Ditch the anthroposophy

Looking at the list of Steiner activities in the area, ( Why? above ) I began wondering what would happen if they suddenly all decided to ditch the anthroposophy . Ok, I’m in a fantasy world now, but what if?

Some of what goes on, the work with adults with learning difficulties and the community agriculture seem on the surface to be worthwhile and to have positive affects for some people.  It has even been suggested that Steiner schools do not use anthroposophy. Well, we know they do, but what if they didn’t ? What would remain?

I am not the first to ask this question, but I think it bears asking again, especially here where we have such a strong anthroposophical influence – although it is not always described or recognised as such.

In the case of Camphill communities, they admit their “raison d’etre” is the spiritual work they do.

In their information for co-workers at Orchard Leigh they say;

“Many of the young people who are attracted to live in a Camphill community are consciously striving on a spiritual path and may connect with Anthroposophy, the world view which underlies our work.  Spiritual striving is manifest in many ways in our daily life.  We attempt to permeate our work with a living consciousness of the spiritual behind the physical.  We begin each meal with a grace.  The Bible Evening is an occasion when everyone can contribute to the discussion of the reading in an atmosphere of respect for each other.  We hold our own services and we endeavour to celebrate the Christian festivals in a creative and living way, often with a play, music or pageantry.  The daily rhythms, and the yearly cycle of festivals are essential aspects of the therapeutic environment which we try to create within the community.  Our spiritual striving is also manifest in the attitude we hold towards each other, towards the land and the ethical and cultural development of our future.  The very busy nature of modern life and the amount of administration we are now required to do makes this a constant challenge.  It is not easy to uphold Camphill values in these circumstances.  We try to work constructively with this challenge to our work.”

Clearly “spiritual striving” is one of the most important aspects of their “work”. I wonder if the people who run this and other Camphill businesses in our area would carry on if anthroposophy was not a part of what they did.

They say;

“Some new co-workers may feel uneasy about the religious and spiritual component of community life.  It does indeed present an inner challenge.  You will be asked to support the needs of the residents in this realm with good grace if needed.  However, your own freedom to think and feel as you wish will be absolutely respected.”

In other words, if you don’t go along with the Steiner occultism central to the activities at Camphill, things could get uncomfortable. I can’t see anyone without an interest in anthroposophy being keen to be a co-worker.

They (Camphill) must see anthroposophy as central to what they do. Does that mean it couldn’t operate without the religion? It is an interesting question.

According to Sharon Lombard who made a study of Steiner and his work;

“…he [Steiner] claimed that certain children with learning disabilities are not really human but inhabited by beings that do not belong to the human race:

The girl L.K. in class 1…is one of those cases that are occurring more and more frequently where children are born and human forms exist which actually, with regard to the highest member the ego, are not human at all but are inhabited by beings who do not belong to the human race…They are very different from human beings where spiritual matters are concerned. For instance they can never memorise sentences, only words. I do not like speaking about these things, as there is considerable opposition about this. Just imagine what people would say if they heard that we are talking about human beings who are not human beings. Nevertheless these are facts. Furthermore, there would not be such a decline of culture if there were a strong enough feeling for the fact that some people, the ones who are particularly ruthless, are not human beings at all but demons in human form. But do not let us broadcast this. There is enough opposition already. Things like this give people a terrible shock. People were frightfully shocked when I had to say that a quite famous university professor with a great reputation had had a very short period between death and re-birth and was a re-incarnated negro scientist. But don’t let us publicize these things. (Steiner, 1986, pp. 36-37)”

If anthroposophy suddenly became unlawful, or was deemed unacceptable , would these Camphill centres be viable without it? It seems doubtful the anthroposophical staff would see their activities as worthwhile without the “spiritual striving”.

Most people on the outside would see anthroposophy as the least useful aspect of what they do.



  1. Helen

    Statistically it would be unlikely that the families of all the residents at Camphill are anthroposophical. Presumably the families are happy for them to live in this kind of spiritual/occultist environment nonetheless, that is if they are aware of it.
    I am not sure that there is much respect for the individual in the way residents at Camphill are all assumed to be happy with the religiosity of their situation. Perhaps they are all asked about their views on anthroposophy when they move in. Or perhaps their families are asked.
    This is not mentioned in the admissions criteria for residents.

  2. Jim

    I do a bit of voluntary work with people with mental health problems, several of whom live in sheltered accommodation run by Christian groups. It is quite clear that religious views and practices are being forced upon these people who are unable to make a free choice for themselves. I have on several occasions been asked by them about my beliefs about god, creation v evolution etc. They found honest answers so disturbing that now I avoid the question.
    It is offensive that vulnerable people are subjected to this sort of indoctrination but at the same time I’m forced to admit that they may also be receiving a level of care they would not get elsewhere. Unfortunately freedom from belief does not in itself appear to be a sufficient basis for social organisation, particularly now government sees it’s role solely as the protection of corporate profits.

    • Helen

      That is interesting, it is not always obvious who is running sheltered accommodation, and unless you have worked in that environment it is difficult to know. The people involved presumably do not see a question mark over making certain beliefs an integral part of social care. They have no scruples with children, so why not vulnerable adults, I suppose.
      To anyone of a different religion or with no religion, this seems to be incompatible with respect for individual choice. There is much made of religious freedom, but not freedom *from* belief as you point out.

    • Helen

      I’ve just been thinking about the people who have been told creation myths and their reaction to your honest views, and reflecting what the reaction would be if it was the other way around. A reaction of amusement would be more likely from someone brought up free from superstition to suddenly hearing such stories. So there is a good argument surely for not forcing religious belief on anyone, be it children or adults. It will do much less harm and cause less anguish.

  3. MarkH

    The Channel 4 documentary on Botton “The strangest village in Britain” made for good TV and gives something of an insight to Camphill communities, though there is no analysis of (in fact barely a mention of) Anthroposophy. It’s on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=polsupnw8fU
    [this link no longer works but you can see the programme here

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=ab0_1334316639 ]
    I think I can answer your question slightly obliquely by pointing out that there are many worthwhile and successful organisations helping people with learning disabilities where there are no spiritual or religious ulterior motives. My small town of 6000 people has just such an organisation who run a charity shop, gardens and craft workshop with frequent social occasions integrating their clients with the wider community.

    Likewise, if it’s lots of outdoors play, lack of exam hot-housing and an arts based education you’re looking for, these things are available elsewhere beyond Steiner schools.

    • Helen

      Thank you for the link – I haven’t seen that before. It is interesting on many levels. The workers were referred to as “Christians”. It seems quite common for the movement to hide behind the label of Christian, when in fact a real Christian would be horrified to discover the specific tenets of anthroposophy.
      There did not seem to be anything in the way Botton was organised that could not be done without anthroposophy, if indeed such an isolated way of providing care is considered good practice.
      Much was made of working on the farm, but not a mention of the rituals/spells which are part of biodynamic farming.

  4. Stroudskeptic

    My wife’s sister-in-law’s aunt was at Grange Village and Oaklands Camphill for many years, and we visited her often. She, and a large proportion of the other residents was suffering from, in modern parlance, “learning difficulties” which in her case was caused by a strangulated cord at birth leading to brain damage. They all seemed genuinly happy, and in a much better environment than in a council run home which we have also seen examples of. At her funeral, we experienced the Christian Community burial service, but I really think, without sounding patronising, that the spiritual side would be “over their heads”.
    (Certainly novel to her family, many of whom are members of the Prayer Book Society!) I see similar things (i.e. the residents environment) at Ruskin Mill, where the turnaround rate in terms of behaviour issues in the students is very good compared to conventional methods. So I think the “caring and nurturing” actually works, and getting to the point, works WITHOUT the anthroposophical add-ons. So, yes, absolutely, just ditch the anthroposophy and concentrate on the core business which they actually do far better than conventional methods which can in the extreme lead to Winterbourne View.
    But .. a line from a poem by a Ruskin Mill student: “Safe under Sophia’s wings” !!?? What?

  5. Helen

    I understand the anthroposophical beliefs about death are quite something, and it sounds as though the services are too. I suppose someone who has spent a good part of their life in Camphill would be considered to be a member of the sect when it comes to ceremonies.
    What do you suppose the writer of the poem meant by “Sophia’s wings”?

  6. thegirlinthefireplace82

    In regards to having freedom of or from religion within a Camphill community (or similar Steiner care setting) , I would say that from my experience there is none. We had one resident with mild learning disabilities who was very vocal about the fact that she was not religious or spiritual in any way, yet she was still forced to go to a Bible study group with the other residents, forced to take part in all the blessings of meals and other religious ceremonies. This young woman certainly knew her own mind, and was more than capable of making her own informed choices. If she questioned the beliefs of the organisation she was told to be quiet as she was “disturbing” other residents. She was also forced to take part in extra “art therapy” and Eurythmy sessions, which she had to pay extra for, even tho she hated them. I tried to reason with the management, telling them how unhappy these sessions made her and that I could see no improvement in her, but they just used the old Steiner followers classic line…. “you wouldn’t understand, you haven’t had the right training to see the benefits”. It did not matter that she was unhappy, because it was doing her “soul” (or perhaps another one of the 4 bodies, i can not remember) good. Appalling! Her family tried to step in but they were given the usual Steiner double speak and were won round. In the end this young lady only managed to stop the dreaded sessions when I took over as temporary “House parent” and refused to send her! And these people say they offer “individualized care” that encompasses all the persons needs. What utter rubbish!

    • Helen

      I had suspected this was how things were arranged in Camphill, and now we know, so thank you.
      Shocking that vulnerable people are being treated in this way. Paying for art therapy and eurythmy sessions? Huh! That’s how these Steiner followers make a living…

      • we escaped!

        It happens in the schools too. This is exactly what our son was forced to do. He was made to have curative eurythmy 3 times a week alongside art therapy and rhythmical massage (all at an additional cost of course). It was only when we became aware of what he endured that we stopped him from attending.

  7. Albion102

    You may be shocked at how many MPs have signed the early day motion in support of Action for Botton. They are a group of people seeking to preserve an anthroposophic lifestyle for themselves at the expense of the people with learning disabilities that live there. They would be preventing people from having access to TV and to the outside world.


  8. Albion102

    My apologies for the rubbish link

    You will notice that the motion is about intentional communities and there is no mention of the fact that these “co-workers” are anthroposophists. They want to impose Steiner rules on the people with disabilities.

    • Helen

      I completely agree – it is the secrecy that I find objectionable. If the Steiner people were open about what they do and why, there is no way families would entrust their loved ones to such a group of people.
      As I have said before, Botton and the other Camphills hide behind a veneer of so-called “Christian” principles and make out that their interest in anthroposophy is incidental, whereas in fact the whole organisation exists entirely to allow those involved to live their lifestyle and use their ideas about reincarnation on their vulnerable “clients”.
      I have written to many of those in a position to do something about this, but there is unwillingness to find out enough about it and then to acknowledge that there is a problem. Some people “get it” straight away but their reaction is to back off rather than rock the boat.
      Criticising anything with the word “spiritual” attached to it is pretty much unacceptable these days, and anthroposophists are not slow to pull that one out of the bag as we know. Their version of spirituality is very distinctive and not at all the vague concept most people are thinking of when they use that term.
      Girlinthefireplace’s comment above should be enough to ring alarm bells for everyone including the authorities.

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