On Thursday Maria and I had the opportunity to visit Margaret Colquhoun at Pishwanton Woods, the site of the Life Science Trust’s Goethian Science centre of which Margaret is the Chief Executive. The Pishwanton Project was set up in 1992 in order to help people rediscover a healing, physical and spiritual connection to the natural world, and this is achieved by teaching J.W. v Goethe’s “delicate empiricism” which was further developed a century later by Rudolph Steiner.
I had been taught by Margaret at Schumacher College, and it was great to be able to finally visit Pishwanton Woods where the centre is based, near the village of Gifford in East Lothian, Scotland. In the 1980s Margaret had worked with Henri Bortoft and also another colleague to create an alternative science masters degree for a college in London. However, the founder of this project had retired, and so when they discovered that Schumacher College in Devon was looking for such an MSc, the course was launched, albeit with slightly less emphasis on Goethian science.
Margaret picked us up from Gifford, and we parked in the tiny car park at the entrance of the woods. Every single aspect of the centre has been designed using Goethian scientific principles, including all paths that take you around the landscape. The car park is deliberately some distance from the workshop, to allow you to have a moment of calmness before arriving.
The welcoming path
I could not really do justice in the space of a blog to write about Margaret’s teachings. Margaret herself has not written too much herself, since she feels that so much of what she teaches is experiential, rather than the passing on of factual information. For me though it was great to be able to speak to Margaret about my previous work introducing business students to Goethe’s work on colour, and how this could be extended to introduce students to Goethe’s work with plants and organic life.
In the centre of the woods is a large herb garden, created to grow plants for healing. This, like all the developments at the centre, developed slowly, and the herb garden has three major parts, a head, a heart and a pelvic area. So for example, all herbs that are grown as remedies for the head are grown in the head area of the garden, that part which has been determined as optimal for their growth.
Brian Goodwin’s memorial horse chestnut tree, looking across to the herb garden in the distance
It was interesting to see how development of the Goethian science teaching building is developing. This should be completed in the coming months, and is a wonderful space full of light and with a high ceiling. The building is in the shape of the top part of a skull. This was not planned, but discovered well after the shape of the building had been created.
Maria outside the Goethian Science teaching building
Malcolm working on the classroom
It is fascinating to learn how each building or any aspect of the centre is developed. All ego has to be removed. There is no planning in the traditional business sense of the word. The process is participatory, and at least three days is required for each development. Often different groups will go through the process independently to determine the location and design of each installation, building, path or wall, and these groups every time will arrive at the same consensus. Consensus is everything in this process, for it is a spiritual process where consensus signals spiritual truth. In one instance, one participant only wanted to have a classical design for a building, and another only modern design. This tension was eventually resolved via the Goethian process, and the consensus was not a compromise but the arrival of the idea from the greater cosmos.
Every building has an amazing sense of belonging together, both with each other building and also the landscape in which they are situated. They are truly organic buildings, being at one with the natural world, in service to nature, harmonious in their design and implementation. Margaret particularly liked the design of the barn, with two roundhouses at each end, and the animals’ space in the centre. Bobby the horse also has his own stable which was the centre’s first building, and their teaching space for many a year until the workshop had been funded, designed and built.
All paths wind around each building before arriving at the entrance, in order to give visitors a chance to experience the building from all sides. The paths also curve and are consciously designed to bring your attention to key vistas in the landscape, such as the distant hills behind the barn.
In all it was a wonderful day with Margaret, helping her to feed the animals and being inspired by her project, achievements and ideas for our own future work back in Brazil. It goes without saying that I would love to be able to enrol for the one year course “Beholding the Heart of Nature” but we can not ever do everything in a single life, and I did learn a huge amount even while with Margaret for just one week at Schumacher College.
Margaret’s article in Caduceus magazine “Healing the land – healing ourselves”
New Eyes for Plants: Workbook for Plant Observation and Drawing Margaret Colquhoun and Axel Ewald