World Conference for Spiritual Science

Biodynamics lands in the UK

Daniel N Dunlop organised the World Conference for Spiritual Science in London (20 July to August 1 1928, at the Friends Meeting house on Euston Road) and asked Count Keyserlingk, the host of the Koberwitz Agriculture Course, to come. However, being busy and not speaking English Count Keyserlingk sent one of his team – Carl Mirbt in his place to give a lecture (“Agricultural Depression – its causes and means for its relief”) about the agriculture outlined by Dr Steiner. Since there were no English citizens at the Koberwitz conference this is seen as the start of biodynamics in the UK. Present at the event were Marna Pease, Maurice Wood, Miss Cross, George Adams & others.

Carl was invited to stay and brought his family to the UK. During World War II he changed the family name to Meir.

Later Carl Mirbt/Meir wrote of the pivotal role of Eleanor Merry in this:

Together with D.N. Dunlop, she organised the “World Conference for Spiritual Science and its Practical Application” in the summer of 1928, having gained experience during all her work in connection with the summer schools at Penmaenmawr and Torquay in 1923 and 1924, when Rudolf Steiner appreciated so very much all she had done. It was through her that I received an invitation to lecture at the World Conference when Count Keyserlingk could not manage to come to represent the bio-dynamic work. She was the very first Anthroposophist I met on arriving in this country in June, 1928, and throughout the next 28 years she retained her unfailing warmheartedness, her readiness to help and advise, her ability to inspire others with her own enthusiasm.

Some background for the conference comes from Dornach’s 1935 ‘Memorandum‘ p55-6:

It became evident how Herr Steffen meant to carry out his decision, during that same General Meeting, when the “World-Conference ” was discussed, which was planned to take place in London in the coming summer. Serious doubts were expressed against the “World Conference”. Many members felt a certain amount of mistrust because the organisers and their helpers were the same persons who had already caused so much harm as founders of the World School Union, as the upholders of the “Manifestation” and as “super-Vorstand “. They dreaded a new attempt to lead the anthroposophical movement away from the Goetheanum. Herr Steffen had certainly been informed officially this time, and a printed advance-programme had been submitted to him, yet the vorstand was not consulted when the plans were worked out, in spite of it being a “world-wide” undertaking, to be carried out on a large scale and with tremendous expenses. The actual discussions were carried on with Dr. Wegman alone, whom the organisers considered as the only personality that counted after Dr. Steiner’s death. Apart from this, great dissatisfaction was felt because the World Conference was to take place about six weeks before the celebration of the inauguration of the Goetheanum, and the question had to be raised whether time, money and energy would not be better spent for the Goetheanum. The English organisers justified their action by referring to a wish expressed by Dr. Steiner during his last visit to England in the summer of 1924. He had, as a matter of fact, expressed the wish for a Conference on a larger scale. Nevertheless, it remained a question as to whether Dr. Steiner would have welcomed the fact that the Conference was to take place at a time when preparations were afoot for the opening of the Goetheanum. Dr. Steiner’s words also acquired another meaning when one remembered – and many could remember this – that he had demanded a Conference on a larger scale, and above all a better organised Conference, declaring that he would not return come to England if future Conferences would again be arranged so badly, and would have such a scarce attendance and such a poor reception as the Summer Course at Torquay in August 1924

Owing to the cares connected with the difficult preparations for the opening of the Goetheanum, Herr Steffen could not be all too happy about the World Conference. However, he acknowledged the initiative and promised the official cooperation of the Goetheanum. The General Meeting at least induced the organisers to make some changes in their programme, so that it acquired a less partisan note.
The World Conference took place from July 20 to August 1, 1940 Herr Steffen sent an official letter of welcome which was read at the opening. Frau Dr. Steiner sent the Eurythmy-group, who contributed with performances, and Dr. Wachsmuth held a lecture. Also Dr. Unger, in view of Herr Steffen’s attitude, had not refused, and had even extended the invitation to the German members in the name of the German Executive.

The chief lecturers were Dr. Stein – who was still waging his campaign against Dr. Steiner’s Will – Dr. Kolisko and Dr. Zeylmans.

The “World Conference” was held in London at the Friends’ House, a medium sized hall. Out of 1000 seats, about 600 were occupied, most of them by members, of whom many had come from other countries. It was hardly possible to speak of a public success, and the deficit was of course considerable.

Dr. Wegman, who had taken an interest in this World Conference as if it were her own affair, also wrote the official report which can be read in the “Mitteilungsblatt” No. 34 of August 19, 1928.

George Adams spoke 30 years later at a Botton conference about this event:

At the close, George Adams said – We were reminded again and again during these days of the World Conference in 1928 in London, and it was almost as though a number of threads which were woven then come together again now. Maurice Wood was there, Carl Alexander Mier was there (I think for the first time in England), Mr. Courtney was there and Dr. Koenig was there. It was a particularly important experience for Dr. Konig and for us too.

Now the World Conference came about through the impulses of Dr Wegman. it was only three years after Dr. Steiner’s death, and she was there with all her heart-forces, with a great belief that the Michael forces and the healing impulse, the therapeutic impulse of Anthroposophia, could stream through into the Western World. It was Mrs. Pease, who then became the president of our Agricultural work, who with her resources enabled that World Conference to be. And Mr. Dunlop was behind it with all his good forces.