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Rudolf Steiner was born in Croatia in 1861 and died in 1925. He is best described as an eclectic individual. During his lifetime Steiner was highly esteemed as a scientist, philosopher, mystic, artist, architect and spiritual leader. For many people, the title of both scientist and spiritual leader, or mystic and philosopher for example, may seem to be at odds with one another. However, throughout his lifetime Steiner sought to reconcile opposition and influenced millions of people to incorporate these elements into their lives and the education of their children in a complete way.
Steiner is probably most famously known as the founder of the Waldorf education. As a young man, he was asked by a prominent cigarette factory owner if it was possible to educate the young so that they would grow up to maintain a peaceful society. Steiner thought it was possible and set out to develop a unique educational philosophy; he soon applied it to teaching the factory owner’s employees’ children.
The Waldorf education as developed by Steiner, aims to develop the whole child by educating the heart, the hands and the head. Steiner’s goal was to incorporate and emphasize the importance of the arts and spirituality, in addition to academics, at an appropriate time according to the child’s stage of development. With this method, the person would ideally emerge as a free thinking, creative, spiritual and intellectual being.
Steiner also developed what is called anthroposophy, which means wisdom of the human being. Anthroposophy is a mystical system that generally involves the study of spiritual science. Contrary to modernism or a materialistic worldview, Steiner believed that the spiritual realm of the world is truth that is primary and transcendent to physical phenomena. As such any task that is to be undertaken successfully must first and foremost consider its spiritual dimension.
Anthroposophy, as developed by Steiner, maintains that there are four parts that make up the whole, individual human being. First there is the physical body, which is the material form of the human being. All other animals, plants, rocks and minerals also have a physical body. The second part is the etheric body which includes sensations, emotions, breath and, generally, the difference between a live and dead being. Plants and other animals also have an etheric body. Third, the human being has an astral body which can be roughly equated with soul. Steiner thought that plants and other animals have an astral body as a collective group in contrast to the individual astral body in each human being. The fourth part is the ego which Steiner thought was only present in the human being; the highest form of creation. The ego includes self awareness, the ability to self reflect and the ability to achieve human freedom.
The ideas behind anthroposophy have been successfully applied in many different aspects of practical human life. It is practiced in medicine, education, agriculture, architecture, banking, treatment for the mentally handicapped and more. The Anthroposophy Society, founded by Rudolf Steiner is still active today, promoting his view that a study and application of the spiritual aspect of human beings is desperately needed to restore the human dignity, happiness and freedom that has been victimized by a materialistic worldview.