Agriculture Course

Koberwtiz Course

Dr Steiner gives 8 lectures to 111 people at Koberwitz which was billed as Spiritual Scientific foundation for a renewal of Agriculture but it’s always known as the ‘Agriculture course.’

When Steiner returned to Dornach he reported back:

“A course of lectures containing what there is to be said about agriculture from an anthroposophical point of view”.

“My subject was the nature of the products supplied by agriculture and the conditions under which these products grow. The aim of these lectures was to arrive at such practical ideas concerning agriculture as should combine with what has already been gained through practical insight and modern scientific experiment with the spiritual scientific considerations of the subject”

“The lectures should be considered first of all as hints, which for the present should not be spoken of outside this circle, but looked upon as the foundation for experiments and thus gradually brought into a form suitable for publication

Report to members of the Anthroposophical Society after the Agriculture Course, Dornach, Switzerland, June 20, 1924

John Paull extracts “Steiner’s Three Injunctions to Agriculture Course Attendees.” 

Experiment not Dogma: “… enhance it and develop it by actual experiments and tests. The farmers’ society – the ‘Experimental Circle’ that has been formed – will fix the point of time when in its judgement the tests and experiments are far enough advanced to allow these things to be published” (Steiner, 1929, lecture VIII, p.19).

Demonstrate: “As to the farmers – well, if they hear of these things from a fellow-farmer, they will say, ‘What a pity he has suddenly gone crazy!’ … But eventually when he sees a really good result, he will not feel a very easy conscience in rejecting it outright” (Steiner, 1929, lecture VIII, p.19).

Commercial-in-Confidence: “If on the other hand the farmers hear of these things from unauthorised persons – from persons who are merely interested – then indeed, ‘the game is up.’ If that were to happen, the whole thing would be discredited, its influence would be undermined. Therefore it is most necessary: those of our friends who have only been allowed to take part owing to their general interest and who are not in the Agricultural Circle, must exercise the necessary self-constraint. They must keep it to themselves and not go carrying it in all directions as people are so fond of doing with anthroposophical things”(Steiner, 1929, lecture VIII, p.19).

The English language book first became available to the public in 1961.

Carl Meir wrote about this Whitsun conference later in the Camphill Correspondence of 1975:

WHITSUN – 1924

This article by Carl Alexander Mier originally appeared in the Bottom Village News.

During the first nine months of 1924, Rudolf Steiner gave over four-hundred lectures. Many of these were courses of the utmost significance not only for the lives of the listeners, but for whole vocations. One can even say they created vocations, they defined spheres of human activities hitherto unrecognised and even now not yet always fully grasped in their full implications. These nine months, fifty years ago, were the culminating period in Rudolf Steiner’s work as lecturer; in the remaining six months of his earthly life he still wrote a great deal, but could no longer address an audience . And in all this pressure and intensity we must remember an endless number of meetings and personal talks, and journeys made by train and car, not by ‘plane. He made frequent trips to Stuttgart and there were separate journeys from Dornach to Berne, to Paris and Prague, to Armheim inHolland, to Torquay and London, and to Breslau and Koberwitz in what was then Eastern Germany and is now part of Poland .

We stand in amazement before the sheer volume of work in these last nine months of his public activity, and we have the feeling that everything he did, the themes he chose and the way he dealt with them was significant ; nothing was left to chance, all was meaningful and well may it be that even after fifty years we have not grasped the full meaning yet.

It is against this background that something is to be said about Whitsun 1924. From Whit-Saturday, 7th June, to Monday, 16th June, Rudolf Steiner gave the Course on Agriculture at Koberwitz near Breslau.In the evenings nine lectures were given in Breslau on ‘Karma and its Formative Influence upon Human Destiny’, a theme on which he had lectured all that last summer in Dornach and elsewhere. A course on agriculture had for some years already been asked for by quite a few farmers but it was not until Count Carl von Keyserlingk joined forces with those others that Rudolf Steiner agreed. He may have recognised that now the right vessel was offered to receive what he wanted to give . Count and Countess Keyserlingk acted as hosts not only to Rudolf and Marie Steiner, some leading anthroposophists and a group of Dornach Eurythmists, but to all those admitted to the course. With a few exceptions, only farmers and gardeners, all members of the Anthroposophical Society, were allowed to be present. Perhaps a word may be said about the Keyserlingks and about Koberwitz. At that time, Count Carl von Keyserlingk was in charge of all the agricultural estates and larger and smaller farms belonging to a firm called `Vom Rath,Schoeller and von Skene’ which also had substantial industrial interests elsewhere. Countess Keyserlingk came from the von Skene branch. Castle Koberwitz was the official residence of the Keyserlingks, shared with a professor of agriculture working for the same firm but not at all in sympathy with Count Keyserlingk’s ideas and ideals. Koberwitz is situated some twelve to fifteen miles south of Breslau (now Wroclaw). It may be added that soon after 1924 the differences between Count Keyserlingk and the management of the firm became so great that he had to leave, and he squired the estates of Sasterhausen and Raaben, not very far away. It was in Sasterhausen that I was able to meet him for the last time in summer 1928, and here in Sasterhausen his ashes are kept ; he had died at Christmas 1929 in Breslau, while on his way to Stuttgart.

In summer 1972, Gertrude and I were able to visit Koberwitz again. It is rather the worse for wear, but now in good hands . We met the director of the State Maize Breeding Station who lives and has his laboratories in the castle. He was rather thrilled when we told him how the different rooms had been used before. He has been given funds to restore the fabric of the castle and is engaged in writing its history . He is also warmly interested in what has become known as the Koberwitz Impulse, and we hope to meet him again this year.

But now back to Whitsun 1924 . This is not the place to report on the content of the eight lectures; they must be studied in detail and in depth. When during the Course Rudolf Steinen one morning met Count Keyserlingk and asked him how he liked the lectures, the latter with great politeness (which never left him) and still greater sincerity and simplicity said: `I do not understand anything’ . And he possibly voiced what many felt, what many a reader now feels at first reading. It was such an utterly new way in which Rudolf Steiner spoke. The reader today must never lose sight of the fact that these lectures were given fifty years ago. To characterise the situation : When I came to England in 1928, one could not then nor for some years afterwards, take for granted that an audience of farmers or gardeners understood what was meant by `Compost’ or `organic manure’, to name only two concepts completely familiar today.

What was so fundamentally new was that Rudolf Steiner placed the whole subject of the Course into an incredibly wide and new setting . He showed how farming is interwoven with the whole of human life, that the farmer’s work is not merely concerned with soil, plants and animals, but that cosmic heights and earthly depths, the whole wide range of cosmic and terrestrial forces is involved. And we must learn the ABC of this new language, and that is difficult, is painful, takes time.

There were many in the audience then, as there are many readers of the Koberwitz Course today who looked for simple instructions about what to do, how to cope with this or that practical problem. In a way, these lectures are full of what one tails `practical’ advice, if only one is willing to follow Rudolf Steiner’s advice seriously and exactly.

The great lesson of the last fifty years-for this is not the occasion to describe in detail and step by step what happened on the Continent, in this country and elsewhere-is this : We must bear in mind that the lectures at Koberwitz were given in 1924, i.e. after the Christmas Foundation Meeting, when Rudolf Steiner refounded the Anthroposophical Society in the hearts of its members. From that event onwards, all his words, spoken and written, address themselves to man as a thinking, feeling and willing being. One sees so clearly how attempts to implement the Koberwitz lectures were doomed to fail where these three soul qualities were not in harmony. And where conscious efforts were made to take the content of these lectures as an outcome of änthroposophically orientated spiritual science, astonishing results ”ere achieved.

These words are not written as cheap and easy criticism, but rather trying to find the reason for the difficulties, and seeming lack of progress. Just in more recent years many friends working in this field have recognised the importance of the human factor. As much as the farmer or gardener is concerned in his inner efforts, in the social aspects both of farm and garden, and in the relation between producer and consumer. Where these factors are tackled quite consciously, the purely `practical’ aspects can also thrive. There are many passages in the Agricultural Course which one has not taken seriously enough which contain a whole programme how to act (e.g.the reference to `stirring’ and how this problem can be solved by making it asocial event. ..).

One can also look upon the Koberwitz Course from quite a different aspect. Today, in the mid- seventies, we are very familiar with `ecology’, with `Friends of the Earth’, with `Whole Food’ and a host of concepts-or at least words pointing towards a wider, more comprehensive, often a saner, at times even less egoistic approach to our surroundings, though we must admit-if we are honest-that much of all this is based on and caused by fear and is an expression of the crassest egoism: `eat your way to good health and avoid pain and postpone death . ‘.We all this happening around us, are even quite pleased about it at times. But in all seriousness we must say to ourselves : if only the world had taken notice of what Rudolf Steiner said at Whitsun 1924 we would by now be much further on. I do not accuse. We are all at fault. We who knew the Koberwitz lectures should have worked much harder and have made our voices heard more widely. Those who are `in authority’- in this case mainly on the thrones of science- have certainly retarded progress and have done so against better knowledge. It would have been their duty to know, but with the help of that dreadful and so very powerful weapon `Silence’ they have fought against progress. The name of Rudolf Steiner, and such concepts as `bio- dynamic’, they were taboo . And yet it was Rudolf Steiner who supplied as long ago as 1924 the true basis of a sound ecology, of a treatment of the soil, pi ants and animals in accordance with the needs and dignity of man, bearing in mind his responsibility towards his fellow human beings, towards the creatures below him, and the Divine World within and above him . And Rudolf Steiner established this, and gave fundamental orientation, within the compass of eight lectures.

Lest this may seem a somewhat bitter note to end with, let us look once again at the diary of Rudolf Steiner’s travels in 1924 . On Tuesday, 17th June, he addressed a group of young people, and this Koberwitz Youth Address was an inspiration for those present that morning, and still fifty years later it fires our enthusiasm and helps us to recognise our true task on earth.

Dr.Günther Wachsmuth, who accompanied Rudolf Steiner on his journey home, tells how in the train, after a long silence, he suddenly with joyful and strong emphasis said: `Now we have accomplished this important work too’ . And Wachsmuth adds that he has seldom seen Rudolf Steiner after the completion of a lecture course or the like so joyfully moved and so visibly happy.

They were that day on their way to Jena in Thuringia (now Eastern Germany) where on Wednesday, 18th June, Rudolf Steiner paid his first visit to the Lauenstein, a house which had been rented by three young men . They looked after children ‘in need of care of the soul’, as Rudolf Steiner described them . This visit represents a real link between the agricultural impulse and that of Curative Education, as inaugurated by Rudolf Steiner. Later, one of these three young men, Herr Strohschein, went to Pilgramshain in Silesia, not very far from Koberwitz, where he established a large Curative Educational Home on the estate belonging to the family von Joetze. The farm was later managed by Immanuel Voegele and became one of the important places of the bio-dynamic movement . They were joined, when they needed a doctor, by Dr. Karl König, who looked after the children but in addition had a steadily growing practice extending as far as Prague. When the Nazis came, he had to leave Germany and eventually he came to Camphill House in Aberdeenshire. Threads are woven, circles are formed. What seemed to have ended and been lost, reappeared elsewhere in new forms.

If all goes well, in August Gertrude and I will again visit not only Koberwitz, but also Alexander Count Keyserlingk, a nephew of Count Carl, the ‘Iron Count’ as Rudolf Steiner called him when opening his lectures at Koberwitz. Count Alexander, or ‘Aki’ as he is better known, lives now near Munich, well over eighty years old, amazingly active and alive. He it was who was sent by his uncle to Rudolf Steiner in Dornach with the request to fix the date for the Agricultural Course . Was it his insistence, his charm? Anyhow it was his destiny to build that bridge and to return to Koberwitz with Rudolf Steiner’s message: `Tell your uncle we shall come at Whitsun to give the Course on Agriculture’.

Bernard Jarman added some interesting context:

… the Koberwitz conference was given down the road from what would become a big chemical and pharmaceutical company. It is interesting that the nephew of (Carl von Keyserlingk) was active in developing the chemical company. The fact that the agriculture course was given next door to where the beginning of chemical agriculture was starting is an interesting phenomenon. There is a story about Keyserlingk being invited to a meeting at this company and being asked questions about the agriculture course. He suddenly realised he was being recorded and was then concerned that it could work against the BD movement at a time when nothing had been put into practice. It was in that context that Steiner’s warning was given. ‘Until we are engaged in the work we should not publicise it’.