Austria. The German Section of the Theosophical Society grew rapidly under Steiner's leadership as he lectured throughout much of Europe on his spiritual science. During this period Steiner maintained an original approach, replacing Madame Blavatsky's terminology with his own, and basing his spiritual research and teachings upon the Western esoteric and philosophical tradition. This and other differences, in particular the pronouncement by C. W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant that Jiddu Krishnamurti was the vehicle of a new world teacher, and the reincarnation of Christ, claims Steiner publicly rejected, led to a formal split in 1913.
It wasn't a problem for the Theosophical Society that Steiner rejected the claims that Krishnamurti was a world teacher. A major issue however was that he did not accept members of the Order of the Star into his German section of the Theosophical Society. This went against the undogmatic nature of the Theosophical Society.
Before his break with the Theosophical Society, he said positive things about that organisation.
Dates in this part of this article checked against a then online chronology
Steiner and Anthroposophy
Steiner had a wide breadth of activities. He founded the Waldorf education school movement, and the Biodynamic agriculture he founded has contributed significantly to the modern organic farming movement. Anthroposophic medicine has created a broad range of anthroposophical medicines; in addition, a wide range of supportive therapies - both artistic and biographical - have arisen out of Steiner's work. The homes for the handicapped based on his work (the Camphill movement) are widely spread. His paintings and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries, and the list of people influenced by him includes Joseph Beuys and other significant modern artists. His two Goetheanum buildings are generally accepted to be masterpieces of modern architecture, and other anthroposophical architects have contributed thousands of buildings to the modern scene. One of first institutions to practice ethical banking was an anthroposophical bank working out of Steiner's ideas.
Steiner's literary estate is correspondingly broad. Steiner's writings are published in about forty volumes, including books, essays, plays ('mystery dramas'), mantric verse and an autobiography. His collected lectures make up another approximately 300 volumes, and nearly every imaginable theme is covered somewhere here. Steiner's drawings are collected in a separate series of 28 volumes. Many publications have covered his architectural legacy and sculptural work.
Rudolf Steiner based education
The most famous result of the teachings of Rudolf Steiner has to be Waldorf education. Anthroposophical education is the main form of alternative education that is embedded in the 'New Age' milieu.
I have to admit being negatively biased on this one. I'm a teacher myself and the excesses in Waldorf education may include the following:
- Not teaching a kid to learn to read, even if it wants to
- Avoiding mathematics in school
[These excesses may or may not be present. A lot depends on the specific school and the specific teacher in the classroom]
That said, in a moderate Waldorf school there are certainly advantages such as:
- A lot of focus on language skills: including foreign language, writing skills, play acting etc.
- Philosophy education for all high school kids. That is: not just the very smart ones.
- Clear school rules and guidelines for students
- Students will not be stimulated only in the mind, but in their emotional and physical lives as well. This is a good thing: our culture does stress mental development a bit much
- Last but not least: artistic development. There will be a lot of clay, water colors, paints, crafts etc. in your kids life. This is good for self-development and spacial intelligence.
A reader on a previous version of this page said:
Just curious that math and reading seem to constantly be hit on for Waldorf -- I see my children's reading and math work to be very well taught and very strongly emphasized. It's true that some aspects are sooner and later emphasized -- i.e. early math covers more operations (division/multiplacation) earlier than other schools, and reading is taught from the children's own writing. My 11th grader is taking college level course work, so it's frequently frustrating to see the myth of non-reading Waldorf students continue to circulate. I think the key is remembering that Waldorf is working deeply with the pace of child development according to the growing capacities of a young human being. Thank you, again!
To which I responded:
The reading example came from one of my class mates. At 6 she wanted to read and the school wasn't up for that, so she came to our (non-Waldorf) school. I'm NOT saying that Waldorf schools in general have a problem with reading - in fact, I'd say one of the strengths of Waldorf schools is attention to language. However, the more strict schools do start rather late with learning to read, which can be frustrating for intelligent kids. Glad to hear your obviously intelligent kid is thriving in Waldorf environment though. Sounds like a school that doesn't adhere to strictly to Steiner's age levels, which is precisely what that class mate of mine was up against.
I can add that in the Netherlands, in the 21st century, the regulations around schools have been tightened to such an extent that excesses of the kind I described can simply no longer occur. The result is that Waldorf schools - retaining their advantages - can be great for many kids.
Rudolf Steiner on spiritual development.
Steiner has six basic preconditions for spiritual and esoteric progress:
- Concentration: practice controlling thought for a few minutes every day
- Will: Perform one positive but relatively insignificant task the same time of the day, every day.
- Equanimity: learn to stabilize fluctuations of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow.
- Positivity: Seek the positive in all things and events; resist criticizing as a habit.
- Openness: practice being open to new experiences and ideas.
- Rinse and repeat the above
Farming in tune with the environment
Anthroposophy is based on the idea that nature is fully alive. This includes a belief in nature-spirits (elves, cobolts etc.) as well as the necessity of balancing the elements (fire, water, air, earth).
What makes bio-dynamic farming truly interesting though is that it is a fully natural type of farming. Organic farming has become big now - with the interest in conserving the environment on the rise. Bio-organic farming has been around since the time of Steiner: the 1920's.
Bio-organic farming has the following principles:
- small, mixed farms
- no pesticides
- care for the soil
- work with the rhythm of nature: moon, stars
- listen to nature
- no soil additives
- special methods in preparing compost
Ideally the food Anthroposophists eat has been produced organically, or even by the standards of bio-dynamic farming.
Beyond that the main points are:
- Eat a lot of grains, whole grains to be exact
- Eat vegetables and beans(preferably local ones)
- Avoid processed and refined foods
- Chew food well before swallowing
- Not necessarily vegetarian, contrary to some online sources. Most Anthroposophists do eat meat, though they will prefer meat that has been raised according to the methods of bio-organic farming.
- Defending Rudolf Steiner - A resource for biographical information about Rudolf Steiner. Addresses common misconceptions as well as intentionally defaming material.
- An Encounter with Rudolf Steiner - A personal description of Rudolf Steiner by the Dutch psychologist F.W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven.
- The Mystica: Steiner, Rudolf - Steiner is the founder of Anthroposophy. Consider a philosopher and educator in his own right; his teachings embody philosophy, the social sciences, the natural sciences, psychology, and religion.
- Rudolf Steiner - A biographical sketch by Alfred Heidenreich.
- Rudolf Steiner Archive - Electronic editions of Steiner's books, lectures, articles, and other writings and transcriptions. There are lists and statistics related to Steiner's works, a catalogue of holdings, and search tools to help in your research.
- Rudolf Steiner Networking - Articles, quotes and biography.
- Rudolf Steiner Press - Publisher of books by Steiner, and related works on modern spirituality and personal development. Includes book descriptions and ordering information.
- Rudolf Steiner Web - A site covering all areas of Rudolf Steiner's life and work, through quotes.
- Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) - Biography and details on Anthroposophy.
- The Story of My Life - Rudolf Steiner's autobiography, 1928 edition.
- The Wellspring Bookshop - London - Biography of Steiner, a description of anthroposophy and books for sale.