On December 31st, I participated in the night watch of the Goetheanum. It was the 100-year anniversary of the burning of the first Goetheanum. The first Goetheanum was a jewel from the spiritual world for human beings to experience what human culture could be when we decide to endeavor into our full humanity.
It was tragically burned down, by arson, on the night of New Year’s Eve. It was a fire initiation for Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophical Society, who had spent 10 years working on the building. Much more information can be found on the events elsewhere, but I would like to relay my experience of the night watch here.
The Goetheanum decided to hold a night watch in which free events were scheduled throughout the night and into the morning. I signed on to volunteer for the night watch, for which I received free entry to the Christmas Conference that occurred in the days before. My post was to help the farmers and gardeners of the Goetheanum garden park tend to various fire pits which were arranged around the Goetheanum. I was given this job because I am by profession a farmer, and my lack of German language makes me an unideal candidate to interact with the mostly German-speaking public.
The night began a bit spooky because of the ever-present bang! and pop! of celebratory fireworks in the surrounding area putting me on edge. It felt like a war zone, but as the crowd filled in the space, the fireworks became background noise.
Next, the fires flushed the atmosphere around the building in smoke, which was in a way appropriate. The elements were present. An older coworker remarked that when she first saw the smoke, her heart sank as at first glance it looked like the red smoke, which reportedly was seen from the melting of the glass windows of the first Goetheanum. «Not the red smoke!»
Given the circumstances, I expected a solemn event, with imaginations flooding us of a community 100 years ago in absolute tragedy as they spent the night watching the smoke unfurl from the building, then fire emerge from the cupola, the columns standing amongst the fallen cupola until the last column, Jupiter, fell. But the night was really anything but solemn. It was festive and joyous! How happy we were to be together, united in Anthroposophy, enjoying lectures, eurythmy, music, exhibits, food, and conversation. Standing around the fire, making new friends, and watching the stars on that clear warm winter night.
Although the night was a commemoration of the first Goetheanum, it also became a celebration of the second Goetheanum. It was lit up on all sides, quite possibly for the first time ever. And I tell you, it was so beautiful. My appreciation for this building deepened tremendously. How grateful we all felt to have this building! The reverence for those founding Anthroposophists who after such devastation, went back to work rebuilding. Their deed, the inner work it must have entailed, created a force that was truly palpable that night.
A last note on the night: the sheer amount of people. It warmed our hearts and teared up many an eye to see the main hall full of people for the midnight eurythmy performance. Standing room only, and people turned away at the door. Especially after the pandemic, and almost total loss of community gathering spaces, the people filling the hall was a light that shined into infinite depths.
I was the last one to tend the fires, as the morning sun rose over the hill. I went through the entire night without sleep and with coffee as fuel – only the interest in the night watch to feed my fire. I came back the next night, to look again at the Goetheanum. The fire pit was still there. I stared into the ashes and coals of the pit and imagined the immensity of ash that must have been produced by the burning of the first Goetheanum.
I reached into the ash and grabbed a handful of this ceremonial fire. I spread them where Rudolf Steiner’s ashes, and many other early Anthroposophists, were buried. As I finished the circle of ashes around the burial site, I felt a strong etheric pulsation, and I kneeled down to the earth. Gratitude to be a ceremonial tender of this sacred space. The forces Rudolf Steiner brought are here, working, breathing, dreaming, and feeling.
Then I went back to the Goetheanum, to the fire pit, and looked back into the ashes. As I reached my hand into the ash, I reached into the ashes of the first Goetheanum. Substance transformed on the most relevant level of existence. I took two handfuls and walked spreading them in a circle around the Goetheanum.
A sheath. A beginning.
To be in this world with such love. To serve a sacrifice so total.
I will stand in this light. I will think into these depths.
I love the purification of this fire.
Cover image Xue Li