Warren Lee Cohen, MEd, BA Physics, is the Co-Executive Director and Director of Teacher Education at the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto. Join him this summer in his sculpting workshop "The Human Form Divine" July 22 to 26 at the RSCT Summer Festival of Arts and Education.
During my annual visits to Brazil, I have noticed that Brazilians (“Cariocas” in particular – people from Rio de Janeiro) are looking for practical ways to approach an understanding of the spirit that will make a difference in their busy lives. The forces of materialism are powerful in Rio. Chaos is abundant, poverty and senseless violence all too common. The daily struggle for survival can be exhausting, leaving little time or energy to pursue other interests. Yet, the people there want to reconnect with their ideals, to bring meaning to their lives for inspiration and fortification. For these reasons, I was asked to lead a workshop, at the newly forming Waldorf Teachers’ Seminar, on the three-fold nature of the human being. I decided to work not only with the head, heart and hands; thinking, feeling and willing; body, soul and spirit … but also with the three-fold nature of the spiritual guidance available to us.
The College Imagination
Rudolf Steiner had less than three weeks to prepare the first twelve Waldorf teachers, who were dedicated to incorporating a living, spirit-filled view of the human being into their teaching. Steiner knew that the teachers’ continuing development as whole, interested and open-minded human beings was central to the healthy functioning of the school and to the education they hoped to bring to the children. Therefore, from the beginning, he urged them to develop capacities within themselves to learn how to ask for and receive spiritual guidance and assistance in their work, and he warned them that were it not for this spiritual help, they would likely find the task of founding the school overwhelming and be tempted to give up. On the first day of training, he offered this imaginative picture, now often called the College Imagination, of how beings of the spiritual world support our daily work, even if this collaboration is often unseen and unacknowledged by us.
“Behind each of us stands our Angel gently laying hands upon our head. This Angel gives each of you the strength you need. Above your heads hovers a ring of Archangels. They convey from one to the other of you what each of you has to give to the other. They connect your souls. Thus you receive the courage you require. (From this courage, the Archangels form a vessel.) The Light of Wisdom is given to us by the Higher Beings of the Archai, who do not form themselves into a ring, but come from the beginning of time, reveal themselves and disappear into primordial distances. They project into this space only as a drop. (A drop of Time Light falls into the vessel of courage from the active Time Spirit.) “
(noted down by Caroline von Heydebrand):
This was summed up by Walter Johannes Stein:
“Strength – Angel
Courage – Archangel
Light – Archai “
Behind each one of us stands an Angel, our Guardian Angel. Like our mothers (ideally), it envelops each one of us in unconditional love. It prepares us to meet the challenges that are coming. Everyone has such a dedicated spiritual guide. They give us the safe space in which our higher selves can develop and eventually come into independent maturity. Angel light allows true imaginations to stream into our consciousness. These guide us in our earthly tasks and relationships and give us strength to overcome the inevitable challenges we all meet along the way. Eventually, in the very distant future after a number of incarnations, we will take over this responsibility from the Angels, just as we gradually find our independence from our parents. Until then, the Angels’ unconditional love remains steadfast, guiding us along our way and giving us the strength of which we are in need.
Archangels unite groups of people, who have a common purpose or mission, by flowing in rhythmic motion amongst group members and their angels. They weave together mutual intentions and striving to help us form a sense of group identity, be it a community, family or nation. While angels give to each individual member the strength she needs, Archangels inspire and give courage to each member of the group to work together to fulfill their common tasks. Whether forming a school, a team, a theatre play or a political movement, the work of the Archangels helps form the group into a dynamic and viable whole. This group may well become able to receive higher spiritual intentions in order to meet challenges particular to its historical setting and time.
Archai, sometimes called Time Spirits, shine the light of intuition into the dynamic relationships or vessels that have been built with the aid of the Archangels. These exalted beings appear only in the form of a drop of light, which they offer to help us to meet the ever changing needs of humanity. The Archai help us attune our efforts to be most fruitful at this time and place. You can see the results of their work in the rise and fall of various peoples and impulses over the course of human history.
Individual strength from imaginations, courage and inspirations to work with one another and the intuitions to help us meet the essential challenges of our times: these are the gifts of the Angels, Archangels and Archai. As we work together as teachers or in any community for that matter, it is helpful to recognize the presence of these exalted beings that are ever ready to support our common work. Without their help, much that we set out to do would be too difficult, painful or disheartening to carry through to completion, or too misguided to be beneficial. With their help, true social innovation is possible. They support the creation of social initiatives that benefit individual societies and the continuing development of humankind.
Clay Modeling and the Imagination
Rudlof Steiner did not hope that the teachers would mindlessly recite the College Imagination or that they would believe in it as a doctrine. He wanted them to penetrate between these words to form a living understanding of the dynamics of how these spiritual beings work together with human beings to support their daily work, relationships and collaborations. He wanted the teachers to keep these ideas in the front of their minds so that these spiritual beings could give their optimal benefits to the first Free Waldorf School.
Attempting to better understand and make connections with these ideas, we set out to model this verse in clay. First we spoke and contemplated the imagination in both English and Portuguese, allowing plenty of time for the images to build up our imaginations. We then set the text aside and brought out large bags of ceramic clay. Sometimes hands can reveal ideas and relationships that do not easily arise to full consciousness in our thinking alone. A more tangential approach can free us to become aware of deeper insights and meanings that seem to emerge when we least expect them
Each of us began by forming a large lump of clay into a sphere. We worked in the air with only our hands trying to make this sphere as round and homogenous as possible. Our hands appeared to intuitively know the shape of a sphere and to need little input from our other senses. In fact, even when we paused to reflect on our activity, our hands seemed to carry on forming the spheres on their own accord. Through this process we discovered the three-fold nature of the hand: the powerful base or heal of the hand that easily moves large amounts of clay, the sensitive and rarely touched inner palm and the dextrous and clever finger tips. We worked in silence (not easy for such social people) so that we could be attentive with all of our consciousness to the unfolding creative process. After 15 minutes we passed our spheres to other people and compared the remarkably different qualities they embodied, including their shape, density, smoothness and warmth. We had all crafted spheres, and yet each one reflected unique qualities of its creator.
I encouraged each person to imagine that she was working as the Guardian Angel of her clay sphere, helping it to approach its true form, its ultimate perfection, in much the same way as our Guardian Angels work with us, giving us strength and guidance. We held this imagination while working (and then again in quiet contemplation before moving on to the next step of our creative process).
We then gathered into groups of five participants. Each set her sphere next to four others forming a circle or ring of spheres. I invited participants to envision the dynamic activity of the Archangels as they flow from one being (sphere and sculptor) to another. We then worked with 10 hands per group gently moving and moulding the clay together in these now larger collaborative sculptures. Each person was given permission to make changes to any part of the sculpture and equally encouraged to accept the changes that others made. No part of it remained identified with an individual. It became a group collaboration. Gradually, the spheres merged into a form that then began to take on some of the qualities of a vessel with an inside and an outside. The participants regularly moved around their emerging sculpture. This helped them to perceive it in its full dimensionality, to contribute to all perspectives and to accept responsibility for the whole sculpture and not just one part of it.
After working in groups for some time, I then invited each group to make their vessel ready to receive a drop of light from a yet more mysterious spiritual source, the realm of the Archai. This process is akin to making a home ready to receive a new baby. Questions of sensitivity and robustness emerged. Was the vessel ready? Would it be strong enough to hold this drop of light? How would the vessel be altered by receiving the light? The groups worked to simplify, strengthen and focus their vessels so that they could best receive this gift, which in this context would be a small ball of clay.
The groups worked with concentration and focus to prepare their vessels. Some sculpting groups invited a golf ball size ball of clay into their vessel. Others only wanted the tiniest drop, and others wanted a few drops in a number of special spots. These drops transformed the vessels completely. They gave the vessels a sense of purpose, a mission to fulfill, and a responsibility. Participants expressed that had there been more time, they would have wanted to allow their vessels an opportunity to respond to the unique impulse that each drop brought to their vessel.
Collaborative sculpturing requires a lot of giving and receiving, acceptance, rejection and coping with change that is and clearly feels beyond one’s direct control. Yet, the participants were remarkably full of energy, enthusiasm and grace. They expressed that this process, while challenging, had helped them to step closer to the mysterious workings of Angels, Archangels and Archai. They were grateful for the mutual support and inspiration that came from working collaboratively and said that this far outweighed the challenge of having to let go of their individual impulses. This exercise helped them to imagine the subtle ways in which these spiritual beings’ support for human endeavours might manifest in their own work and lives. The participants were active in body, soul and spirit. They used their imaginations and will to penetrate into the mystery of communal creation. The dynamic quality of this exercise cultivated a living quality of thinking and feeling that enabled them to sense and consciously work with the spiritual world.
Steiner, Rudolf Foundations of Human Experience, SteinerBooks, 1996
Photographs courtesy of Isabel Santos
Early enrolment discount runs through this Friday, May 24.
Fire your imagination, renew yourself and play with other like minded adults. On offer are grade level intensives for Waldorf teachers, administrators and parents; workshops on Waldorf science, creative writing, biodynamic nutrition and biography; and to balance it all out artistic workshops in felting, metal working, veil painting, storytelling, music and clay modelling.
Presenters and participants are coming from all across Canada and all around the world.
Evening activities include coffee houses, lectures and study group.
Five kindergarten principals from Japan visited RSCT this week. They could not have been lovelier or more interested in the work we are doing here to bring spirit into education. As fate would have it, they visited a cutting edge plugged-in kindergarten directly before coming to us. In the morning they went to a school that features "smart boards" and lap tops for each child and in the afternoon they came to the Toronto Waldorf School where we use all natural materials and traditional crafts to help awaken the children’s innate abilities.
After offering the principals, their delightful translator and the president of the Kobe Shinwa Women’s' University a brief introduction into the ideals and practices in Waldorf schools, I led them into two of the early childhood spaces and let these well loved rooms speak for themselves. They were delighted by the nursery and kindergarten classrooms and gardens, the beautiful decorations, the lack of clutter, the emphasis on natural and seasonal motifs. They climbed right into the children’s play loft and carefully inspected all the wooden and felted toys. They were so eager to engage.
We then sat in a circle on the floor, shared our observations and questions. They were such keen observers and noticed how the specially painted walls of the classroom contributed to the calm wholesome mood of the rooms. I told them that I wanted to introduce them to two friends of mine. I brought out two Waldorf dolls that my wife, Luciana had made. We passed them around. They enjoyed holding these healthy rounded forms. They lovingly cradled them and gently squeezed their firm fleshiness. One principal even discovered that the dolls had real nappies beneath their garments. We observed how different their reactions were to these Waldorf dolls than they might have been to typical Barbie dolls, who do not invite cuddling in any fashion, but rather inspire one to grab them by their long hair, cave man style. One of the women who was a psychologist noted how wonderful these Waldorf dolls are for young girls so that they can form healthy images of their female bodies - so unlike Barbie...
Somehow one of the dolls made its way back to me and lay comfortably resting on my lap for the rest of my talk. The other found herself well cuddled in the translator's arms. And so the four of us, lecturer, translator and two well loved dolls proceeded to lead the rest of the talk with our foreign dignitaries. At one point the university president broke into laughter, pointing everyone's attention to the doll that was cosily resting in the lecturers lap. “Where else," he exclaimed, "would you see a lecturer comfortably talking with a doll on his lap!" We laughed. This scene must have been inspired by the nurturing mood of the kindergarten space itself.
We then offered the principals some twice-blessed, organic sourdough bread that I had baked specially for them. I taught them a blessing which we sang together just as the children do at school. They them presented us with lovely gifts from Japan. It was such a warm and heat-filled exchange. In the end two of the principals said to me that the contrast between the two schools they had visited could not have been stronger. They wondered how schools could become so cruel to the children they are supposed to be serving. This was difficult for all of us to understand. Many of these principals have been in education long enough to see the unfortunate trajectory of modern education towards earlier and earlier academics with less time for play and nature. Clearly this does not sit well in their hearts. They were so grateful for their visit to the Waldorf school, which reminded them of many of the ideals that led to their going into education in the first place.
The task of parenting and educating children can be wonderful, inspiring, exhausting and exasperating often in equal measure. Children see right through us. They have a way of revealing both our best and worst sides. It would not be a stretch to say that it is their task to help us continue to grow and learn the true work of becoming human, learning how to love.
They demand it.
At RSCT we strive to offer wholesome educational and artistic nourishment, food for the long haul so that teachers and parents can better meet challenges with creativity, clarity and joy. This is no small task. Working artistically is central to this picture, for children even more than adults live in a creative, imaginative space from which they learn all their skills to thrive in this world. Art refreshes and offers new challenges no matter what our phase of life. It stimulates life long neural development and leads one into the timeless realms of childhood
Art, education and an understanding child development in the context of an evolving picture of human consciousness, these are the central themes that run through our Summer Festival of Arts and Education. Come have fun, challenge yourself and meet remarkable people.
While working the Waldorf Language and Literature week of our Professional Development for Waldorf Teachers full-time program we were discussing the content and rationale for the Waldorf curriculum and in particular why we teach Old Testament stories in third grade. This is an important theme that invariably challenges parents and teachers alike.
The Waldorf curriculum is intended to offer the children stories, images and activities that help them to assimilate changes they are going through in their journey to become responsible, compassionate and skillful adults. Children in third grade (9 years old) are gaining more and more confidence in their academic, social and physical capacities. They still appreciate the clear and unwavering guidance, the loving authority, of their class teacher. However, this too can come under question as they go through their proverbial fall from grace, their nine year change, which we mirrored for them in the tale of the Fall of Adam and Eve. They also meet Moses who led his people out of slavery, through the desert for fourty years until they reached the promised land, yet he too was far from perfect. These stories apart from their religious significance recount not only the journey of the Jewish people towards their promised land, but that of all humanity as we wrestle with the challenges of morality, justice and meaning in our lives.
Below is one student teacher’s brief reflection on her own relationship with these stories and their value in pedagogy.
Why study Old Testament?
by Azita Jovaini
The Old Testament is a record of God’s dealing with his children from creation to about 400BC. We could also see it as a covenant, a special relationship in which the lord pledges his support to a group of people, the Jews.
The Old Testament is a voice from the past with vital messages for today. It also contains the historical roots from which all of other scriptures such as New Testament and even the Koran spring and lays a foundation for understanding who we are today and what we believe.
Ancient and modern prophets have stressed the value of old testament in helping us come to know God. In the Old Testament we learn about creation and fall of man. We learn what a prophet is and we learn about obedience, sacrifice, covenant and priesthood. The whole basis for Judaic-Christian law, and Islam is thought through and developed in the Old Testament. We read about prophesies of the coming Messiah and of the restoration of the gospel. We get insight by studying Old Testament. We learn about the fall of Adam and Eve. We learn that God can and do intervene directly in the lives of individuals and nations. We learn that Idolatry in any form is destructive.
The Old Testament also contains vast quantities of wisdom that contributes to humanity and informs how people strive to treat one other. It contains lessons for all of us through the lives of its many fallible characters, for are not we all fallible? By observing the lives of the people in these stories, we can be encouraged to trust in God no matter what happens.
Coenraad died thursday, march 28, 2013
in Ueberlingen, Germany at age 91.
It was a lecture by Coenraad which gave the impulse for the forming of the Rudolf Steiner Centre now in its 33rd year.
Coenraad started out in Holland working at the NPI, the Netherlands Pedagogical Institute with Bernard Lievegoed, but later lived in England where he established the Centre for Social Development connected with Emerson College. He finally moved to Germany where he led the Adult Learning Network.
Coenraad visited the Rudolf Steiner Centre over many years, giving countless lectures and teaching three intensive weeks of courses for our student Waldorf teachers and the generpublic.
Week 1 was: Learning to Learn
Week 2 was: Destiny Learning
Week 3 was: The Spiritual Path
His work, including Destiny Learning which he originated, is now practiced in many countries around the world.
We gratefully remember this great man and the many gifts he brought to enrich our lives.
Over the past ten years, I have become increasingly
aware of how soil health is an essential component
to farming and gardening. Given the recent variations
in climate with late frosts, long dry spells and heavy
rains, it becomes imperative to build resiliency and
sustainability into our soil, such that it becomes less
susceptible to these and other changes.
This curiosity about soil and its essential helper,
compost, led me to study biodynamic farming and
gardening. I soon found a new way of thinking about
soil, land, plants and animals. I learned how this living
soil can be enhanced and how plants, which are part of
this soil complex, can be better nurtured and become
more resistant to outside forces, such as weather and
Biodynamics is a practical approach to reconnecting
with the earth and its living elements through
observation and revitalization techniques. Becoming
aware of cosmic and earthly forces and working with
rhythms and seasonal cycles, one can optimize basic
growing practices and work in harmony with nature
and one’s individual environment.
These basic principles and practices have evolved
from a set of eight lectures on agriculture given in
1924 by Rudolf Steiner. Several farmers, who already
appreciated Steiner’s contribution to the understanding
of human nature, education, medicine, science, art and
spirituality, approached him asking for these lecturers,
as they noted that their soils were being depleted and
their crops were decreasing in quantity. The lectures
were intended as a “Spiritual Foundation for the
Renewal of Agriculture,” not as a set of rules and recipes
to be blindly followed.
Over the past 90 years, Steiner’s life-affirming
approach to agriculture has been developed and refined
by biodynamic farmers and gardeners around the
world, including Australia, Canada, England, France,
India, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and the
In 2012, after many years of trials and tests, Prince
Charles and his son, Prince William, publically endorsed
biodynamic practices and implemented them on their
farm at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Introduction to Biodynanmics
This year, starting Sunday, April 21st from 10 am to
4 pm, together with my colleague, Kathryn Aunger, I
am presenting a series of 10 teaching sessions on the
“Introduction to Biodynamic Farming and Gardening”
at her Demeter biodynamic certified farm between
Tweed and Belleville, off Highway 37. This seasonal look
at cycles, rhythms and patterns, as well as soil science,
compost and food vitality offers a shift of thinking from
the conventional approach to agriculture. Participants
will grasp biodynamic concepts and practices that allow
them to continue their own journeys into being in harmony with nature
and connecting with the earth.
My name is Thea Blair. As a teacher I witnessed the magic of comforting touch in resolving children's emotional difficulties. This led me to research peer massage, which is student-to-student. I used it in my teaching and found it to be a great way to settle the kids down and have more cooperation. This is such a great tool and yet almost no one has heard of it!
I met Jean Barlow online. Based near Manchester, England, her organization, Child 2 Child, has been training schools in peer massage for 12 years. She arranged all the school visits so that film maker Amanda Bontecou and I could document this amazing practice. We interviewed students, teachers, and heads of schools.
Senses’ Revelation is our guiding impulse for this summer’s festival.
Revel in what your senses can reveal to you. Surrender to the beauty of
new sights, colours, textures, sounds, stories, songs and tastes. Fill up your
senses this summer with nourishment for the long inward journey toward
spirit revelation in midwinter. Refresh yourself in the soothing waters of
artistic renewal and community and kindle the flame of inspired action.
We welcome parents, educators and artists interested in working with their
senses to reveal meaning, joy and depth in all that you do. Join with our
international team of workshop leaders in a guided exploration of the arts and
ideas inspired out of anthroposophy in collaboration with other like-minded
individuals. This year we have expanded our festival to three weeks.
“Art has a quality that can excite people not just once, but
can time and again directly give them joy. For this reason,
we directly connect the artistic element with what we want
to achieve in teaching.”
An introduction to the Development of the Creative Imagination
A Workshop with Master of Storytelling Inger Lise Oelrich (Sweden)
This workshop came highly recommended by a dear friend who is extremely trustworthy in such things, so I signed up in advance. But when the bluster of Christmas whirled all around me, with all the trimmings of family, I must admit that the spirit was willing but the flesh was exhausted! The thought of a workshop intensive was not at the top of the list though it had been checked twice. What a gift to pour my tired self into the sacred space of Inger Lise’s workshop and find renewal.
When the space is created, the story can be told. That’s what the workshop was about for me; creating the space, listening, and telling stories. Inger Lise invited us as a community to gather together and create a space of respect and reverence, invite the storyteller to step forward, and ask for a story. This separate space, where respect and reverence can give way to awe, becomes sacred. The stories come from “behind us,” we stir them in the space we have created, and we are all changed with this experience. Connections are made, hearts are opened, minds are engaged, and transformation can happen. New connections, new ways of thinking, and new ways of being are possible.
We were a diverse community of familiar strangers; storytellers, teachers, magicians, and musicians from around the world. Several people from the group brought grief into the room with them, mourning the loss of a young man’s life to violence in the Regent Park community. Inger Lise held a healing circle using the tools of Celtic blessing traditions, and each of us offered a wish connected with images from nature for the young man and those who love him. Tears watered the fertile place of hope. We listened to stories and worked with picture images from them, drawing them and describing them to each other. We clapped and stomped and spoke our words into a great mythic silver bowl and let them resonate. There were stories from our own lives, from fairy tales, and spontaneous ones that unfolded. It was an opportunity to reflect on our intentions in this work, inwardly and with the group. Inger Lise spoke to us of storytelling as a social activity, a place where the questions unite us, where we can meet the challenges of our times in a new way that’s as old as the hills.
This workshop was organized by Diasporic Genuis www.diasporicgenius.com. David Buchbinder’s project has been working in the Thorncliffe Park community using Inger Lise’s vision and method for the past year, connecting people from all over the globe who live right here. Inger Lise Oelrich is a theatre director, storyteller and adult educator who travels widely working with storytelling as a healing and transformational art.