Sue Simpson, General Secretary, Anthroposophical Society in NZ

There are times when you step onto a path not knowing where it’s leading, who’ll you meet or what will evolve, there’s a mood of anticipation and slight nervousness that describes how people felt on arrival in Dornach. When the AGM at the Goetheanum closed, people dispersed quickly and there was no time to reflect with one another on the days and what had eventuated. The articles and commentaries that appeared in AWW, expressed the polarisation and distress felt by some members, and though much can change with the passage of time, it was not clear what any unresolved issues, carried by a general secretary or country representative would have on our work. I can now look back with deep gratitude to those who prepared and facilitated the meetings. We first met without the executive or section leaders, the space was created for open, honest and sensitive interaction. We were able to work through some challenging moments, reconnect and strengthen the circle in a way that bodes well for the future. This inner work was reflected in nature, a real festival of fire and the warm colours of autumn.

As the circle expanded to include the Goetheanum Leadership, we became acutely aware of the diminished numbers on the executive, especially with the absence of Matthias Girke who was called away, leaving three members: Constanza Kalics, Joan Sleigh and Justus Wittich. From them we heard of developments at the Goetheanum, and the commitment of all section leaders to share in the responsibility for carrying the tasks at the Goetheanum. I had already experienced the cooperative work of Claus-Peter Röh (Pedagogical Section) and Johannes Kühl (Natural Sciences) with Matthias Girke in facilitating and carrying the Class Holders meetings. Christiane Haid (Literature Arts Section) is working with Constanza Kalics on a new membership booklet; Georg Soldner (Medical Section) with Justus Wittich on the World Association in development and Gerald Haffner (Social Science Section) and Justus Wittich are researching the wider inclusion of members vote and decision making at the AGM. Joan Sleigh is working with English speaking class holders on a new publication of the class texts where the German text will run parallel to the English, providing the possibility to view both languages on opposite pages.

Several of the above topics are or will be reported in AWW. One thought I will share is that there is no simple resolution to the question of including members in the decision-making process at the AGM. During the discussions it became clear that it’s important to review the process concerning motions and the process of review and confirmation of the executive. In 2019 Justus Wittich will complete his seven-year term and requires the confirmation of members in order to continue as an executive member. It’s important that there be good communication with members prior to the AGM and that questions be well answered. A group are working towards shaping the next AGM and presenting any suggested future changes.

Two sessions were given to explore two themes, the future Michael Festival and the Foundation Stone Meditation. Is there a relationship between the second verse of the FSM and a Michael Festival? Concentrating on the words, ‘the rhythms of time’ and ‘entering into your own soul being’, we can create the space and find the strength that can bring us into a working relationship with the Zeitgeist Michael. In my working group, Georg Soldner reflected on the festivals of Easter, Whitsun and Michael, with the perspective of Easter, in the West being an experience of denial. Peter and the disciples denying Christ was followed by the crucifixion. He noted that experience of denial is also a part of the Anthroposophical Society’s history and Steiner’s experience. Whitsun is a very different experience, though people speak different languages they can understand one another. He posed the question, is the experience of Whitsun a necessary step towards creating a future Michael festival? We find our identity in our language, yet it is a prison that we struggle to free ourselves from. Learning the language of another is to live with no set form, no repetition and not base our ideas on tradition. The gift is in not knowing what to do.

Sitting in my room, observing the deep colours of the sunset in the west, I’m reminded of a conversation that asked the question, what does ‘Let from the East be fired, what in the West is formed’ truly mean? Several country representatives come from eastern Europe. In countries such as Hungary, between 1950 – 1989 people longed to be freed from the darkness of communist pressure. In 1989 the wall came down, but an aggressive invasion of western materialism followed. A physical wall came down but thirty years on a kind of iron curtain remains in the soul. Has the West taken up the gifts of the East? Bridges of understanding and cooperation can be built that give strength through what come to life in the in-between. There is a danger of branding a culture under labels such as intellectual or mind, or any other soul, in that having prejudged we fail to perceive the diversity of life. Clearly the place where we are born and live will have an influence on us in life, but it doesn’t have to limit us. Wherever we stand on the earth we experience the sun rise and set, as human beings we hold the center and have the possibility to bridge East and West wherever we are.

At the instigation of Constanza Kalics a group of young people were invited to join us for a session. This proved to be a highlight in the days of meeting. Any expectation that they would come with questions around technology and such challenges of today were quickly forgotten as they opened with their concerns for the Society and their experience at the AGM. How can we develop a way of working that ensures we nurture and respect the dignity of every human being? Their way of processing the events at the AGM was to work through the Christmas Conference 1923/24 lectures and procedures. Their questions were our questions, age was irrelevant as we listened and spoke with people who shared common themes. They came well prepared and were inspiring. As they said, they don’t always agree and that is fine. When asked what they saw as important for the future, several spoke to the need for research in all fields. They see the work demands on the executive and others and want to help but finding a way into a busy world isn’t always easy or possible. Some of us joined them for an evening meal and the room reverberated with lively conversations. They also took the opportunity to share with us some of the 2019 projects.

At the conclusion of the meeting, there was a definite sense of consolidation and positive support for the other, whether it be the representatives around the table or the Goetheanum Leadership. We need one another to progress and it’s essential that we develop the capacities to work with one another if the Anthroposophical Society is to truly find its meaningful place the world, with members having a lively interest and purposeful engagement in the world.

Visiting the Nordic Lands

En route to Dornach, Jan Baker-Finch, General Secretary for Australia, and I visited the Nordic countries. Our impulse was to meet the general secretaries and where possible their councils and other initiatives in their own environment. Again and again we heard words of appreciation, “Thank you for making the effort to visit us.” Flying to Finland, we sailed to Sweden before flying to Norway and finally Basel, Switzerland. Though we only caught a glimpse of each country, the differences were apparent in the landscape and people. While there is something familiar in the Swedish and Norwegian languages, Finish flowed over us like beautiful but incomprehensible music. We felt lucky that everyone we met spoke English!

Noticeable in Finland are how low the clouds hang over the land. The Baltic Sea gently laps against the land, the rocks of ancient basalt rounded and smoothed by the ice call forth the image of snow-covered lands. Soon the snow will return but we caught the last flame of autumn. Finland is a bilingual country with Swedish and Finnish, the latter an ancient language that has survived the invasion of both Russia and Sweden. The cultures co-exist, with their own Steiner Schools, two Societies the Finnish (circa 500 members) and the Finnish-Swedish (circa 50 members). The council is made up of members from different professions and we arrived to join an extended meeting, held twice a year, that invites a greater diversity of people and professions. Reference was made to Denis de Rougement’s work on the principles of federalism and his suggestion that Europe form a federation not of nations but of folk souls to enable the recognition and maintenance of cultural rather than border-defined differences.

We visited Snellman College and Research Center, met with some of the lecturers and its director, Markku Niinivirta. He spoke of the colleges founding and shared the Fins great love of learning. It is a small College that offers a number of courses, amongst them philosophy, arts, a fulltime eurythmy and teacher’ trainings. Many do their masters through the university in Norway and some go on to complete their doctorates in Finland. Being a private college, they face the annual struggle to find the necessary funds and yet they manage to continue. During our stay, we also learned that despite the relative freedom that schools in Finland have, they too are experiencing the encroaching influence of technology and the state.

An overnight ferry saw us sailing up the beautiful archipelago at dawn, to Stockholm. There we were met by the General Secretary, Mats Ola Olsen who gave us a brief tour of the city before heading to Yitterjärna. There we met with a group of young people from YIP (Youth Initiative Programme) and the co-founder Reinoud Meijer. The discussion was very different to the one we would later have with young people in Dornach. The Yippies are taking that exciting and tentative step into life and the unknown, they are fully occupied with the course and their assignments. They share a rich life in Järna and clearly the bonding and social interaction is strong and important for the year and their future. 

Standing in Järna we were all too aware of the changes we see so often around the world. Once this was a vibrant center with all kinds of trainings, workshops, performances and conferences. It has grown quiet with the echoes of a past culture needing to give way to future impulses. Visiting the Vidar Medical Clinic, we heard the sad news that it is struggling to remain open. It is a beautiful building and it doesn’t take much to imagine the healing influences, all the more tragic the possible loss.

In the evening we shared with members and friends, reflections of Australia and New Zealand. This led into a conversation that continued the following day with some of the council members. The theme, colonization of lands, peoples and places, raised the question of the anthroposophical movement, and whether wisdom has been missed or lost because there was an intention to bring knowledge and ultimately not see what was already there. I see and hear what I know; what am I not seeing and hearing? Themes were raised that were later discussed in Dornach, others we shared such as finding initiative and connecting with the world. Our visit closed with the special gift of viewing the glass windows in the Culture House and having Kristoffer Laurén, who was one of the three artists, who created the windows with no prior experience in colouring or cutting glass. He spoke to the images and imaginations behind each window and remained inspired by the trust and openness Arne Klingborg had given them to learn and develop their skills and techniques. It had been a unique experience in his life and a great gift for us. Our last hour in Sweden was sitting in on a Mystery drama rehearsal in one of the several curative pedagogy centres in Ytter Järna

Last stop Oslo where we visited the training college and two anthroposophical houses. The college was busy and every space occupied. Norway offers university degrees and the possibility to do a masters. We had the opportunity to meet with some of the lecturers and tutors before meeting with the full Norwegian council. The council shares the tasks between them, employing one person for the treasurer-secretarial-publishing work. They prefer the name ambassador to general secretary, the role Ingrid Reistad has as representative to Dornach for Norway. On their council, a lawyer who has a high profile in society, is highly respected and well known in Norway. This gives weight and affirmation to Anthroposophy in Norway, but we also understood that anthroposophy is positively recognised in Norway. The council held their meeting in English so that we could participate. There was a youthfulness in Norway that comes across in how they are and what they do. Elizabeth Wirsching, who visited New Zealand a few times, when she was leading the Youth Section at the Goetheaum, is also on the council. On our last day, she guided us on a brief but interesting tour of central Oslo.

We left the Nordic countries with a sense of the connectedness. Though our languages, cultures, history and environments differ, there are human and world themes that draw us together and create a world connectivity.

Pedagogical Section Conference in Dornach, 9 – 13 November 2018

Jan Baker-Finch (general secretary Australia) and I were invited by Claus-Peter Röh (Pedagogical Section) to take the daily eurythmy sessions during the conference. I was also asked to give what is called a free-rendering of a lesson. With at least twelve English speakers attending, the groups were divided into English and German speakers for conversations while the workshops were mixed. This was the first section conference based in the School of Spiritual Science that I had attended in Dornach. I left with a greater appreciation for the group through the way we worked together. This I experienced in the capacity to listen and live with silence, enabling the conversations to expand and deepen. The participants fed back their great appreciation for the eurythmy, as an art but more for the deepening experience it gave to the lessons. This conference enabled colleagues to connect and develop their work. They came from USA, Great Britain and Europe, extending to Slovenia in the east, and Australia/New Zealand in the South. Our thanks to the Pedagogical Section for organising this conference.