Rudolf Steiner's Quackery

Roger Rawlings

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian mystic and self-proclaimed clairvoyant who founded the religion known as Anthroposophy. In addition to his acute interest in spiritualism, Steiner also turned his attention to many earthly matters. One was education: Steiner founded the Waldorf school movement, which now includes over 800 schools. Another area of interest for Steiner was medicine. Today practitioners of “Anthroposophical medicine” can be found in many communities in North America, Europe, and elsewhere.

The underlying principle of Anthroposophical medicine is that everything physical is infused with and manifests spirit. Steiner claimed that the causes of illness are not primarily physical but reflect spiritual conditions. For human beings, he taught:

One result of Steiner's medical doctrines is that Anthroposophical doctors generally avoid giving inoculations. A professed believer in reincarnation, Steiner taught that a disease may be part of a patient's "karma" and that interfering with the illness would be unwise because treating only the physical body would require the patient to compensate in a future life. Addressing a group of doctors, Steiner said "If we destroy the susceptibility to smallpox, we are concentrating only on the external side of karmic activity." [1]

On other occasions, Steiner was even more outspoken. He said that black magicians and other evildoers will create medicines that will deaden people to all things spiritual: "Endeavors to achieve this will be made by bringing out remedies to be administered by inoculation . . . only these inoculations will influence the human body in a way that will make it refuse to give a home to the spiritual inclinations of the soul." [2] 

Although loath to inoculate or to interfere with karmic destiny, Anthroposophical doctors do not completely refrain from standard treatment. They are genuine MDs, having gone through standard medical schools. After graduation, they may employ standard treatments on occasion, but they will also resort to alternative therapies when they deem these best. For example, the Defending Steiner Web site states:

So anthroposophical doctors reject nothing in the toolbox of conventional medicine a priori. Every option is considered for its appropriateness in a specific instance. Antibiotics are used when necessary, but so are homeopathic remedies. Physical therapy is prescribed, but so is curative eurythmy (movement exercise to balance the forces within the body) [3].

Herbal and homeopathic products are often prescribed. For example:

Rescue Remedy is used on stressful days where we suffer from impatience, tension and pressure. It has also been used successfully with children to stop a tantrum, before a speech or job interview. Rescue Remedy helps us relax, get focused and get the needed calmness [4].

The ingredients include star of Bethlehem (for shock), clematis (to counteract any tendency to lose consciousness), cherry plum (to maintain mental stability), impatiens (for tension), and rock rose (to prevent panic) [5].

Even the most severe illnesses may be attacked with simple natural substances, although they are often prepared in special ways.

Steiner believed that in people with cancer or susceptibility to cancer, the individual's "higher organizing forces" are weak, relative to the "lower organizing forces" and that the resulting imbalance leads to excess proliferation of cells and eventually tumor production. In the early 1920s, Steiner regarded a mistletoe preparation he called Iscador as a therapeutic agent capable of correcting the imbalance [5].

Steiner’s descriptions of various bodily organs and their functions differ markedly from those found in medical textbooks. He declared, for example, that the heart is not a pump and that blood circulates of its own accord, thanks to the vital force it embodies [6]. Likewise, he taught that the brain is not involved in cognition [7]. For Steiner, true cognition was the exercise of paranormal powers made possible when individuals develop “organs of clairvoyance.” [8]

Anthroposophical physicians do not appear to conduct double-blind controlled experiments [9], so it is almost impossible to evaluate their success rates. All doctors witness mysterious declines as well as mysterious recoveries. Believers in Anthroposophical medicine relate tales of highly successful treatments, but whether the alleged cures resulted from the treatments, the body's natural healing processes, or overly optimistic reporting cannot be determined.

Consequences of Medical Neglect

Using ineffective "alternatives" instead of necessary science-based care can have serious consequences. On, Robert Smith-Hald describes how he suffered while being raised by Anthroposophists. “They believe that sickness is the soul incarnating, and also that it has to do with karma. They don’t believe in inoculations, so I had all the child diseases going around, some twice.” Smith-Hald reports that he was constantly ill throughout his childhood and that the primary "treatment" that his anthroposophical doctors prescribed was “little white sugar pills called infludo, and . . . buckets and buckets of horsetail tea, and also chamomile tea.” Certain foods made him sick, so he was required to eat great quantities of these very foods. “[T]he feeling my parents had was that I should eat more of it, as I obviously needed to incarnate through the food. So I grew up being force fed food that was making me sick.” As an adult, having broken away from Anthroposophy, Smith-Hald was examined by a conventional doctor who correctly diagnosed his wheat intolerance. He has been improving ever since [10].

At the same Web site, Sharon Lombard relates what happened when her daughter became ill at a Waldorf school:

The Anthroposophic doctor made a diagnosis: my child had lost the will to live. He announced one of the potential cures . . . we were to give our daughter red, yellow, and orange crayons to color with! I looked at my husband in disbelief. When the doctor instructed us to make the sign of a flame out of Aurum cream over my child’s heart at bedtime, I was dumbfounded. . . . He told us to apply the gold cream from below the heart upwards, towards the sky.

Ultimately, the girl required hospitalization and gradually recovered with standard medical care [11].

Dr. Edzard Ernst has reported that between 1999 and 2010, at least ten outbreaks of measles in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Austria, and Germany centered around Waldorph schools whose children had immunization rates below 10% [12]. Although the European Council for Steiner Waldorph Education has stated that oppostion to immunization forms no part of anthroposophy's "specific educational objectives," Ernst regards Anthroposophy as a risk factor for noncompliance [12].

Standard medicine—which is based on careful research and proven facts—is still limited. It cannot explain the causes of some illnesses, and it offers no cures for some. But it has an extremely potent weapon in its arsenal, something that no "alternative" approaches have: the scientific method, which is the best tool mankind possesses for discovering truth. It is responsible for the great strides that standard medical care has made, and it will account for the greater strides to come.

Additional Information


  1. Steiner R. Karma of the higher beings. In Manifestations of Karma. Lecture 8, May 25th, 1910.
  2. Steiner R. Secret Brotherhoods. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004, pp. 90-91.
  3. Anthroposophically extended medicine. Defending Steiner Web site, accessed March 5, 2007.
  4. Rescue Remedy. Web site, accessed March 5, 2007.
  5. Herbal treatments. In Unconventional Cancer Treatments, OTA-H-405. Washington, D.C., 1990, U.S. Government Printing Office.
  6. Marinelli R. and others. The heart is not a pump. Frontier Perspectives 5(1), 1995.
  7. Steiner R. The Foundations of Human Experience (Foundations of Waldorf Education, 1). Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press, 1996, p. 60.
  8. Steiner R. Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment. London and New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1944, , p. 28.
  9. Carroll R. Anthroposophic medicine. The Skeptic's Dictionary, accessed March 5, 2007.
  10. Smith-Hald R. Growing up being made sick by Anthroposophy. Web site, Jan 30, 2007.
  11. Lombard S. Spotlight on anthroposophy. Cultic Studies Review 2(2), 2003.
  12. Ernst E. Anthroposophy: A risk factor for noncompliance with measles immunization. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal 30:187-189, 2011

Mr. Rawlings, now semi-retired, has been a college instructor, magazine writer, and editor. His book, The Last Airmen: Exploring My Father's World (Harper, 1989) is an informal history of American commercial aviation. His Web site has additional information about Anthroposophy.

This article was revised onJuly 23, 2012.

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