The title page of The Book of Lambspring (1599) – an alchemical text by Nicolas Barnaud, a member of Rudolf II’s Prague alchemical circle – bears an illustration of a venerable grey-bearded man holding a staff in his right hand, while his left hand rests upon a threefold furnace. The prefatory text below vows to unveil “the one substance/In which all the rest is hidden,” and encourages the reader, through “Coction, time, and patience,” to doggedly pursue the alchemical philosopher’s art, but then pulls back to warn of the derision that he will receive if he shows his hard-won knowledge to the outside world. “Therefore be modest and secret,” the author counsels. A series of polar emblems follow: two Fish swimming opposite to each other; a battle between a Dragon and a Knight; the meeting of a Stag and a Unicorn in a forest clearing; a Lion and Lioness walking together; a fight between a Wolf and a Dog. The text accompanying each emblem gives specific spiritual instruction, but again, there are warnings: “Hold your tongue about it”; “Let those who receive the gift enjoy it in silence.”[1]

In a cave-like side chamber at the opening reception for the research exhibition, “Art as Research and Scientific Inquiry as Creative Act,” researcher-artists Dan Wahl and Sim Amstutz’s gesture at the figures on their chalkboard diorama rendering of The Book of Lambspring. “The very first page of the book says to keep the knowledge secret,” they exclaim in puzzled disbelief, as they conduct an enthusiastic show-and-tell of their own process of discovery in transforming a 16th century alchemical text into a stop-motion film. In the main room, nine other researchers point and poke and spin tinkertoy geometrical models; hold up sculptures for close inspection; gesticulate before complex handmade charts, eagerly sharing their discoveries with the uninitiated audience. What would Nicolas Barnaud say to all this public proclamation of the Alchemical Art?!

Since its founding by Ralph Courtney and Charlotte Parker in 1926, members of the Threefold Farm community have both struggled mightily to penetrate and communicate the secrets of Nature and History, and have periodically drawn back into hermetic silence about those secrets. When, in 1933, the 33-year-old Ehrenfried Pfeiffer delivered his first American lecture at the first Anthroposophical Summer School Conference, he chose as his topic “Making Visible the Formative-Forces in Nature.” His teacher, mentor, and friend Rudolf Steiner had groomed him for this very task from an early age;[2] Steiner advised Pfeiffer on his course of college study, and, for the last five years of his life, closely collaborated with him on his research. In a large circus tent set up in the oak grove beyond the Threefold Farm garden and barns, Pfeiffer began his 1933 Summer Conference address by condemning contemporary natural science’s relentless endeavor to turn Natura into a corpse, and society’s reckless use of the subearthly forces of nature – electricity, magnetism, and gravity. In 1933 – the very year for which Rudolf Steiner had prophesied the return of Christ in the etheric realm, in service for which he had labored his entire life – only a handful of human beings over the entire earth possessed sufficiently fluid etheric bodies to achieve supersensible perception. Conscientious anthroposophists who had not achieved etheric clairvoyance consoled themselves with the knowledge that even the active attempt to understanding the reality of the spiritual world was a step on the path to gaining direct knowledge of it.

When, in 1920, the young engineer Ehrenfried Pfeiffer had asked Rudolf Steiner if there might be some way of using the constructive, synthetic forces as the foundation of a new altruistic technics that would have within itself the impulse of life rather than death, Steiner had first set his student to the task of demonstrating the etheric forces in visible form, by developing a substance that would react with the Bildekräfte (etheric formative-forces) in plants and human blood. Though the odds against success were incalculable, Pfeiffer – with the help of his coworker Erika Sabarth, who discovered copper chloride as the proper reagent – made the formative forces visible through the process of sensitive crystallization. He attributed this serendipitous success to their having followed Rudolf Steiner’s advice to make the laboratory a place where the elemental beings of nature would feel comfortable, through a spiritual atmosphere of prayer and meditation.

A meditative state was also required to interpret the crystallization images, which to the untrained eye of the flesh appeared as little more than crystalline Rorschach blots. Pfeiffer’s inner eye distinguished subtle differences in the crystallizations, but when he reported his results to Rudolf Steiner, Steiner interpreted them as indicating that the time was not yet right for humanity to make use of the etheric forces; that time would come about only when the Threefold Social Order had been established in at least a few regions on earth.[3] Until then, no experiments toward an etheric technology should be conducted. Already by 1933, when he addressed the very group of anthroposophists who had pioneered American efforts in founding social threefolding in New York City and then at Threefold Farm, Pfeiffer doubted that he would see the advent of the necessary conditions in his own lifetime, and felt sure that he would go to his grave keeping secret the little knowledge he had gained about the application of the etheric forces.

This was a decade before the most deadly subearthly force was discovered, with the splitting of the atom; in his bi-weekly lectures beginning in 1946 (Pfeiffer came to live and work at Threefold Farm in 1940, Pfeiffer repeatedly warned of the dangers of atomic radiation fallout, not so much for the immediate future, but for long-term Earth evolution.[4] Atomic fission was clearly the destructive counterimage of the Rosicrucian ideal of turning the Earth into a Sun, by conscious cultivation of the resurrection forces within the human heart. In one of his Threefold lectures, Pfeiffer revealed that occult brotherhoods were so determined to keep to themselves the secret of the fifth chamber of the heart that they had poisoned Rudolf Steiner.[5]

As Rosicrucian initiates who were working far into the future in their spiritual scientific researches, both Rudolf Steiner and Ehrenfried Pfeiffer constantly found themselves quite alone, without sufficient financial support or a circle of colleagues capable of taking up and extending their initiatives. In a single lecture in 1952, Pfeiffer touched on numerous researches indicated by Rudolf Steiner: working with absolute zero temperatures to realize “warmth energy”; the study of plant ashes vs. mineralized ashes, in relationship to a study of the etheric light emitted by the eye; “peptonization” – the creation of remedies by experimenting with day and night rhythms (Ehrenfried Pfeiffer said that he believed 100 Ph.D. theses could be written on this!); and superimposing ultraviolet upon infrared light. In this same talk Pfeiffer came back to the subject of the “Strader Machine” or “Keely Motor,” and once again, spoke of the secrecy surrounding more recent efforts to develop a technology based in the etheric.[6] Three and a half centuries after The Book of Lamspring author cautioned about making esoteric knowledge public, this principle still held, not because of the potential for public derision, but because of the absence of the necessary social crucible into which this knowledge might be received.

During all of the years that Dr. Pfeiffer was laboring to penetrate the physical world with new spiritual perceptions, Ralph Courtney indefatigably attempted to penetrate the even deeper secret of how to found and foster the Threefold Commonwealth. From his efforts in the 1930s to introduce an alternative currency in the local economy to his long-running newsletter calling for the decentralization of society, Ralph Courtney engaged fully with the deep mystery of American destiny. The perennial problem of harmonious human social interaction has been in as full play here at Threefold as anywhere else. When one looks upon the artifacts – the elegant mahogany- and glass – cased Fisher Scientific lab scales; fading photographs of plant experiments; didactic charts on soil physiology – from Dr. Pfeiffer’s laboratory, it is possible to feel wistful that this prodigious research project came to an end.

In the last emblem in The Book of Lambspring, a Father and Son sit on either side of “the Ancient Master”:  “They produce untold, precious fruit/They perish never more,/And laugh at death.” One of Dr. Pfeiffer’s former research spaces is now the Otto Specht School; another is a massage and bath therapy suite at the Fellowship Community. [Is this correct?] New rhythms of activity, founded upon new impulses of research, continue to manifest themselves. May this dynamic and pioneering research experience become one of them.

(published in the Catalog of the 2010 Threefold Educational Center’s Symposium on Anthroposophical Research); for more information see:

[1] Nicolas Barnaud’s text was originally published in Latin in 1599 in a collection of alchemical texts known as Quadriga aurifera. Arthur Edward Waite included the text as The Book of Lambspring in volume 1 of The Hermetic Museum, Restored and Enlarged, (James Elliot and Company: London, 1893).

[2] Following Rudolf Steiner’s instructions, Pfeiffer’s mother never mentioned Anthroposophy to her son. Throughout Pfeiffer’s youth, his mother kept secret the reason for her absences from home as she attended lecture cycles by Rudolf Steiner in various distant German cities, so that her son might find his way in total freedom toward his destiny as a spiritual scientific researcher of the first order. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, “Fragments of a Biography,” in Ehrenfried Pfeiffer: A Modern Quest for the Spirit, translated by Henry Goulden, (Mercury Press, 2010), p. 41

[3] Using the crystallization method, Pfeiffer developed the ability to diagnose the nature and location of inflammations, infections, even cancer. Alla Selawry, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, A Pioneer in Spiritual Research and Practice: A Contribution to His Biography, (Mercury Press: Spring Valley, NY, 1992), p. 52

[4] See Pfeiffer, Notes & Lectures, Volume I, pp. 68, 85, 127, and in Volume II, his November 20, 1961 letter regarding atomic radiation.

[5] Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, “The Heart as a Spiritual Organ of Perception and the Etherization of the Blood,” in Heart Lectures, (Mercury Press: Spring Valley, NY, 1982). Also published in Ehrenfried Pfeiffer: A Modern Quest for the Spirit; see also pp. 225 – 226 in that work.

[6] Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, “Consciousness and Research Attitudes,” in Volume II of Notes & Lectures