In Part 3 we learned that we can look at the home as an organic unity, and as such we can perceive the same four members of the human being in the household as well. Let’s begin to look at these members in greater depth, with the realm of the physical from page 18.*
Three kinds of matter dominate in the household: food, textiles, and the solid materials such as wood, glass, and stone.
The modern relationship to food has become overly materialistic: we concern ourselves solely with the nutritional content without paying much attention to the growth processes or the affect of our cooking methods. If we believe that there are aspects of reality that are not normally sense perceptible, then why do we focus so much on the supposed constituent parts (vitamins, minerals, etc.) of our food and not the organisms and processes as a whole? A microwave certainly heats up our food, but what else might it be doing that our senses cannot tell us? Similarly, food grown with chemical fertilizers might seem the same as organic or biodynamic food, but are its life forces really the same? Might we be missing the forest for the trees — the organic unity of the food for isolated nutritional measurements?
Cooking was once an art — a humanization of matter, and truly an etheric/alchemical process. Food preparation is one place where the homemaker can easily bring in an artistic feeling into the home, simply by the food and cooking choices made.
Textiles have traditionally been formed from products of the plant and animal kingdoms, and can also be seen in relation to the four members. I will give you an imaginative picture of why each material is connected with its respective member:
cotton — physical (Cotton grows from a shrub, low to the ground, in hot, dry climates. It is close to the earth.)
linen — etheric (The flax plant must be retted, or soaked in water, before it can be spun into linen. Water is a symbol of the etheric realm.)
wool — astral (The animal kingdom symbolizes the astral or soul/consciousness realm.)
silk — ego (Perhaps we could connect the silkworm moth, whose sole food is the leaf of the tall mulberry tree, with the spirit flying high?)
Though many anthroposophists eschew certain materials in their homes, there is no real right or wrong. Whether the homemaker chooses wood and stone or glass and chrome, the choice reflects the individual. The important thing is to pursue balance.
An important question to ask in the choice of materials is what happens when we surround ourselves with “false” materials. Is there a qualitative difference between a solid wood shelf and one made of particle board and veneer? Can we create a “humanized” home if we are surrounded by plastic — from polyethylene storage containers to polyester textiles made from petroleum? Perhaps other aspects of the home are more important in our efforts to enliven and support our families, but I think it’s still useful to consider even the materials in our surroundings.
Next time we’ll look at the etheric realm and how it manifests in the home.
* The text puts the physical realm at the end of this section, so we will skip back to page 13 next time.
Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, Temple Lodge, 1996.