Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 4

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?)

Solid Materials

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.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Books, Deep Thoughts, Food, Homemaking

12 responses to “Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 4

  1. Interesting, interesting. A few years ago, I became obsessed with making homemade preserves. I made hundreds of jars of jam, most of which were sold at a fundraiser for a no-kill animal shelter.

    It was very important to me that this jam be meaningful. I was very careful about my state of mind when I made it, and the circumstances qand sound in my home while I was making it. Many people asked what the secret ingredient was, and I always answered truthfully: “Mozart.”

  2. David: Funny you should mention that…I think one’s emotional and spiritual state during cooking can strongly affect the final product, and I was thinking of that while I wrote this, but I just didn’t want to put that in this particular post as it seemed long enough already. (I’m trying not to editorialize too much in these posts, though this one had a bit more me than Schmidt-Brabant in it.) Possibly I’ll talk about this aspect during the next installment, as it relates to etheric processes.

  3. Great topic — been following this series with interest. Not that I’m much of a “Hausfrau” in the same sense my German heritage dictates (ouch, strong word, but it does feel that way) — but I do greatly value my role as a mother and keeper of the household.
    FOOD – simple or fancy but prepared from scratch, eaten together as a family. Wholesome & healthy ingredients — why is that so rare today?
    TEXTILES – to clothe and keep us warm. Again, natural rather than synthetic is so much better. I happen to be a knitter & love wool, but am reminded of when I teach children about winter survival at the Nature Center where I work: learn from how animals use insulation in their fur and feathers: wear wool & down, and layer up. True, there are wonderful modern fibers out there for winter recreation, and I use them (Goretex, fleece), but still, silk and wool are still excellent choices!
    SOLIDS Wood, glass, stone. Wonderful materials, and we keep on re-discovering them. I remember in college going to a lecture about how wood was structurally the best material for building — during a fire wood beams(solid, not particleboard) held up to fires better than steel — Wood burns but holds its structure and does not collapse as early as steel beams, which just melt once a certain temperature is reached. I was young and impressed (disclaimer: I was studying forestry and natural resources)…

    Plastics break, many household items cannot be repaired but end up in the landfill.. how sad. I’m not one to suggest we return to the 18th century by a long shot, but I do believe we could be wiser about the resources we use.
    And that wisdom starts with the homemaker who teaches his/her children to value them.

  4. Mon

    I find his connections of textiles to members VERY arbitrary and another person could find a very different fit. But that doesn’t negate the premise.

    As with David, I am conscious of my state of mind during cooking. Which is why books such as Llike Water for Chocolate connect with me.

    I find that using natural materials in the home to be very important. I feel very disconnected in a sterile (fake material) enviroment.

  5. Alida

    There is a scene in the movie “What The Bleep Do We Know” where it shows how water molecule change depending on a persons thoughts while holding or staring at the water bottle. I find it fascinating. My food always tastes so much better when I am focused and enjoy making it…unlike dinner last night that was thrown together in the mist of some family chaos. Yuck! It a dish I cook all the time and used the same recipe but it just was not tasty at all.

    So I guess while shopping at IKEA, I need to steer clear of the plastic furniture?:) I can’t get rid of my billies. I love them, particle board and veneer and all.

  6. This is so interesting to me because it just reinforces what I’ve intuitively felt to be true. I’m not always able to articulate why I feel the way I do about clothing, food, and the materials I surround myself with, but I’ve naturally gravitated to following many of the principles you’ve outlined here.

  7. Every item on that list has always been important to me. I have HORRIBLE allergies and always must be so careful about our food, our cleaning supplies, what our furniture is made of, what materials are in *everything*…I feel though that it makes such a significant difference in feeling connected to the home and the process of food and living since I am so (and must be so) aware of it all. And I agree about the energy put out as well…

    I like to play certain music to calm us all at the end of the day as we prepare dinner, light the candles, clean the house and put things from the day away. It puts us in a positive frame of mind, and cleans any chaotic energy from the day out so we are ready to be together as a family in a more quiet way in the evenings. Rambling, but just all ties in with our life. 🙂

  8. Naturelady: Food–it’s rare because people think they don’t have the time to cook “real” food, and their taste buds have been convinced that the fake stuff tastes better. Textiles–When my kids were babies, all they wore was wool and cotton. Then I had to get them rain and snow clothes, and resigned myself to the manmade stuff, since it’s not against their skin. I think wool is truly miraculous! Solids: I depend on plastics for some things, like my glasses or my son’s nebulizer, without which we would be in a lot of trouble. I think it’s good to be grateful for modern things, in moderation.

    Mon: In the book there was really no explanation given for why those textiles went with those members. I tried to find ideas of my own that might fit. I don’t think it’s that important, in any case.

    Alida: Masaru Emoto has done interesting research into the effects of thoughts and words on water crystals. I have a love/hate relationship with IKEA: I think their egalitarian vision of “good design for all” is wonderful, but I don’t like that a lot of their stuff is so cheaply made. But I do love their inexpensive sheepskins!

    Dawn: I feel that way about a lot of anthroposophy, that it’s intuitively true. That’s really what my first experience was like, that Rudolf Steiner College was just a place I needed to be in, even though I knew nothing about it.

    Denise: Feeling the connection to the things around us is very empowering and comforting, I think, and is missing from much of modern life. We’ve been having a lot of end-of-evening chaos around here, so I think I’ll take your advice and fire up the iPod 🙂

  9. Eve

    David’s comment about his jam reminded me of something I read that has stuck with me. The writer said that food cooked with love sent a love message to the ones who ate it. I thought this was interesting and since then try to be mindful about my cooking that way.

    So I’d suggest that not only was the Mozart tasty, but perhaps David’s love or compassion, too.

    Which brings me to synthetic and blended fabrics… I wonder what goes into them, versus, say, the wool of a fine rug? This reminds me of the way animals are raised commercially for slaughter, or otherwise used (chickens, beef cattle etc.), and the differences between those raised at home by hand.

  10. Eve: Lots to say, more than I can achieve in this particular moment… I imagine David’s jam was yummy because of himself, too. With natural fibers, I can at least form a mental picture of how that textile came into being. With polyester, I have no idea, and there is little “life” in that process, I imagine. When I eat commercial animal products, I try to be even more grateful to those animals, because you could imagine that they on some level have agreed to participate in an otherwise horrible life in order to give us food. It’s a little out there, but that’s how it feels to me.

  11. The book “Foodwise” by Wendy Cook goes into a lot of detail of the qualities of food including how we cook it- microwave vs. electric stove vs. wood…
    I think when we choose natural fibers there is a beautiful, living quality about them. I found how each textile is reflective of the four bodies. I used to wear a lot of linen before I farmed full-time and was often sick, maybe it was a combination of working with young children (who share the etheric body) and not really protecting my etheric body by wearing linen.
    I really appreciate the time you are taking to go through this book, I ordered a copy from the Steiner Library because mine is on loan to a friend in Ohio.

  12. Lisa Anne: That is a good book, though I remember being a bit disappointed that it didn’t have recipes…but it’s not that kind of food book! I especially like the part about the evolution of the types of sugar consumed through history and how it relates to the evolution of the human being.

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