Not in So Many Words

Book review; The Spiritual Basis of Steiner Education by Roy Wilkinson

It is a near impossible task in some instances to describe how anthroposophy is woven in to the Steiner school “method”. Sometimes the suggestion meets with complete astonishment and disbelief.

This accessible book, as recommended by MarkH in a comment on Suggested Reading, provides a neat guide to the subject. As he pointed out, the first three chapters are on Google Books.

My second-hand copy was printed in 1996, and was written and published in England. Admittedly last century, but not 1926, as many might believe; for it explains – and it is mainly aimed at teachers, how best to incorporate anthroposophy, the spiritual science of Rudolf Steiner, into each curriculum subject, into the festivals, and into the general ethos of a school.

It unashamedly details how Steiner’s occult version of religion, spirituality, and yes, striving towards clairvoyance,  form a great part of children’s education in Steiner schools. There is talk of “adepts” and advice on meditation for “aspirants”.

Each subject is detailed with specific methods for making sure children absorb Steiner’s belief in hierarchies, destiny and karma, astrology, “unseen forces” and especially the “spiritual-scientific view” (which is not scientific at all) of evolution.

Yes, you read that right, Steiner followers do not go along with Darwinism, they have their own alternative version where the “…Hierarchies were engaged in forming a suitable vehicle for the human spirit.” and “The animal forms and the subsequent animals represent what was unsuitable”.

The book helpfully lists each subject and how spiritual science is part of it.

  1. Mathematics; “Mathematics is based on the activity of spiritual beings whose manifestations are revealed in the harmony of number, rhythms and form”. p60
  2. Music and Language  “…have their origins in the music of Spheres a phrase sometimes looked upon as poetic fantasy but one which has a real spiritual content.”p60
  3. History; “To understand history the facts and events must be seen as revelations of forces which may not be immediately perceptible.” Roy has a lot to say about history -but not as we know it; it is Steiner’s version of history, and mainly about the Old Testament and how modern culture has “gone downhill”

There are detailed suggestions for each age group about how anthroposophy is introduced in history lessons; at age 9 the stories of the Old Testament are told “included of course is the biblical account of creation. This presents in picture form …the planetary evolution”.

At age 11 “children begin to develop a sense of what is historical, and this is the right time to present pictures of the civilizations from Atlantis to the present. Without it being said in so many words these descriptions also contain the idea of the spiritual development of man from the time of direct contact with and dependence on the Divinity to a time of independence and self-consciousness.” p64.

Roy Wilkinson goes on to remind teachers that each of the “post Atlantean epochs” lasts 2000 years.

 4.   Art; “it is accepted here that art arises as an expression of the spiritual/supersensible in physical form”.

 5.   Religion “...religion expresses the belief in the connection of divine powers with human destiny. It is therefore obvious that an education based on spiritual science will be a religious one.”

Many pages are devoted to “religion” lessons;

“Stories of elemental beings and angels can be told and the facts of sleeping and waking revealed in story form, i.e. in sleep a visit is made to another kingdom to meet the angels.”

and the main purpose of religion lessons is to “cultivate…something akin to what is produced at a religious service”.p75

Science is interesting;

6.   Science; “The Waldorf teacher has a difficult task, particularly the science teacher; he accepts as a fact that the physical world has a spiritual origin and is permeated by the spirit. Matter is the result of hierarchical activity.”p51

Yes, a difficult task indeed – trying to make Steiner’s wacky pseudoscience acceptable in a classroom.

Perhaps this is why children at Steiner Academies and free schools are offered the  Steiner version “Life Sciences”, as detailed in their curriculum book, instead of science subjects.

“Spiritual science agrees with the statement in the bible that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…This has a bearing naturally on what and how things are taught. For instance, the spiritual – scientific explanation of evolution is somewhat at variance with what is generally accepted elsewhere.” p59

There is also a whole chapter in the book on “Destiny and Karma: Education for Eternity”.

“The study of karma is an important chapter of spiritual science and an important chapter for the teacher.”p83

I could go on but this is probably about as much of this kind of thing as most people can take in one go.

The chapters on temperaments, nutrition, the significance of festivals and  “Esoteric development and the teacher” will have to wait for another post.



  1. Jim

    I think some of the points raised here are quite revealing of the ‘spiritual’ mentality. Finding connections between things is both a normal human instinct and also fundamental to a scientific outlook. People who do not see, or have no interest in seeing, such connections are either uninterested in the world or have a genuine intellectual difficulty.
    The problem comes when we start to imagine connections not merely between things we can actually perceive, such as the length of a string and the musical pitch it produces, but with other things which we have no way of perceiving and have no reason to believe exist. Here we must differentiate between science which may posit some exotic particle or force which we cannot yet detect. Enormous efforts are then put into proving or disproving the existence of said particle or force. This is the opposite of the ‘spiritual’ where the impossibility of devising any meaningful proof of the imagined thing is taken as proof of its superiority to science! It is hard to imagine a more perverse outlook.

    • Helen

      Yes, the very fact that anthroposophy is all based on imaginings give it extra power in the eyes of followers. Geoffrey Ahern says that he was told attempting to make sense of it for his book would be like “trying to sculpt a rainbow” – and that was by an anthro.

  2. Helen

    I hope parents read all the books not just the ones about festivals and crafts, and realise they are all written and published by anthroposophists, and not by mainstream educational organisations.

  3. Margaret Sachs

    It appears the book is no longer listed at the website of the Steiner Academy Exeter. I’m not surprised. In my opinion, one look at the drawing that fills page 48 in this short book would be enough to scare off most parents. The drawing consists of a strange-looking man with a ram lying on top of his head and other zodiac symbols placed on and under his body. Each symbol is identified by its official zodiac name and the English word for it. Oh, how I wish I had seen that before I made the mistake of enrolling my children in a Steiner Waldorf school. We would have been spared so much misery.

    • Helen

      I just looked it up and you are right, that is scary. Medieval medicine in a book about education.
      “Each region of the zodiac can be looked upon as the home of particular spiritual beings and a centre of forces.”

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