Tag Archives: Emerson College UK

Old Age & Anthroposophy – Part 2

In the first part of this two-part posting, we looked at old age from an anthroposophical perspective, and noted the physical and mental development processes that go on as we age, in both their negative and positive aspects. All of us want to have a fulfilling old age despite the infirmities and diminishing independence associated with the last phases of life. This implies that, alongside looking after our physical welfare, we also need to be able to express our soul and spiritual capacities.

The elderly are growing closer to the end of their physical lives and the process of excarnation (preparing to leave the body), just as, at the opposite end of the age spectrum, young children are involved in the process of incarnation, of grounding themselves here on Earth in their bodies. With young children, up until the age of 9 or 10, there is still a part of them in the spiritual world. With old people, the gradual loosening of the astral body (Soul) and the ego (Self) from the physical body as they move closer towards death, means that part of their being is also surrounded by spiritual forces.

In a lecture given just over 100 years ago, Rudolf Steiner spelt out the importance of developing our inner life in old age:

“In future, human beings, the older they get, will need to take in spiritual impulses if they want to be able to grow younger and younger and really develop their inner life. If they do so, they may have grey hair and wrinkles and all kinds of infirmities, but they will get younger and younger, for their souls are taking in impulses which they will take with them through the gate of death. People who relate only to the body cannot grow younger, for their souls will share in everything the body experiences. Of course, it will not be possible to change the habit of going grey, but it is possible for a grey head to gain a young soul from the wellsprings of spiritual life.”

steiner 1917

Rudolf Steiner in 1917

One important question for us today is: how can we, both as individuals and as society, help to create the circumstances in which old people can flourish? In Part 1, I quoted from Dr Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal, in which he deplores the emphasis on the medicalisation of old age, and calls for a recognition that old people need to live in situations in which there is an understanding for the aspects of soul and spirit as well as physical care.  He describes the uninspiring nature of many nursing and old people’s homes as being “the consequence of a society that faces the final phase of the human life cycle by trying not to think about it. We end up with institutions that address any number of societal goals – from freeing up hospital beds to taking burdens off families’ hands to coping with poverty among the elderly – but never the goal that matters to the people who reside in them: how to make life worth living when we’re weak and frail and can’t fend for ourselves any more.”

atul gawande via austinup.org

Dr. Atul Gawande (photo via austinup.org)

In the UK, it is clear that we would be unwise to look to national or local government for any measures that might improve the situation. According to the Kings Fund, since 2009/10, local authority spending in England on social care for older people fell in real terms by 17% but in the same period, the number of older people aged over 85 and over rose by almost 9%. It has also become much more difficult for people to get publicly funded social care; numbers have fallen by 25 per cent since 2009 (from 1.7 million to 1.3 million) and in 90 per cent of local authorities only those with ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ needs will get publicly funded services.

The Local Government Association (LGA) “State of the Nation 2017” report on Adult Social Care Funding recorded that local authorities will have managed £16bn reductions in funding from national government between 2010 and 2020.  Further, the LGA estimates a funding gap of £5.8bn by 2020, of which £1bn is for adult social care. Consequences of underfunding include:

  • An ever more fragile market;
  • Growing unmet need;
  • Further strain on informal carers;
  • Less investment in prevention:
  • Continued pressure on an already overworked care workforce;
  • Decreased ability of social care to help mitigate pressures on the National Health Service (NHS).

In the continuing absence of believable, long-term proposals from national government, it is clear that the State is losing the ability to provide well for the care needs of its growing older population. A new impulse is needed, one that not only puts more control into the hands of individuals as they address the challenges of later life, but also extends autonomy as far as possible and reduces pressure on our NHS.

What kind of living arrangements would support older people and help them to make the most of the last phase of their physical lives? Many initiatives have demonstrated the power of civil society to make a difference. A recent article by George Monbiot in The Guardian has shown that a community of like-minded people with shared needs and aspirations can successfully create the conditions for an extended and fulfilling old age.  The article describes how, over three years, the town of Frome in Somerset has initiated a collective project to combat isolation and has seen a dramatic 17% fall in hospital admissions as a result, while Somerset as a whole by contrast saw a rise of 29% in the same period.

There are many examples from Europe and the USA of groups that have formally or informally come together for companionship and mutual support.  Atul Gawande, in the book mentioned above, cites instances of older people living with full control of their lives, not “being done to” – whether it be by the medicalisation of old age or well-intentioned strangers – but “doing” their lives for themselves. An example of such a facility is the Nikolaus Cusanus Haus in Stuttgart-Birkach, Germany, recently visited by a dear friend of mine, who was much impressed by it; and which describes itself as “a community in old-age that is based on freedom and independence and is inspired by the anthroposophical image of man.”

nikolaus cusanus haus.de

The Nikolaus Cusanus Haus in Stuttgart

Another idea which, with its emphasis on community, has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of older people, is co-housing. The concept originated in Denmark in the 1960s and quickly spread across Europe, the UK, US and Australasia. In co-housing schemes, people have their own fully self-contained house or flat but there are also shared facilities, usually in a Common House (a little like a community centre), which they can use 24/7 as much or as little as they wish.  Most co-housing communities will cook and eat together one day or more a week.  The typical Common House will thus contain a commercial style kitchen, a dining area, a large multi-purpose room (meetings, drama, film, parties, yoga, etc), a workshop for repairs, a laundry and a quiet room.  Co-housing is a cost-effective, fulfilling lifestyle for all ages but particularly suited to older people as it makes isolation virtually impossible.  Balancing this is the ability to participate as much or as little as people choose, allowing them to strike their own balance between community and privacy. UK examples of co-housing include Springhill in Stroud, Laughton Lodge in Lewes, Forgebank in Lancaster, LILAC in Leeds and the Threshold Centre in Gillingham, Dorset.

A good example of how co-housing can make a difference is OWCH (Older Women’s’ Co-Housing) in Barnet, North London. OWCH is a group of women over fifty who have struggled against the odds to create their own community in a new, purpose-built block of flats. As an alternative to living alone, they have created a senior co-housing community which is enriching the last years of many older women, and reducing pressures on local health and care services. What OWCH demonstrates is that a group from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, with ages ranging from early 50’s to late 80’s, who are all very different, with their own particular interests, family connections and work – (some of them are still working) – or health difficulties or disabilities, can nevertheless create the circumstances to keep themselves as self-dependent and active as possible as they get older.


OWCH (Older Women’s Co-Housing) in Barnet, North London

A similar aspiration is now seeking to come to expression at Emerson College, an independent adult education college in East Sussex, based on the principles of anthroposophy. Emerson College Trust, St Anthony’s Trust and the Anthroposophical Society in Sussex have joined forces to provide a co-housing scheme for older people at Pixton House in the heart of the Emerson College campus.  The examples mentioned above show the value that such a place could have in the quality of care, nutrition, social and cultural life provided to older people.


Pixton House at Emerson College

What we are calling the Pixton Third Age (P3A) Project will consist of the renovation, refurbishment and extension of Pixton House, a Grade 2 listed early 19th century mansion house, so as to create around 20 self-contained apartments for older people, together with some shared facilities.  The intention is that residents will be able to participate fully in their own Pixton community but also in the wider cultural life of the College, partially formalised into what is called the Emerson Living & Learning Community. Residents will be encouraged to contribute as much as possible to the wider community, sharing their skills and experience for the benefit of all ages. This project will give opportunities for inter-generational meetings and mutual support on the Emerson campus. The facility will be owned and run by an independent trust to include the residents, and in collaboration with Emerson College.

Even at this early stage, several people (individuals and couples) have expressed an interest in coming to live at Pixton. An architect, project manager, quantity surveyor and planning consultant are currently being appointed to take us to the point where a planning application can be submitted to Wealden District Council. We anticipate that apartments should be ready for occupation by late 2020, and over the coming months we will be bringing together prospective residents with the architect and project group in order to discuss the design and accommodation details that will best meet the needs of older people.

pixton third age

The Lily Pond on the South Lawn at Pixton.

It seems likely that the values for which co-housing stands – privacy combined with active community, resident control and autonomy –are sought after by a far wider group of the older population than is currently familiar with the term “co-housing.” The combination of community, looking out for one another and self-governance holds an appeal for what one might call the younger generation of older people, for whom outmoded models of social care no longer seem relevant or desirable. People like to be active in their own care whenever possible, and still wish to be able to contribute and feel needed, rather than to be the passive recipients of care that is “done” to them.

Of course, care from other people will be needed at times, although P3A will be a co-housing scheme rather than a registered care home. Many elderly people are no longer in situations where, for example, they regularly receive touch in a caring way. Their spouse and close friends or family may have already passed on or be in a depleted health situation. The warm, gentle, caring touch of a massage or other therapy can be a source of light and encouragement in an elderly person’s life. The provision of care as and when required, supplied by those experienced in anthroposophical therapies and medicines, will be an important component of the services available to P3A residents, and we are in the process of assembling a team of carers and anthroposophical nurses so that this can happen.

As an aside, I’ve recently read an interview between Emanuel Zeylmans (author of the 4-volume “Who Was Ita Wegman?”) and Wolfgang Weirauch, in which they discuss what Steiner would have done with the insurance money after the burning-down of the first Goetheanum, if he had been asked for his advice by the 15-member building association who controlled it:

“EZ: Of course there is no point in speculating what Steiner would have done with this money. But there is a problem connected with it, for insurance sums consist of money which does not derive from people who affirm anthroposophy. At today’s rate we are talking, after all, of a sum amounting to between seventy and one hundred million Swiss Francs. From all that I have read of Steiner’s views on the nature of money, I am fairly sure that he would not have used this sum for rebuilding the new Goetheanum. I think it is far more likely that he would have put it into other projects that would also have had real relevance for our present times.

WW: What kind of things do you mean?

EZ: In Dornach there was, for instance, no provision whatsoever for the elderly and I can easily imagine that he might, first, have set up a home for all those who needed it. He might also have been able to realise his dream of building a clinic behind the Goetheanum. In my documented research, I published proof that Steiner had planned a clinic on the orchard meadow behind the Goetheanum – a one hundred bed hospital in fact. In other words, he would have transformed the money by using it for another purpose. That is the important thing – to redeem money. This is only one example of how an intrinsically deeply creative person like Rudolf Steiner could have used the money. This would probably have led to quite a new sort of set-up in Dornach, through which he would then have received donations to rebuild the Goetheanum.”

To me, this exchange is deeply meaningful in the light of our own intentions for Pixton, both in terms of provision of accommodation for the elderly and also for provision of anthroposophical care. It indicates to me that our instincts are on the right lines and that by doing what we are doing, it will lead in ways we can’t yet identify to the unfolding of Emerson College’s future direction.  I hope it will also seem significant to you! If you would like to add your own support, one very tangible way would be to contribute to the funds currently being raised to support the preparatory work towards a planning application. You can do this online via the St. Anthony’s Trust website here. Thank you.



Filed under Co-Housing, Emerson College UK, Old Age, Ageing, Elderly People

The timeless wisdom of the Oberufer Christmas plays

I gave the following address at Emerson College on December 24th 2017, during the Christmas Festival organised by the Anthroposophical Society in Sussex. Since I first got to know the Oberufer Christmas Plays by acting in them some years ago, I’ve been aware of the timeless wisdom that they contain about human beings and our situation here on Earth. As I’ve referred to some of these themes in earlier blog posts, I apologise for the repetition here; but partly excuse myself because I have added some further thoughts in this address.


Throughout the Advent period and up until the end of the school Autumn term, teachers and other staff in Steiner Waldorf schools around the world are to be found busy in rehearsals for one or more of three Christmas plays, which they perform as a kind of gift to the pupils, their families and friends over the holiday period.

These plays – the Paradise Play, the Shepherds’ Play and the Kings’ Play – are known as the Oberufer Christmas Plays, after an island in the Upper Danube where these plays were first noted down and collected by one of Rudolf Steiner’s university professors, Karl Julius Schroer.

For those of you who’ve not come across them before, what are these plays about? The first one, called The Paradise Play, is quite short and tells the story as described in the book of Genesis of the creation of the world and the subsequent expulsion from Paradise of Adam and Eve, after they had succumbed to Satan’s strategem to get them to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the one tree in the Garden of Eden that God had forbidden to them. Today, Christmas Eve, is I believe called the Feast of Adam and Eve in the Catholic Church, and the Christmas tree, of which we have a lovely example here, is sometimes called the Paradise Tree, and it represents the Garden of Eden. The Paradise Play is usually performed just before Christmas together with the second play, the Shepherds’ Play, which tells the story of the proclamation of the Birth of Jesus to the shepherds in the field. This is the nativity story as told in the Gospel According to St Luke. We’ve recently seen a performance of the Shepherds’ Play at Michael Hall school on 14th and 15th December. The third play, the Kings Play, tells of the visit of the three wise men, the Magi , to the birthplace of Baby Jesus, and then of the murderous atrocities of Herod in his attempt to destroy the boy he assumed would take over his throne, and it is traditionally performed on 6th January, the feast of Epiphany. This is the nativity story as told in the Gospel According to St Matthew.

Of course, Christmas in our own time has become a secular rather than a religious holiday – you’ve probably noticed that many people now prefer to say “Season’s Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas.” I saw recently a cartoon in a newspaper, which showed two people looking at a nativity scene in a shop window. One person was saying to the other: “Now that’s what I call really tasteless, bringing Jesus into Christmas!”

But there was a time when Christmas was not primarily about over-indulgence and conspicuous consumption. For Rudolf Steiner, who grew up in the rural Austro-Hungarian villages during the latter part of the 19th century, Christmas was still a time which was not primarily about consumerism, but was instead a festival when love, philanthropy and what you might call “right living” was given a fresh impetus in human hearts. As Christmas approached, these villages were suffused by a mood Steiner later described as a kind of magical breath that filled the homes and streets with joyful, hopeful anticipation. Even the poorest peasant householder would dedicate a corner of their dwelling to a nativity scene made from figures they had carved themselves from wood.

As a boy, Steiner would see these nativity scenes when visiting his neighbours. It’s easy for us to forget that he was born into the rural working-class and this was the milieu in which he grew up. As an adult, he expressed his empathy with poor working people as a natural result of having grown up among them. The villagers of Steiner’s childhood not only decorated their homes with nativity scenes but they also took part in traditional seasonal pageants. On Christmas Eve they would re-enact the biblical stories of Adam and Eve and the expulsion from Paradise; and on Christmas Day the story of the Shepherds as told in the Gospel of St Luke. Despite their simple settings, props and costumes, the villagers took these plays very seriously, with preparations beginning at the end of the harvest season and with rehearsals taking place by lantern and candlelight. The actors were men and boys only, including those playing the roles of Mary and the angel. Those taking part in the plays had to observe certain rules and uphold high moral standards.

Steiner tells us that from his own observations of knowing the people involved, there were what he calls “utterly good-for-nothing fellows who would not dare to be dissolute as the days shortened. At Christmas time those who were invariably the most quarrelsome, quarrelled less and those who quarrelled only now and then stopped quarrelling altogether. A real power was active in souls at that time of the year and these feelings abounded everywhere during the weeks immediately before the Holy Night.” Steiner went on to say that “anyone who has lived among village people knows what the first rule of conduct signifies. The first rule was that during the whole period of preparation none of the actors might visit a brothel.” (I trust that the Waldorf teachers today are showing similar restraint.) A second rule was that no-one was allowed to sing bawdy songs or get drunk and the boys taking part were expected to be God-fearing and be capable of absorbing into their character the essence of the Christmas mood. The actors were also obliged to learn how to speak in strict rhythm and rehearse every movement and gesture in minute detail.

So when in later life Steiner was introduced to the Oberufer Christmas plays by his university professor Karl Julius Schroer, he immediately recognised what he described as the same “warm, magical breath of the Christmas mood” that he remembered from the village plays of his childhood. Schroer had collected these three plays in the local dialect from the island community of Oberufer in the Danube, where they had been performed for hundreds of years. Nowadays, as I mentioned, these plays are performed during the Christmas season at Steiner Waldorf schools around the world.

I think we can be fairly sure that Steiner further adapted Schroer’s texts of these plays. We may also assume that Steiner brought out and strengthened the ancient wisdom inherent in the plays. Now Steiner was perhaps one of the busiest people there has ever been – he must have been under greater time pressure than any of us can imagine, as the work he packed into his 63 years would have been more than enough for ten ordinary people. And yet we know that he gave much time and attention to the rehearsal and production of the plays at Dornach, and he provided a spoken introduction to every performance whenever he could. So what was it about these plays that was important enough to make Steiner want to attend hundreds of rehearsals and many performances over the course of his years at Dornach?

When I worked in a Steiner school and sometimes took part in these plays, I found there to be a special, intangible quality about acting in them. It may sound fanciful but I experienced this almost as a blessing, a sense of grace. I found this particularly to be the case when playing Balthasar in the Kings’ play, but also when playing God in the Paradise play (typecasting, some might say). Of course, those playing the Devil or Herod might have quite a different experience!

There is real wisdom in each of these plays and the text repays careful study and attention. Take the Paradise Play, for example, and the final speech that God makes just after Adam and Eve have been cast out of Paradise and after he has rebuked Satan for beguiling Adam and Eve into tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. It’s both powerful and thought-provoking:

“See now this Adam, such wealth he has won

Like to a god he is become

Knowledge he has of Evil and Good

He can lift up his hand on high

Whereby he liveth eternally”

I was playing the part, so I had to try to make sense of these lines. They reminded me of an earlier scene in the play, just after God has created Adam, and is showing him the Earth for the first time. God says to Adam:

“The earth with hills and mountains steep

I give thee – fishes of the deep and

Birds of Air, that by this hand I made,

I give to thy command.

Share thou with me my domination

And be the lord of all creation.”

God is inviting Adam to become a co-creator, the steward of the Earth, although a steward who is so far lacking in the wisdom to run things properly.

So what do those last two lines I quoted earlier mean, when God says that Adam “can lift up his hand on high, Whereby he liveth eternally”? Through Satan’s cunning, Adam has acquired premature knowledge of good and evil, before he was evolutionarily ready to take this on, but in doing this, Adam has also taken on the potential to become a god.

The image of Adam lifting his hand on high (and surely it’s his right hand he lifts) reminded me of a king with orb and sceptre. Picture a king with a sceptre in his right hand, which is used for directing and willing and with the orb in his left hand, which is used for receiving and holding – so Adam has become like a God or a co-creator with God and who now must learn to use his power with wisdom, which implies that there will be all kinds of painful lessons to be learned as mistakes are made along the way. And isn’t that a perfect image of humankind today, as we grapple with cloning and nuclear energy and genetic modification and all kinds of new technologies? We have the godlike powers but we are still trying to learn the godlike wisdom to use them properly.

What lies behind these plays? We could perhaps say that the Paradise Play is to do with the forces of Will, depicting as it does the beginning of Humankind.

We might say that the Shepherds’ Play is about Feeling and the light that gives warmth to simple shepherds’ hearts. It’s about empathy, the wisdom of the heart, the caring for one another that the birth of Jesus will reinforce and strengthen throughout the world.

And we could say that the Kings’ Play is about Thinking – and indeed it seems to me the play most closely aligned to anthroposophy, because the Three Kings are a kind of image of the seeking after of higher spiritual knowledge or the truths of esoteric Christianity. The Kings’ Play is traditionally performed at Epiphany on 6th January.

Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “vision of God” and in the Christian tradition it refers to the visit to the newborn Jesus child in the stable at Bethlehem by the Three Kings; or in other words, the revelation of God the Son as a human being to the Three Kings or Magi. Epiphany is sometimes called the Festival of the Three Kings for this reason, and Rudolf Steiner had some interesting things to say about it. He said that in our present time less importance is attached to Epiphany than to the Christmas festival itself but in the future, Epiphany will assume greater and greater significance as we begin to understand its symbolism.

The Shepherds’ Play and the Kings Play are telling us of two proclamations of the birth of Jesus: the Shepherds’ Play shows us that one proclamation is made to the shepherds in the fields, as told in the Gospel According to St Luke; while the Kings’ Play shows us the proclamation made to the three Magi from the East, who follow a star leading them to the Jesus child. This is the Nativity as related in the Gospel According to St Matthew.

So these plays are showing us two ways in which higher knowledge came to exceptional individuals in earlier times. Individuals such as the simple shepherds in the fields who with their great purity and kindness of heart still possessed a certain power of clairvoyance that came over them like a dream.

And the Kings’ Play shows us that there were individuals who had reached the heights of learning, like the three Magi from the East, in whom the ancient faculty of gazing into the how and why of cosmic happenings had been preserved.

Let’s take a closer look at the knowledge possessed by the three Magi. It’s clearly indicated in the Kings’ Play that these Magi (another word for spiritual masters or initiates), were able to read the secrets of the movements of the stars. This ancient knowledge of the secrets of the stars also contained the secrets of happenings in the world of human beings.

Steiner posed the question: “What has become of the wisdom possessed by the Magi?” And his answer was that it has become the mathematical astronomy of today. However, unlike today’s astronomers, the Magi were able to gaze at the world of the stars, not only with their eyes but also with their inner vision and their esoteric knowledge and thus they were able to see the secrets of the universe and of humankind. In a way we can scarcely understand today, the Magi could also perceive the stars talking to them. However in our present age, today’s mathematics has become pure abstraction, says Steiner, but he also says that the same forces that are unfolded in mathematical thinking can again be filled with life, enriched and intensified in imaginative perception. Then, from our own inner forces, we can once again behold the heavens through inner perception, inner vision, as the Magi discerned the secrets of the Christ child.

Perhaps it is thoughts like these that prompted Steiner to give the following meditative verse at Christmas 1923:

The stars once spoke to Man.

It is world destiny that they are silent now.

To be aware of this silence

Can become pain for Earthly Man.

But in the deepening silence

There grows and ripens

What Man speaks to the stars.

To be aware of this speaking

Can become strength for Spirit Man.

In our present age, the verse seems to suggest, we need to recognise that the spiritual world has withdrawn from us in order to advance the next step of our own evolutionary journey. In Steiner’s account of how humanity is evolving, since the 15th century we have lost the atavistic sense of clairvoyance which we used to have, and thus lost our awareness of the connection with the spiritual world. This was a necessary but very dangerous step in the evolution of humankind. It was 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 was dangerous because this apparent severance from spirit existence has given the adversarial powers an 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, which is to evolve, aeons from now, into what Steiner called the Tenth Hierarchy, a new angelic order of spiritual freedom and spiritual love.

But even in this present age we are not alone, however; help is all around us. We must find the courage and imagination to speak to the stars and re-establish our links with the spiritual world; but this time in full consciousness.

Turning to the Magi themselves, one of them is portrayed as a Moor, an African; the second as a white man, a European; and the third as an Asian from India. And about this Steiner says something which I find very moving (and which gives the lie to those misguided people who accuse him of racism):

“What must never be forgotten is that the proclamations to the Shepherds and to the Kings contained a message for all mankind – for the earth is common to all. In that the revelation to the shepherds was from the earth, it was a revelation that may not be differentiated according to nationality. And in that the Magi received the proclamation of the sun and heavens, this too was a revelation destined for all mankind. For when the sun has shone upon the territory of one people, it shines upon the territory of another. The heavens are common to all; the earth is common to all. The impulse of the ‘human universal’ is in very truth quickened by Christianity. Such is the aspect of Christmas revealed by the twofold proclamation.”

But there are two other kings in the Kings’ Play – Jesus and Herod. And they open up two different worlds before us: one which promotes the development of humanity in a good way; and the other world, which is served by the adversarial powers and in which Herod represents the diabolical element. Unlike Jesus, and unlike the three Magi, who are working out of love, or more precisely, who are applying the intelligence of their hearts to their knowledge of the stars, Herod is working out of the opposite of love.

What is the opposite of love? Not hate. No, the true opposite of love is fear. Herod is afraid. He is afraid of losing his throne to this new-born king, whom he assumes will be a temporal rather than a spiritual ruler. And out of Herod’s fear, and his ignorance of spiritual laws, he is willing to commit the most terrible atrocity imaginable: the mass slaughter of all boy-children in his kingdom under the age of two.

Actually, one feels almost sorry for Herod, who in his fear and ignorance is preparing a truly appalling karma for his future lives. In the play, Mary appears to Herod in a vision and tries to warn him about what he is doing to himself:

“Great King, to Mercy mend your mind

Lest grief come suddenly behind;

If so much guiltless blood you shed

What call you, King, on your own head?”

But Herod is not to be dissuaded from his terrible crime and orders his servants to kill all the children, “to make the children’s blood gush out.”

And at this point, I can’t help but ask myself what has changed in the last 2000 years? Still today we have rulers who are acting out of fear and ignorance rather than a heart-filled wisdom. A prime example is president Assad in Syria, where the death toll of his own Syrian people in the conflict is around 500,000, together with over 6 million internally displaced people and another 5 million seeking refuge abroad. We could multiply these examples in other conflicts around the world.

Why is this, I wonder? Why is it that so many politicians and leaders today still lack “the light that gives warmth to simple shepherds’ hearts, the light that enlightens the wise heads of kings?” Why are so many of them, to use a 19thcentury term that deserves to be revived, such moral imbeciles?

Whatever the answers to those questions, each of us can help to improve matters. None of us is powerless – our thoughts, our example, our prayers, our daily interactions with other people can all help to create a better future, even if the numbers of those working consciously for good sometimes seem like an impossibly diluted homeopathic dose within the great mass of humankind.

And of course, we can also go to see the Oberufer Christmas plays, to remind ourselves of what remains true and good in the face of evil. We’ve missed the Paradise, and Shepherds plays for this year, but we can still see the Kings Play, which is being performed at Michael Hall on Friday 12th and Saturday 13th January at 7.30pm; and then on Sunday 14th at 5.00pm.

Thank you for listening – very best wishes for a peaceful and restful time during these Holy Nights and in the New Year ahead.



Filed under Oberufer Christmas Plays

The Threefold Social Order – has it been forgotten? (Part 3)


Part 3 of 3

The Importance of the Threefold Social Order

Rudolf Steiner points to the necessity in our age of separating what is at present unified within the State. The pyramidical form of the present State is something derived from the old theocratic social structure that was right for the earlier state of human consciousness. That was correct for the time when humanity was guided by the spiritual world working from above through inspired teachers and leaders. But now the spiritual world holds back and human beings must themselves find their way back to the spiritual world. A quite different social structure must now come into being for the awakening ego of the consciousness soul. What is still looked upon as one must now become three distinct and separate sectors of human society, that is, the economic sector, the rights sector and the cultural life must each become independent and free. The State as we know it must disappear, it is a dead relic from the past.

Even people who have been thinking through what Steiner said of the threefold social order for many years have great difficulty grasping what this would actually mean in practical effect. Most people think of it as something like our present elected government with three distinct departments, or three separate democratically elected administrations. But clearly Steiner did not mean this, nor does it make sense. It is only when one has come to a reasonably clear idea of each sector, of the nature of the very different forms of leadership and the areas of activity and responsibility of each, that it begins to become clear how only as three separate and independent sectors does the three become one. Just as the human body is formed of a threefold system of the head and nervous system, the rhythmic system of heart and lungs and the metabolic and limb system, so is the “body of earthly humanity” made up of a threefold system.

Humanity is evolving. In all ancient times the threefold form of the social order, and the place within it into which each person was born and belonged, was given by the spiritual world. The guidance of mankind was brought down through the mystery teachings. But now responsibility is passed to humanity itself. We ourselves have to bring order and form into our social life. Just as all creation has a threefold form so human social life itself must be transformed from the unitary into a threefold structure, a trinity. The individual human being is now born free, that is, he is not born into a place within the social order, into a particular sector, but must himself create a relationship to each, according to his karma and earthly needs.

The Search for the New Isis, Divine Sophia[i] – Lecture 3 – 25/12/1920 – end of lecture

It is so indeed, my dear friends; modern humanity is passing over a threshold at which stands a Guardian, a Guardian full of meaning, and grave. And this grave Guardian speaks: “Cling not to what has come as a transplant from olden times; look into your hearts, into your souls, that you may be capable of creating new forms. You can only create these new forms when you have faith that the powers of knowledge and of will for this spiritual creation can come out of the spiritual world.” What is an event of great intensity for the individual who enters the worlds of higher knowledge, proceeds unconsciously in present-day mankind as a whole. And those who have linked themselves together as the anthroposophical community must realise that it is one of the most needed of all things in our days to bring men to understand this passing through the region which is a threshold.

Just as man, the knower, must realise that his thinking, feeling and willing separate in a certain sense and must be held together in a higher way, so it must be made intelligible to modern humanity that the spiritual life, the life of rights, and the economic life must separate from one another and a higher form of union created than the State as it has been up to now. No programmes, ideas, ideologies can bring individuals to recognise the necessity of this threefoldness of the social organism. It is only profound knowledge of the onward development of mankind that reveals this development to have reached a threshold where a grave Guardian stands. This Guardian demands of an individual who is advancing to higher knowledge: Submit to the separation in thinking, feeling and willing. He demands of humanity as a whole: Separate what has up to now been interwoven in a chaotic unity in the State idol; separate this into a Spiritual Life, an Equity State, and an Economic State … otherwise there is no progress possible for humanity, and the old chaos will burst asunder. If this happens it will not take the form that is necessary to humanity but an ahrimanic or luciferic form. It is only through spiritual-scientific knowledge of the passing of the threshold in our present day that can give the Christ-form to this chaos.

This, my dear friends, is something that we must say to ourselves at the time of Christmas too, if we rightly understand Anthroposophy. The little child in the crib must be the child representing the spiritual development towards man’s future. Just as the shepherds in the field and the Magi from the East went after the proclamation to see how that which was to bring humanity forward appeared as a little child, so must modern man make his way to Initiation Science in order to perceive, in the form of a little child, what must be done for the future by the Threefold Social Organism based on Spiritual Science. If the old form of the State is not made threefold it will have to burst — and burst in such a way that it would develop on the one side a wholly chaotic spiritual life, completely ahrimanic and luciferic in character, and on the other side an economic life again luciferic-ahrimanic in character. And both the one and the other would drag the State in rags after them. In the Orient there will take place the development more of ahrimanic-luciferic spiritual states; in the West there will be the development more of ahrimanic-luciferic economic life — if man does not realise through the permeation of his being by Christ how he can avoid this, how out of his knowledge and out of his will he can proceed to bring about the ‘threefolding’ of what is striving to separate.

This will be human knowledge permeated by Christ; it will be human willing permeated by Christ. And it will express itself in no other way than that the idol of the unitary State will become threefold. And those who stand properly in the spiritual life will recognise, as did the shepherds in the field, what it is that the earth experiences through the Christ. And those who stand rightly within the economic life, within the economic associations will unfold, in the true sense, a will that brings a Christ-filled social order.

Do we not already see signs of the unitary state beginning to burst asunder? The great leaders of even a short time ago, people with vision and qualities of leadership who could be looked up to and trusted – are there no such people now? It seems that, if there are such people, they do not choose, or are not enabled to get involved with the increasingly corrupted party-political establishments of our time. The old form where the great majority of the electorates, with a certain confidence and trust left over from earlier states of group soul consciousness, still looked up to and respected their elected leaders. But now that is rapidly falling away. People want something different, they want some say in the ordering of social life. We are seeing, or have seen, particularly in USA and Great Britain, electorates who do not follow their leaders, but choose others of very different and unexpected qualities, or even lack of qualities. They have lost confidence and only know they want something that is more connected to their own interests. And egoism, greed and corruption take over.

Much has changed since Steiner spoke of the threefold social order. While what he gave as the basic inherent threefold structure is just as true today as when he spoke, much in society itself, particularly in the economic and financial realm and also in the awakening consciousness soul of the human being, has changed. I have no doubt that he would speak very differently of many aspects today. It is not enough merely to study what he said over ninety years ago, though that is still essential. In studying what Steiner said about the threefold social order we have also to look out into the world and to see the changes, see and understand the human being and the social conditions as they are today and try to understand what he would say now.

It will never be possible to effectively take the threefold social order out to the wider public until it is, at least to some extent, actively striven for in our own community and institutions. How can we talk to people of the importance and necessity of transforming human society and its social institutions from the present unitary and pyramidical structures to a threefold one, if we ourselves cannot speak out of actual experience and be able to demonstrate what we have achieved and the actual resulting benefits? Where have we actually put into practice what we would be telling others about?

If we can only tell them what we have understood from reading and studying Rudolf Steiner, or what we have come to out of thinking and discussion rather than through our own active experience and observation, the people we need to talk to will soon see this and will simply continue, in this field, to not take us seriously, as has been happening for too long now.

I come back to my earlier question “to whom or to where can those people go to find what they need whose karma or destiny has given them the impulse to work towards bringing a healing to the social life of humanity?” Such people will hardly be looking towards the Anthroposophical movement at present.

Surely this is not a question just for the social section, or for those interested or keen to study it. Is it not a question for anyone concerned with anthroposophy itself?

As I said earlier, when Francis Edmunds founded Emerson College he did this on the basis of his deep understanding, out of anthroposophy, of the needs of young people of our time, the time of the awakening consciousness soul. This understanding also led him to the necessary form for the administrative structure. In doing this he could not help arriving at a form that bore within it much of the inherent threefold nature of human social life.

I understand that Steiner said something to the effect that in a Waldorf school teachers should carry responsibility for the administration. I do not think that he meant they should do all the actual administrative work, but that they should be sufficiently involved to ensure that the administrative decisions and arrangements conformed to, and arose out of, the spiritual anthroposophical foundation of the school.

Then it might be possible for more Steiner schools to begin to form their organisational structure on a true anthroposophical basis, that is, on the threefold nature of human social life. Then it might also be possible for this to be introduced into the curriculum for the older children of the upper school, as I understand Steiner also wanted. It seems to me that that would be the right age for them to begin to understand and connect with the deeper nature of the society they were about to enter, particularly of the true nature of economics and its underlying basis of mutuality that could provide for all humanity, rather than as at present on egoism. This would not only help them to connect in a healthy way to the world into which they were entering, but for those intending to work into the social life of humanity it would give them a sure foundation on which to start. Without such people it is hard to see how any progress can be made.

A person does not have to understand and recognise the reality of destiny and karma to find the experience of working in an organisation where karma is taken as the basis for their employment and the setting of their salary, an enormously freeing and soul satisfying experience. I come back to the question pointed to earlier. How is it possible that committed and serious anthroposophists doing important work in Waldorf schools and other such anthroposophical institutions, while committed to taking anthroposophy seriously in their work, seem to take for granted that the legal, financial and administrative arrangements and the social structure of their employment should be based on a conventional understanding of life quite alien to the spiritual foundation of the work they do?

I was employed at Emerson College for 27 years until I retired, though I continued to be involved after retiring. There was no relationship between the work people did and the money they received as salary. Salaries were based purely on individual needs, that is, on karmic needs, but the proportion of “needs” covered had to relate in some way to what our students could afford to pay. This applied equally to all full-time staff, whether teaching, or in the office, maintenance or kitchen.

It was understood that it was karma that brought people to the college, whether as students, teachers or other staff, and there was remarkable freedom given to all of us to do the work we had come to do. (I have gone into all of this in more detail in my book, mentioned earlier, The Story of Emerson College).

It is always good to give attention to the artistic outer appearance of an institution in order to express something of the nature of the activities of the institution. But my experience is that something of the nature of the work, of its spiritual substance and truth, is also visible in the spiritual environment of the place and is, even if unconsciously, perceptible to more people than we may realise. I was constantly amazed by the questions I was asked by many people visiting the college, often even on their first visit. Not only anthroposophical or other such visitors, but more so from people who came on professional business such as inspectors, consultants, service engineers, police, plumbers and bricklayers. Many, if not most, sooner or later, would ask something like “what is this place, it is different?” Many remarked that there was something special about it. The observations were always positive. And nearly always former students from that time that I have since met have spoken of how special a place it was, or of how it had been the most important year, or years, of their lives.

The questions have always lived with me: “What did they actually see?” and “What was it that made it such a special place?” I always came back to the thought that it was the truth that was there, the truth in that the college tried always, so far as it was possible at the time, to form every aspect of its organisational form and structure on the same spiritual realities as that which the students were taught in the classroom and that they met in the Festivals.

Then it was always possible to say something of the threefold nature of human social life, and to be listened to with interest, because such an explanation was true to what they had actually experienced.


[i] The Search for the New Isis, Divine Sophia, GA202 – Lecture 3: The Magi and the Shepherds – 25/12/1920 – end of lecture.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner, Threefolding

The Threefold Social Order – has it been forgotten? (Part 2)


Part 2 of 3

2 Hindrances and Obstacles

In my observation there are several factors or obstacles that presently make it very difficult for people, or even prevents them, coming to a clear perception of the threefold social order. I give below what I think are four of the major factors why so little progress has been made over the years. If progress is to be made, these need to be understood and worked around.

1) People often attempt to arrive at an understanding of economic activity along the path necessary in other fields of anthroposophical study, that is, along the inner path of thinking and meditation. The path to all forms of higher knowledge is one that an individual has to go alone – “in the loneliness of his study”. That is right for those active in the cultural sphere of society. But a truly social form of economic activity cannot be sought along that lonely path. That can only be achieved in any particular place or time by, and in conjunction with, those actually active in that community.

What products of economic activity people need, the values they place on any particular product and the prices they are willing or able to pay vary from place to place, from time to time, and from one people to another. There is no universal reality in economic life. What people want, and what they can or are willing to pay will constantly vary according to many factors such as climate, fashion, religion, people’s ages and educational attainments. In markets, whether of products, commodities or financial, whether small and local, large or global, prices will always fluctuate. Immense work and study goes into predicting future prices, but they can never be actually known. This is why markets, particularly financial markets, take on the characteristics of gambling casinos.

New inventions are being created, new products thought up and produced. For most there is no possible certain knowledge as to whether they will be wanted and so will sell at a particular price until they are actually put on the market. We do not see the many that are put on the market but fail. Watch the television programme “Dragon’s Den” and one soon sees the uncertainty in it all.

The economy is a creation of human beings, not of the spiritual world, and in our time an understanding of it can only be reached by human beings active in it and working together in community. There is no other way.

Rudolf Steiner points to this particularly in the final lecture of

The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question[i].

Human beings of course must not only seek the path to the supersensible world and to nature, but out of their own thoughts they must seek the path leading to social life. However, as social life cannot be developed alone but only through really experiencing other people, the lonely people of our modern age are not exactly best suited to develop social thinking. Just when they came to the point of wanting to attain something worthwhile by means of their inner forces, the results of their efforts turned out to be anti-social, not social thinking at all! People’s present-day inclinations and longings are the outcome of spiritual forces arrived at in loneliness and are given a false direction by the overwhelming influence of ahrimanic materialism.

. . . .

If you look into Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s “Geschlossener Handelsstaat” you will see that it is the social ideal of a person who really and truly was endeavouring his utmost to tread the highest paths of knowledge, and who developed the kind of thinking that constantly tended towards the supersensible world. However, when he tried to work out for himself a social ideal, even though it came entirely from his heart, we see that the very thing that suits us when we pursue for ourselves the highest ideals of knowledge is a handicap when applied to the kind of thinking necessary for working in social life. The kind of spiritual work Fichte did requires to be done alone, whereas social thinking has to be worked out in a community of other human beings, where the chief task of the thinker is to consider how the social organism might be laid out so that people may work together in the right way to found a social existence within the social realm itself. . . .

And another extract from:

The Social Question[ii],

Above all we must learn really to think as modern people, so as to come to a formation of a social judgement in the modern sense – but let us not take that superficially, Ladies and Gentlemen. We can only do this if we see into the depths beneath the surface of social phenomena. There it is revealed that however clever and however intelligent and even idealistic and practical a person may be – I should like to underline the word practical three times – the individual as such cannot attain to a social judgement. It is a social mystery, Ladies and Gentlemen, that every individual judgement on a social question is a false one.

Study what clever judgements were passed when the gold standard was introduced into Europe. Whoever steeps himself in what was said at that time in trade associations, in Parliament – I am not saying this ironically, but with full conviction – there you have an excellent example of human cleverness. It was very impressive to hear all these extremely clever people talk, or at any rate to absorb what was said from the middle of the nineteenth century about the influence of the gold standard upon the social ordering of the world. And it was above all emphasized, so logically and so practically as to be very impressive, that if we had the gold standard free trade would flourish. The very opposite has happened. We have been obliged to see the customs barriers erected again as the direct consequence of the gold standard, which means that exceedingly clever people looking into the future have talked nonsense.

This is not a complaint. It has happened because the cleverest people, however many of them there are, talk utter nonsense as regards their social judgements if they speak as individuals, if they judge only with what comes out of the single individuality.

Hence today it is not at all a question of allowing ourselves to be moved by all the wide spread misery in the world. The individual can form no judgement as to cause and effect. We have to go deeper. We have to look to the organisation of humanity. We have to ask ourselves how a real judgement can come about.

It is probably true to say that a very large number of articles published on the threefold social order have been written by people involved in work in the cultural sphere, that is, in spiritual work that requires one to work “in the loneliness of one’s study” – the way least suited to understanding the social problem. That, of course, is where most anthroposophists work, or where their anthroposophical interests lie. Many of these articles have been carefully thought through and are often interesting to read, but too often do not lead into the actual practice of life, into how practically to work into social life. Others seem to remain in the realm of academia, they give the impression that the writer has not experienced the practical side of life, the actual activity of production and distribution, nor of the dehumanising effects of much of economic life and so have not properly understood what it was Steiner was actually saying.

All true cultural activity of necessity starts from a form of egoism. Division-of-labour, the basis of all economic production, increases in productivity the more people work together in mutual cooperation in order to produce not what they themselves need, but what is needed by others. Egoism works in the opposite direct to division-of-labour and nullifies its benefits to the community. Steiner goes into this in an interesting and informative way in lecture three of World Economy.

I was happy to see Steiner’s very important lectures on economics back in print. But it provides interesting examples of what I have just been indicating. Firstly, it is unfortunate that the title has been changed from “World Economy” to “Rethinking Economics”. Much in those lectures points to the fact that the actual economy at the time the lectures were given was beginning to evolve from the stage of many self-contained national economies trading with each other to the stage of a one-world economy that has to be complete in itself. But economic thinking of the time had itself remained at the stage of national economies. Now, in our time, the fact that we are in a partial world economy is widely accepted and economic thinking is already concerned with the problems of world economy. It seems to me extraordinarily unfortunate that just as the world economy he pointed to, and that these lectures were a sort of preparation for, actually becomes reality the words “World Economy” should be dropped from the title and the name “Rethinking Economics” given them instead.

If we look at this new title, what is actually meant by the word “rethinking”? What is being “rethought”? It is clear from the lectures that Steiner did not start with thinking, he started with observation. As I have shown above, he pointed to the fact that one could not come to an understanding of economics by thinking alone. In these particular lectures, he says:

World Economy[iii] lecture 10

This is the great difficulty which besets the formation of economic ideas. You cannot form them in any other way than by conceiving things pictorially. No abstract concept can enable you to grasp the economic process; you must grasp it in pictures. Whereas it is just this which makes the learned world so uneasy today – this demand, no matter in what sphere of thought, that we should pass from the mere abstract concepts to ideation of an imaginative kind. Yet we can never found a real science of Economics without developing pictorial ideas; we must be able to conceive all details of our Economic Science in imaginative pictures. And these pictures must contain a dynamic quality; we must become aware how such a process works under each new form that it assumes.[iv]

This also applies to the working of “economic-associations”, the essential future organising and leadership organs of the economic sphere. The imaginative pictures Steiner speaks of above can only be arrived at by people actually involved in the economic process, and then each can only come to them as he sees them from his particular activity. To put it simply, we can say that the producer will see the economic process he is involved in from the point of view from where he stands in it, similarly the distributer and consumer will come to different pictures from where they stand. Only when the three come together, in the right sense of community, the sense for the economic process as a whole, will the group be able to come to a correct picture of the whole. The individual, out of himself, cannot do this.

I would like to give another example, also from Rethinking Economics, of the present widespread approach to an understanding of economics and threefold social order that may seem trivial but which I believe is, again, too symptomatic not to be taken seriously. In the penultimate paragraph of the last lecture of the original translation of World Economy[v] Steiner is translated as saying: For this very reason, ladies and gentlemen, it gave me deep satisfaction to see you here, prepared to work with me during these two weeks, thinking through the realm of economic science. I thank you sincerely. I may express this thanks, for I believe I see how significant it is – how very much those whose position in life today is that of students of economics can contribute to the healing of our civilisation and to the reconstruction of our human life.

In Rethinking Economics the words I have underlined have been changed to: that those who stand in life today as academics

The notice on the title page gives the translators as A.O. Barfield and T. Gordon-Jones, that is, the original translation was used in the new publication. But it is clear that the translation has, in places, been edited. I have no problem about that, provided the editing is an improvement or correction. But why, in this case was “students of economics” changed to “academics”? It makes no sense to think that Steiner would say to students of economics who have just been working with him through fourteen lectures and workshops that “academics”, or “students in general”, can contribute to the healing of our civilisation and to the reconstruction of our human life. Clearly he was referring to the people he had been working intensely with – students of economics – because this particular subject was important and had to be approached and understood with different faculties than other “academic” subjects. But in this edited translation an important point that Steiner had made a particular point of saying has been lost. There is much about this particular publication of Steiner’s lectures that seem to want to take them into the cultural/academic world. But as I have tried to point out, Steiner himself suggests that there, in what is right for cultural/spiritual studies, they cannot be understood correctly. The cultural and economic spheres of social life have to be seen as very different, in fact as, in every way, opposites. What is true and right for one is almost always untrue and harmful for the other.

2) To understand a second major factor that has caused, and continues to cause, considerable confusion in attempts to understand and work with the threefold social order, it is necessary to differentiate between two usages of the word “social”. (What I say here relates to the English word, but I believe it is also true when applied to the original German). One usage refers to human society as a whole and how it is organised. When Steiner spoke of the threefold “social” order, or of the “social question” he clearly referred to human society as a whole, its inherent threefold nature, and of how it needed to be organised or structured. Any smaller grouping or organisation cannot exist in isolation, only as part of the whole. In such smaller grouping the three sectors will, of course, be present and need to be taken into account according to their own natures, but they do not exist on their own.

The second usage of “social” is quite different in that it relates to the way in which people, singly or in groups behave and interact. It is in this sense that it is most widely used in anthroposophical circles. How people relate to and interact with each other in any social group, whether in a common study, a cultural activity or in a business or other economic organisation arises out of their individual lives of soul, and their karma. This is a question for each individual, not for humanity as a whole. Working with this can only be a matter for the cultural realm of human society.

The work of the NPI (Netherlands Pedagogical Institute) founded by Bernard Lievegoed, was an activity clearly within the second usage of this word. In its early years, and as it has developed since, it has been involved in working with and advising individuals, groups and organisations on social, development and management problems. It has done important work in enabling people to work together in, for example, overcoming personal antipathies and coming to difficult decisions. The threefold social order and the restructuring of human society as a whole according to its three quite different sectors has never been part of its primary impulse. But not all the people who became involved in the work of the NPI were able to make the distinction and considerable confusion arose, particularly, in my experience, in the 70s and 80s of the last century, and, in some people’s minds, has continued ever since.

Through the Social Development Centre at Emerson College I got to know a number of people from the NPI who came onto the staff there. I myself was then fairly new to anthroposophy and to the ideas of the threefold social order. In many discussions with them, some of whom became friends and for whose work I felt great respect, it became clear that they did not differentiate between these two usages of the word “social”. I did not understand this then but from what I knew of the threefold social order, I knew something was wrong – what they were teaching was something quite different. For example, they spoke of the “spiritual”, “social” and “economic” spheres. In the cultural/spiritual sphere they placed man’s relationship to the world of the higher hierarchies, in the social sphere the world of human beings and their relationship to each other, and in the economic sphere man’s relationship to the lower kingdoms – the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms. In their particular work and teaching this was quite correct, but it was quite different from everything Steiner said of the threefold social order. Clearly the rights sphere of the threefold social order – the sphere of the State, of law and order, of that which relates solely to life between birth and death – cannot also be the social sphere which includes karmic relationships. This and other such discrepancies have led to considerable confusion. Later, Ernst Amons, who had at one time worked very closely with Lievegoed particularly in the founding of the Vrije Hogeschool, told me that Lievegoed himself had told him that he had never worked closely with Steiner’s threefold social order. His work arose from his medical training. Much then became clear to me.

The work of the NPI fulfilled an important need, both in anthroposophical organisations and in the world at large, but this confusion, has contributed to the fact that work with what Steiner had brought of the threefold social order has slowly been pushed to the background and has now almost been lost sight of. Until this unfortunate but understandable confusion is recognised and worked with I do believe there will be little understanding of what Steiner gave us as the threefold social order.

Another result of this, when looking at organisations active within the economic sector, the focus of people’s consciousness has tended to be focused on the single organisations, seeing each as separate from others and complete in itself, rather than on the process of production of which the single organisation plays only a part and could not exist except as a part of the whole. So the focus of our consciousness has not reached to world economy, and will not do so until we first come to see the single economic organisation as fulfilling one or more functions within a world economic processes. Only then will we come to a perception of the one world economy.

Another factor arising from this is that, so long as we see only the individual organisations, and do not see the economic process that includes the many productive organisations, each also working on and playing their part in the production and distribution of each completed product, what Steiner pointed to as Economic Associations will not be fully understood.

The economic problem is not a question of individuals learning to bring morality into their work, but of people learning to work fruitfully for all humanity according to the inherent moral nature of the economic process of production and distribution based on division-of-labour.

3) A third problem is this: If we look at the whole range of activities founded on the work of Rudolf Steiner: education, agriculture, arts and crafts in all their forms, medicine and therapy, science, Christian Community, banking, consultancy and others, these are all activities or occupations in their own right in all of which there are people actually involved in and carrying the work professionally. But the threefold social order is something quite different. It is not an activity, occupation or profession in its own right. Like anthroposophy itself, it touches and therefore concerns every human being. It is anthroposophy, or spiritual science, itself giving form and structure to the practical side of social life. Only when this is enabled to come about will the individual feel that the practical arrangements of the organisation or community in which he works is true to his own threefold nature, and so feel at home and able to make a full commitment to the whole. At the beginning of the lecture “The Mysteries of Light, of Space and of the Earth”[vi] Steiner refers to the threefold social order as the practical side of spiritual science: “When in the present time the practical side of our spiritual scientific effort, the Threefold Social Order, is placed before the world as the other side has been . . . .”

But this can only be achieved if some understanding of the threefold social order, and the will to bring it into the organisation, lives within those active in the organisation, particularly those in positions of leadership and management. It is not enough for just one or two people to have the impulse and understanding to achieve what is needed. In my view, the will to structure the organisation on the basis of its threefold nature and of understanding something of what this means must live in more than just a small minority of those carrying the work of the organisation.

There are, however, difficulties to be overcome before anything like this can be achieved. The great majority of people carrying important work in anthroposophical organisations already work long hours and put all their energy into that work and into studying what they need in order to strengthen and deepen that work. They are, understandably, reluctant to give time to studying something that they do not recognise as directly contributing to their particular work. So the threefold social order has too often come to be treated as something extra and beyond what a person needs for his work, a special interest or even something like a hobby. It is not given the serious study and support that it needs if it is ever to enter into the life of humanity and to bring the healing forces and the reconstruction of social life so desperately needed.

4) There is a widespread tendency, particularly in the world at large but also in anthroposophical circles, to act and think as though money has a reality in itself. We assume we have something because we bought it, because we paid money for it. Our consciousness stops there. Because, in the complexity of today’s world economic productive process, we cannot know all that had to happen in order that what we want could be there in the shop for us to buy, it does not mean that we should act as though it comes into being in the shop and we have it because we pay money for it. That becomes a denial of the reality and nature of the actual world economic process and, more seriously, of the existence of all the people who labour in it, a large part of the world population.

In not seeing the actual productive process we come to see the money as that which enables us to have what we buy, and in the money we sense mysteries that are not actually there.

When we do look at the productive process the focus of attention too often stops short at management and business, and we have come to see “business” as the actual economic sector of social life. The productive process and the people who labour “on the factory floor”, those who are the real economic workers, are too often not seen.

We live on what is actually produced by human activity, not on the money which stands for, or represents, its economic value.

When we see money as having value in itself we fail to see and distinguish between money that stands for something real, a product of people’s work – real money – and money that comes into being when what are matters properly belonging to the sphere of human rights, such as land or shares in a business, are treated as economic products, which they are not, and are bought and sold on the market. This money does not represent anything real – it is a false or counterfeit money in that it purports to stand for an economic value that it does not.

Before we can come to any clear idea of the true nature and form of the three different sectors of social life we must first come to see beyond the money. Only then will we come to clarity as to what is an economic product, what is a human right and what is the proper sphere of the free cultural/spiritual life. Until we come to clarity in this we will never come to the threefold social order. Money itself has taken on the qualities of a veil or fog through which it is hard to see what actually is real. There is an enormous amount of research, discussion and written works given to understanding money and of how to heal the economy through controlling the money, but comparatively little attention to the actual social economic process itself. Until the focus of our attention comes back to the economic process and away from looking into the assumed mysteries of money, we will not come to an understanding of the social question.

Rudolf Steiner says of money in World Economy[vii]

In the circulation of money we have, in effect, the world’s bookkeeping. This is, as everyone can really see for themselves, what should be aimed at. In this way we give back to money the only quality that it can properly have – that of being the external medium of exchange. Look into the depths of economic life, and you will see that money can be nothing else than this. It is the medium of exchange of services or things done. For in reality human beings live by the things actually done, not by the tokens thereof.


(Part 3 follows)

[i] The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question – GA328 – lecture 4, Rudolf Steiner Press – 9/3/1919, Zurich

[ii] The Social Question, GA305 – lecture 2, 28/8/1922, Oxford

[iii] World Economy lecture 10, page 129, Rethinking Economics page 124

[iv] The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question – GA328 – lecture 4, Rudolf Steiner Press – 9/3/1919, Zurich

[v] World Economy – lecture 14 penultimate paragraph

[vi] The Mysteries of Light, of Space and of the Earth –GA194 lecture given in Dornach on 15th December 1919

[vii] World Economy, lecture 14, page 176, Rethinking Economics page 172


Filed under Anthroposophy, Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner, Threefolding

The tables turned

Like many of us, I spend far too much time in front of a computer screen. I’m feeling the symptoms now – my eyes are strained, there’s a faint headache starting and my wrist tells me it’s time to swap hands or stop using the mouse.

At such moments, I try to take the advice in Wordsworth’s poem, “The Tables Turned”. In his day, of course, it was books rather than screens that caused eyestrain but the remedy is the same – get out into Nature and focus your eyes on blue skies and green trees.

William Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert Haydon © National Portrait Gallery, London

William Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert Haydon © National Portrait Gallery, London

UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun, above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless–
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

William Wordsworth,Lyrical Ballads,1798.

It seems likely that Wordsworth shared with his near-contemporary in Germany, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an instinct for experiencing through observation the mysterious reality behind nature – a kind of simultaneous integration of spirit and matter.

Goethe had discovered not only through his own insights but also by way of the ideas of the 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, that there was a deeper dimension in plant life, the realm of the “supersensuous plant archetype” lying beyond the empirically visible, touchable, smellable, classifiable plant.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

To quote from Gordon L Miller’s introduction to his edition of Goethe’s The Metamorphosis of Plants:

 Goethe echoed Spinoza’s holistic vision of reality in his conviction that “spirit and matter, soul and body, thought and extension…are the necessary twin ingredients of the universe, and will forever be.” And in order for us to comprehend not only the outer material aspect but also the inner, ideal, or archetypal aspect of natural things, Goethe discovered that we correspondingly must employ both the eyes of the body and the “eyes of the mind,” both sensory and intuitive perception, “in constant and spirited harmony.” Goethe was especially struck by Spinoza’s proposition that “the more we understand particular things, the more we understand God,” and he coupled rigorous empiricism with precise imagination to see particular natural phenomena as concrete symbols of the universal principles, organizing ideas or inner laws of nature. Starting from sense perception of the outer particulars, Goethe’s scientific approach seeks the higher goal of an illuminating knowledge from within. This way of knowing – from the inside – is rooted ultimately in a harmony or identity between the human spirit and the informing spirit of nature, wherein “speaks one spirit to the other”  (Faust, line 425).

It’s particularly exciting in our present times to see the techniques of Goethean observation being extended into the social realm, thus providing new ways of working effectively with processes of social change. This development has been led by Allan Kaplan and Sue Davidoff of the South Africa-based Proteus Initiative – so it’s great news that they will be bringing a series of workshops to Emerson College (Sussex UK) in February and March 2015 (declaration of interest – I’m now working for Emerson College). The workshops are for all those whose work engages in the realm of human relationships and social change. Please email suzy.miller@emerson.org.uk if you would like to receive further details.

But my eyes are still straining and my wrist is aching – time to leave the computer for a while and see what one can discover through some Goethean or Wordsworthian observation. It’s time for a walk in Nature!


Filed under Emerson College UK, Goethe, Goetheanism