on 24 August 2012
Rudolf Steiner was the founder of Anthroposophy, a new religious movement with ideas broadly derived from Theosophy and Western esotericism. Steiner insisted that Anthroposophy was, in some sense at least, scientific. He called it a "spiritual science". Steiner was also something of a polymath and had opinions about pretty much everything, from architecture to organic farming. This particular book is about bees.
I have to agree with one of the reviewers below (Richard Loftus) who wrote concerning this book: "Some of it seems pretty stream-of-consciousness and out there; I felt like I was reading the remarks of a `wild man' who'd come down off the mountain to describe some of his trippy insights into bees."
That's right on the money. Steiner said some pretty weird things about the spiritual realms, but the "insights" of his "spiritual science" into worldly matters are even worse, indeed close to the bizarre. This slender little volume is a very good example. It's also available free on-line under the title "Nine Lectures on Bees". The most charitable comment I can come up with is that the author has a very pronounced animist-magic worldview.
Virtually everything about the biology of bees found in these lectures is erroneous. The more "spiritual" statements made me chuckle, or just gasp. Thus, Steiner claims that the hexagonal form of the cells in a bee-hive is connected to the hexagonal form of quartz crystals. Both radiate hexagonal energy, something also found in human bodies. Therefore, when bees produce honey in hexagonal cells, they do it specifically to feed humans. Also, when bees sting humans, it's because they mistakenly think the unfortunate human wants to steal their hexagonal energy! Apparently, queen bees are creatures of the Sun, since it takes them 21 days to develop, the exact time it takes for the Sun to revolve around its own axis. Worker-bees are also Sun-creatures, whereas the drones are Earth-creatures. Hence the animosity between worker-bees and drones. Otherwise, bees are chaste and suppress their sexual energy in favour of virginity (except among the queens), and therefore the entire hive is characterized by Love. The fact that bees gather nectar and pollen from the sexual organs of plants is somehow also connected to this Love.
Steiner also comments on wasps and ants. Apparently, formic acid from ant-hills is necessary for human telegraphy to work. Therefore, telegraphs in towns not surrounded by ant-hills don't work. Come again? Wasps are the ancestors of bees, and separated at some point during Atlantis.
I think. I didn't read the last three lectures too attentatively...
Steiner's admirers point out that he "predicted" the current crisis in modern beekeeping. True, he did predict a major collapse about 100 years into the future (i.e. around our time - the lectures were held in 1923). He even points out that the artificial nest-boxes might have something to do with it, and proposes that they should be replaced by natural bee-hives. But why was Steiner able to make this prediction? I think it's obvious that it's simply a lucky guess, based on the dogma that organic beekeeping is inherently better than the commercialized version. Those who claim this as a gigantic victory for "spiritual science" are clearly being desperate, and they are welcome to explain that stuff about formic acid or hexagonal energy... (They are also welcome to explain why the spirits didn't warn Steiner about the dangers of using asbestos in buildings, say in Goetheanum?)
That being said, "Bees" is a cult classic of a sort, so I should really give it five stars. However, since such a rating can be misunderstood, I'll go to the opposite extreme and only give it one.
The wild man of Dornach really didn't know much about bees and bee-keeping...