To put an end to biodynamics – The cumbersome Rudolf Steiner

*In which locker should the Frédéric Mugnier file be stored? Engineer, scientist, airline pilot… All of this could be on his resume. But also very rare owner in the Grand Cru Musigny, also Clos de la Maréchale, monopoly in Nuits-Saint-Georges, Château de Chambolle-Musigny, descendant of a famous family of liquorists, winemaker very close to nature, working organic but refusing labels because he hates being told what is good or not.
In his diary, Jules Renard, who liked the chiselled more than the chatter, noted: “Why free-thinker? Thinker is enough. That’s almost it. Except perhaps that this discreet winemaker, although sought after – especially his wines – would probably prefer a free man quite simply. A category that does not correspond to any locker. Annoyed not long ago by an article which put him in the category of biodynamists, which he is certainly not, he wanted to react.
We publish, with his agreement, a forum in three episodes, his response, which can be found on the site of the domain

For a very long time, I reserved my reflections on the subject for private conversations. I didn’t want to, and still don’t want to, seem to go on a crusade against an approach that seems to work so well for so many excellent colleagues and often friends. But today, in the eyes of a large part of the public of amateurs and professionals, there are only two categories of winegrowers: biodynamists and poisoners, or, to be nice, winegrowers without environmental awareness. and without sensitivity to nature. Now I can easily show that I do not belong to the second category, but it is necessary to explain why I am not attracted by the first. And that requires going into the depths of things.

Is plowing biodynamic?

– What has changed with biodynamics?

– Well, I pay more attention to my vines, I observe them, I look for signs of imbalance or the expression of harmony. I listen to them and talk to them.

– Good. What have you changed in the work in the vineyard?

– I plow the soil, I take care of pruning, I stopped using poisons: weedkillers, insecticides, systemic fungicides.

– Like organic, then? That’s enough ?

– No, I also apply biodynamic preparations.

– So you no longer need to treat your vines?

– Yes, I put sulfur against powdery mildew and copper against mildew.

– Like everyone else, then?

For many winegrowers, the commitment to biodynamics stops there. Others go further, constantly experimenting with new management methods, trying natural products for the health of the vine, seeking associations with plants, trees, and any means of promoting the biological richness of the vineyard. But what is biodynamics? At this stage, we do not see what could be criticized. We see an approach towards clean, respectful and careful viticulture. A form of organic cultivation supplemented with friendly homeopathic herbal teas that can’t hurt, plus a couple of strange magic concoctions. And those who practice it find that it works.

Above all, I am not trying to divert them from their path. But we can clearly see that biodynamics is in fact only present at the margins in their practice: only in some of their preparations and (sometimes, rarely) in an esoteric discourse that it is not necessary to to understand. The main thing is only responsible, sensitive, attentive, often innovative viticulture, which is not the property of any school. And yet, the word biodynamics is deployed like a banner, while few winegrowers have the curiosity (and the courage) to try to understand its roots.

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An ancestral peasant wisdom?

I don’t poison anyone either and I too have vines that are doing better and better, living soils and wines that express their terroir with enough consistency. But, as soon as the biodynamic movement appeared in Burgundy, in the early years of Anne-Claude Leflaive, I wanted to understand what it was all about and I noted certain misunderstandings. Biodynamic agriculture is neither peasant nor ancestral. Biodynamics is a pure invention of the XXe century, precisely from June 1924, later completed by disciples. It is not even a belated formalization of traditional peasant practices. Cow horns, potency, homeopathic dilutions were among the tools of sorcerers and alchemists, but not peasants. The most vivid element borrowed from the peasant tradition is undoubtedly the observation of the movements of the Moon to determine the time of sowing, but, oddly, Steiner (unlike Maria Thun) gives it only secondary importance.1.

Biodynamics is not peasant wisdom. This is the theory of a scholar, familiar with thirty centuries of esoteric and mystical thought, from Egyptian mythology to theosophical occultism, including Christian mystics, alchemists, Kabbalah and Hindu Brahmanism. Really nothing peasant in all that.

Rudolf Steiner, or how to get rid of it2

Few winemakers are talkative about Rudolf Steiner. We understand them. Steiner’s production is massive – tens of thousands of pages – and very indigestible, even confusing. Plus, she smells of sulfur. They don’t want to mess with it and they often prefer to say that they don’t need Steiner to do biodynamics. But the pirouette is not admissible for two reasons. The first is that the Demeter certification puts at the top of its specifications3 the reference to Steiner. It’s clear: what is done without Steiner is not biodynamic. The second is that, very practically, the gestures of biodynamics only make sense by reference to Steiner. Why a cow’s horn rather than a horse’s hoof? Only Steiner knows the answer. Biodynamics is a spirituality, not an agronomy. One cannot be interested in biodynamics without questioning Steiner and anthroposophy, nor practice it without assuming them.

How does he know what he knows? This is the first question that we will ask about any adviser, any expert. So how did Steiner discover the methods he advocates? In any case, not by practice or by experimentation. Steiner never held a spade or dug up a carrot in his life. He took an interest in agriculture for the first and last time a few months before his death, when he finally gave in to the insistent demands of a group of anthroposophical aristocrats and landowners and held a series of lectures for them, including the stenographic notes will be published under the name of Course for farmers. Steiner shows in his advice to the reader that this is not a course in agriculture: “Nowhere is anything said that is not solely the result of anthroposophy, which is in the process of becoming edify. » The practices exposed are intuitions that are only inspired by his global vision of the world and must be validated in the field, for four or seven years depending on the case.4.

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The world of lemurs

Because, beyond agriculture, Steiner has an original and strangely precise knowledge of the world. Just to give an idea: the first civilization, on an Earth not yet solidified, is called Lemuria, in which humans had the form of a thinking vapor able to communicate by telepathy and to move the charges by their mental force5. Then came Atlantis, which was submerged by nature as punishment for the proud and materialistic madness of the Atlanteans, corrupted by the fallen archangel Ahriman. There follow seven periods of 2,160 years each, the fifth of which began in 1413 and will end in the year 3573.6. And there are hundreds of pages, but where does he get all that? He says it in his autobiography: “It was still in thought that I arrived at these ideas; later I rose to imaginative contemplation. Only then could I understand7. We have understood that his knowledge of the world of lemurs is the fruit of his imaginative contemplation.

He speaks elsewhere of his “inner mystical experience8 ». But this is not its only source. His first encounter with the dead dates back before the age of 79. Later: “The years 1901 to 1907-2008 were those in which my soul suffered the impressions coming from the facts and entities of the spiritual world. From the experience of the spirit world in general came the particular knowledge10. I rephrase: his “special knowledge” comes from encounters with what we call spirits. There is one point on which occultists and scientists can easily agree: a large part of the world is invisible to us. It is therefore absolutely legitimate for everyone to imagine it according to their knowledge, their intuitions and their sensitivity. But, even if it were more picturesque and more detailed, why would Steiner’s vision be more “real” than mine or yours?

To follow: episode 2. To put an end to biodynamics – The Demeter specifications

1 – “Nature is not so cruel to punish man for this little lack of consideration. […] If it happens [qu’on ait semé au mauvais moment], it will simply wait in the ground until the next full moon. » Rudolf Steiner, Course for farmers, p. 160.

2 – Eugene Ionesco, Amédée or how to get rid of it.

3 – “The movement draws its inspiration and strength from the heart of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. This includes the Course for farmers and its holistic understanding of healthy personal and societal development, transmitted through education, consultation and information. » Demeter specifications, April 2020 edition, p. 9.

4 – “We will elaborate here [au Goethaneum] the principles according to which the following tests should be conducted in order to really experience what has been given during the course in the form of practical indications. Rudolf Steiner. Course for Farmers, 1924. p. 21.

5 – Does that remind you of anything? Master Yoda, in Star Warswhich, from anthroposophy largely inspired was.

6 – Gary Lachman Rudolf Steiner, a biography p. 150

7 – “Darwinism appeared to me as a way of thinking leading to that of Goethe, but nevertheless set back from it. It was still by thought that I had arrived at these ideas; later I rose to imaginative contemplation. Only then could I understand that in very remote times spiritual reality was animated by an essence very different from that of the most elementary organisms. (Rudolf Steiner, Autobiography, flight. 2, 1925. p. 172).

8 – “In my presentation of the history of humanity, in the articles of Akasha Chronicle, drawn from the inner mystical experience, you will find everything that has always been taught in what are called the secret schools, relative to the origin of the human being and his division into different races. » Rudolf Steiner, Fundamental Concepts of Theosophy, 1905., p. 130.

9 – Gary Lachman Rudolf Steiner, a biography, 2009, p. 150.

10 – Rudolf Steiner Autobiography, flight. 2, p. 202.

To put an end to biodynamics – The cumbersome Rudolf Steiner