Sunday, 23 December 2012


Defend us

Suddenly I am surrounded by images of angels: long attenuated ones with trumpets, little fat ones sitting on clouds, fairy-like creatures atop Christmas trees. I have no idea what such images signify to those who produce them or, outside specific contexts of the sort that I avoid, what they are expected to convey to me, I live the rest of the year without messengers of the Lord, angelic guardians and supernatural guides, and I do not wish to be reminded of all the centuries of theological dispute about what sex they are (Christian problem) or whether they have free will (answer: No, they just carry out God's commands – Muslim tradition).

I am happy to regard the wide concept of angels as another human concept belonging to the realms of history and anthropology – and as for believing in angels – well, people are free to find their social and personal opiates in far stranger notions.

Pető and the angels

András Pető had something going for angels.

Károly Ákos first alerted me to this. Károly told me this back in the nineteen-eighties but, hard-headed materialist that he was, it was enough for him to dismiss András Pető's thoughts on this matter with a snort. I heard no more from Károly about what András Pető actually believed. What angels? Angels in what tradition, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim – something more arcane, or something more popular?

Much later, again in Budapest, librarian Margit Balogh gave me cause to muse further on this – but just more questions, no answers:

Then this last year, when editing the book András Pető I was reminded of this particular unexplained and unelaborated quirk in András Pető's thinking – or was it more than just a quirk? Here was Károly again, to hint a a little more specifically, linking András Pető's angels to gnosticism (p. 94). András Pető a gnostic? It could fit (sort of, but then so does a lot else) – enough at least to open up a whole field of further speculation and confusion around him and the conceptual origins of Conductive Education! And two of András Pető's own little poems, of which this (p. 159) is the more personal example –

   I want to see the angel
   Yonder on the slope
   Under the almond treee.

   I want to see the angel,
   I want to approach him
   And kiss his garment.
   I want to perish on the spot.

Poetry or doggerel, make of that what you will.

The voice of the Lord

I do not wish to come over all theological, not at Christmas of all times. As I have expressed before, not uniquely, the tenets and traditions of Conductive Education can appear preserved and exercised as much in the form of religious beliefs as of modern rationalism and enlightenment. This has helped to make Conductive Education an opaque mystery for many who try to look in and understand from 'outside' – and perhaps for not a few 'insiders' too.

Who are the angels in the post-Pető Conductive Education that Mária Hári worked so long and so hard to transmit concretely to the future? Who in this context is the Lord whose messages such angelic messengers convey, who is the God whose command they obey without will of their own?

I do not subscribe to the often expressed image of' conductors as 'angels' in the conventional, sugary, sentimental sense of this usage, as these seem to bring with them the danger of a cosseting that is potentially antithetical to the goals of conductive upbringing and conductive pedagogy. And some conductors are the very Devil! Nor do I regard András Pető as a god. But conductors' culture and the practice remain the chief channel for the system of action and belief that Mária Hári inherited and passed on, and her tradition of cultural transmission remains a defining strand within the Conductive Education story. In that one sense at least, conductors are indeed angels, messengers from on high.


Maguire, G., Sutton A. (eds) (2012) András Pető, Birmingham, Conductive Education Press

Sutton, A. (2008) 'We all have an angel within us' – András Pető. Some angel! Conductive World, 11 November

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