Who Art Thou, Nature Spirits?
By Kathryn Casternovia
I have no other wish than a close fusion with nature and I desire no other fate than to have worked and lived in harmony with her laws. – Claude Monet
When in nature, I have a strong sense of the presence of Nature Spirits, Elemental Beings, and other-worldly beings that weave their way into the physical world around me. The imaginations that arise are living, vivid images. For many people, being in nature can bring images that can only be described in spiritual, rather than a materialistic language. With the visible world, there belongs the invisible world and together, these form a whole. Behind the external veil of the sense world is a world of ideas, and wisdom.
I believe it is my purpose to work with the spiritual world in practical applications to help heal nature. When I first knew this to be true, I was unclear about how this was to come about. In my search to understand the world of Nature Spirits, I turned to Rudolf Steiner’s work because it made the most sense to me. His life work was dedicated to building a bridge between the worlds of inner and outer experiences. He said that through observation, meditation and concentration we develop the organs to perceive into the spiritual world. I invite you to examine what I’m about to share with you. Allow images to arise in your imagination, live with them and see what rings true. Imagination is perception of the archetype; without it, we could not imagine a god.
To begin, consider what forces must be present in order for the plant-world to arise in the form it does. How do the cosmic and earthly forces work on the plant? Steiner’s Biodynamic agriculture (BD) holds the view that behind everything in the material world there is a spiritual force or being. Through BD practices, which utilize folklore, intuition, imagination and inspiration, as well as scientific research, we awaken ourselves and the spiritual beings.
There is a host of beings which were known in older times but which have been forgotten. They were referred to in the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita as well as in writings of the Western world. The cosmology of the Middle Ages was suffused with the belief in numerous “supernatural” beings, and there was more interaction with Nature Spirits at that time.
In Steiner’s imaginations of pre-earthly conditions, the Earth and all it’s substance was fluid. As the human was beginning to develop, other beings were forming as a result. Some beings came from other realms in sacrifice so that humankind could be created-the Nature Spirits were created during this process. Steiner said that the earth, as we see it now, is the corpse of a once living, thinking cosmic body. It had to become a corpse in order for the human to arise in our present form. It is interesting to note that he explained how humankind was on Earth originally and ‘afterward the animal evolved out of what could not become human’, which is the opposite perspective of Darwinism.
Toward understanding the elementals, or nature spirits, let us first look at the elements. We must differentiate between element and substance. In the work of Aristotle the substance of water is a perceivable object;
the element water is an interaction of qualities, comprehensible only on a spiritual plane. When we study the elements, we enter into a living process, with substances we are confronted with objects. ‘It is through these ideal perceptions of the elements, we can penetrate the life processes of the plants. Without foregoing the view point of modern chemistry, we must add Aristotle’s view lest the laws of form-expression manifest in life remain an unsolvable riddle.’ We can become familiar with this realm only by transcending our sense perceptions, which are dependent upon material manifestation. Aristotle, who understood the underlying spiritual process of the elements, observed how life works within these substances, as in water proceeding from the quality of moistness, and he presented the thesis that we must first study the four qualities: warm, cold, moist, and dry; and the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water, which originate from the interaction of the four qualities.
Dryness permeated by cold forms the Earth element-the root realm.
Cold permeated by moistness forms the Water element-the leaf realm.
Moistness permeated by warm forms the Air element-the flower realm.
Warmth permeated by dryness forms the Fire element-the seed/fruit realm.
Steiner described nature spirits as a particular class of spiritual beings in the etheric world of the plant kingdom, as they related to the elements, explaining that the plant sends roots into the ground, where in the earthly-moist warmth, they are surrounded by root spirits called gnomes. The midwives of plant reproduction, gnomes bring the mineral
kingdom of the earth into flux in order to conduct the minerals and life-ether to the roots. Like our eye or ear, they are entirely ‘sense beings.’ Just as we turn our head toward the light, so do they turn towards what seeps down spiritually from the plant; what the plant has gathered, the secrets of the Universe, the sun’s warmth and light from the plants blossoms, and what comes from the distant stars and planets into the plant’s structure. The gnomes perceive what the world-the sun and air-has brought to pass in the plant, and drive the plant up out of the Earth.
The world is an embodiment of universal ideas, of universal spirit, not abstract ideas of mechanical laws of nature. This is the world of the gnomes, who look down at our incomplete understanding. We have to think things over and use our logical mind. They just have understanding. Their manners are ill toward us. They are in the earth with ideas of the universe, but they hate what is earthly because they are afraid of taking earthly form (like a frog or toad). This fear and antipathy toward the earth gives them an upward striving direction and the power to drive the plants up out of the earth.
The plant moves up from the moist-earth sphere into the moist-airy sphere. Now there are other beings at work, water-spirits, or the undines. They are not a sense organ for the cosmos except for what weaves and works in the airy-moist element, therefore they don’t have the clarity of the gnomes. They are dreamers. Their dream is their own form. As they dream their own existence, they bind and release, bind and disperse substances of the air. They are world-chemists with the mysterious combining and separation of substances, which emanate from the leaf, and carry chemical-ether to the plant.
The plant grows into another domain of spirits, which live in the airy-warmth element, the sylphs, or spirits of air. They press themselves to, relate to and gather the light. They dwell in the moving current of air. What the bird sets in motion as it flies through the air creates music the sylphs can hear. It is here they experience their ‘I’ or ego and feel most at home. Because this ego comes from the outside, the sylph becomes the bearer of cosmic love. And the bird would say that the sylph inspires its beautiful song. The sylph’s task is to lovingly convey light to the plant. They weave the archetypal plant within the plant from light and the chemical working of the undines.
Now the plant passes through the sphere of the elemental fire-spirits, the salamanders dwelling in the warmth-light element. When earth is warmest, they gather the warmth together and carry it to the blossoms. Pollen provides little air-ships to enable fire-spirits to carry warmth into the seed. Warmth is collected with help of stamens, carried by pollen from anthers to seeds and seed vessels. Contrary to materialistic thinking, what is formed in seed-bud is the male element, which comes from the cosmos. For plants the Earth is the mother, the Heavens the father. This reproductive process is the result of the combined working of the gnome (earth) and salamander activity. The salamanders draw forth the male-principle from the universe. They experience their ego in the insect world, especially butterflies. The insects help distribute warmth for the seed-buds. As the bee buzzes from flower to flower, it is has a luminous, wonderfully radiant, shimmering aura. This aura is actually a fire-spirit. This light shimmers forth into the cosmos. This light and warmth attracts humans to descend again into physical incarnation.
We are uplifted and inspired by the plant world. Where the inter-working of the downwards streaming forces of love and sacrifice, and the upwards streaming forces of density, gravity and magnetism meet, plant-life develops on the earths surface. Plant-life is the outer expression of world-love and
world-sacrifice, with world-gravity and world-magnetism. This understanding of the plant world, which is necessary to the art of healing, has been lost to most of present day humanity.
Elementals are on the other side of the threshold. According to Steiner, we can perceive gnomes when we first fall asleep, sylphs when we are in deep sleep, undines just before awakening, and fire-spirits when we are in waking consciousness but can stand outside ourselves. It is then we see that our thoughts are not enclosed inside the skull, but revealed as world-thoughts.
Nature spirits are repulsed by materialistic thinking. They need wild places, biodiversity, our consciousness, our moral deeds, rituals of love and gratitude, artistic or creative ceremony. I recommend walking your land or in nature every day. Ask, ‘What does the land need to heal?’
Biodynamics is alchemy, harmonizing the inner with the outer. Alchemy is the synergy of the interaction between humans and nature. Steiner said that through our consciousness and deeds, we can disenchant these beings so we can both evolve to the next stage.
They need us, as we need them.
References and further reading:
World Ether – Elemental Beings – Kingdoms of Nature, E. Hagemann.
Planetary Influences Upon Plants, A Cosmological Botany, Ernst Michael Kranich.
Meteorology and On Coming to Be and Passing Away, Aristotle.
R. Steiner, Man and the Nature Spirits, Man As Symphony of the Creative Word and Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and In the Kingdoms of Nature.
Kathryn Casternovia, an organic gardener for 33 years, has studied Biodynamic Agriculture for ten years. She is a member of the Oregon Biodynamic Group, and is a professional landscape and garden design consultant who also provides BD consultation for farm or garden.
About Biodynamic 500 Spray
This article orginally appeared in the Anthroposphical Journal of Australia in February 1991. It was subsquently picked up by the biodynamic gardening journal in the USA. We borrowed it from the Kheper Web.
Mentioned in this article are Marion and Walter Burley Griffin. They created the forms and plans that have resulted in modern Canberra – the National Capital of Australia. Much of the material in this web site is related to them. Both were deeply into the spiritual aspects of reality. Oral history tapes about their personalities exists in the National Library of Australia.
Over two thousand Australians and New Zealanders use Biodynamic 500 spray on their land. The spray is one of Rudolf Steiner’s ideas. It is made by filling cow horns with fresh cow manure and burying them in Winter. In Spring when the horns are dug up the manure has been transformed into the crumbly mixture known as 500 – the Soil Preparation. Correctly stored it keeps for years. Sprayed onto the soil in Spring it – in some mysterious way – improves the soil and the quality of the plants which grow in it.
What follows is an account of my experiences with 500 about ten years ago. It was an experience that was both practical and spiritual. At the time I was a concerned Anthroposophist who felt that I needed to make the Spiritual aspects of my experience available to readers of the Australian Anthroposophical Journal – who hopefully will not come to the conclusion that I am always ‘Off with the Fairies’.
It all started about 5 years before I wrote the article when we visited Robert Walcott, a long time user of 500. His farm is a sheep property on the Southern Highlands of NSW, Australia. The property, to my slightly experienced but amateur eye did not appear to be anything special, it suffered from too many sheep and a run of dry years. At that stage I had no confidence and little knowledge about biodynamics or 500 spray. When pressed by my host I mumbled things like, ‘Interesting’ and ‘Oh yes, it is QUITE possible.’
We forgot our cooler box in the Walcott’s kitchen. In it we had bananas, bread, a bit of cheese and some apples. Later the cooler was returned to us. The puzzling thing was that nothing in the cooler had gone off – everything was fine and eatable even after a week of sitting in the enclosed box in a corner of a heated kitchen. Peculiar, ‘Well,’ I said to myself, ‘It may be due to the quartz crystals which abound on the farm or to the 500 spray or to God knows what.’ I now know that I was almost right … but therein lays more of the tale.
Rob gave us ajar of 500 preparation neatly tucked into a box of peat moss. Remaining cynical, I put it in my cellar and left it there for two years. This year we had a wet, warm Spring, and so we decided it was time to try 500.
It was the 6th of October, 1990, at about eight in the evening. The moon was full in the sky. Dew was starting to fall and. the earth, in the jargon of Biodynamics, was ‘open’ or ‘breathing in’. After a pleasant dinner on the veranda we hunted up a bucket, poured some baby bottle-warm rain water into it and dug through the kitchen drawers for a long handled wooden jam making spoon. We crumbled a bit of 500 Preparation into the bucket. Then we started to stir. There were four of us and we stir-red for the recommended hour. After about half an hour we noticed a smell – it was a bit like frangipani – a pleasant sweet smell and not at all what one expects to get from cow manure.
We stirred in the prescribed way, clockwise and anticlockwise forming a whirlpool in the Centre of the bucket. The biodynamic literature suggests that this whirlpool is a chaos situation. Seemingly, the forces of the cosmos and the stars enter the mixture during the stirring to activate the energies that were locked in the specially buried cow manure. Later, when the mixture is sprayed, it is said that the captured cosmic and earth forces are released to enliven the soil and give strength to plants. This is an interesting picture but one I doubt after my subsequent experiences.
At this stage I was still both skeptical and curious. I have been divining water and dowsing Geomantic energies for many years. So I hunted up a pendulum and held it over the mixture, curious to see what sort of reaction would result. I got no reaction at all. Now, I expected a strong clockwise or anticlockwise rotation of the pendulum over the bucket. Surely you would expect that, I mean here we had been stirring water in a bucket for an hour creating whirlpools in either direction but no, I did not get that. What I got was nothing, a complete blankness – most peculiar, because even an unstirred bucket of water has radiations that affect a pendulum, Intrigued, I walked around the bucket with its potentised 500 mixture trying to understand what had happened and discovered at about 1.25 metres from the centre of the bucket that there was a circle at the edge of which the pendulum swung in an anticlockwise direction. For a dowser it was a bit like coming up to a water line and then finding a hollow, a thing that I have never known to happen. The circle, in three dimensional terms, seemed to be either a ball or a cylinder that surrounded the mixture and extended into the ground – a most unexpected and rather peculiar result.
We then poured the mixture into little spray guns and went into the garden in the moonlight spraying 500 up into the air. We walked around the house and did two large vegetable plots, in total, I guess we sprayed almost a hectare. When we had used up all the mixture we washed up and scraped the cow dung mixture – thin and homeopathic as it was – out of our hair, faces and eyes. We said ‘Well, you know, that wasn’t much trouble, it was rather fun. Let’s see what happens’ . . . and of course we didn’t expect anything to happen. In fact we had been warned not to expect marvellous results or else we’d be disappointed and give up Biodynamics without having given 500 a fair go.
When I woke the next morning I felt that we had a circle of ‘nothingness’ around the house – a peculiar situation. Even the areas that were not sprayed (because we couldn’t spray everything at night with our ineffective spray guns) were in this ‘nothingness’ – so although our block is triangular
we had a rough circle, or it may even have been a ball, of nothingness around us. Interestingly, this circle has gradually contracted back into the shape of our yard.
The nothingness persisted for about 2 or 3 days – I wondered if it wasn’t drawing energy from around the village or from around other farms in the area. Certainly, energy was being accumulated in our circular space; it was the sort of energy that precedes a manifestation, a feeling that the threshold is very near.
On the third day after the spraying I noticed a web of formative force formations started to weave themselves into the air directly above the soil. To my minds eye it looked a little like bee cells or perhaps like those microscopic pictures one sees of aligned plant cells. Later in the day it became clear to me that the developing formations were more like aligned crystals than anything else – the spaces in between filling in with more crystals. The crystals were 6 sided and varied in size. They ranged from about 15 to 80 millimetres in width and from 2 to 30 centimetres in height.
I don’t know where this crystal formation came from, perhaps it came from the stars as Marion Griffin (see below) suggests. In my case, it took three days for these formations to appear but I see no reason why this period should be fixed and why only crystal shapes should appear to fill the 500 created void.
[Inset into the article… Over the years I have seen 500 used on many other occasions. Once, in the same garden as the experiences I am relating a friend did the stirring and spraying for me. What came into the space was mushroom shapes – fungus; and that year the garden was subsequently plagued with moulds. I have helped friends spray 500 I prepared with small hand sprayers, Returning later I found the areas I sprayed were having a growth spurt, while the areas they sprayed – from the same bucket received no effect.)
The crystal web was being held in place by something, perhaps will or thought. It created a formative force field which made the soil pattern itself into the shape suggested by the ethic ‘crystals’. Soil structure is vital for the growth of plant roots and the activity of the millions of soil insects that are the actual creators of soil fertility.
By this time the moon was waning and the nights, as is often the case in Galong, were close to perfect with few clouds and bright stars. As usual, I went to bed early and around midnight began to get a dream. It started with the sensation of little worms with legs like centipedes crawling all over my body, they made me terribly itchy, they seemed to be biting and drawing juice out of me. Later they were exchanged for another sort of creature, a little leech-like beastie that clung to my arms and sucked my blood, these persistent little fellows moved around my body and began to make me feel very threatened and uncomfortable. ‘Ridiculous,’ I said to myself, ‘this is only a dream,’ and woke up. Next morning, when I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that the dream was related to what the 500 was doing to my garden. Perhaps, somehow or other, the soil creatures that lived in the garden had found a way to visit me during the night and to use me to help them work the soil.
In practical terms what did the 500 spraying achieve? Well, I sprayed my thirty or so tomato plants with seaweed (seaweed spray is often combined with 500, particularly in New Zealand) three days after we had sprayed the 500. A further two or three days later and the growth results were amazing. There was no two ways about it. The soil darkened, and seemed to be warm when I dug holes to put in extra tomato plants. The plants sat up clean and straight in a way I have never seen happen before – and I have been growing tomatoes for close to 15 years. Something clearly has happened.
Kurt, my neighbour who helped me with the stirring and who also sprayed 500 in his garden came to the same conclusion something really had happened. As Kurt said, ‘Steiner, well, let’s face it, he was a genius. What happened, well, nobody really knows, but clearly something has.’
In his garden Kurt noticed that the start of grape fungus disappeared three days after he applied the 500. Kurt has had fungus problems on his grapes for years, the result of a house that once was on his block. The leftover foundations had that strange musty feeling that one can often sense in old buildings.
This brings me back to my early 500 experience on my friend’s farm when the food in our cooler didn’t go off even after a week. Apparently, with 500 the forces of decay are reduced, yet the forces of soil growth which are related to the vital soil organisms like springtails seem to prosper. It is from the bodies of these creatures that healthy ‘living’ soil is built.
In my mind’s eye I saw the 500 working to create an interlocking
web of crystal like formative force structures held in place by thought. I know that my perception of these forms helps to hold them in place, but I am also aware, from an experience I will outline below, that Gnomes are helping to hold these etheric structures in place. Below is an extract from ‘Magic of America’ one of the oddest manuscripts ever to come out of Anthroposophy. It was written by Marion Griffin, wife and vital helpmate of Walter Burley Griffin, the designer of Canberra and the creator of Castlecraig. The manuscript is available at the National Library in Canberra. Marion was a superb draftsperson and the sketches below tell me as much as her words.
A star is a point in the universe. Each star throws out certain beams, sometimes one kind of beam, sometimes other kinds of beams. Let us watch their play. Two stars send out a message each a living thing and a quadrilateral is created. All these great beings have children and we human beings call these children of the angelic beings Fairies.
We have spoken of the Star Beings, the Sun Beings and the Moon Beings but now we have come to the Earth Being whose children, the Gnomes, help her to live and grow. For when the Earth has come into existence as an idea of one of the Fire Spirits the other Fire Spirits become interested and begin to send out their rays and the quadrilateral is formed, the Gnomes get busy to keep this form fixed, a solid material body and as the stars create form after form the Gnomes gather them together and build up the solid earth as we know it.
For as the stars send out rays and rays they build up all the wonderful crystal forms in creation and the solid earth is made up of all those lovely crystals that the star beings imagined. When all the fairies got together in council to see they couldn’t bring all the lovely forms that the heavenly beings were creating to the Earth where they could use the crystals to built up all sorts of lovely living, shining, moving, singing creatures.
About ten days after 500 had been sprayed in my garden I was confronted by a Gnome; it wasn’t the usual representation one sees with a chubby face and a pointed little hat. It was like a knight in armour, without a head, The body armour was made out little plates similar to what one seems on the backs of
slaters – except much larger. And there he was, sexless and very large, a gigantic size, he reached almost to the top of our 10 foot walls, he wasn’t sharply defined but to my minds eye he certainly was very real. He had come out of the ground – where he really should have been and was trying to dominate the area. He wanted to become King of the area and the 500 had seemingly given him the opportunity to do this. Fortunately he was out of his realm and had no real strength. So when I confronted him he retreated. Certainly. the desire to be the King of the area, to be the chief Nature Spirit, to be the chief force of the area was very strong.
I have met quite a number of Australian and European Nature Spirits. Tree beings, and the delightful little European fairies the dance around flowers – the sort of things that children have no trouble in seeing- but up until my 500 experience I have never been confronted by a being of this nature. I have met Gnomes before, they are there when you transfer yourself into the ground to cheek what’s happening, they are more of the seven dwarf variety. This type of Gnome is a fascinating creature, that really can entice and enthral and lead people into what I guess is gold fever, or diamond fever, or mining fever – the Gnomes like to do that. But this was something else, this was a King Gnome, and a European King Gnome at that, called up by the ritual of making, stirring and spraying 500.
Three months after spraying the influence of the 500 has faded, the etheric crystal web seemingly being destroyed by the natural electricity that links the ground and the sky. In the first eight weeks the influence of the 500 extended up from one metre on hard ground to three metres on soft ground. On healthy trees it reached to their peak. Now, the crystal web extends out of the ground for only 10 to 30 centimetres. Associated with the shrinkage of the size and quality of the etheric crystal web has been a reduction in the domain and strength of the King Gnome.
At first the Nature Spirits in my garden, particularly the Australian ones were terrified by the King Gnome. They didn’t like him and felt intruded upon. Now, although they do not cooperate with the King Gnome, they have called a truce, understanding perhaps that the King Gnome work in a different sphere than they do.
In practical terms the 500 allowed my unstaked varieties of’ tomatoes to reach almost 1.5 metres. As the influence of the 500 faded the tomatoes started falling and have kept growing along the ground. The zucchinis (all hybrid types) have done marvelously. The beans have grown well, flowered badly and fruited not at all. I also had trouble getting the tomatoes to flower and fruit, I suspect that – certainly in the Australian home garden 501 the silicon spray, is needed to balance the excessive power and influence of the gnomes and to encourage flowering and fruiting to occur normally. I haven’t tried 501 and don’t know what will happen when I do . . . I’ll let you know next year.
Reference: ‘Man as Symphony of the Creative Word’, Rudolf Steiner, ( 1923). Particularly Lectures 7, 8 and 9.
Steven Guth Galong Village NSW 2585 Australia.