Steiner Doublespeak

One reason why parents do not realise what they are getting into when they choose a Steiner school is that many of the words used within the schools and within anthroposophy mean something completely different to what most people would assume.

We already touched on the confusion around “humanist” and how it means something different within Steiner.

Another word which has a different meaning to those outside is “materialist”. To those within Steiner this word means non-spiritual.

Anyway some more “doublespeak” was identified by Sharon Lombard in her very helpful article and I think it is useful to make a list, so we all know what we are talking about.

In Steiner;

Psychic sight     has been changed to      imagination 

The art of magic     has been changed to           Art

Sermon     has been changed to           lecture

Occultist     has been changed to         scientist

Prayer            has been changed to    verse

The true nature of man (according to reincarnation)   has been changed to     child development

Nature altar      has been changed to           nature table

Pentagram             has been changed to               star

Religion              has been changed to    science

Sectarian                   has been changed to            non-sectarian

It is really no wonder parents are confused – they are being misled.

When asked about anthroposophy, a teacher answers that it is “The study of man”. Some people just think anthropology is being mispronounced.

It all works to the advantage of the schools. The less most parents know about anthroposophy the better, as far as they are concerned, otherwise awkward questions will be asked.



  1. Sune

    The opinions by Sharon Lombard, that you reproduce above are for the most part quite untrue in a heavily distorted way

    “imagination” as used in Steiner Waldorf education and schools means exactly what it says, in the normal sense of th word. “Imagination” with a capital I as a special term used by Steiner to describe the first stage of “higher” knowledge is something quite else. It refers to what you experience when you have strengthened your thinking as such through repeated conscious dedication to the thinking process. Thinking then starts to transform into something that has the charactern of an inner “seeing” experience, partly similar to but different from external seeing. For more on this, see a coming site on anthroposophy I’m working at developing.

  2. Helen

    I must be more careful about using capital letters…
    I see on wiki currently, which seems to take Steiner and anthroposophy quite seriously, we also have an explanation for “Intuition” and “Inspiration” spelled with a capital “I”.
    Potential Steiner parents are probably informed of these special ways of using the words when they have anthroposophy explained to them.
    The words are used freely in the rest of the wiki page, but not once with a capital letter as far as I could see.
    I also saw this snippet;
    “In anthroposophy, artistic expression is also treated as a potentially valuable bridge between spiritual and material reality.”
    This seems to corroborate the meaning of “Art” above.

  3. Helen

    Anyone finding Sune’s website should know he is an ambassador (official, I have read) for anthroposophy/Steiner and he has commented on bathmums recently under one of his other names “the bee”. Another of his names is Excalibur.

  4. Sune

    I have never been an official ambassador for anthroposophy or Steiner Waldorf education and schools and have never written anything in such a capacity. From 2008 (I think) and up to the end of 2011, at my own suggestion I was employed by the Swedish Association of Waldorf schools as media consultant, purely to report on what was published on the subject in media, mainly in Sweden.

  5. Nick Nakorn

    Blimey, I find myself agreeing with one Steiner definition (not that it’s theirs) – materialism is most definitely non-spiritual as far as I’m concerned; but I’ve pretty much always been a materialist and don’t go in for the supernatural at all. But while to be a materialist is not to believe in the supernatural, being materialistic is different – it’s slang for consumerist or acquisitive of material things which I’m not. So perhaps there’s confusion about the technical term materialism?

    • Helen

      I didn’t think “materialistic” was slang. Also I would say “materialist” is not normally a negative term as in being against something, but has a more specific meaning in it’s own right.
      The opposite is true with the term “atheism”, which has a negative meaning as in not theistic. Critics try to add another meaning to atheism by calling it a worldview in its own right, which I don’t think it is.

  6. Pete Karaiskos

    When Steiner used words like (that translate into, I should say) “materialism” and “intellectualism”, he was often referring to what he believed were negative spiritual impulses introduced to the world by the demon-god “Ahriman”. Not “non-spiritual” so much as “anti-spiritual” – working actively against the spirit. Ahriman and the material/intellectual impulse that he brings is responsible for Waldorf’s stance against computers, science labs (that work), vaccinations and medicine. It’s why Waldorf schools tend to produce far more artists, musicians, actors, circus clowns, gardeners, chefs and future Waldorf teachers than they produce engineers and scientists.

    • Helen

      The mums collecting signatures in town had young people doing juggling and chalk drawing as an attraction, presumably to illustrate the skills learned at a Steiner school …

  7. Jim

    I like the argument that says the monotheist and the atheist are not so different – the monotheist denies the existence of hundreds of gods. The atheist denies just one more.
    Terms like atheist and materialist are so culturally loaded it’s difficult to unpick them. Strictly speaking theist and atheist just imply opposite positions on one issue and neither represents a complete worldview. But with materialism and materialistic I think the confusion is more deliberate. It seems that materialism is taken as a position about what matters rather than what exists. Those who consider themselves ‘spiritual’ take it for granted that theirs is a more moral position, their values are higher. In the same way we have seen ‘faith’ come to be regarded as an unquestionable good, rather than mere gullibility.

    • Helen

      I would say belief in a personal god as a creator, and with the will and power to punish or reward is definitely a worldview. It colours your whole outlook on life. Whereas all an atheist is saying is that this is not their understanding of life – nothing more, nothing less.

      • Jim

        That’s the cultural loading I mentioned. Strictly speaking all theism means is belief in the existence of one or more gods. It says nothing about creation, reward and punishment and so on. But we’re so conditioned to think of it in terms of religion, particularly western monotheism, that we forget. Those religions are world views as you say. But some theists take the view that whilst gods exist they did not create us and take no interest in human affairs.
        When religious types refer to atheism as a worldview they are similarly making a heap of assumptions with no justification.

        • Helen

          No, I don’t forget.I gave the belief in a personal god as an example, but I would say belief systems such as you mention where the god(s) do not intervene in our affairs are still a worldview. Otherwise why would people bother with them, if they did not provide some kind of framework for their lives?
          Buddhism is a worldview, is it not?

          • Jim

            Indeed it is. And some Buddhists are atheists, some are theists.
            Isn’t the question of what constitutes a worldview one of completeness? Theism and atheism are views on one issue only and so whilst they may form part of a worldview I wouldn’t say constituted one on their own. But if you felt they should then logically it should apply to both.
            Now, anthroposophy is a worldview gone mad! It strives to be so comprehensive that nothing, however trivial, can be left alone.

            • Jim

              Refer to Helen’comment below ( we’ve reach the limit of indented replies).
              Taking the literal meaning of theism as believing in a god or gods then some Buddhists are and some aren’t. But if you are using theist in some looser way.
              Whilst most religions involve some sort of god it is not essential. Also there was a tendency for western writers to impose notions of god onto other religions regardless.

    • Nick Nakorn

      Language is ever changing and I’m happy about it most of the time. But when I was a kid, materialism was thought to mean a world view in which even unknown phenomena would eventually be explicable without recourse to mysticism. What is now called materialistic was termed ‘acquisitive’ and I think it became a popular word in the late 1960s when I first heard it. My parents at the time had never heard of it and by the early 70s people would say it must be an Americanism. As someone who doesn’t believe in any mysticism or spiritualism at all. I’m very happy to be a materialist but not materialistic. Spiritual has also changed it’s meaning over the decades and many people who don’t believe in mysticism claim to be spiritual; but in conversation I find it has now become a word that simply means ethical or moral or sensitive or empathetic and the original meaning (that there is a non material component to our function called the spirit that operated independently from the body and was in charge of empathy etc.. etc..) has been lost. I ,love language but sometimes worry that we start losing words and distinctions when meanings become fuzzy.

      • Jim

        I think the materialist/materialistic usage has now settled down but I am still uncomfortable with the use of spiritual. I can just about take it when talking about, for example, the slow movement of a Beethoven late quartet – you want to feel that it has more significance than the mere scraping of horsehair on gut. But when it is used too freely to describe anything natural – a sunset, a lake, some woods. Well, then it gets into “I’m more sensitive than ordinary people” territory.
        Maybe Stroud is a bit more hippy than where-ever you live Nick – the best usage I ever heard was “I’m a very spiritual person; I always sleep with a dreamcatcher by my bed”. Mind, I was daft enough to go to a Pilates class.

        • Nick Nakorn

          Ha! Indeed Jim. I live near Narnia (Totnes in Devon) and not to be spiritual in this neck of the woods is a bit like being a criminal. Whatever the problem under discussion, the answer is usually that people are not sufficiently spiritual. There then follows a madcap competition to see who can be seen as more spiritual; who has met the Dalai Lama, who has ‘healing’ powers, who can see auras, who is sensitive and poetic. If by that time I have not left the social gathering I start behaving like Tim Minchin in ‘Storm’. I work in London a lot so my social circle in Devon is pretty much those who attend ‘Skeptics in the Pub’. The village I live in, Buckfastleigh, is chock a block with religion and Steinerism and frankly I’m trying to swap my H.A. flat for one elsewhere, preferably London, but so far, no luck.

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