No right angles and other gentle mumbo jumbo

When I first came across Anthroposophy I thought it was a joke, perhaps an invented religion or philosophy in a satirical novel, or the type of earnestly held belief system that Gulliver might have examined on a remote island floating somewhere in the sky. But it’s serious stuff to its adherents, and I know just a little about it because it’s the movement that Rudolf Steiner founded, and because my two nephews went to a Rudolf Steiner school.

I was reminded of Anthroposophy two weeks ago when I came across an Anthroposophical Centre in Sydney, impressively far from its roots in Central Europe, but sill assiduous in its avoidance of right angles.

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Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) was half mystic, half scientist, charismatic guru and respected intellectual. His followers were persuaded by the shining certainty of his knowledge of the spiritual world, his honesty utterly convincing. He was no obvious charlatan. He was revered then and is revered still, and I always take reverence as a warning sign. Certainty is no guide to truth.

The mind, Steiner believed, is an organ of perception, as useful for perceiving the spiritual world, as the eyes are for seeing the physical world. Through the proper ‘scientific’ exploration of the spiritual realm, developing the mind’s introspective powers, we can learn the realities of the spiritual world. Look at a seed long enough and you will see an aura surrounding it, lilac in colour, that represents its true spiritual form.

Look him up on Wikipedia. Even Saul Bellow admired him.

Of course, it’s all a lot of nonsense, but that shouldn’t undermine his reputation as a man of great kindness and humanity, who, for example, developed new ways of treating handicapped children, taught that the arts are as important to education as science, number and word, and fought against prejudice wherever he found it. His educational methods have been immensely influential, whatever the metaphysics that underpinned them.

But I also remember how my nephews longed for a ‘proper school’ and how much they had to catch up when they got there. True, the Steiner method, which rejects competition and excessive examination, and, instead, encourages creativity, and freedom of expression, results in kinder, nicer, more cooperative, more ‘balanced’ human beings, but forcing young teenagers to indulge in Steiner’s ‘eurythmics’, a kind of free-form prancing to music (think of Isadora Duncan), is simply embarrassing.

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But one of the oddest things, in an already odd corner of human faith, is the idea that right angles might be spiritually damaging. Look at the façade of this ‘Anthroposophical’ centre in Sydney and you’ll see how hard they tried to avoid them. Plainly silly.