A View of Anthroposophy from Outside the Movement

“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:

  1. Anthroposophy is a spiritual philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner that was founded out of a philosophy of freedom.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Human Nature

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:

  1. Physical body
  2. Etheric body
  3. Astral body
  4. Ego or “I”
  5. Spirit Self – Manas
  6. Life Spirit – Buddhi
  7. 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

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