Days at Newbattle Abbey. The sun arrows through the big windows into the drawing room. Some of the shutters are closed, to reduce the amount of light coming in, so that the images can be seen clearly on the white screen. If there are images. In Sylvia Francke's talk about Rudolf Steiner, she put up a picture of the Goetheanum, the second one, at Dornoch. The first one was burnt down in a fire possibly started by people who were opposed to his ideas. This talk reminds me that Rudolf Steiner stands head and shoulders above most thinkers and seers. He combined these two remarkable qualities – profound intelligence and equally startling clairvoyant abilities. His vision also had far reaching practical applications in the fields of education and agriculture. He had ideas about social equality that were way ahead of his time. In his many books and lectures he addresses the really big questions about life – the purposes of humanity, our connections with the cosmos, how our individual life links up with these greater purposes.
In between talks there are coffee and meal breaks, and the sky is cloudless blue and the trees in the grounds are the colours of bright flames and blanched light and smouldering fires. At night, the Moon has grown plump as a ripe almond with a furred edge on one side, as if the soft outer covering over the hard shell is still there. The last unpicked gleaming almond in the night sky, the tree invisible and magical as das ringelte Klingelte Baumchen, a fairy tale tree. Some of its branches are sketched against the black sky backdrop, sprinkled with glitter stars. The Moon tilts slightly in the direction of Jupiter, the topmost star on the sky tree.
A few years ago Stephen O'Shea wrote a book about the Cathars of the Languedoc, The Perfect Heresy. His talk at the weekend focussed on his most recent book, The Friar of Carcassonne. When you're in a place that is utterly unfamiliar to you he said, and where you do not understand the language, I find the focus is on meal times. In such a situation, you're deprived of two senses – the ability to talk and to hear, or at least to make sense of what you hear around you. The senses of smell and taste become heightened and gain in importance, as if to make up for the loss of the others.
Well, that has nothing to do with the subject of his book, although it is connected with his travels while he is doing his researching. You have to go to the places you're going to write about, he said,
it's only by being in the actual places where the events happened that you'll know what the light is really like, how the landscape feels, and the effects it can have. This seems to suggest that the landscape can give you insight into how people viewed the world, how it affected these views and perceptions, and still does. It is good to hear this idea being spoken. It is good to know that others are travelling and exploring and listening to what the land, the air the sunlight, the weather, to what all of nature is saying.
I've only just got the book and haven't read it yet, but if you are interested in the Cathars, you will probably want to know more about The Friar of Carcassonne. [You can read a review here http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-friar-of-carcassonne-by-stephen-oshea-2369622.html ]
When it comes to landscapes, Stuart McHardy, whose talks are always fascinating, seems to have discovered or rediscovered, a perception of landscape that has regifted it with the sacred. His exploration of certain places, and the myths and stories connected with them, such as the Nine Maidens, has given him the ability so it seemed to me, to see it with the eyes of people for whom the landscape was sacred. He also has the ability to communicate the excitement of that vision to show that if we explore it with knowledge, interest, curiosity and openness to what it may reveal to us, a relationship with the land can be regained, a relationship that modern people have lost. It then becomes not so much an objective observation, where what is observed is something separate, but where the land begins to 'speak' to us. Where 'the dancer and the dance' become one. It makes me think of J, who spends so much time with the alignment of stones at Cairnholy, where the landscape responds to his openness to it and reveals itself in an ongoing conversation. A new relationship is being developed.
It makes me think of Rudolf Steiner too, and his biodynamic methods of plant cultivation, where plants are treated as living energies with individual needs, which are recognized and taken into account.
In the mornings, the grass had a crisp white covering of frost. In late afternoon, it was layered with light. At sundown, the eastern horizon was wrapped in bands of blue-green and pink.
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