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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Festivals and Their Meaning IV:
Michaelmas
GA 36

Michael and the Dragon II

In the picture of the fight of Michael with the Dragon one thing is clearly and strongly present; that is, the consciousness that man himself must give to his inner life of soul the direction and guidance that Nature cannot give. Our present-day thinking is inclined to mistrust such an idea. We are afraid of becoming estranged from Nature. We want to enjoy her in all her beauty, to revel in her abundance of life, and we are loath to let ourselves be robbed of this enjoyment by admitting that Nature has fallen from the Spiritual. In our striving for knowledge moreover we want to let Nature speak. We fear to lose ourselves in all kinds of fantasy, should we allow the Spirit, that transcends the perception of external Nature, to have a voice concerning the reality of things.

Goethe had no such fear. He found nowhere in Nature any estrangement from the Spirit. He opened his heart to her beauty, to the inner power and might of all that she revealed. In the life of man he felt the presence of much that was inharmonious, much that grated and jarred, or that gave rise to doubt and confusion. And he felt an inner urge and impulse to live in communion with Nature, where the eternal laws of sequence and compensation prevail. Some of his most beautiful poems have sprung from such a life with Nature.

Goethe was however at the same time fully conscious of how the work of man must fulfil and complete the work of Nature. He felt all the beauty of the plants. But he felt too something incomplete in that life which the plant displays before man. In that which weaves and works unseen within the plant, there lay for him far more than manifests itself to the eye within the bounds of visible form. For Goethe, what Nature attains is not the whole. He felt as well what we may call the purposes of Nature. He did not let himself be deterred by the fear of personifying Nature. He knew well that he was not as it were dreaming such purposes into the life of the plant out of any subjective fancy, he beheld them there quite objectively, just as truly as he could behold the colour of the flowers.

This is why he was so indignant when Schiller designated as ‘idea’ and not ‘experience’ the picture Goethe had sketched with a few strokes for his poet friend of the inner striving of the plant towards life and growth. Goethe's reply was that if that were an idea, then he could see ideas with his eyes just as well as he could perceive colours and shapes.

Goethe was conscious of how there is in Nature not only an ascending but also a descending life. He felt the growth from the seedling to leaf and bud and blossom and fruit; but he felt too how all in turn withers, decays, dries up and dies away. He felt the Spring: but he felt also the Autumn. In Summer he could partake with his own inner sympathy in the unfolding of Nature, but in Winter he could also partake in her death with the same openness of heart.

We may not find in Goethe's works a clear expression in words of this twofold experience with Nature, but we cannot fail to be sensible of it in his whole manner of thought. It is as it were an echo of the experience of Michael's fight with the Dragon. Only, the experience is lifted in Goethe to the consciousness of a later age.

The nineteenth century has not given us any further development of thought on these lines. The new perception of the Spirit that is now being attained must set itself to strive after a continuation and development of Goethe's understanding of Nature.

Our experience of Nature is incomplete as long as we partake in our inner being with her ascending life alone—seed, shoot, leaf, bud, blossom, and fruit. We need to have a feeling also for the withering and dying away. Nor shall we thereby become estranged from Nature. We have not to shut ourselves up from her Spring and her Summer, we have but to enter as well into her Autumn and her Winter.

Spring and Summer require of man that he give himself up to Nature; man lives his way out of himself and into Nature. Autumn and Winter would have man withdraw into his own human domain and set over against the death and decay of Nature the resurrection of the forces of soul and spirit. Spring and Summer are the time of man's Nature-consciousness; Autumn and Winter are the times when he must experience his own human self-consciousness.

As Autumn approaches, Nature withdraws her life into the depths of the Earth; she takes away all sprouting and blossoming far from the sight of man. What she leaves to his view bears within it no fulfilment; therein lies hope, hope for a new Spring to come. Nature leaves man alone with himself.

Then begins the time when it rests upon man to prove by his own forces within him that he is quick and alive and not dead. Summer said to man: I receive your Ego, your ‘I’; I let it bloom in my bosom with the flowers. Autumn begins now to say to man: Descend into the depth of your soul, there to find the forces whereby your ‘I’ may live, the while I hold my life hidden in the depths of the Earth. Goethe resented Haller's thought:

Ins Innere der Natur dringt kein erschaffener Geist;
glückselig, wem sie nur die äussere Schale weist.2No created spirit can penetrate the inner being of Nature: happy is he to whom she shows even the outer shell.

Goethe's feeling was:

Natur hat weder Kern noch Schale;
alles ist sie mit einem Male.3Nature hath neither shell nor kernel; Nature is all, and all in one.

Nature has need of death for her life; man can also live this dying through with her. Thereby he enters only more deeply into the inner being of Nature. In his own organism man experiences his breathing process and his blood circulation. They are for him his life. The germinating life of the Spring is in reality as near to man as his own breathing, it entices him out into Nature-consciousness. So too the death and decay of Autumn is in reality no further away from man than his own blood; it steels self-consciousness within him.

The Festival of Self-consciousness, bringing man near to his true humanity—wherever the leaves are falling, there it is solemnized, man only needs to become conscious of it. It is the Festival of Michael, the Festival of the Beginning of Autumn. The picture of “Michael Triumphant” can be there; it can live in man. In Summer man is received lovingly into Nature; but if he would not be deprived of the centre and balance of his being, he must not lose himself in her but be able to rise up in Autumn in the strength and might of his own spirit-being. Then will the picture of Michael Triumphant live within him.