Learning Journey at the Goetheanum

Learning Journey at the Goetheanum

04 July 2023 Rosemary Channin 1364 views

A special testimonial about the Anthroposophy Studies on-campus program. By Rosemary Channin


I have been looking for ways to deepen my studies of Anthroposophy, both in terms of studying Steiner’s books and lectures and also as a living experience. I have a strong feeling that Anthroposophy is something that is alive and that the best way to deeply understand and penetrate its mysteries is to bring it to life and to apply it and experience it in everyday life.

Last summer (2022), I experienced a sudden and quite urgent feeling that I needed to go to Dornach. Around this time I met two people who said they were going to do the ‘Anthroposophical Studies’ course at the Goetheanum. It was something I had been considering doing, but this was the final nudge that I needed. In the space of about six weeks I had packed all my belongings into boxes, distributed them between kind friends and family, and jumped on a plane to Switzerland. Interestingly, many of my course mates had similar experiences of feeling an urgent pull to go to the Goetheanum.

I arrived at the student accommodation at night, and it felt very mysterious because I could only see a few lights coming from the windows high up in the Goetheanum, as if they were somehow floating there in the dark. As soon as I woke up I opened the curtains and there was the Goetheanum, majestic and very real, right outside my window!

On the first day of the course, the ‘Anthroposophical Studies’ class met together with many of our tutors. There were sixteen students from fourteen countries, aged 18–50, all with different backgrounds and life experiences. We shared the wishes and questions that had motivated us to come here, and the tutors told us a bit about themselves and welcomed us to the course. Virginia Sease, who founded the course, very kindly gifted each of us with a copy of The Calendar of the Soul.

The theme for the first semester was ‘Essential Aspects of Anthroposophy’. We began at 8am each morning with a book study class in which we worked our way through Theosophy with several different tutors, each of whom took a different approach, allowing us to experience the content in a variety of ways. As the weeks progressed, I noticed I was able to penetrate different layers of understanding, to access new ways of thinking, and to listen more deeply to each person’s contributions.

Our second class of the day was always a creative subject. In the art classes we learned about Goethe’s theory of colour, created our own versions of Steiner’s ‘Nature Moods’ using watercolours and pastels, and made large veil paintings based on Goethe’s colour wheel. I found these art classes to be quite a meditative experience, and I began to rediscover my love of artistic expression which had been somewhat lost living in a big city with very little nature nearby.

In addition to art classes, we also had eurythmy lessons once a week in which we learned many of the sounds of the alphabet, some of the colour expressions, exercises based around the five pointed star, and some more complicated group work. Some of us had done eurythmy before, and others had never heard of it, but we worked hard to all move together. The lessons were a good challenge for my concentration skills!

We also had sculpture classes which I really enjoyed. We worked with clay and focused on two opposing forces – adding pieces of clay to create the feeling of expanding out- wards (Luciferic) and pressing inwards to create a feeling of contraction (Ahrimanic). We used these techniques to create mini-versions of the two domes of the first Goetheanum, and then went on to make our main piece. For this, we used the technique of adding pieces of clay to create a landscape in which concave flowed into convex, creating peaks and troughs, with the feeling of a force pushing up and out, and an outer force pushing down and inwards. It was wonderful to see how different everyone’s sculptures were, despite having been given the same instructions. You could really see an element of each individual’s personality in their work.

The final creative class was nature observation. In our first lesson we discussed how to tell the difference between a stone and a potato, and how we knew that the potato was ‘alive’. This produced some very lively discussions and demonstrations! Then we began the first stages of Goethean observation, looking at the leaves of different plants and noticing how they change from the base of the stem to the top. We moved on to petals, sepals and seeds, and realised that the stem of some plants actually becomes the fruit. These classes made me so much more observant as I walked through the Goetheanum grounds, and inspired me to rekindle my interest in close-up photography. I’m beginning to have the feeling that I am having an encounter with the being of each plant I stop to wonder at, and I have a much greater appreciation for the full life cycle of nature – winter no longer feels as if the plants have died, it’s just that most of their life forces have moved underground for a while. I am also really enjoying the changes of season here, including experiencing several inches of snow at the beginning of December.

One of my favourite parts of each week has been volunteering outdoors on the Goetheanum campus. A lot of the course content and studying has been quite ‘head’ oriented, so I wanted to do something physical to keep me grounded. It has also been a great opportunity to give something back to this extraordinary place. One of my course mates joined me, and each week we were given a new task and shown new skills. We used strimmers to tidy up the grass around the edge of the animal paddocks, chopped back brambles near the public footpaths, took down and put up new electric fences, moved the cows to a new field, weeded amongst the herbs, and dug up and dried madder roots (rubia tinctorum) which will be made into red dye for cloth and paint. One of the highlights of these afternoons has been getting to know some of the people working in the herb gardens, many of whom have special needs. They only spoke Swiss German so we shared lots of miming and laughter together, and I really enjoyed trying the different herb teas they were making.

We rounded off the end of our first semester together with a trip to Chartres Cathedral in France. This was some- thing we had all been looking forward to, and many of us were fundraising for the trip by selling books, handmade cards, cakes and cookies. We spent a couple of days in and around the cathedral, learning about the history and spiritual significance of the many stone carvings around the outside of the building, hearing the stories depicted in the stained glass windows (the winter sunlight made them particularly beautiful), and having a tour of the crypt, where we were given permission to sing together. It was extremely cold there, even inside the cathedral, but we soon warmed up with hot chocolate and galettes in a nearby café. It was interesting to note that because the cathedral was being renovated, cleaned and painted inside, many of my class mates and I noticed that some of the sacred, spiritual feelings that one might expect in such a place were absent.

We said goodbye to two of our classmates who had chosen to finish their studies with us, and went our separate ways for the Christmas holidays. Some of us decided to stay in Dornach and celebrate Christmas and New Year together, attending parts of the Christmas Conference. On Christmas Eve our class choir sang Christmas and winter songs from Norway, Japan, Spain, England and the USA in the Goetheanum café next to the Christmas tree, an event we had been very much looking forward to! The choir was started by myself and one of my course mates as we really wanted some music as part of our experience together as a group. We are excited to be singing together again this semester.

I also attended the night vigil on the New Year’s Eve. It was very moving to see so many people of all ages gathering together in the Goetheanum grounds under the stars with small fire pits burning around the building. The outer walls, which were lit with fiery colours to represent the burning of the first Goetheanum, could be seen for miles around. There was a real sense of community as small groups sang together and read aloud the accounts of the night of the fire. Inside the Goetheanum, events continued all through the night until 10am the next day. There were concerts, seminars, workshops, and art sessions. When the vigil of the night watch ended the younger folk celebrated enthusiastically, and there was a sense of quiet assurance, a feeling that “we made it. All is well. The Goetheanum is still standing and Anthroposophy is still alive in the world.”

Our theme this semester is ‘Knowledge, the Spirit of the Time and Ethics’, our main study book is The Philosophy of Freedom, and we will continue our art, sculpture, eurythmy and nature observation classes.

I would like to take this opportunity to send my heartfelt thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Association (UK) for very kindly providing the funds for some of my course tuition fees. Their generous support will allow me to stay for the duration of the course, to spend time in this wonderful place, and to make long-lasting connections and friendships with anthroposophists of all ages and from many places around the world. I would also like to thank the Cultural Freedom Trust (UK) for generously awarding me with the Goetheanum Travel Fund Grant, which is available to those who are traveling to the Goetheanum.


Rosemary Channin, Hereford, United Kingdom - Alumni Anthroposophy Studies on Campus, 2023

Rosemary is a writer and musician, and part of the coordinating group for the UK Youth Section. She is currently studying Anthroposophy at the Goetheanum, and regularly writes long- form blog posts for Waldorf Schools in America. rosemarychannin@gmail.com