The Cycle of the Year as Breathing Process of the Earth. Lecture 2 of 5.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, Easter Sunday, April 1, 1923:
I have sought out of the esoteric aspect of the Easter thought to speak to you about how, when the course of Nature is permeated by spirit, it must come about that an autumn festival is added to the festivals of the year. This should be a kind of Michael festival, placed in relation to the fall equinox approximately in the same way as Christmas is to the winter solstice, Easter to the spring equinox, and St. John's to the summer solstice.
I should like to try to bring closer to you the Easter thought appropriate to the present age, particularly in its feeling content, so that tomorrow I can lay before you the whole significance of such a contemplation.
When we celebrate the Easter festival today, if we look about us into the consciousness of contemporary humanity and are honest with ourselves, we shall have to admit that the Easter thought is actually very little true for the greater part of humanity! On what does the truth of the Easter thought depend? The truth depends on a man's being able to link with this thought a mental image showing the Christ Being as having gone through death, having conquered Death, and then when He had undergone death and the succeeding Resurrection, having thereafter so united Himself with mankind that He could still give revelations to those who had formerly been His disciples, to the Apostles. But the Resurrection thought has more and more faded away, whereas when Christianity was in its inception it had been so living that Paul's words could sound across the ages from this epoch: “And if the Christ be not risen, then is... your faith vain!”
Paul has here linked Christianity directly with the Easter thought — that is, with the thought of the Resurrection. People who have received the education of the present day call the Resurrection a miracle, and as miracle it is excluded from the realm of what is or can be reality. So that for all those who can no longer penetrate to the Resurrection thought, the Easter festival merely reflects an ancient custom, as do the rest of the Christian festivals. In the course of the years we have mentioned this from the most varied points of view.
It will first be necessary for mankind to reacquire a knowledge of the spiritual world as such in order to understand events which do not belong to the realm of sense reality; and what is connected with the Resurrection thought must be regarded as such an event. Then it will be possible for the Easter thought to become truly living again, which it cannot be for a humanity that relegates the Resurrection to the realm of unreal miracles.
The Easter thought arose in those epochs of mankind in which there were still remnants of the ancient primitive human knowledge of the spiritual world. We know that at the beginning of human Earth evolution, man had a certain instinctive clairvoyance by means of which he could gain glimpses of the spiritual world which led him to view this world as of equal validity with the physical sense world. This original instinctive clairvoyance is lost for earthly humanity. But in the first three centuries of the Christian era the last remnants of it at least still existed. Hence in these centuries a certain understanding of the Easter thought based upon ancient human insight could still take root.
Such an understanding became blunted in the fourth century, when preparation began for what has come to full expression since the first third of the fifteenth century: namely, man's life in abstract, dead thoughts, which we have often mentioned. In these abstract, dead thoughts, in which natural science attains greatness, the Easter thought soon died. Today the time has come when it must again awaken as a living thought. But in order to awaken, it must pass over out of the state of death into a state of livingness.
That which is living is characterized by the fact that it puts forth something other than itself out of itself. In the early Christian centuries, when the Easter thought was spreading throughout Christendom, the “Gemuets”* of men were still sensitive enough to experience inwardly something very powerful when they pictured the grave of Christ and, rising out of the grave, that Being Who was now united with mankind. The Gemuets could experience with great inner force what appeared before their souls in this powerful image. And this inner experience was a reality in the human soul life.
* The Gemuet, or feeling soul, together with the intellectual soul forms the centermost of the three soul elements in Rudolf Steiner's picture of man. This soul element was predominant in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, in which the event of Golgotha took place.
Only that is a reality in the human soul life which this soul really lays hold of, just as the senses ordinarily lay hold of the outer sense world. The people of the early centuries felt that they were changed by beholding the event of the Death and the Resurrection of Christ. They felt that by this sight their souls were transformed, just as a man feels that he is changed by physical events in the course of his life on Earth.
The human being is transformed at about the seventh year by the change of teeth, and again at about the fourteenth or fifteenth year by the onset of puberty. These are bodily transformations. In the contemplation of the Easter thought the early Christians felt themselves transformed in their inner soul life. They felt themselves thereby lifted out of one stage of human existence and transported into another.
In the course of time the Easter thought has lost this force, this power, and it can regain it only when the Resurrection, which cannot be understood according to natural laws, regains reality through spiritual science, a science which comprehends the spiritual. But what is spiritually conceived attains reality not when this spiritual is conceived merely in abstract thoughts but only when it is also grasped in lively connection with the world appearing before the senses.
Anyone who wants to cling to the spiritual only in its abstraction, who says, for example, that we should not pull down the spiritual into the physical sense world, should at the same time maintain that the Divine Being is degraded when He is represented as having created the world. The Divine is comprehended in its greatness and power not when we place it outside and beyond the sensible, but when we ascribe to it the power to work in this sensible world, to permeate this sensible world creatively. It is a debasing of the Divine to want to set it up yonder in abstract heights, in a “cloud-cuckoo-land.” And we will never live in spiritual realities if we conceive the spiritual only in its abstractness, if we cannot bring it into connection with the whole course of the world as this comes to meet us.
And this cosmic course, as far as our earthly life is concerned, meets us first of all in the fact that this earthly life comprises a certain number of years, and that these years present the return of certain events in a regular rhythm, as I indicated yesterday. After a year we return to approximately the same conditions of weather, of Sun position, and so forth. The course of the year thus enters into our earthly life in a rhythmical way.
We saw yesterday that this course of the year represents an in-and-out-breathing by the Earth itself of soul-spiritual elements. If we picture to ourselves once more the four high points of this Earth breathing-process, as we allowed them to come before our souls, we must say to ourselves: The time of the Christmas festival represents the time when the Earth holds its breath within it. The soul-spiritual part of the Earth is completely absorbed. Deep in the bosom of the Earth there rests all that the Earth unfolded during summer in order to let it be stimulated by the cosmos. All that opened up to the cosmos and was yielded up to its forces during the summertime has now been completely drawn in by the Earth, to rest in her deeps at Christmas time. Man of course does not dwell in the earthly depths; physically he lives on the surface of the Earth. Soul-spiritually also, he does not dwell in the depths of the Earth, for he lives actually in the Earth's periphery; he lives in the atmosphere that surrounds the Earth.
Therefore esoteric wisdom has always recognized the essential being of the Earth at the time of the winter solstice, at Christmas time, as something concealed at first, as something which cannot be penetrated by the ordinary forces of human knowledge, something which belongs in the sphere of the esoteric mysteries. And in all ancient times when something comparable to our present Christmas festival existed, it was recognized that what goes on in connection with the Earth at Christmas time could be grasped only by initiation into Mystery knowledge, by the initiation still known in Greece as the Chthonian Mysteries. By means of this initiation, man forsook in a certain way the periphery of the Earth in which he lived with his ordinary consciousness, to immerse himself in something into which he could not submerge physically. He immersed himself in the soul-spiritual element, and thus he learned to know what the Earth becomes during midwinter, when she draws her soul-spiritual element into herself.
And then a man came to know through this Mystery initiation that at the time of the winter solstice the Earth is especially receptive to permeation by the Moon forces. This was regarded as the secret — if I may express myself in the modern sense — as the Christmas secret of the ancient mysteries: that just at Christmas time one comes to know how the Earth, by being permeated and saturated by her spirit-soul-being, becomes especially receptive in her inner being to the activity of the Moon forces.
In certain ancient times, for example, no one was entrusted with a knowledge of healing science unless he was initiated in the Winter Mysteries, and understood how the Earth, through the holding of her breath, becomes especially susceptible inwardly to the activity of the Moon forces, how at this time she permeates especially the plants with healing forces, how at this time she makes the plant world, and to a certain extent also the world of the lower animals, into something entirely different.
The Christmas initiation was felt as a descent into the depths of the earthly world. But something else was connected with this Christmas initiation: namely, something that was felt in a certain sense to be a danger for the human being. A man said to himself: “When anyone really observes his consciousness in connection with what lives in the Earth as Moon forces at Christmastime, he comes into a state of consciousness in which he must be inwardly very strong, must have inwardly fortified himself, in order to withstand the attack from all sides of the Ahrimanic powers, who live in the Earth precisely because of its having taken in the Moon activity.” And only in the strength which a man had himself developed in his soul-spiritual being, in the strength to break the opposition of these forces, did he see what makes it possible to endure his Earth existence over the long run.
But then sometime after the celebration of these Christmas Mysteries, the teachers of the Mysteries gathered their pupils together and as a sort of revelation said to them the following: “Certainly, through initiation one can, in full consciousness, behold what is at work within the Earth at the time of the winter solstice. But with the oncoming of spring, when the plant world starts to grow, something rises up out of the depths of the Earth which permeates all that is growing and sprouting, permeates also man himself: namely, what the Ahrimanic powers bring about. At a time when man was still endowed with divine forces, as he was at the Earth's beginning, then through this primordial divine heritage men could still resist the attack of the Ahrimanic powers which broke over mankind in this way during the time of the winter moon. But (so the initiates told their pupils) a time will come when mankind will be rendered insensible to the spiritual through the agency of the Moon forces which the Earth takes up in the wintertime. With the growing and sprouting in the spring, a kind of intoxication with regard to the spiritual will come over mankind, depriving men of any consciousness that anything spiritual exists. Then, should mankind not find it possible to resist these intoxicating forces, the humanity of the Earth will go into decline and not be able to develop further with the Earth to future higher stages of evolution.”
The initiates painted in gloomy colors the age which had to break in for humanity in the fifteenth century, when mankind will excel to be sure in abstract, dead thoughts, but when man can again acquire spiritual capacities only by gaining new strength to overcome the intoxicating forces that rise out of the Earth. This he can do by developing the particular spiritual force now accessible to mankind.
When we form such visualizations, we transpose ourselves, so to speak, into the connection that exists between the course of the year in nature and what lives in the spirit. We bring together what is otherwise abstract, merely thought-out, with what is the natural sensible course as it confronts us, for example, in the seasons.
The polar opposite of this Christmas Mystery is the St. John's Mystery, at the time of the summer solstice. Then the Earth has completely exhaled. The spirit-soul element of the Earth is then utterly surrendered to the super-earthly powers, to the cosmic powers. Then the spirit-soul element of the Earth takes in all that is extraterrestrial. Just as the ancient initiates had said of the Christmas Mystery, so they said also of the St. John's Mystery (we use modern forms of expression, but there were appropriate forms in the ancient Mysteries also) — the initiates said that it was necessary to attain initiation in order to penetrate the secrets of the St. John's Mystery — that is, the secrets of the heavens. For man belongs to the periphery of the Earth; he belongs neither within the Earth, nor as earthly man does he belong to the heavens. Hence he must be initiated into the secrets of the sub-earthly in order to come to know the secrets of the super-earthly.
In a certain way, the Easter Mystery and the Michael or Autumn Mystery were seen as holding the balance between the super-earthly and the sub-earthly. And the Michael Mystery, as we have said, will first attain its proper significance in the time that is still future to our own.
The Easter Mystery in its full magnitude entered into the evolution of mankind through the Mystery of Golgotha. And this Easter Mystery was understood, as I have already said, because remnants of the ancient clairvoyance still existed. At that time people could still raise themselves up in their Gemuets or feeling souls to the resurrected Christ. The Easter Mystery was therefore woven into that ritual which was not an initiation ritual, but a ritual for mankind in general: it was woven into the ritual of the celebration of the Mass.
But with the retreat of primitive clairvoyance, the understanding of the Easter Mystery was lost. People begin to discuss a matter only when they no longer understand it. All the discussion that began after the first Christian centuries about how the Easter thought is to be understood derive from the fact that people could no longer comprehend it in a direct elementary way.
Now, we have often been able to apply to the Easter thought what anthroposophical spiritual science gives to us. What is essential here is that this anthroposophical spiritual research points again to forms of life which are not exhausted between birth and death in the sense world; that it places what can be spiritually investigated over against what can be sensibly investigated; that it makes comprehensible how the Christ could converse with His disciples, even after the physical body was turned to dust. In the light of spiritual research, the Resurrection thought becomes alive again. But this Resurrection thought will be fully understood only if it is linked to what I might call its counter-pole. What then does the Resurrection thought really portray? The Christ Being descended from spiritual heights, entered into the body of Jesus and lived on Earth in this body, thereby bringing into the earthly sphere forces in themselves super-terrestrial. And these super-earthly forces which the Christ Being brought into the earthly sphere were, from the time of the Mystery of Golgotha on, united with the forces of mankind's evolution. Since then that which the men of ancient times could behold only outside in cosmic space is to be feelingly perceived within the evolution of earthly humanity. Following the Resurrection, the Christ united Himself with mankind, and since then He lives not only in the super-earthly heights, but also within Earth existence; He lives in evolution, in the stream of mankind's evolution.
Above all, this event must be regarded not from the earthly point of view alone, but also from the super-earthly viewpoint. We can say that we should not view the Christ only in the way He comes to Earth out of heavenly worlds and becomes man, in the way He is given to men, but we should view this Christ Event also from the standpoint that the Christ actually departs from the spiritual world when He descends to the Earth.
Human beings saw the Christ arise in their realm. The Gods saw the Christ forsake the heavenly world and plunge down among mankind. For men the Christ appeared; for certain spiritual beings He vanished. Only when He passed through the Resurrection did He appear again to certain extraterrestrial spiritual beings, now shining out to them from the Earth like a star, a star which radiates out from the Earth into the spiritual world. Spiritual beings mark the Mystery of Golgotha by saying: “A star began to shine out from the Earth into the spiritual realm.” And it was felt to be of immense importance for the spiritual world that the Christ had submerged into a human body, and had gone through death in this body. For by partaking in death in a human body He was enabled immediately after this death to undertake something which His former divine companions could by no means have accomplished.
These former divine companions confronted, as an inimical world, what even in earlier times was called “hell.” But the efficacy of these spiritual beings stopped short at the gates of hell. These spiritual beings worked upon man. The forces of man extend even into hell. This signifies nothing other than man's subconscious projection into the Ahrimanic forces in the wintertime and also into the ascent of these Ahrimanic forces in the spring. The divine spiritual beings felt this as a world opposed to them. They saw it rise up out of the Earth and felt it to be an exceedingly problematic world. But they themselves had only a roundabout connection with it through man. They could only observe it in a certain way. But because the Christ had descended to the Earth, had Himself become man, He could descend into the realm of these Ahrimanic powers and overcome them. This is expressed in the Creed as “the Descent into Hell.”
This Descent into Hell provides the opposite pole to the Resurrection. This is what Christ has done for mankind: By descending from the divine heights and taking on the form of man, He became able actually to descend into the realm to whose dangers man is exposed, into which the other Gods, who had not been exposed to human death, could not descend. In His way the Christ gained the victory over death. And therewith entered, I might say, as the opposite pole of the Descent into Hell, the ascent into the spiritual world, in spite of the fact that the Christ remained on Earth. For Christ had so united Himself with mankind that he had descended to that to which mankind is exposed. During the winter and spring seasons, He could win for man that which works out of extraterrestrial regions into the Earth again from St. John's to autumn. Thus in the Easter thought we see united in a certain way the Descent into the region of Hell, and through this descent the winning of the heavenly region for the further evolution of mankind.
All this belongs to a right conception of the Easter thought. But what would this Easter thought be if it could not become living! It was possible in ancient times to connect the right feeling awareness with the thought of the winter solstice only because they had on the other hand the St. John's thought. Schematically drawn: If one had the earthly with its deeply concealed winter nature (orange), then its counterpart was what in summer lay in the super-earthly periphery (orange). Both were to be reached only through initiation, yet they were connected by what was in the atmosphere surrounding the Earth, in the Earth's periphery (green), Christmas calls for St. John's. St. John's calls for Christmas. Man would rigidify under the influence of the Ahrimanic powers if he could not be exposed to the loosening Luciferic powers, who again give wings to thought, so that it need not remain rigid but can thaw again under the influence of the light.
At first humanity in its evolution had only the one pole, the Easter pole, and this Easter pole became paralyzed. The Easter festival lost its inner vitality. It will regain its inner life only when man can think about this festival in such a way that he can say to himself: “Through what is symbolically expressed in the Descent into Hell — which in reality can be understood as the Resurrection — a counterweight was given against something which had to come: namely, the paralyzing of all spiritual vision, its dying away in the earthly life. Prophetically, Christ Jesus wanted to prepare for what had to come: namely, the circumstance that man during his life on Earth between birth and death would have to forget the super-earthly, the spiritual, that he would in a certain way die to the spiritual. Opposed to this dying away of man in earthly life stands the Easter thought of the victory of super-earthly life over the earthly.”
On the one side is this: Man descends from his pre-earthly life; but in the period that dawned in the first half of the fifteenth century, he will in his earthly life more and more forget his super-earthly origin; as to his soul-being he will die away, as it were, in the earthly life. That stands on the one side.
On the other stands this: There was a spiritual, heavenly Being, Who by His deed, working out of the heavens into the Earth, set forth the counter-image. That spiritual Being descended into a human body, and in the Resurrection has, through His own being, placed the super-earthly spiritual among the men of Earth. In remembrance of this we have the Easter festival, which puts before mankind the picture of the burial of Christ Jesus and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.
He was laid in the grave and thereafter He arose — this is the Easter thought, as it stands in cosmic records... “Look upon thyself, O Man: thou descendest out of the super-earthly worlds; thou art threatened by the danger that thy soul will die away in the earthly life. Therefore the Christ appears, Who sets before thine eyes how that from which thou also didst arise, how that super-earthly spiritual, conquers death. There stands before thee in mighty images such as could be placed before mankind: the entombment of Christ Jesus, the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. He was laid in the grave. He rose from the grave and appeared to those who could behold Him.”
But with the paralyzed soul forces of man today, this image can no longer become living. Where could it become alive? In a traditional faith man can still look upon what the Easter festival gives him: upon the sublime picture of the burial and the Resurrection. But out of the inner force of his soul he can no longer, of himself, find anything to connect with this Easter thought, with the thought of the entombment and the Resurrection. It is out of spiritual knowledge that he must again unite something with it.
And this something is another thought, to which there can be no alternative. It is, however, possible for a human being to let spiritual knowledge approach him so that he may understand this “other.” Let us place this “other” before ourselves, so as to inscribe it deeply within our souls. Easter thought: He has been laid in the grave; He is risen. Now let us place before ourselves the other thought which must come over mankind: He is risen, and can confidently be laid in the grave. Easter thought: He has been laid in the grave; He is risen. Michaelmas thought: He is risen, and can confidently be laid in the grave.
The first thought, the Easter thought, pertains to the Christ; the second thought pertains to the human being. It pertains to the man who directly comprehends the power of the Easter thought, comprehends how when spiritual knowledge enters into the earthly life of the present, in which his soul-spiritual is dying away, his soul can resurrect, so that he becomes living between birth and death, so that in the earthly life he becomes inwardly alive.
The human being must through spiritual knowledge comprehend this inner resurrection, this inner awakening; then will he confidently be laid in the grave. Then he may be laid in the grave, through which he otherwise would fall prey to those Ahrimanic powers who work within the Earth realm at the time of the winter solstice.
And the festival which contains this thought: “He is risen and can confidently be laid in the grave” — this festival must fall in the time when the leaves are beginning to turn yellow and fall from the trees, when the fruits have ripened, when the Sun has received that power which brings to maturity what in the spring was budding and sprouting, full of the forces of growth, but which also brings withering and the inclination to seek again the inner part of the Earth; when what is developing on the Earth begins to be a symbol of the grave.
If we place the Easter festival at the time when life begins to bud and to sprout, when the forces of growth attain their highest point, then the other festival, which contains: “He is risen, and can confidently be laid in the grave,” we must place at the time when Earth nature begins to wither, when the mood of the grave is spreading abroad in Earth nature, when the symbol of the grave can appear before the soul of man. Then the Michael thought begins to stir in man, that thought which is not, like the Easter thought in the earliest centuries of Christianity, directed toward a kind of inner perceiving (Anschauung).*
* It is assumed that Anschauung here is intended to describe the way man's Gemuet could inwardly experience the Entombment and Resurrection, as was indicated earlier. This would be perceptively, feelingly, rather than through logic.
In the first centuries of Christianity, this feeling perception was directed to the Christ laid in the grave and risen. In thisperception the soul was made strong, was filled with its strongest forces. In the festival-thought at the time of the fall equinox, the soul must feel its strength when appeal is made not to its perceiving, but to its will. “Take into thyself the Michael thought which confers the Ahrimanic powers, that thought which makes thee strong to gain here on Earth knowledge of the spirit, so that thou canst overcome the powers of Death.” — As the Easter thought is directed to the perception, this thought is directed to the will-powers: to take up the Michael force, which means to take the force of spiritual knowledge into the will-forces. And so the Easter thought can become living, can be brought directly to the human soul and spirit, when now the Michael thought, the thought of the Michael festival in the autumn, is felt to be the counter-pole of the Easter thought — just as the St. John's thought was perceived to be the counter-pole of the Christmas thought. As the Christmas thought by its inner livingness has brought forth the St. John's thought after a half-year, so must the Easter thought bring forth the Michael thought. Mankind must attain an esoteric maturity, so as to think not merely abstractly, but to be able again to think so concretely that men can again become festival-creating. Then it will be possible again to unite something spiritual with the cycle of sense phenomena.
All our thoughts are so abstract! But no matter how remarkable they are, how intelligent, if they remain abstract, life will not be able to penetrate them. When today men reflect that Easter might be set abstractly on any day, no longer according to the constellations of the stars, when today all higher knowledge is darkened, when man no longer sees any relation between insight into the soul-spiritual and the natural-physical forces, the force must once more awaken in man which will be able to unite something spiritual directly with the sense phenomena of the world.
Wherein then did the spiritual strength of man consist, making him able to create festivals in the course of the year, in accordance with the yearly phenomena? It consisted in the primal spiritual force. Today men can continue to celebrate festivals according to the ancient traditional custom, but they must gain once more the esoteric force out of themselves to “speak” something into Nature that accords with natural events. It must become possible to grasp the Michael thought as the blossom of the Easter thought. While the Easter thought stems from physical blossoming, it will become possible to place the blossom of the Easter thought — the Michael thought — into the course of the year as the outcome of physical withering.
People must learn once more to “think” the spiritual “together with” the course of nature. It is not admissible today for a person merely to indulge in esoteric speculations; it is necessary today to be able once again to do the esoteric. But people will be able to do this only when they can conceive their thoughts so concretely, so livingly, that they don't withdraw from everything that is going on around them when they think, but rather that they think with the course of events: “think together with” the fading of the leaves, with the ripening of the fruits, in a Michaelic way, just as at Easter one knows how to think with the sprouting, springing, blossoming plants and flowers.
When it is understood how to think with the course of the year, then forces will intermingle with the thoughts that will let men again hold a dialogue with the divine spiritual powers revealing themselves from the stars. Men have drawn down from the stars the power to establish festivals which have an inner human validity. Festivals must be founded out of inner esoteric force. Then from the dialogue with the fading, ripening plants, with the dying Earth, by finding the right inward festival mood, men will also again be able to hold converse with the Gods and link human existence with divine existence.
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