Candace Couse

Monday, 15 October 2012

Switzerland: Transcendental Fruit Punch

Visiting the Goetheanum was one of the strangest, most surreal attractions I have ever visited. The Goetheanum is located in the unsuspecting little town of Dornach in Switzerland, and is the world Centre for the anthroposophical movement. Designed by Rudolf Steiner (construction began in 1913), the Goetheanum is built entirely of cast concrete, and is the centre of a colony of spiritual seekers. I didn't know anything about it going in, but I was given the opportunity for a private tour with some friends lead by a member of the anthroposophical movement. Before we began I was told that the society had a reputation about being a cult, but once people were educated about what they were really about, that cleared up...yeesh.

Our tour guide was a pretty Brazilian dancer who kindly volunteered to show us around. She lead us into the 1000-seat auditorium, an epic concrete dome with an astonishing painted ceiling; a rainbow of bizarre stained glass windows and sculpted columns. 
File:Dornach - Goetheanum - Grosser Saal3.jpg
Credit: Anthroposophical Society in GB
"Steiner suggested that he had derived the sculptural forms of the first Goetheanum from the spiritual world, rather than by imitating forms of the physical world or through abstract theorizing."

Anthroposophy, founded by Steiner, postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development, or so says my handy brochure. That sounds harmless enough, but as I looked at the elaborate imagery in the concert hall, and as our guide did her best to explain a rich and complex mythology, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it all.
The colourful imagery spoke of space, time, heaven, hell and a battle that raged between demons and angels through the past, present, and foretold future. Our guide spoke of reincarnation and gestured to a bright purple stained glass panel depicting sprite-like beings from space delivering babies to waiting parents on Earth. Another panel, neon pink, illuminated the same beings bringing humans eyes and hands. the Edvard Munch-esque figures made the horrifying man-babies of early christian art seem positively comforting.

But maybe I was just being reactionary, maybe Steiner was just a karma loving pseudo-scientist interested in colliding phenomenology and religion with an aversion to right angles. After all, there is a connection between  Anthroposophy and the Waldorf School system, and that seems like a great secular, alternative institution. I have no idea...

Credit: Diccon Bewes

As the tour was ending we were confronted with a dish-eyed follower for a bit of unnerving conversation. We were then encouraged to return to the entrance along the long lane by slowly approaching and not focusing on any windows. Some of us fell behind at this point, awkwardly uncomfortable. Our guide explained that the building will appear to come towards us as we get closer. I was prepared to escape it

Once left on our own we had a look around some of the odder surrounding buildings before making our way back for some awesome Russian traditional food and wine. We all had some big laughs over some of what we saw that day.

As for any conclusion as to the nature of Anthroposophy...well, all I can say is this: this isn't the first time I've been told that perceptions change with education. I never thought much about sharks either until I did a google search one day that taught me they can store salt to travel up innocuous rivers and live in serene lakes.

Conclusion: now I am terrified of Sharks.

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