It is one of those curious words that keep popping up when you look into anthroposophy, and it is not immediately obvious why.

For Steiner, the human ability to stand physically upright is one of the key differences between animals and humans, and as such must be accentuated.

As mentioned before, in Steiner belief humans came to earth from space; Darwinian evolution does not feature in anthroposophy, it is an alien concept for them.

Followers have a particular horror of any activity which to them resembles animal behaviour – sports being a good example.

In an article on child development for under three year olds in the Waldorf Journal, we learn the following

“…it takes two and a half years to develop uprightness fully, not only one year. It takes all that time for the I together with the spiritual hierarchies to fine tune the skeletal/muscular system, the speech organs and the human brain as physical foundation for the development of the human soul forces of willing, feeling and thinking.”

For Steiner physical uprightness in humans is associated with moral behaviour;

This is from a 1923 Steiner lecture called Education and the moral life;

“…moral forces express themselves in the way a child performs physical movements in space. What the child achieves by assuming the upright posture and thus becoming free of the forces that keep the animal’s spine parallel to the earth’s surface…is the physical expression of the moral nature of its will energy. It is this achievement that makes the human individual into a moral being.”

He follows this with

“…within this upright position the physical expression of human morality can be seen, which allows the human countenance to gaze freely into the world.”

He frets slightly that during sleep the human spine is in a similar position to that of an animal, but it’s ok, because it’s all about “the way spatial dimensions are organised into the human being”.

Phew, no need to worry then.

In addition, the ideas of humans having their hands free, as a result of walking on two feet, and this unique “gaze”, are all used in anthroposophical settings to emphasise human separateness from other animals.

Eugen Kolisko a Steiner disciple explained in a lecture on anthroposophy in 1920;

“The faculty of standing upright and walking has origin in the lower region of the organism where the Ego unfolds its forces of Will.  The body stands there, having overcome the earthly force of gravitation which always tend to counteract this upright position of man.  The first action of the Ego is revealed when a little child, in the first year of life, attains this free position of the body as a symbol of its cosmic descent and origin.”

In anthroposophy there are three faculties which primarily distinguish man from the animals :

  1. Standing erect and walking.
  2. Speaking.
  3. Thinking

These three faculties are developed during the first three years of a child’s life when “the powers of the Christ are still living in it.”

Scary, I would say, especially when you consider this is what teachers in Steiner schools mean when they talk about Steiner “child development”.

Lastly on this topic,in Gregoire Perra’s fascinating account of his life among the anthroposophists there is a striking paragraph where he describes his then partner’s dismay at the behaviour of their cats, which sometimes rose onto two legs. She said they were “behaving in ways inconsistent with their soul-group…thus, she could not bear to see them stand up on their hind legs.”

Roger Rawlings explains about “soul groups” on Waldorf Watch;

“In Anthroposophical doctrine, human beings are the only earthly creatures who possess individual souls. Animals have “group souls” — over-souls shared by all the members of a species. Thus, no cat has its own soul; it only has a small portion of the general soul shared by all cats. Anthroposophists also believe that human beings have group souls in addition to their individual souls (all members of a race share that race’s group soul, for instance), but in general humans have been evolving toward greater individuality.”



  1. Mrs Helen Roche

    I am very grateful for all your information, I have recognised how damaging Steiner indoctrination was for a long time but had not really delved too deeply into it.

  2. Jim

    Isn’t it interesting that from a position that initially has some plausibility the Steiners manage to go off into absurdity? It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the upright posture frees the forelimb from locomotive duties and makes it available for a range of other functions such as gesture, manipulation and toolmaking. And that these skills in turn influence the development of mental capabilities. These are shared to varying degrees by other primates, not just man.

    Tough on the dolphins though! But hold on – I seem to recall that dolphins had been shown able to recognise themselves in a mirror, indicating a level of intelligence and self identity thought only to be held by some primates ( including humans ).

    • Helen

      In the *special* Steiner curriculum book, (Richter and Rawson) the chapter on Life Sciences really needs to be seen to be believed. Not much on primates, unsurprisingly, too unsettling to include humans in that category I guess.
      They teach about uprightness in every class and plenty on the human hands and feet as they illustrate the uprightness. They manage to get gnomes in there too – and mention that this is not fanciful, just in case anyone thinks it might be…

    • Helen

      On why humans began to stand upright – I think there are various theories – to reach higher for food, to get a better view of approaching predators, or as you say Jim, to leave the hands free. The fact that walking or running on two limbs rather than four slows you down means there must have been a good reason, and one of the most popular theories is that it was to carry food.
      I bet anthroposophists have a real problem with meerkats.

      • Jim

        Wasn’t there also a suggestion that as the “naked ape” emerged on the African plain standing upright gave it the advantage of exposing less body area to the direct sun? Head hair and very prominent eyebrows gave extra protection to the head and eyes.

        • Helen

          Yes, and another suggestion that the development of hands rather than feet facilitated the use and manufacture of flint tools has lost popularity as the tools discovered are much more recent than the fossil records of early hominids.

  3. Jim

    The Life Sciences section of the Richter and Rawson book does indeed make interesting reading. At one level it appears very promising, encouraging pupils to discover things for themselves, setting out clear objectives and plans for each age group and recommending approaches to achieve these objectives. But the tone throughout is actually highly disparaging of science. There are frequent references to the inadequacy of theory – indeed pupils are explicitly guided to observe and appreciate the “holistic” nature of whatever they are studying without forming theories.

    Their method is to set up a false and restrictive view of science which they can then knock down as deficient. Scientific theories are subject to change as new evidence is discovered. Therefore theory does not represent true knowledge. Though it is not stated explicitly the implication is that what Steiner pupils will acquire, perhaps through some intuitive means, is true knowledge. So Darwin’s theory of evolution is presented as “just a theory” rooted in reductionist thinking and Victorian ethics – presumably the latter point referring to the “survival of the fittest” label which was not Darwin’s. Elsewhere the notorious “the heart is not a pump” notion is presented as if scientists believed that the entire circulatory system, apart from the heart/pump, was entirely inert like a set of central heating pipes. Nor do they believe the heart is entirely disengaged from the emotions – fear or anxiety causes the heart to beat faster for a perfectly good reason. And conversely a physiological disturbance to the heart can cause the associated feelings of anxiety even though we know of no reason to be anxious. No mystery here.

    Few actual scientists are mentioned in the chapter, apart from Steiner and Goethe. Well I suppose if you want to misrepresent science it’s best not to let the scientists speak for themselves. And do I even need to ask what creation myths are doing in a science curriculum?

    • Helen

      I agree with your assessment Jim, and can only assume no-one from the DfE has read this curriculum – if they had how could they possibly have thought Steiner education was suitable for state-funding? I suppose it helps to also have a little knowledge of what anthroposophy is too and how it is positioned in opposition to science. The uprightness for example could just be viewed as a quirky element of physiology, unless you knew better.
      Perhaps they started reading and didn’t get past the promising bit at the beginning.
      Steiner followers also discredit radio carbon dating as a method of putting an age on artefacts, they think finds are not so old as archaeologists claim. The science group of the anthroposophical society discussed this in their 2011 newsletter.

      In their view if carbon dating were proven unreliable this means Steiner’s “young earth” ideas would gain credence.

  4. Timothy

    I’m a finnish citizen with three academic degrees. I’ve had a stellar career in international IT as consultant. I was introduced to waldorf education via distant relatives. I never went to a waldorf school and my view was a hostile one. As I saw mozart’s magic flute being presented by whole school, all 300 students attending (even one in wheel chair), a realization came to me: this is on par with any mid-sized opera! The love they put to the show was amazong. Waldorf schools are not evil, this is how a school should be, and I regret my perents didn’t put me into one. I then began studing anhtoposophy and find it a good addendum to western science, it keeps ones thinking vibrant. I use many anthroposophical ideas to keep myself fit for work. As I’ve travelled the world with big projects (biggest involved 3000 workers and influenced life of 2 billion ppl) I’ve seen how managers of large corporations put their children into waldorf schools because they realize its potential. If you care for your children, keep them away from ‘normal’ schools. Btw, do you know what the highest suicide risk job in Finland (that has won so many PISA studies)? Yes, it’s a female 40 year old teacher in ‘normal’ school. :/

    • Jim

      Perhaps had your parents sent you to a Waldorf school your career might not have been quite so “stellar”.
      Interesting it was the Magic Flute, quite the nastiest of Mozart’s operas.

    • Helen

      Very typical Steiner proponent comment; swoop in, leave a large dollop of muddled stuff about anthroposophy in a single paragraph, toss in a criticism of “normal” schools and disappear.
      Reminds me of the seagulls on holiday last week.

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