- by Carol Lewis
“You Self-Lead Yourself!” This conference, sponsored by the Anthroposophical Society in Norway, took place in Iceland from June 30 – July 14, 2010. Its structure, already heralded long in advance of the event, meticulously planned and organized by Sigrun Gunnarsdottir and her helpers, can all be known and perused on the conference website, Click here , or by googling “Wanderseminar 2010”. This gathering featured presentations by many Scandinavian leaders in the Anthroposophical Society, who had prepared to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of Steiner’s lecture cycle, “The Mission of the Folk Souls,” delivered in Oslo in 1910. In brackets before and after these presentations was the Great Icelandic Road Trip, where participants were led through a touring and hiking experience through the rugged and spectacular landscape of the south Icelandic coast. Pictures taken by participants can be viewed on the photo website, www.iceland2010.webs.com . The lectures themselves on the “Folk Soul” cycle—it would have been beneficial to have studied this cycle as thoroughly as had the presenters—led to a clarion call for practice of Steiner’s “ethical individualism”: what can we as individuals, apart from our ethnic and folk soul constellation, do to make a positive difference in our work together?
More deeply and vividly, what were some of the impressions and images that made the conference so remarkable?
1). The People. Ontario members Christine Tansley, Reinhard and Ineke Rosch and I were met at the Reykjavik Flybus station by a very quiet and gaunt man with dark circles under his eyes wearing jeans, a leather jacket and a black toque pulled down far into his face. His name was Gudjon, which took me days to learn to pronounce correctly, and while he was indeed the Waldorf school bus driver, as we had surmised, he was also the founder of the school, the building and grounds manager and a former teacher there, a biodynamic farmer, a workshop presenter, and a major force in the Icelandic Anthroposophical Society. Over the course of the next two weeks, he and his wife Stina drove our tour bus through rivers and up high mountains, helped the hikers up sheer cliffs and down muddy valleys, prepared and served succulent meals of wild-caught salmon and tender Icelandic lamb, and narrated the story of Iceland. Gudjon also gave an impassioned challenge to take seriously the elemental beings still sensed by the Icelanders, the reality of the spiritual being of the Norse gods and their effect on the human constitution, and the experience of the magnificent, rich and at the same time hostile landscape of fire and ice, formed by titanic cosmic forces. The love and pride felt by Gudjon and the other Icelanders for their volcanic and glacier-bedecked island is moving and palpable.
2) The Pioneer Experience. The Laekjarbotnar Waldorf School is twenty years old and consists of four recycled ski chalets on a barren and hilly expanse of countryside, a ten-minute drive beyond Reykjavik. There are seventy children in the school from kindergarten to age sixteen, combined classes, a playground with some ropes and beams and an abandoned tugboat, a cat and a few chickens, and much joy. Stina and Solveig, the Grade Three/Four teacher, have supplemented their income with tour guiding. Solveig goes home at night to help her husband with his woodworking business. Stina and two of her four children work at the school, driving the buses, preparing hot meals, and teaching subject lessons. Due to anomalies of Icelandic law, the school could be shut down at any time. The classrooms are small and simple, but the outdoors is featured, which means long hikes in the hills throughout the year, even in the cold and windy winter when there are only three hours of daylight. That these families could devote themselves not just to the running of this school, but also to an international conference with several dozen people, fed and billeted on mattresses on the classroom floors, was stunning. One of my favourite images is that of Gudjon and Stina’s blonde and pigtailed 23-year-old middle daughter, taking a break from driving the conference pickup truck through raging Icelandic rivers, sitting in the cab reading intently what could have been an Icelandic translation of “Harry Potter”, while the group photographed the ravages inflicted on what was once the lagoon beneath the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
3) The Land. Black hills of eroded lava, covered with bright green moss and purple Arctic thyme, and blue lupins, with the occasional ochre or pale violet rhyolite rock formation, hot rivers and steaming springs and geysers, massive glaciers dusted with volcanic ash, turning pink in the low sun rays, afforded vistas worthy of “The Lord of the Rings.” There are 300,000 people in an island the size of England, where a few fat sheep and colourful Icelandic ponies comprise most of the animal life, where vegetables grow mainly in greenhouses, and apples were long a special Christmas treat. In 1930, at a time when Iceland was the poorest country in Western Europe, Sesselju Sigmundsdottir founded a home for needy children, handicapped or simply disadvantaged, under the inspiration of Rudolf Steiner. Photographs show her wheeling the children in strollers or working with them in the fields in the rocky landscape. Today Solheimer is a lively and attractively built-up village of 100 adults and numerous buildings, including “Sesseljuhaus”, where the conference lectures and workshops took place, guesthouses where we stayed, and a café which is a showcase for the local organic bakery. Our tour took place in the pouring rain; rains and howling winds were frequent and did not deter us from our hiking expeditions; sunny moments were greeted with delight, as the July temperatures struggled to reach 13 degrees, the sky soon covered again with grey roiling clouds. And nobody minded. Just when it felt like the weather couldn’t get any worse, we were led to divinely warm open-air mineral springs, the healing waters that one Englishwoman leaning her head on a neighbouring rock told me she had come to Iceland five times to experience.
4) The Afterglow. What does this conference mean for us, in the wake of these extraordinary experiences? One of the most memorable of many conversations took place in the last morning. Those few of us who had not yet been driven to the airport were sitting around the school picnic table in the playground in the thin Icelandic sun. We spoke of the valley-of-three-glaciers hike the day before; I alluded to the sudden descent from the barren hills into a little glade of small birch trees, the sun filtering through the green leaves, thick with purple and yellow wildflowers, a rushing glacial brook just behind me. I said it felt like being back in Eden. Jonathan from Australia noted, “At that same place, I thought I experienced an elemental being, but when I turned around, it was only Carol!” Dawn from Switzerland then added, “When you felt that you were in Eden, Carol, perhaps that was in fact what experiencing an elemental being really is!” We spoke further of the Anthroposophical Society and the importance of encouraging non-members to join it, to stand for anthroposophy in the world, to understand that without the support of the Society, conferences like this one couldn’t happen. Dawn concluded, “We who are sitting around this picnic table—we are the Anthroposophical Society; it is up to us to make anthroposophy alive and to offer a potluck at our house, to have a conversation, to do anything we can to reach out to anyone interested in the work of Rudolf Steiner.”
Now that I have had an experience of the North—in a country settled by Norsemen who valued their fierce independence, with “the hammer of Thor” pumping ego forces into their blood, more than their comfort—and a vivid experience of what a folk soul can be, it is up to me to bring my individuality to the world—in the words of Oscar Hansen, the venerable leader of the Anthroposophical Society in Denmark, the “Folk Soul” cycle tells us that “nobody else can do what I can do if I understand the gifts I get from being a member of this or that country; I can look at the world as material for my developing myself; the individual may thus get help to find his individual contribution to the progress of mankind; what we make out of our souls has a meaning for the whole world.”