The Year's Course as a Symbol for the Great Cosmic Year
31 December 1915, Dornach
My dear friends, many secrets of the spiritual world must first be explained symbolically or half symbolically, although the images are real and should be taken as realities. It is necessary to use an imaginative language, as I mean to do to-day, it is necessary to speak in the form of images which you can meditate in your soul, because long explanations would be needed if one were to speak: in the form of concepts and not symbolically. But those who bear in mind the things which I shall explain to you to day and who meditate upon them, will not fail to discover the deeper essence which they contain.
About this time of year we always pass over from one period into another. To be sure, this may at first appear to us a mere subdivision of time, but this is not the case. For a deeper instinct led the people, who had to fix the seasons of the year, to follow certain great laws governing the course of time. The festival which marks the transition from an old year to a new one is celebrated in our part of the world in the midst of winter, when the plants cease to grow, blossom and bear fruit. Only certain forest trees keep their so-called evergreen foliage throughout the winter. The sun unfolds its weakest power.
We know that spiritual processes are interwoven with all the processes which we perceive through our senses. We know that when we go through the woods we are not only surrounded by the trees with their green needles or leaves, but that a soul-spiritual essence weaves and works in the mysterious depths of life. We have already seen that things which in the eyes of our “clever” modern people appear as childish superstition, can be experienced as something which points to the real essence of the world.
We are therefore convinced that spiritual forces and influences lie at the foundation of everything physical, of the solid substances or of the physical phenomena which we can perceive through our senses. Let us now look upon the so-called lifeless an-organic earth, upon everything which constitutes the earth's mineral kingdom; let us look upon everything which is not endowed with life. To the materialist these lifeless substances appear devoid of life. But in every lifeless object we can see a soul-element, a spiritual element, so that we can also speak of a soul and spirit pertaining to our so-called lifeless, an-organic, purely mineral earth. When we speak of the consciousness of the earth, we cannot perceive in its geological-mineralogical substance even the trace of anything that can be compared with man's muscles and the blood; we can only see the earth's skeleton, or the earth's solid substance, so that when we speak of the earth's consciousness, we must think of it as being contained in the whole earth, which does not only consist of a skeleton, or of solid parts, but also of water, air, etc., which correspond to the muscles, the blood, etc. of man. The whole earth is endowed with consciousness, with a consciousness which forms part of the mineral kingdom. We shall not speak of the change in the earth's consciousness during the course of the year in a definite region, but shall instead enter more deeply into the idea that the whole earth is endowed with consciousness. Let us now turn away our gaze from the whole mineral earth and observe the plants which sprout and blossom out of the earth.
If we study the vegetable kingdom from the standpoint of spiritual science we must first look upon it as an independent being in respect to the earth. The fact that the vegetable kingdom as a whole is an independent being in respect to the earth, becomes clearly evident if we study the consciousness of these two beings. We can speak of a consciousness pertaining to the whole mineral earth, but we can also speak of a consciousness pertaining to the whole vegetable kingdom which develops upon the earth. The laws which govern this consciousness of course differ from the laws which govern human consciousness. When we speak of the consciousness of plants, we can only bear in mind a definite region of the earth, because the consciousness changes according to the various regions of the earth.
As human beings we do not notice that there is a certain parallelism between our consciousness and, for instance, the consciousness of the vegetable kingdom of the whole earth, because our daytime consciousness, not our night-consciousness, is a fully conscious state. In order to simplify matters, let us say that during our waning daytime consciousness our Ego and our astral body are within our physical body. I have already explained to you that in reality this only applies to our blood and nerve system, but not to the other systems. For when the Ego and the astral body are, as it were, outside the head, they permeate all the more the remaining parts of our organism.
Parallel to this we have the fact that when, for instance, there is winter on one side of the earth, there is summer on the other side. This too is only a transformation of consciousness. It is the same with us human beings. But we do not notice it, because these two states of consciousness are not equally clear. They have different degrees of strength. The night-consciousness is a dulled state of consciousness, practically no consciousness at all, and the daytime consciousness is a full state of consciousness pertaining to the other side of our being. Our lower nature is awake during the night, when our higher nature is asleep, and this is also the case with the earth, for when it is winter on one side, it is summer on the other side. When there is a waiting state of consciousness in one part of our being, there is a sleeping state in the other and vice-versa.
As explained just now (this has frequently been dealt with in other lectures) this only applies to the vegetable kingdom. In the height of summer the vegetable kingdom sleeps, because it sprouts and grows; it sleeps, while it unfolds its physical part to the utmost. And it is fully awake at that time of the year when it does not pass through any external physical development. The vegetable kingdom is then awake. We therefore speak of all the plants upon the earth as a whole; and this whole is endowed with consciousness.
When we speak of this consciousness, which therefore constitutes a second state of consciousness permeating the earth's mineral consciousness, when we speak of this plant-consciousness; we can really say that in our part of the world this plant-consciousness is asleep during the summer and awake during the dark winter season.
But at this time of the year something else takes place. You see, these two states of consciousness, viz. the whole earth-consciousness pertaining to the mineral kingdom and the whole plant-consciousness are distinct and separate: throughout the year they are two separate beings. Yet they are not ONLY two beings, for they permeate each other, so that one is filled by the other during that time of the year in which we are now living. When the old year passes over into the new year, the mineral objects and processes of the earth and the whole vegetable kingdom have ONE consciousness; that is to say, the two states of consciousness interpenetrate.
Of what kind is the MINERAL consciousness of the earth? To-day, however, we shall not consider its different stages in the same way in which we shall consider the consciousness of the plants, which is awake in the winter and asleep in the summer. What is the characteristic of the mineral consciousness, of the consciousness pertaining to the great being of the earth? Those who only rely upon their physical senses and upon the intellect which they think forms part of the physical senses, cannot know anything of this great consciousness of the earth. But spiritual science teaches us to observe the thoughts of the earth-consciousness, for the earth has thoughts, even as we have thoughts of minerals, plants and animals, of the air, the rivers and mountains. The earth has thoughts, in the same way in which we have thoughts concerning our environment, when we live in our ordinary daytime consciousness. What does the earth think? What thoughts live in its consciousness?
In the consciousness of the earth there are to begin with, thoughts connected with the whole heavenly space pertaining to the earth. Even as our eyes look upon the trees and stones, so the consciousness of the earth looks out into the heavenly spaces and harbours thoughts of all that goes on in the stars. The earth is a being that thinks about the stars and the events connected with them.
The mineral consciousness thus contains the secrets of the whole cosmos in the form of thought. Whereas we human beings walk over the surface of the earth and only think of the stones on our path or of many other things in our surroundings which we perceive through our senses, the earth thinks of the cosmos outside; these are the things which live in the consciousness of the earth, and as we walk through space we pass through the consciousness of the earth. The earth has a far wider consciousness and far greater thoughts than we. And it is really an uplifting thought to know: “As you walk along over the surface of the earth, you do not only pass through its atmosphere, but you pass through the thoughts of the earth.”
Let us now envisage something else — let us consider the consciousness of the plants. You see, plants cannot have great thoughts like those of the earth, for their consciousness, the thinking consciousness of the vegetable world (of the WHOLE vegetable kingdom, not of single plants) is far more limited; throughout the year it embraces a far smaller sphere pertaining to the earth — EXCEPT IN THESE DAYS, for at this time of the year (end of December/early January) the consciousness of the plants permeates the consciousness of the earth. The vegetable kingdom becomes aware of the secrets of the stars, it comprehends the mysteries of the stairs and uses them, so that in the springtime the plants may unfold again and bear blossoms and fruits in accordance with the mysteries of the cosmos. For the whole mystery of the cosmos is contained in the way in which the plants bear leaves, blossoms and fruits.
But while the plants develop their leaves, flowers and fruits they cannot develop thoughts about these processes. They can think of these processes only at this time of the year, when the consciousness of the vegetable world unites with the consciousness of the mineral world.
In spiritual science we therefore say; Two cycles interpenetrate at this time of the year, approximately around New Year's Eve.
The secret of existence consists in the fact that cycles INTERPENETRATE, continue their development separately and again interpenetrate. How wonderful is this secret of life! Two streams of development — the vegetable consciousness and the mineral consciousness, which take their course separately throughout the year, unite when one year passes over into the next. Then they develop separately until the end of the year when they unite once more. This constitutes the cyclic course of history.
Let us now pass over from this mystery, which can fill us with a deep, sacred feeling of reverence for the secret of the transition of one annual cycle into the next, let us now pass over to a still greater mystery. You know that we are living in the cycle which is connected with the development of the Consciousness-soul, which was preceded by the cycle connected with the development of the Understanding or Intellectual soul and by the cycle connected with the Sentient soul? If we go back still further, we come to the development of the Sentient Body. This leads us to the year 5000 B.C., when all human thinking developed under the influence of the sentient body, the so-called astral body.
In the course of human evolution we shall have to pass through the consciousness soul, the Spirit-Self, and still higher stages of development.
At the present time the consciousness-soul develops chiefly through the fact that the human being only uses his physical body as an instrument of perception. This brought us to the present; climax of materialism (we dealt with this in other lectures), for we use above all our physical body. But a time will come when we shall not only use the physical body, but also the etheric body, even as we once used our astral body, during the epoch of human development when the astral body supplied the chief foundation of consciousness.
We may therefore say: Once upon a time we lived upon the earth in such a way that our soul passed through a phase in which its consciousness contacted with the consciousness of our astral body. Even as at the end of the year the plants' consciousness passes through the. mineral consciousness, so thousands of years ago our soul passed through our astral body, through the consciousness pertaining to our astral body. At that time, the consciousness of our soul and the consciousness of our astral body were one. This leads us back thousands of years, to the year 6000 B.C. When this state of consciousness began, humanity on earth celebrated a new year, a great cosmic new year. Even as the new year now brings with it a union of the consciousness of the plants with the consciousness of the minerals, so 6000 years before our Christian ere marked the beginning of a new cosmic year upon the earth. It was a great cosmic new year! Our soul's consciousness then passed Through the astral consciousness. of our body.
What took place at that time? At that time, 6000 years B.C., when our inner soul-consciousness passed through the astral consciousness of our body, our limited human consciousness, such as we have it now, extended as far as the consciousness of the plants at New Year. Even as the plant looks out into the heavenly spaces, through the fact that its consciousness unites with the mineral consciousness, so 6000 years B.C. the human being saw and perceived an extensive field of wisdom, during that ancient cosmic NEW YEAR, when his soul united with the astral body.
From that time comes the lost wisdom (we spoke of this a few. days ago), the gnostic wisdom which disappeared. We must look for the origin of this wisdom in the cosmic New Year about 6000 years before our era. This, is the source from which Zarathustra drew his knowledge; it is the wisdom that illumined the Gnostics with its last rays, but as already explained, only a few traces of this gnostic wisdom have remained to us. It is the winter of the earth, but at the same time a cosmic new year of the earth, to which we go back.
Now add about 4000 years to the time which has passed since the founding of Christianity; this will bring us to a time when we shall again pass through our astral consciousness, but upon a higher stage. Our soul will again pass through our astral consciousness, through a cosmic star-consciousness. Let us prepare ourselves for this event, so that it may not find us unprepared.
Let us prepare ourselves for this Cosmic New Year! By preparing ourselves for the Christmas Festival, as explained during one of my last lectures, we prepare ourselves in the right way for the Cosmic New Year. If the birth of spiritual knowledge lives within us as a sacred Christmas feeling, we prepare ourselves in the right way for the new Cosmic New Year, which begins 12,000 years after the old cosmic year.
Twelve months of the year pass by from the union of the earth's vegetable consciousness with the mineral consciousness, to another union. Twelve thousands of years pass by from one Cosmic New Year to the other Cosmic New Year of the earth, from one passage of the human soul through the astral world to a new passage of the human soul through the astral world.
In this solemn hour, we thus look from the new year upon a small scale to the New Year upon a great cosmic scale, from the ordinary New Year's Eve to the cosmic New Year's Eve, for which we prepare ourselves if we try to perceive in the very midst of winter the light which only streams towards us, as inhabitants of the earth, during a cosmic New Year. Then it comes to us in a natural, elemental way.
We really see the world in its true light if we perceive the surrounding world not only in the way in which it appears to our senses, not only in accordance with a materialistic mentality, but if we look upon the external physical world as a symbol for the great mysteries of the cosmos.
The approach of New Year's Eve may therefore appear to us like the approach of a messenger from the spiritual world, revealing to us the mysteries connected with the end of the year and bringing us the following message:
“Behold, in the midst of the dark cold winter season the vegetable consciousness unites with the mineral consciousness of the earth. Let this be a sign to you that the earth too has its own cycle, namely the great cosmic year mentioned by Zarathustra, which goes from one Cosmic New Year's Eve to the other, and which we must understand if we wish to grasp the course of human development.”
Zarathustra speaks of twelve thousands of years, the twelve thousand years mentioned just now. He described the course of one Earthly Year, and divided it into four seasons representing the course of human evolution upon the earth. This is deeply rooted in the spiritual mysteries.
Let us fill our hearts and souls with a festive, earnest feeling, born out of a deeper comprehension of our spiritual science. Let us unfold within our heart that inner warmth which can be felt when in the midst of the cold winter night we hear the message of the Sun-Spirit's descent to the earth and then learn to know the mystery of the year's course.
The thirteen days from the 24th of December to the 6th of January are the days in which the plants' consciousness unites with the mineral consciousness. If the human being can transfer himself into the consciousness of the plants, he can see and dream of many mysteries which pass through his heart in many forms — he can have dreams such as that of Olaf Åsteson.
If we develop such feelings and moods, we obtain the right attitude towards the aims of our spiritual knowledge; these warm feelings which stream through our heart are a preparation for the New Cosmic Year, and they enable us to await it worthily, to look forward to that cosmic New Year's Eve which brings a new cosmic year. In future incarnations, when our souls will pass through the great Cosmic New Year, we shall experience it in the right way if the end of the year which closes the small cycle of twelve months becomes a symbol for the great end of the year which closes a cycle of twelve thousand years.
This is the secret of our existence. The things which take place upon a small scale always correspond to the things which take place upon a large scale, and upon a large scale the things are the same as upon a small scale. The small scale, the course of one year, can only be grasped if it becomes a symbol for the great cosmic course, for the cycle which encompasses thousands of years.
The year is an image for the Aeons. And Aeons are the reality of symbols which we encounter in the course of one year. If we really understand the year's course, our hearts will be deeply moved toy the mysteries of the cosmos, at this time of the year which marks the beginning of a new year. Let us try to attune our soul so that it can look into the new year conscious of the fact that it can bear within it the year's course as a symbol for the great COSMIC course, which encompasses all the mysteries pursued, by spiritual Beings who surge and weave through the universe from aeon to aeon, in the same way in which the Lesser Gods pursue the mysteries connected with the development of the vegetable and mineral Kingdoms during the course of one year.