Overview on etheric research and the plant kingdom

From Anthroposophy

An holistic view is required from us here to appreciate the various angles to this research:

  • goethean science: careful observation of plants, their growth and metamorphosis (the formative forces in action)
  • theoretical foundation: projective geometry and path curves as the mathematics of counterspace (the etheric)
  • experimental work eg linking measures of bud formation to theory and calculations
  • experimental methods for systematic analysis of planetary influences and zodiacal influences
  • practical experience with elementals from supersensible observation
  • and then there is the application domain of using all the above knowledge, eg in biodynamic agriculture with research also done on transmutation of elements in plant growth, and deducing etheric properties from their effect on plant growth with potentization

An overview


Below we will provide an overview, based on Goethe's foundation and Rudolf Steiner's extensive sharing of knowledge on a number of areas. Besides providing a spiritual scientific knowledge framework, Steiner gave many hints for further work, specifically towards projective geometry, potentization, studying zodiacal influences, etc. Note his hints regarding researching the etheric are not limited to this domain with the plant kingdom, see eg the Strader apparatus or the Schiller file.

The point of this section is to provide some guidance for your own research by touring the work of some 10-15 pioneers in this research field.

  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe observed plant grown carefully and saw that the plant goes through a process of metamorphosis. His 'Metamorphosis of Plants' dates from 1790. From this he came up with the idea of the 'archetypal plant' underlying the whole complexity one can see in nature. This also triggers the question what laws drive this process and the forms it generates.
  • Someone who was inspired by Goethe's work and followed in his footsteps of observing the plant word was Dick van Romude (see his book 'About formative forces in the plant world, 1988). Also see 'New eyes for plants: workbook for observing and drawing plants' by Margaret Colquhoun (1996).
  • Combining this with a botanical method that takes into consideration the spiritual aspects of the plant, and the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, Gerbert Grohmann developed a framework for understanding the plant kingdom in 'Metamorphiss in the plant kingdom' (two volumes, 1935-37) and 'The Plant' (two volumes, 1944-51).
  • Frits Julius and later Ernst Kranich studied trees and investigated how the seven categories of trees link to planets, and how there growth and formes relate to the planetary influences. From that work also other plant families can be linked to the different planetary influences. See for example Julius' books 'Trees and planets' and 'Evolution and metamorphosis' (1948) and Kranich 'Plants and cosmos' (1997) and 'Trees and Planets (2007). Note some of these books are available in Dutch, German and French but not in English.
  • Another line of development was happening in the UK. The mathematician George Adams-Kaufmann has taken Rudolf Steiners hints about counterspace and projective geometry and developed his writings in the period 1931-33, especially looking into path curves. See for example his works 'Physical and ethereal spaces', Space and the light of creation', and 'the lemniscatory rules surface in space and counterspace'. He worked with Olive Whicher, see her book 'Projective Geometry'. Together, starting from a mathemathical theoretical foundation of counterspace based on projective geometry to study the foundational laws they could see in the plant world, they wrote 'The Living Plant and the Science of Physical and Ethereal Space' (1949) and the important work 'The plant between sun and earth' (1952). Whicher later also wrote 'Sunspace' and 'The heart of the matter' which are worthwhile reading.
  • Also coming from this background of researching and teaching projective geometry, Lawrence Edwards, after his books 'The field of form' (1982) and Projective geometry (1985), wrote a groundbreaking work 'The vortex of life' (1993). This book summarized his resarch on bud shapes in nature, as the basis to explain the forms of plants but also organs such as the heart.
  • His work was followed up by Graham Calderwood and John Blackwood. See for example Blackwood's 'Geometry in nature' (2012) or the entry)-level educational 'mathematics in nature, space and time' (2006).
  • Much inspired by the work of George Adams and Lawrence Edwards, we have a unique contribution coming from Nick Thomas with his two books ' Science between space and counterspace' (1999) and 'Space and counterspace' (2008). In the latter he puts forth the result of his original thinking in an ambitious framework to provide explanation for many riddles related to our observation and experience with gravity, time, and light.
  • Linus Feiten and Renatus Derbidge developed a software program LambdaFit for matching path curves from the mathematical field of projective geometry to the shapes of plant buds and berries in digital photographs.
  • Note: some websites worth looking at too are e.g. nct.goetheanum.org, vortexoflife.org.uk, budworkshop.co.uk, sciencegroup.org.uk

The focus of the above was on the planetary influences and how these can be mapped to what we can see in nature forms (eg Kranich) and the growth dynamic (eg Edwards). Now we know, see Golden Chain, that

  • the spiritual energy streams in from higher realms, in other words: the influx comes from the mental world (devachan) represented by the zodiac, and
  • that the planets modulate these zodiacal influences
  • that the elementary kingdom and plant group souls also lie in the lower mental world

Regarding the moon cycle and its effect in biodynamic agriculture, as put forth by Maria Thun, research was done by ao Hartmut Spiess 'Chronobiologische Untersuchungen mit besonderer Beruecksichtigung lunare Rhythmen im biologisch-dynamischen Pflanzenbau'

Hence there is also another area of research into zodiacal influences.

  • Joachim Schultz pioneered this area together with Suo Vetter and Georg Unger. Also see Rudolf Hauschka in 'The nature of sustance'.
  • Recently this work was taken up again by Wolfgang Findeisen.

A last section hardly does not really fit into the scientific research part, but it does belong here because it gives confirmation of the elementals working in nature through witness reports from people. As Rudolf Steiner mentioned, miners and farmers sometimes had real experiences with gnomes. Gnomes, sylps, undines and salamanders are called elementals and real beings. We hear of them in many country myths and folk stories. People with supersensible capabilities, say natural clairvoyance, have a vision of these astral beings and their working in the etheric. It's interesting to survey the literature for a sampling of witness reports and experiences (surely non-exhaustive).

See Elementals > References and further reading

Related pages

References and further reading

  • Assessment of Shape Changes of Mistletoe Berries: A New Software Approach to Automatize the Parameterization of Path Curve Shaped Contours (2013)