Fill Those Cow Horns




“[C]atch a fairly young mouse and skin it ... [Y]ou must obtain this skin when Venus is in the sign of Scorpio ... [Y]ou obtain the skin of a mouse and burn it. Carefully collect the ash [and] sprinkle it over your fields ... [Y]ou will find this an excellent remedy.”

— Rudolf Steiner




Many of Rudolf Steiner's doctrines are destructive: his racism, his medical quackery, and his advocacy of the warped forms of “thought” promoted at Waldorf schools. Some of his other doctrines, by contrast, do not rise to this level of perniciousness. They are, by and large, merely silly. Consider “biodynamic agriculture,” for example.

I should start by saying that my wife and I grow and buy organic foods. We figure the fewer pesticides we ingest, the better. Biodynamic agriculture is Steiner's version of organic farming, and as such it may well be preferable to today's factory farming, which typically relies on the profligate use of dangerous chemicals. 

So you might expect me to support biodynamic agriculture, or at least wink at it. But there is a problem. Steiner's agricultural precepts are fully as mystical and unscientific as any of his other teachings. To practice biodynamic agriculture, you need to resort to magic and astrology. Which is to say, you need to embrace madness. (I almost feel that I could end this essay right here. Q.E.D. But I won't be that abrupt. I'll back up my assertions with examples and analyses.)

Having grown up in rural areas, [1] Steiner knew what virtually all rural people know: The quality of crops depends on the health of the soil, and this health is largely dependent on fertilization. Today, artificial fertilizers are often used. In the old days, fertilization resulted from the use of compost or, to be less euphemistic, dung and other organic waste. Organic farms today (biodynamic or otherwise) follow the old pattern.  

Steiner taught that a “healthy farm” is one that receives sufficient manure, in the correct proportions, from the animals living on that farm. [2] On such a farm, it is unnecessary — indeed, “unhealthy” — to introduce fertilizers from outside sources. So far, so good (perhaps). But Steiner also taught that farmers should take special hocus-pocus steps in utilizing their homegrown fertilizing materials. Take one example. Steiner specified that manure should be stuffed into cow horns, buried in the ground to a specified depth during the autumn, and disinterred during the following year. The decayed contents of the horns should then be diluted with water and spread on the farm's fields. [3] The dilution process, which is intended to release the latent energies within the decayed matter, seems more suitable to a sorcerer's laboratory than to a sensibly run farm. The following description is from a biodynamic website in England:

“Horn Manure is cow manure that has been fermented in the soil over winter inside a cow horn ... Before being applied very small amounts...are dissolved in water and stirred rigorously for one whole hour. This is done by stirring (preferably by hand) in one direction in such a way that a deep crater is formed in the stirring vessel (bucket, barrel). Then the direction is changed, the water seethes and slowly a new crater is formed. Each time a well-formed crater is achieved the direction is changed until the full hour is completed. In this way the dynamic effects concentrated in the prepared manure...are released into the rhythmically moved water and become effective for soil and plant.” [4]

Why must the manure decay inside cow horns? The same website offers this explanation:

“Soil [is] created through an active interweaving of mineral, plant and animal processes ... It is then perhaps not quite so surprising that several [biodynamic] preparations require something from the animal world, in order to make them fully effective.” [5] 

The thing from the animal world, in this case, is a cow's horn. Now that you've read this explanation, do you feel that the use of a cow's horn makes sense? Here's what I feel: The explanation gets us nowhere. The use of a cow's horn, and the magical stirring of the water, remain as they appeared when we started: They are silly and pointless.






Steiner was the author of much of the pseudoscience that is used to justify biodynamic practices. His agricultural doctrines — like his doctrines on all other subjects — are essentially spiritualistic. The physical universe, in his system, is entirely immersed in, and influenced by, spiritual realities. To grasp any of Steiner's statements, we need to constantly remember that he traces all physical effects back to spiritual causes. Here is a statement Steiner made about a simple vegetable, the beetroot:

“There, for example, is the beetroot growing in the earth. To take it just for what it is within its narrow limits, is nonsense if in reality its growth depends on countless conditions, not even only of the Earth as a whole, but of the cosmic environment.” [6] 

If in referring to factors that do not originate on Earth, Steiner meant sunlight, then it would be true that beetroots depend on both earthly and cosmic influences. But that's not what he meant. Notice that he referred to “countess conditions...of the cosmic environment." He was alluding to the influences of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars (which, remember, are themselves manifestations of spiritual powers), and fundamentally he was speaking about the influences of purely spiritual beings: gods. Steiner's system is polytheistic [see "Polytheism"] — successful farming depends on achieving a cooperative relationship with a welter of far-flung gods. This relationship is cultivated largely through careful observation of the movements of planets and stars, which are the homes of the gods.

In a word, biodynamic agriculture hinges on astrology. The best times for preparing fields, sowing crops, etc., depend — or so Steiner taught — on the timing of eclipses and the passage of the Moon between the Earth and various planets, stars, and constellations. According to Anthroposophical belief, the forces of the celestial orbs are divine impulses that flow down upon the Earth. Wise Steiner-led farmers continually consult astrological conditions in order to adapt their activities to the intentions of the gods. Thus, to give one example, the biodynamic website provides guidance such as the following:

“The times indicated are those the author deems to be the first choice periods for working the soil, applying biodynamic preparations, sowing seed, or working with plants in general.


• January 22 – Moon occults Uranus @ 0:29 pm

• February 2 – Moon occults Saturn @ 6:34 pm

• March 1 – Moon occults Saturn @ 9:12 pm

• March 3 – Lunar Eclipse @ 6:17 pm

• March 16 – Moon occults Mercury @ 11:56 pm

• March 18 – Solar Eclipse @ 10:43 pm” [7]

Biodynamics depends on magic (as in the ceremonial stirring of dung into water) and astrology (as in "working the soil, applying biodynamic preparations, sowing seed, or working with plants in general") according to lunar occultations of the planets and/or lunar and solar eclipses.

Steiner was quite specific (although, as always, pseudoscientific) in his description of the influence planets have on plants:

“Everything that lives in the silicious [sic] nature contains forces which comes [sic] not from the Earth but from the so-called distant planets, the planets beyond the Sun — Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. That which proceeds from these distant planets influences the life of plants via [silicon and related substances]. On the other hand, from all that is represented in the planets near the Earth — Moon [sic], Mercury and Venus — forces work through limestone and kindred substances.” [8]

Few astronomers (if any) would classify the Moon as a planet. And most would wonder at the absence of Uranus, Neptune, and (perhaps) Pluto from Steiner’s discussion of distant planets. (Steiner taught that Saturn is the outermost planet in our solar system, which is simply wrong.) But let that go. The point is that Steiner said the planets overhead have distinct physical, chemical effects on the Earth and on the plants grown on the Earth. This is nonsense.

According to Steiner, cosmic forces also affect a farm's animal population:

“The animal organism lives in the whole complex of Nature’s household. In form and colour and configuration, and in the structure and consistency of its substance from the front to the hinder parts, it is related to these influences. From the snout towards the heart, the Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars influences are at work; in the heart itself the Sun, and towards the tail, the Venus, Mercury, and Moon influences.” [9]

The upshot of Steiner’s dogmas is that biodynamic growers attend scrupulously to planetary movements. This is made complicated by Steiner's occasional insistence that the planets don't actually orbit the sun. Instead, they are lined up with the sun — some ahead, some behind — and they travel along with the sun as it weaves its way through the cosmos. [10] Or so he said. But let it go.






Steiner taught that cosmic (astrological) considerations affect every part of a farm, not only the soil, plant life, and animal life, but also the water supply. He stated his case in these words:

“Water, in effect, is eminently suited to prepare the ways within the earthly domain for those forces which come, for instance, from the Moon. Water brings about the distribution of the lunar forces in the earthly realm ... Let us therefore suppose that there have just been rainy days and that these are followed by a full Moon. In deed [sic] and in truth, with the forces that come from the Moon on days of the full Moon, something colossal is taking place on the Earth. These forces spring up and shoot into all the growth of plants, but they are unable to do so unless rainy days have gone before ... Is it not of some significance, whether we sow the seed in a certain relation to the rainfall and the subsequent light of the full Moon, or whether we sow it thoughtlessly at any time? ... [I]n certain plants, what the full Moon has to do will thrive intensely after rainy days and will take place but feebly and sparingly after days of sunshine.” [11]

If we leave out the unsupported assertions, the equivocations, and the lunar nonsense, what does this statement amount to? Seeds sprout better in moist soil than in dry. This striking revelation must command our assent. Indeed, water is helpful to agriculture. But note that in leaving out Steiner's unsupported assertions, equivocations, and astrological nonsense, we are leaving out the core of his teachings. Steiner was an occultist [see "Occultism"]. All of his teachings on all subjects are occult. This certainly includes his agricultural teachings.

A farmer who decides to plant peas when the Moon occults Venus, or to create magical field preparations by stuffing manure into cow horns, is not wreaking havoc. But s/he is probably wasting a lot of time. S/he has every right to do so. But would you say s/he is  right to do so?

Surely farmers and gardeners can find better advice than the twaddle Steiner peddled. This is, after all, the twenty-first century. Haven't we learned anything?

— Roger Rawlings











"Biodynamic — a method of organic farming...based on suggestions which Rudolf Steiner gave ... [A] comprehensive picture is given of the dynamic relationships in nature. Influences of cosmic constellations and of spiritual entities are taken into consideration ... Fields and compost heaps are treated with special 'preparations' ... See: Zodiac." — Henk van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Sophia Books, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 13.









According to Steiner,

the parts of a plant correspond inversely 

to our parts:

The blossom or fruit corresponds to a human's lower body;

the stem and leaves correspond to the human chest;

the roots correspond to the human head.

Thus, a plant is essentially a human being

turned upside down.

[This is my colored rendering of the b&w image

on p. 83 of Rudolf Steiner, 


(Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002.)

R.R., 2009.]

"Steiner...spoke of how the plant is a kind of 'upside-down' human, with its roots in the earth as its 'head,' its stalk and leaves its 'rhythmic system,' and its flowers and seeds its 'metabolic system' ... He also pointed out that each our own 'systems' is nourished by eating the corresponding part of the plant." — Gary Lachman, RUDOLF STEINER (Jeremy P Tarcher/Penguin), p. 220.










Martin Gardner (1914-2010) was renowned for penning exposés of junk science, pseudoscience, and crankery of all stripes. Tucked away in his many book are several pithy comments about Rudolf Steiner and his followers. The following passage deals with biodynamic agriculture. 

“Closely related to the organic farming movement is the German anthroposophical cult founded by Rudolf Steiner ... The anthroposophists...regard the earth as an actual living organism. It 'breathes' twice a day, and its soil is 'living' in much more than a metaphorical sense.

“'Bio-Dynamic Farming' was established by Steiner at his School of Spiritual Science, in Dornach (near Basle), Switzerland. (Dornach is now the anthroposophical world center — a city with its own curious architecture and populated almost entirely by anthroposophists.) His two chief researchers were Lili Kolisko, whose works have not been translated, and Ehrenfried Pfeiffer. Many of Pfeifier's books are available in English. His Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening was issued by the anthroposophists in 1938, and The Earth's Face and Human Destiny was printed in 1940....

“In essence, the anthroposophists' approach to the soil is like their approach to the human body — a variation of homeopathy ... They believe the soil can be made more 'dynamic' by adding to it certain mysterious preparations which, like the medicines of homeopathic 'purists,' are so diluted that nothing material of the compound remains. In 1923, Lili Kolisko experimented with progressively rarefied salt solutions on germinating wheat. She found that the effect of the solution faded when the dilution passed the tenth and twelfth decimal, but after that, appeared again! In writing about this in Organic Gardening, December, 1950, anthroposophist Dr. Herman Poppelbaum states: 'By a simple calculation it can be figured out that in such high dilutions nothing 'material' of the ponderable solute is left. The effect therefore may be called imponderable, that is, not based on the physical presence of the material salt in the solvent. The substance then exercises an effect which is merely dynamic.'

“Dr. Pfeiffer [bought a] farm near Chester, New York. It was here he made what he regards as his most momentous discovery — special blends of bacteria strains (the exact formulas are highly secret) which he claims will convert ordinary garbage into rich organic fertilizer. Only a tablespoon of the bacteria need be added to each ton of garbage. In a week the garbage is transformed into an odorless supercompost.” — Martin Gardner, FADS & FALLACIES IN the Name of Science (Dover, 1957), pp. 224-226.







Use this link to go to the second part of