This lecture, the 9th of 14 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at various cities, from January through December of 1912. The title these lectures were published under is: Experiential Knowledge of the Supersensible. In German: Erfahrungen des Uebersinnlichen. Die wege der Seele zu Christus.
An alternative name of this lecture is, The Mysteries of the Kingdoms of Heaven in Parables and in Real Form. It was translated by D. S. Osmond.
Cologne, May 7th, 1912
The importance of Anthroposophy for present and future mankind will only gradually be realised, but insight will come when understanding has been gained of certain things indicated in occult writings though not, as a rule, studied in sufficient depth, Reference could be made to innumerable passages in books on occultism or also in writings on religion in support of what I am referring to here, but I shall mention only this well-known and very significant passage in the New Testament: ‘Unto them that are without, the mysteries are revealed in parables, that seeing they may see and not understand. But unto you’ — so says Christ Jesus — ‘the mysteries of the kingdoms of heaven shall be revealed in their true form.’
The profound significance of such a passage is generally overlooked. What does it really mean? Which are the most important parables in which Christ Jesus speaks to His disciples? They are those which, as a rule, are not considered to be parables at all. What man sees in the kingdoms of Nature around him on the physical plane, he takes to be reality. He looks at an animal or a plant, and pictures to himself that these are realities in the forms in which they appear. But in truth it is not so, for what is actually present as a reality is the spiritual world — that and that alone. And not until we nave recognised the Spiritual in the things around us do we truly know reality.
Everything else that is revealed to us in surrounding nature is tantamount only to a symbol for the spiritual world behind it. Everything to be seen in the kingdoms of mineral, plant, animal, and also in the physical human kingdom, everything that makes an impression upon the sense-organs, upon intellect and intelligence — all these things are nothing but symbols of the Spirit; and only one who learns how to interpret these symbols reaches the reality, the Spirit.
And so as men pass through the world, observing its beings and its happenings, what they perceive are symbols, nothing but symbols. Nature herself addresses man in parables, in symbols. In the Spirit alone there is reality. When the spirit is being spoken of in images taken from Nature, Christ Jesus is explaining processes pertaining to the Spirit. He speaks in a parable of the seed that is sown and undergoes different forms of destiny. (St Mark, IV, 1–9). The process of which He is speaking belongs to the kingdoms of outer Nature — hence it can only be described in the form of a parable. But when Christ Jesus is making clear to His disciples that He is one with the Father of all existence, that he has to live on the earth and suffer death, that within Him is a Christ-power, a Christ-impulse that must pass through death as a force by which courage and consolation can be given to all men through all time to come — then He is speaking of reality, He is speaking of the Spirit.
Knowledge, therefore, can only be genuine when man has succeeded in penetrating behind the mysterious secrets of the world, so that he learns to recognise symbols which indicate spiritual processes. And in truth the soul will be tremendously enriched when man is able to be aware of his relationship with the outside world.
We will consider a particular example. — Going to sleep and waking is an ever-recurring rhythmic experience. Man must experience in rhythmic sequence the flashing up of the normal day-consciousness and its subsequent darkening into the state of sleep. If we now ask, what may be compared in Nature outside with this rhythmic alternation of sleeping and waking in man, many will think of the rhythmic alternation in the growth and withering of plants in the spring and autumn. Man sees the green foliage appearing, the blossoming, the ripening of the fruits, the forming of the seed; then, during the winter, all this seems to be obliterated and to reappear in the spring. It might come naturally to him to compare the processes of his own waking and going to sleep with the budding of the plants in spring and their withering in the autumn. That would, however, be a fallacy, merely an external comparison.
What is it that we actually experience when we go to sleep at night? Our astral body and our Ego emerge from the etheric body and the physical body. If we now look back spiritually upon the physical body and the etheric body we shall perceive that their activity at night and by day is entirely different. During the day, through our normal consciousness, we wear out our physical and etheric bodies through acts of will, through feeling and through thinking; fatigue is evidence that we have worn out our physical and etheric bodies. In fact our daily life is a process of ruining and wearing out our physical and etheric bodies, and they are most thoroughly worn out in the evening. With clairvoyant sight we shall perceive that during sleep the physical body and the etheric body begin to manifest a plantlike activity. The worn-out nervous system and etheric body begin as it were to bud and blossom at the moment of going to sleep and within the human being something takes place that may be compared with what happens in the spring, when everything buds and sprouts. The moment of going to sleep must be compared with the spring and the deeper our sleep the more do our physical and etheric bodies pass over into a condition of budding, sprouting life. It is then spring and summer within us, and as the moment of waking approaches it is autumn; consciousness lights up, clear day-consciousness. The summer-like condition is brought to its close and, during the course of the day, desolation resembling that of Nature during winter, when the Earth's activity has died away, is brought about in our physical and etheric bodies.
Thus going to sleep must be compared with the season of spring and waking with that of autumn. The Earth-spirits in the plants liberate themselves in spring from the physical element of the plant world and the spiritual beings connected with the plants sink into a kind of sleeping condition during the summer and are awake during the winter; where there is winter on the Earth, there these spirits permeate the planetary body. Admittedly, it might be said in connection with the Earth that it is not possible to speak of sleeping and waking, because conditions are different in each hemisphere. But the rhythmic movement is such that when the Earth-spirits depart from the north they go towards the south; they permeate the planet in rhythmic alternation. A certain comparison is possible here with what takes place within the human being. Man so easily forgets that he is a whole man. He supposes that thoughts and consciousness reside only in the head, and when the astral body and the Ego are outside, he believes that there is nothing within him that thinks. In reality the lower half of his body is all the more active, only he knows nothing of it. The essential point is to realise that we can actually speak of the Earth-spirits beginning to sleep in the spring, that they withdraw from the body of the Earth where it is spring and summer ... Similarly, a vegetative life unfolds in the human being while he is asleep. And in the winter, when the Earth-spirits stream in again, the seeds remain hidden and the Earth-spirits wake; they are then united with the Earth. Thus we may say: When we stand on the Earth in summer we have around us physical Nature; everything buds and blossoms and lower elemental spirits are active on the Earth. Divine life, divine consciousness, penetrate into the Earth in wintertime, not in summertime.
True spiritual science helps us to recognise this because it is able to penetrate into these things with clear, clairvoyant consciousness. Man can say, if only he is capable of feeling it: spring — and summer — forces which cause outer Nature to bud and blossom call forth the lower elemental beings out of the Earth, whereas the highest Spirits who are connected with the Earth have withdrawn from it. And in the middle of the summer the lower elemental spirits, driven forth by the power of the Sun, celebrate a kind of ecstasy of their lower forces.
Then comes wintertime; the warmth and light of the Sun decrease, and with the approach of winter the highest divine forces unite with the part of the Earth on which we live. In winter the Earth feels as though enwrapped in the Beings with whom we are connected in the depths of our nature. We may then feel reverence which takes the form of a prayer to these sublime Beings, to the divine Powers who have been allied to man from the primal beginning.
It is the mission of Spiritual Science or Anthroposophy to teach us to know and understand what is living in our environment. And this it will do, with all clarity. We know that men once possessed this knowledge, although in the form of dreamlike, clairvoyant consciousness; what we reacquire to-day was once primordial wisdom revealed to mankind through dreamlike clairvoyance.
Is there external evidence too for what has been said to-day? Yes, there is. In far past ages men knew well that in the summer season the lower elemental spirits rise up and reach a state of ecstasy at midsummer, that the activity of outer physical life is then at its highest point. Hence the middle of the summer was chosen as the right time for festivals that were intended to be intimations of man's physical connection with Nature. With their ancient clairvoyance men knew that the greatest intensity of physical life, the ecstasy of physical life, is reached when the human being surrenders himself at midsummer to the splendour and glory of outer physical Nature. And it was also known that the approach of winter means an awakening of the divine forces, a union of the divine forces with the body of the Earth. For this reason ancient consciousness placed in midwinter the festival that was meant to betoken man's feeling of union with what is intimately related to the most divine forces of his own soul; it was the festival of the divine Being who would one day become the Spirit of the Earth. This festival could not take place in the summer; it was celebrated in December as the Christmas festival, the festival of the Spirit. The festival of physical Nature, the St John's festival, was celebrated in the summer; Christmas, the festival of the highest Spirits, belongs to the season of winter.
When we realise what intimate messages the festivals have for us, we feel united with the whole spiritual evolution of mankind. What men have established in this way reveals the knowledge they have possessed and the fruits of this knowledge. The external physical light of the Sun, the physical forces of the Heavens, come down to the Earth in the spring. This descent of the physical light and this withdrawal of the Spirit to the heavenly world just as the Spirit withdraws from man during the night, is wonderfully expressed in the Easter festival, which is determined every year by the constellations. Just as in the spring the forces of Heaven and Earth work together visibly, so was the Easter festival fixed according to the visible positions of heavenly bodies, according to knowledge of the stars.
The suggested introduction of a fixed Easter because material considerations seem to require this, is absolutely characteristic of our age. It amounts to taking away from the Easter festival the very feature that gives it meaning, and this for the sake of material, industrial and commercial interests. A movable Easter may be inconvenient for balancing accounts and be troublesome for certain business arrangements but the very fact of the date of the Easter festival being determined by the constellation in the heavens is an expression of the feeling man has of the inter-working of the earthly and the heavenly in the spring.
And just as these forces work in man when he goes to sleep, so in the autumn, and when he wakes from sleep, a spiritual element is active; but when he goes to sleep, and in the spring, physical and spiritual, heavenly and earthly, work together. In fixing the year's festivals this had naturally to be given physical expression too. Herein lies profound wisdom. It is probable that the commercial, materialistic interests of our time will gain the day and Easter will become a fixed festival. But it would fare ill with knowledge that humanity ought to preserve if men were to forget the essential meaning of such a festival. For this reason it will be incumbent upon the anthroposophical Movement always to celebrate Easter as a movable festival. An Easter festival determined by materialistic principles would then exist by the side of the Easter festival fixed according to spiritual principles; and we shall celebrate this festival truly when we have learnt to regard the external world itself as a symbol.
The coming of spring is a symbol of an event performed by the Spirit — namely, that of going to sleep. In the autumn, Nature withers away and the Spirit wakes. The withering away is no reality; it is a symbol of the fact that the divine forces allied with the Earth are waking. And with their wisdom the men of ancient times placed in the winter season the festivals which indicate the connection with spiritual worlds. Infinitely deep wisdom is everywhere in evidence here, wisdom through which man becomes aware that he lives in the flow of Time, together with spiritual Beings to whom he belongs. And so man will gradually learn to know that he belongs to the Spirit of which external Nature is merely a symbol; more and more he will long to experience his relation to the Spirit, not to its outer symbol.
We know that the great Atlantean catastrophe was followed by the period of ancient sacred Indian culture; then came the ancient Persian and the Egypto-Chaldean-Babylonian epochs of culture, then the fourth, the Graeco-Latin epoch, and we ourselves are living in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. But attention has also been called to another rhythm. The Graeco-Latin epoch stands, as it were, by itself; the fifth epoch is a kind of repetition of the third, the Egypto-Chaldean-Babylonian epoch; the sixth epoch will be a repetition of the Persian, and the seventh a revival and renewal of the spiritual content of ancient Indian culture. Qualities and features of Egypto-Chaldean civilisation therefore come into evidence again in a certain way in our own thinking, feeling and impulses of will. During that third epoch men were destined to unfold and intensify their connection with the world of the stars. Astrology was elaborated and cultivated in the third epoch. Men had direct clairvoyant insight into the mysterious connections between the world of stars and human destiny.
There have been highly spiritual men who felt this inwardly, as though through a resurgence of incarnations in that third epoch. It was like a recollection of what they had achieved in ages of the distant past, when there was direct, intuitive astrological knowledge. This was the case with Tycho de Brahe, the reincarnated Julian the Apostate. [See also Occult History, lecture IV, and Appendix; also Karmic Relationships: Esoteric Studies - Volume IV, Vol. IV, lecture V and VII.] Copernicus too, like Kepler, was an astrologer and attached great value to those mysterious connections through which human destiny can become intelligible.
This is naturally regarded as utter superstition by the ‘enlightened’ mentality of to-day and the attitude of a modern man who prides himself upon possessing it will be that Tycho de Brahe was admittedly a great astronomer and in those days it was excusable that he should also have been an astrologer! Enlightened men of the present age see fit to ‘excuse’ a great deal; for example, they excuse Tycho de Brahe for having astonished the whole world at that time by foretelling the death of the Sultan Soliman. They regard this as an understandable weakness of the great man who made the first map of the heavens. Indeed these enlightened minds even find an excuse for the circumstance that the death of the Sultan Soliman actually occurred within a few days of the date foretold by Tycho de Brahe!
So we see how the ancient Egypto-Chaldean wisdom flashed up again in certain individuals. It is present even now, only we must seek it in a new form, and then anthroposophical study of the symbols and parables to be found in the external world will reveal many secrets. We perceive, for example, that in every plant, if a connecting line is drawn between the points around the stalk where the leaves are attached to it, we get a spiral; it is as if the leaves made their way around the stalk in spirals; and in a plant where the stalk is not rigid it follows this law itself, describing spirals as, for instance, is the case in the bindweed. These are everyday phenomena but no attention is paid to them. Some day, however, these things will again be studied and then the striking discovery will be made that these movements of the leaves depend upon forces that are not to be found on the Earth but work down from the planets; and because the planets describe certain spiral movements in the heavens, their forces actually guide the leaves in spirals around the stalk. The stalk grows vertically and the blossom is the culmination. The spiral lines differ in the various species of plants because there are several planets and their effect upon the plants is different in each case.
A time will come when it will be known, for example, how Venus moves, and what species of plant corresponds to this movement. Such a plant will then rightly be regarded as a mirror image in miniature of the movement described by Venus. Other plants mirror the movement described by Mercury in the spiral line connecting the points at which the leaves are attached to the stalk; others mirror the movement described by Jupiter, others again that described by Saturn. The planets impress their scripts upon the plants of the Earth, and the Sun's force regulates the whole process in such a way that the effect produced by the planets culminates in the blossom. Some day men will study the connection of the spiral growth of the plants with the movements of the planets and then they will feel the kinship of the kingdoms of the Earth with the kingdoms of Heaven.
Everything in the external world is a parable, a symbol; the laws of the growth of plants symbolize the movements of the planets, and these in turn are symbols of something even more sublime — deeds of spiritual Beings in the Cosmos. It will eventually be possible to discover how individual physical entities and beings are connected with the Cosmos. A beginning will be made by studying physical matter, and what grows and thrives on the Earth will be connected with the deeds of spiritual Beings in cosmic space. Men will gain knowledge of how minerals, plants and animals and even human destiny, are connected with deeds in the Cosmos. This knowledge will be gained anew during our present epoch but for a long time yet external science will refuse to adapt itself to such ways of approach and those who busy themselves with astrology will continue to cling to old traditions instead of going to the real sources. That is what ought to happen, but it can only do so if men confront the world with an attitude resulting from the stage of occult development appropriate for the modern age — regarding everything in the external world as signs and symbols.
Signs that had meaning for ancient clairvoyant consciousness have been handed down from olden times without being understood. For example, the sign of Aries was full of meaning and living content to the men of old; the sign did not apply to the constellation of Aries as such but indicated that the Sun or the Moon was standing in a certain relationship to this constellation, enabling certain forces to work in a definite way.
What we call ‘space’ at the present time is nothing but fantasy — it too is a ‘symbol.’ There is no space as such; spiritual forces are working from all directions. This is a difficult concept to grasp but the reality of certain facts can be felt instinctively. — On the morning of 21st March the Sun rises approximately in front of the constellation of Pisces, but this is simply the indication that particular spiritual forces — or Beings, to be more exact — are exercising a definite influence upon the Earth at that time. When we feel how this sign — the Sun in the constellation of Pisces — should be interpreted, we can translate it into terms of imaginative knowledge and speak of its inner significance.
An endeavour has been made to indicate these things in the Calendar which has just appeared. In this Calendar will be found signs that differ from those handed down by tradition, because the latter are no longer suitable for modern consciousness. (See note at end of lecture.) These pictures of the Zodiacal constellations are representations of actual experiences connected with the waking and sleeping of particular spiritual Beings. We have in these pictures a renewal of certain knowledge that needs to be renewed at the present time, because the third post-Atlantean culture-epoch must as it were rise again in the fifth epoch.
One must, of course, begin with a correct computation of time, and this brings me to a matter that will be regarded by those outside our Movement as sheer distortion and lunacy. It will be found that the Calendar indicates the year 1879 [i.e., 1879 years after the birth of Ego-consciousness at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. In many other lectures Dr Steiner indicates the year 1879 as the beginning of the Michael Age.]; this is because it is important for people of the present age to regard the year of the Event of Golgotha as the most momentous of all, as the year which determines how time is to be computed. When on a Friday in April in the year 33 A.D. the Mystery of Golgotha took place, Ego-consciousness in the present sense was actually born. It matters not at all on what part of the Earth a man lives, to which nation, race or religion he belongs. Just as the day of Caesar's death is the same for a Chinese or a European, the fact well known in occult life is that the Mystery of Golgotha took place in the year 33 A.D. The birth of Ego-consciousness is a fact of international significance, having nothing whatever to do with nationality.
It is therefore surprising to read in foreign theosophical periodicals that here we are promoting theosophy in a form patterned entirely in accordance with German culture! No credence whatever should be given to this statement for it gainsays the very essence of our Movement. One is little inclined to enter into or discuss these things and would much prefer to ignore them. But it is a duty and a necessity to call attention to them so that friends may be forearmed when sheer misstatements are made. Unfortunately, however, such misstatements are sometimes believed. It is anything but pleasant to have to speak of these things and it is done only because it is a duty to safeguard mankind against fallacy. If it is insisted that equal rights must be accorded to opinions but the interpretation of this is to distort one opinion and connect a particular region of the earth with it, warning is essential. What really matters is that truth must reign among us as a sacred law.
Our desire was to express in the Calendar the objective fact of the birth of the Ego. We reckon from the Mystery of Golgotha, hence from Easter to Easter, not from one New Year's Day to the next. This has been the cause of further derision and mockery, because it compels us to reckon with years of unequal length. But in what is unequal there is life; in what is uniform and fixed there is the impress of death, and our Calendar is intended to be a creative impulse for life.
There still remains the question: how can all this be a matter of actual experience? The answer to this question will be found in the Calendar itself. As its second part you will find the ‘Calendar of the Soul’ which I myself regard as very important. For each consecutive week I have tried to draw up verses for meditation, the effect of which will enable the soul gradually to discover in itself and in its own experiences the connection with the great cosmic constellations. These formulae for meditation do in all reality lead the soul out of its narrow confines to experience of the heavens. I can assure you that the results of long, long occult investigations are contained in these 52 verses which twill enable the soul to find access to happenings in the great universe and thereby to experience the Spirits working in the onward flow of Time. But if you ponder on the texts of the verses in the Calendar you will discern an element of Timelessness, in rhythmic alternation, an element that is experienced inwardly by the human being, the laws of which run parallel to those of Time in the outer world. Mere analogies do not suffice here. —
Each one of you will be able to use this Calendar of the Soul every year. In it you will find something that might be described as the finding of the path leading from the human soul to the living Spirit weaving through the Universe.
I have thus tried to justify the deed that has taken the form of the Calendar. It is not to be regarded as a sudden inspiration but as something organically connected with our whole Movement.
Note. — A new edition of the Calendar is in course of preparation and will be published by the Rudolf Steiner Press. The first edition of the Calendar (1912) contained reproductions of sketches made by Imme von Eckardstein according to indications given by Dr Steiner and corresponding to each sign of the Zodiac. Subsequent editions have contained only the verses for the 52 weeks of the year, with a short Foreword by Dr Steiner. The Calendar of the Soul is contained in volume No. 40 of the Complete Centenary Edition of Dr Steiner's works, other contents of this volume being as follows: Planetentanz; Zwölf Stimmungen; Das Lied von der initiation: eine Satire; Wahrsprüche und Widmungen; Credo: Der Einzelne und das All.
An article by Margot Rössler entitled “Rudelf Steiner's Calendar” appeared in the Spring number of Anthroposophical Quarterly in 1958 (Vol. 3, No. 1) and contains information on Imme von Eckardstein's work.