Category Archives: Biodynamics

Anthroposophy and social justice

My eye is caught by an interview in The Guardian with Fran Russell, the recently-appointed executive director of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. My daughter also spotted the article and sent me the link, with the comment: “To my casual eye, she sounds like the sort of pragmatic, worldly advocate we need!”

That is exactly right – I have known Fran from when she was the administrator at the Greenwich Steiner School and have a high regard for her, both as a human being and as the right person at the right time for a very difficult job; Steiner schools in England, as anyone who is a regular reader of this blog will know, have been going through hard times in recent years, a period in which they have been under intense scrutiny from Ofsted.

What I noticed about Fran’s interview, though, is that she does not appear to have used the word “anthroposophy” once. One clue as to why this may be so can be found in the comments from readers appearing under the interview, in which quite a few people disparage both Steiner and anthroposophy.

I decided to take a look at the website of the Bristol Steiner School, whose head teacher, Ruth Glover, is mentioned in the interview. The school has clearly learnt its Ofsted lessons well and is now rated as ‘Good’. What is also notable is that there does not appear to be a single mention of Rudolf Steiner or anthroposophy anywhere in the website.

Presumably the reason for this absence is that a hard-headed and pragmatic conclusion has been reached that Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy detract from the message that the school wishes to convey about the benefits of its educational methods. This is a great triumph for Ofsted and the Waldorf critics, who have thus succeeded in separating Steiner from Steiner schools.

Perhaps such an outcome was inevitable, now that Steiner schools have been in existence for around one hundred years, during which time they and the wider anthroposophical movement have accumulated a quantity of historical baggage that has been unhelpful in today’s circumstances. I find it very sad, however, and worry that a Steiner school which cannot bring itself to mention Rudolf Steiner will eventually lose its way, as those running the school will find it politic to bend this way and that in order either to meet the latest Ofsted demands, or avoid the attention of internet critics.

I thought of these pragmatists and trimmers while reading a book called The Living Rudolf Steiner – Apologia by a Dutch medical doctor called Mieke Mossmuller. Here is a passage that drew my attention:

“One does not have to take blindly what he says and writes, one can simply leave it to Rudolf Steiner’s responsibility. Only dogmatists have to answer for their dogmas. A free man does not have to apologise for the statements of another free man. He knows that the free man reflects more deeply on his statements than the unfree man and thus knows that these free statements of free people are perfectly understandable. However, one must not surrender to the lack of freedom of public opinion. Judgements are widely prevalent there which are not intelligent and spiritual enough to bring about free statements or appreciate these statements. Thus, when a contemporary Anthroposophical Society wants to apologise for statements that Rudolf Steiner has made, it shows itself to be a dogmatic sectarian association in doing so. Or else it has striven itself finally to free itself from this Master of the Occident by pulling this master down to its own spiritless level”

This is perhaps a rather harsh and unforgiving verdict on people who are doubtless trying to defend and preserve aspects of anthroposophy within the hostile climate engendered by “the lack of freedom of public opinion”.  Such a pragmatic tendency is probably an inevitable necessity during the present phase of Steiner schools in England and their intense encounter with Ofsted. It is nevertheless one of two distorting tendencies for anthroposophy which have been identified in a perceptive essay by Robert Karp, a former director of the Biodynamic Association in the USA.

Talking about biodynamics but in remarks which are equally applicable to other anthroposophical endeavours, Karp says:

“We do not understand biodynamic agriculture, as well as Waldorf education, anthroposophical medicine and all the other diverse offshoots of anthroposophy, correctly if we think of them simply as “applications” of spiritual science to different vocations. This is an abstraction. In reality, these movements are the result of powerful forces of social conscience living in different individuals and groups of people in the early 20th century, which then received from Rudolf Steiner and spiritual science a certain direction, a certain form through which their social impulses were channelled and further cultivated”

(…) In his lectures published under the title Awakening to Community, (Steiner) describes ‘three acts in the soul drama’ of an anthroposophist, i.e. of a modern human being striving to work in the world out of the impulses of spiritual science.

The first act of this drama Rudolf Steiner describes as the emergence in our biography of a kind of inner refusal to participate in the destructiveness and superficiality of modern civilisation. He calls this a withdrawal or turning inward of the will away from conventionality—conventional thought forms, social forms, and ways of being—in search of something deeper. 

This turning inward of the will is the very ground of the social conscience, wherever it emerges. The tragic conditions of the modern world touch us in some way: through war, poverty, ecological destruction, racial discrimination, childhood abuse, illness, and so on. Whatever these events or trends are, and however they have impacted us, we can find ourselves disgusted, wounded, angered, depressed, sick, offended. Our will is hindered in its natural outward embrace of the world and we go inward in search for something new and different—we are thrust onto a quest for meaning and healing, both personal and collective. For millions of people in our time, this is the beginning of their hero’s journey of liberation from the oppression, violence, and emptiness of modern life.

(…) Biodynamics is not an agricultural impulse derived from the teachings of spiritual science; it is rather, a powerful social impulse working in the domain of agriculture that has united itself with the spiritual substance of anthroposophy. Biodynamics is thus not something that needs to be wedded to, or have grafted onto it, any type of social impulse, movement, or worldview from outside—it is a social impulse in and of itself— with an inexhaustible wellspring of inspiration for social deeds. The same can be said of all the different so-called “daughter movements” of anthroposophy. This uniting of our social impulses with the insights of spiritual science is what Rudolf Steiner refers to as the second act in the soul drama of an anthroposophist”.

Karp then goes on to observe that the social impulses that fuel movements at their founding are not identical to the social impulses that continue to fuel them over time; and therefore it is necessary for two different things to take place:

“First, that it is refreshed, again and again, by new people flowing into it with their unique social impulses and perspectives; and second, that these social impulses are continually wedded to and illuminated by the social and spiritual substance of anthroposophy; just as took place for the founders of the movement.”

If neither of these things happen, Karp suggests that an anthroposophical movement can be distorted in two different ways:

“a. It can close itself off to the fresh social impulses of succeeding generations or from people in very different regions and cultures, and thereby become less and less relevant to the present time, enclosing itself, as it were, in a kind of sectarian skin formed by devotion to the experiences of the founders and to an ever smaller circle of people in the present. We could call this the sectarian tendency. Or:


b. It can welcome new people and fresh social impulses but neglect the process of uniting these social impulses with, and illuminating them through, the substance of anthroposophy; instead adopting and grafting onto itself all kinds of perspectives, narratives, and agenda from movements outside itself. We could call this the grafting tendency.

I find this to be a very acute observation. It is clear that Steiner schools in England, because of the need to accommodate themselves to Ofsted’s requirements, are currently in the grip of (b), what Karp calls the grafting tendency.

One might also say that many Steiner schools find themselves in this position partly because of having been for far too long caught up in (a) the sectarian tendency.

This brings us on to what Steiner called Act III of the soul drama of the anthroposophist: 

“Essentially, he suggests we reach a crisis point in our biography as we seek to embody the universal impulses of anthroposophy within the unique circumstances of our destiny—a process that requires us to confront, ever more deeply, the limitations, wounds and weaknesses of our personality, which includes, of course, the limitations of our familial and cultural heritage. This is a drama marked by great inner struggle with our lower selves: our illusions, our biases, our fears. Yet through this process of self-confrontation and self-emptying, new capacities arise, new-born powers of soul that ultimately can allow us to unite our personal destiny with the destiny of the time and place in which we live. (…) We are reborn, you could say, as world citizens from the confines of our intimate anthroposophical and biodynamic communities. Rudolf Steiner calls this the awakening of a Sophia power in our souls, thus connecting this initiation, in a certain way, with the mysteries of the divine feminine in our time.”

In Karp’s view, the tragedy of the sectarian tendency is that certain existential questions of the time simply don’t get asked or answered, or the people who could ask and answer these questions are not invited to the table. The tragedy of the grafting tendency is that the right questions are asked, but they are not brought into relationship with the being of anthroposophy for illumination and guidance. 

What is the solution to these dilemmas? Significantly, at a time when the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has brought the spotlight as never before on racism and inequality, Karp suggests that what has been missing in our movement is an individualised approach or response to the questions of social justice drawn from the profound social and spiritual heart of anthroposophy.

Rudolf Steiner addressed with urgency the social justice issues of his time, including education; and together with the businessman Emil Molt, he founded the first Steiner school in Stuttgart in 1919 on the basis that it had to be accessible to both boys and girls from all walks of life, fees must not be charged, and the teachers needed to have complete autonomy to teach as they saw fit. Being free from most standards imposed by the state was seen as a way to teach to the child’s needs, rather than to fit that child into a social order.

This social mission is still felt in many places and Steiner schools around the world. In the US and the UK, however, Steiner schools began as private, fee-paying schools which by definition exclude many children who would benefit from such an education. The roots of anthroposophy are in social justice so it is sobering to reflect that today, one hundred years after that first school opened in Stuttgart, we are no nearer to achieving an educational system that is both free to all and free from state interference.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Biodynamics, Social justice

Is biodynamics coming closer to mainstream acceptance?

I’ve said it before but I think it bears repeating: if biodynamic agriculture and horticulture are ever to become mainstream, then the first signs of this are going to be in the world of fine wines.  We are already seeing evidence of this: Monty Waldin, a wine writer and biodynamic specialist, estimates that in 2017 about 5 per cent of the world’s vineyards were certified organic or biodynamic. In 1999 it was less than 1 per cent.

Something is clearly going on, because biodynamic viticulture has just been the subject of an entire column by the eminent wine writer and Master of Wine, Jancis Robinson, in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine of September 29/30th 2018. If the FT is sitting up and taking notice of biodynamic wines, then this is an indication of a significant shift in culture among the monied classes; and where they go, mainstream culture will surely follow.

True, Robinson shows no real understanding of biodynamics in her column and a sarcastic sub-editor gave it the headline “Hogwarts school of viticulture.” But she does appreciate some of the reasons why people might be wary of conventional viticulture: “Anyone who has visited a wine region and seen vineyard workers spraying chemicals so potent that they are clad as if they were investigating a Novichok incident is likely to find organically grown grapes an attractive proposition”. She goes on to say:

“The principles of biodynamics were outlined by the philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. Many of them seem barmy. The emphasis on soil health, as in organics, is surely sensible. The postwar period of technological revolution coupled with the imperative of quantity over quality left a legacy of heavily compacted soils deprived of nutrients, organic matter and microbes. Healthy soil encourages healthy plants and I have often found extra vitality in wines that turned out to be biodynamic.

Steiner’s insistence that a farm should be a holistic ecosystem rather than a commercially efficient monoculture is a much further step away from conventional science, but has resulted in a dramatic increase in fauna to be found on the land of biodynamic practitioners.

But it is the third tenet of biodynamics that is most controversial and the reason why many rationalists dismiss it as ‘pseudoscience’. Full embrace of biodynamism involves the application of homeopathic doses of preparations based on the likes of quartz powder, camomile and nettles. Some are supposed to be buried in cow horns or other animal parts. All are supposed to be applied, and vineyard operations conducted, according to the celestial calendar.

This is the part only the most devoted biodynamic practitioners adhere to, but they assure non-believers that these can transmit energy and health to the soil, vines and grapes. Sceptical scientists point to the weakness of lunar forces. But even non-biodynamic wine producers have long been careful to time their bottling with the phases of the moon to ensure their wines are star-bright”.

Well, you can tell from all of this that Jancis Robinson is some way from any real appreciation of or insights into biodynamics – but it’s a start and it should be applauded. She goes on to list some of the starry vineyards that have adopted  biodynamic viticulture – too many to list here, I’m glad to say – but they include the very best of French producers, including chateaux in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Champagne and Alsace, as well as wine growers in Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, California, Washington, Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. (There are also at least three biodynamic vineyards in the UK.)

But her column got me thinking: if the world is starting to wake up to biodynamics, is the biodynamic movement in a position to respond to meet increasing demand for knowledge, techniques and the supply of BD preparations?

This question has recently taken on a personal dimension for me. When we moved into our house in Forest Row in 2015, one of the things that attracted me to it was the garden and the possibility it gave of planting a small orchard, which is something I have wanted all my life. When I say a small orchard, I mean it: there are just fourteen fruit trees. But although it’s small, each variety was chosen very carefully, for flavour rather than yield and with pollination compatibility in mind where appropriate. There are four apple trees, three of them varieties from Sussex; three pears; one plum, one gage and one damson; one quince; one mulberry, a morello cherry and a fig. We’ve also got a soft fruit bed, with blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and blueberries (the last in large pots, so I can give them the acidic soil conditions they need).

It’s a sad fact but once you have planted your trees, you cannot just let them get on with growing. They are subject to attack from birds, animals and insects, plus all sorts of diseases and ailments – they still need your care and regular attention. Given all these problems and predations, I’m impressed that farmers and growers manage to provide us with anything to eat at all; and it’s no wonder that conventional horticulture has come up with many kinds of chemical cocktails to be sprayed at regular intervals to save some of our food and fruit from wildlife and diseases. But I’m one of those who likes to think that there is a better way of dealing with these issues and for me, organic and biodynamic are my preferred methods.

So when the gage tree, a 19thcentury variety called Early Transparent Gage and planted with loving care as a one-year old tree in our garden in December 2016, developed signs of bacterial canker on the trunk, I was devastated. There is no chemical remedy for this disease and all you can do is to cut out the signs of canker and put wound paint on the area – and since the canker is on a large area of the trunk of what is a young tree, the prognosis isn’t good.  Following advice from the excellent Briony Young, who makes the biodynamic preparations at Tablehurst Farm, I decided to cut out what I could of the canker and apply biodynamic tree paste to the wounds.

It was at this point where my question occurred about the availability of biodynamic remedies. There is no possibility of going to a garden centre to buy a tin of tree paste. Anyone seeking to use this remedy needs to assemble some ingredients, not all of which are easy to source, and then go through a fairly elaborate and lengthy preparation process.

To describe it as briefly as possible, here’s what you do. First of all, source the ingredients:

  • 1 part clay, mixed with a little rainwater and chopped up to achieve a smooth texture with no lumps
  • 1 part fine sand (or diatomaceous earth)
  • 1 part fresh cow manure
  • 1 unit of horn manure 500
  • Equisetum tea 508 made with rainwater
  • A generous handful of cow pat pit preparation (CPP)

I was fortunate in being able to get all of these ingredients from Tablehurst Farm.  Then you:

Make the equisetum tea with rainwater:


Use the tea to dissolve the horn manure and dynamise the liquid by stirring for 1 hour, creating and breaking vortices in the water:


Add the CPP for the last 20 minutes of stirring:


Pour the dynamised liquid into the bucket with the clay and then gradually stir in the fresh cow manure:


Gradually stir in the sand:


The finished tree paste should have the consistency of pancake mixture, sloppy enough to apply to tree trunks with a paintbrush. (Here it is being applied to an olive tree in a pot):


Well, quite apart from the difficulty of finding the ingredients, you can tell that all of this is a great deal of trouble and work, unlikely to be done by the average gardener. So why did my wife and I do it? It’s because as far as I know only biodynamic tree paste has the capacity to work on the bacterial canker and to heal the disease so that the tree can survive. The commercial tree wound paints are effective only if you can remove all of the canker and cut back to clean wood, which in the case of a young tree like our gage was not possible because of the extent and location of the canker.

I’ll let you know in a year or two whether the tree paste has done what we hoped for; and if it does, then I think there is a commercial opportunity for someone to make pre-prepared biodynamic tree paste widely available in garden centres for the general gardening public.  If biodynamics is to become mainstream, then ways need to be found in which these wonderful preparations and the philosophy behind them can be made less “barmy” and more widely available to amateur gardeners and professional growers alike.


Filed under Agriculture, Biodynamics

Biodynamics versus Permaculture

We had a lovely outing on a recent Sunday to Stanmer Park near Brighton, where the Brighton Permaculture Trust  had organised their 2016 Apple Day. Apple Day celebrates all things to do with the apple, including the revival of old Sussex varieties of apple, some of which the Trust has brought back from the brink of extinction. I’ve bought two of these Sussex varieties (Forge and Saltcote Pippin) for our garden and can’t wait to collect them for planting in December.


Delicious Sussex apple varieties on display at Apple Day

It was a wonderful autumn day with lots of sunshine and the fine weather brought out families in their thousands. Apart from the focus on apples (including cider-tasting), there were stalls from many local organisations and food producers, as well as morris dancers, a Brazilian salsa band and dancers, a ukulele band, a choir, talks about bees, scything demos, tours of the orchards, permaculture taster activities etc. It was all very good-humoured, well organised and a truly impressive example of a community-based activity that also put across a serious message about sustainability and caring for the earth.

The Apple Day came just a few days after news of the death in Tasmania on September 24th of Bill Mollison, one of the two founders of permaculture.


Bill Mollison – photo via

Bill Mollison was quite a character and the source of many pithy quotations. Here are some of my favourites:

“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.”

“I teach self-reliance, the world’s most subversive practice. I teach people how to grow their own food, which is shockingly subversive. So, yes, it’s seditious. But it’s peaceful sedition.”

“The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves.”

“If and when the whole world is secure, we have won a right to explore space, and the oceans. Until we have demonstrated that we can establish a productive and secure earth society, we do not belong anywhere else, nor (I suspect) would we be welcome elsewhere.”


If you’ve not come across permaculture before (the name comes from “permanent agriculture” but is also coming to mean “permanent culture”), it is both a philosophy and a farming and living method that grew out of the books and permaculture courses of Bill Mollison and his fellow Australian farmer and researcher, David Holmgren. Permaculture systems or gardens are modelled on patterns observed in nature. Structures, access and water systems are also designed to be energy efficient and placed with a focus on the relationships between elements of a system rather than on individual components themselves.



Bill Mollison and David Holmgren – photo via Dr Benjamin Habib’s blog.

David Holmgren once explained permaculture quite neatly by saying “Traditional agriculture was labour intensive, industrial agriculture is energy intensive, and permaculture-designed systems are information and design intensive.” As a basic definition, permaculture is a holistic design system for creating sustainable human settlements and food production systems. It is a movement concerned with sustainable, environmentally sound land use and the building of stable communities, through the harmonious interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the Earth.

Clearly the work of the Brighton Permaculture Trust is having an excellent effect in the locality – they have for example helped to establish about one hundred community orchards, revived interest in local food production and sustainable methods of agriculture, and they specialise in working with schools and community groups. They have made enough of an impact to attract sponsorship for Apple Day from Infinity Foods, one of the UK’s leading wholesalers for organic and natural foods.

The impression I got was that those attending the Apple Day are exactly the sorts of people who are concerned that our society has become estranged and alienated from nature, and that this increasing alienation has been to the detriment of both our health and the natural environment. My guess is that these are people who believe that there are effects of food beyond nutrition and that there are aspects of what constitutes a good life which go beyond the modern ideas of health and wealth. As such points of view become more widespread, they are gradually building a foundation for real change and for moves towards a more sustainable future. How many of these people know about permaculture in any kind of detail I can’t say (only a few, I suspect) but clearly they all know the name of the Brighton Permaculture Trust and associate it with the kind of things that they wish to support.



Thousands of people attended Brighton Permaculture Trust’s Apple Day.


I couldn’t help but ask myself whether biodynamics would get a similar level of name-recognition from these people – my sense is that probably it would not. Biodynamics and permaculture, however, clearly have a great many of the same attitudes and aspirations. What are the differences and similarities between the two systems?

Permaculture would claim to be an applied science, as its focus is on the application of scientific knowledge to achieve certain practical aims. It’s not about gathering information just for the sake of research but for the purpose of putting its scientific findings into practice. Observation and experience as tools in permaculture suggest that it is not a theoretical discipline, but one grounded in practicality and everyday reality.

I would say that biodynamics shares all of these characteristics with permaculture, although some might argue that, as the origin of biodynamics lies with Steiner’s supersensible perceptions and observations, it is not a science in the same sense. But these perceptions and observations by Steiner have been followed up, tested and proved on farms around the world now for more than ninety years. So I think we can argue that biodynamics is also both an applied and an empirical science.

Another shared feature is that, unlike other sciences, both permaculture and biodynamics are holistic and not reductionist. Both of them describe the connections and relationships between natural systems, the multitude of living organisms on this planet, and the planet itself. Both share strong philosophical and visionary ideas about sustainable patterns of living and social and ecological ethics.

Similarly, both permaculture and biodynamics share the goal of creating an almost perfectly closed system, in which all the inputs come from your own resources and as little as possible is brought in from outside. Permaculture does, however, imply that your system grows towards a natural maturity and then sustains itself there, while biodynamics works with fewer permanent plantings and has crop rotation cycles over several years.

Biodynamics, of course, also takes into account the connections with the cosmos, which permaculture does not, except inasmuch as it involves planting by the phases of the moon.

But I think there is a fundamental difference between the two: permaculture deliberately does not have an underlying spiritual system, whereas biodynamics arises out of a particular philosophy and spiritual system – anthroposophy. It’s relevant to quote Bill Mollison here: “We can teach philosophy by teaching gardening, but we cannot teach gardening by teaching philosophy”. What I think he meant by this is that one’s personal philosophy should arise from one’s experience of caring for the Earth and the plants and one’s life experience – and not from reading about it. Not (of course) that this is how most people come to biodynamics – it is often because of the totally delicious food, or the sense that a biodynamic farm is a place where the wellbeing of the earth, plants and animals is tangible – but biodynamics may be seen as carrying a certain amount of historical and intellectual baggage from anthroposophy that is not always easy for people to get past.



A display of French apple varieties – photo via Brighton & Hove Camera Club


And here I think is the reason why those people attending the Brighton Apple Day might find themselves feeling more at ease with permaculture than they would with biodynamics. It is because permaculture, with its claims to being a science with its own values and ethics, can co-exist harmoniously with most religious and spiritual systems (or indeed with none) without offering a challenge to them or anyone’s pre-existing spiritual outlook. Biodynamics, on the other hand, is all too often tarred with the “all muck and magic” brush – instead of what it really is, which is a super-advanced science that scientists may catch up with one day – or with some other straw man set up by skeptics in their attempts to attack Steiner and anthroposophy.

It is of course perfectly possible for a permaculture farmer to be biodynamic and for a biodynamic farmer to farm using permaculture techniques. My own view is that biodynamics is greater and more all-encompassing than Bill Mollison would ever have acknowledged; I suspect he would have said: “Permaculture is the wardrobe and biodynamics is one of the hangers inside,” which is probably the reverse of the actual situation.

But I also suspect that Bill Mollison’s approach is the one that is more likely to find favour with the kinds of people who attended the Apple Day. In one of the obituaries for Bill Mollison, some words from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu were quoted: “True change is to so change things that it seems natural to everybody but no-one knows who thought of it.”

That surely is how the change that we all so desperately need is coming – like a thief in the night, without governments or media being aware of it, but happening in the hearts and minds of people everywhere – until the necessary changes just seem right and natural and commonplace.  Biodynamics, permaculture, organics and good conventional agriculture will all have their parts to play in making this happen.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Biodynamic farming, Biodynamics, Permaculture, Rudolf Steiner

But will you wake, for pity’s sake?

At a time of life when most people might expect to have retired and be putting their feet up, the anthropopper (who doesn’t think that retirement is good for people), counts himself fortunate to have not one, but two part-time jobs. Despite a colleague’s cynical observation that there is no such thing as a part-time job, only part-time wages, I love both these jobs and after a long and sometimes frustrating working life, I’m delighted to have work where I feel I’m making a worthwhile contribution, in organisations that are offering hope and practical solutions for some of the world’s problems.

The first of these jobs is at Tablehurst Community Farm in Forest Row, East Sussex. While I was there the other day, I found myself having a sudden flashback to an emotion I recognised – it was how I had sometimes felt when I was a small boy at primary school in the 1950s. It came and went in seconds but I was intrigued as to why I had had this sudden recall of something from my early schooldays, now well over half a century ago. What had made me remember this feeling from so long ago, seemingly out of the blue? Trying to analyse my state of mind at that moment, I realised that I had a feeling of wellbeing, knowing I was in the right place for me and glad to be working on a community-owned farm in which the land, plants and animals are cared-for and where the people are friendly, supportive and look out for one another. I was, in fact, in a situation that I suspect is hardly ever experienced in most workplaces these days. This then led me to the further realisation that, if how I was feeling that day was reminiscent of how I had felt during my early schooldays, then there must have been something warm and secure and nurturing about my primary school and the way in which the teachers and pupils treated one another back then. This was not a Steiner school, it was an ordinary state primary school in the 1950s, long before the days of Ofsted, SATS, league tables etc. Somehow I grew up with the notion that the world was on the whole a safe and welcoming place, that adults and policemen were mainly benign, there was joy and beauty in nature – and I also had a sense of how to behave and how not to behave. This gave me something to rebel against when I was a teenager in the 60s. My generation was lucky to have had these positive experiences, as recent alarming reports indicate that many schoolchildren today have quite a different experience of school.

An international study by the Children’s Society in 2015 found that English children are among the unhappiest in the world. Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “It is deeply worrying that children in this country are so unhappy at school compared to other countries, and it is truly shocking that thousands of children are being physically and emotionally bullied, damaging their happiness. School should be a safe haven, not a battleground.”

And now in a report dated 9th March 2016, the online Spectator magazine’s Health section has said that: “There has been a large increase in the number of British children prescribed anti-depressants, according to research published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology. The research, led by Dr Christian Bachmann of Berlin’s Charité University Hospital, found that prescription rates increased by 54 per cent between 2005 and 2012. In Denmark the figure is higher still, at 60 per cent.”

What on earth is going on? Clearly, something very disturbing is happening with our young people. Rudolf Steiner, in a lecture given in Berlin in 1919, said:

“What the individual human being experiences consciously when he (sic) strives to attain clairvoyance in the spiritual world, namely, the crossing of the threshold, must be experienced unconsciously by the whole of mankind, during our fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Humanity has no choice in regard to this; it must experience this unconsciously — not the individual human being, but HUMANITY, and the individual human being together with humanity.”

So are our young people starting to experience this crossing of the threshold between the physical and spiritual worlds, but unconsciously, without preparation? And if so, what part of the spiritual world are they accessing?

My second part-time job is with Emerson College in Forest Row, East Sussex, where I organise a programme of public talks and workshops by leading thinkers. On 9th March 2016, we were privileged to hear a talk by Lisa Romero, an adult educator, complementary health practitioner and teacher of meditation from Australia.

Lisa’s theme was: Developing the Self – Meditations and Exercise for our Inner Growth. During the course of her talk, she had some interesting things to say about the difficulties and challenges that teenagers are experiencing today. She suggested that teenagers are crossing the threshold into the elemental part of the spiritual world. Lisa enlarged on this in her book, The Inner Work Path:

“Humanity has begun to break through this threshold, the boundary between the physical and elemental world. If those who cross over are unprepared, we will see more mental disorders in our community. As fascination with the occult, psychic powers, and the supernatural continue to grow, all sorts of false paths of ‘inner development’ will become more and more popular. Consciousness-altering substances that exploit a form of gate-crashing to enter the other dimensions will increase. Using these substances to enter different states of consciousness will be seen as an acceptable and inevitable path for our young people.”

Some schools are now teaching their pupils meditation and calling it “mindfulness” so as to avoid any association with the spiritual; but Lisa thinks that this “will lead ultimately to a weakened relationship to the spiritual world, and thereby leave them open to all sorts of potentially harmful influences by stepping backward, not forward, in their incarnating process. All those who truly know the path of inner development know that a healthy relationship to the spiritual world is acquired by completing all the necessary developmental stages of childhood first. These various occurrences that we already see are signs that humanity is crossing the threshold unprepared. Rudolf Steiner describes this unprepared entry into the elemental world, likening it to putting your head into an ant’s nest.”

Where is anthroposophy, and where are anthroposophists, in all of this? One of the things which teenagers need to know at this time is that not all spiritual beings are divine beings. Some of these beings are working to divert humanity from the path of evolution, by encouraging us in our materialism, reinforcing our egotism and selfishness, magnifying our false self and deepening our lower ego – while at the same time supporting our premature access into the spiritual world. Anthroposophists ought to be helping young people to understand that the right path for humanity and each one of us is to align freely with the beings of progression, the beings of the divine spiritual world – but for that to be possible, we must find the progressive being, the divine being within ourselves. Are we, should we be, finding ways of telling that to young people? Are we making sufficient efforts to communicate with teenagers in ways that they can access? I don’t think so. In the meantime, anthroposophy as we have known it is dying. Lisa told me that there are now only 130 society members in the whole of New York City.

The situation appears to be no better in the UK. As Marjatta van Boeschoten, general secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, says in the Spring 2016 Newsletter of the society: “This question (of how anthroposophy can best fulfil its given task) occupied me greatly during the Holy Nights, especially when a range of initiatives in the ‘daughter’ movements in Great Britain are either closing, struggling, in conflict or in financial crisis.” To add to Marjatta’s worries, the ASinGB has revealed that 55% of members pay nothing at all towards their annual membership. What is the future of the society if more than half of its members, out of their own free choice, are making no financial contribution whatsoever?

Surely these symptoms are telling us that the present form of anthroposophy is in serious decline. What are anthroposophists doing about this crisis? My own sense is that another form of anthroposophy is seeking to be born, but it is having an extended labour and a difficult birth. It won’t come from trying to persuade people to read difficult lectures or books, it won’t come from attending the same old meetings with a rapidly diminishing number of elderly anthroposophists (not that I have anything against elderly anthroposophists – far from it – I hope to be one myself before too long) and it certainly won’t come from spending too much time online arguing with the critics.

On the other hand, it may emerge from people who become inspired by one or more of the practical applications of anthroposophy, such as biodynamics or education. I’m struck, for example, by the number of young people who are coming to work at Tablehurst Farm, which now employs nearly 30 people, some of whom are starting families there – this in marked contrast to what is happening on conventional farms, where the average age of a British farmworker is 59 years and where a farm of 300 hectares will be run by one or two men with machines and lots of chemicals. It may emerge if we can find practical, clear and sensible ways of speaking about the spiritual realities behind what is happening in the world, as Lisa Romero is doing. Lisa is part of the Goetheanum Meditation Initiative, which is involving young people from many countries. (Incidentally, Lisa Romero will be returning to Emerson in June for a talk and weekend workshop.)

The times are serious and demand people and organisations of initiative. Places like Tablehurst Farm and Emerson College are seeking to play their parts.  Finding ways in which to meet the very real human needs of today’s young people can offer hope and practical solutions not only to them but to anthroposophy as well. Christopher Fry expressed our opportunity in his play, A Sleep of Prisoners:

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to meet us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride man ever took.

Affairs are now soul size.

The enterprise

Is Exploration into God.

Where are you making for? It takes

So many thousand years to wake

But will you wake, for pity’s sake?


Filed under Anthroposophy, Biodynamic farming, Biodynamics, Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner, Steiner Waldorf schools, Waldorf critics

Epiphany on the Farm with the Three Kings

On New Year’s Eve, the anthropopper will be joining colleagues at Plaw Hatch Community Farm in Sussex to prepare a very special biodynamic preparation. The Three Kings Preparation is one of a whole group of preparations created by Hugo Erbe (1885-1965) as a result of his lifelong work as a biodynamic farmer in Germany. He experienced a very close connection to the elemental world and sought ways of encouraging their beneficial influences.


Hugo Erbe, who devised the Three Kings biodynamic preparation (photo courtesy of

Following the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Hugo Erbe observed a massive disruption and flight of beneficial elemental beings from his farmland. He experienced this deep wound to the living sheath of the earth as a process whereby the elementals were being demonised. To help heal the damage done to the earth’s organism and bring the elementals back into equilibrium he developed a preparation made from the gifts of the Three Kings, or Magi.

The Three Kings brought offerings of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to the Jesus child. These three offerings are full of meaning, as you might expect of gifts chosen by initiates. Gold is the symbol of wisdom and of intelligence. Frankincense is a universal symbol for spiritual intuition and sacramental offering. And Myrrh is the symbol of dying, of death, the sacrifice of the earthly in order that the higher may come to life.

Avena Botanicals

Myrrh, gold and frankincense, the three active ingredients of the Three Kings preparation (photo courtesy of Avena Botanicals)

Rudolf Steiner gave significant insights about these substances from his own spiritual research. He pointed out that the gifts of the three Magi were meant to strengthen the development of the Jesus child in three ways. The first help was from gold for the growth of the physical body, connected to the sun forces. The second, frankincense, was for the development of a harmonious soul life. For this, the incense form was supposed to be paramount. Thirdly, myrrh was to enhance the spiritual development. Myrrh oil was used by the Egyptians, for example, for embalming and for those processes that have to do directly with the passage of consciousness into a higher spiritual world.

Pestle Avena Botanicals

The three ingredients have to be pounded with mortar and pestle before being mixed and stirred with warm rainwater (photo courtesy of Avena Botanicals)

Most significantly, Rudolf Steiner pointed out that the resin of the frankincense tree not only protects the plant, but also enables the plant to reconnect itself to the world of the stars from which its growing impulses come. When introduced into the human body, it strengthens milk production in the mother and when passing from the mother’s milk into the infant, it then helps to optimise the development of the young brain. In adults it optimises mental functioning.

The three kings might be said to represent the three higher forces of man: Wisdom, Beauty and Strength. As long as man lives in his lower nature, these three forces are in him disordered and chaotic. But when man has so purified himself that the three forces work together in perfect harmony, and he can freely use them, then the way into the realm of the spiritual lies open before him.

3 Kings Ravenna telegraph

Balthasar, Melchior and Caspar (the Three Kings or Magi) from a Roman mosaic in Ravenna (photo courtesy of the Daily Telegraph)

Ancient mystery wisdom has always held these three substances as symbols of awareness for the spiritual events taking place behind the outer physical phenomena. When prepared in the right way these three holy substances can also serve as gifts to the earth and to the elemental world. The preparation is always prepared on New Year’s Eve and then spread on 6th January, the Festival of the Three Kings.

I will join the Plaw Hatch farm team on 6th January to spread the preparation around the boundaries of the farm. The idea is to walk the boundaries with a bucket in one hand and a brush in the other, dipping the brush and every few steps flicking the preparation in an outward direction, away from the farm boundary, where it falls in a fine spray. This is done so as to invite elemental life forces to manifest within the farm for the coming year and to help and guide us for the coming growing season. It is a kind of offering to the earth and the elemental kingdom and a way of giving thanks for what the universe provides.  Some may scoff and call it nonsensical. All I can say is that it seems to me a natural extension of the old farming adage that believed: “the best fertiliser is the farmer’s boot”. I have always understood this to mean that, by walking the land with consciousness and intent, the farmer is somehow aligning himself with all the forces that work together to ensure good outcomes for the farm, the crops and the animals.

Finally, there’s a quotation from Rudolf Steiner that I would like to share with you, because during dark times, when it is so easy to despair, we should remind ourselves of what people of good will working together can achieve:

“Human communities are the mysterious locations that higher spiritual entities move and sink into so as to work through individual human beings, just as the human soul works by means of the limbs in the body…This is the secret of the advancement of future humanity – to work out of communities.”

(GA 54, Berlin, 23rd November 1905 – Brotherhood and the Fight for Survival)


Filed under Anthroposophy, Biodynamic farming, Biodynamics, Rudolf Steiner

First Harvest of the Light Root at Emerson College

Those of you who have read my blog post, “Rudolf Steiner and the Chinese Yam”, will already be familiar with the story of this extraordinary root and its ability to incorporate within its physical substance large quantities of the light ether, of which most of our foods are nearly or completely lacking (you can read more about the ethers in the post linked to above). This is the vegetable that Rudolf Steiner said should eventually come to replace the potato as a mass staple food crop.

In April 2015, Ralf Roessner, the German author of the book The Light Root mentioned in that post, came to give a talk to a large and enthusiastic audience at Emerson College in Forest Row, East Sussex (UK). Not only did Ralf talk about the light root but he also brought some samples of the root for planting in the newly refurbished biodynamic garden at the college. There is an account and a short video about this event on the Emerson College website here.

It has to be said that growing the light root is not quite as straightforward as planting potatoes. Nik Marten and his colleagues in the BD garden at Emerson took out a deep trench surrounded with wooden boards which they filled with river sand, chosen for its fine, rounded crystals (ie not sharp sand, which can damage the roots). They then added a layer of good loamy soil and compost. The rootlets brought by Ralf were then gently pressed into the surface and biodynamic preparations applied to the soil. A wooden construction about 8’ high was then put up just to one side of the trench to hold a series of vertical strings, up which the leafy stems of the light root plants could entwine themselves. As the top growth climbs the strings, the root surges downwards into the depths of the river sand. Paradoxically, it needs the darkness and depth in order to develop and preserve the light ether qualities.

The light root stems growing up the strings of the wooden framework.

The light root stems growing up the strings of the wooden framework.

Six months later and Ralf returned to Emerson College to show us how to harvest and store the resulting crop. It was a damp and cold autumn day, with occasional showers – a typical October day in England! A group of about 15 people gathered in the BD garden and Ralf described some of the features that make the light root such an interesting plant. The roots with the light ether qualities grow only on male plants and if female plants grow with them, they will rapidly hybridise and produce all sorts of other yams, which may be perfectly good vegetables but do not hold the light ether. Ralf described how he had gone around the world seeking out samples of the yam, but only in the original growing area in China had he been able to source the right kind of plant.

The group gathers around Ralf Roessner (in hat) to hear more about the light root.

The group gathers around Ralf Roessner (in hat) to hear more about the light root.

Ralf then began to cut the leafy stems about six inches from the ground and as he began, several little mice began to scurry up and down the trench where they had obviously been living underground. This was a worrying sign – Ralf said that he had just come back from the Czech Republic, where the light root crop at a Camphill centre had been entirely eaten by mice. Despite this, the rest of the stems were cut and group members then began to lever up the wooden boards surrounding the trench so as to make it easier to harvest the roots.

Ralf Roessner begins to cut the top growth stems away from the roots prior to harvesting.

Ralf Roessner begins to cut the top growth stems away from the roots prior to harvesting.

Ralf and group members then began to remove carefully the soil from around each of the tufts left after the cutting-down of the top growth. After a while, we got down to the layer of river sand. Careful work with trowels and hands to remove the sand and keep it separate from the soil then began – the sand can be used year-after-year but should not be mixed with the soil. Gradually we could see the form of the roots emerging as the sand was cleared but this was delicate work – the roots can easily be broken if roughly harvested. Strangely, the roots begin to harden up, rather than soften further, in the days after the harvest.

Group members carefully scraping soil and sand away to reveal the light roots.

Group members carefully scraping soil and sand away to reveal the light roots.

It was a thrill to see the first root emerge and to see that it was of good size – Ralf said that it was of very good quality. Thus encouraged, work proceeded to bring up the rest of the roots. Some of the roots had indeed been eaten by mice but only a very few – and those that had not been eaten were all of a good size and quality. Even to the eyes of a non-clairvoyant like myself, there is a radiance about the roots that is quite noticeable. The roots were laid in trays and, at Ralf’s suggestion, some of the cut leaves and stems were laid on top of the trays, which helps the roots to adjust to their new situation and to remain in good condition.

Ralf Roessner holding the first light root to be harvested at Emerson College.

Ralf Roessner holding the first light root to be harvested at Emerson College.

The roots should be stored either in a clamp (ie straw is laid on the ground, the roots are put onto the straw, another layer of straw is added on top, and then the whole structure is covered with earth), although Ralf said that this method was vulnerable to attacks by mice; or in an earth cellar; or kept in the dark between 5-15 degrees Centigrade in river sand that is drier than that used in the trench. The roots should then last in good condition through until the next summer.

The light root requires special treatment after harvesting, too. It should not be washed, as water washes away the light ether very quickly. The roots come very clean out of the sand and a rub with a cloth is sufficient to bring them to sparkling condition. Nor should the roots be processed or cooked in machines using alternating current electricity, as this also destroys the light ether. It is best to have the light root raw in salads; or cooked in soups and sauces, where the liquid in which they are cooked is consumed by the eaters; or sliced with a knife and fried in a pan. Not all treatments are deleterious to the light ether, though – Ralf has observed that light root pounded in a mortar and pestle absorbs more and more of the light ether and this process can continue for hours. In an experiment he set up, the increase of light ether went on for up to 36 hours!

Radiant roots - some of Emerson College's first harvest of the light root.

Radiant roots – some of Emerson College’s first harvest of the light root.

At lunch that day, Ralf came round with some slices of raw light root for us to try with our meals. There is a mucilaginous quality to the cut root, which is crisp like a water chestnut and it has quite a bland taste, which of course is an advantage for a crop that may one day become a staple food like the potato. I have also sampled some sautéed light root and it was delicious – I would be quite happy to eat it instead of chips!

In a question and answer session after lunch, I asked Ralf whether, given the fairly demanding cultivation requirements and the need for great care in processing the roots after harvest, if he had any indications of when it might be possible for the light root to begin to assume the role of a staple food crop. He said that his sense of it was that it would be about three hundred years into the future and that his role, and the role of a few others in various countries, was to keep alive the knowledge of the plant and how to cultivate it until the world was ready to take it up. He also said that in future times the light root would be cultivated in a different way – in water – and that he was already experimenting with ways of doing this.

This was a fascinating and inspiring day, which provided (literally) much food for thought. Thanks are due to Nik Marten and his colleagues in Emerson’s biodynamic garden, to Michael Williams and Heidi Herrman for their excellent translating skills and of course to Ralf Roessner for bringing his knowledge, light root samples and huge enthusiasm to Emerson College.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Biodynamics, Chinese yam, Emerson College, Light Root, Ralf Roessner, Rudolf Steiner

A Noah’s Ark for all our futures

Despite all my experiences in recent years, I’m still sometimes taken aback by the sheer antagonism towards applied anthroposophy that emanates from some people. No sooner had I tweeted the news that Chateau Palmer, one of the most starry wine producers in the Bordeaux firmament, has gone fully biodynamic and is receiving a price premium for its wines, than someone who tweets as GinaMakesWaves re-tweeted my post to all her 791 followers with the comment: “Biodynamic agriculture offers nothing over traditional organic and it practices animal cruelty”. She then followed up this absurd statement with: “Biodynamic agriculture is a main industry of anthroposophy, both with a complex Nazi past.”

Where to begin, when dealing with such wild assertions? Actually, I’m not going to bother; such wilful misunderstandings are Gina’s issue rather than mine. All I will say is: if you want to find out whether biodynamics practises animal cruelty, just go and visit a biodynamic farm and talk to the farmers and gardeners. As for a complex Nazi past, I wish I could say that no anthroposophist had ever flirted with Nazism, but I can’t say that, because in the 30s and 40s there were a few anthroposophists who leaned in that direction; no more than I can say that no anthroposophist has ever flirted with communism or conservatism or socialism or any other kind of –ism. Because anthroposophy attracts all types of people and, as they say in Yorkshire, there’s nowt as queer as folk.

But in my experience, anthropops are on the whole very decent and caring people, give or take the odd exception – rather like the general population, in fact.

This attack on biodynamics no doubt caught me on the raw, because I had just experienced an exceptionally heartwarming celebration of one farmer’s 21 years on a biodynamic farm, Tablehurst Farm in Forest Row, East Sussex. This was a Midsummer Celebration Lunch for Peter Brown, the farmer who with
his late wife Brigitte arrived at the farm in 1994 with their three children and turned the farm into a shining example of biodynamic and sustainable agriculture that is also a community-owned farm and in addition provides a home for adults with learning difficulties. You can see on the farm’s Facebook page lots of photos of the celebration lunch (scroll down past the cows and flowers), held in the beautifully-decorated Sheep Barn at Tablehurst.

Throughout these 21 years, Peter has dedicated himself to the wellbeing of the land, the plants, the animals and the people working on the farm, without any thought for building up any assets of his own. During this time, Peter has also taken on the executive directorship of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association and has been selflessly involved with many initiatives towards more sustainable forms of agriculture.

This lunch was not just a celebration of all that Peter Brown has achieved but it was also the launch of a fundraising campaign to build an eco-home on the farm for him to live in for the rest of his days. To do this, we aim to raise £100k, not only to build a home for Peter but also to provide housing improvements for the young farmers who are starting families on the farm. As a member of the fundraising committee, I spoke at the lunch and made the following points:

• The average age of a farm worker in Britain today is 59 years
• In conventional farms, 1 or 2 men will look after several hundred hectares of land
• According to an article in the respected trade journal, Farmers’ Weekly, some of England’s most productive agricultural land is at risk of becoming unprofitable within a generation due to soil erosion

I then compared and contrasted this with what is happening on Tablehurst Farm:

• Young men and women are flocking to the farm to work and some of them are starting families here
• The farm currently has 26 employees and growth looks set to continue
• You only have to walk across the farm to feel the wellbeing from the soil rising up towards you – the biodiversity on the farm is fantastic.

It’s clear that conventionally-managed farms with their monocultures, degraded soils, vast inputs of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and herbicides that pollute the soils and water and reduce biodiversity, are pursuing an unsustainable course.

By contrast, a farm like Tablehurst offers hope for the future. It shows that there are viable alternatives that can preserve and improve our soils, do not ask more of the land or the animals than they can give, and provide employment in situations where young people want to live, learn and start families. These farms are like a kind of Noah’s Ark for our collective future, showing that feeding the world and its burgeoning population does not have to be handed over to Monsanto and other large corporations. A much better, more human future is possible and biodynamic and sustainable agriculture is showing the way.

By the way, it’s just a month after we started fundraising for housing on the farm and we’ve already raised £25k (a quarter of our target). If you’d like to help, there are more details here.


Filed under Biodynamic farming, Biodynamics

Is the establishment endorsing biodynamics?

I’ve often said that when biodynamic agriculture starts to go mainstream, it will be largely because the chattering classes and opinion-formers have discovered the special qualities of biodynamic wines. There is a delicious irony to this, of course, because anthroposophists on the whole do not approve of alcohol; so to see biodynamics beginning to win widespread and influential support through the excellence of biodynamic wine must be quite provoking to the more dyed-in-the-wool kind of anthropop.

Nevertheless, even I was taken aback to discover that the Financial Times’ distinguished wine correspondent, Jancis Robinson, is now speculating about the merits of biodynamic viticulture in improving the quality of wines at a time when climate change is causing difficulties for vine-growers. Here is what she had to say in her FT column of March 14/15:

“Vine-growers in the southern hemisphere are grappling with their earliest vintage ever, just one more effect of climate change. For us wine drinkers, the most striking effect has been the rise in alcohol levels. Hotter summers have played a key part in boosting average percentages of alcohol from roughly 12 – 12.5 in the 1980s to 13.5 – 14.5 today.

Growers have observed to their dismay that grapes have been accumulating the sugars that ferment into alcohol much faster than they have been accumulating all the interesting elements that result in a wine’s flavour, colour and tannins – the phenolics. … Who wants to drink a wine that can offer little other than alcohol?”

Ms Robinson then lists the various stratagems adopted by vine-growers to get around this problem, including picking grapes earlier, keeping grapes on the vine much longer and then adding acid, reducing the alcohol through intrusive techniques, experimenting with cunningly-timed irrigation to push phenolic ripening closer to sugar ripening etc – none of which sounds likely to improve the quality of the finished wine.

And here is Ms Robinson’s intriguing conclusion:

“But for many growers the world over, what makes balanced wines is balanced vines, which tends to mean old vines, dry farmed. And those who have adopted biodynamic viticulture – the barmy-sounding, hands-on nurturing of vines according to phases of the moon” (actually, Jancis, there’s rather more to it than that) – “report that vines ripen well-balanced grapes earlier and more completely than their conventionally farmed neighbours. Perhaps this is the answer.”

Well…when the FT’s wine correspondent can write in such terms, something is clearly going on. And here is a link to more evidence that biodynamics is receiving endorsement from the heights of the establishment, this time from Prince Charles.

The newspaper is having a pop at our future king, as usual; but the story must be absolutely true, because I read it in the Daily Mail.

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Filed under Biodynamic farming, biodynamic viticulture, Biodynamics, Jancis Robinson, Prince Charles

Why some atheists like anthroposophy

“The common man is a mystic. Mysticism is only a transcendent form of common sense. Mysticism and common sense alike consist in a sense of the dominance of certain truths and tendencies which cannot be formally demonstrated or even formally named. Mysticism and common sense are like appeals to realities that we all know to be real, but which have no place in argument except as postulates.” (G K Chesterton)

Chesterton, writing in the early 20th century, clearly felt that most people have a kind of natural sense that the spiritual world exists, even though many of us have no means of rationalising why we feel that way.

Others, such as Rudolf Steiner (although some people believe he had an atheistical period in his younger days), came to characterise atheism as a kind of disability or disease.  Lecturing in 1919, Steiner said : “Only those human beings…are atheists in whose organism something is organically disturbed. To be sure, this may lie in very delicate structural conditions, but it is a fact that atheism is in reality a disease…For, if our organism is completely healthy, the harmonious functioning of its various members will bring it about that we ourselves sense our origin from the Divine – ex deo nascimur (from God we are born).”

So there you are, Richard Dawkins et al – instead of having reached your view of a godless universe through the power of your intellect, you are actually just suffering from the effects of a disturbed physical organism. 🙂

Today, in the age of the consciousness soul, there are many people who have lost their natural connection with the divine. In Steiner’s view, humanity is going through a period which started in the 15th century and won’t conclude until the 35th, in which we have gradually lost an atavistic form of clairvoyance. This is a necessary but very dangerous step in the evolution of humankind. It is necessary because as humans we have the unique privilege of developing freewill, which could only happen by entering an age in which our connection with the divine-spiritual beings and their will for our future appeared to be severed. And it is dangerous because this apparent severance from spirit existence has given the oppositional powers the opportunity they didn’t have before, which is to convince human beings through our science and technology that physical, material reality is the only reality and thus to thwart our true destiny as spiritual beings. For all of the shortcomings and difficulties caused us by this present stage, Steiner tells us that materialism remains the vehicle for the initial development of human freedom. It was the task of materialistic science to lead us away from the overwhelming dominance of theology and theocracy in human affairs, and from the unfreedom that had for so long been associated with them. And, as Steiner repeatedly asserts, it is in our relationship as spiritual beings to the physical world that the possibility for human freedom first manifests itself. Put differently, materialism for all its faults and limitations had a very important task to perform, and it needed time to complete it – and it’s still got another 250 years or so to run its course.

In the meantime, we have to find ways of coping with the difficulties of our present age. In Owen Barfield’s words, “Living in the consciousness soul man experiences isolation, loneliness, materialism, loss of faith in the spiritual world, above all, uncertainty. The soul has to make up its mind and to act in a positive way on its own unsupported initiative. And it finds great difficulty in doing so. For it is too much in the dark to be able to see any clear reason why it should, and it no longer feels the old (instinctive) promptings of the spirit within.”

I rather like these concepts and find they bring a savour and a spice to life – human reality is much more exciting and inspiring than anything in science fiction! Many other people, of course, think this is all nonsense and take up the position of agnosticism or atheism. ‘Skeptics’ (as they call themselves) can be very dismissive about anthroposophical endeavours, which are of course based upon the presumption of the reality of the spiritual world. If these skeptics are also parents in Steiner schools who feel that they have had a bad experience, or if they believe that the school has not been open with them about anthroposophy, then their anger and contempt can be awesome to behold – and in this online world, they make sure as many other people as possible get to hear about it. I’m sure schools do get things wrong from time to time and I’m certainly not trying to belittle those parents who have had less than satisfactory experiences. When you have invested such hope (and hard cash) in a school for your children, it is shattering if it then all seems to go wrong. Steiner Waldorf schools, which have such high aspirations, can cause huge anger if they turn out to have feet of clay. I shall be writing in a later posting more about this unfortunate phenomenon and some possible reasons for it.

There are other sorts of skeptic parents, for example those who regard anthroposophy as a bit of a joke but still value the education Steiner schools provide for their children. I came across a good example of this latter type on an Australian blog, Good Reason. In a post entitled: “A Rational Look at Steiner Schools”, Daniel Midgley comments on an article he has read in the magazine, Australian Rationalist. After going through the various criticisms made of Steiner schools in the article, Daniel concludes:

“If there is a saving grace for Waldorf education, it’s that, in my experience, very few of the rank and file parents believe the hype. You do get a core of Steiner believers, including the teachers, but almost no one else takes Anthroposophy seriously. Many parents roll their eyes at Eurythmy and such. The kids are usually pretty down to earth about it, too. At a recent Winter Festival, some parents were trying to foster a reverent attitude during the bonfire, but the kids were chanting “More kerosene! More kerosene!” They keep it real.

I also think that the teaching of religion is handled well, as I’ve mentioned before. Many world religions are represented, and I think this has an inoculating influence on kids. They’re more likely to fall for religion in adulthood if it hasn’t been presented to them before, and the Christian myth is presented at school along with all the other myths.

If you’re a rationalist, and you’re considering Steiner education, or if (like me) you’re already in and you’re only just becoming more of a critical thinker, it’s not impossible for it to work. My kids enjoy their school, and it’s been pretty positive. …The greatest danger from Steiner schooling is to the rationalist parent, not the child; you may go insane from exposure to crackpottery, or you may eventually bite through your tongue.”

In the Steiner school I know best, I certainly came across atheist parents who nevertheless valued the education, even if they thought some aspects of it were screwy – so I’m sure Daniel is on to something in his article.

But although it is quite easy for atheists to be dismissive of Steiner schools (even if some of them like the results), it’s not quite so easy to dismiss something as nonsense when the evidence of your own senses is telling you the exact opposite. It’s indeed an irony, given many anthropops’ ambivalent attitudes to alcohol, that biodynamically produced wine is leading the way in changing attitudes to biodynamic agriculture. Take for example this post by Cory Cartwright: “An Atheist’s Defence of Biodynamics”:

“…I do believe some biodynamic vignerons are amongst the very best in the world. I’ve drank hundreds of these wines, from wines that tout a Demeter certification on their label to wines that I didn’t know were biodynamic for years. In fact many of the producers consider marketing the wine as “bio” to be just that, marketing, so they let the wine do the talking. Despite my skepticism around some of the principal tenets and practices of Steiner’s agricultural followers, I simply don’t care if they are being used.

The resurgence in biodynamics, like modern organics, the Slow Food movement, fukuoka farming, locavores, and natural winemaking was a conscious rejection of the big industrial food supply chain that twisted our view of food, wrecked economies, and wrecked our health. The tenets of modernization, control, simplification, mass production, “big solutions.” When people saw what we had done to one of our most basic of needs they were aghast, and set out to find alternatives that would stop the pollution of both of the soil and of our bodies.

The scientific based winemaking at UC Davis and elsewhere is one that sees a straightforward path between the beginning and the end of winemaking, and deviation is dealt with as harshly as possible. Shouldn’t plant vines there? Irrigation will fix that. Weeds? Monsanto has you covered (which heavily funds UC Davis. Go Aggies!). Vines not doing so well? Chemical fertilizers. Mildew? Bring on the helicopters. Of course this is all very scientific so skepticism about the ultimate problems should be shelved for now while we continue spraying. Aren’t these the questions we should be asking when it comes to winemaking? What price are we paying for this wine when everything is tallied?

I am beginning to work with a young couple in the south of France who have 14 acres of vineyards and olives that are all farmed biodynamically. We toured their vineyards, and they showed us several planting techniques they were experimenting with, from planting density to different cover crops and mixed use vineyards. As we walked through we were struck by the difference between their vineyards and others. They had some bio-culture in their vineyards, the vines looked good, their old growth was healthy. The nearby neighbors had created a moonscape vineyard, dead, except for the vines, and even then the old growth was mostly gone despite being planted at the same time.

When we asked them about the biodynamic treatments they treated us to skeptical laughs. They said it was working, with a wave of a hand towards the vines, and even if the treatments were doing nothing, so what? Practicing biodynamics was getting them out and into the vineyards, with the plants and rocks, getting their hands dirty and teaching them to recognize things that they would never get if they were in a tractor all day, or if they simply killed off all the life.”

The whole article is well worth reading and the photos contrasting the biodynamic vineyard with the conventionally-farmed vineyard are very telling.

The anthropopper can live with being ridiculed by skeptics, as long as others are beginning to see that in applied anthroposophy there really is something rather special that works, and which holds hope for the future – and in such a mad, bad and dangerous world, we all need to believe that humanity can find ways to pull through its present crises. Anyway, as human evolution continues, and once we’re all through the age of the consciousness soul (unfortunately there’s about another 1500 years to go), I like to think that we will be discovering new and much more objective clairvoyant abilities in ourselves; and the reality of the spiritual world will be glaringly obvious to all of us, skeptics, anthropops and the common man and woman alike.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Atheists & Atheism, Biodynamics, Rudolf Steiner, Steiner Waldorf schools