“We must be educated in inner human modesty, so we can recognize that we are not, even for a moment, complete as human beings. Instead, we continue to develop from birth until death. We must recognize that every day of life has a special value, that it is not without purpose that we must learn to live through our thirties right after we have just gone through our twenties. We need to learn that each new day and each new year offers continual revelation.”
― Rudolf Steiner
What Is Anthroposophy?
Anthroposophy is a philosophy that was founded by Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century. It is a human-oriented spiritual philosophy that focuses on the basic artistic needs of humanity and the need to create a connection to the world that is completely free and entirely based on individual judgments and choices.
Anthroposophy refers to a method of inquiry or a path of research, rather than a specific set of ideas. Anthroposophy can also be considered a path of knowledge or spiritual research. It is first defined by its method of research, then the knowledge or experience that results. Anthroposophy is a movement that aims to nurture the soul in the individual and human society. This includes, among other things, the goal of nurturing the respect for and interest in others.
Or, as Rudolf Steiner himself phrased it, “Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe… Anthroposophists are those who experience, as an essential need of life, certain questions on the nature of the human being and the universe, just as one experiences hunger and thirst”
There are four basic aspects and levels of anthroposophy:
- Anthroposophy is a spiritual philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner that was founded out of a philosophy of freedom.
- It is a path of knowledge or spiritual research, founded on the basis of European idealistic philosophy, stemming from the ideas of Aristotle, Plato, and Thomas Aquinas. It is mostly defined by its method of research, and then secondarily by the knowledge or experience this leads to.
Anthroposophy strives to bring together the sciences, arts, and religious philosophies as the main areas of human culture and create a foundation for the combination of them for the future.
- Anthroposophy is a desire to nurture the life of the soul in the individual as well as in human society. This includes the need to nurture respect for an interest in others, regardless of their origin and views.
- There are several possible practical implications of anthroposophy including applied or practical anthroposophy, including Waldorf schools, anthroposophical curative education, and anthroposophical medicine.
Central Ideas of Anthroposophy
Spiritual Knowledge and Freedom
Steiner believed that in order to enhance one’s life and his or her spiritual experiences, new techniques of objective spiritual perception needed to be developed. This practice, Steiner declared, was possible even for contemporary humans.
Steiner identified this process of inner development as “consciously achieved imagination, inspiration, and intuition.” He believed that spiritual research should be understood and evaluated at the same level as natural science.
Steiner also believed that the humans’ capability for rational thought would allow them to understand spiritual research on their own and forgo the need to depend on authority for direction.
In “Theosophy”, Steiner suggested that human beings are a culmination of substances gathered from and returning to the inorganic world: the life body (etheric body), together with all living creatures, a bearer of consciousness (astral body), together with all animals, and the ego, which is connected to the practice of self-awareness that is unique to human beings.
Anthroposophy follows the evolution of human consciousness. The early stages of this evolution are characterized by an intuitive perception of reality. Anthroposophists believe that progressive evolution has led to too a loss of contact with both natural and spiritual realities. To move beyond this, humans must combine clear intellectual thought and imagination, as well as consciously-achieved inspiration and intuition.
Anthroposophists also believe in the reincarnation of the human spirit: that a human being passes between stages of existence, becoming an earthly body, living on earth, leaving the body behind, and then passing into the spiritual worlds before coming back to a new life on earth. It is believed that after one leaves their physical body in death, the human spirit reproduces the past life and the events they experienced in order to better prepare for the next life.
In anthroposophy, a person’s former life eventually gives way to a choice of parents, disposition, physical body, abilities that provide the challenges and opportunities required to further develop as a being. This idea is commonly referred to as karma.
Anthroposophists believe that all animals have evolved from an early, unspecialized form. It is believed that spiritual beings, devoid of physical substance, later descended into material existence on Earth.
As explained in “The Faithful Thinker: Centenary Essays on the Work and Thought of Rudolf Steiner,” “The evolution of man, Steiner said, has consisted in the gradual incarnation of a spiritual being into a material body. It has been a true “descent” of man from a spiritual world into a world of matter. The evolution of the animal kingdom did not precede but rather accompanied the process of human incarnation. Man is thus not the end result of the evolution of the animals but is rather, in a certain sense, their cause. In the succession of types which appears in the fossil record-the fishes, reptiles, mammals, and finally, fossil remains of man himself — the stages of this process of incarnation are reflected.”
Anthroposophy uses an adaptation of Theosophy’s system of cycles of world development and human evolution. The evolution of the world is believed to have occurred in several cycles; the first phase had only heat, the second phase had light and a more condensed gaseous state that separated from the heat, the third phase saw the rise of a fluid state as well as forming energy, and in the fourth (current) phase, solid physical matter exists.
In anthroposophy, it is believed that good is found in the balance between two main influences on world and human evolution. Often, this belief is described using mythological embodiments to illustrate spiritual adversaries that strive to tempt and corrupt humanity, Lucifer and his counterpart Ahriman.
In this view, Lucifer is the light spirit that “plays on human pride and offers the delusion of divinity” while simultaneously encouraging spirituality and creativity. Ahriman is the dark spirit that tempts humans to “deny [their] link with divinity and to live entirely on the material plane” while also encouraging intellectuality and technology. Both negatively influence humanity when there is an imbalance, but their influences are vital to human freedom.
The Threefold Human Being
In the teaching of anthroposophy, one of the basic concepts is the threefold human being. This teaching recognizes three distinct aspects: the head and nervous system, the trunk and the rhythmic system, and the limbs and the metabolic system. In practice, this distinction is referred to as thinking, feeling, and willing. From this, the well-known motto, often shared in Waldorf Education, was born: “Head, Hearts, and Hands.”
Anthroposophists believe the threefoldness can be found in the human body, in society, in spirituality, and in economics. Rudolf Steiner explained the three aspects of the human being in Chapter 11 of “The Threefold Social Order.” In part, Steiner wrote:
“The human organism, that most complex of all natural organisms, can be described as consisting of three systems, working side by side. To a certain extent, each functions separately and independently of the others. One of these consists of the life of the nerves and senses. It may be named, after the part where it is more or less centered, the head organism. Second comes what we need to recognize as another branch if we really want to understand the human organism, the rhythmic system. This includes the breathing and the circulation of the blood, everything that finds expression in rhythmic processes in the human organism. The third must be recognized as consisting of all those organs that have to do with the actual transformation of matter — the metabolic process. These three systems comprise everything that, duly coordinated, keeps the whole human complex in healthy working order.”
Seven Members of the Human Being
In 1923, Rudolf Steiner described nine members of the human being, which he then later summarized into seven members. Many people have recognized the similarities between these seven members and the seven chakras from the Yogic tradition.
Thus, just as the rainbow has seven colours and the scale seven notes, so we have seven members of being. The human being, then, consists of: first, the physical body; second, the etheric body; third, the astral body; fourth, the ‘I’; fifth, Manas; sixth, Buddhi; and seventh, Atman. When humanity arrives at the highest stage of its evolution, when it makes it own physical body, then we have true Spirit-Man.
– Rudolf Steiner
The seven distinct members of the human being are as follows:
- Physical body
- Etheric body
- Astral body
- Ego or “I”
- Spirit Self – Manas
- Life Spirit – Buddhi
- Spirit Man – Atma
The Anthroposophical Society
According to the General Anthroposophical Society’s website, the Anthroposophical Society is “an association of people whose will it is to nurture the life of the soul, both in the individual and in human society, on the basis of a true knowledge of the spiritual world.”
The Anthroposophical Society is a public organization free of political agenda and religious affiliation. The organization is dedicated to assisting communities of people who are interested in Anthroposophical practices, including schooling and a general way of life, as developed by Rudolf Steiner.
The Anthroposophical Society was founded on December 28, 1912, in Cologne, Germany. The organization started with about 3,000 members. Steiner, a key figure in its founding, served as an advisor and lecturer. The members of the original Executive Council were Marie von Sivers, Michael Bauer, and Carl Unger. In 1923/4, the society was re-founded as the General Anthroposophical Society in Dornach, Switzerland.
The history of the Anthroposophical Society can be traced back to 1902 when Rudolf Steiner became General Secretary of the German branch of the Theosophical Society. In August of 1900, Steiner was asked to lecture an audience of German Theosophists. His ideas, particularly those on spirituality, were well-received.
By 1907, Steiner began using his own vocabulary that differed from traditional Theosophical terminology. His unique approach became more evident, and later that same year, Steiner’s circle of supporters became an entirely independent institution known as the Theosophical Society’s Esoteric Section (E.S.).
When the leadership of the Theosophical Society claimed they had found the reincarnated Christ in a boy named Jiddu Krishnamurti, Steiner was so opposed to the idea and its Order of the Star in the East, that he declared in 1912 that no member of the order could remain a member of the German Theosophical Society.
By the end of 1912, the charter for the German Theosophical Society, which was led by Steiner, was revoked. In February 1913, Steiner and a close-knit group of German theosophists founded a new society: The Anthroposophical Society. Their goal was to pursue a more Westernized form of spirituality. In January 1913, an inaugural general meeting was held in Berlin.
On November 1, 1935, the National Socialist regime banned the Anthroposophical Society in Germany, citing its “close relations with foreign freemasons, Jews, and pacifists.’ The order was issued by Reinhard Heydrich, who stated that the activities of the Anthroposophical Society were a threat to the National Socialist state because of its opposition to the National Socialistic idea of Volk.
The Anthroposophical Society in America is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is one of over 70 national societies of the General Anthroposophical Society. The American society now has groups, branches, and sections in over 36 states.
The first founding principle of the Anthroposophical Society states:
“The Anthroposophical Society is to be an association of people whose will it is to nurture the life of the soul, both in the individual and in human society, on the basis of a true knowledge of the spiritual world.”
Additional founding principles of the Anthroposophical Society state:
- The Anthroposophical Society is not a secret society but is entirely public. Anyone can become a member, regardless of their nationality, social standing, religion, scientific or artistic conviction.
- Every member of the Anthroposophical Society has the right to attend all lectures, performances, and meetings organized by the society.
- All publications of the society will be public, just as are those of other public societies.
- The purpose of the Anthroposophical Society is the furtherance of spiritual research, and a dogmatic stand in any field should be excluded from the Anthroposophical Society.
- Members can come together in small or large groups, and in general, every member should join a group.
- Each working group makes its own statutes, but the statutes must follow the Statutes of the Anthroposophical Society.
Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education
“The heart of the Waldorf method is that education is an art – it must speak to the child’s experience. To educate the whole child, his heart and his will must be reached, as well as the mind.”
– Rudolf Steiner
Many people come to know about Anthroposophy through an interest in Waldorf education. Waldorf education, also known as Steiner education, is based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. This method of teaching aims at helping students’ artistic, intellectual, and practical skills in a more integrated and holistic way. Imagination and creativity are the primary focus in Waldorf schools.
The History of the Waldorf School Method
In 1919, the first school based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner was opened. The school was formed after Emil Molt, the owner and managing director of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company in Stuttgart, Germany, requested it. This is where the name of the school and, later on, the education method came from.
Molt was a follower of Anthroposophy and a close confidant of Rudolf Steiner. His suggestion derived from the desire to have a school that would educate the children of employees at his factory. Steiner’s ideas were at the center of the school’s teaching.
The Waldorf school also welcomed children from outside the factory and accommodated children from all along the social spectrum. The school became the first comprehensive school in Germany.
As Steiner gave numerous lectures at a conference at Oxford University in 1922 on educational methods, Waldorf education became more widely known throughout Britain. The first school in England, Michael Hall, was founded in 1925. The first in the United States, the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, was founded in 1928. By 1930 there were numerous Waldorf schools across Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Hungary, Austria, England, and the United States.
In 1967 there was one Waldorf school in Canada and nine in the United States. By 2014, there were around 200 in the United States and over 20 in Canada. The newest Waldorf schools have opened in Asia, especially China, making for a total of over 1,000 independent Waldorf schools across the globe.
Steiner on Child Development
Waldorf education is structured so that it follows Rudolf Steiner’s theory of childhood development. According to his theory, there are three learning strategies to match each of the three developmental stages. The stages each last seven years because Steiner believed humans develop in spiritual cycles that are seven years long. Steiner also believed each stage correlated to a different “sphere” – 0-7 years old was the moon, 7-14 years old was Mercury, and 14-21 years old was Venus.
Waldorf School – Early Childhood
The early childhood curriculum at Waldorf schools focuses on experiential education or the practice of letting children learn through opportunities for imaginative play. Steiner believes that in the first years of life, children thrive by being immersed in an environment that allows them to learn through imitation of practical activities.
Waldorf preschools use a daily routine made up of artistic work, free play, circle time (games, songs, stories), and practical tasks like cleaning, cooking, and gardening. A preschool classroom at a Waldorf school is designed to look like a home, with toys that are made of natural materials to encourage more imaginative play.
Waldorf School – Elementary Education
To determine whether a student is ready for formal education, Waldorf teachers take into account the student’s independence of character, temperament, memory, and habits. Many institutions consider the loss of the student’s baby teeth to be a mark of readiness for formal instruction.
In the Waldorf school system, formal lessons in reading, writing, and other academic areas aren’t introduced until elementary school, when the student is around seven years old. This is the direct result of Steiner declaring that children who engage in abstract intellectual activity at too young of an age would be negatively affected in terms of their growth and development.
Waldorf elementary schools are attended by children ages 7 to 14. At this age, an emphasis is placed on the child’s emotional life and imagination. It is believed that students are better able to connect with the subject matter when their academic lessons are taught in a more artistic manner that includes visual arts, story-telling, drama, vocal and instrumental music, movement, and crafts.
The core curriculum at a Waldorf elementary school includes:
- Language arts
Typically, the school day for elementary students starts with a two-hour academic lesson, referred to as the “main lesson”, that focuses on one theme over the course of about a month. This main lesson usually starts with activities that often include singing, instrumental music, and poetry. Instructors will generally include a verse of poetry written by Steiner to begin the school day.
As Steiner began giving instructors lessons on how to implement his philosophies, he stressed the importance of presenting a role model children would want to follow. The idea is that each Waldorf school teacher will gain authority through “nurturing curiosity, imagination, and creativity.” The goal is to “imbue children with a sense that the world is beautiful.” Standardized textbooks are used very little, if at all, in Waldorf elementary schools.
One significant component of Waldorf elementary education is that students are allowed to learn at their own pace, with the expectation that each child will achieve a skill or grasp a concept when they are ready.
Waldorf school students usually stay together throughout their years of schooling, becoming a family-like social group whose members know each other at a much deeper level. Teachers are usually expected to teach the same group of children for several years, a practice called looping, to further bolster their role as a loving authority. In the traditional Waldorf school method, the goal was for teachers to remain with their class for the full eight years of their “lower school” period, but this practice has become less common in recent years.
The Four Temperaments
Another component of a young child’s education at a Waldorf school is the proto-psychological concept of the class four temperaments: melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic, and choleric.
Steiner believed that a child’s cognitive, behavioral, and emotional development are interlinked and encouraged the differentiation of teaching based on the accommodation of these four psychophysical types. Because each type has different needs, Waldorf considered their academic experience to be worthy of different instruction techniques. For example, teachers will take into account the temperaments of their students when creating seating arrangements and class activities.
Steiner also encouraged teachers to consider their own temperament and find a way to make it work for their benefit in the classroom.
Waldorf School – Secondary Education
For most Waldorf school attendees, secondary education begins around the age of 14. Secondary education differs from elementary education in that specialist teachers are used for each subject.
Secondary education at Waldorf schools focuses much more on academic subjects, but students continue to take classes in art, crafts, and music. The school curriculum is specifically designed to foster students’ intellectual understanding, ethical ideals, and independent judgment. The goal is for every student to successfully practice abstract thought and conceptual judgment.
Students in the third developmental stage in Waldorf programs are supposed to learn through their own judgment and thinking. Students are routinely asked to show an understanding of abstract material as well as proof of maturity to form their own conclusions. The purpose of the third stage is to “imbue children with a sense that the world is true.”
The main goals at this stage for a student in a Waldorf school program is to develop into free, morally responsible, and integrated people, with the desire to help young people “go out into the world as free, independent and creative beings.”
Anthroposophical medicine is a type of alternative medicine that was founded in the 1920s by Rudolf Steiner, together with Ita Wegman. It is based on occult beliefs and pulls ideas and practices from Steiner’s spiritual philosophy, anthroposophy. It is an internal, integrative medical movement that celebrates decades of holistic care in an effort to support a patient’s body, spirit, and soul.
Anthroposophical medical practitioners use a variety of treatment techniques based on anthroposophic concepts such as exercise, massage, counseling, and substances. With anthroposophical medicine, many of the drugs and substances used are ultra-dilated, similar to those used in homeopathy.
Anthroposophic Medicine as an Integrative Medicine
Anthroposophic medicine combines the use of conventional medicine and an anthroposophic perception of a human being. To promote health and prevent and cure illness, the main aspects of an anthroposophical medical approach include:
- Anthroposophic medicine is an integrative medicine that extends the information and methods of diagnosis and treatment of conventional medicine to include a holistic approach.
- Anthroposophic medicine is based on a holistic concept of health and “salutogenesis” which encourages effective strategies for disease prevention through education and lifestyle programs as well as the development of self-management to properly prevent and manage disease.
- In anthroposophical medicine, a pathological condition is the result of a more extended process, which calls for the need to examine what process leads to the condition. The goal is to determine which aspects of the patient’s specific situation resulted in the diagnosis so that a most efficient therapeutic process can be created.
- Anthroposophic medicine assesses the person’s illness while also considering the patient’s relationship with their natural and social environment to determine how each factor has played a role.
- Anthroposophic medicine incorporates a mental and spiritual level in the diagnosis of the patient. Treatment is a more therapeutic approach that is viewed as a process rather than a quick and simple fix.
- Anthroposophic medicine uses highly individualized treatments that have been thoroughly analyzed to include the most effective combination of anthroposophic and conventional medicines and therapies.
- Every therapy used in anthroposophic medicine strives to encourage the patient to self-heal, known as the salutogenic principle.
- Anthroposophic medicine places an emphasis on a multi-disciplinary approach to apply different anthroposophical medicines and therapies depending on the patient’s situation. It places an emphasis on the patient’s responsibility to make decisions and actively participate in the healing process.
Physicians who practice anthroposophic medicine receive dual training. They are first required to fully qualify as a physician before they then complete three years of training in anthroposophic medicine. Anthroposophic physicians work in general practice as well as in all specialized fields. It is believed that anthroposophic medicine is a system that offers sustainable and cost-effective medical solutions to the public.
Anthroposophic medicine recognizes four different dimensions that contribute to a person’s well-being and influence their treatment and healing:
- Physical body dimension
Anthroposophic medicine is characterized by physical and chemical principles as well as the laws of nature that relate to any aspect of the physical body.
- Life processes dimension
Anthroposophic medicine examines the factors that play a role in generating life and allow human beings to develop and heal from illness. These processes are seen as essential to activate self-healing so that the person can overcome pathological symptoms or ailments.
- Mental dimension
Anthroposophic medicine follows the idea that a person’s mental and emotional dimensions influence their health. Anthroposophic medicine recognizes the importance of a person’s mental well-being and its direct link to recovery from illness and maintaining health and well-being.
- Individual or spiritual dimensions
Self-awareness has a strong impact on a person’s existence. Self-awareness is essential in the treatment and healing of illnesses because it involves restructuring the function of the human body.
Three Organ Systems and their Connection to Wellness
Anthroposophic medicine is also unique in that it distinguishes between organs and organ systems. Organ systems are connected to the body’s metabolic function or its ability to regenerate. This concept is used to explain the belief that illness isn’t the result of an issue with a single organ but rather an imbalance between and within the different organ systems.
Anthroposophy and Health
In anthroposophy, health is viewed as the process of integration of mental, spiritual, and physiological activities. In this practice, education, lifestyle, and self-management can be highly influential.
Anthroposophic medicine is focused more on ways to keep people healthy rather than why they become sick. Anthroposophic physicians and therapists encourage their patients to take responsibility for their health and well-being. To become strong and healthy, self-management, including physiological, mental, and cognitive, is necessary.
As part of the self-management process, to promote optimal health and well-being, an anthroposophic medical program encourages patients to follow a nutritious, well-balanced diet that is centered around organic (biodynamic) foods. Anthroposophic medicine also discourages the use of tobacco and the consumption of too much alcohol. Drugs are strongly discouraged.
Anthroposophic medicine also promotes regular physical exercise. The unique practice of eurythmic movement therapy is encouraged, as it is believed to make a connection between the body’s external movements and the inner mental and physical health of the person.
Anthroposophical medicine encourages, whenever possible, to support the patient’s own self-healing capabilities, which means that medication is used only when appropriate and necessary. Those who practice anthroposophy limit the use of antibiotics, especially in children. In anthroposophic medicine, medical interventions are only used if the self-healing processes are proved to be ineffective or too weak to work.
Anthroposophic physicians use anthroposophic medicinal products, homeopathic and phytotherapeutic products, and when necessary, conventional medicinal products. Anthroposophical medical products are administered internally, externally, and by injection. These medicines are developed and produced in accordance with the anthroposophic view of the human being, nature, substances, and pharmaceuticals.
Anthroposophic medicinal products are those that involve specific manufacturing processes, including specific anthroposophic and/or homeopathic procedures. They are made in accordance with pharmaceutical standards.
Anthroposophic Medical Practices
There are many unique aspects to Anthroposophy, but its medical practices often receive attention for using a more unconventional approach to healing.
Anthroposophic Physiotherapy and Rhythmical Massage Therapy
One such example of a less common medical approach used by anthroposophic physicians is a special kind of massage called rhythmical massage therapy. Anthroposophical physiotherapists offer this treatment in addition to conventional movement exercises.
The goal of rhythmical massage therapy is to influence the fluids of the human body to allow the body to heal itself more effectively. This practice gives the patient more control of his or her body by repairing any imbalances caused by stress or illness.
The word “eurythmy” comes from the Greek word for beautiful or harmonious and means “harmonious, beautiful rhythm.” Eurythmy movements create a connection between the body’s external movements and the inner healing abilities of the person. Eurythmy therapy has been used in anthroposophic medicine as a unique form of movement since 1920.
With eurythmy therapy, specifically-designed movements are used to support the healing forces of the human body. Various exercises are used to address specific things, including circulation, breathing, metabolism, balance, and general mobility. The therapeutic movements are also used to address the person’s emotional and mental capacity so that they are more easily able to experience and express their feelings and emotions. The goal of eurythmy therapy is to regulate the expressions of the body to repair the problems associated with imbalances.
Eurythmy therapy uses speech, music, and gestures to create a unique form of movement. This practice connects each consonant and vowel to a particular movement, with the goal of strengthening and regulating the body as a whole.
Eurythmy therapy can be used by itself or in conjunction with other therapies to help treat conditions associated with acute, chronic, or degenerative diseases of the nervous, circulatory, or cardiac systems, for issues with one’s metabolism or musculoskeletal system, for the development of disabilities in children, as well as psychiatric conditions.
Eurythmy therapy is used in medical facilities around the world, including hospitals, clinics, therapy centers, care centers, primary care, schools, and nurseries.
Anthroposophic Art Therapy
Anthroposophic art therapy is another practice used in anthroposophic medicine. Therapeutic art like painting, drawing, sculpture, music, singing, and speech are used as part of a complete health care treatment. It is believed that anthroposophic art therapy can help repair physiological, mental, and spiritual imbalances.
Anthroposophic art therapy helps patients use their inner abilities while encouraging active participation in their own recovery process. The use of colors, rhythms, tones, sounds, breath, and forms teaches the patient to confront their imbalances and create changes that benefit their healing process.
Anthroposophic art therapy has been applied in many conditions, including degenerative diseases, acute and chronic diseases, and psychosomatic conditions, and mental or developmental problems.
In the last 100 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of mental diseases around the world. With that increase comes a greater need for psychological and psychiatric care. Anthroposophic psychotherapy offers a unique group of therapeutic tools to address these needs.
Anthroposophic psychotherapy closely examines the periods of mental and spiritual development. Anthroposophic psychotherapy uses a combination of medical, therapeutic, and psychotherapeutic practices to encourage the person to regain their autonomy while empowering their self-determination.