Saturday, February 11, 2006

How to practice Biodynamics...?


Previously I have reviewed Nicholas Joly's book Wine, from Earth to Sky on this site. That was after reading it while trying to determine exactly what BioD was.

His work was impossible to make any sense out of, and it left me troubled that so many people have jumped on the BioD bandwagon without even a thought as to what other practices it entails, or philosophy it espouses. I mean, just because you had a good wine that someone said was made using a certain philosophy doesn't automatically and universally make that philosophy a good one, does it?

I still had a hankering to find out exactly what it was that Rudolf Steiner had said seven decades ago that started this whole mess of BioD farming. Perhaps my disappointment with Joly's book was that he (Steiner) was subjected to two layers of translation (German > French, then French > English) and one "interpretation" (by Joly) before I got to it...and that doesn't even account for various editors in that chain either...

So - I rationed - if I read the original Steiner work, as translated by the people who belong to the official Rudolf Steiner Press (their own publishing house) that I would cut out some misinterpretation on Joly's part, as well as possible misunderstandings of Steiner's ideas during another round of translation...

WRONG!

The original is about as impenetrable and insubstantial as anything ever put together.

In fact, it reinforces the idea that if there is any improvement in BioD wines from other methods they are due to something other than BioD practices - with ONE possible exception...
...the fact that growers and vintners are actually in the fields watching and reacting to growing conditions that much faster.

His (Steiner's) philosophy is so backwards, and so completely ignores anything contrary to it, that at the end it remains totally unsupported - no true foundation for the dogmatic regulations and theory is ever laid.

Some gems of Steiner's thought:

- Classic cosmology is borrowed from Greek, Roman and Ptolemaic system (Earth at center, then in order, Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn revolve around the Earth. Neptune and Uranus are both completely ignored although both were discovered well before Steiner formed his theories..Pluto was discovered after his death, so he gets a "bye" on that one point). It is using this system that came to his "conclusions" about how these planets influence agriculture


- it's a polyglot of Hindu, asceticism and other "historical" religions (as reconstructed and adapted by Steiner - some writers calling the resulting practices "pseudo-folk practices"), with peasant folklore and primitivism as central driving forces and ideals

- Modernism (progress) is viewed as a disease which distances us from primitivism and "authenticity" (which ignores the fact that very progress was a product of those 'authentic' people to start with)

- access to your "authentic" self is somehow blocked...though the arguments for that are rudimentary, speculative, dogmatic, and eventually self-contradicting

- Cosmic influences travel into the Earth and must be liberated before they can be utilized by plants and animals (which ignores the conclusion that these forces would have to travel through the organic matter before they could lodge in the Earth...)

- Mars influence is represented by plants with the color Red (yeah, like that wasn't an obvious choice), Jupiter by all plants White or Yellow, and Saturn obviously is controlling all plants which have Blue flowering parts ...whatever...

- Calcium is brought into agriculture preferably via skulls and bones, because they are in a "form created by nature", which ignores the fact that limestone, diatomaceous earth and chalk are ALSO formed from small shells and are biological in their origins

- it is transcendental in nature - experimentation is eschewed for "direct feeling" (intuition), and though exprimentation is always suggested, it seems to consist of "intuit" experimentation - which suggests just thinking of what needs to be done or what is the proper remedy for a problem is sufficient

- because of the preceding point, it consists almost entirely of what can only be called a "lazy man's philosophy" at it's most arrogant, with rampant unsupported conclusions which somehow are used to justify further conclusions later on

- YEAST is mentioned but once in the entire work (pg 104), and then only in a passing example of how we use some substances to make our foods that we wouldn't eat by themselves (right after that he continues "[s]o many strange ideas are prevalent." in apparent reference to everyone else's ideas without considering his own. He was obviously a bit myopic...)

- "The process - not the substance - is important." (pg 104, emphasis in original) This one statement tells more than almost any other about what he's looking for: the ritual is what he's interested in, not whether it's effective or not...

-VINES are mentioned 3 times: first in answer to a question about whether the manures can be used on vines (yes); second as he suggests that the Phylloxera epidemic was a result of the loss of "peasant values" (which it obviously wasn't), and that BioD would 'cure it' (which it obviously hasn't) in the past 70 years; lastly when asked if "as anthroposophists" if it was legitimate for them "to resuscitate vine-growing" AT ALL...(meaning viticulture, and implying winemaking and consumption as well as apparently many members were temperance oriented)...Steiner gave a pretty wimpy 'well-it-depends' type of answer, noting that some members did while others chose to support abstinence. Doesn't sound like someone who really cared about viticulture or wine quality at all...

- WINE is never mentioned in the text other than as an example in the preceding point, as one Anthroposophist was apparently a promoter of a German (Austrian or Swiss?) sparkling wine

...I'll leave the readers to wade through the balance of the weirdness in this book, but I can say that it's a most dissatisfying feeling to start this book and see just how slipshod Steiner's thinking was. That there was some winemaking system ever laid down by Steiner is laughable - everything which is passed off as BioD winemaking is based on inference and individual interpretation of Steiner. This contributes to the lack of a consistent outcome when applying BioD to wine - there is no clear set of directives ever laid out. It shouldn't be a big surprise then that there are so many different interpretations about what BioD really is and what it encompasses; Steiner's self-contradiction and ambiguous teachings allow that one person could say it supported "X" and the next could say it prohibited "X" on most points. It's plain that Steiner just didn't know the answers and speculated wildly, or was deliberately equivocating to try to please everyone. And the dogma which is used to support the overall theme is obviously why the biodynamic theory is viewed as religion by most outsiders: it requires blind faith in the lunatic ramblings of Steiner...

In conclusion, I'll call attention to the dangers inherent with directing valid ecological concerns in the wrong direction. That's a recipe for disaster as many try "remedies" which have no affect on the root causes. In fact, the fantasy bucolic society Steiner imagines and advocates never existed, and the effect of his fallacious image is - though an alluring alternative to modernity - neither soundly ecologically based nor an acceptable solution to unchecked progress. That it has been associated with quality wines seems to be rather by luck than anything of substance, assigning it as the reason for any increased quality is a spurious speculative assertion.

Steiner's work was also used as supporting theory for the Nazi-eco policies (as well as some racial theories of his) in the 1930's~40's.
In fact Demeter itself had a very pro-racist stance in 1930's which reappears from time to time in published works from some of their supporters, admin and editorial staff. Steiner's Anthroposophy is still used today by some eco-fascists and neo-Nazi Skinheads as justification for their views.

[See the following links Anthroposophy and Ecofascism, Ecofascism / Fascist Ideology ]
PLEASE NOTE: I'm NOT suggesting all followers of Steiner (or Anthroposophy in general) are racists or neo-Nazi supporters, just that Steiner himself WAS apparently a member of the Nazi party in the 1920's before his death, and that his published theories on racial purity, and the superiority of the "Aryan" race are still in circulation today to justify some rather scary elements of humanity. If he was that wrong on this point (and a myriad of other points as well), why would anyone believe he's beyond questioning on these agricultural and philosophical issues? He wasn't the genius he's been made out to be, period. And if indeed his published statements on these racial matters are to be dismissed, it undercuts any authority he speaks with on all other subjects, and indicates that his equivication to try to please all listeners leaves him sounding hollow, insincere, and confused at best.
[See the following for a few Steiner defenders ~ Coulee de Serrant, Defending Steiner.com, New Myths About Rudolf Steiner]




My viewpoint? Well, if it wasn't already obvious from my earlier posts or the present one, I think the above parody book cover makes it quite clear. If you find a wine you like, drink it - regardless of how it was produced. I won't be searching out BioD wines specifically, but if I find one that works for me I might try other wines from that same producer - regardless of how they were produced.

Cow's horns....sheeesh!

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16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody gives a shit about this subject Huge.
Move on.

February 11, 2006 11:24 PM  
Blogger Erwin Dink said...

I would love to hear some back and forth on the pros and cons of biodynamics. I know nothing but have made assumptions. I found this post informative and entertaining. I came back hoping to see some lively debate...

February 12, 2006 5:28 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Anon,
Many people care about this, including Robinson, Parker, Kramer, and a host of other nationally and internationally syndicated wine critics.

My concern is that people are being led down the wrong path - if there's something new under the sun we should all aspire to, then we should define it and make every effort to spread the word. But BioD isn't about that...it's about ritual, which their founder himself said didn't matter what the results were.

Continually we are subjected to writers of both small and large papers proclaiming BioD to be "beyond organic" or some practice which entitles those practicioners some super recognition as "more ecolgically sensitive" or responsible, which they aren't automatically entitled to. In essence, it makes them holier-than-thou, and it's that false piety which will lead everyone else astray.

It's obvious Anon, that you don't give a shit - you couldn't even be bothered to come up with a false ID for your comment - but I and others do. If you think it's time to move on, I respectfully suggest that you do so.

Eric,
I'll try to put something together, but it's going to be weighted towards the 'CON' side of the equation. Perhaps a few BioD supporters will chime in with what they think are the PRO's...
Thanks for the comment, discussion is the point of putting these posts out there in the first place. I sincerely feel that BioD needs to be debated in a public forum. And despite what Anon has said, my BioD posts have generated the largest volume of traffic on this blog, so somebody obviously cares about the subject.

/St. Vini

February 12, 2006 9:08 AM  
Anonymous pinotblogger said...

Well I'll officially go on the record as giving a shit. Unfortunately I cant provide anything that would constitute "lively debate" because I happen to agree that BioD actually is an unholy brew of anti-science and luddite populism.

I find your writing top notch Huge/St Vini, and after the second glass no one in the wine blogosphere is more entertaining.

February 12, 2006 4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could BioD have been the facist response to Lysenkoism?

February 23, 2006 2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rudolf Steiner was NEVER a member of the Nazi party.
For a start he died in 1925. Later the Nazi's closed down the Anthropsophical Society and burnt the books.

For a truer view on the subject try "The Spear of Destiny" by Ravenscroft. In it he explains how Hitler saw Steiner as his greatest enemy.

The proof of biodynamics is that it is still here today. And there are many profitable farms worldwide- particularly in Australia.

Dairy, I think, is the most successful.


-Bruce

April 21, 2006 6:37 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

G'Day Bruce!

Ok.
Let's backtrack a little...
German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiter Partei: DAP). 1919
Later to become the NSDAP in 1920 (taken over & led by Hitler at that time).
In 1923, a crowd of over 100,000 people heard Hitler speak at one rally alone.

Sounds like the Nazi’s were already established by the time Steiner was spreading his own theories.

The Theosophy movement and Anthroposophy movement (which Steiner started after splitting with the Theosophists) were used as a model for much of the asceticism & occultism that Himmler later applied to the SS. The SS apparently even had a hand in keeping the BioD AG teachings alive as they were purportedly a more ‘pure’ and ‘natural’ production of food for them, and kept a BioD garden as an example of their 'blut und boden' ("blood and soil") connection.


And though Hitler did view anything which people clung to that he didn’t provide for them as a threat, enough of the Nazi leadership was also anthroposophists or sympathetic to them, and as such was the reason Waldorf schools and even anthroposophy itself were both tolerated for quite a time – including much of WW2.
Such notables as Rudolf Hess, Himmler, Haverbeck and Goebbels were all anthroposophists, as well as being Nazi leaders.

Some few people still believe that the earth is flat. The fact that some few still believe it doesn't prove it true.

I have't read Spear of Destiny, but will add it to my list. Thanks!

Cheers,
Vini

May 03, 2006 10:41 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Anon,
Lysenkoism was state sponsored.

It's more accurate to view BioD as something which was picked up by the Nazi's, then bent to it's own purpose (support of it's own theories).

May 03, 2006 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Vini,
Ok, let's look at these points that you have been pulling out of your overworked ass.

>In 1923, a crowd of over 100,000 >people heard Hitler speak at one >rally alone.

Dr. Steiner was not there as he was opposed to everything Hitler stood for.

>The Theosophy movement and >Anthroposophy movement (which >Steiner started after splitting with >the Theosophists)

The Anthroposophists were expelled by the leader of the Theosophical Society. The members started the society and Steiner later joined it.



>were used as a model for much of the >asceticism & occultism

Steiner spoke out against asceticism.

The first aim of the Theosophical Society is, as it was then:
"To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color."


> The SS apparently even had a hand in keeping the BioD AG teachings >alive as they were purportedly a more ‘

Anybody can use biodynamics- and they do. You could be a Satanist, Marxist Muslim, Hindu etc. Farmers use BD methods 'coz they WORK! If they didn't work they wouldn't still be spreading after nearly 100 years. What other methods have lasted as long?

>And though Hitler did view anything which people clung to that he didn’t >provide for them as a threat,

Anthroposophy was banned along with other philosophies and the anthroposophists sent to work camps. I knew personally a Jewish anthroposophist who spent time in a Concentration camp.

Waldorf schools:
Anybody can go to a Waldorf school- and they do. You could be a Satanist, Marxist, Muslim, Hindu etc.


>Such notables as Rudolf Hess, >Himmler, Haverbeck and Goebbels were >all anthroposophists, as well as >being Nazi leaders.

None of these people were members of the Anthroposophical society. You made that up.

The Truth rests on facts- not opinions or hunches.

Professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Goodrick-Clarke
has written on the occult and Nazis. These are the best books on the subject:
The Occult Roots of Nazism: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany,
Hitler's Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Occult_Roots_of_Nazism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitler%27s_Priestess
Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Sun

Anthroposophy is Christian movement. Hitler was not a Christian (though he did see himself as a Messiah)but a follower of Friedrich Nietzsche.
http://homepages.paradise.net.nz/mischedj/ca_hitler.html

Most of the BD practices have been checked out by the scientists
Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and Dr. Lily Kolisko (and others).
http://www.anth.org.uk/Science/kolisko/gold.htm
Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer
http://www.biodynamics.com/LAR/pfeiffer.html

Greetings,
Bruce

June 06, 2006 4:52 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Bruce -

"...Rudolf Steiner joined the Nazi party in its early days,..."
Dick Taverne, The March of Unreason, pg 28

"Indeed, it is interesting to note that Rudolf Steiner, spiritual father of the organic movement, was a member of the [Nazi] party in the 1920's."
ibid, pg 262
...

"Born in 1909 [Georg] Haverbeck became at a very early time member of the NSDAP and SA. He converted to anthroposophy at the home of Rudolf Hess, becoming in 1937 departmental chief in the staff of Hess."
http://www.w-reich.de/hdoeng11.htm
...

"...several prominent Thule Society members had direct ties to Steiner and anthroposophy, including Steiner's mentor Ernst Haeckel and Rudolf Hess, anthroposophy's chief ally during the Third Reich."
http://www.waldorfcritics.com/active/articles/anthroposophy_nazism.htm
...

You may also wish to read the following link:
http://bbs.anus.com/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=8&t=000195

References for my other points are contained in links mentioned in my post, and are but a small sampling of what is available on the internet and @ the library.

The 70+ year persistence of BioD is not proof that it works: many erroneous practices have lasted for hundreds or thousands of years.

Which is exactly why we need to correct this error in thinking now! It's our first and best chance to make sure it doesn't get propagated to the detriment of agricultural practices which ARE correct...


Good luck,
Vini

July 08, 2006 8:20 AM  
Anonymous Dan Dugan said...

I'm the Secretary of PLANS, Inc., and editor of the waldorfcritics.org web page. I've been reading Steiner and his followers for about 18 years.

Thanks for this article. There's precious little critical material about the works of the Steiner cult, and every bit is welcome. I hope you don't mind my linking to it from the PLANS web site.

I'm sorry to say that the article that you link to "Anthroposophy and Ecofascism" has been taken down from our site. It's going to be published by the journal Novo Religio, and they're anal about it.

I don't believe your source (Taverne) that says Steiner was a Nazi. He was a rival of Hitler for the hearts and minds of the Germans. The Theosophical racial theory that Steiner preached became part of the Nazi system through Rosenberg, but Hitler would not tolerate rivals.

I characterize biodynamic agriculture as organic farming plus magic.

Re Bruce's comments, Ravenscroft's The Spear of Destiny is imaginative fiction.

"Farmers use BD methods 'coz they WORK!" doesn't stand up to scientific scrutiny. There was a test of a biodynamic pest control method by New Zealand academics, and it came up useless. Most of what they do has never been critically examined. Most is so obviously absurd it isn't worth the trouble, but there are might be some good ideas in there.

Kolisko and Pfeiffer are Anthroposophical "scientists" who deplore the methods of "materialistic science," so their approbation can be discounted.

-Dan

October 01, 2006 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Dan Dugan said...

Sorry, I goofed. The article by Peter Staudenmaier that you linked to is still up. The one that has just been removed is a later article by the same author.

-Dan

October 01, 2006 8:46 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Thanks for the kind words, Dan.
Link to all that you'd like to!

Taverne does state that Steiner was a member, but it may have been some association he had before Hitler really came to power...perhaps when it was just turning from the DAP to the NSDAP.

Also, history proves that Hitler wasn't above a sort of quiet tolerance during his early years, later ridding himself of the rival when he felt he could take the other's followers with him. My point in the comments was that they were contemporary lecturers.

Critical thinking in regards to BioD is - on the large part - lacking in depth, or wholely missing. Anything accepted without any proof (and making wild claims) should be looked at very closely.

V

November 03, 2006 6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There does seem to be a lot of mis-information about bio-dynamics in circulation.

First things first. It seems that because a couple of unsubstanciated references get circulated implying that Steiner was a member of the Nazi party. Ergo he is not to be taken seriously - on any subject
For a detailed rebuttal try:
http://uncletaz.com/waage/waagenglish2.html

Second. There is some hard to grasp stuff in what Steiner wrote and some is, on the face it, extremely hard to take seriously. That doesn't mean that a) none of it works or b) that it should be instantly dismissed.

Of course in his agriculture lectures he hardly mentions wine production. He was asked by German farmers to investigate agriculture -generally. (The fact that the principles have been applied successfully to wine production seems to me to prove their efficacy rather than the opposite.)

The farmers were concerned that after seventy years of agro-chemicals, they were concerned with what they saw as a reduction in quality of their crops, seeds etc.

So Steiner went back to first principles. A polymath, he had always been concerned that natural science had developed according to Kantian lines which essentially argued for the separation between man and his view of the world. Science developed along these lines - any idea of a spiritual impulse behind phenomena was simply ignored. One example was the analysis of plants and soil in the laboratory in the 1850s and from which the approach involving NPK developed. On effect of this analysis was to ignore silica (which is a mere 85% of the earth's crust) as a component of soil. Indeed it is still very to difficult to find a discussion of the importance of silica as an element in the soil in conventional agriculture.

By exploring how a spiritual impulse could be included in agriculture, Steiner identified two key things: humus content of the soil and the effect of lunar and other natural rhythms on cultivation.

There is plenty of evidence that increased humus in soil is beneficial. (The biochemistry is unassailable) And there are a number of studies that have shown that lunar planting etc improves quality and yields.

The reason that wine producers like Nicholas Joly are convinced is simply that by using bio-dynamic methodology (which is still developing), they produce better wine.

Richard, bio-dynamic allotment holder, UK

PS I'm only anonymous because I started this response before i'd worked out how set up an online identity.

December 15, 2006 10:24 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Good luck with your agriculture, Richard - I honestly wish good fortune for you & your fellow believers.

But I have a myriad of problems with Steiner's philosophy, and there seem to be many instances of his reasoning being incorrect - some of which are in regards to "racial theory" which he was postulating and publishing. That is where I think his genius reputation gets its greatest tarnishing.

I own a copy of the "official" (Rudolf Steiner Press) Agriculture Course, which covers all the lectures he gave on agriculture in 1924. As a person interested in eastern philosophy from my days in college I found it interesting from a theoretical point of view - but it becomes an article of faith (and therefore "religion") rather than an article of research in the western sense. This is something that I find disturbing and that I think Steiner would have been offended by.
On his theories about the cosmos, he leaves much to be desired, and leaves much of the cosmos out of his descriptions....
So much is left vague and unanswered, that most sane people wouldn't be able to apply his teachings in any consistent fashion with another person who has read the text...undoubtedly why so many people claim to be adherents and still there is so little agreement on the finer points of the system.

Steiner was in many respects ahead of his time. But the inductive reasoning that his system is based on is ultimately it's greatest liability: all the regurgitated astrology/caballah combined with a call to return to nature and that our forbears intuitively knew best...where else shall I go with this?...it's difficult to find anything of any substance within it all. Much of it can be seen in the old "Magus" book penned by Francis Barret back in 1801, albeit a slightly different form.

It's sympathetic magic. Not much more I can say than that.

BTW, are you one of the UK's subsidized BioD farmers? I'm asking because I have read about it, but don't know to what extent the subsidy was established: only for conversion? yearly? to what financial extent - 10%? 20%? 50%?
Was it just for the BioD potions, horns, preparations, etc.

Good luck, Richard.

V

January 14, 2007 10:31 AM  
Blogger London Refugee said...

What a great article!
Steiner's belief that the aryan race was spiritually superior to others, and his belief in the evolutuion of 5 root races, the pinnacle of which was the ... you guessed it .. the aryan, is so blatently racist it can't be argued.
But argue is what the anthroposophists do- desperately trying to hide it too.
What is so scary is the fact the education movement is growing- with the anthroposophical centre hidden from all behind a veil of knitting, water colour and songs.
The biodynamic industry is wealthy- Weleda, Dr.hauschka, demeter- all big names.

February 20, 2008 10:23 AM  

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