By William Jens Jensen
For the better part of a century, Marjorie Spock has had a beneficial influence on the development of anthroposophy in North America. She has been a eurythmist, a Waldorf teacher, and an active practitioner and advocate of biodynamics and community renewal. She has written several books and articles, including In Celebration of the Human Heart; Fairy Worlds and Workers; Teaching As a Lively Art; and Eurythmy. She has also translated several books, including Nutrition and The Nature of Substance by Rudolf Hauschka.
Marjorie Spock was born in New Haven, Connecticut, early in the twentieth century. At the age of eighteen, filled with excitement and plans to study dance and with no notion of anthroposophy or the arts associated with it, she traveled to Dornach, Switzerland. Only a year earlier, in 1921, while a counselor at a girls’ camp, the painting instructor there had spoken of a wonderful dance program in “Door Knock” (as she heard the name). She understood these words to mean “Knock and it shall be opened unto you,” and knew instantly that she needed to go there.
Except for brief interruptions, she spent much of her youth in Dornach. No doubt, she experienced many deep and lasting impressions during that time, and even first impressions can stir a desire for self-development. Marjorie Spock says that when she first saw the first Goetheanum she “thought it was the ugliest thing” she’d ever seen. Later, she heard that Rudolf Steiner had said that, for those who are still unable to perceive their own inner nature, “one’s whole stature as a human soul became clear to oneself when seeing the Goetheanum for the first time.”
Later, she became seriously ill and was confined to Dr. Ita Wegman’s clinic. Around Christmastime, she was released for a brief time, and on that New Year’s Eve, she witnessed the complete destruction of the Goetheanum by fire. She said,
“I think that something in me burned up that needed to be burned up as I watched it. And, for the first time, I became truly interested in anthroposophy. Up until that time, I had loved eurythmy; now the whole seriousness of what was at stake there impressed itself on me, which I had not felt before. So I began to study anthroposophy in great earnest.”
The following year, at nineteen, she was able to attend the Christmas Conference, the series of meetings called to reoganize and renew the General Anthroposophical Society. Although young and inexperienced in such matters, she nevertheless sensed the significance of that event.
Around Christmas 1924, she returned to the U.S. and decided to support herself by working in an anthroposophic bookstore in New Haven. That work proved to be a tremendously valuable experience— “After all,” she said, “I had a whole library of anthroposophy at my fingertips, and I read and studied with great seriousness during those years.”
After working in the bookshop for three years, she returned to Europe and studied for three years at the eurythmy school in Stuttgart. Later, she went to Dornach, where she performed eurythmy on the Goetheanum stage. During that time, she became familiar with Marie Steiner, who was acively involved in most of the eurythmy rehearsals. “Frau Dr. Steiner was simply magnificent,” she recalls, “but rather unapproachable.”
When asked about her experience of Rudolf Steiner during that time, what she expressed was singular:
I looked at his head, and I looked at his hands as I sat in his lectures, and I had the feeling that his head was sort of a condensation of all he was speaking. And the words that he was saying were tremendously significant, although I can’t say that I remember more than a sentence of all the things that he said in those years. But there was one point where I remember his gesture and his words exactly, and that was when he expressed “the wake-up call to become a person of initiative.”
Looking back, I had the sense that he meant something completely different from what happened. People in the society tried to become little Rudolf Steiners, and I felt that we needed to pull together and get an entirely new kind of feeling about community—in a truly Christian sense, really helpful to one another, spiritually and in every possible way—rather than indulging in all the criticism.
It’s incredible that people should not appreciate each other, because we are, each one, developing as individuals, each one developing a completely unique ability of some kind. But instead of looking upon this as an absolute treasure, we cut the ground out from under the feet of people. Largely this is what has happened.
Rudolf Steiner said that, if any group of people gets together with an ideal purpose, an archangel is assigned to that group to guide it. But I don’t think that can happen unless we have the right attitude toward one another.
When asked for her impression of Rudolf Steiner’s appearance, Marjorie Spock said that “he appeared very much like Abraham Lincoln.”
He looked as though he bore up most manly under the most terrible burden … but, of course, he had many warm personal relationships. My father came over to see him when I was in Dornach, and I was able to introduce him to Rudolf Steiner. When we departed this wonderful meeting, my father said first of all, “I think he liked me. I was surprised at the way he looked—he looked just like anybody else!” I took that to be a complement to Rudolf Steiner to say that he looked like anybody else.
When she again moved back to the U.S., Marjorie Spock taught for five years at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City. Later, she spent a year teaching in a school at the Hales community near the border of Maine and Canada. The community was involved in operating a dairy and vegetable farm on 12,000 acres of forest and lakes. They also had a “sensitive crystalization” laboratory, which was able to test the nutritional vitality of food.
She returned to New York, this time to Columbia University for a major in education. Having no college degree, the school administration gave her “nine hours of examinations in all subjects” to help determine where to place her.
Due to my studies of Anthroposophy and all the interesting things that Rudolf Steiner was always reporting, I was able to pass them all. The dean of admissions said to me that he didn’t “know of a single school in America that can match that”— especially considering that I had an IQ that was only just respectible.
As a result of those tests, the college awarded her credit for three years of college and allowed her into the post-graduate program. After two years, she received a master’s degree.
For the next five years, she taught at “two of the big progressive schools” in New York—the Ethical Culture School and the Dalton school (or “children’s university”). From there, she went on to teach eurythmy for eight years at the Garden City Waldorf School. It was while living in Garden City that she began her lifelong passion for biodynamic agriculture, which led her and a friend to buy 140 acres of land in Upstate New York.
Living on their new farm, Marjorie Spock and her friend became interested in producing and selling organic vegetables, but their land was always being sprayed with pesticides—something that had also happened in Garden City. They decided that it “was absolutely essential to challenge this practice” by getting an injunction against spraying private lands. Although the suit, which reached the U.S. Supreme Court, was unsuccessful, it raised awareness of the issue and enfluenced the views expressed by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring. Eventurally, the courts decided that private lands could not be sprayed without the owners’ consent.
After Rudolf Steiner’s death in 1925, various difficulties and divisions arose in the Anthroposophical Society, which led Marjorie Spock to write two articles on community building, later published under the general title of “Group Moral Artistry.” They have been widely circulated ever since— especially among young people according to the author. One of the articles, “The Art of Goethean Conversation,” was included in the recent edition of Goethe’s Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily (see page 74).
Marjorie Spock’s most popular book these days is Fairy Worlds and Workers. It is a sensitive, imaginative exploration of nature’s inner beings—its Little People, the elementals, the Middle Kingdom. She says that her feeling for the natural world of fairies arose not clairvoyantly but from her connection with the earth as a farmer and gardener. That feeling is an ability to read certain signs of nature and to hear what it is asking for.
Today, Marjorie Spock remains active—indeed, an activist. She participates in an anthroposophic study group, she writes, and she enjoys nature, people, and the world around her. Her spirit shines brightly through her words, her sense of humor, and in her concern for our future as human beings and anthroposophists.