In the Spring 2010 edition of Glimpses, Elizabeth White wrote an article about the Guelph Research Group’s 100th meeting in which she highlighted the fact that we use Goethean Conversation as the practical basis for our studies. In this follow-up article, I will attempt to give a brief sketch of what Goethean Conversation actually is, from the “user’s point of view” so to speak. I will also touch on the spiritual background and practical aspects, and will conclude with reasons why one might want to practice Goethean Conversation. Since this is not a comprehensive article, I strongly urge you to read Marjorie Spock’s “The Art of Goethean Conversation” if the matter interests you. It is easily accessed on the internet.
So, what is Goethean Conversation? Let me illustrate it with an every-day experience. You can probably recall having taken part in some sort of group discussion – anything from a social gathering to a business meeting – when you suddenly became aware that an idea or an insight had been born out of the conversation. That is to say, no one actually thought of it first, it simply came of its own accord. You might even have observed how sometimes the same idea occurs to two or three people simultaneously. In an outward sense, Goethean Conversation is a bit like that. It is a forum intended for the birth of ideas and insights out of the activity of conversation. And it is further intended that these ideas and insights should come from the Archangels, specifically those Group Souls who guide mankind. While this may seem rather far-fetched to some, a glance at the spiritual background will, I think, make it a little more plausible.
Sergei Prokofieff’s booklet “The Esoteric Significance of Spiritual Work in Anthroposophical Groups” (Temple Lodge Publishing, London, UK) sheds considerable light on the spiritual aspect of Goethean Conversation, even though it does not mention it by name. Chapter 8, titled “The New Group Souls” is particularly helpful and so I will summarize some of the relevant parts. Prokofieff relates how Rudolf Steiner briefly mentioned the New Group Souls in a lecture on June 1st, 1908. He describes how they differ from the Old Group Souls in that they fully take into account the freedom of mankind. And whereas the Old Group Souls controlled the affairs of men to some extent, the New Group Souls are now waiting for man to approach them out of total freedom. What was originally signaled in the Parzival legend where he had to ask a question of the Grail King, is now becoming a necessity in the age of the Consciousness Soul under the leadership of Michael: Man must take the initiative in collaborating with the Gods. Prokofieff adds that in order to approach the New Group Souls, individuals must first gain a knowledge and understanding of them, i.e. the Wisdom imparted by Anthroposophy. Then, as a group they have to achieve a Harmony of Feelings.
The revelations given by Goethean Conversation – one might also describe them as “Whisperings of the Gods” – come about in a definite way: one simply discovers that the idea or insight is there, but cannot trace it back to any previously held thoughts or ideas. It is a process of perceiving rather than thinking. I have found Rudolf Steiner’s account of “sense-free” thinking (Occult Science, p 254 – 255 in the George & Mary Adams translation) to be a very close description of how one actually receives these revelations.
There is much more to true Goethean Conversation than just sitting around in a circle with a candle in the middle and talking occasionally. To begin with, a reasonable knowledge of Anthroposophy is essential. Individual preparation ahead of time that brings the topic to life is important, as is the willingness to then sacrifice all previous thinking for the sake of the Conversation. All individual feelings of sympathy or antipathy, pride, satisfaction, fear or embarrassment need to be silenced so that each member may feel “at one” with the group. And considerable inner discipline is required to keep all selfish impulses under control. This is not to say that you should forfeit or suppress your normal judgment of another member’s contribution or conduct. In fact I think it important you become absolutely clear just why you may hold a less-than-complimentary opinion. It’s just in the actions that result from those opinions that you have to exercise great care. Finally, each member must be granted the freedom to awaken to his or her own shortcomings in “Goethean Conduct”. This is hard to do, for if you really think it through you will come to the conclusion that you may never criticize another group member’s contributions or conduct.
As you can see, for each member of the group, all three soul faculties – thinking, feeling and willing – have to be fully engaged and selflessly put at the service of group. If all this can be done consistently over a number of sessions, the group will become ready for contact with the Gods.
I will conclude by offering some thoughts on why one might want to take up Goethean Conversation. But first of all I must make it absolutely clear that no one should ever do it for social reasons or because they somehow feel they ought to do it. Such a person would simply be a burden to the group. The commitment has to be a “free deed” in the sense of Rudolf Steiner’s The Philosophy of Freedom. Those who take it up in all sincerity and humility will soon recognize they have started to gain valuable insights into the spiritual world. They will also discover they can actually feel its presence. Questions that have been carried for a while may be answered “in private” so to speak, even if it has nothing to do with the topic of the conversation. In the longer term, and I must make it clear that this is only my own speculation, Goethean Conversation will become increasingly important as more and more of the Old Group Souls withdraw. Signs of this are everywhere: the recent financial melt-down, chaos in large corporations, institutions and government; the crises in health-care and education; and at least half a dozen failed or failing states throughout the world. It is part of man’s destiny to awaken to the fact that he has a free choice to work with the Gods, and Goethean Conversation is one of the ways he might do this, if he so chooses.