The Cycle of the Year
31 March 1923, Dornach
At the times when the great festivals of the year approach our souls, it is good ever and again to bring before our inner eye, out of spiritual cosmic connections, the meaning of the festival year. And I should like to do this by setting before you how, under the influence of spiritual insights and over long ages, the festival year has gradually evolved out of the whole constitution of the Earth. If we look at the Earth and its events from such an aspect, we must only make clear that we cannot conceive the Earth as a mere conglomeration of minerals and rocks, as is done by modern mineralogy and geology, but we must rather regard it as a living, ensouled organism, which brings forth the plants, the animals and the physical being of man out of its own inner forces. Then what I shall now set forth will be in agreement.
You know that the Earth, with all the beings belonging to it — consider only the plant covering of the Earth — completely changes its aspect in the course of the year, changes everything with which it looks out into cosmic space as with its physiognomy, so to speak. After a year the Earth has always arrived again at about the same point, as to its appearance, at which it stood a year before. You need only to think how almost everything related to weather conditions, to the budding of plants, to the appearance of animal creatures — how with regard to all this the Earth has arrived again in this March, 1923, at about the same point of development at which it stood in March of the year 1922.
Today we intend to consider this cycle of the Earth as a kind of mighty breathing which the Earth carries out in relation to the surrounding cosmos. We can consider still other processes which take place on the Earth and around it as breathing processes of a sort. We can even speak of a daily breathing of the Earth. But today we want to place before our inner eye the yearly cycle, in the large, as a mighty breathing process of the Earth, in which of course it is not air that is breathed in and out, but rather those forces which are at work for example in vegetation, those forces which push the plants out of the Earth in spring, and which withdraw again into the Earth in fall, letting the green plants fade and finally paralyzing plant growth.
To repeat, it is not a breathing of air of which we speak, but the in-and-out-breathing of forces, of which we can get a partial idea if we notice the plant-growth during the course of the year. We intend today to bring this annual breathing process of the Earth before our souls.
Let us first look at the Earth at the time of the winter solstice, in the last third of December, according to our present reckoning. At this time we may compare the Earth's breathing with the lung-breathing of a man when he has inhaled a breath of air and is working on it in himself, that is, when he is holding his breath within him. In the same way, the Earth has within it those forces which I spoke of as being inhaled and exhaled. At the end of December it is holding these forces. And what is happening then with the Earth I can sketch for you schematically in the following way:
Let us think of this (red) as representing the Earth. We can of course only consider one part of the Earth in connection with this breathing. We shall consider that part in which we ourselves dwell; the conditions are of course reversed on the opposite side of the Earth. We must picture (vorstellen) the breathing of the Earth in such a way that in one region there is out-breathing, and in the opposite region in-breathing; but this we need not consider today.
Let us picture in our minds the season of December. Let us imagine what I am drawing here in yellow to be the held breath in our region. At the end of December the Earth has fully in-breathed and is holding in herself the forces of which I just spoke. She has entirely sucked in her soul element, for the forces of which I have spoken are the soul element of the Earth. She has drawn it completely in, just as a man who has inhaled holds the air entirely in himself.
This is the time at which with good reason the birth of Jesus has been set, because Jesus is thus born out of an Earth force which contains the entire soul element of the Earth within it. At the time of the Mystery of Golgotha the initiates who were still worthy of the ancient initiation connected a deep meaning with the view which placed the birth of Jesus just at this point of the earthly in-breathing and holding of the breath.
These initiates said something like the following: “In the ancient days, when our places of initiation stood within the Chaldean and Egyptian cultures, when a wish arose to know what that Being who represents the lofty Sun-Being had to say to earthly humanity, an idea of his message was formed, not by looking at the sunlight directly in all its spirituality, but rather by observing the way in which the sunlight was rayed back from the Moon.” And when the gaze was turned toward the Moon, they saw — with the help of clairvoyant vision — along with the flooding moonlight the manifestation of the Spirit of the Universe. And the meaning of this manifestation was realized in a more external way when they regarded the constellation of the Moon in relation to the planets and fixed stars.
In this way the position of the stars, especially in relation to the down-streaming moonlight, was observed during the night hours in the Chaldean, and still more in the Egyptian mysteries. Just as a man now reads the meaning of letters on a sheet of paper, in those times meaning was read in the relation of Aries, or of Taurus, of Venus, or of the Sun itself, to the streaming moonlight. From the way in which the constellations and the stars stood in relation to one another, especially from the way they were oriented with the moonlight, there was read what the heavens had to say to the Earth. All this was put into words. And according to the meaning of what was thus put into words, the ancient initiates sought what that Being Who was later called the Christ had to say to earthly man. They sought to interpret what was conveyed by the stars in their relation to the Moon and apply it to the earthly life.
But now as the Mystery of Golgotha drew near, the whole nature of the Mysteries passed through what I might call a great soul-spiritual metamorphosis. Then the oldest of the initiates said to their pupils: “A time is at hand when the stellar constellations must no longer be related to the flooding moonlight. The universe will speak differently to earthly man in the future. The light of the Sun must be observed directly. The spiritual gaze of the knower must be turned away from the revelations of the Moon and toward the revelations of the Sun.”
The teachings given in the Mysteries made a profound impression upon those men who at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha still ranked as initiates of the old order. And it was from this point of view that these initiates formed their judgment of the Mystery of Golgotha. But at the same time they said, “Some Earth event must enter in, which can bring about this transition from a lunar to a solar orientation.” — It was in this way that the cosmic significance of the birth of Jesus dawned on them.
They saw the birth of Jesus as something which gave the impulse out of the very Earth itself, no longer to regard the Moon as the regent, so to speak, of celestial phenomena, but rather the Sun itself.— “The event that brings this about,” so they said to themselves, “must be of an extraordinary kind.” And the nature of this extraordinary event yielded its secret to them through the following: They began to understand the inner meaning of the Earth occurrence that took place in the last third of December, the occurrence which we now call Christmas. They said to themselves: “Everything must now be related to the Sun.” — But the Sun can exert its power on the Earth only when the Earth has exhaled its forces. At Christmas time it has breathed them in; its breath is being held. If Jesus is born at this time, He is born at a time when the Earth is in a certain way not speaking with the heavens, a time when the Earth with its being has entirely withdrawn into itself. Jesus is born, then, at a time when the Earth is rolling along through cosmic space quite alone, when it is not sending out its breath to be welled and woven through by the force of the Sun, by the light of the Sun. At this time the Earth has not offered its soul-being to the cosmos; it has withdrawn its soul being into itself, has sucked it in. Jesus is born on the Earth at a time when the Earth is alone with itself, is isolated as it were from the cosmos.
Try to feel for yourselves the cosmic perceiving-feeling (Empfinden) which lies at the basis of such a way of calculating!
Now let us follow the Earth further in its yearly course. Let us follow it up to the time in which we are just now, about the time of the spring equinox, the end of March. Then we shall have to picture the situation in this way:
The Earth (red) has just breathed out; the soul is still half within the Earth, but the Earth has breathed it out; the streaming soul-forces are pouring out into the cosmos. Whereas since December, the force of the Christ Impulse has been intimately bound up with the Earth, with the soul-element of the Earth, we find that now this Christ Impulse, together with the outward-streaming soul element, is beginning to radiate around the Earth (arrows). This which here as Christ-permeated Earth-soul is flowing out into spiritual cosmic space, must be met now by the force of the sunlight itself. And the mental picture arises: While in December the Christ withdrew the Earth-soul element into the interior of the Earth, in order to be insulated from cosmic influences, now with the out-breathing of the Earth, He begins to let His forces breathe out, to extend them to receive the forces of the Sun (das Sonnenhafte) which radiate toward Him. And our schematic drawing will be correct if we represent the Sun force (yellow) as uniting with the Christ force radiating from the Earth. The Christ begins to work together with the Sun forces at Easter time; hence Easter falls at the time of the out-breathing of the Earth. But what happens then must not be related to the light flowing back from the Moon; it must be related to the Sun.
This is the origin of fixing the time of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. And anyone who is sensitive to such things would have to say to himself with regard to the Easter time: “If I have united myself with the Christ force, my soul also streams out into cosmic spaces along with the out-breathing force of the Earth-soul, and receives the Sun force, which the Christ now brings to human souls from the Earth, whereas before the Mystery of Golgotha He brought it to them from the cosmos.”
But here something else enters in. When festivals were established in those times in which whatever was important on Earth was referred to the flooding moonlight, it was done purely in accordance with what could be observed in space: how the Moon stood in relation to the stars. The intent of the Logos, which had been written into space by Him, was thus deciphered in order to determine the festivals. But if you consider the fixing of the Easter festival as we have it now, you will see that it has been established according to space only up to a certain point, that point at which we speak of the full moon after the beginning of spring. Thus far everything is spatial, but we depart from space when we refer to the Sunday after the spring full moon. This Sunday is determined, not spatially, but according to how it stands in the cycle of the year, how it stands in the cycle of the weekdays, where following Saturday come Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and again Saturday, always in periodical succession. We step out of space here, when we cross over from the spatial setting of the Moon constellation to the purely temporal course in the yearly cycle of Sundays.
Thus it was possible still in the old mysteries to perceive in feeling that the fixing of the festivals had formerly been related to cosmic space but that with the Mystery of Golgotha there was a progression out of cosmic space into time, which itself was no longer related to cosmic space. What related to the spirit was as it were torn away from the purely spatial. This was a powerful “jolt” of mankind toward the spirit.
If we carry further our view of the Earth's breathing process during the course of the year, we find the Earth in yet a third condition in June. At this place which we are observing, the Earth has completely exhaled. The entire soul-element of the Earth has been poured forth into cosmic space; it is yielded up to cosmic space and is saturating itself with the forces of the Sun and the stars. The Christ, Who is joined with this soul-element of the Earth, now unites His force also with the forces of the stars and the Sun, surging there in the Earth-soul that is given over to the cosmic All. It is St. John's Day — Mid-summer. The Earth has fully out-breathed. In her outer physiognomy, with which she looks out into the universe, she reveals not her own inherent force, as she did at the time of the winter solstice; instead, the Earth reveals on her surface the reflected forces of the stars, of the Sun, of all that is in the cosmos outside her.
The old initiates, particularly those in the northern regions of Europe, felt most livingly the inner meaning and spirit of this time that is our June. At this time they felt their own souls, along with the Earth soul, given over to the cosmic expanses. They felt themselves to be living, not within the earthly realm, but rather in the cosmic distances. Indeed they said the following to themselves: “We live with our soul in the cosmic expanses. We live with the Sun, we live with the stars. And when we direct our gaze back upon the Earth, which has filled herself with springing and sprouting plants, which has brought forth animals of all kinds, then we see in the springing and sprouting plants, in the gleaming, unfolding colors of the flowers; we see in the insects flitting and creeping hither and yon, in the birds with their multicolored feathers traversing the air; we see gleam back from the Earth as though mirrored, what we take up into our souls just when we abandon the Earth and unite ourselves with the out-flowing breath of the Earth in order to live with the cosmos rather than with the Earth. What appears in world space springing and sprouting from the Earth in thousandfold colors — this is of the same nature. Only it is a reflection, a raying-back force, whereas we bear in our human souls the original force itself.”
This was the feeling of those men who were inspired out of the Mystery places, those men who especially understood the festival of the summer solstice; and so we see the St. John's festival placed at the time of the Earth's great out-breathing into the cosmos.
If we follow this breathing-process still further we come finally to the stage that makes its entry at the end of September. The out-breathed forces begin their return movement; the Earth begins once more to inhale. The soul of the Earth which was poured out into the cosmos now draws back into the interior of the Earth again. Human souls perceive this in-breathing of the Earth-soul element, either in their subconscious or in their clairvoyant impressions, as processes of their own souls. Those men who were inspired by initiation knowledge of these things could say to themselves at the end of September: “What the cosmos has given us and what has united itself with our soul force through the Christ Impulse — this we now allow to flow back into the earthly realm, into that earthly sphere which throughout the summer has served only as a reflection, as a kind of mirror in relation to the extraterrestrial cosmos.”
But a mirror has the property of not permitting anything that is in front of it to pass through it. Because the Earth is a mirror of the cosmos in the summer, it is also opaque in its inner nature, impermeable by cosmic influences and therefore, during the summer time, impermeable by the Christ Impulse. (See drawing). At this time the Christ Impulse has to live in the exhaled breath. The Ahrimanic forces, however, establish themselves firmly in this Earth which has become impervious to the Christ Impulse. And when the human being returns once more with the forces which he has taken up into his own soul through the Earth's out-breathing — including the forces of the Christ — he plunges into an Earth which has been ahrimanized.
However, it is so, that in the present cycle of Earth evolution — since the last third of the nineteenth century — from spiritual heights there comes to the aid of the descending human soul the force of Michael, who, while the Earth's breath is flowing back into the Earth itself, contends with the Dragon, Ahriman.
This was already foreseen prophetically by those in the ancient Mysteries who understood the course of the year spiritually. They knew that for their time the Mystery had not yet approached which would reveal Michael coming to the help of descending human souls. But they knew that when the souls should have been reborn again and again, this Michael force would enter, would come to the aid of earthly human souls. This was the meaning they saw in the cycle of the year.
Hence it is out of ancient wisdom that you will find written in the calendar on September 29, a few days after the fall equinox — Michael's Day, Michaelmas. And Michaelmas is for simple country people an exceedingly important time. But because of its position in the cycle of the year, Michaelmas is an important time also for those who want to grasp the whole significance of our present earth epoch. If we want to take our place in the present time with the right consciousness, we need to understand that in the last third of the nineteenth century the Michael force took up the struggle with the Dragon, with the Ahrimanic powers, in just the way necessitated by our time. And we must insert ourselves into this intention of earthly and human evolution by taking part in the right way with our own consciousness in this cosmic-spiritual battle. 1This is the first occasion on which Rudolf Steiner spoke in a broader sense of the importance of celebrating Michaelmas today. His first allusion to the subject at all had been in a brief reference three months earlier. (The Spiritual Communion of Mankind, December 24, 1922)
We may say that up until now Michaelmas has been a festival for peasants — you know the sense in which I use the word — a festival for simple folk. But once the significance of the yearly breathing process that takes place between the Earth and the cosmos is recognized, Michaelmas will be more and more called upon to form a very real supplement to Easter. For mankind, who will understand earthly life again also in a spiritual sense, will eventually have to think in this way.
While the summer out-breathing occurred, the Earth was ahrimanized. Woe if Jesus had been born into this ahrimanized Earth! Before the cycle is completed again and December approaches, which brings about the birth of the Christ Impulse in the ensouled Earth, the Earth must be purified by spiritual forces, from the Dragon, from the Ahrimanic forces. And the purifying force of Michael, which subdues the evil Ahrimanic forces, must unite itself, from September into December, with the in-flowing earth breath, so that the Christmas festival may approach in the right way, and the birth of the Christ Impulse take place in the right way, so that it will then mature up until the beginning of the out-breathing at Easter time.
We can therefore say: “At Christmas time the Earth has drawn its soul-element into itself, the Earth has taken its soul-being into itself in the great yearly respiration. In this Earth-soul element which has been drawn into the Earth, the Christ Impulse is born in the inwardness of the Earth. Toward spring it flows out into the cosmos with the out-breathing of the Earth. It views the star world and enters into reciprocal action with it, but in such a way that its relation to the stars is no longer spatial, but temporal, so that the temporal is withdrawn from the spatial.”
Easter is on the first Sunday after the spring full moon. Within the full out-going breath man rises up with his soul-being into the cosmic world, permeates and saturates himself with the quality of the stars, takes in the breath of the cosmos with his earthly breath, thus permeating himself with the Easter spirit, and by St. John's Day he is most strongly imbued with that with which he began to permeate himself at Easter. He must then return to the Earth, with the Earth soul and his own soul-being, but he depends upon Michael's standing by him, so that he may penetrate the earthly world in the right way after the Ahrimanic element has been overcome through the Michael forces.
And ever more and more, with the strength of the indrawn breath, does the soul-element of the Earth retire into the Earth itself, up to Christmas time. And today we celebrate Christmas time in the right way if we say to ourselves: “Michael has purified the Earth, so that the birth of the Christ Impulse can occur at Christmas time in the right way.”
Then the outflowing into the cosmos begins again. In this outflowing Christ takes Michael with Him, in order that Michael may again gather to him out of the cosmos those forces which he has used up in his struggle with the earthly Ahrimanic forces. At Easter time Michael begins again to immerse himself in the cosmic world, and is most strongly interwoven with the cosmos at St. John's time.
And a man in the present who comprehends in the right sense what unites him as man with the earthly, says to himself: “The age is beginning for us in which we see the Christ Impulse aright when we know that it is accompanied by the force of Michael in the course of the year; when we see the Christ flowing down into the earthly and rising up into the cosmos, accompanied by Michael, who at one time is contending within the earthly, at another gathering strength for the fight in the cosmic spaces.” (See lemniscate)
In the Easter thought we have an image of utmost grandeur which has been implanted into earth existence in order to bring enlightenment; namely, the image of Christ arising out of the grave in victory over Death. We can grasp this Easter thought in the right way in our time only if we understand that we must add to it today the Being of Michael, at the right hand of Christ Jesus. For while the force of the Earth's breath is becoming woven through with the force of Christ during the breathing process of the Earth in the course of the year's cycle, Michael accompanies Christ.
If we as Earth men would understand how to make the Christ thought alive in ourselves at each of the four great festivals of the year, including Easter, as indeed we must do, we need to be able to place this thought in the right way and in full consciousness into the present time. The hope that was focused on the coming of the Michael force in the service of the Christ force animated those who understand the Christ Impulse in the right way up to our time.
The obligation arises for us, especially in the modern age, to permeate ourselves with the Christ Impulse in the sense of the Michael thought. We do this in the right way when we know how to link the Resurrection thought with the active Michael thought which has been implanted into human evolution, in the way I have often explained.