Lively debate on Anthroposophy in Leeuwarden (The Netherlands)

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Anthroposophy in Leeuwarden

On Friday 9 May 1997, a debate took place on Anthroposophy and its links to (Waldorf) education, to medicine, and to occultism in general. It was in Leeuwarden, a town of 60.000 inhabitants, and the capital of the northern Dutch province of Friesland.

A very mixed audience had come to the Romein Theatre. Many of them spoke up during the lively debate. Some were staunch supporters of Anthroposophy. Some were sharp critics; like a father who had withdrawn his child from the local Waldorf school. Also non-Anthroposophic esoteric movements were present: there was a supporter of Benjamin Creme's Maitreya movement. This organization expects the immediate return of the Christ, basing itself on Theosophical ideas, derived from the early twentieth century promotion of Krishnamurti as vehicle for the World Teacher, and from Alice Bailey.

Mellie Uyldert

Dirk de Bood of the co-organizing Frisian Anti-Fascist Committee presided. In his opening speech, he recalled how he himself used to believe in the alternative medicine of Mellie Uyldert. In the nineteen sixties and seventies, she used to be the principal face of Dutch occultism on television (there was only one network then). She sold more than a million books.

As an astrologer, Ms Uyldert wrote much on ‘planetary qualities' of humans and human 'races'. Then, in 1984, national dailies reported that during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, 1940-1945, she wrote on runes and racial theories for a Nazi SS magazine. After the Second World War, she had continued to write in her own magazine De Kaarsvlam in a positive sense about Nazis; and in a negative sense about Jews, about non-white immigrants whom she wanted to return forcibly to their native countries, etc. Uyldert wrote that it was a pity that Hitler had lost the war, because of all the terrible race mixing after 1945. She lost much, not all, of her support after the publicity in 1984. For instance, Onkruid, the most widely read Dutch New Age magazine, did not want her contributions any longer.

These reports had been an eye-opener to Dirk. Since 1984, others have also started to investigate if not only Ms Uyldert, but also other tendencies within occultism, including Anthroposophy, might not have undesirable aspects.

Then, yours truly, of SIMPOS (Foundation for Information on Occult Tendencies and Social Problems), spoke. I mentioned the history of occultism since the 1840s, basing myself partly on my PhD thesis on Theosophical Society history: first Spiritualism, then Theosophy, then Anthroposophy. Then, I spoke about the links to medicine and to education.

For the last few years, the debate on Waldorf education, which had ebbed a bit since the climax in 1984-1985, has begun to wax again in The Netherlands. Toos Jeurissen, a founding member of SIMPOS, withdrew her children from a Waldorf school after finding out about the subject Racial Ethnography. Just one example she discovered: in these classes, children were taught to draw blond children walking in bright sunlight, while black children, as they supposedly belonged to the Anthroposophical category of 'moon people', walked in the weak light of the moon and the stars. The children also drew diagrams, putting the 'black race' on the level of babies, and the 'white race' on the level of adults.

Toos Jeurissen published a book, Uit de Vrije School geklapt (English: Waldorf salad with Aryan mayonnaise?? A mother challenges 'race' theories in Rudolf Steiner education).

After my speech, I joined three other debaters behind the table on the stage. At first, Gerben van der Heide, a teacher at the Michael School, the local Waldorf school, spoke. He said that he was not a member of the Anthroposophical Society. He had a copy of Toos' booklet with him.

Also a copy of his own booklet, Een visie op de rassen, which he published in 1996, during the controversy after the publication of Toos' book. Though he did not name Toos in his sources, his choice of Rudolf Steiner quotes makes her impact obvious. Van der Heide questions (page 26) whether Steiner's views on races were correct. Yet, Van der Heide wanted to end his book on a note positive to Steiner. He quoted a paragraph on the importance of individual freedom from Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom.

I think this is somewhat problematic. This does not take into account that Steiner's ideas were not monolithic, but went through various phases. In the 1880s, he had contacts with Greater Germany nationalists. In the 1890s, when he wrote the Philosophy of Freedom, he had more contacts with freethinkers, anarchists and socialists. In 1897, the year after the publication of the Philosophy of Freedom, Steiner wrote scathingly in the Magazin für Literatur on Theosophy. He thought it an enemy of the freedom of science, 'empty' and 'hypocritical' . However, in 1902 Steiner converted to Theosophy, racial doctrines included. Without knowing something about Theosophy, one can scarcely understand Anthroposophy, founded in 1913 after a conflict on Krishnamurti with the Theosophical Society.

The Leeuwarden Waldorf school was founded in 1982, Van der Heide said. It started with small children only. Racial Ethnography (Dutch: rassenkunde), he said, had never been a subject in Leeuwarden. By the time the children were 12, 13, when they usually are taught this subject, it had already become controversial. People like the historian Gjalt Zondergeld had criticized it in the press. Van der Heide said that some people had criticized Ethnography (Dutch: volkenkunde) as thinly disguised Racial Ethnography. However, Ethnography was not even a separate subject as such in Leeuwarden.

How about multicultural education? The Leeuwarden school had only white pupils, Van der Heide replied. However, the idea was good. Every country has its own fairytales.

I replied that I did not doubt Van der Heide's good intentions. However, a South African told me that at Waldorf schools in South Africa she had found only European fairytales, 'while there are so many beautiful African fairytales'. An Anthroposophist from the floor said that in Amsterdam there was a Waldorf school 'with only foreign children'. This was an incorrect description of the plan for the Amsterdam multi-cultural Waldorf school, which has not got off the ground yet.

A man from the Gaasterland region asked: 'Talking about races: how about the Frisian race?'

I replied that I had found a reference to this in The Theosophist magazine in 1936. An English lady, Edith Pinchin, considered the 'Aryan' Root Race the highest, as usually in Theosophical literature then. Within 'Aryans', the 'Teutonic' sub- race was highest. This sub-race included sub-sub-races, like Frisians and Dutch. And English: the highest sub-sub-race, the English author thought.

My reply did not satisfy the Gaasterland man. How, he asked, about Frisian racial characteristics, like being 'tall, blue-eyed, and blond, like tonight's chairman?' Chairman Dirk de Bood replied: 'Well, I may be tall, blue-eyed, and blond. However, I was not born in Friesland, but in Amsterdam. Into a Jewish family!' This silenced the man from Gaasterland's torrent of words.

Medicine and trash cans

On stage, Mr van der Meij, a nurse, represented the local Anthroposophical Society.

Doctor Wiebe Veenema of the Anti-Quackery League said: 'To our organization, Anthroposophy, as far as medicine is concerned, is quackery.'

A woman told from the floor how she had had cardiac trouble. She felt dissatisfied with conventional medical treatment. She then went to an Anthroposophical healer. This healer told her: 'Well, if you would have been blonde, I would have prescribed you certain pills. However, your hair is black. This blackness is all over your body and deep inside you. Now, this means that I will have to prescribe quite different pills.' The lady said this stunned her. Back home, it sunk in what the healer had really said. She threw the pills into the trash can. And she never went back to Anthroposophical medicine.

The representatives on stage of the local Waldorf school and of the Anthroposophical Society did not try to defend this healer. However, Anthroposophists from the floor did so fiercely. Someone else asked from the floor: 'Whatever happened to the trash can?' 'I suppose it got cured!' another person shouted. 'What was the colour of the trash can's hair?' I asked.

After Dirk had closed the meeting, many people showed interest in SIMPOS leaflets and in Toos Jeurissen's book. A sympathizer of Anthroposophy leafed through Toos' book. He saw the Steiner quotations in it. He said: 'These views of Steiner are worse than I thought'; and he wanted to buy Toos' book.

by Herman A.O. de Tollenaere

Originally published, in slightly different form, in the Indian Skeptic, 15 September 1997

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