Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Four Seasons and the Archangels. Lecture 2: The Christmas Imagination

Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, October 6, 1923:

Yesterday there stood before us the picture of Michael battling with the Dragon, as shown to us through an inner understanding of the course of the year. And art can really be nothing else than a reflection of what human beings feel in relation to the universe. Of course this is possible at various levels and from various standpoints; but on the whole we can speak of a work of art only when it expresses human feeling in such a way that through it the soul is opened to the secrets of the universe.
Today, in the same spirit that led us to the culminating picture of Michael and the Dragon, we will carry further our study of the seasons of the year.
We know from yesterday's lecture that when autumn draws on, a kind of in-breathing by the Earth, a spiritual in-breathing, occurs, and the elemental beings are drawn back into the bosom of the Earth. Those who went out in the height of summer and turned back at Michaelmas are drawn further and further in, until in the depths of winter they are united most intimately with the Earth.
Now we must realize that in winter the Earth is above all self-contained, enclosed in itself. It has drawn back everything of a spiritual nature which it had allowed to stream out from itself during the summer. Hence in the depths of winter the Earth is more earthly, more truly itself, than at any other time. And while for our further studies we must keep firmly in view this winter character of the Earth, we must of course not forget that when winter prevails over half the Earth, the other half is experiencing summer. This is a fact we must keep in the background of our minds. But just now we are concerned with the coming of winter to one part of the Earth. It is then that the Earth unfolds its own nature in the deepest sense; the nature that makes it truly Earth.

Plate I
Plate 1

Let us now look at this Earth of ours. It has a solid core, hidden below its visible outer surface, which in turn is largely covered by water, the hydrosphere. The continents are only floating, as it were, in this great watery expanse. And we can picture the hydrosphere as extending up into the atmosphere, for the atmosphere is always permeated by a watery element. Certainly this is much thinner than the water of the sea and the river, but there is no definite boundary in the atmosphere where the watery element comes to an end. Hence if we are to show schematically what the Earth is like in this respect we shall have, first, a solid core in the center (see Plate I). Around it we have the watery regions (blue). I must of course indicate the jutting up of the continents: they will have to be exaggerated, for they should really be no more prominent than the irregularities on the skin of an orange. Then I must put in the hydrosphere, this watery part of the atmosphere all around the Earth. Let us look at this picture (blue) and ask ourselves what it really represents? It is not something made up out of itself: it is water shaped by the whole cosmos. The reason why this body of air and water is spherical is because the cosmos extends around it as a sphere on all sides. And this means that strong forces play in on the Earth as a whole.
The effect is that if we were to look at the Earth from some other planet, it would appear to us as a great water-drop in the cosmos. There would be all sorts of prominences on it — the continents, which would be rather differently colored — but as a whole it would appear to us as a great water-drop in the midst of the universe.
Let us now consider this from a cosmic standpoint. What is this great water-drop? It is something which takes its shape from its whole cosmic environment.
If one approaches the matter from a spiritual-scientific point of view, bringing Imagination and Inspiration to bear on it, one comes to know what this water-drop really is. It is nothing other than a gigantic drop of quicksilver; but the quicksilver is present in an extraordinarily rarefied condition.
The possibility of these high attenuations has been shown by the work of Frau Dr. Kolisko. At our Biological Institute in Stuttgart the attempt has been made to put this on an exact footing. It has been possible to make dilutions of substances up to one part in a trillion, and in fact to establish precisely the effects which such high dilutions of particular substances can have. Hitherto, in homoeopathy, this has been merely a matter of belief; now it has been raised to the level of exact science. The graphs which have been drawn leave no doubt today that the effects of the smallest particles follow a rhythmical course. I will not go into details; the work has been published and these findings can now be verified. Here I wish to point out only that even in the earthly realm the effects of enormous dilutions must be reckoned with.
Here we are concerned with something of which we can say, when we use it on a small scale: this is water. We can draw water from a river or a well and use it as water. Yes, it is water, but there is no water that consists solely of hydrogen and oxygen. It would be absurd for anyone to suppose that water consists of hydrogen and oxygen only. In the case of mineral waters and suchlike, it is of course obvious that something else is present. But there is no water composed solely of hydrogen and oxygen: that is only a first approximation. All water, wherever it appears, is permeated with something else. Essentially, the whole water-mass of the Earth is quicksilver for the universe. Only the small quantities we use are water for us. For the universe, this water is not water, but quicksilver.
Hence we can say, first of all, that in so far as we are considering the hydrosphere in relation to water, we have to do with a drop of quicksilver in the cosmos. Embedded as it were in this drop of quicksilver, naturally, are metallic substances — in brief, all the earthly substances. They represent the solid mass of the Earth, and they tend to assume their own special forms. Thus in the  structure as a whole we observe the general spherical form of quicksilver. Ordinary metallic quicksilver, one might say, is only the symbol produced by nature for the general activity of quicksilver, leading quite definitely to a spherical form. Embedded in the whole sphere are the metallic crystals, with the manifold variety of their own distinctive forms. Hence we have before us this formation of warmth, water, air: its tendency, as I have said, is to assume a spherical form, with individual crystal forms within it (see Plate I).
Even if we single out the air (dark red) which surrounds the Earth as its atmosphere, we can never speak simply of air, for the air always has a tendency to contain warmth in some degree: the air is permeated with warmth (violet). Thus we must add this fourth element, warmth, which enters into the air.
Now this warmth, which comes into the air from above, carries pre-eminently within it the sulphur-process, imparted to it from the cosmos. And to the sulphur-process is added the mercurial process, as I have described it in connection with the hydrosphere. Thus we have air-warmth — the sulphur-process; water-air — the mercurial process.
If now we turn toward the inner part of the Earth, we come to the acid-formation process, and especially to the salt-process, for the salts derive from the acids; and this is what the Earth really wants to be. Hence, when we look up into the cosmos, we are really looking at the sulphur-process. When we consider the tendency of the Earth to form itself into a cosmic water-drop, we are really looking at the mercurial process. And if we turn our gaze to the solid earth underfoot, which in spring gives rise to all that we see as growing, sprouting life, we are looking at the salt-process.
This salt-process is all-important for springtime life and growth. For the roots of plants, in forming themselves out of the seeds, depend for their whole growth on their relation to the salt-formations in the soil. It is these salt-formations — in the widest sense of the term — which give substance to the roots and enable them to act as the earthly foundation of plant-life.
Thus in turning back to the Earth we encounter the salt-process. This is what the Earth makes of itself in the depths of winter, whereas in summer there is much more intermingling. For in summer the air is shot through with sulphurizing processes, which indeed occur also in lightning and thunder; they penetrate far down, so that the whole course of the season is sulphurized. Then we come at Michaelmas to the time when the sulphur-process is driven back by meteoric iron, as I told you yesterday. During summer, too, the salt-process mingles with the atmosphere, for the growing plants carry the salts up through their leaves and blossoms right up into the seeds. Naturally, we find the salts widely distributed in the plant; they etherealize themselves in the etheric oils and so on; they approach the sulphurizing process. The salts are carried up through the  plants; they stream out and become part of the being of the atmosphere.
In high summer, accordingly, we have a mingling of the mercurial element, always present in the Earth, with the sulphuriZing and salt-forming elements. If at this season we stand here on Earth, our head actually projects into a mixture of sulphur, mercury, and salt; while the arrival of deep winter means that each of these three principles reverts to its own inner condition. The salts withdraw into the inwardness of the Earth, and the tendency for the hydrosphere to assume a spherical shape reasserts itself — imaged in winter by the snow-mantle that covers parts of the Earth. The sulphur process withdraws, so that there is no particular occasion to observe it. In place of it, something else comes to the fore during the deep winter season.
The plants have developed from spring until autumn, finally concentrating themselves in their seeds. What is this seeding process? When plants run to seed, they are doing what we are constantly doing in a dull human way when we use plants for food. We cook them. Now the development of a plant to blossom and then to seed-production is nature's cookery; it approaches the sulphur-process. The plants grow up into the sulphur-process. They are most strongly sulphurized, so to speak, when summer is at its height. When autumn draws on, this combustion process comes to an end.
In the organic realm, of course, everything is different from the processes we observe in their coarse inorganic form; but the outcome of every combustion process is ash. And in addition to the salt-formation, which comes from quite another quarter and is needed within the Earth, we must add all that falls down on to the Earth from the blossoming and seeding of plants as a result of the  cooking or combustion process. This falling down of ash — just as ash falls down in our stoves — plays a great role which is usually overlooked. For in the course of seed-formation — which is fundamentally a combustion process — the seed-nature is continually showering down on the Earth, so that from October onwards the Earth is quite impregnated with this form of ash.
If therefore we observe the Earth in the depths of winter, we have first the internal tendency to salt-formation; besides this we have the mercurial shaping-process in its most strongly marked form; and while in high summer we have to pay attention to the sulphurizing process in the cosmos outside the Earth, we now have in winter the ash-forming process.
So, you see, the tendency which reaches its culmination at Christmas is prepared in advance from Michaelmas onwards. The Earth is gradually more and more consolidated, so that in deep winter it becomes really a cosmic body, expressing itself in mercurial formation, salt-formation, ash-formation. What does this signify for the cosmos?
Now, if we can suppose that a flea, let us say, were to become an anatomist and were to study a bone, it would have before it an exceptionally small piece of bone, because the flea itself is so small and it would be examining the bone from a flea's perspective. The flea would then discover that in the bone we have to do with phosphoric lime in an amorphous condition, with carbonic acid, lime, and so forth. But our flea anatomist would never come to the point of realizing that the fragment of bone is a small part only of a complete skeleton. Certainly, the flea jumps, but in studying the tiny piece of bone he would never get beyond it. Similarly, it would not help a human geologist or mineralogist to be able to jump about like a gigantic Earth-flea. In studying the mountain ranges of the Earth, which in their totality represent a skeleton, he would still be working on a miniature scale. The flea would never come to describing the skeleton as a whole; he would hack out a tiny piece with his little hammer. Suppose this were a tiny piece of collarbone: nothing in the constituents of the little piece, carbonate of lime, phosphate of lime, and so on, would reveal to the flea that it belonged to a collarbone, still less that it was part of a complete skeleton. The flea would have hacked off a tiny piece and would then describe it from his own flea-standpoint, just as a man describes the Earth when somewhere — let us say in the Dornach hills — he has hacked out a bit of Jura limestone. Then he describes this bit, and works up his findings into mineralogy, geology, and so on. It is still the same flea-standpoint, though certainly somewhat enlarged.
This, of course, is no way to arrive at the truth. We need to recognize that the Earth is a single whole, most firmly consolidated during winter through its salt-formation, its mercurial formation, and its ash-formation. Let us then ask what the whole nature of the Earth signifies when we look at it not from the flea's point of view, but in relation to the cosmos.
We will first consider salt-formation, taking this in the widest sense to connote a physical deposit, exemplified in the way ordinary cooking-salt dissolved in a glass of water will separate out as a deposit on the bottom of the glass. (I will not now go into the chemical side of this, though the result would be the same if I did). Now a salt-deposit of this kind has the characteristic of being porous, as it were, to the spiritual. Where there is a salt-deposit, the spiritual has a clear field of entry. In mid-winter, accordingly, when the Earth consolidates itself on the basis of salt-formation, the effect is, first of all, that the elemental beings who are united with the Earth have, one might say, an agreeable abode within it. But other spiritual elements, too, are drawn in from the cosmos and are able to dwell in the salt-crust which lies immediately below the Earth's surface. Here, in this salt-crust, the Moon-forces are particularly active — I mean the remains of those Moon-forces which were left behind, as I have often mentioned, when the Moon separated from the Earth.
These Moon-forces are active in the Earth chiefly because of the salt present in it. So in winter — beneath the snow cover which strives in one direction, one might say, toward the quicksilver form and in the other passes down into the salt deposits — we have the solid Earth-substance, the salt, permeated with spirituality. In winter the Earth does indeed become spiritual in itself, through the consolidating influence, especially, of its salt-content.
Now water — that is, cosmic quicksilver — has the inner tendency to shape itself spherically. We can see this inner tendency everywhere. And because of this the Earth in mid-winter is enabled not only to become rigid through its salt-content and to permeate the salt with spirit, but also to vivify the spiritualized substance and to lead it over into the realm of life. In winter the whole surface of the Earth is reinvigorated. The quicksilver principle, working into the spiritualized salt, activates everywhere this tendency toward new life. Below the Earth's surface, in winter, there is a tremendous reinforcement of the Earth's capacity to produce life.
This life, however, would become a Moon-life, for it is chiefly the Moon-forces that are active in it. But because ash falls down from the seeds of plants, so that everything I have just described is impregnated with ash, something is present which keeps the whole process in the domain of the Earth.
The plants have striven upward into the sulphur-process, and out of this process the ash has fallen down. This is what draws the plant back to Earth, after it has striven up into the etheric-spiritual. So in the depths of winter we have on the Earth's surface not only the tendency to absorb the spirit and to reinvigorate itself, but the tendency also to transform the Moon-like into the earthly. Through the remains of the fallen ash the Moon is compelled to promote Earthly life, not Moon life.
Now let us turn from the Earth's surface and look at the air-formation that surrounds the Earth. For the air, it is of the utmost importance always, but especially in midwinter, that the Sun radiates warmth and light through it — though the light is less relevant to our immediate considerations.
You see, science treats things always in isolation from one another, as in reality they never are. Air, we are told, consists of oxygen and nitrogen and other elements. But in fact this is not so: the air is not made up merely of oxygen and nitrogen, for it is always rayed through by the Sun. That is the reality: air is always permeated in the daytime by the activity of the Sun. And what does this activity signify? It signifies that the air up above is always seeking to tear itself away from the Earth. If salt-formation, mercurial formation, and ash-formation were alone active, then nothing but the earthly would be there. But up above, because the activities striving upward from the Earth are taken up into the activity of Sun and air, Earth-activity is transmuted into cosmic activity. The power to work on its own accord in the living-spiritual is taken away from the Earth. The Sun makes its power felt in everything that grows and sprouts upward from the Earth. And so, in a certain region above the Earth, a quite special tendency is apparent to spiritual vision (see Plate I). On the Earth itself everything seeks to become spherical (dark red); in this upper region the sphere is continually impelled to flatten out into a plane (reddish). Naturally it will tend to resume its spherical shape, but up there the spherical is always inclined to flatten itself out. The upper influences would really like to break up the Earth, to disintegrate it, so that everything might become a flat surface, spread out there in the cosmos.
If this were to come about, the Earth's activities would disappear completely, and up above we should have a kind of air in which the stars would be active. This is very plainly expressed in man himself. What part do we as human beings have in the Sun-filled air above? We breathe it in, and because of this the activity of the Sun extends right into us, downward certainly in a sense, but chiefly upward. Through our head we are continually drawn away from the influences of the Earth, and on this account our head is enabled to participate in the whole cosmos. Our head would really always like to go out into the region where the plane prevails. If our head belonged only to the Earth, especially in wintertime, our whole experience of thinking would be different. We should then have the feeling that all our thoughts wished to take a rounded shape. In fact they do not; they have a certain lightness, adaptability, fluidity, and this we owe to the characteristic incursion of the activity of the Sun.
Here we have the second tendency; here the Sun-like strikes into the Earthly. But this is at its weakest in winter. If we were to go still further out, something else would come into the picture. Then we should have to do no longer with the activity of the Sun, but only with the activity of the stars, for the stars in turn have a great influence on our head. Inasmuch as the Sun gives us back to the cosmos, so to speak, the stars have their own deeply penetrating influence on our head, and so on the whole formation of the human organism.
But now I must tell you that what I have just been describing no longer holds good today, for in a certain way man has emancipated himself, in his growth and his whole evolution, from the Earth's activities. If were to go back to the old Lemurian time, or especially to the Polarian time that preceded it, we should find the whole thing quite different. We should observe that everything that occurred on the Earth had a great influence on the human organism. You will indeed have gathered this from the account of the evolution of the Earth given in my Occult Science. In those early times we should find man placed in the very midst of the activities I have been telling you about. Tomorrow I will describe how man has emancipated himself from all this; today I will speak as though we were still fully involved in it. And here we come to something that to present-day understanding will seem highly paradoxical.
We can ask the question: What does a mother become when she is beginning to develop a new human being? Originally — after all that has first to happen in order that a new human being may come into existence on Earth — it is the salt-forming Moon-forces which chiefly influence the female organism at that time. So we can say that while a woman is otherwise and in general a human being, the salt-forming Moon-forces then have the strongest influence on her. We can put this in spiritual-scientific terms by saying: The woman becomes Moon, just as the Earth — especially just below its surface — becomes Moon when Christmas approaches.
So it is not the Earth only which becomes mostly Moon when deep winter prevails; this tendency of the Earth to become Moon occurs again, in like manner, when a woman prepares herself to receive a new human being. And precisely because of this, the Sun-influence on her becomes different, just as it is different in midwinter compared with high summer. And the formation in the woman of the new human being stands wholly under the influence of the Sun. Because the woman takes up the Moon-activities, the salt-activities, so strongly into herself, she becomes able to take up the Sun-activities on their own account. In ordinary life the Sun-activities are taken up by the human organism through the heart and from there spread out over the whole organism. But directly a woman prepares herself to bring forth a new human being, the Sun-activities are concentrated on the forming of this new life. Thus we can say schematically: The woman becomes Moon so that she can take up the Sun-activities into herself; and the new human being, existing first as an embryo, is in this sense wholly Sun-activity. The embryo is enabled to come into being through this concentration of Sun-activities.
The old instinctive clairvoyance knew this in its own way. At one time in old Europe a remarkable idea prevailed. It was thought that before a newborn child had taken any earthly nourishment, it was a quite different being from what it became after imbibing its first drop of milk. That was the old Germanic belief. For these people had an instinctive feeling that the newborn infant was a Sun-being, and that through the first earthly nourishment it received it became a creature of Earth. Hence the newborn infant did not at first belong to the Earth at all. Again, according to occult laws which I might touch on at some other time, old Germanic custom gave the father — at whose feet the child was always laid directly it was born — the right either to let it grow up or to destroy it; for it was not yet a creature of Earth. If it had taken one single drop of milk, he no longer had the right to destroy it. It would then have to remain an Earth-creature, because it had been ordained by nature, by the world, by the cosmos, to be one. In such old customs there lives something of immensely profound significance.
Here indeed is the basis of the saying: The child is of the Sun. So it is possible now to look on the woman who has borne the child as a being who is in the deepest sense related to all earthly processes. For the Earth prepares itself in midwinter through the salt-tendency — that is, the Moon tendency — so that it may be best able to receive the Sun-element. The Earth then reaches out beyond the Sun-element to the heavens, to which also the human head belongs.
Hence we can say something like this. In order to bring the essence of Christmas rightly before our souls, let us transpose ourselves into the being of man. In the Christmas spirit is expressed the coming to birth of the Jesus-child, who is ordained to receive the Christ into himself. Let us look closely at this. If we look at the figure of Mary, we are bound to see that her head reflects something heavenly in its whole appearance, its whole expression. We must then indicate that Mary is preparing to take into herself the Sun, the child, the Sun as it rays through the encircling air. And then we can see in the form of Mary the Moon-Earthly element.

Plate II
Plate 2

Now imagine how this could be portrayed. First we have the Moon-Earth element, spread out below the Earth's surface. Then, going out into the great spaces, we find a raying forth from man into the cosmos, and this could be shown as a heavenly Earth-star radiance, sent out by the Earth into the cosmos. The head of Mary is like a radiant star, which means that her whole countenance and bearing must give expression to this star-radiant quality.
If then we turn to the breast, we come to the breathing process; to the Sun-element, the child, forming itself out of the clouds in the atmosphere, shot through by the rays of the Sun.
Further down we come to the Moon-like, salt-forming forces, given outward expression by bringing the limbs into dynamic relation with the Earth and letting them arise out of the salt and the Moon-elements in the Earth. Here we have the Earth insofar as it is inwardly transfigured by the Moon.
All this would really have to be shown through a kind of rainbow coloring. For if we were to look from the cosmos toward the Earth, through the shining of the stars, it would be as though the Earth were wishing to shine inwardly, beneath its surface, in rainbow colors. On the Earth we have something related to the Earth-forces, to gravity and to the formation of the limbs, which can be expressed only through the garment which follows the Earth-forces in its folds. So we should have the garment down below, in relation to the Earth-forces. Then we should have to portray, a little higher up, that which gives expression to the Earth-Moon element. We could even picture the Moon, if we wished to symbolize; but the Moon-element is clearly expressed in the configuration of the Earth.
Higher up still, we must bring in that which comes forth from the Moon-element. We see how the clouds are permeated with many human heads, pressing downwards; one of them is condensed into the Sun resting on Mary's arm: the Jesus-child. And all this must be completed, in an upward direction, through the star-radiance expressed in the countenance of Mary.
If we understand the depths of winter, how it shows us the connection of the cosmos with man, with man who takes up the birth-forces in the Earth, the only possible way of presenting the woman is in this form: formed out of the clouds, endowed with the forces of the Earth: with the Moon-forces below, with the Sun-forces in the middle, and above, toward the head, with the forces of the stars. The picture of Mary with the little Jesus-child arises out of the cosmos itself.
If we understand the cosmos in autumn, so as to represent all its formative forces in a picture, we come by necessity to an artistic portrayal of Michael and the Dragon, as I indicated yesterday. In the same way, everything we feel at Christmastime flows together into the picture of Mary and the child — that picture which hovered so often before painters in earlier times, especially in the first Christian centuries, and of which the last echoes have been preserved in Raphael's Sistine Madonna.
The Sistine Madonna was born out of the great instinctive knowledge of nature and the spirit which prevailed in ancient times. For it is a picture of the Imagination which must in fact come to a man who transposes his inner vision into the secrets of Christmas in such a way that they become for him a living picture.
Hence we can say: The course of the seasons must come to expression for inner vision in clear and glorious Imaginations. If one goes out with one's whole being into the world, the approach of autumn becomes the glorious Imagination of Michael's fight with the Dragon. Just as the Dragon can be represented only in a sulphurous form — born out of the sulphur-clouds — and just as the sword of Michael emerges when we think of the meteoric iron as concentrated in the sword and blended with it, so out of all that we can feel at Christmastime arises the picture of Mary the mother, the folds of her robe following the forces of the Earth, while in the region of the breast — even these details are apparent in the painting — her garment has to be inwardly rounded, taking on the quicksilver form, so that here one has a feeling of inward enclosure. Here the Sun-forces can find entry, and the innocent Jesus-child, who must be thought of as having yet received no earthly nourishment, is the Sun-activity resting on Mary's arm, with the radiance of the stars above. That is how we have to represent the head and eyes of Mary, as though a light were shining out from within them toward men. And the Jesus-child in Mary's arm must appear as though emerging from the rounded cloud-shapes, tender and lovable, inwardly sheltered; and then the garment, subject to earthly gravity, expressing what the force of earthly gravity can become (see Plate 2).
All this is best rendered in colors. Then we have the picture which comes to shine out for us as a cosmic Imagination at Christmas-time — a picture we can live with until Easter, when out of cosmic relationships once again an Easter Imagination can arise; we will speak of it tomorrow.
You will see from this that art is drawn from the heavens and their interplay with the Earth. True art is an expression of that which man experiences in the cosmos, spiritual-psychical-physical, which reveals itself to him in magnificent Imaginations. So, in order to represent all that is involved in the inner struggle for the development of self-consciousness out of nature-consciousness, nothing will do but the grand picture of Michael's fight with the Dragon; and in order to bring before us everything that can work from nature into our souls during the deep winter season, we have an artistic, imaginative expression of it in the picture of the Mother and child.
To observe the course of the seasons is to follow the great cosmic artist, so that the things which the heavens imprint on the Earth are brought to life again in powerful pictures — pictures which grow into realities for the mind of man.
Thus the course of the year can reveal itself to us in four Imaginations: the Michael Imagination, the Mary Imagination, and — as we shall see later on — the Easter Imagination and the St. John Imagination.

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