The Cycle of the Year as Breathing Process of the Earth. Lecture 3 of 5.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, April 2, 1923:
We should not underestimate the significance it once held for mankind to focus the whole attention during the year on a festival-time. Although in our time the celebration of religious festivals is largely a matter of habit, it was not always so. There were times when people united their consciousness with the course of the year; when, let us say, at the beginning of the year they felt themselves standing within the course of time in such a way that they said to themselves: “There is such and such a degree of cold or warmth now; there are certain relationships among the other weather conditions, certain relationships also between the growth or non-growth in plants or animals.” — People experienced along with Nature the gradual changes and metamorphoses she went through. But they shared this experience with Nature in such a way — when their consciousness was united with the natural phenomena — that they oriented this consciousness toward a specific festival. Let us say, at the beginning of the year, through the various feeling perceptions associated with the passing of winter, the consciousness was directed toward the Easter time, or in the fall, with the fading away of life, toward Christmas. Then men's souls were filled with feelings which found expression in the way they related themselves to what the festivals meant to them.
Thus people partook in the course of the year, and this participation meant for the most part permeating with spirit not only what they saw and heard around them but what they experienced with their whole human being. They experienced the course of the year as an organic life process, just as in the human being when he is a child we relate the utterances of the childish soul with the awkward movements of a child, or its imperfect way of speaking. As we connect specific soul-experiences with the change of teeth, other soul experiences with the later bodily changes, so men once saw the ruling and weaving of the spiritual in the successive changes of outer nature, in growth and decline, or in a waxing followed by a waning.
Now, all this cannot help affecting the whole way man feels himself as earthly man in the universe. Thus we can say that in that period at the beginning of our reckoning of time, when the remembrance of the Event of Golgotha began to be celebrated which later became the Easter festival — in that period in which the Easter festival was livingly felt and perceived, when man still took part in the turning of the year as I have just described it — then it was in essence so, that people felt their own lives surrendered, given over to the outer spiritual-physical world. Their feeling told them that in order to make their lives complete, they had need of the vision of the Entombment and the Resurrection, of that sublime image of the Mystery of Golgotha.
But it is from filling the consciousness in such a way that inspirations arise for men. People are not always conscious of these inspirations, but it is a secret of human evolution that from these religious attitudes toward the phenomena of the world, inspirations for the whole of life proceed.
First of all, we must understand clearly that during a certain epoch, during the Middle Ages, the people who oriented the spiritual life were priests, and those priests were concerned above all with the ordering of the festivals. They set the tone for the celebration of the festivals. The priesthood was that group of men who presented the festivals before the rest of mankind, before the laity, and who gave the festivals their content. In so doing the priests themselves felt this content very deeply; and the entire soul-condition that resulted from the inspiring effect of the festivals was expressed in the rest of the soul-life.
The Middle Ages would not have produced what is called Scholasticism — the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus and the other Scholastics — if this philosophy, this world conception, with all its social consequences, had not been inspired by the most important thought of the Church, by the Easter thought. In the vision of the descending Christ, Who lives for a time in man on Earth and then goes through the Resurrection, that soul impulse was given which led to the particular relation between faith and science, between knowledge and revelation, which was agreed upon by the Scholastics. That out of man himself, only knowledge of the sensible world can be acquired, whereas everything connected with the supersensible world has to be gained through revelation — this was determined basically by the way the Easter thought followed upon the Christmas thought.
And if, in turn, the idea-world of natural science today is totally the product of Scholasticism, as I have often explained to you, we must then say: “Although the natural science of the present is not aware of it, its knowledge is essentially a direct imprint of the Easter thought which prevailed in the early Middle Ages and then became paralyzed in the later Middle Ages and in modern times.” Notice the way natural science applies in its ideas what is so popular today and indeed dominates our culture: it devotes its ideas entirely to dead nature; it considers itself incapable of rising above dead nature. This is a result of that inspiration which was stimulated by viewing the Laying in the Grave.
As long as people were able to add the Resurrection to the Entombment as something to which they looked up, they then added also the revelation concerning the supersensible to mere outer sense-knowledge. But as it became more and more common to view the Resurrection as an inexplicable and therefore unjustifiable miracle, revelation — that is, the supersensible world — came to be repudiated. The present-day natural scientific view is inspired solely by the conception of Good Friday and lacks any conception of Easter Sunday.
We need to recognize this inner connection: The inspired element is always that which is experienced within all the festival moods in relation to Nature. We must come to know the connection between this inspiring element and all that comes to expression in human life. When we once gain an insight into the intimate connection that exists between this living-oneself-into the course of the year and what men think, feel, and will, then we shall also recognize how significant it would be if we were to succeed, for example, in making the Michael festival in autumn a reality; if we were really to succeed, out of spiritual foundations, out of esoteric foundations, in making the autumn Michael festival something that would pass over into men's consciousness and again work inspiringly.
If the Easter thought were to receive its coloration through the fact that to the Easter thought “He has been laid in the grave and is arisen” the other thought is added, the human thought, “He is arisen and may be laid in the grave without perishing” — If this Michael thought could become living, what tremendous significance just such an event could have for men's whole perceiving (Empfindung) and feeling and willing — and how this could “live itself into” the whole social structure of mankind!
My dear friends, all that people are hoping for from a renewal of the social life will not come about from all the discussions and all the institutions based on what is externally sensible. It will be able to come about only when a mighty inspiration-thought goes through mankind, when an inspiration-thought takes hold of mankind through which the moral-spiritual element will once again be felt and perceived along with the natural-sensible element.
People today are like earthworms, I might say, looking for sunlight under the ground, while to find the sunlight they need to come forth above the surface of the earth. Nothing in reality will be accomplished by all of today's organizations and plans for reform; something can be achieved only by the mighty impact of a thought-impulse drawn out of the spirit. For it must be clear to us that the Easter thought itself can only attain its new “nuance” through being complemented by the Michael thought.
Let us consider this Michael thought somewhat more closely. If we look at the Easter thought, we have to consider that Easter occurs at the time of the bursting and sprouting life of spring. At this time the Earth is breathing out her soul-forces, in order that these soul-forces may be permeated again by the astral element surrounding the Earth, the extra-earthly, cosmic element. The Earth is breathing out her soul. What does this mean?
It means that certain elemental beings which are just as much in the periphery of the Earth as the air is or as the forces of growth are — that these unite their own being with the out-breathed Earth soul in those regions in which it is spring. These beings float and merge with the out-breathed Earth soul. They become dis-individualized; they lose their individuality and rise in the general earthly soul element. We see countless elemental beings in spring just around Easter time in the final stage of the individual life which was theirs during the winter. We see them merging into the general Earth soul element and rising like a sort of cloud (red, yellow, with green). I might say that during the wintertime these elemental beings are within the soul element of the Earth, where they had become individualized; before this Easter time they had a certain individuality, flying and floating about as individual beings. During Easter time we see them come together in a general cloud (red), and form a common mass within the Earth soul (green). But by so doing these elemental beings lose their consciousness to a certain degree and enter into a sort of sleeping condition. Certain animals sleep in the winter; these elemental beings sleep in summer. This sleep is deepest during St. John's time, when they are completely asleep. Then they begin once more to individualize, and when the Earth breathes in again at Michaelmas, at the end of September, we can see them already as separate beings again.
Man needs these elemental beings... This is not in his consciousness, but man needs them nonetheless, in order to unite them with himself, so that he can prepare his future. And man could unite these elemental beings with himself, if at a certain festival time — it would have to be at the end of September — he could perceive with a special inner soul-filled liveliness how Nature herself changes toward the autumn; if he could perceive how the animal and plant life recedes, how certain animals begin to seek their shelters against the winter; how the plant leaves get their autumn coloring; how all Nature fades and withers.
It is true that spring is fair, and it is a fine capacity of the human soul to perceive the beauty of the spring, the growing, sprouting, burgeoning life. But to be able to perceive also when the leaves fade and take on their fall coloring, when the animals creep away — to be able to feel how in the sensible which is dying away, the gleaming, shining, soul-spiritual element arises — to be able to perceive how with the yellowing of the leaves there is a descent of the springing and sprouting life, but how the sensible becomes yellow in order that the spiritual can live in the yellowing as such — to be able to perceive how in the falling of the leaves the ascent of the spirit takes place, how the spiritual is the counter-manifestation of the fading sense-perceptible — this should as a perceptive feeling for the spirit ensoul the human being in autumn! Then he would prepare himself in the right way precisely for Christmastide.
Man should become permeated, out of anthroposophical spiritual science, by the truth that it is precisely the spiritual life of man on Earth which depends on the declining physical life. Whenever we think, the physical matter in our nerves is destroyed; the thought struggles up out of the matter as it perishes. To feel the becoming of the thought in one's self, the gleaming up of the idea in the human soul, in the whole human organism of man; to be akin to the yellowing leaves, the withering foliage, the drying and shriveling of the plant world in Nature; to feel the kinship of man's spiritual “being-ness” with Nature's spiritual “being-ness” — this can give man that impulse which strengthens his will, that impulse which points man to the permeation of his will with spirituality.
In so doing, however, in permeating his will with spirituality, the human being becomes an associate of the Michael activity on earth. And when man lives with Nature in this way as autumn approaches and brings this living-with-Nature to expression in an appropriate festival content, then he will be able truly to perceive the completing (Erganzung) of the Easter mood. But by means of this, something else will become clear to him. — You see, what man thinks, feels, and wills today is really inspired by the Easter mood, which is actually one-sided. This Easter mood is essentially a result of the sprouting, burgeoning life, which causes everything to merge as in a pantheistic unity. Man is surrendered to the unity of Nature, and to the unity of the world generally. This is also the structure of our spiritual life today. Man wants everything to revert to a unity, to a monon; he is either a devotee of universal spirit or universal nature; and he is accordingly either a spiritualistic Monist or a materialistic Monist. Everything is included in an indefinite unity. This is essentially the spring mood.
But when we look into the autumn mood, with the rising and becoming free of the spiritual, and the dropping away and withering of the sensible (red), then we have a view of the spiritual as such, and the sensible as such.
The sprouting plant in the spring has the spiritual within its sprouting and growing; the spiritual is mingled with the sensible; we have essentially a unity. The withering plant lets the leaf fall, and the spirit rises; we have the spirit, the invisible, supersensible spirit, and the material falling out of it. I would say that it is just as if we had in a container, first, a uniform fluid in which something is dissolved, and then by some process we should cause this to separate from the fluid and fall to the bottom as sediment. We have now separated the two which were united, which had formed a unity.
The spring tends to weave everything together, to blend everything into a vague, undifferentiated unity. The view of the autumn, if we only look at it in the right way, if we contrast it in the right way with the view of the spring, calls attention to the way the spiritual works on the one side and the physical-material on the other. The Easter thought loses nothing of value if the Michaelmas thought is added to it. We have on the one side the Easter thought, where everything appears — I might say — as a pantheistic mixture, a unity. Then we have what is differentiated; but the differentiation does not occur in any irregular, chaotic fashion. We have regularity throughout.
Think of the cyclic course: joining together, intermingling, unifying; an intermediate state when the differentiating takes place; the complete differentiation; then again the merging of what was differentiated within the uniform, and so forth. There you see always besides these two conditions yet a third: you see the rhythm between the differentiated and the undifferentiated, in a certain way, between the in-breathing of what was differentiated-out and the out-breathing again, an intermediate condition. You see a rhythm: a physical-material, a spiritual, a working-in-each-other of the physical-material and the spiritual: a soul element.
But the important thing is this: not to stop with the common human fancy that everything must be led back to a unity; thereby everything, whether the unity is a spiritual or a material one, is led back to the indefiniteness of the cosmic night. In the night all cows are gray; in spiritual Monism all ideas are gray; in material Monism they are likewise gray. These are only distinctions of perceiving; they are of no concern for a higher view. What matters is this: that we as human beings can so unite ourselves with the cosmic course that we are in a position to follow the living transition from the unity into the trinity, the return from trinity into unity. When, by complementing the Easter thought with the Michael thought in this way we have become able to perceive rightly the primordial trinity in all existence, then we shall take it into our whole attitude of soul. Then we shall be in a position to understand that actually all life depends upon the activity and the interworking of primordial trinities. And when we have the Michael festival inspiring such a view in the same way that the one-sided Easter festival inspired the view now existing, then we shall have an inspiration, a Nature/Spirit impulse, to introduce threefoldness, the impulse of threefoldness into all the observing and forming of life. And it depends finally and only upon the introduction of this impulse, whether the destructive forces in human evolution can be transformed once more into ascending forces.
One might say that when we spoke of the threefold impulse it was in a certain sense a test of whether the Michael thought is already strong enough so that it can be felt how such an impulse flows directly out of the forces that shape the time. It was a test of the human soul, of whether the Michael thought is strong enough as yet in a large number of people. Well, the test yielded a negative result. The Michael thought is not strong enough in even a small number of people for it to be perceived truly in all its time-shaping power and forcefulness. And it will indeed hardly be possible, for the sake of new forces of ascent, to unite human souls with the original formative cosmic forces in the way that is necessary, unless such an inspiring force as can permeate a Michael festival — unless, that is to say, a new formative impulse can come forth from the depths of the esoteric life.
If instead of the passive members of the Anthroposophical Society, even only a few active members could be found, then it would become possible to set up further deliberations to consider such a thought. It is essential to the Anthroposophical Society that while stimuli within the Society should of course be carried out, the members should actually attach primary value, I might say, to participating in what is coming to pass. They may perhaps focus the contemplative forces of their souls on what is taking place, but the activity of their own souls does not become united with what is passing through the time as an impulse. Hence, with the present state of the Anthroposophical Movement there can of course be no question of considering as part of its activity anything like what has just now been spoken of as an esoteric impulse. But it must be understood how mankind's evolution really moves, that the great sustaining forces of humanity's world-evolution come not from what is propounded in superficial words, but from entirely different quarters.
This has always been known in ancient times from primeval elementary clairvoyance. In ancient times it was not the custom for the young people to learn, for example, that there are so and so many chemical elements; then another is discovered and there are then 75, then 76; another is discovered and there are 77. One cannot anticipate how many may still be discovered. Accidentally, one is added to 75, to 76, and so on. In what is adduced here as number, there is no inner reality. And so it is everywhere. Who is interested today in anything that would bring to revelation, let us say, that a systematic threefoldness or trinity prevails in plants! Order after order is discovered, species after species; and they are counted just as though one were counting a chance pile of sticks or stones. But the working of number in the world rests on a real quality of being, and this quality must be fathomed. Only think how short a time lies behind us since knowledge of substance was led back to the trinity of the salty, the mercurial, and the phosphoric; how in this a trinity of archetypal forces was seen; how everything that appeared as individual had to be fitted into one or another of the three archetypal forces.
And it is different again when we look back into still earlier times in which it was easier for people to come to something like this because of the very situation of their culture; for the Oriental cultures lay nearer to the Torrid Zone, where such things were more readily accessible to the ancient elementary clairvoyance. Today, however, it is possible to come to these things in the Temperate Zone through free, exact clairvoyance.... Yet people want to go back to the ancient cultures! In those days people did not distinguish spring, summer, autumn, winter. To distinguish spring, summer, autumn, winter leads us to a mere succession because it contains the “four.” It would have been quite impossible for the ancient Indian culture, for example, to think of something like the course of the year as ruled by the four, because this contains nothing of the archetypal forms underlying all activity.
When I wrote my book Theosophy, it was impossible simply to list in succession physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego, although we can summarize it this way once the matter is before us, once it is inwardly understood. I had therefore to arrange them according to the number three: physical body, ether body, astral body, forming the first trinity. Then comes the trinity interwoven with it: sentient soul, intellectual soul, consciousness soul; then the trinity interwoven with this: spirit self, life spirit, spirit man — three times three interwoven with one another in such a way as to become seven.
Only when we look at the present stage of mankind's evolution does the four appear, which is really a secondary number. If we want to see the inwardly active principle, if we want to see the formative process, we must see forming and shaping as associated with threefoldness, with trinity.
Hence, the ancient Indian view was of a year divided into a hot season, which would approximate our months of April, May, June, July; a wet season, comprising approximately our months, August, September, October, November; and a cold season, which would include our months, December, January, February, March. The boundaries do not need to be rigidly fixed according to the months but are only approximate; they can be thought of as shifting. But the course of the year was thought of according to the principle of the “three.”
And thus man's whole state of soul would be imbued with the predisposition to observe this primal trinity in all weaving and working, and hence to interweave it also into all human creating and shaping. We can even say that it is only possible to have true ideas of the free spiritual life, of the life of rights, and of the social-economic life when we perceive in the depths this triple pulse of cosmic activity, which must also permeate human activity.
Any reference to this sort of thing today is regarded as some sort of superstition, whereas it is considered great wisdom simply to count “one” and again “one,” “two,” “three,” and so on. But Nature does not take such a course. If we look, however, only at a realm in which everything is woven together, as is the case with Nature in springtime — which of course we must look at if we want to observe the interweaving of things — then we can never restore the pulse of three.
But when anyone follows the whole course of the year, when he sees how the “three” is organized, how the spiritual and the physical-material life are present as a duality, and the rhythmic interweaving of the two as the third, then he perceives this three-in-one, one-in-three, and learns to know how the human being can place himself in this cosmic activity: three to one, one to three.
It would become the whole disposition of the human soul to permeate the cosmos, to unite itself with cosmic worlds, if once the Michael thought could awaken as a festival thought in such a way that we were to place a Michael festival in the second half of September alongside the Easter festival; if to the thought of the resurrection of the God after death could be added the thought, produced by the Michael force, of the resurrection of man from death, so that man through the Resurrection of Christ would find the force to die in Christ. This means, taking the risen Christ into one's soul during earthly life, so as to be able to die in Him — that is, to be able to die not at death but when one is living.
Such an inner consciousness as this would result from the inspiring element that would come from a Michael service. We can realize full well how far removed from any such idea is our materialistic time, which is also a time grown narrow-minded and pedantic. Of course, nothing can be expected of us, so long as it remains dead and abstract. But if with the same enthusiasm with which festivals were once introduced in the world when people had the force to form festivals — if such a thing happens again, then it will work inspiringly. Indeed it will work inspiringly for our whole spiritual and our whole social life. Then that which we need will be present in life: not abstract spirit on one hand and spirit-void nature on the other, but Nature permeated with spirit, and spirit forming and shaping naturally. For these are one, and they will once again weave religion, science, and art into oneness, because they will understand how to conceive the trinity in religion, science, and art in the sense of the Michael thought, so that these three can then be united in the right way in the Easter thought, in the anthroposophical shaping and forming. This can work religiously, artistically, cognitionally, and can also differentiate religiously, artistically, cognitionally. Then the anthroposophical impulse would consist in perceiving in the Easter season the unity of science, religion, and art; and then at Michaelmas perceiving how the three — who have one mother, the Easter mother — how the three become “sisters” and stand side by side, but mutually complement one another. Then the Michael thought, which should become living as a festival in the course of the year, would be able to work inspiringly on all domains of human life.
With such things as these, which belong to the truly esoteric, we should permeate ourselves, at least in our cognition, to begin with. If then the time could come when there are actively working personalities, such a thing could actually become an impulse which singly and alone would be able, in the present condition of humanity, to replace the descending forces with ascending ones.
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