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The Agriculture Course: An Intensive Study of the Origins and Future of Biodynamics at the Pfeiffer Center

March 30, 2011

A Midwinter Seminar at the Pfeiffer Center, January 14-17, 2011

By Bill Day


For the 2011 midwinter intensive study of the Agriculture lectures at the Pfeiffer Center, the subject was the horn preparations, 500 and 501. As in past years, this weekend gathering featured challenging talks, a eurythmy performance, and convivial meals. New this year were small-group sessions that elicited questions and observations about the horn preps that might never have arisen in a large-group setting; the talking and sitting was leavened with group artistic activities with Deborah Lothrop (charcoal drawing) and Natasha Moss (eurythmy), prep making (grinding silica for 501), and hands-on experiments with water. The overall result was a blend of learning and fellowship that – like the original agriculture course in 1924 – left everyone with many new insights to digest and many new questions to ponder.

The two horn preps are alike (and unique) in that they are made by burying a substance in cow horns. In nearly every other respect, they are not only different from each other, they are polar opposites. The cow dung that becomes 500 is dark, while the ground silica of 501 embodies light; 500 is buried in fall and spends the winter underground, while 501 is buried in spring and dug up in the fall; 500 is typically sprayed in the afternoon, with large drops directed at the soil more than the plants, while 501 is sprayed in the early morning, in a fine mist directed to the plants more than the soil. In their similarities and their differences, 500 and 501 remind us of siblings, tightly bound together yet emphatically distinctive, one from the other.

In talks that opened and closed the weekend, Pfeiffer Center Director Mac Mead drew a line connecting the earliest stages of Earth evolution to our time. As depicted in Occult Science, the Earth’s evolution is measured in cycles of expansion and contraction, warmth and coolness, light and dark, order and chaos. These cycles manifest today in the rhythms of nature. Human beings are highly emancipated from the rhythms of nature, and the horn preps, if understood and used in the right way, give us an opportunity to bring those rhythms into our service. Mac suggested that we start by understanding the differences between metamorphosis (a movement from one state to that state’s polar opposite) and enhancement (a process of unfolding), two phenomena that exist throughout nature and also throughout the preps.

Malcolm Gardner’s talks on “The Logic of Horn Manure” and “The Logic of Horn Silica” were an attempt to “recover the rationale” underlying Rudolf Steiner’s indications. On their face, the preps do seem bizarre, but Rudolf Steiner did not arrive at them through trial and error, or by guessing, but through a rational penetration of the workings of nature. The rational aspect is not readily apparent because of the discursive nature of Steiner’s lectures, but Malcolm’s talks were on one level a clinic on how to tease out the logic underlying Steiner’s indications. That logic in turn suggests a path toward the “real science” that will emerge when science at last takes hold of unquantifiable forces. Yes, the elements such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen are at work in nature’s household, but “for Steiner it’s not about the substances, it’s about the forces.” It is through diligent study of the forces at work that we can learn what it is the substances want to do – what processes of metamorphosis and enhancement they seek, for example, when they take up and throw off other substances, or change from solid to liquid to gas.

Forms and forces work hand in glove to make up the world around us. Where Malcolm took us deeply into the realm of forces, Steffen Schneider led us to consider the cow horn, a natural form that Rudolf Steiner put at the heart of the horn preps. What exactly are cow horns, and why do cows have them? What can we learn about horns by studying their form with an open mind, heart and will? How is a horn different from an antler, and how is the cow different from an elk or a deer? What does the form of the horn (which constantly changes over the life of the cow) tell us about its hidden functions as organs and sheaths – its role as an organ of perception, and its role in the cow’s metabolic life? Steffen’s personal explorations of these questions showed how much there is to ponder and learn from even the most mundane objects in nature.

Stirring is central to making and using 500 and 501, but how often do we think about the properties and behavior of water? Jennifer Greene’s workshop on the subject included illuminating hands-on experiments as well as demonstrations that vividly illustrated how water creates sheaths in motion, generating an environment of almost unimaginable complexity every time we stir preps.

Mac Mead opened the weekend with this startling observation: “None of us has scratched the surface of what the preps are all about.” That may not be what we want to hear from our teacher, or even think about ourselves, but the level of humility it expressed created a mood entirely suitable for one’s own ideas and understanding of the horn preps to undergo metamorphosis and enhancement.

Next year’s midwinter weekend intensive at the Pfeiffer Center is scheduled for January 13-16, 2012. Mark your calendar, and watch www.pfeiffercenter.org for news and registration information in the fall.


Bill Day is Development Coordinator at Threefold Educational Center, the Pfeiffer Center’s parent organization. More information about the Pfeiffer Center and its programs can be found at www.pfeiffercenter.org.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 3, 2011 3:20 pm

    It’s always a pleasure to cook for this course. This study was very special. Two preps that are different but a little similar in certain aspects.

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