We often see the word “reverence” in Waldorf Steiner literature –in leaflets, advertisements, and on their websites. Investigation reveals this reverence is for “the world around us”. In other words, our environment.
Why not use the word “respect”? It seems more appropriate, with no religious overtones. Why revere the environment? Why not admire it where appropriate, beware of it where necessary, learn about it and preserve it where we can?
Most people who have had any dealings with Waldorf Steiner will have seen the “nature table”. A shrine-like area where a table is covered and decorated with seasonal items gathered from outside – leaves, flowers, seeds, wood and stones, together with symbolic items such as candles, figurines and crystals.
This can be an attractive display, and in Steiner books for parents there are suggestions on how to create these at home. (A friend of mine used to do this)
These displays (or altars) are sometimes used in schools as a place to hold ceremonies, such as the morning verse (prayer).This is described by Dan Dugan here .
He describes how the teacher may take on the role of “priest” and the nature table is used to emphasise that role. Sometimes the children are asked to stand with their arms crossed over their chest as the words are spoken.
So an altar seems a fairly accurate description for a nature table.
From Waldorf watch;
“The nature table is at least intended to inspire reverence for nature in the children…For Anthroposophists, though, “nature” is much more than the physical world. When it is understood that in Anthroposophy all natural objects are the homes of elemental spirits, the nature table becomes inhabited with living beings.”
“Nature” is a loaded term in the Waldorf vocabulary… According to Waldorf belief, the natural world is infused by the spiritual world; entering nature is a way of approaching spirituality. Nature is also the domain of invisible “nature spirits” such as gnomes and sylphs. Some nature spirits are hostile to man, but generally this is downplayed in Waldorf public presentations.”
According to Roger Rawlings reverence for nature is used in Steiner schools to steer children towards astrology and spiritual beliefs and away from rationalism. The physical world is seen as something bad, to be transcended, and at the same time nature is to be honoured as a gift from the Gods.
The word “natural” is another example of “Steiner doublespeak”. In anthroposophy, people who are not spiritually developed are “natural” – they are not able to reincarnate; losing the ability to progress to another life is the worst fate possible, it seems. So humans must reject animals and other “beings”, in order to continue to progress spiritually.
“Quite a number of people have been born [who]…are not reincarnated, but are human forms filled with a sort of natural demon. There a quite a large number of older people going around who are actually not human beings, but are only natural.” (Faculty meetings with Steiner, p. 649.)
So on one level a nature table is an attractive decorative feature, but the way it can used with young children in school gives it a significance that is perhaps lost on parents who may not be present to witness the morning “verse” (prayer). As always with anthroposophy there is a great deal to find out, and it is just as well to do it before you plunge with your family in to the lifestyle of Steiner Waldorf.