The cycle of the year; Michaelmas, the festival of human courage; the four Platonic Virtues
The Cycle of the Year as Breathing Process of the Earth. Lecture 5 of 5.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, April 4, 1923:
I should like to carry to a still wider horizon the reflections I have already made here concerning the relationship between man and the cycle of Nature which was formed in ancient times under the influence of the Mysteries, and to go into what was believed in those times with regard to all that one as man received from the cosmos through this cycle of Nature. You may have gathered from yesterday's lecture as well perhaps as from the recollection of much that I could still say about such matters during the past Christmas season, in the Goetheanum which has now been taken from us — you may have gathered that the cycle of the year in its phenomena was perceived, and indeed today can still be perceived, as a result of life, as something which in its external events is just as much the expression of a living being standing behind it as the actions of the human organism are the manifestations of a being, of the human soul itself.
Let us remind ourselves how, in midsummer, the time we know as St. John's, the people became aware under this ancient Mystery-influence of a certain relationship to their ego, an ego which they did not yet consider as exclusively their own, but which they viewed as resting still in the bosom of the divine-spiritual.
These people believed that by means of the ceremonies I have described, they approached their “I” at midsummer, although throughout the rest of the year it was hidden from them. Of course they thought of themselves as dwelling in their beings altogether in the bosom of the divine-spiritual; but they thought that during the other three-quarters of the year nothing was revealed to them of what belonged to them as their ego. Only in this one quarter, which reached its high point at St. John's, did the essential being of their own ego manifest itself to them as through a window opening out of the divine-spiritual world.
Now, this essence of the individual ego within the divine-spiritual world in which it revealed itself was by no means regarded in such a neutral, indifferent — one may even say phlegmatic — way as is the case today. When the “I” is spoken of today, a person is hardly likely to think of it as having any special connection either with this world or any other. Rather, he thinks of his “I” as a kind of point; what he does rays out from it and what he perceives rays in. But the feeling a person has today in regard to his “I” is of an altogether phlegmatic nature. We cannot really say that modern man even feels the “egoity” of his “I” — in spite of the fact that it is his ego; for anyone who wants to be honest cannot really claim that he is fond of his “I.” He is fond of his body; he is fond of his instincts; he may be fond of this or that experience. But the “I” is just a tiny word which is felt as a point in which all that has been indicated is more or less condensed. But in that period in which, after long preparations had been made, the approach to this “I” was undertaken ceremonially, each man was enabled in a certain sense to meet his “I” in the universe. Following this meeting, then, the “I” was perceived to be once more gradually withdrawing and leaving the human being alone with his bodily and soul nature, or as we would say today, with his physical-etheric-astral being. In that period man felt the “I” perceptively as having a real connection with the entire cosmos, with the whole world.
But what was felt above all else with regard to the relationship of this “I” to the world was not something “naturalistic,” to use the modern term; it was not something received as an external phenomenon. Rather, it was something which was deemed to be the very center of the most ancient moral conception of the world. Men did not expect great secrets of Nature to be revealed to them at this season. To be sure, such Nature secrets were spoken of, but man did not direct his attention primarily to them. Rather, he perceived through his feeling that above all he was to absorb into himself as moral impulse what is revealed at this time of midsummer when light and warmth reach their highest point.
This was the season man perceived as the time of divine-moral enlightenment. And what he wanted above all to obtain from the heavens as “answer” to the performances of music, poetry, and dancing that were carried on at this season, what he waited for, was that there should be revealed out of the heavens in all seriousness what they required of him morally.
And when all the ceremonies had been carried out that I described yesterday as belonging to the celebration of these festivals during the time of the Sun's sultry heat — if it sometimes happened that a powerful storm broke forth with thunder and lightning, then just in this outbreak of thunder and lightning men felt the moral admonition of the heavens to earthly humanity.
There are vestiges from this ancient time in conceptions such as that of Zeus as the god of thunder, armed with a thunderbolt. Something similar is linked with the German god Donar. This we have on one side. On the other side, man perceptively felt Nature, I might say, as warm, luminous, satisfied in itself. And he felt that this warming, luminous Nature as it was during the daytime remained also into the night time. Only he made a distinction, saying to himself: “During the day the air is filled with the warmth-element, with the light-element. In these elements of warmth and light there weave and live spiritual messengers through whom the higher divine beings want to make themselves known to men, want to endow them with moral impulses. But at night, when the higher spiritual beings withdraw, the messengers remain behind and reveal themselves in their own way.”
And thus it was that especially at midsummer people perceived the ruling and weaving of Nature in the summer nights, in the summer evenings. And what they felt then seemed to them to be a kind of summer dream which they experienced in reality; a summer dream through which they came especially near to the divine-spiritual; a summer dream by which they were convinced that every phenomenon of Nature was at the same time the moral utterance of the gods, but that all kinds of elemental beings were also active there who revealed themselves to men in their own way.
All the fanciful embellishment of the midsummer night's dream, of the St. John's night dream, is what remained later of the wondrous forms conjured by human imagination that wove through this midsummer time on the soul-spiritual level. This then, in all particulars, was taken to be a divine-spiritual moral revelation of the cosmos to man.
And so we may say that the conception underlying this was: at midsummer the divine-spiritual world revealed itself through moral impulses which were implanted in man as Enlightenment (see diagram). And what was felt in a quite special way at that time, what then worked upon man, was felt to be something super-human which played into the human order of things.
From his inner participation in the festivities celebrated in that time, man knew that he was lifted up above himself as he then was into the super-human, and that the Deity grasped the hand that man as it were reached toward him at this season. Everything that man believed to be divine-spiritual within him he ascribed to the revelations of this season of St. John's.
When the summer came to an end and autumn approached, when the leaves were withered and the seeds had ripened, when, that is, the full luxurious life of summer had faded and the trees become bare, then, because the insights of the Mysteries had flowed into all these perceptions, man felt: “The divine-spiritual world is withdrawing again from man.” He notices how he is directed back to himself; he is in a certain sense growing out of the spiritual into Nature.
Thus man felt this “living-into” the autumn as a “living-out-from” the spiritual, as a living into Nature. The tree leaves became mineralized; the seeds dried up and mineralized. Everything inclined in a certain way toward the death of Nature's year.
In being thus interwoven with what was becoming mineral on the Earth and around the Earth, man felt that he himself was becoming woven together with Nature. For in that period man still stood closer in his inner experience to what was going on outside. And he also thought,about, he pondered in his mind about, how he experienced his being woven-together with Nature. His whole thinking took on this character. If we want to express in our language today what man felt when autumn came, we should have to say the following — I beg you, however, to realize that I am using present-day words, and that in those days man would not have been able to speak thus, for then everything rested on perceptive feeling and was not characterized through thinking — but if we want to speak in modern terms we shall have to say: With his particular trend of thinking, with his feeling way of perceiving, the human being experienced the transition from summer to autumn in such a way that he found in it a passing from spirit-knowledge to Nature-knowledge (see diagram). Toward autumn man felt that he was no longer in a time of spirit-knowledge but that autumn required of him that he should learn to know Nature. Thus at the autumn equinox we have, instead of moral impulse, knowledge of Nature, coming to know Nature.
The human being began to reflect about Nature. At this time also he began to take into account the fact that he was a creature, a being within the cosmos. In that time it would have been considered folly to present Nature-knowledge in its existing form to man during the summer. The purpose of summer is to bring man into relation with the spiritual in the world. With the arrival of what we today call the Michaelmas season, people said to themselves: “By everything that man perceives about him in the woods, in the trees, in the plants, he is stimulated to pursue nature-knowledge.” It was the season in which men were to occupy themselves above all with acquiring knowledge, with reflection. And indeed it was also the time when outer circumstances of life made this possible. Human life thus proceeded from Enlightenment to Knowledge. It was the right season for knowledge, for ever-increasing cognition.
When the pupils of the Mysteries received their instruction from the teachers, they were given certain mottoes, of which we find adaptations in the maxims of the Greek sages. The “seven maxims” of the Seven Wise Men of Greece are, however, not actually those which originated in the primeval Mysteries.
In the very earliest Mysteries there was a saying associated with midsummer: “Receive the Light” (see diagram). By “Light,” spiritual wisdom was meant. It designated that within which the human being's own “I” shone.
For autumn (see diagram), the motto imprinted in the Mysteries as an admonition pointing to what should be carried on by the souls was: “Look around thee.”
Now there approached the next development of the year, and with it, what man felt within himself to be connected of itself with this year. The season of winter approached. We come to midwinter (see diagram), which includes our Christmas time. Just as the human being in midsummer felt himself lifted out above himself to the divine-spiritual existence of the cosmos, so he felt himself in midwinter to be unfolding downward below himself. He felt as if the forces of the Earth were washing around him and carrying him along. He felt as though his will nature, his instincts and impulses, were infiltrated and permeated by gravity, by the force of destruction and other forces that are in the Earth. In these ancient times people did not feel winter as we feel it, that it merely gets cold and we have to put on warm boots, for example, in order not to get chilled. Rather, a man of that ancient time felt what was coming up out of the Earth as something that united itself with his own being. In contrast to the sultry, light-filled element, he felt what came up then in winter as a frosty element. We feel the chilliness today, too, because it is connected with the corporeality; but ancient man felt within his soul as a phenomenon accompanying the cold: darkness and gloom. He felt somewhat as if all around him, wherever he went, darkness rose up out of the Earth and enveloped him in a kind of cloud — only up to the middle of his body, to be sure, but this is the way he felt.
And he said to himself — again I have to describe it in more modern words — man said to himself: “During the height of summer I stand face to face with Enlightenment; then the heavenly, the super-terrestrial, streams down into the earthly world. But now the earthly is streaming upward.” — Man already perceived and experienced something of the earthly during the autumnal equinox. But what he perceived and felt then of earthly nature was in conformity in a certain sense with his own nature; it was still connected with him. We might say: “At the time of the autumn equinox man felt in his Gemuet, in his realm of feeling, all that had to do with Nature. But now, in winter, he felt as though the Earth were laying claim to him, as if he were ensnared in his will nature by the forces of the Earth. He felt this to be the denial of the moral world order. He felt that together with the blackness that enveloped him like a cloud, forces opposed to the moral world order were ensnaring him. He felt the darkness rise up out of the Earth like a serpent and wind him about. But at the same time he was also aware of something quite different.”
Already during autumn he had felt something stirring within him that we today call intellect. Whereas in summer the intellect evaporates and there enters from outside a wisdom-filled moral element, during autumn the intellect is consolidated. The human being approaches evil but his intellect consolidates. Man felt an actual serpent-like manifestation in midwinter, but at the same time the solidification, the strengthening of shrewdness, of the reflective element, of all that made him sly and cunning and incited him to follow the principle of utility in life. All this he was aware of in this way. And just as in autumn the knowledge of nature gradually emerged, so in midwinter the Temptation of Hell approached the human being, the Temptation on the part of Evil. Thus he was aware of this. So when we write here: “Moral impulse, Knowledge of Nature” (see diagram), here (at midwinter) we must write “Temptation through Evil.”
This was just the time in which man had to develop what in any case was within him by way of Nature: everything associated with the intellect, slyness, cunning, all that was directed toward the utilitarian. This, man was to overcome through Temperance (Besonnenheit).* This was the season then in which man had to develop — not an open sense for wisdom, which in accordance with the ancient Mystery wisdom had been required of him during the time of Enlightenment, but something else. Just in that season in which evil revealed itself as we have indicated, man could experience in a fitting way resistance to evil: he was to become self-controlled (besonnen — see preceding footnote). Above all else at the season of change which he passed through in moving on from Enlightenment to Cognition, from Knowledge of Spirit to Knowledge of Nature, he was to progress from Nature knowledge to the contemplation of Evil (see diagram, arrow on left). This is the way it was understood.
* The third of the cardinal or “Platonic” virtues, called in Greek Sophrosyne, in English, Temperance or moderation, in German is Besonnenheit. According to Steiner, Besonnenheit is “enfilling one's impulses with the degree of consciousness possible.” “A man who rules his impulses through reflective thinking, feeling, and perceiving is a man who is ‘besonnen.’” (From Das Raetsel des Menschen, 6th August, 1916). See also Spiritual Foundation of Morality by Steiner.
And in giving instructions to the pupils of the Mysteries which could become mottoes, the teachers said to them — just as at midsummer they had said: “Receive the Light,” and in autumn “Look around you” — now in midwinter it was said: “Beware of Evil.” And it was expected that through “Temperance,” through this guarding of oneself against evil, men would come to a kind of self-knowledge which would lead them to realize how they had deviated from the moral impulses in the course of the year.
Deviation from the moral impulses through the contemplation of evil, its overcoming through moderation — this was to come to man's consciousness just in the time following midwinter. Hence in this ancient wisdom all sorts of things were undertaken that induced men to atone for what they recognized as deviations from the moral impulses they had received through Enlightenment. With this, we approach spring, the spring equinox (see diagram).
And just as here (see diagram: midsummer, autumn, midwinter) we have Enlightenment, Cognition, Temperance, so for the spring equinox we have what was perceived as the activity of repentance. And in place of Cognition, and correspondingly, Temptation through Evil, there now entered something which we could call the Return — the reversion — to man's higher nature through Repentance. Where we have written here (see diagram: midsummer, autumn, winter): Enlightenment, Cognition, Temperance, here we must write: Return to Human Nature.If you look back once more to what was in the depths of winter the Temptation by Evil, you will have to say: At that time man felt as though he were lowered into the abysmal deeps of the Earth; he felt himself entrapped by Earth's darkness. Just as during the height of summer man was in a sense torn out of himself, his soul-nature being then lifted up above him, so now, in order not to be ensnared by Evil during the winter, his soul-being made itself inwardly free.
Through this there existed, during the depths of winter, I might say a counter-image to what was present during the height of summer. At midsummer the phenomena of Nature spoke in a spiritual way. People sought especially in the thunder and the lightning for what the heavens had to say. They looked at the phenomena of Nature, but what they sought in these phenomena was a spiritual language. Even in small things, they sought at St. John's-tide the spiritual message of the elemental beings, but they looked for it outside themselves. They dreamed in a certain sense outside the human being. During the depths of winter, however, people sank into themselves and dreamed within their own being. To the extent that they tore themselves loose from the entanglement of the Earth, that is, whenever they could free their soul-element, they dreamed within their own being. Of this there has remained what is connected with the visions, with the inner beholding, of the Thirteen Nights following the winter solstice. Everywhere recollections have remained of these ancient times. You can look on the Norwegian Song of Olaf [Åsteson]* as a later development of what existed quite extensively in ancient times.
* Because of Rudolf Steiner's lectures referring to “The Dream Song of Olaf Åsteson” (December 26, 1911 and January 7, 1913), this unique poem of initiation experience has been translated into English.
Then the springtime drew near. In our time the situation has shifted somewhat; in those days spring was closer to winter, and the whole year was viewed as being divided into three periods. Things were compressed. Nevertheless what I am sharing with you here was taught in its turn. Thus, just as at midsummer they said: “Receive the light;” and in autumn, at Michaelmas: “Look around you”; just as at midwinter, at the time that we celebrate Christmas, they said: “Beware of the Evil,” so for the time of return they had a saying which was then thought to have effect only at this time: “Know thyself” — placing it in exact polarity to the Knowledge of Nature.
“Beware of the Evil” could also be expressed: “Beware, draw back from Earth's darkness.” But this they did not say. Whereas during midsummer men accepted the external natural phenomenon of light as Wisdom, that is, at midsummer they spoke in a certain way in accordance with Nature, they would never have put the motto for winter into the sentence: “Beware of the darkness” — for they expressed rather the moral interpretation: “Beware of Evil.”
Echoes of these festivals have persisted everywhere, so far as they have been understood. Naturally everything was changed when the great Event of Golgotha entered in.
It was in the season of the deepest human temptation, in winter, that the birth of Jesus occurred. The birth of Jesus took place in the very time when man was in the grip of the Earth powers, when he had plunged down, as it were, into the abysses of the Earth. Among the legends associated with the birth of Jesus, you will even find one which says that Jesus came into the world in a cave, thus hinting at something that was perceived as wisdom in the most ancient Mysteries, namely, that there the human being can find what he has to seek in spite of being held fast by the dark element of the Earth, which at the same time holds the reason for his falling prey to Evil.
It is in accord with all of this, too, that the time of Repentance is ascribed to the season when spring is approaching.
The understanding for the midsummer festival has quite naturally disappeared to a still greater extent than that for the other side of the year's course. For the more materialism overtook mankind, the less people felt themselves drawn to anything such as Enlightenment.
And what is of quite special importance to present-day humanity is precisely that time which leads on from Enlightenment, of which man still remains unconscious, toward the season of autumn. Here lies the point where man, who indeed has to enter into knowledge of nature, should grasp in the nature-knowledge a picture, a reflection, of a knowledge of divine spirits. For this there is no better festival of remembrance than Michaelmas.If this is celebrated in the right way, it must follow that mankind everywhere will take hold of the question: How is spirit knowledge to be found in the glorified nature-knowledge of the present? How can man transform nature-knowledge so that out of what the human being possesses as the fruits of this nature-knowledge, spirit knowledge will arise? In other words, how is that to be overcome which, if it were to run its course on its own, would entrap man in the subhuman?
A turnaround must take place. The Michael festival must take on a particular meaning. This meaning emerges when one can perceive the following: Natural science has led man to recognize one side of world evolution — for example, that out of lower animal organisms higher, more perfect, ones have evolved in the course of time, right up to man; or, to take another example, that during the development of the embryo in the mother's body the human being passes through the animal forms one after the other. That, however, is only one side. The other side is what comes before our souls when we say to ourselves: “Man had to evolve out of his original divine-human beginning.” If this (see drawing) indicates the original human condition (lighter shading), then man had to evolve out of it to his present state of unfoldment. First, he had gradually to push out of himself the lower animals, then, stage by stage what exists as higher animal forms. He overcame all this, separated it out, thrust it aside (darker shading). In this way he has come to what was originally predestined for him.
It is the same in his embryonic development. The human being rejects, each in its turn, everything that he is not to be. We do not, however, derive the real import of present-day nature-knowledge from this fact. What then is the import of modern nature-knowledge? It lies in the sentence: You behold in what nature-knowledge shows you that which you need to exclude from knowledge of man.
What does this imply? It implies that man must study natural science. Why? When he looks into a microscope he knows what is not spirit. When he looks through a telescope into the far spaces of the universe, there is revealed to him what spirit is not. When he makes some sort of experiment in the physics or chemistry laboratory, what is not spirit is revealed to him. Everything that is not spirit is manifest to him in its pure form.
In ancient times when men beheld what is today nature, they still saw the spirit shining through it. Today we have to study nature in order to be able to say: “All that is not spirit.” It is all winter wisdom. What pertains to summer wisdom must take a different form. In order that man may be spurred toward the spirit, may get an impulse toward the spirit, he must learn to know the unspiritual, the anti-spiritual. And man must be sensible of things that no one as yet admits today. For example, everyone says today: “If I have some sort of tiny living creature too small to be seen with the naked eye and I put it under a microscope, it will be enlarged for me so that I can see it.” — Then, however, one must conceive: “This size is illusory. I have increased the size of the creature, and I no longer have it. I have a phantom. What I am seeing is not a reality. I have put a lie in place of the truth!” — This is of course madness from the present-day point of view, but it is precisely the truth.
If we will only realize that natural science is needed in order from this counter-image of the truth to receive the impulse toward the truth, then the force will be developed which can be symbolically indicated in the overcoming of the Dragon by Michael.
But something else is connected with this which already stands in the annals in what I might call a spiritual way. It stands there in such a form, however, that when man no longer had any true feeling for what lives in the year's changing seasons, he related the whole thing instead to the human being. What leads to “Enlightenment” was replaced by the concept of “Wisdom” [called “Prudence” in English practice]; then what leads to “Knowledge” was replaced by the concept of “Courage” [“Fortitude”]; “Temperance” stayed the same; and what corresponded to “Repentance” was replaced by the concept “Justice.”
Here you have the four Platonic concepts of virtue: Wisdom [Prudence], Fortitude, Temperance, Justice. What man had formerly received from the life of the year in its course was now taken into man himself. It will come into consideration just in connection with the Michaelmas festival, however, that there will have to be a festival in honor of human courage, of the human manifestation of the courage of Michael. For what is it that holds man back today from spirit-knowledge? — Lack of soul courage, not to say soul cowardice. Man wants to receive everything passively, wants to set himself down in front of the world as if it were a movie, and wants to let the microscope and the telescope tell him everything. He does not want to temper the instrument of his own spirit, of his own soul, by activity. He does not care to be a follower of Michael. This requires inner courage. This inner courage must have its festival in Michaelmas. Then from the Festival of Courage, from the festival of the inwardly courageous human soul, there will ray out what will give the other festivals of the year also the right content.
We must in fact continue the path further; we must take into human nature what was formerly outside. Man is no longer in such a position that he could develop the knowledge of Nature only in autumn. It is already so that in man today things lie one within the other, for only in this way can he unfold his freedom. Yet it nevertheless holds true that the celebrating of festivals, I might say in a transformed sense, is again becoming necessary.
If the festivals were formerly festivals of giving by the divine to the earthly, if man at the festivals formerly received the gifts of the heavenly powers directly, so today, when man has his capacities within himself, the metamorphosis of the festival-thought consists in the festivals now being festivals of remembrance or admonition.* In them man inscribes into his soul what he is to consummate within himself.
* Feste der Erinnerungen (a plural form). Erinnerung has two shades of meaning. One is “recollection” or “remembrance”; the other “admonition” or “reminder.” Both elements seem to apply in this passage.
And thus again it will be best to have as the most strongly working festival of admonition and remembrance this festival with which autumn begins, the Michaelmas festival, for at the same time all Nature is speaking in meaningful cosmic language. The trees are becoming bare; the leaves are withering. The creatures, which all summer long have fluttered through the air, as butterflies, or have filled the air with their hum, as beetles, begin to withdraw; many animals fall into their winter sleep. Everything becomes paralyzed. Nature, which through her own activity has helped man during spring and summer — Nature, which has worked in man during spring and summer, herself withdraws. Man is referred back to himself. What must now awaken when Nature forsakes him is courage of soul. Once more we are shown how what we can conceive as a Michael festival must be a festival of soul-courage, of soul-strength, of soul-activity.
This is what will gradually give to the festival thought the character of remembrance or admonition, qualities already suggested in a monumental saying by which it was indicated that for all future time what previously had been festivals of gifts will become, or should become, festivals of remembrance. These monumental words, which must be the basis of all festival thoughts, also for those which will arise again — this monumental saying is: “This do in remembrance of Me.” That is the festival thought which is turned toward the memory-aspect.
Just as the other thought that lies in the Christ-Impulse must work on livingly, must reform itself and not be allowed simply to remain as a dead product toward which we look back, so must this thought also work on further, kindling perceptive feeling and thought, and we must understand that the festivals must continue in spite of the fact that man is changing, but that because of this the festivals also must go through metamorphoses.
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