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In Steiner’s anthroposophy, the law of reincarnation leads to a fundamentally changed understanding of death and birth, of historic and social experience. In the newborn infant, the parents encounter a primeval individual being with unknown dispositions that it is so far unable to express in its new physical incarnation. Education becomes an aid to incarnation, to assist and harmonize the growth of the spiritual being into its physical form determined by genetic and moral factors and defined by karma even before the act of birth itself.

Where the concept of chance had hitherto been used to describe the events of life, there exists in reality a network of unsettled debts and relationships brought forward from earlier existences.

The second fundamental law of the spiritual world is the microcosmic analogy: man is the world in microcosm, while the world is man on a vast scale, i.e. the macranthropos. The hierarchy of the natural kingdom—minerals, plants, animals and human beings—represents an ascending order towards spirituality. As the crowning manifestation of creation, human beings combine all four forms of existence or active cosmic forces within themselves. The doctrine of being also leads on to a theory of evolution (or more precisely emanation): animals, plants and minerals have gradually split off from their union with the human being but remain intimately related to him. The world of minerals is in a sense the solid part of man that has remained fixed in the Saturn stage of universal development. Plants were created out of the ethereal vegetative part of man that has not progressed beyond the sun stage. Finally, animals are manifestations of the human body that was already endowed with an animal soul in the moon stage; they merely failed to follow the process of incarnation of the spiritual component of man thereafter. 11

These natural kingdoms ejected from the process of creation of man today stand opposite man, not as alien things but as beings that are intimately related to him. Steiner’s homeopathic medicine and art of natural healing, and the natural scientific and ecological teaching dispensed in the Steiner schools, are based on this primeval, pre-modern theory of a cosmos in which all things are one.

In the anthroposophical approach, human nature is presented as a genetic combination of four cosmic forces or elements: the physical body which alone is visible and in which the mechanical laws of the mineral kingdom apply; secondly, the hidden ethereal or living body in which the forces of growth and propagation are active just as they are in the vegetable kingdom; thirdly, the occult astral or sensitive body which bears the animal forces of instincts, desires and passions; and, fourthly, the individual human body which is constantly reincarnated and refines and explains the other elements through its own essence. 12

These four bodies, essences or force fields hold the most important key to the anthroposophic understanding of man and the world. Many phenomena are attributed by anthroposophy to the action of the four and therefore seemingly explained, e.g. the four elements, the four seasons, the four temperaments, the four stages of knowledge, etc.13 In his later writings, Steiner adds a tripartite structure of human nature that is guided by the old spiritual triad of thought, feeling and will.

Looking back, Steiner’s romantic thought process began as a theory of knowledge—drawing heavily on Fichte and Schelling—with the intellectual self-perception of thought. It ended as an occult anthroposophical world-view with a new mythology. The thought process has now been transformed into the heterogeneity of a magic mythical world relationship in which the human body becomes a factor in the history of salvation.

The paradox of anthroposophy resides in the fact that something that is in reality a myth of the second order is proclaimed in the name of science. The universal presence of the soul, symbolic numbers, magical analogies, Steiner’s living logic of images, are an attempt to rehabilitate mythical thinking14 and ritual life in a civilization ruled by science.

The anthropological foundation of education

Steiner’s basic ideas on education were conceived in the period between 1906 and 1909 in a manner which to begin with had naturalistic overtones: Out of the essence of the developing individual, ideas on education will grow, as it were, of their own accord.15 However, in contrast to the path taken by Dewey and Montessori, who sought to establish their New Education on recent ideas of empirical child psychology, Steiner based his


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