We made it out of Detroit just as the snow blanketed the city, making our way down to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We had plans to meet with Benjamin Trueblood and hopes of meeting Eve Olive, a eurythmist who was responsible for bringing anthroposophy to the area. We were able to reach her by phone from the road, and she was gracious enough to agree to meet us at her house the next day.
Living with Henry Barnes’ book, Into the Heart’s Land, we decided we should know a little more about her before our enthusiasm overcame us! So our research began. In the mid 60s, Eve had met Henry Barnes, Alan Howard, and Francis Edmunds at a summer conference. When we asked Eve about the chapter of the book, she said that she was surprised to end up there. She just thought everybody and every community must have been in it, but that wasn’t so. Here we had a picture of Eve’s humility and grace underlying such fire and forward striving!
Eve was born in South Africa with family roots in Tennessee. When she was a young woman, she was living in London studying architecture when she came across two books at a shop: Christianity as a Mystical Fact and Reincarnation and Karma. Around this time, she also encountered a picture of the second Goetheanum, and it was as if she knew this building.
Eve saw her first eurythmy performance in 1961 and then got sick for three weeks. With her sister, she hitchhiked through Europe and found her way to Dornach. She soon took up private lessons in eurythmy, in which she modeled the capitals of columns of the Goetheanum.
While in Dornach, she worked an architect, Albert von Baravalle, refining illustrations for the publication, Der Bau. It was beautiful work, but the cracks began to show for her. It was hard in the winter, and Eve felt that a change was needed. At the same time, she found a connection to a woman who spoke English, and Eve was able to discuss anthroposophy with her. Eve washed dishes in exchange for her lunch. The food was good, and there was a beautiful garden. This was behind the Schreinerei in what seemed like a gnome house. She spent many hours outside in that garden getting to know this lovely woman and deepening her understanding of anthroposophy.
Eve experienced performances every weekend, and in the summer she experienced all of the Mystery Dramas. She had no German, but a sense of what was happening. She felt like her head was getting bigger.
She finally finished her degree just as her grandparents moved from Tennessee to North Carolina. Eve came to be near them and thought she had arrived on another planet. It felt like there was no one for miles around. When she found Duke University, she thought, “I know where I am.” Her grandparents’ move proved to be a moment of destiny, as Eve would otherwise arrived with all of her hopes and energy to Tennessee.
Eve’s arrival in North Carolina in the 70s planted the seeds for anthroposophy to grow in that part of the country. At first, she would wake up and think to herself, “Here I am in the wilderness. What will I do today?” She picked up her books and went right over to Duke University. She asked if they had any courses related to anthroposophy or Waldorf Education. When she learned that they did not, she asked if they might like her to offer some. It was like Eve was saying, “Anybody out there?” Her strange accent seemed to help.
Around that time, Francis Edmunds was coming through the area. Eve decided to hold an event and put an ad in the paper before speaking to anyone. Her ad announced that the university would be co-sponsoring the event. The professors were a bit taken aback, but Eve forged ahead with plans in the works.
When the time came for the event, so did a storm! There was ice and freezing rain with warnings that people should not leave their homes. Still, nearly 80 people showed up at the auditorium to hear Francis Edmunds speak about Waldorf Education. At the end while the enthusiastic crowd was applauding, Francis leaned over to Eve and said under his breath, “Well, you got them here. What will you do now?” Eve didn’t have a plan already in place, but she took hold of the moment with courage and enthusiasm. She announced then and there that at 10:00 the following morning, anyone interested in starting a Waldorf school should come to a meeting at her house! Such was the beginning of the Emerson Waldorf School.
Eve did not stop there: She also walked onto the campus of the University of North Carolina and ran right into the head of the department of education. She asked if there was anyone speaking about Waldorf Education. The department head directed her to a particular professor who was interested in “different things.” When asked about Waldorf schools, the professor asked if that’s where people are trying to teach the children to be different. In return, Eve asked if that wasn’t what everyone was doing: helping the children find their own gifts. The professor said no, that in public education at that time, they were teaching students to accept the status quo. Eve was flabbergasted.
In another bold move, Eve encountered a pamphlet from Toronto and saw that there was a traveling exhibition from Detroit. She decided to create an opportunity for them to come to her area. As she was writing it out, she thought that she needed a name so she wrote that it was sponsored by the Waldorf School Association of North Carolina. She paused and decided to make it plural: the Waldorf Schools Association of North Carolina. This group had not existed yet, but there it was with a stroke of the pen. Michaelic courage! This is the gesture that is so inspiring for our own work and hope for the fruits of Rudolf Steiner’s work to go out further into the world: She had arrived to an area where there was nothing happening out of anthroposophy, but now she was doing something!
Eve wants to get to the heart of the matter. When speaking to a Baptist minister, she said, “But what about reincarnation?!” She is tired of keeping quiet when there is an elephant in the room. We have to be able to reach out. Truly, she is a bridge builder.
After sharing these life stories, Eve let us know that she was ready to talk about what she’s wound up about now! She just turned 80 in June, and she’s still going! She is concerned that anthroposophy not be like water in a desert trickling under the sand. We need to reach out and find other organizations of a kindred spirit. In that moment, she pointed to her side table where there sat a stack of books she’s reading. She’s continually searching and striving!
Eve shared examples of organizations doing great work: The Center for Ecozoic Studies, the work of Thomas Berry, was hosting an event that evening, and Eve was on her way. She hoped that we might be able to join her. As it turned out, time was not on our side, but we would have loved to see this young gal in action in her striving! Joanna Macy’s work is called The Great Turning, “a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.” Eve noted that we are destroying the earth, yet we will come back. We will be able to work together from the spiritual world across the Threshold.
We asked Eve what questions she is carrying: Where are these other people in the Michael School? How do we find the other people out there who may be interested in anthroposophy but have never had the opportunity to hear about it? We are too often held back by old ideas.
Eve also wonders where all the Waldorf students are in college. Could there be an association for these young people to find each other? We can see a beautiful connection to the youth in her work. We found it to be amazing that we had just met with Benjamin Trueblood, an energetic young teacher in her community who also holds the question of bridging the generations. These two are long overdue for a meeting it seemed to us! So exciting to consider what is possible with such forward leaning individuals.
What is essential for Eve is a feeling for movement, bringing form into being. This is work with the hierarchies, the Spirits of Movement and Spirits of Form (Dynamis and Exusiai). She shared a eurythmy verse that says: “Man is a form proceeding out of movement.” From the beginning of her encounter with anthroposophy, there was this meeting in architecture and in eurythmy, form and movement.
Eve has recently completed a beautiful book called Cosmic Child: Inspired Writings from the Threshold of Birth. In it she weaves her own writing with that of others, building an awe-inspiring picture of unbornness. She has built up this collection over the course of many years, and all proceeds of the book support the Emerson Waldorf School. This question of unborness has been very close to our own ponderings since our gathering in Dornach in February 2013. At that time, Dr. Peter Selg spoke about Rudolf Steiner’s consideration of the community of Michaelites seeking to meet one another in our shared strivings and that we can hold a consideration of the spiritual world from whence we come. We each left with a signed copy of Eve’s book and have continued to feel inspired by the beauty of her offerings.
One of Eve’s poems from the collection:
From starry realm
to green earth
Dreaming through sphere
of planet and moon
I draw near
to the home
I have known
here on the earth
From the All
to the One