Any discussion of Biodynamics® begins with a discussion of Rudolph Steiner. Who is Rudolf Steiner? Many of those who knew and worked with Steiner in the early part of the 20th Century considered him a seer. Others saw him as a clairvoyant, and still others a pioneer and teacher in many different subject areas. During his lifetime, he wrote over thirty books and gave approximately 6,000 lectures covering a vast array of topics such as agriculture, medicine, education, childhood pedagogy, philosophy, astronomy, science, economics and much more. Steiner’s teachings comprised a comprehensive worldview that he called ‘anthroposophy.’
A fundamental task of the anthroposophical movement was to help form a bridge between the material world and the spiritual world with the help of many of the techniques that Steiner prescribed in his teachings on agriculture, education, medicine, psychology, the arts, etc. This was seen as particularly important in our materialistic age, a time when direct perception of spiritual phenomena has largely been lost but could, according to Steiner, be re-enlivened to help cultivate a more harmonious and holistic approach to human affairs in the future. It should be made clear, however, that Steiner’s interest in spiritual matters in no way diminished his interest in and respect for natural science. On the contrary, Steiner believed that humankind’s development of science was a necessary step in the development of what he called ‘spiritual science,’ something that could eventually be used to help us reconcile the spiritual/material divide that has plagued modern man.
In terms of spirituality, Steiner saw the incarnation of the Christ in the body of Jesus of Nazareth as a pivotal point in the evolution of humankind, serving as a potent manifestation of the indwelling spirit. Through his work and the practices he advocated in agriculture and other fields, Steiner sought to reawaken our conscious appreciation for the unfolding of spiritual forces in our daily activity. A compelling summary of Rudolf Steiner’s life’s work was given by his wife, Maria Steiner, in the introduction to Steiner’s May 1908 lecture series on the Gospel of St. John (copyright 1940). She writes: “For all of his endeavor had this one goal – to pave for the world the way to the Christ.” This is a path open to all humankind, regardless of profession or religious denomination. Whether one embraces the contents of these or any other lectures Steiner gave during his sixty-four years on this Earth, one cannot miss his efforts to engage his audience to consider the world from a spiritual perspective – a perspective symbolized quintessentially by the life of Christ.
The foundations for Biodynamic® agriculture were presented in what is known as the Agriculture Course, an eight lecture series given in June of 1924. The Agriculture Course, later compiled
in a book entitled The Spiritual Foundations for a Renewal in Agriculture, was one of the last series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner, just eight months prior to his death in March 1925. By all indications, Steiner was interested in doing something in the agricultural realm because of the importance of working with the land and of growing food that contained what he called ‘life force.’
For every initiative that Steiner founded, whether it was agriculture, medicine, education, etc., he always worked with a point person(s) to direct that initiative. For Biodynamics®, one of those individuals was a young man name Ehrenfried Pfeiffer. In the preface to the 1974 George Adams translation of the Agriculture Course, Pfeiffer tells of a conversation he had with Steiner shortly before the agriculture course was given. He writes: “He had been speaking of the need for a deepening of esoteric life, and in this connection mentioned certain faults typically found in spiritual movements. I then asked, ‘How can it happen that the spiritual impulse, and especially the inner schooling, for which you are constantly providing stimulus and guidance, bears so little fruit? Why do the people concerned give so little evidence of spiritual experience, in spite of all their efforts? Why, worst of all, is the will for action, for the carrying out of these spiritual impulses, so weak?’ I was particularly anxious to get an answer to the question as to how one could build a bridge to active participation and the carrying out of spiritual intentions without being pulled off the right path by personal ambition, illusions, and petty jealousies; for these were the negative qualities Rudolf Steiner had named as the main inner hindrances. Then came the thought-provoking and surprising answer: ‘This is a problem of nutrition. Nutrition as it is today does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life. A bridge can no longer be built from thinking to will and action. Food plants no longer contain the forces people need for this.’”
Later on, in the preface to the Adams translation edition, Pfeiffer goes on to explain and describe the lecture series. He writes: “In the agricultural course, which was attended by some sixty persons, Rudolf Steiner set forth the basics for a new way of thinking about the relationship of Earth and soil to the formative forces of the etheric, astral and ego activity of nature. He particularly pointed out how the health of soil, plant and animals depend upon bringing nature into connection again with cosmic creative, shaping forces. The practical method he gave for treating soil, manure and compost, and especially for making the Biodynamic® compost preparations, was intended above all to serve the purpose of reanimating the natural forces which in nature and in modern agriculture were on the wane. ‘This must be achieved in actual practice,’ Rudolf Steiner told me.”
Dr. Steiner also told Pfeiffer, “The benefit of the Biodynamic® compost preparations should be made available as quickly as possible to the largest possible areas of the entire Earth, for the Earth’s healing.”
Paradigm Shift in Thinking
To truly practice the art of Biodynamic® agriculture, one must recognize, understand and engage in the foundational premise of Steiner’s teaching: “Spirit is never without matter and matter is never without Spirit.” Regardless of an individual farmer’s location, environment or cropping plan, the basic principles of Biodynamic® practice require the practitioner change not only his or her thinking, but change the way he or she ‘sees’ the world around. Most people accept that gravity, radioactivity, radio waves and the wind exist, but how do we know these things exist when we cannot see them? We ‘know’ these things exist because we can feel or see the results of wind and gravity; or we have instruments that can ‘measure’ radioactivity or sound waves.
Thus we ‘know’ these things exist because we can see the results of the ‘forces’ they bear. The same goes with Biodynamics®. We can see or feel the effects of food that is grown with the proper Biodynamic® method; however, at the present time, there is no scientifically recognized means to measure the ‘forces’ of Biodynamics®. Just as it took time for people to understand the forces behind the wind, gravity and sound, it will take time to understand fully the subtle forces involved in Biodynamics®.
The fundamental difference between the Biodynamic® method and the bulk of the organic and conventional agriculture method is not only the use of the Biodynamic® preparations, use of cosmic rhythms and the creation of a whole farm system, it is that Biodynamic® practitioners work in the realm of ‘forces’ and matter, whereas organic and conventional practitioners work in the world of matter or physical substance only. Conventional agriculture is the culture of death. In this world, the conventional farmer is always trying to kill something: a bug, a fungus, a disease, a weed. Chemical farming relies on substances to alter, change or ‘combat’ the natural world. Organic agriculture can operate within a similar symptomatic mindset in which organic inputs are substituted for synthetic inputs. Instead of using toxic chemicals and fertilizers, the organic grower uses less toxic substances, yet the way of thinking is often similar to that of the conventional operator. Keep in mind, there is a subset of organic growers who actually do try to work with nature holistically by trying to balance forces at work in the every changing living world (unlike their conventional and input substitution driven counterparts).
Biodynamic® farmers, who subscribe to the foundational teachings of Steiner and the concept of the ‘farm organism,’ see the farm as a magnificent symphony, in which the farmer is not there to control, manipulate or overpower nature, but rather to be the conductor of a great symphony within it. The entire cosmos is the concert hall, the Living God is the composer and it is the farmer’s job to harmonize the rhythms of the seasons with the melodies of the circle of life. No small task.
The Biodynamic® practitioner takes the indications given by Steiner at Whitsuntide (Pentecost) in June 1924 and puts them into practice. He works to find synergy between the terrestrial forces of the Earth and the celestial forces of the cosmos. What does that mean? It means one works to balance the calcium forces of the nearby planets (Moon, Venus, Mercury) with the silica forces of the distant planets of (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn), with clay acting as the mediator. Every farm location and environment is different. Every soil type and cropping component is unique. Thus, depending on the nature of the farm’s soil and environment (with weather being a huge factor), the farmer has to determine the best course of action using the Biodynamic® toolbox as laid out by the Agriculture Course and come to learn the finer nuances of the surrounding etheric, or unseen, formative forces that are given by our omnipotent and omnipresent Creator.
In addition to looking at the world from a truly holistic perspective, Steiner’s gift to Biodynamic® agriculture was the indications given regarding the making and use of what are known as Biodynamic® ‘preparations’ (BD preps). The preparations are used for soil and plant enhancement or to assist in the composting process, as with the compost preparations mentioned by Ehrenfried Pfieffer.
In chapters 4-6 of the Agriculture Course, Steiner lays out the particulars of each of the nine BD preps. The numbering system of 500-509 to describe each prep came about after the course through what was called the ‘ag experimental circle.’ This circle was made up of a number of individuals, most of whom were are able to attend Steiner’s agricultural course given at Koberwitz (in modern day Poland). The BD preps are composed of various herbs and in some cases animal sheaths. The preps are made at specific but different times of the year, relating to the seasons and desired forces. The amazing and beautiful thing about the BD preps is that man does not ‘make’ the preps; only God can do this. Man can only put the various ingredients together as Steiner indicated. It is God with the Divine Cosmos that truly ‘makes’ the Biodynamic® preparations.
Below is a list of the Biodynamic® preparations and a short explanation of their composition:
500 – The ‘horn manure’ preparation is made with fresh cow manure placed in a cow horn and buried in the Earth over the winter months.
501 – ‘Horn silica’ preparation is made by placing finely ground quartz into a cow horn and burying it in the Earth over the summer months.
502 – Made from yarrow blossoms placed in a stag’s bladder, which is exposed to the sun over summer and buried in the winter.
503 – Made from chamomile flowers placed in a cow intestine buried in the Earth over wintertime.
504 – Made from stinging nettle plant that has been placed in the Earth for an entire year (fall to fall).
505 – Made by placing pieces of oak bark into the cavity of a cow or sheep skull and buried in the Earth over the winter time in a moist area.
506 – Made from dandelion flowers that have been rolled into the mesentery of a cow and placed in the Earth over the winter.
507 – Made from valerian flowers, which have been juiced and fermented.
508 – An auxiliary preparation, not used in compost piles, but made into a spray from dried horsetail (Equisetum arvense) that has been boiled in water as a tea.
Some view the BD preps as weird or nonsensical. However, all of the ingredients for the preps are borne out of nature. None are man-made. For those familiar with herbal remedies and pre-modern medical traditions, one can clearly see, for example, the relationship of BD #503, (the combining of chamomile and intestine) with the issue of proper digestion – in this case, the digestion and conversion of raw organic materials into to humus-filled compost. Steiner goes into some detail as to why he indicated the combining of various herbs with different sheaths and why these combinations where made at certain times of the year.
The various BD preps go into the ground or undergo other processing or handling as substances, but come out of the ground or process as ‘enlivened’ substances containing cosmic etheric formative forces that man can neither create in a laboratory nor protect by a patent. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, that which is ‘good, true and beautiful, is of God.’ That which is given by God, is given freely to man. So too were the recipes for the Biodynamic® preparations given freely, to be owned by no one.
Standard Biodynamic® practice calls for the BD #500 to be used on the soil, the BD #501 be used on the plants, the BD #502-507 to be used in the compost pile, and BD #508 to be used fresh or fermented on the plant or soil. Here at Marian Farms, we follow these standard protocols, and we do much more. We use the individual compost preps on either the soil or plant at different times of the year and we use the BD #508 in both of its forms (fresh and fermented) on both soil and plants in an effort to produce a desired result. What does that mean, desired result? It
means working with nature. Working within the parameters that nature provides. Working to mitigate and neutralize certain plant or soil behavior as a result of weather conditions. It means ‘fine tuning’ the symphony, embracing the farm and all its members (soil, plant, animals) in effort to bring forth food that contains the life forces that people so greatly needs to partake in their vocations and to realize their missions in life.
Like the Biodynamic® preparations, Steiner discusses the role of the cosmos and the planets of our solar system. In early chapters and chapter 6 of the Agriculture Course, more specifics are provided regarding the role and influence of the nearby planets of the Moon, Venus and Mercury (those planets between the Earth and the sun) and the distant planets of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (those planets between the Earth and the greater cosmos). The lectures discuss the influences of these planets upon the soil and the plants. Pfeiffer tells us in the preface to the Adams edition of the Agriculture Course, “In reply to a question about plant diseases, Dr. Steiner told the writer [Pfeiffer] that plants themselves could never be diseased in a primary sense, ‘since they are the products of a healthy etheric world.’
They suffer rather from diseased conditions in their environment, especially in the soil; the causes of so-called plant diseases should be sought there.” This reference to the relative purity of the plant world makes one shudder at the rise and use of genetically modified organisms (GMO).
Many Biodynamic® farmers in the U.S. use a planting calendar (such as Stella Natura) when making decisions about planting, cultivating, harvesting or applying preparations. There are as many different uses of the calendar as there are Biodynamic® practitioners. The best illustration of how a planet affects what happens here on Earth is the moon. Most people are familiar with full and new moon because we can physically see how the moon moves through the night sky and ‘changes’ shape over the course of its twenty-eight day cycle. Its visible shape changes because of its relationship to the sun. In Steiner’s world conception, the moon acts like one very large mirror in that it reflects the light of the sun from a period of total darkness (new moon) to one of total light (full moon). Most people know, and those closest to the oceans experience, the rise and falling of the tides as the tides are directly connected to the behavior of the moon. Does one think that the effects of the moon stop at the high water mark of the oceans? Even though Steiner does not go into detail, or in some cases does not mention such things at all in the Agriculture Course (it is discussed in other non-related lectures), he nonetheless explains how the days of the week are named after certain planets and discusses other moon rhythms of ascending/descending and apogee/perigee and the effects of those movements and positions on the Earth.
Thus, one can see or come to understand the entire cosmos. Planets and constellations influence and affect movements, forces and events upon what St. Francis of Assisi calls “our Sister,
Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.” Once again, one may come to understand how the Biodynamic® farmer uses what divine creation provides in the form of cosmic rhythms to accentuate the life forces within the farm organism necessary to turn human thinking into will into action through nutrition.
Whole Farm Organism
From the beginning of the Agriculture Course, Steiner lays out the idea and necessity of creating a farm individuality and treating the farm as an integral organism. The creation of this farm organism is the result of ‘seeing’ the world differently, using the Biodynamic® preparations, and mindfully engaging the rhythms and cosmic forces that are given freely to the Earth. This is not always easy in a world that is driven by short-sighted financial/economic motives and regulatory pressures. Despite the difficulties in running small- and medium-sized farming operations, it is the task of Biodynamic® farmers to strive toward the goal of a completely closed system whereby nothing is imported into the farm and the farm produces all of its own fertility with its own livestock and cropping combinations.
The ‘whole farm organism’ can be best described by understanding the relationship between the four kingdoms of nature: physical, etheric, astral, spiritual. These four kingdoms of nature represent the four foldness of not only the natural world, but man himself. In regard to the whole farm organism, these four kingdoms correspond to nature as follows:
Mineral Soil (physical)
Plant Diversity (etheric)
Livestock Development (astral)
Role of Farmer (spiritual)