In 1921 a new company was given the name Weleda by its founder, Dr Rudolf Steiner. He could have chosen any name, including perhaps his own, but he found an inspiring story which encouraged him to bless his new-born company with an ancient connection.
The historical figure, Weleda, who inspired Steiner was only the last of many to bear this name. Like Caesar, Weleda was a title of distinction – especially associated with women and perhaps meaning prophetess or seer. Like Caesar, the title Weleda later became a personal name associated with one particular person.
That Weleda was a priestess of healing, a real historical personality who lived at the beginning of the Christian era. She is mentioned several times in the writings of the Roman historian, Tacitus, although she was long-dead by the time of his writings. Weleda lived in a tower near the sanctuary of the Extern Stones on the banks of the river Lippe, in what is now Germany.
She belonged to the tribe of Brukturers, among whom she was renowned as a priestess of healing, and revered as a prophetess. People would come from distant places for her help and advice, conveyed through mediators. Her blessing was sought for contracts and agreements and she was even asked to help settle disputes.
Under her influence, the Brukturers tribe joined other Germanic peoples and became some of the few to repel the Roman invaders from the south. After a long period of political machinations the Romans were finally able to isolate the Brukturers from their allies and to conquer them. Peace was established, but the Romans still feared Weleda’s influence enough to take her to Rome as a captive. Even as a prisoner she received honourable treatment, and died, still a captive, in Rome in about 80 AD.
The generic name Weleda also appeared in Celtic times. At Ile de Sein, a small island off the west coast of France, there’s a Celtic mystery centre where ancient stones can still be seen. Here ceremonies were conducted by nine priestesses, led by one called, in French, Velleda. These priestesses had a particular understanding of plants and the elements. Once again the Romans were to destroy the ancient site and disperse the priestesses. But wherever they found sanctuary - in England, France and Germany, they used their wisdom to help and heal the people with whom they settled.
Looking back over nearly a century of history for Weleda, the company, how can we help but think the name an inspired choice by our founder in 1921?