By Megan Durney, Pfeiffer Center
There is a special quality about the mid-winter time of year, between January 15th and February 15th. Here on the East Coast, we try our best to imagine the next season’s beauty and bounty during the winter when we are more inside and inward. As winter shrouds us with snow and cold temperatures, a mid-winter festival where the mysteries and questions inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture are gathered around and warmed by human hearts seems appropriate to light our way into the depths of the darkness and winter’s cold. For eight years the Pfeiffer Center has been hosting an annual mid-winter gathering with the Agriculture Course as the central theme, but each year stemming in a particular direction from the complex topic of earthly and cosmic nutrition to the horn manure and silica preparations.
During this year’s winter intensive, we chose to focus on the dandelion and yarrow as healing plants both agriculturally and medicinally. The classroom was surrounded with a sea of green dandelion and yarrow plants as well as artistic renderings, tinctures, and the biodynamic preparations. As a group of about 50 participants, led by our guides, we began our path of approaching the plant by asking, “Who are you?” Intimately, through small group facilitated plant observations, we gave our attention to first, yarrow, then dandelion, and lastly both plants. To truly witness a plant’s presence and allow it tell its story, we learned some helpful hints. First and foremost, approach the plant as if you have never seen it before; what do you notice? Perhaps you look at the plant with a soft gaze and allow images to appear. Maybe you recall the specifics of the first encounter you were aware of with this plant. In moving towards the plant’s uniqueness, how would you describe its physical properties as you move your eyes up from the ground to the tips of the leaves? After tasting and smelling a root, leaf, or blossom, what more speaks to you from the plant? Is it bitter, sweet? What is it like to just sit in a plant’s presence for 15 minutes? These questions and more were explored in the various small group observations leading us as a community closer to a truer meeting of both yarrow and dandelion.
Accompanying our observation journey was artistic work in drawing the leaves of the plant, first filling in the positive space from the inside of the leaf out to its edges with a soft, even tone. Then, from the outside in, we allowed the negative space to form the shape of the leaf. In this challenging artistic pursuit, many felt that the act of drawing the leaves of each the dandelion and yarrow created a further intimacy and space the plant could speak in to.
Continuing to inform our discoveries of these two plants, four individuals artistically weaved presentations about the dandelion and yarrow as healing plants and as compost preparations. How do the plants relate to the health of the human being and the health of our Earth? We couldn’t speak about the plant without bringing that which is behind the activity and manifestation of the plant: Life. There is something unseen that works on matter, a healing impulse that fills and moves the physical. The invisible world is threaded through the visible, yet how do we create personal relationships with such statements and clairvoyant discoveries gifted to us from beings like Rudolf Steiner? We are all on individual paths in life and in our experiences of nature; however, how do we come together and try to cultivate a relationship with the world of plants for the sake of our future? During this winter festival, it felt as if we were making such high statements more real. There was a strong sense of waking up to the secrets of plants and learning how to foster nature’s life while also knowing that we can look to nature for healing. It’s truly a reciprocal relationship.
At the fore of the conference planning team’s hopes were that participants would be called upon to be creative and active, that they would fully be engaged in the dandelion and yarrow’s becoming. This atmosphere was present and accompanying us deeper into the ethereal realm of the plants were various musical contributions and an evening eurythmy performance. Each day participants could chose between watercolor, clay work, or eurythmy to deepen our experiences of the forces that craft matter and live within the visible. The substance created between us and the artistic environment encouraged an ability to acknowledge the world of nature spirits and their influence within the elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. In our pure attention towards plants and nature there lives the possibility of a relationship to these elemental beings.
This article is dedicated to Harald Hoven, Deb Soule, Jean-David Derreumaux, and Mac Mead for being our guides into deeper encounters with yarrow, dandelion, and the living realm of “the plant.” May we always give them our purest attention and in gratitude, look upon the plants of our Earth with awe and wonder.
Speaking on behalf of many, we are grateful for the generous financial support from the Biodynamic Association’s Scholarship Fund. This made it possible for many individuals to participate in this very special midwinter festival.