Dear friends of the conference “The Soul of Europe”
The 12th conference “The Soul of Europe” took place in London from August 2nd to 6th, 2023.
Following the report of Christopher Hudson:
The place of Britain in Europe
From the moment I stepped inside Rudolf Steiner House for the Conference, there was a noticeable ‘buzz’. Expectation was high, and continued to be so for the duration of the 5-day conference. It would be impossible to sum up nine full, substantial lectures, many other significant formal spoken contributions, daily conversation groups led by lecturers, and daily plena in a brief report, so I will just touch upon some memorable motifs.
The overriding message from those contributors who did not come from Britain (Hans Hasler, Gerald Häfner, Pieter van der Ree, Paul Mackay and Wilbert Lambrechts), as well as from numerous attendees from other European countries, was that Europe is so much more than the E.U., and that members from other European countries really value the distinct contribution that Britain has always made and still makes to the life and destiny of Europe, particularly the life of the anthroposophical movement.
For me, there was not a single empty moment during the Conference. Every lecture was another window into the being of the Soul of Europe: past – Pieter van der Ree took us back at last ten thousand years to the deep spirituality of the megalithic culture; present – Aonghus Gordon described the regeneration of industrial wasteland at Ruskin Mill’s many sites. He also spoke of the mystery of the primordial formation of the opal out of something very like today’s industrial soot; and future – Gerald Häfner spoke of a wish that the Soul of Europe conferences might continue into the future. Perhaps, he suggested, it might be good for France, Spain, Italy or Greece to be invited to have a turn as host, and thus have their relationship to the Soul of Europe as a whole held up for closer reflection. Or, indeed, a smaller region within one nation state, such as Alsace or the region around Lake Constance, to quote but two examples mentioned.
Some important themes recurred. Britain has been separated from the mainland of Europe for some ten thousand years, when the marshy Dogger land disappeared in a geological cataclysm under a tsunami.
Britain’s immense Druidic culture was violated by the Romans, who then just as suddenly abandoned Britain again.
The Celtic stream of Christianity was overridden at The Synod of Whitby in 664, where the Roman Catholic was preferred.
Joan of Arc presided over the withdrawal of England from large areas of France, where hitherto it had had a powerful presence.
Henry VIII broke from a way Rome.
Every one of these apparent terminations, much like the Brexit of January 2020, has actually, however harrowing the pathway, had the eventual seeds of new opportunities within itself.
As Simon Blaxland de Lange put it in his masterly outline of the process William Shakespeare went through from intensifying darkness in the tragedies (culminating in the nihilistic Timon of Athens), to the miracles of rebirth that characterise the final plays: “Out of the same waves that daily washed Timon’s grave, was washed ashore the coffin of Pericles’ wife, the mother of Marina – without the death of Timon, there could be no Marina.”
The whole conference had begun with the quintessentially British watery element, in the elemental story of the Fate of the Children of Lir. This most solemn of tales of unbearable loss stretching over almost a thousand years, leads at last to humanness at a higher octave. “Trauma and suffering will become new organs of perception,” – this paraphrase of the words of Rudolf Steiner was spoken by Wilbert Lambrechts in his masterly analysis of the myth of Europa as painted by Tiziano Vecello. A red veil that flies about her as she is carried away by Zeus symbolises her future destiny of suffering and powerlessness as she treads the path of the evolution of the Christian mysteries.
These mysteries continued to inform the many other artistic presentations of real profundity during the evenings of the conference. All were noteworthy.
Sigune Brinch, supported by the composition and playing of Gregers, and the speech of Angelina Gazquez, performed a quite remarkable sustained eurythmy solo. With superb, imaginative colour and light as well, the whole text of the St. John Imagination was rendered in eurythmy forms. This unforgettable offering echoed particularly well Pieter van der Ree’s earlier drawing of our attention to the relationship between the design motif for the 2nd Goetheanum and the blackboard drawing for the St. John Imagination, both of which had come just after Rudolf Steiner’s experience of the abiding imprint of the Druids’ profound spiritual activities at Ilkley.
On the following evening, a very ad hoc group of actors, embodying the whole range of degree of acting experience from professional to outright novice, many of whom (in addition) were not in the least native English speakers, performed, under Sarah Kane’s energetic direction, chosen scenes from William Shakespeare’s tragedies and romances. These illustrated viscerally, and in the particularly pithy way that the chosen scenes had, the thesis of Simon Blaxland-de Lange’s lecture described above.
Dan Skinner provided a new one-man show relating Tiresias, the hermaphroditic protagonist of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and very current questions surrounding gender dysphoria, to the Hibernian Mysteries’ exploration of the very essences of male and female incarnation. The use of masks brought a number of powerful characters vividly to life. An Irish Catholic priest with second sight, blind Tiresias, blind Oedipus, Madame Sosostris who is clairvoyant, and lastly us, perhaps the ones who commonly see least of all. Ashley Ramsden concluded the artistic presentations with a majestic speaking of the whole of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets entirely solo, for the first time unaccompanied by his usual speaking partner.
“Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual.”
From T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets, ‘Dry Salvages’
All that I have described is just a series of snapshots from what was a deep experience simultaneously of what it means to be British and European now, in the light of our understanding of folk spirits, spirits of language, the time spirit, and the challenge of imperial aspirations that surround us from east and west.
Attention was drawn to very moving moments in history when ‘England’ and ‘English’ began for the first time to manifest. Coralee Frederickson spoke beautifully for us from Caedmon, the first poet in English whose work survives. Tom Ravetz picked up on the moment when there first lit up in the soul of Alfred the Great the new idea of ‘England’, as distinct from the prior conglomeration of tribes. These two examples illustrate the final complexity of the conference. The U.K., Great Britain, The British Isles, these are all distinct terms for subtly different views of the combination of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish elements in the word Britain. This complexity, from the Children of Lir to the stones of Penmaenmawr and the very important Druid centre in Orkney, was never far from our consciousness during this remarkable conference.
Mention must be made, finally, of excellent artistic groups every afternoon, which served to further illuminate the themes of the day.
Christopher Hudson has been a class teacher, houseparent and violin teacher. He currently works in Gannicox Camphill Community in Stroud. E: firstname.lastname@example.org