Tag Archives: biodynamic agriculture

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?

61 Comments

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

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.

11 Comments

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.

1 Comment

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

Rudolf Steiner and the Chinese yam

It’s interesting to see how time and again during the life of Rudolf Steiner, a new body of knowledge was able to begin only once someone had asked him a significant question. Examples of this include:

1. In 1900, Marie von Sivers, a gifted young Russian (who was to become the future Frau Dr Steiner), came to Berlin in order to make the acquaintance of Rudolf Steiner. Soon after meeting him, she asked him a question which had preoccupied her. They came to call this the Chrysanthemum Tea moment, because the room in which they were having tea was full of those flowers. She asked Steiner if there wasn’t a need to call a new spiritual movement into life, one which would be appropriate for Europe and the West, since the Theosophical Society contained so much Eastern spirituality. Steiner replied that this would only be possible if it could arise from the depths of esoteric Christianity. Thus was born anthroposophy.

2. On April 23, 1919, after a lecture Steiner gave to the factory workers of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Emil Molt, the company director, asked Steiner to take on the planning and leadership of a new school for the company’s workers. This led to the birth of the first ever Waldorf school.

3. In August 1923, in Penmaenmawr in Wales where Steiner was leading a summer school, Dr Ita Wegman asked him: “Would it not be possible to found a form of medicine based upon the mysteries?” This led to their collaboration in writing a book and the beginnings of anthroposophical medicine.

It seems as though an initiate can only bring something new to the world when requested to do so through an act of free will by another human being – the initiate cannot act to impose new ideas without the way being cleared by someone asking for them.

The story of the Chinese yam is another example of a significant question being asked of Steiner that led on to new research and knowledge. I’m indebted for the following account to Hannah Townsend’s review of Ralf Roessner’s book The Light Root in the Autumn 2014 issue of New View magazine (article not online).

To quote from Hannah’s review:

“Rudolf Steiner was apparently just about to depart from the gathering at Koberwitz where he had been giving the course of lectures that would lay the foundation for the development of biodynamic agriculture. This was in 1924 and the effects of humanity’s gradual slide into a one-sidedly materialistic thinking was beginning to have an effect on food. Mechanistic agricultural practices were starting to deplete produce of the cosmic forces that food should carry into the human diet if people are to be enabled to pursue their rightful spiritual development. (Food is more than solely a means of keeping our physical bodies alive, but more fundamentally a source of nourishment for human consciousness.)…

Roessner relates how, as Steiner waited for his car to arrive to take him to the train station, two of the course participants came up to him with a question. They wanted to know whether, if all the indications that he had given were followed, it would be enough to raise the quality of nutrition to give adequate spiritual nourishment for our times. The answer that Steiner gave seems to have been both surprising and direct:

‘It will not be sufficient, even in the most favourable circumstances,’ he said. ‘What should be done is to cultivate Dioscorea batatas in Europe so that it can take over from the potato as the staple diet…’ ”

Well, who could resist following up on such an intriguing story? Certainly not the anthropopper, who promptly went out and bought a copy of The Light Root by Ralf Roessner (£8.99 from Temple Lodge Publishing, ISBN 978 1 906999 63 6).

Here's what the Chinese yam (or light root) looks like when well grown.

Here’s what the Chinese yam (or light root) looks like when well grown. (Photo via Apios Institute)

It turns out that what the author calls the Light Root is a particular type of Chinese yam. The special quality of this particular yam is that it is able to incorporate within its physical substance large quantities of the light ether, of which most of our foods are nearly or completely lacking. Why does this lack of light ether matter? It matters because without the light ether it is far more difficult for us humans to become aware of ourselves in our true nature, ie as spiritual beings currently living within physical bodies. Without the light ether, materialism holds sway and people are unaware of anything other than physical, material reality. So it is possible that this plant is not only a valuable food but also something which in the future could be a decisive influence in the development of humanity. (My wife, a specialist in fertility and maternity reflexology, is convinced that the other food which contains light ether is breast milk – which, if true, is yet another reason why breast is best.)

Here of course we dive straight into controversy: what is this light ether, which most scientists, if asked, would say does not exist? Those who are familiar with Steiner’s concepts will know that he thinks in terms of a spectrum of realities, from the physical to the etheric to various gradations of the spiritual. Living organisms which have a physical body or form also have an etheric body or form, which is essentially an energy body that contains and forms the physical. It is this etheric body which maintains the physical body’s form until death.

According to Steiner, the etheric body is made up of four ethers: warmth ether, light ether, chemical/sound ether and life ether (he said that there are in fact seven ethers but only four of them are currently susceptible to investigation). Materialists won’t go along with any of this, of course. However, two researchers, Dennis Milner and Edward Smart, in their work with Kirlian-type photography, seem to have been able to detect the four ethers identified by Steiner. My friend, Dr Siegfried Trefzer, has also used Kirlian photography as a means to detect illnesses in the etheric body before they manifest in the physical body. Between them, the etheric and physical bodies contain the meridian lines and acupuncture points which create a structured and permeable web of energy that helps to maintain the health of our physical body. This level can be weakened by various factors including: electromagnetic pollution, poor diet, drug misuse, trauma, sedentary lifestyle, genetic factors etc. From all this, it is clear that the medicine of the future will have to encompass energy medicine if real progress is to be made in treating pain and disease.

I can remember staying in a boarding house at Cliftonville with my parents when I was a young boy. On the table next to ours at breakfast was a man who had an artificial leg below one knee, which was of course fascinating to me. I have never forgotten how he said that he was having pain, not where the artificial limb joined his leg, but below this – where the amputated leg had been. This phantom limb effect is another example of the etheric body. Even when the limb has been removed, sensation can be felt as if it were still there, because the etheric form of the limb is still there.

Anyway, back to Ralf Roessner’s book about the Chinese yam or, as he calls it, the “light root”, a term he has patented in Germany as “lichtwurzel”. Roessner found that he had to go to the original growing areas in China to find suitable plants, as the specimens he had got from France, Africa and America did not show anything like the expected light ether qualities. The ability to store light ether in the plant is dependent on growing the plant at a sufficient depth (the tubers need to be at least four feet deep) as tubers grown near the surface do not have the same qualities at all. In addition, it is only the male plants of the Chinese yam which have the ability to store the light ether. At harvest time, according to Roessner, these tubers have a radiance that is noticeable even to the untrained observer.

The author clearly does not expect a sympathetic hearing from materialistic science, saying at one point: “spiritual scientific research should not try to gain a place among present day natural science (on the one hand it is still in its infancy, on the other it is more the task of natural science to venture into the spiritual), it is only right to renounce any acknowledgement from natural science.”

One can see why he should be cautious – he claims that the light root was rescued from Atlantis and brought to China, that the light root is a plant which nourishes yin or what Steiner calls the Venus principle, that to describe the effect of the light root on the human being requires faculties which go beyond ordinary sense-perceptible observation. He says that the light root’s unique light ether potential is able directly to strengthen the body’s formative forces (ie the etheric body), which is thereby enabled to take up with more ‘clarity’ those cosmic formative forces which underlie all earthly growth processes. Roessner sees the light root as providing an intermediate stage between a light nutrition of the future and our current one-sidedly materialist nutrition which is becoming less and less capable of truly nourishing us.

I can see why a scientist wouldn’t want to go to Monsanto or some other large corporation to ask for a research grant to look into this. However, in a few years time, when spiritual research has done all the heavy lifting and the reality of the etheric body has been established, I can also see these same large corporations trying to patent the light root, either to suppress it or else to exploit it so that they can market food based on it as “strengthening the etheric body, lengthening your life.”

What is more, the light root does have the potential to be a popular staple food: it is apparently delicious, makes good chips, and can be used in soups, sauces, pies etc. It has the property of filling you up with a small amount, so would be good for slimmers, as well as an excellent food for people with little money. It even has a beautifying effect, bestowing smooth, silky skin and shiny, strong hair. So, yes, I can see the Monsantos or Nestles of this world spotting vast commercial opportunities further down the line.

How would you like your light root cooked? Chipped, fried, in a soup or sauce? Yam, yam!

How would you like your light root cooked? Chipped, fried, in a soup or sauce?
Yam, yam! (Photo via AliBaba.com)

In the meantime, Ralf Roessner is doing his best to promote light root products on his website (German language only). Processing the light root so as to preserve the light ether it contains has its challenges, as the magnetic field associated with electricity soaks up the light ether quality. Even the fan in a conventional oven causes damage, while microwaves completely destroy the quality of light ether. Roessner says that there is an urgent need to develop appliances such as graters, mills and mixers, where a motor can be installed away from the actual appliance. Clearly at present it is best to use the light root as a fresh food. It may be, of course that we in the West are not yet ready to swap the potato for the Chinese yam and it is therefore the role of people like Ralf Roessner and his colleagues to research and to keep the knowledge alive until that time when we begin to awaken from our deep materialistic sleep. In this, they deserve our thanks and respect for ploughing their lonely furrow on behalf of the future.

It seems significant that the light root has come out of China and that advocates of anthroposophical medicine and ancient Chinese medicine are finding more and more parallels in their approaches. Yvan Rioux, in a fascinating article in the Winter issue of New View magazine, says that: “When the Chinese tried to grasp the activity of an organ, they looked for psychic activities as well as biological processes because our internal landscape is the basis of our soul life. “ And he quotes Steiner from lectures given a century ago: “What makes consciousness possible is not the brain as a producer of consciousness but the processes of the body as a whole. These serve as a mirror reflecting the activities of the soul. The bodily organs as living body processes act as reflectors of psychic activities.1” And again: “We must know that, in spite of the fact that they are not fully penetrated by the life of consciousness, all the organs contain the source of what surges in us as our psychic life.2

How did Steiner know all this stuff? And where are the true scientists who, even if something does not fit within their current paradigm (or especially because it does not fit within the current paradigm), will say: ”We must look into these matters and if necessary, we must develop new theories, methods and techniques to enable us to do so.” Those are subjects that the anthropopper will return to in future postings.

1 Rudolf Steiner, Psychoanalysis and Spiritual Psychology

2 Rudolf Steiner, Occult Physiology

12 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner