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Our Brush With Rudolf Steiner

by Sharon Lombard

Copyright 2000
Freethought Today

Reproduced by permission: Vol. 17 No. 4, May 2000, Page 8

Sharon Lombard and her husband Amos Miller

It was time to start looking for a school for our daughter. Our priority was an education emphasizing artistic creativity and stressing tolerance for others. Consequently, when we read the Waldorf School prospectus, it seemed as if this curriculum integrating art and stressing nonsectarianism was just what we wanted.

I traveled from Ohio to investigate one of these schools in Wisconsin. At first glance I liked what I saw: the non-institutional ambiance of the classroom was appealing, the interview charming, and the pupils' illustrated workbooks caught my eye. The experience promised a nurturing and creative environment for our child. Deciding this was the right choice, we moved to Wisconsin specifically to give our daughter a Waldorf education. Soon doubts about our decision arose but they seemed superficial. I ignored the ever mounting references to cosmological forces, the zodiac, and other peculiarities, indulging myself that certain individuals were overtly "New Age."

Our new Waldorf school required participation from parents, and I threw myself into service with much enthusiasm working for what I believed to be a good cause. I volunteered to be on the school store committee to help raise funds. As an artist appreciating aesthetics and color, my first attempt at improvement was to transform the existing store into something with more pizzazz. I had hoped to use children's illustrations as part of the new decor, but I found it not to be acceptable. Not understanding what was wrong with my lovely collection of drawings, I put them away assuming that people just could not imagine the final effect.

So, instead, using my assortment cans of paint, I went to work transforming the blank walls with color. Soon, I received notes, phone calls, and a visit from one of the faculty who asked if I had permission to paint the walls as I had done. I answered that the store committee had given me the go ahead. Despite the disapproval, I thought the store looked much better than it had and was happy that sales increased.

During this time, I came up with a fundraising idea. To help the store reach its financial goal, I designed a T-shirt to be printed with a small self-portrait drawn by each student in the school. I couldn't imagine a parent being able to resist buying one! Bundles of small squares of paper and black markers were distributed to teachers with instructions that each child should quickly draw a picture of themselves. These would be collected for me to have silk-screened. My idea met with great opposition! I found out that markers were not permitted in Waldorf schools, no exceptions. I passed this off thinking that crayons and pencils were probably more environmentally sound, and I suggested that dark pencils could be used instead. The teachers were aghast; pencils were not allowed in the kindergarten. After negotiation and hours at the copy machine reducing the large block crayon self-portraits and redefining the lines lost in the process, the T-shirts were eventually printed. They raised a nice sum for the school, but what was wrong with pencil line drawings? Along with these indiscretions, I had apparently inadvertently broken other rules and an inquisition took place before the faculty, accusing me of being "irreverent" and "nonsupportive".

It was not long before I realized that our child was not drawing at school. I thought this odd because, from my reading and observation of my mother's studio art classes for children, I knew that they should be free to make their first mark in line. I became frustrated that this universal instinct of childhood was being thwarted by my daughter's kindergarten teacher who claimed, when asked, that linear work must not be encouraged until pupils are older. I was baffled by the steps taken to make this virtually impossible. Pupils have to use large block crayons and, they may not outline images but instead color from the center outwards.

Brown and black crayons were prohibited in the lower grades. What did this distaste for darkness mean? Perplexed, I asked how African-American pupils could depict themselves. The teacher's answer was that she would show them how to "smudge" the color from several different crayons. Beginning painting was limited to orchestrated exercises using large brushes to produce color on wet paper. I noticed that the work of higher grades displayed in the hallways was also exclusively executed in this wet-on-wet technique--the repetitive compositions indicated their being copied from a single source.

My daughter cried at bedtime and in the mornings as she vehemently resisted going to school. However, thinking we should work through her intensifying revolt, because it was in her best interest, we ignorantly kept sending her off as we were dubious about our other options for schooling. When her accumulated wet-on-wet "artwork" came home, I was aware that, unlike her prolific creative drawing done at home, at school the self expression we had anticipated was actually being frustratingly suppressed.

Mounting idiosyncrasies, prayers, and religiosities (including my daughter's announcement that she had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other) suggested an undercurrent that emanated from the faculty. These were not just isolated beliefs of the mystical seekers in the parent body. Legends of holy people, old testament stories, and much ado about demons, devils, angels, fairies, gnomes, and Saint Michael (all taught as fact) added to the fear that we had allowed a tiny head to be opened and filled with a syncretic, superstitious miasma of ages past. Contrary to the claims of nonsectarianism, it was becoming very apparent that everything revolved around Rudolf Steiner; the founder of Anthroposophy and Waldorf education.

As a member of a committee, I had been pressured to study the work of Rudolf Steiner but had rejected the imposition, intuitively equating Anthroposophy study with bible study. Apart from a photograph of Steiner that hung on the faculty lounge wall and the constant references to him, I hadn't a clue about the man. I assumed that he was indeed the scientist, educator and philosopher that the school purported him to be.

How I wish I had studied Anthroposophy--the word not defined in my dictionary! Had I read just one of Steiner's books, I would have understood that he was an occult scientist, religious educator, and esoteric Anthroposophist.

Both my daughter and I deteriorated in health, and I could not bear going near the school. The final straw came at the height of my daughter's illness when the school recommended that a visiting Anthroposophical doctor see her.

In our opinion, we experienced the ultimate folly concerning superstition of color. She was to draw with healing warm colored crayons and, I was to make the sign of a flame on her heart with aurum cream at bedtime! We removed her from the school shortly there after. Our requested exit interview was presented in letter form. In it we stated that a clearer distinction should be made to prospective parents concerning the sectarian nature of Waldorf schools. We stressed that had we known, that it's curriculum and operations were based exclusively on Rudolf Steiner's clairvoyance, aesthetics, eurocentricity, and religious beliefs, the school would not have been the choice for our daughter. I still had not read Steiner.

In May 1999, I discovered that my concerns were being expressed by others on the internet and that an organization called PLANS (People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools) was suing the Sacramento Unified School District and the Twin Ridges Elementary School District, alleging that violations of the establishment clause of the First Amendment had occurred by the operation of publicly funded Waldorf Schools. I also learned that the president of PLANS had actually helped found one of the schools. Another member of PLANS had discovered that the Waldorf teacher training program was in reality a seminary, requiring teachers to read Steiner's books including Outline of Occult Science and others that set forth the angelic revelations of his channeled Akashic Record. It was an incredible feeling to have my opinions validated by people outside of the cult of Rudolf Steiner. I realized that I had been misled, because the Waldorf school was a spiritual science school and Anthroposophy was Steiner's version of Theosophy.

I felt compelled to send a letter to the superintendent of the public school urging that the proposal to make the local private Waldorf school a publicly funded charter be rejected. I included some of the articles found on the internet to help illustrate my concerns. According to the superintendent the proposal is no longer being considered.

I began ordering books by Steiner through inter-library loans as I wanted to corroborate some of the appalling quotes attributed to him on the net. Well needless to say, they were indeed his words. Lately, I've become quite a serious student of Steiner! With each book I read I piece together more and more of what had gone on in my daughter's classroom and school, finding answers to my many questions which had been brushed aside by teachers or by myself.

Earlier, a prospectus had stated that the first Waldorf school, founded in 1919, was to be the seed for the future, serving the reawakening spiritual life of mankind. The concept suddenly became more ominous as I read The Universal Human (four lectures given between 1909 and 1916) in which Steiner stated that the mission of the Anthroposophical movement was to enable a number of human beings to enter their next incarnation to become core groups for the 6th epoch of civilization. He elucidates how this will come about in The Study of Man (a 1919 lecture): "You will have to take over the children for their education and instruction... children who will have received already...the education, or miseducation, given them by their parents."(p. 16) I was beginning to detect a more disconcerting reason for the ideal of having the same teacher advance through all of the grades. My daughter's teacher was to be her spiritual parent and guide.

Every aspect of the curriculum is centered on what Steiner defines as spiritual advancement of karma and reincarnation supplemented by indoctrination in esoteric mysteries. No wonder the self-expression inherent in the usual definition of art is missing: what passes for art, to the uninitiated, is no more than occult "moral exercise"! Nonsectarianism (valid only if this refers to the syncretic hotchpotch of myths and religions absorbed into Steiner's pantheon) is instead the intolerant, apocalyptic, totalitarian sect of Anthroposophy!

Tackling Steiner's Art in the Light of Mystery Wisdom, I waded through his endless injunctions to try and fathom the "wet-on-wet" technique and found many clues:

"In painting, the line is a lie; the line is always part of the memory of life before birth. If we are to paint with a consciousness that extends across into the world of spirit, we must paint what comes out of the colour." (p. 68)

The wet paper, liquid paint, and large brushes are used to frustrate the possibility of line. Along with logical thinking at a young age, line is believed to affect the health in later life. But what of the paper with its cut, rounded corners and the "blobs" of color? According to Steiner, the astral body is a perfect circle. Perhaps that is the connection! He instructed that only liquid paint in pots could be used - in order to make the color shine inwardly. He explains his reasons in Colour:

"You will see that a yellow surface with definite boundaries is a repulsive thing; it is quite unbearable to artistic feeling. The soul cannot bear a yellow surface which is limited. We must make yellow paler at the edges, then paler still : in short the yellow must be full in the center, shining out into a still paler yellow. If we are to experience its inner nature we cannot imagine yellow in any other way." (p. 33)

As perplexing, is the added mystical significance of liquid paint:

"The `I' itself is within the colour. The human `I' and astral body are not to be separated at all from the colour; they live in colour and inasmuch as they are united with the colour they have an existence outside the physical body. It is the `I' and the astral body which reproduce colour in the physical and etheric bodies. That is the point." (p. 54)

It is impossible to go into detail concerning Steiner's heirarchies and decrees on color due to their sheer complexity and quantity, but it is important to note that contemporary Anthroposophists like McAllen endorse his views: "The colour sequence works as a cleansing-reorientation of the soul, helping the individuality to accept the present incarnation in a physical body." (p. 40) So, these wet-on-wet pictures are actual moral exercises exposing pupils to the healing influence of color. For instance, the use of yellow and blue in the kindergarten is a mystic weaving of the soul with the hereditary body, until the growth of secondary teeth, when the etheric body enters. On and on it goes. A rather bizarre benefit concerning the years spent experiencing these color exercises was more recently expressed in Drawing: From First Grade to High School: "It should help protect them from being sucked out altogether into the physical world." (p. 165)

Another idiosyncrasy I found in Steiner's book Colour is that "The soul lives in the actual colour of the skin ...Of all the varied colours in the world around us peach-blossom is the colour we would select as being the nearest to that of the human skin..."(p. 24) From reading Art Inspired by Rudolph Steiner, I discovered that the classroom walls must be painted with a transparent wash so that pupils can see through them into the spirit world. ( Now I understand why my paint job was such a shock!)

Just as the liquid paint had a mystic mission in preparing the well-reincarnated for the new world order, so too do all the myths, legends, and fairy tales Steiner adopted in his Anthroposophical pantheon and Waldorf curriculum. This was born out in Colour where he expresses his doctrine:

"Until we have thoroughly overcome the habit of inquiring in terms of symbols and allegories and of interpreting myths and legends allegorically and symbolically, and start sensing the breath of the spirit that weaves throughout the cosmos and feel its life in the figures of myths and fairy tales - until we do this we shall not have attained real spiritual knowledge." (p. 68)

Like his hierarchies of color, Steiner also devised a system of stratification of humans evolving through "seven root races." In third grade, during a block on The Old Testament (which came as a surprise) my daughter studied the creation story of Genesis. She related the fact that she had been forced to redraw her picture, replacing Eve's black hair with blond. At the time I was puzzled by this increasing stress on light and darkness. Did it hint at racism? Consequently, I took a gulp when I read Steiner's thoughts on the subject in Health and Illness Vol. 1:

"You see, when we really study science and history, we must conclude that if people become increasingly strong, they will also become increasingly stupid. If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense if men do not arrive at a form of intelligence that is independent of blondness. Blond hair actually bestows intelligence ...It is indeed true that the more the fair individuals die out the more will the instinctive wisdom of humans vanish." (p. 86)

The illustrated lesson books that had initially misled me into thinking they expressed appreciation of other cultures were a disappointment. I now realize each work block specifically reinforces tenets of Anthroposophy. My daughter's coercion concerning Eve's blondness is an example of the Aryan sympathies unbelievably expressed by Wilkinson in 1993:

"Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japhet... Ham means "the dark one"..Japhet means "the beautiful." The Greek and Nordic peoples are the Japhetites, bearing new spiritual impulses." (p. 23)

No wonder Greek and Norse myths are so important. Was not Odin an Aryan god?

However, apart from revealing who will be top in the new world order, the Nordic myths also benefit pupils esoterically. Evidently, the hexameter meter present in these myths is believed to balance breath with the heart rhythm, balancing pupils between the forces of gravity and levity.

The duality of dark and light is emphasized over and over in the curriculum due to Steiner's adoption of the ancient Persian Zoroastrian religious concept of two gods, dark and light, whose conflict creates the world. Steiner identified Lucifer as the god of light who inspires art, reviving the Gnostic belief of Jehovah as villain and Lucifer as hero and revealer of sacred mysteries. In the form of a serpent, Lucifer had brought enlightenment when God denied the first couple the fruit of the tree of knowledge to keep them ignorant. On the dark side, Ahriman is Steiner's devil. I have uncovered the interesting fact that a group of Gnostic's called Luciferans first appeared in the 14th century in Steiner's homeland, Austria. I have a hunch that they are still present today in Anthroposophy and the Waldorf curriculum. (Steiner was also heavily influenced by Rosicrucianism, a secret society of the 17th and 18th century whose members claimed various occult lore and power.)

We are not alone in our move to Wisconsin in search of a progressive education. While some are absorbed into the Waldorf community, others like ourselves sense a strange undercurrent and remove themselves from the school. I cannot put into words my sense of loss, regret, and humiliation, for subjecting my daughter to such arrant nonsense. I had not only placed her in the exact opposite of what I had intended, but unknowingly, had helped fund and propagate a religious, secret society. Ironically, reading Steiner has empowered me. I am very confident that I do not want to be associated with Anthroposophy. Society should not endure the public funding of Anthroposophy. Waldorf schools must be honest to prospective parents, acknowledging that they are institutions of spiritual science. And my daughter? She is happy, thriving socially and academically, at the local public school.


Fletcher, John. Art Inspired by Rudolph Steiner. Mercury Arts Publications, 1987.

Froebe, Carl. "Drawing: From First Grade To High School." Pusch Vol. 2. Waldorf Schools: Upper Grades and High School: Thirty-four articles from "Education as Art", Bulletin of the Waldorf Schools of North America 1940-1978, pg. 156. Ed. Ruth Pusch. Trans. Rudolf Copple, 1959. Spring Valley, NY: Mercury Press, 1993.

McAllen, Audrey E. Sleep: An Unobserved Element in Education. Stroud, U.K.: Hawthorn Press, 1995.

Russel, J.B. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Steiner, Rudolf. Art in the Light of Mystery Wisdom: Eight Lectures 1914-1923 (1935) New Translation 1970 Johanna Collis. Rudolf Steiner Press, London. 1970.

Steiner, Rudolf. Colour. (Twelve Lectures 1921-1924) Trans. John Salter and Pauline Wehrle. Rudolf Steiner Press, Sussex, 1992.

Steiner, Rudolf. Health and Illness: Vol. l (1922) Trans. Maria St. Goar. Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1988.

Steiner, Rudolf. The Karma of Untruthfulness: Vol. 1 (1916) Trans. Johanna Collis. New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1988.

Steiner, Rudolf. Outline of Occult Science. Hudson NY: Anthroposophic press, 1972.

Steiner, Rudolf. The Roots of Education. Hudson NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1997.


Steiner, Rudolph. Study of Man: General Education Course: Fourteen Lectures given by Rudolf

Steiner in Stuttgart 21 st August - 5th September 1919. (1919) Trans. Daphne Harwood and Helen Fox. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1960.

Steiner, Rudolf. The Universal Human: Four Lectures Given Between 1909 and 1916 in Munich and Bern. (1909-1916) Trans. edited by Christopher Bamford and Sabine H. Seiler. Anthroposophic Press, 1990.

Walker, Barbara G. The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1996.

Wedeck, Harry EA. Treasury of Witchcraft. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1975.

Wilkinson, Roy. Commentary on the Old Testament Stories. Fair Oaks, CA: Rudolf Steiner College Press, 1993.

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