Friday, July 14, 2017

Today's Steinercism: Survey of Anthroposophy Beliefs and History

Peter Staudenmaier, Anthroposophy and Ecofascism

Rudolf Steiner
In light of this broad public exposure, it is perhaps surprising that the ideological underpinnings of anthroposophy are not better known. Anthroposophists themselves, however, view their highly esoteric doctrine as an "occult science" suitable only for a spiritually enlightened elite. The very name "anthroposophy" suggests to many outsiders a humanist orientation...Its rejection of reason in favor of mystical experience, its subordination of human action to supernatural forces, and its thoroughly hierarchical model of spiritual development all mark anthroposophy as inimical to humanist values...

The centerpiece of anthroposophical belief is spiritual advancement through karma and reincarnation, supplemented by the access to esoteric knowledge available to a privileged few. The spiritual dimension, in fact, suffuses every aspect of life. For anthroposophists every illness, physical or mental, is karmically determined and plays a role in the soul's development. Natural processes, historical events, and technological mechanisms are all explained through the action of spirits. Students in Waldorf schools are taught, for example, that good spirits live inside of candles and demons live inside of fluorescent light bulbs--an instance of the anti-technological bias that runs throughout anthroposophical thought...

Anthroposophists maintain that Steiner's familiarity with the "astral plane," with the workings of various "archangels," with daily life on the lost continent of Atlantis (all central tenets of anthroposophic belief) came from his special powers of clairvoyance. Steiner claimed to have access to the "Akasha Chronicle," a supernatural scripture containing knowledge of higher realms of existence as well as of the distant past and future. Steiner "interpreted" much of this chronicle and shared it with his followers. He insisted that such "occult experience," as he called it, could never be judged or verified by reason, logic, or scientific inquiry. Modern anthroposophy is thus founded on blind faith in Steiner's convictions. Those convictions deserve closer examination...


The curriculum at Waldorf schools is structured around the stages of spiritual maturation posited by anthroposophy: from one to seven years a child develops her or his physical body, from seven to fourteen years the ethereal body, and from fourteen to twenty-one the astral body. These stages are supposed to be marked by physical changes; thus kindergartners at Waldorf schools can't enter first grade until they've lost all their baby teeth...

Next to Waldorf schools, the most widespread and apparently progressive version of applied anthroposophy is biodynamic agriculture. In Germany and North America, at least, biodynamics is an established part of the alternative agriculture scene. Many small growers use biodynamic methods on their farms or gardens; there are biodynamic vineyards and the Demeter line of biodynamic food products, as well as a profusion of pamphlets, periodicals and conferences on the theory and practice of biodynamic farming.

Although not a farmer himself, Steiner introduced the fundamental outlines of biodynamics near the end of his life and produced a substantial body of literature on the topic, which anthroposophists and biodynamic growers follow more or less faithfully. Biodynamics in practice often converges with the broader principles of organic farming. Its focus on maintaining soil fertility rather than on crop yield, its rejection of artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and its view of the whole farm or plot as an ecosystem all mark the biodynamic approach as an eminently sensible and ecologically sound method of cultivation. But there is more to the story than that.

Biodynamic farming is based on Steiner's revelation of invisible cosmic forces and their effects on soil and flora. Anthroposophy teaches that the earth is an organism that breathes twice a day, that ethereal beings act upon the land, and that celestial bodies and their movements directly influence the growth of plants. Hence biodynamic farmers time their sowing to coincide with the proper planetary constellations, all a part of what they consider "the spiritual natural processes of the earth." Sometimes this "spiritual" approach takes unusual forms, as in the case of "preparation 500."

To make preparation 500, an integral component of anthroposophist agriculture, biodynamic farmers pack cow manure into a steer's horn and bury it in the ground. After leaving it there for one whole winter, they dig up the horn and mix the manure with water (it must be stirred for a full hour in a specific rhythm) to make a spray which is applied to the topsoil. All of this serves to channel "radiations which tend to etherealize and astralize" and thus "gather up and attract from the surrounding earth all that is ethereal and life-giving."

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