Swans Commentary » swans.com November 5, 2012  



Sir George Trevelyan's Life Of Magic


by Michael Barker



(Swans - November 5, 2012)   Sir George Trevelyan (1906-1996) lived a blessed life quite unlike that of most of mankind. Maintaining a lifelong opposition to materialism very much in keeping with his approach to his financial affairs, which saw him "simply trusting as aristocrats traditionally had done to the belief that money simply magically turned up." By his own admission, the year 1942 proved to be a major turning point in his life, as "his spiritually oriented sister Kitty" had prompted him to attend a weekend conference concerned with Rudolf Steiner's mystical agricultural teachings, otherwise known as biodynamic farming. Having already developed a keen interest in organic farming, "There George heard for the first time a set of ideas that made complete sense, that appeared to answer all his deep questions, that seemed to square the circle of harmonizing the rational mind with the imagination, that seemed to encapsulate all of his own thinking, feeling and aspiration." (1) George's formal introduction to Steiner's Anthroposophy set his mind racing. Moreover, as the influence of the New Age movement gradually spread over the course of the next few decades, "George was its standard bearer and its greatest exponent." (2)

George spent the next four years studying Anthroposophy under Dr. Ernst Lehrs, and "his involvement with Steiner remained with him all his life." After his home service during World War II, George was set to return to his teaching position at the exclusive and experimental Gordonstoun School in Scotland. At this stage it is important to introduce Dr George Firth, who owing to their mutual interest in drama had befriended George during the war. As it happens, Dr. Firth had "chanced to meet a Carnegie Trust member in a train" and had learned about the Trust's involvement in launching an adult college in Shropshire. Dr Firth then told the trustee about George and subsequently encouraged George to apply to become a warden for the proposed college. (3) George applied for the job and much to his own surprise was offered the position despite the other applicants apparently being better qualified, such that in 1947 he was appointed Warden of Attingham Park, the first Adult Education College in Britain.

Attingham Park would now be the home to George for the next twenty-four years, and it was from this vantage point that he would strive to promote his spiritual beliefs. For example, a "lecture series on soil erosion and forestry given during the early 1950s" was "offered at least in part because George's great friend Lady Eve Balfour was president of the Soil Association; and they were offered at a time when the Association and its concerns were popularly regarded as the preserve of cranks." Lady Balfour, like George, maintained a keen interest all matters spiritual, and much of George's work at Attingham was likewise guided by the higher spiritual realm. George would wake early to undertake his daily early morning meditation sessions during which he "often received intuitive knowledge" that "he always acted upon..." (4) Later in 1965 George made his first contact with Peter Caddy from the Findhorn community, when Peter attended a weekend event at Attingham titled "The Significance of the Group in the New Age." (5) George was only able to visit Findhorn in Easter 1968 but was so impressed by the proof of magical gardening that he encouraged his influential friends at the Soil Association and the Biodynamic Association to pay a visit as well. This "was the beginning of a long association for George, who became a trustee and a regular speaker for the Findhorn Foundation." (6)

In the summer of 1971 George retired from his position at Attingham Park and formed the Wrekin Trust, an organization that was "dedicated to continuing [Attingham's] esoteric teaching and lecturing programme peripatetically." In addition: "When George retired from Attingham, Hawkwood [College in the Cotswolds] inherited some of the esoteric courses, and George became a trustee at Hawkwood and lectured there many times." However, "Outside the Trust probably no other enterprise was as important to him as the Findhorn community..." (7) By way of an example of his ongoing support of the Steiner-inspired organic movement and the burgeoning New Age that was under his guidance becoming increasingly centered upon Findhorn and the Wrekin Trust...

In March [1974] there was an important course at Reading University on The Polluted Planet and the Living Spirit with Lady Eve Balfour, Dr E.F. Schumacher [president of the Soil Association], Ralph Verney [later chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council, 1980-1983], Ogilvie Crombie, John Soper [of the Bio Dynamic Agricultural Association], Lady Chance [of the Bio Dynamic Agricultural Association] and George Trevelvan. At the time it was unusual to link the fields of ecology and spiritual awakening but ever since the Soil Association conferences at Attingham, George had been as convinced as his friends Eve Balfour and Cynthia Chance that it must be done. He said, "if man could learn to co-operate with spiritual energies and higher intelligence, there is great hope that pollution could be overcome and the planet regenerated." Therefore he drew together speakers who represented a deep understanding of the practical situation and those seeing it as a spiritual challenge to all the people of the world. (pp.140-1)

Building upon these significant propaganda efforts for the New Age community, a couple of years later "George and his friends were energetic movers behind" the creation of the first Mind, Body and Spirit Festival, which was held at Olympia, "one of the largest exhibition halls in the country..." (Now known as the Mind Body Spirit Festival, in recent years the annual festival has been run by Dr John Holder who is the international director of the UFO-obsessed Aetherius Society.) The brainchild of this well-attended festival was the businessman Graham Wilson, an individual who went on to found the UK's first holistic health clinic (the London Natural Health Clinic) with the help of Mark Mathews, who prior to taking upon this task served as the manager of the Schumacher-inspired Centre for Alternative Technology. (8)

Not long after the first successful Mind, Body and Spirit Festival, George Trevelyan and the co-director of the Wrekin Trust, Malcolm Lazarus, "masterminded" the first Mystics and Scientists conference which was held in 1978. "In time the event was taken over by the Scientific and Medical Network, and organized by David Lorimer, an academic and an old Etonian with a background similar to that of Sir George." "James Lovelock, Frederick Hoyle, and Bede Griffiths are among the many luminaries" who have spoken at Mystics and Scientists conferences over the years. (9) It is therefore quite fitting, albeit worrying, that in 1982 in recognition of such examples of Sir George's longstanding commitment to melding New Age thinking with environmental activism, he accepted...

...the Right Livelihood Award on behalf of the Wrekin Trust, for "work forming an essential contribution to making life more whole, healing our planet and uplifting humanity." This award is known as the alternative Nobel Prize and is given to organizations and not individuals, however the panel referred to Sir George's contribution to "educating the adult spirit to a new non-materialistic vision of human nature." At the ceremony the originator of the award, Jakob von Uexkull, said, "The movement towards a more complete vision of reality and human nature is the fastest growing development in the world today. At the crest of this wave stands Sir George Trevelyan and the Wrekin Trust, one of the major influences in the revolution of thinking which is beginning to enlighten the world." (10)


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Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work.   (back)


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1.  Frances Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan and the New Spiritual Awakening (Floris Books, 2002), p.34, p.54. As Farrer adds: "It is hard to imagine that these ideas were new to him, and it is certain that his thoughts and aspirations must have been shifting for many years for him to have been able to respond to them so totally." (pp.54-5) "His friend Rhoda Cowen (nee Harris) thought he was seeking spiritual answers from his late teens and possibly before. The freedom to think the unthinkable was part of his inheritance from Charles Trevelyan, whose enthusiasm for wild ideas found by far its greatest exponent in George. Further gifts from his background, among them agnosticism and a Quaker schooling, brought a liberal attitude to religion." (p.59)

In 1931, prior to seriously devoting his life to promoting the New Age, George had trained as a practitioner of the Alexander Technique, a holistic health practice popular among the upper class and within the acting profession that was devised by F.M. Alexander that focused on posture and breathing. As Farrer writes of Alexander: "He believed that the Technique benefited the health not only of the body but also of the mind, and regarded the people who consulted him as pupils rather than patients." For George his experience with the Alexander Technique was "a profoundly important step along the path towards self-realization, the first real step towards an understanding of the holistic viewpoint that perceives every living thing as linked and interdependent."Around this time in his life, George also became closely association with the Arts and Crafts tradition, having trained (in 1929) at "one of the best furniture-making workshops of the time, those of Peter Waals, at Chalford in Gloucestershire." Waals himself had trained and worked with Ernest Gimson who "had been a protege and friend of William Morris." Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.31, p.44, p.40.  (back)

2.  Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.59. "Many people say that the spiritual movement in Great Britain was kept alive during the twentieth century by Sir George Trevelyan's untiring promotion of it. Even if this is too large a claim, it is true that without him much less progress both in quantity and in quality would have been possible. Although his insights were not unique, his interpretation of the most exciting and radical thinking, and the scale of his influence on the way in which spiritual endeavour developed in this country and in parts of mainland Europe and America certainly was." (p.68) "In his later lifetime, George Trevelyan was so famous in New Age circles that he was often asked to write introductions to peoples' books, and during the 1970s and 1980s it sometimes seemed as though few such books were published that did not have an enthusiastic endorsement by Sir George Trevelyan." (p.175)  (back)

3.  Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.66, p.71. The idea for the proposed adult college was that "of Martin Wilson, the county secretary for education, and was to be financed by the county with help from the independent Carnegie Trust." (p.71) With regard to his experience at the interview George wrote: "I went for the interview and recall meeting 24 or 25 other people who all seemed to be more qualified than myself in academic fields. However, I was offered the wardenship of this new residential centre and it was the answer to my dream." (p.71)

Gordonstoun School was founded in 1934, and its founder, Kurt Hahn, had offered George a job there in 1936. Notable alumni of the School include the Duke of Edinburgh (who served as the school's third-ever pupil) and the Prince of Wales. A significant independent offshoot of the School is Outward Bound.  (back)

4.  Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.82, p.83. "During the 1950s, George Trevelyan put lecturers from the General Anthroposophical Society at Dornach, Switzerland, into the programme. The course was poorly attended and people found the Germanic speakers hard to understand. George therefore decided that he would have to make anthroposophical teaching his own, and present it with other spiritual teachers. He began to draw in speakers such as Pir Vilayat Khan, Father Andrew Glazewski, Bruce MacManaway, Bernard Nesfield-Cookson and Reshad Feild; all of them leaders in their particular areas." (p.91) "The Psychosynthesis course in 1964 also had long-term effects. The founder of Psychosynthesis was the medical doctor, Roberto Assagioli, who moved from Freud to a [Jungian] psychology that included the soul, the imagination and the will. Dr Cirinei, who had worked with Freud, was the speaker. The course was the first on the subject to be held in this country. The Psychosynthesis in Education organization was founded in George's study afterwards -- the first such association in the UK." (p.94)

Bruce Campbell writes that Assagioli had been the Italian representative of Alice Bailey's Arcane School, and in the early 1930s had helped her "lead summer conferences in Ascona." He also founded the Meditation Group for the New Age, which has its headquarters at Meditation Mount in Ojai, California. Therefore, as the founder of Psychosynthesis, "Assagioli represents a link between Theosophy and the human potential movement, and suggests that Theosophical ideas have had an influence on at least one part of humanistic psychology." Bruce Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived: A History of the Theosophical Movement (University of California Press, 1980), p.155.

In George Trevelyan's ongoing battle with the "hereditary Trevelyan arthritis" he dabbled in all manner of unorthodox treatments, which included obtaining training in the Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation. However, an "important element in the treatment" of his arthritis was obtained through the well-known naturopath and president of the International Vegetarian Union (1971-1990), Dr. Gordon Latto, whom he had "been introduced to... by Rolf Gardiner through Lady Eve Balfour of the Soil Association." It is noteworthy that the "drama in the esoteric summer schools" at Attingham were "usually directed" by Marabel Gardiner (Rolf's wife). Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.101, p.102, p.103.  (back)

5.  Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.95. "The weekend course on The Darkness and the Light, given in 1966, was the first of an annual series on Light, Love and Power. These are the three salient words in the Great Invocation given by the Alice Bailey, the theosophist who founded the Arcane School in 1923, with the object of fusing the work of Buddha and Christ. For two days George built up to the notion that Christ is already here, and that people have only to change their consciousness to be aware of the Christ presence." (p.96)  (back)

6.  Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.99. "Craig Gibsone was brought up in Australia and joined the community in 1968. He met Sir George in the early 1970s and describes him as "a key figure in the pantheon of enlightened souls who helped put Findhorn on the map. His open acknowledgment of the spiritual worlds is a strong memory for me; he was a pioneer in acknowledging the diversity of spiritual realms. He epitomized the ideal of the Knights Templars, the human quest (in the patriarchal model)." (p.122)  (back)

7.  Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.106, p.98, p.109. From the founding of the Wrenkin Trust, "There were good auguries in the form of gifts. The previous summer they had received a first donation for £1,000 from Cynthia, Lady Sandys. A house had been bought by the Scottish businessman Andrew Wilson and leased to the Trust for three years. A connection of Ruth's gave £3,000 which enabled university and college accommodation to be booked." (p.130) "Close friends such as Father Andrew Glazewski [a psychic priest], Bruce MacManaway [the founder of the West Bank Healing Centre] and the Reverend Gordon Barker taught the programme, with Ruth Bell in the role of hostess administrator." (p.131) Father Andrew Glazewski later died suddenly (in 1974) after giving the opening session at a Wrekin Trust course at Hawkwood College, but his ideas lived on, as his idea to create a University of the Spirit later "metamorphosed" into what became known as the Scientific and Medical Network. (p.139)  (back)

8.  Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.149.

The Centre for Alternative Technology is an active member of a community of organizations known as the Schumacher Circle and was founded in 1973 by the Eton-educated environmentalist Gerard Morgan Grenville (1931-2009). Early supporters of the Wales-based Centre included the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales. In 1978, Gerard along with the likes of Edward Goldsmith helped co-found an influential environmental lobby group, Green Alliance.  (back)

9.  Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.153, p.154. "Five main areas of investigation were identified [in the conferences inaugural program]: cosmology, physics, biology and the Gaia hypothesis, consciousness and psychology, mysticism and spirituality." (p.153)

David Lorimer presently serves as the programme director of the Scientific and Medical Network (having served as their head from 1986 until 2000), and is the current president of the Wrekin Trust. Early members of the spiritual Scientific and Medical Network included E.F. Schumacher, Edward Goldsmith, and Arthur Koestler; while current nonsense-monger members include the likes of green power-broker Sir Crispin Tickell, the morphic field biologist Rupert Sheldrake, former space cadet Edgar Mitchell, cosmic systems theorist Ervin Laszlo, and the recently deceased United Nations New Age activist Robert Muller.  (back)

10.  Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan, p.157. The following year Sir George visited South Africa to partake in a lecture tour. And although Farrer provides no details about whom Sir George may have visited in South Africa, it seems likely that he may have spent time with local eco-spiritual conservationists, Sir Laurens van der Post and Ian Player (or at least other influential individuals connected to their activities). I say this because later in the year (October 8 to October 15, 1983) the WILD Foundation, which was formed by Ian Player in 1974, held the third ever World Wilderness Congress at Findhorn in Scotland.  (back)


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Published November 5, 2012