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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Cycle of the Year
GA 223


Man was born out of the Light into darkness, and the longing lies in him like a seed to seek the Light again. This ideal has shone before mankind, now brightly, now dimly, through all the ages of human culture on Earth. We glimpse it in the most direct form in the apparent preoccupation of earlier cultures with the Sun, whether this was seen as a divinity or observed in its outer reflection in the Earth's seasonal relationships to it.

On the one hand we have the Zarathustrians' Ahura-Mazdao and the Egyptians' Ra, on the other hand, holy places such as the laboriously constructed Stonehenge or the Mayan monument at Chichen Itza, both of which were apparently used in seasonal ceremonies reminding the people through the wonder of the solstice or the equinox of humanity's age-old connection with the creating God or gods, who fashioned both Earth and man and established the rhythms of Sun, Moon and stars on which all life depends.

Modern times find us in this respect in a darkened period. Walls of dogma enclose us, as the dogmas of science are added to the dogmas of religion. Many people, for example, embrace either evolutionism on the one hand or creationism on the other, on blind faith, without knowing very much about either. Yet dissatisfaction, a never fully suppressed longing really to know, stirs many others.

Readers who pick up yet another book by Rudolf Steiner are likely to do so because they have come to feel that here was a man who really knew, through a remarkable development of powers of cognition (which he claimed are accessible to everyone), the answers to many of the riddles that perplex every thinking person. Those who are familiar with Steiner's view of the world, of man and his evolution, through previous study of his teachings, known as Anthroposophy, should have little trouble with this volume.

But anyone who picks up The Cycle of the Year lacking prior acquaintance with Steiner may feel as if he had been dropped into a foreign country without map or dictionary. For this book is one of the many volumes which are not self-explaining written works, but rather a series of lectures given to a particular audience, in this case members of the Anthroposophical Society, who had been following and even diligently studying Steiner's unique work, many of them for as much as a decade or two.

Such a new reader needs to be told first of all that there are books both by Steiner himself and by other authors whose aim is to serve as an introduction to Anthroposophy. An Occult Science by Steiner is one such book. In Occult Science Steiner pictured in a great tableau the interweaving evolution of man and cosmos, from the first condition of spiritual primal warmth to “the turning point of time” when the Christ/Logos accomplished the Resurrection and laid into the Earth the seed for future human redemption. This mighty tableau of occult history had never been set forth in this way until Steiner described it here. The Philosophy of Freedom is an introductory work of a different character. In it, even more than in his other books, it was not Rudolf Steiner's primary intention to provide the reader with a fresh store of information. Rather, the intention was to set forth a systematic path by which the reader can develop and activate forces of thinking which he can begin to use livingly, creatively, imaginatively, warmly, freely, rather than in the passive, stereotyped, dry manner which present-day education so generally fosters.

From these few words the reader will already expect to find that Anthroposophy is connected with Christianity. It is not in itself a religion, much less a sect, but may be described, rather, as a Western Christian esoteric path. The Christianity Steiner set forth will be seen to be universal, rather than exclusive. We might picture it as a great life-giving river into which have flowed in their time the contributions of all the earlier great religions. These include not only the familiar ones, such as Buddhism and Judaism, but religions minimally known to history, such as that of the Druids, the Mithra cult and so on. Steiner, who could reconstruct also these through his clairvoyant vision, often referred to them together as “the ancient Mysteries.” He speaks of them here, especially in the final two lectures of this volume.

This latter aspect of the book might seem to be of merely academic interest unless we know of Rudolf Steiner's elaboration of the concept of reincarnation, with which those who heard the lectures were of course familiar. These listeners would have seen Steiner's revelations, for instance of the experiences of the festivals of the seasons as conducted by representatives of the Mysteries, as revelations of their own roots, as events in which they themselves might very well have participated in earlier incarnations. For in Steiner's view, we all take part in turn in each succeeding stage of human history.

In ancient times among those cultures that carried the torch of civilization, as described by Steiner, spiritual authority rested in the Mysteries. The science, the art, and the religion of those cultures were wholly consonant with one another and flowed as a unity out of each individual Mystery. There was no split between evolutionists creationists! It is known that Egyptian pharaohs, for example, were at the same time priests and initiates in the Mystery temple. Certain men—and until later only men—were chosen as candidates and were then trained to become initiates. The spiritual world was opened to them and they became witnesses of this world. They then passed on appropriate parts of the wisdom teaching to the rest of the populace in the form of myths, as well as giving guidance for the affairs of outer life, while keeping the deeper secrets strictly for themselves. Plato and Pythagoras among the ancient Greeks had knowledge of these Mysteries. The later Christian Mysteries, including those of the Holy Grail, cherished remnants of the ancient wisdom, but the great Spirit of the Sun, who had been variously known as Vishva, Karman, Ahura-Mazdao, Osiris and so on was now recognized to be none other than the Christ/Logos Who had come to Earth.

These aspects of history Steiner was able to set forth out of his own spiritual research. (This in no way implies that he stood alone in having knowledge of these things). But what did he say of our own times?

Now that mankind has come of age and man is able to think for himself, Rudolf Steiner asserted that the divine powers have turned over the responsibility for Earth's further evolution to man himself, as was always their intention. The “gods” have set “man” free—and woman now stand beside man and are of course included in the general term “man.” To go into the future, we who are “man” need to reconcile once more science, art, and religion, which are now pulling in conflicting directions. To make this possible, Mystery wisdom will have to be brought into the open, made accessible to all men, no longer reserved for the privileged few. Mozart had a sense for this. In his opera “The Magic Flute,” he revealed, although still in allegorical form, some aspects of the temple Mysteries, notably the trials undergone by a candidate for initiation. Indeed Mozart is said to have seriously offended thereby those who still zealously guarded the Mysteries in his day.

The same was of course said of Steiner in his time. In Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) we see a fully modern Western initiate. First having become educated as a natural scientist, he took upon himself the dual task of revealing as much of the Mystery wisdom as he could find individuals capable of receiving, and also of pointing to a modern path of spiritual development which can further open up the sources of wisdom. One of his written books in particular addresses itself to this task, setting forth a path of self-development which can lead to initiation, a path which anyone by his own free choice may follow. This is Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment.

It was Rudolf Steiner's destiny to become active as initiate and teacher just at the time when a new page was being turned in spiritual history in the relation of man to those heavenly beings whose impulses come to light in the progression of time. In the last third of the nineteenth century, the archangel Michael became the ruling Time Spirit, just before the Dark Age, or Kali Yuga as it was known to the ancients, was to come to an end, in 1899. From the beginning it had been Michael's task to hold in check the Powers of Darkness, whose leader Steiner designates as Ahriman (Persian: Angri-Manyu). We often see Michael depicted in medieval art as the courageous slayer of the Dragon. It was Steiner's teaching that now that mankind is of age and free, man must overthrow the “Dragon” himself, first of all by recognizing him where he works, but that Michael will lend man power. Working out of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner served as a human representative of Michael, who is mentioned without introduction already in the first lecture in this volume.

Sixty years after Steiner's passing, Anthroposophy is increasingly showing how this modern Mystery impulse can fructify not only the inner but also the outer life, just as did the Mysteries of old. Most readers will have heard of the worldwide Waldorf School movement which arises out of Anthroposophy. Many will have heard of the organic but functional style of architecture Steiner inaugurated with his Goetheanum buildings in Dornach, Switzerland or of the eurythmy or drama performances which take place there; of Bio-Dynamic agriculture, anthroposophical medicine, or another of the many offspring of this science of the spirit. All this is of course only a beginning. The threefold social order, for example, referred to in the volume in hand, has yet to be implemented, with all that it promises for the welfare of mankind. But a beginning has been made which finds the sciences, the arts, and religion starting to flow once more from a single source.

That a spiritual science must develop out of today's natural science, and that the threefold nature of man as a being of spirit, soul, and body must be grasped as a starting point, these are overall concerns of this volume, as of many others of Steiner's works. Its specific approach, however, is unique to this work. Only here, in this cycle of lectures, do we find so fully revealed the deeper relationships of man to the Earth's seasons, to the time of the solstices and the equinoxes, to the festivals of the seasons, and through them to the Christ Being and His right-hand spirit, Michael.

Here we can begin to sense again, surely with awe, the oneness of man with the universe that stirred the hearts of the ancients, our ancestors, of our earlier selves if you will. Here we find a foundation laid for celebrating the Christian festivals, especially Easter and Michaelmas, in a newly conscious way in which through man's emerging capacities, the lost communion with the divine world of man's origin can be re-established in ways suitable to the new Age of light. We are indeed reminded of Mozart's hope-filled declaration at the end of his opera: “The Powers of Darkness give way to the Light.”

Barbara Betteridge
Santa Paula, 1984