Margaret Colquhoun

Margaret Colquhoun – teacher, scientist and biodynamic farmer

10th May 1947 – 3rd August 2017

Many people have a deep sense of gratitude for what they learnt from Margaret either through the Biodynamic or Goethean science seminars or through visiting Pishwanton near Edinburgh. Here Isis Brook reflects on the great influence that Margaret had on her life.

Those of us who feel a strong connection to the work of Goethean science were moved to hear of the death of Dr Margaret Colquhoun, who was a preeminent teacher of this approach. Her passing led me to reflect on the impact she had on my own life. In 1990 I had begun researching for a PhD in the field of the science and religion, but my understanding was to undergo a transformation on encountering Margaret through the Life Science Seminars. One morning a small paper flyer advertising a one week course on colour amived in the post. I had begun to read of Goethe’s scientific work as a historical anomaly and here was a suggestion that this approach was alive still and engaging people in similar processes right now. I was intrigued and signed up for a week in December on the Inner Hebridean island of Iona.

There, with Margaret and Axel Ewald as teachers, a small group were led through a process of coming to know colour in a way that transformed the nature of what we observed, how we observed and how we come to know the world. As a philosopher starting on the second year of my PhD studies this was thoroughly different from anything I had done in the past. I was used to shuffling ideas and exploring ways of thinking but here was a practice that required a more engaged way of being in the world. It needed an immersion into phenomena and what can best be described as movements of the soul as we brought ourselves into alignment with the nature of the phenomenon we studied.

The work of J. W. von Goethe, as interpreted and advanced by Rudolf Steiner, stood behind all that we did, but the way that we were led through the process showed Margaret as an extraordinary teacher. She was someone who could inspire and set out a path but allow others the necessary freedom to find their own way along it, and thus really engage at a deep level with the experience that the course was designed to make possible.

Over the space of six months I shifted from studying Islamic science to pursuing a comparative study of Islamic science and Goethean science, to persuading my supervisors that there was too much of value in Goethean science to use it as just comparative material. I explained that it would be necessary to really learn this approach and then apply it to the phenomenon of Goethean science in its contemporary manifestations. They agreed. To this end I completed the Life Science Seminars – a series of four 7-9 day workshops on different phenomena; took part in applying this approach to the landscape of what became the Pishwanton project; and pursued further seminars entitled The New Hibernian Way, all with Margaret as the driving force behind them.

Over the years as I grew into this approach I began to apply it to areas of my professional life, such as introducing

the first session of the day on a two-week lecturer training course that moved through the shifts in consciousness that a Goethean approach requires. In my work in environmental philosophy I introduced a Masters module on Goethean Science and found that this approach was transformational for those, like me, who had separated their love of Nature from their philosophical argumentation about environment. Seeing the students undergoing change took me back to early days on the Life Science Seminars and an intense conversation about the nature of reality as we tramped across a field. I was mounting a detailed argument and someone said, Watch out!’ Believe it or not I thought they were warning me of a problem with my reasoning, but, no, I was about to step into a huge cow p Some of us, obviously, have further to travel to come closer to meeting the world! Margaret was an exceptional guide in helping this process along for me and many oike I try to carry her inspiration into my curent work with Crossfields Institute International where we let Goethe’s approach inform our wider work as well as teaching this approach in, for example, the MA Philosophy of Social Innovation: Researching Holistic Agroecology.

Isis Brook (Dr) (

Isis’s has written on Goethe’s method in an accessible way and two articles available from ResearchGate or by contacting Isis are:

Brook, I. 1998 Goethean Science as a Way to Read Landscape’ Landscape Research Vol 23(1), 51-69.

Brook, I. 2009 Dualism, Monism, and the Wonder of Materiality as Revealed through Goethean Observation’ Philosophy Activism and Nature 6, 33-39.

Margaret and Axel’s beautiful workbook based on the Life Science Seminars is available: Colquhoun M. Ewald, A. 1996 New Eyes for Plants, Stroud: Hawthorn Press.

For a more detailed obituary by James Dyson see the Pishwanton website: