Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Polarity of Easter and Michaelmas

Michaelmas and the Soul Forces of the Human Being. Lecture 4 of 4.
Rudolf Steiner, Vienna, October 1, 1923:

The aim of everything we have been considering during the last three days, my dear friends, has been to point the way in which the human being can once more be converted, as it were, from an earth citizen to a citizen of the cosmos, how the horizon of his life can be expanded to the reaches of the universe, and how thereby his earthly life, too, can be enriched, not only as regards such expansion, but in the intensity of his inner impulses as well.
Yesterday I told you how a genuine spiritual approach can disclose the true nature of the planets: that they are not the mere physical bodies of which modern astronomy tells us, but rather that they can enter our consciousness as manifestations of spiritual beings. In this connection I spoke of the moon and of Saturn. It is not possible in the allotted time to consider each separate planet, nor is it necessary for our present purposes. My aim was merely to point out how our whole frame of mind can be expanded from the earth to cosmic space. But only in this way does it become possible to feel the outer world as part of ourself, in the same way as we do all that takes place inside our skin — our breathing, circulation, and so forth.
Present-day natural science considers our earth merely a dead mineral body. In our civilization it never occurs to a man who is studying some aspect of cosmology, for example, that there is no element of reality in what he has in mind. The present frame of mind is astonishingly obtuse in the matter of a feeling for reality. People cheerfully call a saline crystal “real,” and also a rose, without in any way differentiating these realities from each other. Yet a saline crystal is a self-contained reality bounded within itself, while a rose is not. A rose can have no existence other than in connection with the rosebush. A rose — I refer to the flower — cannot come into being of itself. So if we imagine the flower of a rose at all — even if it fills us with delight to see this conception realized — we have an abstraction, for all that we can touch it: we have not the reality represented by the rosebush. Nor is there any true reality in that earth of primitive rock, slate, limestone, etc., described by modern external science for there is no such earth as that: it is purely fictitious. Has not the earth produced substantial plants, animals, human beings? That is all part of the earth, just as much as is the crystalline slate of mountain ranges; and if I only consider an earth consisting of stone I have no earth at all. Nothing that external natural science deals with today in any branch of geology is a reality.
So what we should do in this our last lecture is to proceed not only logically but realistically. The obvious errors in the general knowledge of today are not very formidable obstacles because they can readily be refuted. The worst evil in present-day knowledge and cognition is what appears to be absolutely irrefutable. You see, the calculation of everything in the modern science of geology that pertains, for instance, to the origin of the earth, so and so many million years ago, calls for mental brilliance and exact knowledge. True, these calculations disagree by a trifle: some call it twenty million years, others two hundred million; but people of today take such figures in their stride — in other fields as well. {In the matter of post-war inflation, for example, the situation reached a point in 1923 at which 2 billion Marks had the value of 1 pre-war Mark.} In spite of all this, however, the method employed for such computations really calls for the greatest respect. It is exact, it is accurate — but in what way? It is comparable to the following procedure: I examine a human heart today, and then again in a month. By some sort of more sensitive examination I discover changes in this human heart, so I know how it has altered in the course of a month. Then I observe it again after the lapse of another month, and so forth; that is, I apply the same method to the human heart that geologists use to calculate geologic epochs by millions of years: they compute the little changes by the variations of deposits in the strata, and so forth, in order to arrive at the time lapses. But what am I going to do with the conclusions arrived at concerning the changes in the human heart? I can apply that method to these changes and figure out how this human heart looked three hundred years ago and how it will look in another three hundred years. The calculation may be quite correct, only this heart was not in existence three hundred years ago, nor will it be three hundred years hence. — Similarly, the most brilliant and exact methods of computation tempt the present science of geology into setting forth how the earth looked three million years ago, when there was no trace of Silurian or other strata. Again, the figures can be perfectly correct, but the earth was not in existence. The physicists today calculate the changes that will occur in various substances in twenty million years. In this direction American scientists have done some extraordinarily interesting research and have told us, for instance, how albumen is going to look then — only the earth will no longer be in existence as a physical cosmic body.
Logical methods, then — exactitude — these really constitute the greatest danger, because they are incapable of refutation. Given the correct method, a statement of what the heart looked like three hundred years ago, or how the earth appeared two hundred million years ago, cannot be disproved, nor would it be of any avail to occupy oneself with such refutations: what we need is a realistic way of thinking, a realistic way of looking at the world.
The indispensable factor in every domain of spiritual science is just such a universal grasp of reality; and by means of such methods as I have described — inner, intimate methods that lead to an acquaintance with the population of the moon and that of Saturn — one learns as well, not only the relation of the earth to its own beings, but the relation of every being of the universe to the being of the cosmos. Everywhere in the world matter contains spirit, for matter is, of course, only the expression of spirit. At every point imagination, inspiration, and intuition find the spirit in the sensible, in the physical — not as enclosed in sharp contours, but as incessant mobility, as perpetual life. And just as there is no reality in the stone formations offered us by geology — for it is a matter of seeking the earth, including its production of plants, animals and physical men — so, if it is to be grasped in its all-embracing entirety, the earth must be understood as the outer, physical configuration of spirit.
Through imagination we learn first how the spirit principle of the earth differs from that of the human being, if I may so express it. In confronting someone, I perceive many different expressions of his being: I notice how he walks, I hear how he speaks, I see his physiognomy and the gestures of his hands and arms; but all this impels me to seek a homogeneous psycho-spiritual principle dominating him. And just as here one instinctively searches for a unified psycho-spiritual principle in the self-enclosed human being, so imaginative cognition, in contemplating the earth, finds not an undivided earth-spirit principle, but a multiplicity of manifold variety. It is therefore wrong to infer by analogy, for example, a homogeneous spirit principle in the earth from the spirit principle of man; for true vision reveals a multiplicity of earth spirituality, of spiritual beings, as it were, that dwell in the kingdoms of nature. But these spiritual beings are passing through a life: they are in a process of becoming.
Now let us see what this imagination perceives during the course of a year in the way of earth activity when it is supplemented by inspiration, and we will direct our soul's gaze first to the winter. Outwardly, frost and snow cover the ground, and the germs of the earth beings, of the plants, so to speak, are received back into the earth. All that is connected with the earth as germination — we can here ignore the world of animals and men — is withdrawn by the earth into itself. In addition to the familiar burgeoning life of spring and summer, winter shows us dying life. But what does this dying life of winter mean in a spiritual sense? It means that those spiritual beings whom we call elemental spiritual beings — beings that constitute the life-giving principle proper, especially in plants — withdraw into the earth itself and become intimately connected with it. Such is the imaginative aspect of the earth in winter: it takes into its body, as it were, its spiritual elemental beings and shelters them there. In winter the earth is at its most spiritual; that is, it is most fully permeated by its elemental spirit beings.
Like all supersensible observation, all this passes over into feeling, into sensibility, in him who envisions it. As he feelingly observes the earth in winter and sees the snow on the ground, he knows that this makes a covering for the earth's body so that within it the elemental spirit-beings of earth life themselves may dwell. With the coming of spring the relation of these beings to the earth is transformed into a relation to the cosmic environment. Everything in these beings that during the winter had produced a close relationship with the earth itself becomes related to the cosmic environment in spring: the elemental beings seek to escape out of the earth; and spring really consists of the earth's sacrificial devotion to the universe in letting its elemental beings flow out into it. In winter these elemental beings need repose in the bosom of the earth; in spring they need to stream up through the air, through the atmosphere — to be determined by the spiritual forces of the planetary system, namely, of Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and so on. Nothing that can act upon the earth spirits from the planetary system does so in winter: this commences in the spring. And here we can observe a more spiritual cosmic process, and compare it with a corresponding but more material one in the human being: our breathing process. We inhale the outer air, hold it in our own body, then exhale it again. In-breathing, out-breathing — that is one component of human life.
Now, in the winter the earth has inhaled its whole spirituality, and with the commencement of spring it starts to exhale it again into the cosmos. In the very old periods of human evolution, when there still existed a sort of instinctive clairvoyance, men felt this; and therefore they felt it to be in conformity with earth existence to celebrate the Christmas Festival during the winter solstice. Then the earth was at its most spiritual — that was the time when it could hold the mystery of the Christmas Festival. The Redeemer could unite only with an earth that had drawn all its spirituality into itself. But for the festival intended to induce a feeling in man that he belongs not only to the earth but to the whole universe, that as an earth citizen his soul can be awakened through cosmic agencies, for this festival of resurrection only that season could serve which carries all the spirituality of the earth out into the cosmos. That is why we find the Christmas Festival linked with phenomena pertaining to the earth, with the dark of winter, with a sort of earth sleep, while on the other hand we see the Easter Festival so fitted into the course of the seasons that we determine it not by earthly but by cosmic events: the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. It was the stars that in former times had to tell men when Easter should be celebrated — the time when the whole earth opens itself to the cosmos. One resorted to the cosmic script: man had to become aware that he is an earth being, and that at the Spring Festival of Easter he has to open himself to cosmic reaches.
It positively hurts to hear people discussing such glorious thoughts of a bygone age as they have been doing now for twenty or twenty-five years: well-meaning people who do not want the Easter Festival to be so movable. At the very least, they say, it should be held on the first Sunday in April; they want it all quite external and abstract. I have had to listen to arguments pointing out that it creates confusion in commercial ledgers to have Easter so movable, and that business could be carried on in a much more regular way if the date of Easter were strictly assigned. It is really distressing to see how world-alien our civilization has become — this civilization that fancies itself practical. A suggestion such as the one just mentioned is as unpractical as can be, because our civilization can establish something that may be practical for a day, but never for a century. In order to be practical for a century, the matter in question must be in harmony with the universe. But herein the cycle of the seasons must ever be able to point man to his inner life in conjunction with the entire cosmos.
Advancing from spring toward summer, the earth more and more loses its inner spirituality. This spirituality, these elemental beings, pass from the terrestrial to the extra-terrestrial realm and come wholly under the influence of the cosmic planetary world; and in a former epoch this was celebrated in the great and profound rites performed in certain Mysteries at the height of summer, the season in which we have instituted the Festival of St. John. This was the time when the initiates of yore, the Mystery priests of those sanctuaries where the St. John Festival was celebrated in its original significance, were deeply permeated with the contemplation: That which in the winter time, during the winter solstice, I had to seek by gazing into the interior of the earth through the blanket of snow that became transparent for me, that I will now find by directing my vision outward; and the elemental beings that during the winter were determined by what pertains to the inner earth, these are now determined by the planets. From the beings which in winter I had to seek in the earth I gather, at the height of summer, knowledge of their experiences with the planets. — And just as we experience our respiratory process unconsciously, simply as something inwardly a part of our existence, so man once experienced his existence as part of the course of the seasons in the spirituality that pertains to the earth. In winter he sought his kindred elemental nature-beings in the depths of the earth, in midsummer he sought them high in the clouds. In the earth he found them inwardly permeated and saturated with their own earth forces coupled with what the moon forces have left behind in the earth; and in the summertime he found them given over to the vast universe.
And when summer begins to wane after the St. John season, the earth starts inbreathing its spirituality again; and once more the time approaches for the earth to harbor its spirituality within.
We are nowadays little inclined to observe this in-and out-breathing of the earth. Human respiration is more a physical process; the breathing of the earth is a spiritual process — the passing out of the elemental earth-beings into cosmic space and their re-immersion in the earth. Yet it is a fact that just as we participate, in the tenor of our inner life, in what goes on in our circulation, so, as true human beings, we take part in the cycle of the seasons. As the blood circulation inside us is essential for our existence, the circulation of the elemental beings between earth and the heavens is indispensable for us as well; and only the bluntness of their sensibility prevents men today from glimpsing the factors within themselves that are conditioned by this external course of the year. {See: Rudolph Steiner, Calendar of the Soul, Anthroposophic Press, New York.} But the very necessity which in the course of time will compel men to learn to receive the ideas of spiritual science, of supersensible cognition — the necessity to develop the inner activity indispensable for a full realization of what spiritual-scientific revelations entrust them with — this in itself will sharpen and refine their capacity for sentient receptivity.
This, my dear Friends, is what you really should await as a result of deep absorption in that supersensible cognition aimed at by anthroposophy. You see, if you read a book or a lecture cycle on anthroposophy just as you read any other book — that is, as abstractly as you read other books — there is no point whatever in reading anthroposophic literature at all. In that case I should advise reading cookery books or technical books on mechanics: that would be more useful; or read about How to Become a Good Business Man. Reading books or listening to lectures on anthroposophy has sense only when you realize that to receive its messages a frame of mind is called for totally different from the one involved in the gleaning of other information. This is confirmed even by the fact that those who today fancy themselves particularly clever consider anthroposophic literature quite mad. Well, they must have a reason for this view, and it is this: Everybody else describes things quite differently, presents the world in an entirely different way; and we cannot stand these anthroposophists who come along and change it all around.
And indeed, the conclusions reached by anthroposophy and appearing in the world today are very different from what emanates from the other quarters; and I must say that a certain policy adhered to by some of our friends, namely, that of making anthroposophy generally palatable by minimizing the discrepancies between it and the trivial opinions of others — such efforts cannot be approved at all, though they are frequently met with. What is needed is a totally different attitude, a different orientation of the soul, if the message of anthroposophy is to be considered plausible, comprehensible, understandable, intelligent — instead of mad.
But given this different orientation, not only the human intellect but the human Gemüt will in a short time undergo a schooling that will render it more sensitive to impressions: it will no longer feel winter merely as the time for donning a heavy coat, or summer as the signal for shedding various articles of clothing; but rather, it will learn to feel the subtle transitions occurring in the course of the year, from the cold snow of winter to the sultry midsummer of earth life. We shall learn to sense the course of the year as we do the expressions of a living, soul-endowed being. Indeed, the proper study of anthroposophy can bring us to the point at which we feel the manifestations of the seasons as we do the assent or dissent in the soul of a friend. Just as in the words of a friend and in the whole attitude of his soul we can perceive the warm heartbeat of a soul-endowed being whose manner of speaking to us is quite different from that of a lifeless thing, so nature, hitherto mute, will begin to speak to us as though out of her soul. In the cycle of the seasons we shall learn to feel soul, soul in the process of becoming; we will learn to listen to what the year as the great living being has to tell us, instead of occupying ourself only with the little living beings; and we shall find our place in the whole soul-endowed cosmos.
ut then, when summer passes into autumn, and winter approaches, something very special will speak to us out of nature. One who has gradually acquired the sensitive feeling for nature just described — and anthroposophists will notice in due time that this can indeed be brought about in the soul, in the Gemüt, through anthroposophical endeavor — such a one will learn to distinguish between nature-consciousness, engendered during the spring and summer, and self-consciousness proper which thrives in the fall and winter. What is nature consciousness? When spring comes, the earth develops its sprouting, blossoming life; and if I react to this in the right way, if I let all that the spring really embraces speak within me — I need not be conscious of it: it speaks to the unconscious depths of a consummate human life as well — if I achieve all this I do not merely say, The flower is blooming, the plant is germinating, but I feel a true concord with nature and can say, My ego blooms in the flower, my ego germinates in the plant. Nature-consciousness is engendered only by learning to take part in all that develops in the burgeoning and unfolding life of nature. To be able to germinate with the plant, to blossom with the plant, to bear fruit with the plant, that is what is meant by “passing out of one's own inner self” and by “becoming one with outer nature.” Truly, the term “to develop spirituality” does not mean to become abstract: it means to be able to follow the spirit in its being and expansion. And if, by participating in the germinating, the flowering, and the bearing fruit, man develops this delicate feeling for nature during the spring and summertime, he prepares himself to live in devotion to the universe, to the firmament, precisely at the height of summer. Every little firefly will be for him a mysterious revelation of the cosmos; every breath in the atmosphere in midsummer will proclaim the cosmic principle within the terrestrial.
But then — if we have learned to feel with nature, to blossom with the flowers, to germinate with the seeds, to take part in the bearing of fruit — then, because we have learned to dwell in nature with our own being, we cannot help co-experiencing the essence of the fall and winter as well. He who has learned to live with nature in the spring learns also to die with nature in the autumn. Thus we attain again by a different way to those sensations that once so intensely permeated the soul of the Mithras priest, as I have described. He sensed the course of the seasons in his own body. That is no longer possible for present-day mankind; but what will become more and more incumbent upon humanity in the near future — and herein anthroposophists must be the pioneers — is to experience the cycle of the seasons: to learn to live with the spring and to die with the autumn.
But man must not die: he must not let himself be overpowered. He can live united with burgeoning, blossoming nature, and in doing so he can develop his nature-consciousness; but when he experiences the dying in nature the experience is a challenge to oppose this dying with the creative forces of his own inner being. Then the spirit-soul principle, his true self-consciousness, will come to life within him; and by sharing in nature's dying during the fall and winter he will become in the highest degree the awakener of his own self-consciousness. In this way the human being evolves: he transforms himself in the course of the seasons by experiencing this alternation of nature-consciousness and self-consciousness. When he takes part in nature's dying, that is the time when his inner life force must awake; when nature draws her elemental beings into herself the inner human force must become the awakening of self-consciousness.
Michael forces! Now we feel them again. In the old days of instinctive clairvoyance the picture of Michael's combat with the Dragon arose from quite different premises. Now, however, if we vividly comprehend the idea embraced in nature-consciousness — self-consciousness: spring-summer — autumn-winter, the end of September will once more reveal to us the same force that points us to the victorious power which should evolve on this grave if we take part in the dying of nature: the victorious power that fans the true, strong self-consciousness of man into bright flame. Here we have again Michael vanquishing the Dragon.
It is indispensable that anthroposophical knowledge, anthroposophical cognition, should stream into the human Gemüt as a force. And the way leads from the dry and abstract, although exact conceptions of today to that goal where the living enlightenment taken into our Gemüt once more confronts us with something as full of life as was in olden times the glorious picture of Michael in battle with the Dragon. This infuses into our cosmogony something very different from abstract concepts; and furthermore, do not imagine that such experience is without consequences for the totality of man's life on earth!
I have frequently set forth in our meetings here in Vienna how we can enter and feel at home in the consciousness of immortality, in the awareness of prenatal existence. At this meeting I wanted particularly to show you how we can gather into our Gemüt the spiritual forces from the spiritual world, in the wholly concrete sense. It is truly not enough to talk in a general, pantheistic, or other vague way about spirit underlying all matter. That would be just as abstract as it would to be satisfied with the truism: Man is endowed with spirit. What possible meaning could that have? The term spirit takes on meaning only when it speaks to us in concrete details, when it keeps revealing itself to us concretely, when it can bring us comfort, uplift, joy. The pantheistic “spirit” in philosophical speculations means nothing whatever. Only the living spirit, that speaks to us in nature in the same way as the human soul in man speaks to us, can enter the human Gemüt in a vitalizing and exalting way. But when this does occur our Gemüt will derive powers from the enlightenment transformed in it, precisely those powers that are needed in our social life. During the last three or four centuries mankind has simply acquired the habit of considering all nature, and human existence as well, in intellectual, abstract conceptions; and now that humanity is confronted with the great problems of social chaos, people try to solve these, too, with the same intellectual means. But never in the world will anything but chimeras be brought forth in this way. A consummate human heart is a prerequisite to the right to an opinion in the social realm; but this no man can possess without finding his relation with the cosmos, and in particular, with the spiritual substance of the cosmos.
When the human Gemüt will have received into itself spirit-consciousness — the spirit-consciousness engendered by the transition from nature-consciousness (spring-summer) to self-consciousness (autumn-winter) — then will dawn the solution, among others, of the social problems of the moment. Not the intellectual substance of such problems as the social question, but the forces they need, depend in a deep sense upon the contingency of a sufficient number of men being able to make such spiritual impulses their own.
All this must be brought to our Gemüt if we would consider adding the autumn festival, the Michael Festival, to the three we have: the festivals of Christmas, Easter and St. John, that have become mere shadows. How wonderful it would be if this Michael Festival could be celebrated at the end of September with the whole power of the human heart! But never must it be celebrated by making certain arrangements that bring about nothing but abstract Gemüt sensations: a Michael Festival calls for human beings who feel in their souls in fullest measure everything that can activate spirit-consciousness.
What does Easter represent in the year's festivals? It is a festival of resurrection. It commemorates the Resurrection realized in the Mystery of Golgotha through the descent of Christ, the Sun-Spirit, into a human body. First death, then resurrection: that is the outer aspect of the Mystery of Golgotha. One who understands the Mystery of Golgotha in this sense sees death and resurrection in this way of redemption; and perhaps he will feel in his soul that he must unite in his Gemüt with Christ, the victor over death, in order to find resurrection in death. But Christianity does not end with the traditions associated with the Mystery of Golgotha: it must advance. The human Gemüt turns inward and deepens more and more as time goes on; and in addition to this festival that brings alive the Death and Resurrection of Christ, man needs that other one which reveals the course of the year as having its counterpart within him, so that he can find in the round of the seasons first of all the resurrection of the soul — in fact, the necessity for achieving this resurrection — in order that the soul may then pass through the portal of death in a worthy way. Easter: death, then resurrection; Michaelmas: resurrection of the soul, then death. This makes of the Michael Festival a reversed Easter Festival. Easter commemorates for us the Resurrection of Christ from death; but in the Michael Festival we must feel with all the intensity of our soul: In order not to sleep in a half-dead state that will dim my self-consciousness between death and a new birth, but rather, to be able to pass through the portal of death in full alertness, I must rouse my soul through my inner forces before I die. First, resurrection of the soul — then death, so that in death that resurrection can be achieved which man celebrates within himself.
I trust these lectures have contributed a little toward bridging the gap between the purely mental enlightenment anthroposophy has to offer, and what this anthroposophy can mean to the human Gemüt. That would make me very happy; and I should be able to look back affectionately on all that we have been privileged to discuss in these lectures, which were truly not addressed to your mind but to your Gemüt, and through which, in a manner not customary nowadays, I wanted to point out, among other things, the social stimulus so sorely needed by mankind today. Humanity will become attuned to such social impulses only by an inner deepening of the Gemüt. That is what fills my soul, now that I must bring these lectures to a close. It was from an inner need of my heart that I delivered them to you, my dear Austrian friends.

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