How does one become an anthroposophist?
I wondered this when I first started to look into Steiner, and guessed that most people came to anthroposophy through a Steiner Waldorf education. Such an obscure belief system would hardly be high on most people’s agenda otherwise, and anthroposophists do not go knocking on doors to recruit. On the contrary, they seem to hide from public view.
In his book Sun at Midnight Geoffrey Ahern selected 18 anthroposophists back in the 1970s, and examined how they came to identify with the movement. Some were lonely individuals “searching for something”, dissatisfied with society as they perceived it, some attracted in by aquaintances who led similar lifestyles, perhaps beginning by borrowing some of Steiner’s books to read.
A fascinating appendix at the end of Ahern’s book examines what makes people stick with anthroposophy once they find it. A predisposition to join spiritual movements is thought likely – many adherents had already tried out other “cultic and esoteric identities” and Ahern also speculates that the presence of Rudolf Steiner himself as a father figure appeals to some; nearly all the original 18 had “reacted against their fathers”.
40 years later the movement still has young followers and these are not all in the area of London where most of Ahern’s group were based. There is evidence that many of these have been through Steiner education, or sometimes they have grown up in a Camphill Community where their parents lived and worked.
One website We Strive, is aimed at young people, and labelled “Youth section Goetheanum”. Nothing has appeared on it for some time, and I understand the group now has a new name, but about 4 years ago someone did a survey on how young anthroposophists view the future of the Anthroposophical Society in Britain; “the AS in GB”.
The answers are available here and make quite interesting reading.
I think it is worth mentioning this issue, as surely parents considering a Steiner education here in Stroud should be aware of how their child might progress in anthroposophical belief after leaving school.
Many of the respondents, unsurprisingly, have been through Steiner education. They have entered the movement almost unconsciously, it seems, and as a natural progression from school.
The numbers of Steiner school leavers who become anthroposophists must be small since the AS is small in the UK anyway. It seems likely the membership of the Youth Section will swell as a result of Steiner Free schools appearing here in England.
The respondents to the survey often refer to the evils (as they see them) of modern society, and say how grateful they are for having been introduced via their school to what they see as a superior lifestyle.
One respondent said she had learned not to mention Anthroposophy or Steiner in a social situation as people “look at me oddly and think I belong to a cult”
Another survey undertaken in the States asked people how they had benefited from Steiner education. Some responses are quite sad, with one detailing how those on the outside of the movement do not react favourably to some of the qualities he or she has acquired as a result of a Steiner education;
“I have a lot of self-esteem and dignity from school time, sometimes too much, so it comes out as arrogance, I believe I am talented at life, and sometimes I am a bit too confident, could be called cocky. I have learnt to believe that thinking freely will not give me many friends but I would rather be free and close to the truth but alone than belong to a lying mass of communal illusion liars.”
This belief that much of what is encountered in people and in society in general that contrasts with the Steiner lifestyle must be inferior is a common theme, which I touched on earlier.
It results in a distorted view of the world, one where Steiner’s teachings (although not always recognised as Steiner’s by the students) are gospel, and views which challenge those must be false. An isolated outlook, and one that many Steiner students are incapable of recognising as such, and therefore escaping.
It is ironic that those who have had a Steiner education believe they have open, questioning minds, and the ability to think creatively. In fact the opposite is true; they have been taught Steinerian perceptions, and their unwillingness to accept mainstream science and the “materialism” they so despise, leads to an inability to relate to the realities of the modern world.
Yes, there are some Steiner science graduates to whom proponents proudly point, but these are few.
Reading the answers to these surveys reveals some of the challenges Steiner-educated individuals experience if or when they leave their Steiner community.