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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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St. John's Tide
GA 277

24 June 1923, Dornach

Translated by W. Ringwald and edited by M. and C. Karnow

In the short lecture before the eurythmy performance this morning, I pointed out how modern man’s relation to the celebration of the festivals has gotten ever deeper into materialism. Of course, in order to see this a much deeper view of materialism must be taken. The most threatening symptom is not that man is infected by materialism but he is infected by the superficiality of our time, and this is far more dangerous.

This superficiality exists not only in relation to the spiritual views of the world, but also in relation to materialism itself. One usually only pays attention to its most superficial phenomena. In this regard I pointed out this afternoon, for example how, in olden times people were still receptive to the moods which could be experienced in the course of the year and which came to be expressed in the festival celebrations. These moods were embodied in the winter solstice festival, the spring festival, the St. John’s festival and the Michael festival — these were embodied in ritual-like celebrations in which these moods were embedded, and they took hold of man as he consciously experienced the course of the year.

Thereby something was given to the soul which today is only given to man’s body. We all still participate in the course of the day. When the sun sends its golden rays announcing the dawn we eat our breakfast. When it is at its highest point and pours out its warmth and light with special love over mankind, we eat lunch, and so on through midday, snack, and supper. In those daily festival events, we accompany the course of the sun through the day by co-experiencing in our souls the fiery trip of the sun around the world. We participate in this fiery ride around the world by overcoming the craving for food with the contentment of feeling satiated. And so the mood for the physical organism exists in a very decided and definite way at different times of the day. We can call breakfast, snack, dinner, snack, supper, the festivals of the day. The human physical organism accompanies what takes place between earth and cosmos.

In a similar way the course of the year was experienced intensively in the soul in olden times through instinctive clairvoyance. Actually, certain things played from one sphere over into the other. You need but remember what has been left as remnants of these festivals: Easter eggs, stuffed geese, etc. The lower bodily region plays into the soul region which ought also to experience the course of the year. Well, the easiest way to stimulate interest in the course of the year in our materialistic time would be by making available — I do not want to say “Easter eggs”, — but “stuffed turkeys.”

But this is not the way it was meant in olden times with regard to festival moods. They were attuned, rather, to soul-hunger and soul satisfaction. The soul of man needed something different at Christmas, Easter, St. John’s, and Michaelmas time. And one can really compare the content of the celebration to a kind of satisfying the hunger of the soul at different seasons.

So as we look at the daily path of the sun, we can say that it is related to what serves the needs of the body; as we look at the yearly course of the sun, we can say that it is related to what serves the needs of the soul.

If festivals are to become alive again, it would have to happen out of a much more conscious condition, out of an awakening of the soul as it is striven for in anthroposophical endeavors. We cannot just base a renewal of the Festivals on old history; we would have to rediscover them through a new knowledge, a new world-conception, out of our own soul-being. But, besides the body and soul, we also differentiate the human spirit.

However, for modern man it is already difficult enough to have a clear picture when someone speaks of the soul. Everything becomes a sort of indefinite fog. Already in the nineteenth century when they began to speak of psychology, they began to speak of a soul-science without a soul. Fritz Mauthner, the great language critic, found that we really do not know anything about the soul, we only experience something indefinite, certain thoughts and feelings, but really nothing of a soul reality. We ought not, therefore, to use in the future the world “soul” but “dis-soul” (Geseel). Mauthner advises, that in the future, when a poet intends to write a real work he ought not to say: “Sing immortal Soul, the sinful man’s redemption,” but rather, “Sing immortal What-cha-macall-it, the sinful men’s redemption” — if in the future it still would make sense to speak of something like that.

Today we can really say that modern man knows nothing more of the connection of his soul with the sun’s yearly course. He became a materialist in this region, also. He sticks to the festivals of the body which follow the daily course of the sun. The festivals are celebrated out of traditional habits but no longer experienced. Yet we have, besides a body, also a soul, and yes, also a spirit.

Let us now take into consideration the historical epochs. Those epochs, which reach far beyond the course of the year, encompassing centuries, are co-experienced by the human spirit, if it experiences them at all. In olden times they were most certainly experienced. He who knows how to enter, carried by the spirit, into the way the course of time was followed in the past knows how it was said: at this or that time some personality appeared out of the heights of the world and revealed the spirit again. And this spirit entered as the sunlight enters the physical. If such an epoch then entered its twilight phase, something new appeared.

Historical epochs are related to the evolution of the human spirit, as the course of the sun through the year is related to the soul evolution. Of course, wherever such metamorphoses, such changes in spirit evolution occur, it must happen through fully conscious cognition. Today, one would like to ignore such metamorphoses completely. One is outwardly touched by the effects, but one does not wish to consider seriously those changes emanating from the spirit which are nevertheless expressed in the outer events.

It would be helpful to pay attention to a certain direction of thinking and feeling appearing in children and young people, which was unknown to earlier generations, and which, when looked at properly in the course of the development of humanity, can really be compared to the course of the year. Therefore it would be good to listen to what the different ages proclaim as a need, to listen to the way in which a new age arises and how human beings demand something different from what might have been demanded in ages gone by. But just for this contemporary man has a very inadequate organ.

When we approach the festival mood in the right way out of a contemporary consciousness, the great relationships of life can again fill our souls. When we, for example, let something like the St. John’s mood really enter our soul, then we try to gain for our soul what will be met by the cosmos.

Certainly, the great world connections have become a matter of indifference for modern mankind. There is no heart for getting to know the great world relations. It is quite evident how the spirit of littleness, narrowness, I would like to say, the spirit of the microscope, the spirit of atomizing appears, which, when mentioned in the way I do, seems paradoxical.

I would like to point to something definite in relation to the St. John’s mood which, however, seems quite far-fetched. What is more obvious (even if one has not developed an organ for the course of the year) than the impression of growing plants, growing trees: when spring comes, things sprout, grow, everything goes from leaf to blossom. All this growing makes the impression as though the cosmos, with its sun forces, calls upon the earth to open itself to the cosmos, and this happens at St. John’s time.

Then begins a retreat of the sprouting, and we approach the time when the earth collects the growing forces into itself, when the earth withdraws from the cosmos. How obvious it is that from the received impressions one gets the picture that the snow-cover belongs to winter, when the being of the plants crawls, so to speak, into the earth; that it belongs to summer for the plants to grow towards the cosmos. What is more natural than to get this idea — although in a deeper sense the opposite is correct — that the plants sleep in winter and wake in summer.

I do not wish to speak now about the correctness of this sleeping and waking. I wish to speak only of the impression one receives, which leads to the thought that summer belongs to growing vegetation, and winter to the withdrawal of growth. In any case, a kind of world-feeling develops in which one is engaged in relating to the warming, bright force of the sun when seeing this force again in the greening, blossoming plant-cover of earth, and immersing into the feeling of being an earthly hermit with regard to the cosmos when the plant cover is replaced with snow in winter. In short, by so feeling, one tears oneself free with one’s consciousness from earth existence. One places oneself in a larger relation to the universe.

Now comes modern research — and what I am saying now is in no way critical, on the contrary — now comes modern research and shrugs its shoulders whenever great cosmic connections are referred to. Why should one feel elevated to divine radiating warming forces of the sun when the trees are shooting, becoming green, when earth covers itself with a cover of plants? Why should one have to sense a cosmic relation on seeing this plant cover? It is disturbing. One cannot bring such sentiments into harmony with a materialistic consciousness. Plant is plant. It seems like stubborness of the plant to blossom only in spring, or to be ready in summer to bear fruit. How does this actually work? One is supposed to be concerned not only with the plant but with the whole world? If one is to feel, to know, one is supposed to be concerned with the whole world, not only with the plant? That doesn’t sit right. Is one not already making an effort to avoid dealing with substances existing in powder or crystal forms, but rather just to deal with atomic structures, atomic cores, with electromagnetic fields, etc.? One tries to deal with something enclosed, not with something that points in so many directions. In the case of the plant is one supposed to admit that a sensing is needed that reaches to the whole cosmos? It is really awful if one cannot narrow one’s view to a singular object! One is used to, when using the microscope, to have everything limited to a narrow view. Everything takes place in the small enclosure. It must be possible to look at a plant by itself, not in connection to the whole cosmos!

And look, at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century the scientists succeeded to an extraordinary degree in this region. It was known, of course, from some plants in hothouses, greenhouses, that the mere summer and winter aspects of the plant could be overcome. But on the whole, not enough could be discovered about the plant needing a certain winter rest. Discussions about tropical plants occurred. The researcher, who did not want to know about plants being connected with the cosmos, maintained that the tropical plant grows throughout the year. The others, more conservative, said: one thinks this because plants have their winter rest at different times, some only for eight days. This being so, makes it imperceptible when a certain species is dormant. Long detailed discussions concerning tropical plants took place. In short, one became aware of a tremendous discomfort concerning the relation of plants to the cosmos.

But the most interesting and grandiose experiments in this direction were made exactly at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, when one succeeded in driving the stubborness out of the plants in the case of a great number of not only annuals, but also trees, which are much stronger: to drive out the cosmic stubborness from the plant. It was possible to do this in plants known as annuals by creating certain conditions. In the case of most of the trees growing in the temperate zone, conditions could be established which caused them to remain green all year round, to give up their winter sleep. This then provided the basis for certain materialistic explanations. In this way really magnificent accomplishments were achieved.

It was discovered that the cosmic element could be driven out of trees if they were brought into enclosed spaces, given enough nourishing minerals, making it possible that plants in winter-time, when the soil is poor in minerals, can find this nourishment. If enough moisture, warmth, and light is supplied, the trees will grow. However, one tree in Central Europe was defiant: the Blood Beech. It was approached from all sides to give up its independence and subjected to isolation in a prison. It was provided with everything necessary, but remained stubborn, and demanded nevertheless its winter rest. But it was the only one that still resisted.

And now we must record that in the twentieth century, in 1914, the beginning of the war, another great historical event occurred: the immense, mighty accomplishment of the most capable researcher, Klebs, who was able to compel the Blood Beech to give up its independence. He simply was able to bring it into an enclosed space, provide the necessary nutrients, warmth and light, which could be measured, and the Blood Beech submitted to the demands of research.

I am not mentioning this phenomenon in order to criticize it, for who can help but wonder at this most diligent scientific labor. Besides, it would be silly to try to disprove the facts. They exist and are there. It is not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing, but something quite different.

Why should it not be possible if somewhere on neutral ground the necessary condition for hair-growing existed, to grow hair outside the human or animal realms? Why not? One need only bring about the conditions. I know many would rather have hair growing on their heads than in some culture, but we can imagine it to be possible. Then it would no longer be necessary to bring anything that happens on earth together with what happens in the cosmos.

With all due respect to research, one must look deeper. Aside from what I said recently about the being of the elements, I would like to say something more today. One must be clear that, for example, the following is the case: we know that once earth and sun were one body. Of course this is long ago, during the Saturn and Sun periods. Then there was also a short repetition of those periods during the Earth period. But something remains behind which still belongs there. And this we bring forth again today. And we bring it forth from the repetitious condition on earth not only by heating our rooms with coal, but we bring it forth by using electricity. For, what remains from those times after Old Saturn and Old Sun, when the sun and earth were one, that provided the basis for what we have today on earth as electricity. We have in electricity a force which is sun-force, long connected with the earth, a hidden sun-force in the earth.

Why should not the stubborn Blood Beech, when approached forcefully enough, be induced to use not the sun that radiates from the cosmos, but to use the sun force retained within the earth, the Old Sun force, electricity?

Looking in this way we become aware of the necessity of deeper knowledge. As long as man could believe that the sun force comes only from the cosmos, man arrived at the perception of the relationship of the plant world to the cosmos. Today, when from a materialistic point of view, one would like to separate from the cosmos what so easily can be seen as cosmic effect, one must, if one looks at the seeming independence of the plant, have a science which recalls that cosmic relation between earth and sun which once existed, but in a different form. By being narrowed on the one hand by the microscope, we simply need a much wider expansion on the other hand, and especially the details show how much we need an expanded view.

The problem is not a dilettantic anthroposophical opposition to progress in research. But since progress in research necessarily leads through one’s own nature, it can bring us to the often mentioned “night-crawler view” and prevent that wide view of the great cosmic historic connections between earth and sun, which enables us to be conscious not only of the present sun, but also of the Sun of long past conditions. Everywhere we need the polarity, the counter-pole: not opposition to research, but the spiritual counterpole is what is needed. This is the position we need to take. And I would like to say it is also the mood of St. John’s time. When we inscribe clearly into our sentiment that we now have to live in a world-historic St. John’s mood, we carry our gaze into cosmic distances. That is what we need in spiritual cognition. Nothing is gained by mere talking about spirit; what is important is real penetration into the concrete phenomena of the spiritual world. What we bring forth by pointing to Saturn, Sun, Moon and Earth evolutions, etc., has a tremendous supporting force regarding historic cognition.

When our attention is called to such brilliant results of materialistic science as those discovered by Klebs, that even the stubborn Blood Beech can be compelled to grow with electric light, this will lead us, without spiritual science, to the point where we will shatter everything into pieces and have a very narrow view. The Blood Beech will stand before us, growing in electric light, and we will know nothing except what this very narrow picture tells us.

With spiritual science, however, we can say something else: Klebs took the sunlight from the Blood Beech. He then had to give her electric light, which is actually ancient sun light. Our view is not narrow, but greatly enlarged. So, those who do not want to know of the soul experience will say glibly that one day is just like the next. There is breakfast, snack, dinner, snack, supper, — it is even nice when at Christmas time we get a nice cake — but basically every day is a repetition of the previous day. In fact material man sees only the day. But what about cosmic connections? Let us free ourselves of such a world view. Let us become clear that the stubborn Blood Beech no longer needs the sun. If we imprison her and give her enough electricity, she will grow without the sun. No! She will in fact not grow without the sun. But we need to seek the sun in the right way when we do something like that. And we must be clear that it is different when the Blood Beech grows in the sunlight or when ahrimanic sunlight, originating from long-past, is forced upon her. And we recall what has often been mentioned as the two polarities of Lucifer and Ahriman.

With an adequately wide view of these things we will not admire our brilliance at having overcome the stubbornness of the beech, but go much further. We will progress on to the sap of the beech, and investigate its effect on the human organism, investigate both the beech we permitted to be stubborn and the one which we treated with electric light, and we might discover something very special about the healing forces of one as opposed to the other. But we must do this by considering the spiritual!

But of what concern is this to people today? One has an admirable interest in research. One sits in the classroom, is an experimental psychologist, writes down all kinds of words which must be remembered, examines memory, experiments with children, and arrives at most interesting information. Once the interest is awakened, everything is interesting, depending on the subjective point of view. Why should it not be possible that a stamp collection is more interesting than a botanical collection? Since this is so, why not also in other realms? Why should the tortures to which children are subjected when they are experimented with, be not interesting? But the question everywhere is, whether or not there are higher responsibilities, and whether it is really justified to experiment with children at a certain age. The question arises: what is one ruining? And the greater question: what damage is done to the teachers, when instead of asking of them a living, heartfelt relation, one asks of them an experimental interest out of the results of experimental psychology. So everything depends, in such research, on whether or not one has the right relation to the sense world, and also to the supersensible world.

Now certain people who emphasize the necessary objectivity of research will assert that there are some who find it immoral when Klebs takes the stubbornness out of the Blood Beech. This would not occur to me. I wouldn’t dream of it. Everything that is done ought to be done, but one must have a counterweight for it. In the time when one emancipates oneself with regard to the growing beech tree from the cosmos, one must on the other hand, in a civilization which does such things, also have a sense for how the spiritual progress of man takes place. One must have a sense for the epochs of time, like ours. I do not want to limit research, but one must feel the necessity of a counter measure. There must be an open heart for the fact that at certain times spiritual impulses want to reveal themselves. When on the one hand materialism takes over and great achievements result, then those who are interested in such achievements should also be interested in the achievements of research about the spiritual worlds.

This lies in the inner nature of Christianity. A true view of Christianity sees, after the Mystery of Golgotha, the continuing of the Christ being in the earth, in the Christ force, the Christ impulse. And this means that when autumn comes, when everything dries up, when the growing and sprouting in nature ceases, ceases for the senses, then one can see the growing and sprouting of the spirit which accompanies man during the winter time.

But in the same way one must learn to sense how, although justifiable, the view for detail is narrowed in a certain way, the view for the totality for the great whole is narrowed. With regard to Christianity this is the St. John’s mood. We must sense with understanding that the St. John’s festival mood is the starting point for that occurrence which lies in the words: He must increase, I must decrease.

This means that the impressions upon man of everything that is accomplished by empirical research must decline. As the sense details are ever more enhanced, the impression of the spirit must be more and more intensified. And the sun of the spirit must shine more and more into the human heart, the more the impressions of the sense world decline.

The St. John’s mood must be experienced as the entrance into spirit impulses and as exit from the sense impulses. In the St. John’s mood we must learn to sense wherein something weaves and wafts like a soft wind, wafts the spiritually demonic out of the sensible into the spiritual, and from the spiritual into the sensible. And through the St. John’s mood we must learn to form our spirit light so that it does not stick like tar to the solid contour of ideas, but finds itself in weaving, living ideas. We must learn to notice the lighting up of the sensual, the dimming of the sensual, the lighting up of the spiritual in the dimming sensual. We must learn to experience the symbol of the June bug: the lighting up has its meaning as does the dimming of the light.

The lightning bug lights up, dims down, but by dimming down it leaves behind in us the living life and weaving of the spirit in the twilight evening, in the dusk. And when we see in nature everywhere the little waves as in the symbolic lighting up and dimming of the lightning bug, we will find the right St. John’s mood if it is experienced with clear, bright, full consciousness. And this St. John’s mood is necessary, for we must in this way pass through our time if we do not want to fall into the abyss, pass through in such a way that the spirit becomes glowingly alive and that we learn to follow it.

The St. John’s mood: — towards the future of the earth and mankind! No longer the old mood which understands only the growing and sprouting on the outside, which is pleased when it can imprison this growing and sprouting under electric light what otherwise was thriving in the sunlight. Rather we must learn to recognize the lighting up of the spirit so that the electric light becomes less important than it is today, so that the St. John’s gaze becomes sharpened for that old sunlight which will appear when we open ourselves to the great spiritual horizon, not only to the narrow earthly horizon, but the great horizon from Saturn to Vulcan.

If we allow the light of the great horizon to shine in the right way, then all the trivialities of our time will appear in this light, then we will go forward and upward; but if we cannot make this decision we will go backward and downward.

Today everything revolves around human freedom, human will. Everything revolves around the independent decision of either going forward or backward, upward or downward.