Saturday, June 15, 2019
Waldorf and mistletoe: The theory and practice of Anthroposophy
“Inspirerad av Antroposofi” (Inspired by Anthroposophy) is a Swedish book with somewhat surprising contents. The editors have collected generally pro-Anthroposophy articles from a number of non-Anthroposophists, some of which used to be well known personages in Swedish cultural life. I was surprised to find contributions by Göran Rosenberg, Maria Bergom Larsson, Agneta Pleijel and Annika Åhnberg. Of these, perhaps only journalist, author and editor Göran Rosenberg is known outside Sweden. There is also an article on Rudolf Steiner and his place in intellectual history by Ronny Ambjörnsson. I admit that my own view of Anthroposophy is more negative, and I can´t say this book changed my impression…
The usual entry point into the occult world of Steiner´s Anthroposophy is Waldorf schooling. Many of the contributors placed their children in Waldorf schools. Maria Bergom Larsson was actually a teacher at the Waldorf school at Ytterjärna, where the Anthroposophists have built their Swedish headquarters. Biodynamic farming and, in Rosenberg´s case, the Camphill movement (care of children with learning disabilities), are two other points of entry. The contributors like the “practice” of Anthroposophy, while finding the “theory” (i.e. Steiner´s clairvoyant revelations) hard to believe or even incomprehensible.
Personally, I was apparently very Ahrimanic as a child (as behooves a guy with three planets in Capricorn), since the Waldorf system of pedagogy would probably have driven me nuts: “create your own textbooks”, artistic drawing, fairytales, eurythmy, clothes made of wool, blaaaah. (Not mentioned in this book, the Anthroposophists are also anti-vaxxers.) But sure, I suppose this could work for a certain kind of autistic and special needs children, something also emphasized in the book. Curiously, many Anthroposophists seem to be very left-wing, while the occult philosophy of Steiner is more “conservative” in nature. I suppose the ecological and decentralist angles attract a certain kind of leftists, as does the counter-cultural angle more generally. Maria Bergom Larsson was allowed to be a teacher at the Waldorf school despite not being a true believer in Anthroposophy, which must have been quite the attitude test, since the teachers are supposed to meet every Thursday to study Rudolf Steiner´s lectures – like everything else in this movement, the Waldorf pedagogy (supposedly) comes from the spirit-world as revealed by the sixth sense of Steiner. It was interesting to note that the Waldorf schools have a strong confessional streak, with the children setting up pageants based on the Biblical creation story or Steiner´s speculations about the archangel Michael (who plays a prominent role in his cosmology).
The most bizarre contribution, perhaps inevitably, is written by an actual Anthroposophist who tries to explain the occult theories behind the movement´s alternative medicine. She seems to be suggesting (it´s not entirely clear) that hay fever isn´t caused by allergens from actual plants, but is a psychological condition! For completely opaque reasons, lemon juice cures hay fever. The author also claims that homeopathic mistletoe can cure cancer – an illegal statement in Sweden, but perhaps only in the context of actual prescriptions? The reasons for why mistletoe has this property is, once again, very opaque. The contributor also expounds at length on what a wonderful learning opportunity many diseases, including potentially fatal ones, can be… Yeah, haven´t we heard that one before!
Ambjörnsson´s article (co-written with Kerstin Thörn) attempts to place Anthroposophy´s founder Rudolf Steiner in a broader perspective. It´s quite interesting. Somewhat surprisingly, given the seemingly original speculations of this man, the Austrian polymath turns out to be very much a child of his time (the early 20th century) – or perhaps just a few decades behind it. Anthroposophy could be regarded as a synthesis of occultism, Romantic philosophy and evolutionary theory. Theosophy, a strong occult movement at the time, gave Steiner the template to work from. Goethe, Schelling and Herder were other influences – as was Hegel, not mentioned in the article. Steiner´s biodynamic farming was inspired by the Romantic-vitalistic humus theory. His pedagogical and aesthetic ideas, while more original, also had affinities with contemporary reform movements. I suppose somebody could argue that the “practice” could be separated from the “theory”, after all.
Above all, I get the impression from “Inspirerad av Antroposofi” that Anthroposophy is at bottom harmless - in the wrong kind of way. These people will never change the world, let alone initiate some kind of revolution. They are simply a spiritual safety valve for the privileged middle classes. After spending some time in Green Anthroposophy land, it´s back to high modernity (and capitalist) main frame. With that comment, I end this week´s Anthroposophy-bashing session.
Live long and prosper.