Camphill and Anthroposophy

From the outset, my main reason for writing about Steiner in Stroud has been the secrecy and deception practised by those involved in running many of the 30+ business operations in the area.

Many local people have become involved without realising the nature of what they have got in to. That includes schools, colleges, kindergartens and also Camphill.

Looking at the websites for Camphill communities and colleges it would be very difficult to know that they had anything to do with Rudolf Steiner’s belief system “Anthroposophy”.

The word is mentioned nowhere on the website of William Morris House, for example, a large establishment with several houses looked after by House Parents in a similar way to the Camphill community at Botton, as  featured in the tv programme.

Steiner’s name is mentioned, but only in connection with his so – called “Christian ideals”, and a vague mention of “spiritual uniqueness”.

And yet, a look at how Camphill functions – its day to day routines and “rhythms”, its festivals and its training for staff, reveals that anthroposophy is the raison d’etre for Camphill. The people who run these communities put anthroposophy at the centre of all their activities.

From the first paragraph in the prospectus of a Camphill training course;

Through working out of the wisdom of Anthroposophy, we learn to reflect on the meaning of our life…”

This is followed by a list of the topics on offer during the course;

Understanding the Human Being out of Anthroposophy:

The TemperamentsThe Order of Birth

The Threefold Human Being

The Fourfold Human Being

Child Development

Karma and Reincarnation

Personal Development

The Twelve Senses

The Seven Life Processes

An Introduction to Curative Education

An Introduction to Diagnostics

The course information says the twelve senses are related to the 12 signs of the zodiac, and the seven life processes are related to the “seven main planets”.

All this is not described to families when they first apply for a place at a Camphill community,  and I also believe that the colleges and communities hide behind a façade of Christianity which presents a veneer of respectability. Presenting a “Christian” image makes the whole enterprise acceptable to many more people than would a truthful depiction of the highly unusual, occult rituals and practices which actually take place in accordance with anthroposophy.

Any educational or caring environment which stated its adherence to astrology and  karma would simply not be taken seriously by most people; so William Morris House, and all the other Camphill communities leave it out of their prospectuses.

Karma and reincarnation are not compatible with Christianity. A Christian blogger explains;

Christianity believes in grace, not karma.  They are two completely contradictory ideas, and you cannot logically believe in both.  Karma says you get the reward or punishment that you deserve.  Grace says you get the reward even if you deserve the punishment.”

The modules in the Camphill training course include

Module I

LIFE BEFORE BIRTH – OUR JOURNEY THROUGH THE PLANETS

The child only comes physically naked into the world. Spiritually it brings gifts and qualities. We will look at the different qualities of each planet that our prebirth journey takes us through.

Module VII

KARMA AND REINCARNATION

The soul’s immortality and its repeated earthly births are not new ideas, in Western thought. Rudolf Steiner viewed the revealing of reincarnation and karma as one of his most important life tasks.In the first session we will give an introduction to this theme and in the second session we will look at the shaping of our own personal destiny.

Module VIII

LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH

While western humanity has conquered the outer world with the aid of technology and natural science, the mysterious question of death is still largely shrouded in fear and remains an insoluble riddle. From his own highly developed clairvoyance, Rudolf Steiner was able to spiritually research the question of what happens to human beings after their physical bodies pass away. We will give an introduction to this subject and open up a conversation.

Needless to say the reading list comprises exclusively anthroposophical titles.

“Camphill” is big business in the Stroud area, with properties scattered all around. Clearly there is a demand for they kind of care provided by these institutions, and Steiner have cornered the market. But it should be the right of residents, students and their families to know about the kind of environment in which they will be required to live.

Once someone has settled in to a community – or into a school or college – it is not so easy to simply move somewhere else.

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33 comments

    • Helen

      I switch off when the food programme comes on because Sheila Dillon’s presenting irritates me, so I didn’t hear the tribute and also didn’t know about Derek Cooper’s visit to Camphill. There have been so many uncritical references to anthroposophical practices on the BBC you do wonder if it is all due to naivite or something more insidious.

      • Nick Nakorn

        Indeed, it might be because some senior BBC people are pro-Steiner and send their kids to Steiner schools, dabble with Alternative Medicine, Biodynamics and spirituality and thus have a huge amount of social capital invested in things that Anthroposophy advocates. There’s no record of who is and isn’t pro-Steiner at the Beeb but there is very little outward opposition – the foody obsession with organic (I like organic agriculture too, in parts) also has clout and brings out support for Biodynamics and organics generally as if the woo did not matter. Note that for 35 years the Dimbleby clan was heavily into that scene via Bel Mooney’s farm – it’s a white, middle-class tribal affiliation as much as anything and they close ranks when criticised. I have complained to the Beeb several times about their pro-Anthro stuff and have yet to have a sympathetic reply. It’s institutional racism in my opinion.

        • Helen

          Yes, I agree.
          Some of it may be down to laziness of course. In the case of the Countryfile feature on biodynamics, to give Julia Bradbury her due, she did make an interesting piece about it, and found it all quite amusing. Once a programme is made I guess there is very little incentive for the BBC to look back over the material again, they are too busy working on the next programme.
          Once they have been notified of the nasty nature of anthroposophy (by you and others who wrote) and its constituent parts however there is no excuse for continuing to support it by giving it air time, even if it does make good telly.
          At least the BBC West documentary covered some negative aspects of Steiner education.

        • Helen

          They (BBC) should do their research properly, then they would know there are more sinister aspects to biodynamics, camphill, etc. The researchers can’t all be anthros.

  1. Helen

    I do marvel at the lack of curiosity people in general show when it comes to Steiner and anthroposophy, since to me it is a fascinating subject!
    The BBC should be much more curious – for one thing it makes an interesting story to report. Wouldn’t it be good to make a Panorama programme about it?
    I hope that the more it is brought to their attention the more likely it is that someone will decide to make more programmes like the one on BBC Southwest, and make it a topic for wider discussion..
    If Sheila Dillon really does know all about it as she said in the tweet you posted on your blog, and still supports it, then shame on her.
    As you suggest it’s likely that she knows very little – just about the same as the average parents signing up to Steiner school.

  2. Jim

    I think part of the problem is a misplaced sense of religious tolerance, maybe reinforced by the wish to distance themselves from the racism we see masquerading as criticism of Islamist extremism. Of course we don’t want to go back to killing people for their religious beliefs but tolerance doesn’t require us to pretend those beliefs aren’t nonsense.
    Unfortunately that distinction seems too hard for some so we are supposed to respect “faith” as a good in itself.

    • Jim

      And Stalinists and Maoists. And I think Pol Pot did his bit too. In all fairness I think we should concede there have been some pretty nasty atheists too.
      Though to speak of Dawkins et al as “fundamentalist” atheists or extremists is absurd.

    • Jim

      Actually can I elaborate on my last comment. I have long believed that monotheism is the most degenerate form of religion ( contrary to what the old fashioned comparative religionists maintained ) because it removes the “divine” from nature and humanity and locates it in one remote entity. In this it most resembles totalitarianism.
      And I’m using the term divine to refer only to what is most valued, nothing supernatural!

  3. Nick Nakorn

    I tend to go with Hitchens’ position that religious hierarchy is what fascism and totalitarianism actually is. Here’s a clip from a few years ago (obviously) in which he sumarises his position. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=qUqcd7xbb4A He doesn’t mention Pol Pot but the whole of that region of S. E. Asia was fought over by Buddhist absolute monarchies for centuries prior to European domination (also religious) and Lèse-majesté laws still exist in Thailand as recent jailings have shown.

  4. Jim

    I guess its probably true that dictators of whatever flavour love to have some overriding belief system to justify their actions. even if they don’t actually believe it themselves it is a very powerful control mechanism.
    My point regarding monotheism was actually slightly different. The comparative religionists of my youth used to portray monotheism as the culmination of a growing religious awareness starting from pantheism and growing through polytheism to the ultimate goal – the one true god. Thus by recognising some value in all forms of religion they gained themselves some points for tolerance whilst still proclaiming their own religion as tops. I felt the opposite – that by removing the notion of the sacred or the good from nature itself into spirits living in natural objects, then into gods living elsewhere and then into one all powerful god they were actually on a downward path, reflecting in their religion what was worst in humanity. It is that central control whether in the form of an absolute monarchy or a dictatorship.
    To be honest I initially concocted this argument because the comparative religionists were insufferably smug and it really annoyed them ( I was young ). But it has come to seem ever truer to me over the years.
    I may disagree with Hitchens on one point. Towards the end of the clip he seems to suggest that a world without religion might ( just might ) also be free of conflict. I wish I could agree but I doubt it. We put the worst of ourselves into religion but without religion it would find another outlet.

  5. Nick Nakorn

    I’m pretty cynical too that a world without religion (as it is currently popularly understood) would be better; I don’t think it’s necessarily an outcome. Yet, the ‘other outlet’ would in effect be a ‘religion’ by another name because, in my view, the structures that form religion are political structures very similar to corporate or military structures. As for the spirits idea, the societies that believe in local spirits are, with minor exceptions such as small island communities or remote jungle communities, just as violent as the monotheistic religions. For example, I’d say about 50% of houses in my Dad’s street have Spirit Houses as would have Pol Pot’s family and neighbours. Further complexities arise too because few religions are free of influences from other religions – there are a large number of Buddhist Hindus and Buddhist Catholics as well as Christian Animists and so-on. For me, the way this fits into Anthroposophy, Steiner and Camphill is that the racial hierarchy informs senior staff and provides a self-replicating mechanism for more staff to follow. But for PoC, the point is more direct; it’s impossible to work with people who a) might believe in the racial hierarchy and b) are so unconcerned that they are happy for funds to flow from Steiner brands to people who do believe in the racial hierarchy. Without knowing for sure that colleagues actually oppose racist woo, it’s safer to assume they might very well be happy for it to continue (some will and some will not) and it only takes a few racists in an organisation to ruin a career, undermine a project or a lot worse.

  6. Jim

    That leaves a difficult choice Nick. Set the bar too high and we might find there is no one to work with. A bit more flexible and we might win over some who are wavering. In part that is what this site is trying to do – to explain to those who might be superficially attracted to Steiner education that what underpins it is not at all what they imagine. How effective it is is hard to tell but it is important to try.

    • Jim

      True Nick, though not addressing my point which was that we have to meet and work with people who may not share our views and a refusal to engage with them means we cannot hope to modify their views or behaviour.

      • Helen

        I think Nick is talking about not working with people in a Steiner setting, and thereby appearing to advocate their ideas and methods.
        In a normal setting there are rules about discrimination such as the recent case of the teacher in Bristol who won a case against the school where he was employed to help improve the achievement of ethnic minorities, but had found his own career blocked by racial discrimination.

  7. Helen

    Thinking back to my experience of working in a Steiner environment without knowing at the time there was an underlying belief system to it all, quite a few memories of it now (having found out about anthroposophy) make a lot more sense. To me it seems clear that if the people concerned were immersed enough in anthroposophy to behave the way they did in carrying out Steiner’s ‘indications’, there is no reason to suppose they did not subscribe to ALL his opinions, including human development, even the ones they try to make out are historical. Why make children do eurythmy and discuss the shape of their facial features and ‘gaze’ as if they were important in an educational setting, if they did not wholeheartedly believe in these things?

    • Jim

      I’m not sure that we are so much less violent – maybe less so in our own country because it’s bad for business. But our appetite for exporting violence seems undiminished.
      Having said that we put the worst of ourselves into religion I should in fairness say that sometimes we also put the best. Whilst the southern slave owner could point to the bible for justification the abolitionist could draw the opposite conclusion from the same source. Irrespective of its supernatural content religions and churches are power structures and power can be used for good or ill.
      Currently the Anglican church is weak and so in general it has much to gain from preaching tolerance. If it ever found itself strong again I don’t doubt that it would become as oppressive as any Saudi mullah.

  8. Nick Nakorn

    Jim, indeed – the Anglican Church in Nigeria is apparantly in favour of the death penalty for homosexuals and we should not forget their role in supporting the Rwanda genocide, I read that some of the priests involved fled to the UK and now work in UK churches just as some pro-apartheid S.African Anthroposophists now teach in schools elsewhere.

  9. Jim

    And in Uganda it is apparently US christian fundamentalists who are helping to foment the current wave of homophobia. I think we must assume they would be ready to do the same at home if they could get away with it.

  10. Jim

    I was somewhat taken aback today when my LRB was delivered and out of it fell a glossy charity appeal for Camphill. Of course I know that most Steiner institutions have charitable status but I can’t recall ever seeing one of them appealing for funds in this way from the general public.
    Needless to say there was no mention of Steiner or anthroposophy, just lots of pictures of happy Down’s sufferers and warm words about the caring environment. And it does leave you with the uncomfortable question – might these places, despite the underlying despicable beliefs, sometimes be doing more good than harm? If so is that only because the rest of society ( us ) fails to provide adequate support so that Camphill is left as a least bad option for some?

  11. Helen

    I don’t think there is a lack of adequate support – there are examples locally and nationally of organisations providing similar services without all the Steiner nastiness about reincarnation.
    Camphill and Steiner in general are excellent self -publicists and experts at acquiring funding for their activities whilst at the same time hiding their beliefs about races, disabilities, behavioural problems and illnesses etc.
    There are examples of Steiner employees who do not know anything about the belief system of their employers when they accept a job; gradually they become aware of the strange ethos and background to the practices they see and are expected to take part in.
    Someone who knows their job, say in finance or HR slowly realises that the management structure is different from that of any other non Steiner organisation; decisions will be taken by those who are prominent in anthroposophy not those who are most able in their field. The uninitiated will not know that anthroposophy takes precedence in the office, because they will not even have known anthroposophy exists. Totally bewildering.
    Given the way anthroposophy is hidden from employees, I would be surprised if it is not hidden from residents and their families at the beginning too. Imagine if the families were told about Steiner ideas on karma and how this relates to the residents of Camphill; how many would still enrol their loved one?
    So no, in my opinion it is not because society fails to provide adequate support, it is because of deception. Were it not for the funding of Camphill there would be more funds available for respectable organisations without the despicable beliefs.

    • Jim

      So maybe the same deception perpetrated by the schools, that these are warmer more caring institutions than the state ones? It may also be that because of the idealism ( and despite the anthroposophy ) some are genuinely caring.
      The last thing I would want to do is defend these places but were it to be true that despite their beliefs they provide something the state system does not do so well then we should face it and ask why.
      Might it also be that this idealism results in a ready supply of volunteer and low wage labour enabling Camphill to undercut other care providers? And the Steiner movement’s appetite for property provides some impressive locations?

  12. Nick Nakorn

    I think the extent to which free-lance and private careers are always in demand points to a lack of supply. Over the years I’ve met several people who care for children with all sorts of disabilities and the problem seems to be that many charitable trusts running care facilities ’employ’ untrained cheap staff or volunteers. Consequently a lot of parents look for free-lance careers who, though possibly not qualified either, at least can devote their time on a one-to-one basis under the supervision of the parent. Admittedly, that was anecdotal but I’ve also met receivers of care who find it hard to maintain regular contact with the same carer because both state and private providers don’t pay staff for non-contact time – thus everything is always very rushed. So I think Jim has a point; facilities like Camphill might be appealing to hippy-dippy parents who know something of the Steiner connection or to parents who are grateful to get some help regardless. All the good things I’ve heard about Camphill seem to be in comparison to sub-standard previous experience.

    • Jim

      I’ve had a little experience in a voluntary role with people with long term mental health problems and it certainly seemed that provision was very patchy. The more able seemed to be under constant pressure to find a job ( unrealistic at the best of times ) whilst the least able seemed to be left to the mercies of whatever charitable institution would take them. One was a Christian home which appeared to be rather oppressively fundamentalist, though I suppose there is some merit in the counter argument that it provided structure in what would otherwise be a chaotic life. But my concern would be that patients were placed there rather than having chosen it for themselves. I would guess that the same may be true of Camphill, where the religious culture, as Helen says, is less explicit.
      I don’t doubt that in both Christian and Camphill homes there are many who want to do the best for their charges, whatever their own beliefs, but as with schools it is wrong for the state to place people in such institutions as if they did not have an agenda of their own.

  13. Ciara

    Hello, I am in fact a long term Coworker in a Camphill Community and I feel that there is an awful lot of fear mongering going on here and I would like to share with you all my personal experiences. Many of the comments on this thread are to be blunt quite ignorant of the reality of what they have such passionate feelings of.
    Firstly, I went to a Steiner school and I was not indoctrinated. I do not spiritually believe in anthroposophy, and you will find that most of us ‘Steiner kids’ do not. This is not because we all rebel. It is because one of the first manifestoes of the Steiner curriculum is very clear that children should not be taught anthroposophy. Why? Because we should be flourishing in the environment that Steiner’s theories on education have helped shape, not concentrating on the Theosophy side of his philosophies which seem to be causing such distress to other users on this site. There is active thought in preventing any brainwashing that might take place through education in this, and so it does not happen. This comes through in Camphill Communities as well. Residents and Coworkers are not expected or required to take part in anything spiritual in the Camphill. Religious freedom is a human right and this is of course held up in Camphills and Steiner schools. Otherwise, they would not be legally registered as schools or care homes!
    Secondly, the Camphill manifesto makes it clear that it is a community open to individuals from all races, religions and personal beliefs. It welcomes the diversity this brings. Now remember who founded Camphill in 1940; European Jews (who converted at different points in their lives to Christianity) who found asylum in the UK during WWII to create a nurturing environment for children with special needs who previously were not always viewed as needing any type of special education, or even worth educating. Do you honestly think they would be the type of people to force others into being exactly as they were? Or do you think they would welcome differences as a chance to grow the community and the individuals within?
    Lastly, I can not speak for the Camphills in Stroud, but in my small, urban community there is zero religion as none of our residents wish to have it, and we thrive to ensure they are living the lives they desire for themselves. For the larger Camphills which I am involved with, there is a mix of religion and non religion as some wish to live a religious life and some do not. We will ensure that any member of a community has their spiritual desires fulfilled. For example, although we do not have religious events or go to church as a community, if a Coworker or new Resident joined the community and wished to go to church or needed a certain day off for worship, we would ensure they were able to do this. In fact there is right now a Coworker living in my house for whom we have changed the work schedule so he can have his day of worship free, for whom I researched the closest place of worship and we also ensure that he has a meal prepared by whoever is cooking each day which fits with his dietary requirements. The other side of this is of course that no one in any Camphill Community should ever feel like they are being coerced or pressured into involvement in religion. Support must be available for Residents wanting to worship which need it, but the Coworker involved is only expected to give this support and in no way should feel they must involve themselves in the worship.
    Lastly, the idea that where I and many of my friends have devoted their lives to is somehow evil does not offend me, it confuses me. All parents and families of the residents I live and work with are thrilled with where their children live. They fought to get them a place and are very happy with the lives of their now adult children in our community. These adults with whom I have made my home are living lives which are almost unheard of in other facilities. There may be many places which offer similar choice, creative freedom and nurturing, but no matter what I do not believe they can ever compare to a Camphill. Here we are not simply doing a job to pay the bills. We are devoting our lives to building something better than we could achieve on our own and we offer a true home for all coworkers and residents, and this is what separates us. We share our lives and so there is not such a defined role of carer and ‘special needs individual’. If you think that this is not beneficial to the adults and still see it as the work of either evil or brainwashed people, please go and visit a Camphill. Do not talk to the coworkers if you are so preconditioned to mistrust us, simply ask the residents how they enjoy life.

    • Helen

      Thanks for the comment, Ciara.
      So you had a Steiner education and are now a long term member of a Steiner Camphill Community. You do not believe you were indoctrinated at school, and you would have us believe that anthroposophy is somehow irrelevant to what goes on at Camphill.
      You say;
      “… we should be flourishing in the environment that Steiner’s theories on education have helped shape, not concentrating on the Theosophy side of his philosophies which seem to be causing such distress to other users on this site.”
      So you would have it that you can pick and choose which parts of Steiner doctrine to use.
      Which parts are ok and which are not?
      And why not?
      Sadly, it is impossible to separate out the good from the bad, since anthroposophy is all built on the bad.
      The raison d’etre for Camphill is the reincarnation part of anthroposophy, isn’t it? Huw John clearly emphasised;
      “The importance of spiritual and cultural features, including services, festivals, study, gatherings and other community activities.”
      https://stopsteinerinstroud.com/2014/10/28/huw-johns-view-of-camphills-dilemma/
      The anthroposophists who run the communities believe that the villagers need extra spiritual work in order to prepare them for their next incarnation, don’t they?
      Part of this is the eurythmy you are all so fond of. Part of it is the anthroposophical “study groups”. Part of it is the “Consecration of Man”. Part of it is the art “therapy”.
      It is a way of ensuring Steiner followers can live the Steiner lifestyle – and it seems to be mostly funded from the benefits of vulnerable people.
      Yes, it is open to all – of course camphill want as many residents as possible.
      This part of your comment is telling;
      “Do you honestly think they would be the type of people to force others into being exactly as they were? Or do you think they would welcome differences as a chance to grow the community and the individuals within?”
      Yes, I think they welcome differences. If there is more “therapy” required that is even better for the anthroposophists trained and paid to provide it .
      Yes, they want to “grow” the community as you put it. They want all humanity to “grow” towards clairvoyance, as you must know.
      Trouble is, as Gregoire Perra pointed out on his blog this weekend, there is no-one, not even the anthros who have been meditating hopefully for 60 years, who has yet become clairvoyant.
      Steiner was a charlatan who led a cult. And Camphill is part of that cult.

    • Jim

      Ciara – I understand it must be hard for you to feel that something you presumably believe in is criticised by others but may I point out that the first use of the word “evil” in this post comes in your comment. No one is suggesting that a significant number of those involved in Camphill, or any other Steiner offshoot, are evil so it is not constructive to misrepresent the criticisms in that way.
      Despite the troubling issues arising at some Camphill institutions I would be quite prepared to believe that the majority of those involve do want to do good. I just think they would be better able to do so without all the anthroposophical baggage getting in the way.

  14. Nick Nakorn

    Ciara, I don’t think any of us would criticise the motives of people wanting to genuinely help those in need and we would all be worse off were it not for people like you who devote themselves to caring for others. But I feel you’ve missed the point. Indoctrination is often very subtle and has as much to do with one’s emotional investments in one’s social and work spheres as it has to do with what one thinks or believes. What worries me about Anthroposophical organisations and those who work for them and/or support them is that there are many serious and damaging tenets of the belief system that do immense harm such as: the anti-science, pro-mystical and irrational world view; the racist spiritual hierarchy; the preferences for bogus alternative medicine and the anti-vax position, and a general belief that supernatural forces and beliefs are is as valid as the tried and tested physical laws. Even if you do not belief in those things yourself, you are supporting a vast financial empire controlled by people who do believe and who use their financial clout to spread those beliefs.

    One other aspect, that for me is hard to understand from an ethical perspective, is why the promotion of the beliefs I’ve mentioned is not a deal-breaker for you. Most critics of Anthroposophy (who are also usually critics of other religions and cults for similar reasons, when we have the time) do not want to live in a world where all rational conversation is ‘trumped’ by unfalsifiable ‘magic’ and where our non-white friends and family or (in my case) ourselves are considered to be second-class citizens. Knowing that you support and condone that kind of value system does not help me feel safe and provides a breeding ground for other racist organisations. I know you feel you have not been indoctrinated but, from my perspective, if that were true you would not support an Anthroposophical organisation.

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