The Communal Studies Association
New Harmony, Indiana Conference
14 - 17 October 1993

The Findhorn Intentional Community Model in Britain


Michael York

Academy for Cultural and Educational Studies


For the Findhorn Foundation and Community, the question concerning the absence of a role-model following the demise of Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union does not arise. The story of Findhorn, since the 1962 arrival of Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean in Forres, Scotland, has been one of natural self-development. From the time of the establishment of the charitable trust in 1968 until the present, the changes and vicissitudes of the `organization' have been occasioned by spontaneous reaction and deliberate reflection to its immediate circumstances alone - without taking concepts or adopting structural forms from any other a priori model - least of all the utopian socialist model of Marx. At the same time, however, Findhorn has become a source of inspiration for what are now termed `intentional communities' ranging from a small offshoot in Switzerland, possibily the Taiz‚ community in southern France and Shenoa in Mendocino County, California.

In response to a series of questions I put to Stan Stanfield, one of the longest serving facilitators at Findhorn, about European offshoots of Findhorn, the following centres were mentioned (17 August 1993) by the Findhorn Outreach Department: (1) at Schlossi Ins in Ins, Switzerland, there is the Steiner Boarding School and Community of 200 people; (2) in Laragne, France, there is the Rural Educational & Spiritual Community of Terre Novelle (Nouvelle?) which may also be known as Eourres; (3) la Domaine Viva Nordia in Sundoffen, France and (4) le Groupe de Lucinges in Lucinges, France. La Domaine Viva Nordia is run by Pierre and Aries Helmer who are described as "regular visitors and Resource People of the Findhorn Foundation." In Sweden, there is (5) Stiftelsen stjarnsund at Langshyttan, and in Ireland, (6) the Meitheal Community at Inch Fort on Inch Island in Co. Donegal. For the United States, there is (7) the Sirius Community in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, and (8) the Shenoa Retreat Center at Philo, California.

Stanfield makes the following comments: "I don't feel one could say the Steiner Boarding School & Community was `Findhorn-inspired', although I know we have given them some inspiration. Same with Terre Novelle in France. The community in Sweden I know was Findhorn-inspired; I visited (in the dead of winter) the location the founding members were scouting, & which they subsequently chose. And I've also visited the Meitheal Community in Ireland, also definitely Findhorn-inspired. In the U.S., Sirius Community was founded by ex-Findhorn Members (Baker Road, Shutesbury, MA 01072), and Shenoa Retreat Center was immeasurably influenced by Findhorn, although its main instigator was never actually a member (PO Box 43, Philo, CA 95466); a no. of ex-Members helped get it off the ground, & have worked there. In addition, numerous `house communities' have been inspired by Findhorn, particularly in Europe."

Findhorn began humbly in a trailer park where the Caddys, with their three small children, along with Dorothy Maclean, had settled in anticipation to being re-hired as managers of the Cluny Hotel in Forres, Scotland. Eileen Caddy, through her daily meditations, has been identified by subsequent Findhorn members as the source of the community's inspiration. Her husband, Peter, not a psychic himself but a person with a strong sense of intuition as well as managerial capacities, relied on his wife's spiritual advice and suggested timings, and is recognized as the executive force behind the movement's early years. Maclean, on the other hand, was also, like Eileen Caddy, a meditative visionary - communing not with God but with the various personalities or genii of the nature kingdom which she identified as devas.[1]

Through Dorothy's advice, Eileen's inspiration and Peter's execution, the trio began a vegetable garden in the inhospitable soil of a patch of land the caravan park owner allowed them to use adjacent to their trailer home site as the awaited job with Cluny did not materialize and the Caddys had to think seriously of feeding their children as well as themselves. The organic garden they established and the size and amount of produce it engendered became famed through its phenomenal and otherwise unexpected success, and with the numbers of people attracted to spiritual and ecological farming methods and descending upon the Caddys and Maclean in Forres, a charitable trust was created in 1968 by which the growing community could operate.

From 1970, Eileen Caddy, recognizing the degree of what was deemed unhealthy dependence the others had on her spiritual advice, ceased to give further guidance. It was about this time that David Spangler, a young American visionary, came to the community and, during the three years of his stay with Findhorn, became responsible for organizing the educational aspect of the charitable trust. In 1973, Maclean left Forres with Spangler for the U.S. where they began the Lorian Foundation - understood as a community in consciousness. In 1976, the Cluny Hotel was purchased. With the collapse of the Caddy marriage, Peter left Forres in 1979 - leaving Francois Duquesne as the appointed focalizer. Duquesne's associated keywords in the community's history are `economy' and `reality'. But his administration from 1979 until he departed in 1984 is considered the `dark night' of the Foundation. Nevertheless, it was under his guidance that the Foundation succeeded in purchasing the caravan park which meant that it could begin building.

With the departure of Duquesne, Jay Jermain was selected as administrator by the members of Findhorn. The keywords with which he is identified are `openness' and `family'. In 1985, the Foundation established the Steiner School as the first of several independent businesses. Alternative Data was begun the following year, and, under Jermain's successor, Craig Gibsone, who assumed top command from 1986 until 1991, the Apothecary and Bay Area Graphics were launched in 1987 and the Wind Generator erected in 1991. With Gibsone, the keywords are `expansion' and `community'. The category of `Associate Membership' was added to that of Membership in the Findhorn Foundation. The wider Findhorn identity is now known as the Findhorn Community and comprises approximately 500 people who are all associated with the Foundation in some way but who are not full members. These `associate' members operate numerous small businesses with a combined annual turnover of about $4.5 million.

Continuing with the structural aspects of Findhorn, as a charitable trust, Findhorn is owned technically or legally by a group of trustees - currently nine in number - roughly one-half of which are in-house Members. When Gibsone relinquished the administration post in 1991, there were three overlapping structural wings to the Foundation: the Members themselves - in charge of education, the NFD or New Findhorn Directions which consisted of the independent businesses and which was comprised of employees, and the Development wing which consisted of the builders. The so-called Central Administration was then understood to be where these three wings overlapped, and its Core Group were seven people along with Eileen Caddy as an honorary member. The NFD included such concerns as the Solar Panels, the Caravan Park, the Wind Generator, the Phoenix Shop and the Park Café. It various businesses have an annual turnover of approximately $1,200,000.

But in 1991, it was decided that there were too many different levels of decision-making. These three wings were respectively headed by Brita-Maria Adkinson (Education), Patrick Nash (Building) and Alex Walker (Business) who was to be replaced by Thierry Brogliolo. The keyword associated with this triumvirate is `decentralization'. But with the completion of its various building projects - perhaps in part influenced by the economic recession of Britain and elsewhere, the Foundation is now regarded as divided into two parts: an educational section and the NFD of business. Around the Foundation in the wider sense is the Community which includes Alternative Data established at Minton House, the Newbold House (a meditative retreat center which also specializes in courses and workshops), the Steiner School, the self-employed independent trusts of Trees for Life, Holistic Health, Individual Therapy, Village Office and the Associate Members or individuals who work part of the week at or for Findhorn. Since 1991, non-members have been elected to the Core Group - the Core Group being those people who are concerned with organizing festivals and rituals, with giving recommendation but who are not directly involved in the decision-making processes themselves. There are 80 staff which includes 10 employees. Staff are distinguished from Members per se in that `Members pay while staff gets paid'.

Regarding decision-making, choices are made by different people - depending on where the decision occurs. Some decision-making takes place on the departmental level - each department having its own budget. But larger groups such as the Cluny Family are also involved in the decision-making process. And the larger the group, often the more time it takes in the process. For instance, for the Cluny Family, it took one and a half years to reach a decision regarding the color of the carpet for the Cluny lounge. Other decisions are determined by budgetary considerations, while for the education branch, decisions are required to be taken over what kind of education is wanted, what is to be said in the brochure and what proposals for the future should be studied.

The original Core Group has now been replaced by a Managament Committee as well as a new Core Group in the form of a vision-holding team. Membership of the former is determined strictly on the basis of position. That is, the people who sit on the Management Committee are the Foundation Focalizer (currently Judy Buhler-McAllister), the Administration focalizer (the Administration Stream now including the Development Wing), the focalizer of the Educational Stream, the focalizer of the Programme Coordination, the focalizers of both Cluny and the Park, the NFD focalizer, the Human Relations (personnel) focalizer, and, if there are financial questions, the focalizer of the Finance Department. Although the NFD or business management is not part of the charitable trust, its focalizer sits on the Management Committee of the Foundation itself.

Consequently, the Findhorn Foundation as a whole is now regarded as a two-part structure divided into an Administration Stream and an Education Stream. The latter consists of three branches. First, there is Programme Coordination. Secondly, there is the Educational Faculty Group - an envisioning team. This includes the focalizers of the Guest Department, of the Living in Community Guest Programme (LCG), of the Membership Education Programme, and of the Outreach Programme. Finally, the Educational Stream includes the campuses themselves: the Park, Cluny and what is known as the Hall. But to keep the Findhorn vision and overall administration from diverging too widely, the 8-member Core Group includes three focalizers from the Management Committee: the Foundation, personnel (Human Resources) and Finance. In general, and despite the complexity, there appears to be a natural but changing structural evolution.

Distinct from the various branches of the Foundation itself, there are the Trustees of the Foundation who legally own the assets of the Foundation, watch over fiscal decisions and share and give recommendations. Although by law they are the ones who are ultimately financially responsible, they are not directly concerned with the decision-making process. Likewise, the community does not actually vote on the Trustees. Instead, the Trustees `attune' and are appointed by themselves. Currently, they are 9 in number.

At present the Membership of the Foundation stands about 170. Staff Members receive £135/month ($205). This is the same which is received by employees who, along with supplements for housing and other allowances, can receive £500/month (or $760) maximally. Apart from the 80 strong working staff, the remaining members are usually dependents, children or older members. Of the adults, nearly two-thirds are women. Over two-thirds are between the ages of 30 and 50. All members are `white' with more over 50 than under 30 years of age. Seventeen countries are represented in the membership of the Foundation, though most people come from the UK, USA and Germany.[2]

At this time, there are no Members working outside the Foundation, but this is a matter currently under review. Members are required to pay a fee to join the program for a two year period. This includes room and board. After the two year process, a decision is made regarding membership itself and once on the staff, an allowance is paid. Through the attunement process, some indigent people have been allowed to become Members without paying the fees. To become a Member, a person must undergo the Experience Week, Departmental Guest program for another week, the Living in Community Guest program (LCG) for three months and an Orientation program - an intensive three weeks of workshopping and weekly `touch-in groundings' in community departments. Members reside with and work in the Foundation itself. By contrast, the Associate Member is someone who lives in the Findhorn area but not in the center. He or she serves the community by making a contribution in some way. Members often become Associate Members since there is the tendency to move on in order to make some income. For most people - if not everyone, the Foundation is not understood as a place to stay forever. In fact, over half the current membership has been there for less than five years - which in itself indicates a relatively high turnover.

One of my questions to Stanfield was the following: What provisions for expulsion are there, and have people ever been expelled? Stanfield answered with the following: "As to expulsion provisions & use. We have a Personnel Dept. that handles such matters (recently renamed the Human Relations Dept.) It's not something that has come up very often (it's not easy to become a member here in the first place; there's quite a vetting process, in time & experience of living here, so it's more preventive than curative around here in that respect), but yes, it has happened. And in one case, the couple took their grievance to a community meeting. (They were out of step with the community in general, keeping to themselves, & exploding in anger around the place a lot. It wasn't getting any better, & they weren't doing anything about it, so when they had a regular review interview with Personnel, they were asked to leave.) So they had a `public' hearing; but the community supported the Personnel people in making their decision. One fellow once just went whacko, & it was clear this wasn't the place for him. Usually, though, we are very hesitant to do anything so drastic, & leave it up `to the Angel' (of Findhorn; the overlighting being working with the evolution of this place) to let the person know it's time to go. Hard decision-making has always been a major issue around here. Some members wish we would be firmer about members who are `not pulling their weight', & others don't want this place to become a boss-&-employees type of institution; so the dance goes on."

Apart from the structural aspects of Findhorn, it is this praxis orientation along with that of other postmodern religious manifestations which chiefly distinguishes the contemporary fellowship from more traditionally oriented spiritual persuasions. The Findhorn Foundation and extended community in Forres, Scotland is a prime example of `new religiosity' communalism which nevertheless is fully operative within a capitalistic economic system. The Foundation has an annual income of about one and a quarter million dollars - 80% deriving from its `guest program', 10-15% from trading and the rest from members' fees, donations and the like. The Findhorn emphasis rests upon the so-called attunement process (solitary and collective meditation), organic farming, demi-vegetarianism (with provision for vegans as well), shared work assignments, regular but optional sanctuary meditations and, above all, educational dissemination.  Their independently operated Steiner School caters not only to many of their own offspring but also to many children from the Forres area whose parents have no affiliation or other connection with Findhorn itself.

By and large, however, Findhorn's educational programme consists of a steadily changing rota of residential workshops. The bulk of these focuses on Personal and Spiritual Growth - for example, `Awareness through Movement', `Relationship Skills', `Opening to God's Abundance', `Inner Listening', the `Christ and Buddha Nature: An Exploration of Spirituality and Incarnation', `A Practical Approach to Devas, Fairies and Angels', `Towards Sexual Wholeness', `A Course in Miracles', `The Game of Transformation', `Creating Your own Reality', `T'ai Chi' and so forth. Another workshop area is entitled Creative Expression and includes such courses as `From Spirit into Form: Connecting with the Goddess through Clay', `Dancing Spirit Free', `Inner Harmony: the Healing Power of Sound', `Primal Painting', `Masks in Motion: Creative Dance and Mask Play', etc. In the area of Health and Healing, typical workshops include `Developing the Skill of Intuitive Self-Diagnosis', `Taking Responsibility for Your Own Well-Being', and `Spiritual Healing'. There are also various Training Programmes: for example, `Intuition in Professional Practice', `The Transformation Game Facilitators' Training', `The Stanislaf Grof Transpersonal Training' and `Training for Workshop Leaders'.[3]

Prices for a typical Findhorn workshop generally and currently range on a sliding scale from $400 to $555 or from $460 to $600 per week, and this includes meals and accommodation. The differential cost between waged and unwaged is as much as $150 to $190. Bursaries are also occasionally available for those who cannot afford these price tags on their low end. While Margot Adler asserts that the difference between New Age and Neo-pagan venues is often nothing more than a decimal point, the relative high cost of New Age talks, presentations, seminars and workshops is a source of frequent criticism. But while there are many facilitators who are into holistic and human potential workshops and trainings `mostly for the money' - with perhaps the London-based Mind, Body and Spirit Festival being the most crass example of this in Britain, a charitable trust such as the Findhorn Foundation with its extensive educational and outreach programs, the costs are not incommensurate with mainstream prices and are, in fact, often a great deal less.

During 1990, for instance, approximately $150,000 was spent on capital expansion and another $75,000 on debt reduction. The accrued general debt of originally almost $750,000 has been reduced to $150,000 or one-fifth of what it had at first been. But in the same year, the Development Wing of the Foundation had incurred a debt of $375,000 with the building of two small `barrel' houses and five more conventional homes. This last ties in with the on-going privatization and devolution process in which the Foundation is shifting from a `communal' to a `community' focus. Under Scottish law, all houses built on Foundation land belong to the Foundation itself. With this in mind, a prospective homebuilder must `lend' sufficient funds to the Foundation to pay for construction of a house and is given in return a `right of occupancy'. If a member subsequently leaves, the right of occupancy must be sold to another member or at least to someone approved by the Foundation. Apart from inflation, the Foundation retains 30% of any increase in the right of occupancy price.[4]

The decentralization process of Findhorn is exemplified by the increasing number of members who seek to build and maintain private homes on communally owned land. It is also witnessed in the growing tendency for the more successful NFD-sponsored businesses to be taken over as separate and local entities by those members most closely associated with them. The Findhorn Foundation itself is now concentrating on the central mission of maintaining a spiritual focus and propagating that message through its educational programs. These last range from the `Experience Weeks' to various international conferences (e.g., the Third World Wilderness Congress). Over 5,000 people attend Findhorn’s educational programs each year. Nearly two-thirds of these are women, and the age breakdown is as follows: roughly one-third between the ages of 35 and 44, one-fourth between 25 and 34, one-fifth between 45 and 54 - with 10% being 24 or younger and another 10% 55 or older. While Findhorn was attended primarily by Americans in the 1970s, nearly half the guests now come from Continental Europe, 30% from the UK, 20% from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand collectively, and 3% from the rest of the world. Nearly two-thirds of the guests earn their living from `mainstream' occupations with almost half of these in business. Sixteen percent come from the `alternative' sector, and 22% are those living on savings or pensions.[5]

While Findhorn also sponsors retreats to the Scottish island of Iona as well as pilgrimages to both Russia and India and participates in such work projects as the Trees for Life programme in the Caledonian Forest, it networks even further with such other communities or centres as the Newbold House in Forres, the Alternatives Programme held Monday evenings at the St. James' Piccadilly Church in London, the Lucis Trust of Alice Bailey in London, the Eagle's Wing Centre for Contemporary Shamanism also in London, the University of Avalon in Glastonbury, Gaunts House in Wimborne (Dorset) and what is left of the Wrekin Trust in West Malvern. Speakers and workshop facilitators regularly travel between these different venues. On a wider level, the `new religiosity' network in its more New Age manifestation includes Bristol's Open Gate Centre, and such Christian-oriented communities as the Abbey in Sutton Courtenay south of Oxford, the Omega Order at Winford near Bristol, and the White Eagle Lodge in both London and Rake north of Petersfield. Participants at various New Age venues often appear at Neo-pagan programmes as well, and vice versa. In London, there is a steady if modest exchange between such places as Alternatives, the Eagle's Wing, the Talking Stick magicians and Neo-pagans' forum and the Crafte or Wicca oriented House of the Goddess. For instance, the Metamorphic Association (which is New Age) and the Neo-pagan-based Willow Grove among others meet regularly at the 67 Ritherdon Road address in Tooting, London. But by far, the usual non-communitarian New Age/Neo-pagan `new religiosity' overlap occurs through `metaphysical' bookshops such as Mysteries in London or Arcania in Bath. Notice boards in such places as well as networking newsletters and journals keep the religious consumer abreast of the various activities and gatherings, retreat centers and workshops from which to choose.

While Findhorn continues to question its educative role and need to expand its outreach program, at present, the Findhorn structure is also under review. This last is being seriously questioned, and change is expected by one and all - although in what form this will be remains for the moment uncertain. The inclusion, however, of one non-member as part of both the Finance Department and the Core Group is seen as indicative of the kinds of structural change in the offing. This last is perhaps also illustrative of changes which open an intentional community to a greater interpenetration with society at large. Communism and communalism are not the same and need to be distinguished. If Communism per se is no longer perceived as a or the means to change the world or be a model for society, this does not preclude such organic and self-developing communities of which Findhorn is an example par excellence from providing inspiration toward ecological awareness and cooperative sharing for the wider society. Its educational outreach programs provide a further route of access into public awareness. For the scholar interested in such matters, more research is necessary into the interfacing between intentional communities and their host communities at large.[6] Such investigation must additionally not be hampered by obsolete and confused understandings of what comprises communalism or its different forms.




[1] For the `Findhorn story', see in particular, Findhorn Community, The Findhorn Garden, New York: Harper and Row, 1975; P. Hawken, The Magic of Findhorn, Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1975; and C. Riddell, The Findhorn Community: Creating a Human Identity for the 21st Century, Findhorn: Findhorn Press, 1990.

[2] See Bill Metcalf, "Findhorn Community," Resurgence No. 146:20.

[3] "Introducing the Findhorn Foundation" brochure, 1992 & 1993.

[4] Metcalf loc. cit. p. 21.

[5] Metcalf loc. cit. p. 20. Vide infra Metcalf's ICSA paper in which the number of paying guests is now put at 6000.

[6] See in particular William J. Metcalf's "Findhorn Foundation: Global City of Light vs Scottish Conservatism," paper presented at the Fourth International Communal Studies Association Conference, New Harmony, Indiana, October 1993. Metcalf states (p. 3) that "there has always been a degree of tension between members of this utopian, new-age community and their conservative, Scottish neighbours." Moreover, "[nowhere] within utopian ideology is there any strategy for dealing with critics, let alone those with the malicious intent to destroy" (p. 5). Metcalf has found that since 1992, critical tensions between the Foundation and the Scottish community have increased dramatically - with Findhorn being compared unfavorably in the local press to the Oregon-based Rajneesh Community, and, following the Branch Davidian seige and holocaust in Waco, Texas, members and guests being stoned by local youths. Metcalf explores various strategies (avoidance, working with the community, legal/rational and self-examination) which have evolved at Findhorn for dealing with such attacks and concludes that their Judaeo-Christian pacifist, non-confrontational ideology, while making "it very difficult for members to challenge their attackers through the legal system" (p. 6), has "probably worked better than any other strategy ... to help wear down, if not defeat, their attackers" (p. 7). Metcalf, however, claims that, for the Findhorm Foundation itself, this ideology makes it "very hard to explain why the neighbours are antagonistic" (p. 7), but members I talked with in June 1993 had no doubt that the source of the problem was Findhorn's patent success within an area of economic hardship and deprivation.