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The Four Seasons and the Archangels
GA 229

I. The Michael Imagination

Dornach, 5 October, 1923

To-day I would like first to remind you how events which take place behind the veil of appearance, outside the physical, sense-perceptible world, can be described in pictorial terms. One has to speak in this way of these events, but the pictures correspond throughout with reality.

With regard to sense-perceptible events, we are living in a time of hard tests for humanity, and these tests will become harder still. Many old forms of civilisation, to which people still mistakenly cling, will sink into the abyss, and there will be an insistent demand that man must find his way to something new. In speaking of the course that the external life of humanity will take in the early future, we cannot—as I have often said—arouse any kind of optimistic hopes. But a valid judgment as to the significance of external events cannot be formed unless we consider also the determining, directing cosmic events which occur behind the veil of the senses.

When a man looks out attentively with his physical eyes and his other senses at his surroundings, he perceives the physical environment of the earth, and the various kingdoms of nature within it. This is the milieu in which comes to pass all that manifests as wind and weather in the course of the year. When we direct our senses towards the external world, we have all this before us: these are the external facts. But behind the atmosphere, the sun-illumined atmosphere, there lies another world, perceptible by spiritual organs, as we may call them. Compared with the sense-world, this other world is a higher world, a world wherein a kind of light, a kind of spiritual light or astral light, spiritual existence and spiritual deeds shine out and run their course. And they are in truth no less significant for the whole development of the world and of man than the historical events in the external environment of the earth and on its surface.

If anyone to-day is able to penetrate into these astral realms, wandering through them as one may wander among woods and mountains and find signposts at cross roads, he may find “signposts” there in the astral light, inscribed in spiritual script. But these signposts have a quite special characteristic: they are not comprehensible without further explanation, even for someone who can “read” in the astral light. In the spiritual world and in its communications, things are not made as convenient as possible: anything one encounters there presents itself as a riddle to be solved. Only through inner investigation, through experiencing inwardly the riddle and much else, can one discover what the inscription on a spiritual signpost signifies.

And so at this time—indeed for some decades now, but particularly at this time of hard trials for mankind—one can read in the astral light, as one goes about spiritually in these realms, a remarkable saying. It sounds like a prosaic comparison, but in this case, because of its inner significance, the prosaic does not remain prosaic. Just as we find notices to help us find our way—and we find signposts even in poetical landscapes—so we encounter an important spiritual signpost in the astral light. Time and time again, exactly repeated, we find there to-day the following saying, inscribed in highly significant spiritual script:

O Man,
You mould it to your service,
You reveal it according to the value of its substance
In many of your works.
Yet it will bring you healing
Only when it reveals to you
The lofty power of its spirit.

Injunctions of this kind, pointing to facts significant for man, are inscribed, as I have said, in the astral light, presenting themselves first as a kind of riddle to be solved, so that men may bring their soul-forces into activity.

Now, during our days here, we will contribute something to the solving of this saying—really a simple saying, but important for mankind to-day.

Let us recall how in many of our studies here the course of the year has been brought before our souls. A man first observes it quite externally: when spring comes he sees nature sprouting and budding; he sees how the plants grow and come to flower, how life everywhere springs up out of the soil. All this is enhanced as summer draws on; in summer it rises to its highest level. And then, when autumn comes, it withers and fades away; and when winter comes it dies into the lap of the earth.

This cycle of the year—which in earlier times, when a more instinctive consciousness prevailed, was celebrated with festivals—has another side, also mentioned here. During winter the earth is united with the elemental spirits. They withdraw into the interior of the earth and live there among the plant-roots that are preparing for new growth, and among the other nature-beings who spend the winter there. Then, when spring comes, the earth breathes out, as it were, its elemental being. The elemental spirits rise up as though from a tomb and ascend into the atmosphere. During winter they accepted the inner order of the earth, but now, as spring advances and especially when summer comes on, they receive more and more into their being and activity the order which is imposed upon them by the stars and the movements of the stars. When high summer has come, then out there in the periphery of the earth there is a surging of life among the elemental beings who had spent the winter in quiet and silence under the earth's mantle of snow. In the swirling and whirling of their dance they are governed by the reciprocal laws of planetary movement, by the pattern of the fixed stars, and so on. When autumn comes, they turn towards the earth. As they approach the earth, they become subject more and more to the laws of earth, so that in winter they may be breathed in again by the earth, once more to rest there in quietude.

Anyone who can thus experience the cycle of the year feels that his whole human life is wonderfully enriched. To-day—and it has been so for some time past—a man normally experiences, and then but dimly, half-consciously, only the physical-etheric processes of the body which occur within his skin. He experiences his breathing, the circulation of his blood. Everything that takes its course outside, in wind and weather, during the year; all that lives in the sprouting of the seed-forces, the fruiting of the earth-forces—all this is no less significant and decisive for the whole life of man, even though he is not conscious of it, than the breathing and blood-circulation which go on inside his skin.

When the sun rises over any region of the earth, we share in the effects of its warmth and light. But when a man accepts Anthroposophy in the right sense, not reading it like a sensational novel but so that what it imparts becomes the content of his mind, then he gradually educates his heart and soul to experience all that goes on outside in the course of the year. Just as in the course of a day we experience early freshness, readiness for work in the morning, then the onset of hunger and of evening weariness, and just as we can trace the inner life and activity of the forces and substances within our skin, so, by taking to heart anthroposophical ideas—entirely different from the usual descriptions of sense-perceptible events—we can prepare our souls to become receptive to the activities that go on outside in the course of the year. We can deepen more and more this sympathetic participation in the cycle of the year, and we can enrich it so that we do not live sourly—one might say—within our skin, letting the outer world pass us by. On the contrary, we can enrich our experience so that we feel ourselves living in the blossoming of every flower, in the breaking open of the buds, in that wonderful secret of the morning, the glistening of dew-drops in the rays of the sun. In these ways we can get beyond that dull, conventional way of reacting to the outer world merely by putting on our overcoat in winter and lighter clothes in summer and taking an umbrella when it rains. When we go out from ourselves and experience the interweaving activities, the flow and ebb, of nature—only then do we really understand the cycle of the year.

Then, when spring passes over the earth and summer is drawing near, a man will be in the midst of it with his heart and soul; he will discern how the sprouting and budding life of nature unfolds, how the elemental spirits fly and whirl in a pattern laid down for them by planetary movements. And then, in the time of high summer, he will go out of himself to share in the life of the cosmos. Certainly this damps down his own inner life, but at the same time his summer experience leads him out—in a cosmic waking-sleep, one might say—to enter into the doings of the planets.

To-day, generally speaking, people feel they can enter into the life of nature only in the season of growth—of germination and budding, flowering and fruiting. Even if they cannot fully experience all this, they have more sympathy and perception for it than they have for the autumn season of fading and dying away. But in truth we earn the right to enter into the season of spring growth only if we can enter also into the time when summer wanes and autumn draws on; the season of sinking down and dying that comes with winter. And if during high summer we rise inwardly, in a cosmic waking-sleep, with the elemental beings to the region where planetary activity in the outer world can be inwardly experienced, then we ought equally to sink ourselves down under the frost and snow-mantle of winter, so that we enter into the secrets of the womb of the earth during mid-winter; and we ought to participate in the fading and dying-off of nature when autumn begins.

If, however, we are to participate in this waning of nature, just as we do in nature's growing time, we can do so only if in a certain sense we are able to experience the dying away of nature in our own inner being. For if a man becomes more sensitive to the secret workings of nature, and thus participates actively in nature's germinating and fruiting, it follows that he will livingly experience also the effects of autumn in the outer world. But it would be comfortless for man if he could experience this only in the form it takes in nature; if he were to come only to a nature-consciousness concerning the secrets of autumn and winter, as he readily does concerning the secrets of spring and summer. When the events of autumn and winter draw on, when Michaelmas comes, he certainly must enter sensitively into the processes of fading and dying; but he must not, as he does in summer, give himself over to a nature-consciousness. On the contrary, he must then devote himself to self-consciousness. In the time when external nature is dying, he must oppose nature-consciousness with the force of self-consciousness.

And then the form of Michael stands before us again. If, under the impulse of Anthroposophy, a man enters thus into the enjoyment of nature, the consciousness of nature, but then also awakes in himself an autumnal self-consciousness, then the picture of Michael with the dragon will stand majestically before him, revealing in picture-form the overcoming of nature-consciousness by self-consciousness when autumn draws near. This will come about if man can experience not only an inward spring and summer, but also a dying, death-bringing autumn and winter. Then it will be possible for the picture of Michael with the dragon to appear again as a forcible Imagination, summoning man to inner activity.

For a man who out of present-day spiritual knowledge wrestles his way through to an experience of this picture, it expresses something very powerful. For when, after St. John's tide, July, August and September draw on, he will come to realise how he has been living through a waking-sleep of inner planetary experience in company with the earth's elemental beings, and he will become aware of what this really signifies.

It signifies an inner process of combustion, but we must not picture it as being like external combustion. All the processes which take a definite form in the outer world go on also within the human organism, but in a different guise. And so it is a fact that these inner processes reflect the changing course of the year.

The inner process which occurs during high summer is a permeation of the organism by that which is represented crudely in the material world as sulphur. When a man lives with the summer sun and its effects, he experiences a sulphurising process in his physical-etheric being. The sulphur that he carries within him as a useful substance has a special importance for him in high summer, quite different from its importance at other seasons. It becomes a kind of combustion process. It is natural for man that the sulphur within him should thus rise at midsummer to a specially enhanced condition. Material substances in different beings have secrets not dreamt of by materialistic science.

Everything physical-etheric in man is thus glowed through at midsummer with inward sulphur-fire, to use Jacob Boehm's expression. It is a gentle, intimate process, not perceptible by ordinary consciousness, but—as is generally true of other such processes—it has a tremendous, decisive significance for events in the cosmos.

This sulphurising process in human bodies at midsummer, although it is so mild and gentle and imperceptible to man himself, has very great importance for the evolution of the cosmos. A great deal happens out there in the cosmos when in summer human beings shine inwardly with the sulphur-process. It is not only the physically visible glow-worms (Johannis Käferchen) which shine out around St. John's Day. Seen from other planets, the inner being of man then begins to shine, becoming visible as a being of light to the etheric eyes of other planetary beings. That is the sulphurising process. At the height of summer human beings begin to shine out into cosmic space as brightly for other planetary beings as glow-worms shine with their own light in the meadows at St. John's time.

From the standpoint of the cosmos this is a majestically beautiful sight, for it is in glorious astral light that human beings shine out into the cosmos during high summer, but at the same time it gives occasion for the Ahrimanic power to draw near to man. For this power is very closely related to the sulphurising process in the human organism. We can see how, on the one hand, man shines out into the cosmos in the St. John's light, and on the other how the dragon-like serpent-form of Ahriman winds its way among the human beings shining in the astral light and tries to ensnare and embrace them, to draw them down into the realm of half-conscious sleep and dreams. Then, caught in this web of illusion, they would become world-dreamers, and in this condition they would be a prey to the Ahrimanic powers. All this has significance for the cosmos also.

And when in high summer, from a particular constellation, meteors fall in great showers of cosmic iron, then this cosmic iron, which carries an enormously powerful healing force, is the weapon which the gods bring to bear against Ahriman, as dragon-like he tries to coil round the shining forms of men. The force which falls on the earth in the meteoric iron is indeed a cosmic force whereby the higher gods endeavour to gain a victory over the Ahrimanic powers, when autumn comes on. And this majestic display in cosmic space, when the August meteor showers stream down into the human shining in the astral light, has its counterpart—so gentle and apparently so small—in a change that occurs in the human blood. This human blood, which is in truth not such a material thing as present-day science imagines, but is permeated throughout by impulses from soul and spirit, is rayed through by the force which is carried as iron into the blood and wages war there on anxiety, fear and hate. The processes which are set going in every blood-corpuscle when the force of iron shoots into it are the same, on a minute human scale, as those which take place when meteors fall in a shining stream through the air. This permeation of human blood by the anxiety-dispelling force of iron is a meteoric activity. The effect of the raying in of the iron is to drive fear and anxiety out of the blood.

And so, as the gods with their meteors wage war on the spirit who would like to radiate fear over all the earth through his coiling serpent-form, and while they cause iron to stream radiantly into this fear-tainted atmosphere, which reaches its peak when autumn approaches or when summer wanes—so the same process occurs inwardly in man, when his blood is permeated with iron. We can understand these things only if we understand their inner spiritual significance on the one hand, and if on the other we recognise how the sulphur-process and the iron-process in man are connected with corresponding events in the cosmos.

A man who looks out into space and sees a shooting-star should say to himself, with reverence for the gods: “That occurrence in the great expanse of space has its minute counterpart continuously in myself. There are the shooting-stars, while in every one of my blood-corpuscles iron is taking form: my life is full of shooting-stars, miniature shooting-stars.” And this inner fall of shooting-stars, pointing to the life of the blood, is especially important when autumn approaches, when the sulphur-process is at its peak. For when men are shining like glow-worms in the way I have described, then the counter-force is present also, for millions of tiny meteors are scintillating inwardly in their blood.

This is the connection between the inner man and the universe. And then we can see how, especially when autumn is approaching, there is a great raying-out of sulphur from the nerve-system towards the brain. The whole man can then be seen as a sulphur-illuminated phantom, so to speak.

But raying into this bluish-yellow sulphur atmosphere come the meteor swarms from the blood. That is the other phantom. While the sulphur-phantom rises in clouds from the lower part of man towards his head, the iron-forming process rays out from his head and pours itself like a stream of meteors into the life of the blood.

Such is man, when Michaelmas draws near. And he must learn to make conscious use of the meteoric-force in his blood. He must learn to keep the Michael Festival by making it a festival for the conquest of anxiety and fear; a festival of inner strength and initiative; a festival for the commemoration of selfless self-consciousness.

Just as at Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Redeemer, and at Easter the death and resurrection of the Redeemer, and as at St. John's Tide we celebrate the outpouring of human souls into cosmic space, so at Michaelmas—if the Michael Festival is to be rightly understood—we must celebrate that which lives spiritually in the sulphurising and meteorising process in man, and should stand before human consciousness in its whole soul-spiritual significance especially at Michaelmas. Then a man can say to himself: “You will become lord of this process, which otherwise takes its natural course outside your consciousness, if—just as you bow thankfully before the birth of the Redeemer at Christmas and experience Easter with deep inner response—you learn to experience how at this autumn festival of Michael there should grow in you everything that goes against love of ease, against anxiety, and makes for the unfolding of inner initiative and free, strong, courageous will.” The Festival of strong will—that is how we should conceive of the Michael Festival. If that is done, if nature-knowledge is true, spiritual human self-consciousness, then the Michael Festival will shine out in its true colours.

But before mankind can think of celebrating the Michael Festival, there will have to be a renewal in human souls. It is the renewal of the whole soul-disposition of men that should be celebrated at the Michael Festival—not as an outward or conventional ceremony, but as a festival which renews the whole inner man.

Then, out of all I have described, the majestic image of Michael and the Dragon will arise once more. But this picture of Michael and the Dragon paints itself out of the cosmos. The Dragon paints himself for us, forming his body out of bluish-yellow sulphur streams. We see the Dragon shaping himself in shimmering clouds of radiance out of the sulphur-vapours; and over the Dragon rises the figure of Michael, Michael with his sword.

But we shall picture this rightly only if we see the space where Michael displays his power and his lordship over the dragon as filled not with indifferent clouds but with showers of meteoric iron. These showers take form from the power that streams out from Michael's heart; they are welded together into the sword of Michael, who overcomes the Dragon with his sword of meteoric iron.

If we understand what is going on in the universe and in man, then the cosmos itself will paint from out of its own forces. Then one does not lay on this or that colour according to human ideas, but one paints, in harmony with divine powers, the world which expresses their being, the whole being of Michael and the Dragon, as it can hover before one. A renewal of the old pictures comes about if one can paint out of direct contemplation of the cosmos. Then the pictures will show what is really there, and not what fanciful individuals may somehow portray in pictures of Michael and the Dragon.

Then men will come to understand these things, and to reflect on them with understanding, and they will bring mind and feeling and will to meet the autumn in the course of the year. Then at the beginning of autumn, at the Michael Festival, the picture of Michael with the Dragon will stand there to act as a powerful summons, a powerful spur to action, which must work on men in the midst of the events of our times. And then we shall understand how this impulse points symbolically to something in which the whole destiny—perhaps indeed the tragedy—of our epoch is being played out.

During the last three or four centuries we have developed a magnificent natural science and a far-reaching technology, based on the most widely-distributed material to be found on earth. We have learnt to make out of iron nearly all the most essential and important things produced by mankind in a materialistic age. In our locomotives, our factories, on all sides we see how we have built up this whole material civilisation on iron, or on steel, which is only iron transformed. And all the uses to which iron is put are a symbolic indication of how we have built our whole life and outlook out of matter and want to go on doing so. But that is a downward-leading path. Man can rescue himself from its impending dangers only if he starts to spiritualise life in this very domain, if he penetrates through his environment to the spiritual; if he turns from the iron which is used for making engines and looks up again to the meteoric iron which showers down from the cosmos to the earth and is the outer material from which the power of Michael is forged. Men must come to see the great significance of the following words: “Here on earth, in this epoch of materialism, you have made use of iron, in accordance with the insight gained from your observation of matter. Now, just as you must transform your vision of matter through the development of natural science into Spiritual Science, so must you rise from your former idea of iron to a perception of meteoric iron, the iron of Michael's sword. Then healing will come from what you can make of it.” This is the content of the aphorism:

O Man,
You mould it (iron) to your service,
You reveal it (iron) according to the value of its substance
In many of your works.
Yet it will bring you healing
Only when it reveals to you
The lofty power of its spirit.

That is, the lofty power of Michael, with the sword he has welded together in cosmic space out of meteoric iron. Healing will come when our material civilisation proves capable of spiritualising the power of iron into the power of Michael-iron, which gives man self-consciousness in place of mere nature-consciousness.

You have seen that precisely the most important demand of our time, the Michael-demand, is implicit in this aphorism, this script that reveals itself in the astral light.