Man and the World of Stars
The Spiritual Communion of Mankind
II. The Mysteries of Man's Nature and the Course of the Year
24 December 1922, Dornach
If we would deepen our thoughts at this time in a manner suitable for the present age, this will best be done in the way indicated yesterday, namely, by looking back over the process of human evolution in order to recognize from the spiritual guidance vouchsafed to mankind hitherto, what tasks devolve upon men today. It must not, of course, be forgotten that the point of salient importance in the Christmas thought is that in the night just beginning the Light of Christ shone into the evolution of humanity at the point of time when through this Event, through this integration, as it were, of the Mystery of Golgotha into earthly life, meaning was given to man's life on Earth, and therewith to the Earth herself.
Yesterday I spoke to you of how in the times before the Mystery of Golgotha an important rôle was played by the festivals that were celebrated in the Mysteries at Midsummer, when man, together with the Earth, opens his being to the Cosmos and when his soul can enter into union with Powers belonging to realms beyond the Earth. We heard how among certain peoples the leaders of the Mysteries, following the path along which, at Midsummer, at our St. John's tide, the human soul can be led into the divine-spiritual worlds, offered up their thoughts and feelings to the divine-spiritual Powers. They did this because they realized that whatever revealed itself to them in the course of the year was exposed to the temptations of the Luciferic powers unless at Midsummer, when the Earth spreads wide her wings into the cosmic expanse, these thoughts were felt to be Grace bestowed by the divine-spiritual Beings.
I went on to show how the evolutionary process brought it about that for a certain section of mankind, the Midwinter festival quite naturally replaced the Midsummer festival. Even in our present vapid Christmas thoughts something is still left of this Midwinter festival. The birth of the Saviour in the Midwinter night is either celebrated in religious communities, or, because a man feels that he must again find the way to the light of the Spirit, he celebrates Christmas in the stillness of his own heart, conscious that at this time of the year he is closest to the Earth and her life when he is alone with himself. For the Earth too, at this time, is shut off from the Cosmos; enveloped in her raiment of snow she lives in cosmic space as a being indrawn and isolated.
Christmas thoughts played a part even in the times when among certain peoples the Midsummer festival was still of paramount importance, but in the pre-Christian era the meaning of the Christmas thought was not the same as it is today. At that time the sublime Sun Spirit still belonged to the Cosmos, had not yet come down to the Earth. The whole condition of the human soul at Midwinter, when together with the Earth man felt himself to be in a kind of cosmic isolation, was different from what it is today. And we learn to know what this condition was if we turn our attention to certain Mysteries that were celebrated mainly in the South in times long, long before the Mystery of Golgotha. Initiation in those Mysteries was conferred upon candidates in the old way, the Initiation-Science of that day was imparted to them. And among certain ancient peoples this Initiation-Science consisted in the candidate learning to read the Book of the World — I do not mean anything that is conveyed by dead letters written on paper, but what the Beings of the universe themselves communicate. Those who have insight into the secrets of the Cosmos know that everything growing and thriving on the Earth is an image of what shines down from the stars out of the cosmic expanse.
A man who learnt this cosmic reading as we today learn the far simpler kind of reading by means of dead letters, knew that he must see in every plant a sign revealing to him something of the secrets of the Universe, and that when he let his gaze survey the world of plants or animals, this survey was itself a form of reading. And it was in such a way that the Initiates of certain ancient Mysteries taught their pupils. They did not read to them out of a book but communicated to them what they experienced under the inspiration of the so-called Year-God concerning the secrets of the course of the year and their significance for human life.
It was in this way that an ancient wisdom related world-beings and world-happenings to what concerned the life of man. When the sages of old communicated such things to their pupils, they were inspired by divine-spiritual Beings such as the Year-God.
Who was this Year-God who belonged to the rank of the Primal Powers, or Archai, in the Hierarchies? Who was this Year-God? He was a Being to whom certain of those who were versed in Initiation-Science lifted their hearts and in so doing were endowed by him with the power and inner light enabling them to read one thing from the budding plants in Spring, another from the ripening of the early fruits in Summer, another when the leaves redden in Autumn and the fruits ripen, and yet another when the trees glitter under the snowflakes and the Earth with her rocks is covered with a veil of snow. This ‘reading’ lasted for a whole year — through Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter; and in this reading the secrets of Man himself were unveiled in the intercourse between teachers and pupils. And then the cycle of the year began anew.
Some idea of what these ancient Initiates taught to their pupils under the inspiration of the Year-God may be conveyed in the following way. The attention of the pupils was drawn, first of all, to what is revealed in Spring, when the snow is over and the Sun is gaining strength, when the first buds of the plants are appearing and the forces of the Earth are being renewed. The pupils were made aware of how a plant growing in the meadows and a plant growing in the shade of the trees in a forest, speak differently of the secrets of the universe. They were made aware of how in the various plants the warmth and light of the Sun speak differently from the cosmic expanse in the round or serrated leaves.
And what could be revealed in this way under the influence and inspiration of the Year-God through the the letters budding forth from the Earth herself, unveiled to the pupils of the teachers in the Mysteries, in the manner of that time, secrets of the physical body of man.
The teachers pointed to the physical productiveness of the Earth, to the force of the Earth shooting into the plant. At every single place on the Earth to which the pupil's attention was directed, there was a different ‘letter.’ These letters — which were living plant-beings, or living animal forms — were then combined as we today combine single letters into words. In sharing thus in the life of Spring, man was reading in Nature. The Initiations bestowed by the Year-God consisted in this reading. And when Spring came to an end, at about the time of the month of May, man had the impression: Now I understand how out of the womb of the universe the human physical body takes shape and is formed.
Then came the Summer. The same letters and words of the great cosmic Logos were used, but it was pointed out to the pupils how under the Sun's rays which stream differently now, under its light and warmth which now work in a different way, the letters change their forms, how the first buds, which had spoken of the secrets of the human physical body, open themselves to the Sun in the blossoms. These many-colored blossoms were now letters used by the pupil; each blossom made him feel how the Sun's ray lovingly kisses the plant-forces springing up from the Earth. And in the wonderfully delicate and tender process of the cosmic forces weaving over the Earth-forces in the blossoming plants, he read the words which conveyed to him how the Earth strives outwards into the cosmic expanse. Man lived in union with the Earth as she opened herself to the Cosmos, to the distant stars, lived with the Earth herself in the infinitudes.
What lay hidden in these infinitudes revealed itself to man as he gazed at the letters which were the blossoming plants. He read out of these letters what the conditions of life had been for the human being who has descended from the spiritual worlds to physical existence on the Earth; how he had gathered together etheric substance from every quarter of the heavens to form his own etheric body. Man was thus able to read the secrets enshrined in this etheric body from everything that was now coming to pass again between the Earth and the Cosmos. The signs of the Cosmic Word are inscribed upon the very surface of the Earth when the plants blossom and particular forms of life become manifest in the animal world at the time of Midsummer.
When Autumn approached, men saw how the letters of the Cosmic Word were again changing. At this time the warmth and light of the Sun are withdrawing and the plants are obliged to have recourse to what the Sun itself has conveyed to the Earth during Summer; in return, the Earth breathes out the blossoming life she has received during Summer but at the same time develops within herself the ripening fruit which brings the cycle of plant-life to completion, inasmuch as the plant bears within it the seed, the forces of germination. Again man was able to unveil what the Cosmic Word inscribes on the surface of the Earth herself in the ripening plants; again he was able to unriddle what the forms taken by animal life in the Autumn can reveal. He read very deep secrets of the universe in the flight of birds, in all the changes that take place in the lower animals and in the insect world as Autumn approaches. The way in which the insect world becomes silent and seeks refuge in the Earth, the changes of form it undergoes — all this conveyed to him that in Autumn the Earth is in process of withdrawing into herself, communing with herself.
This was brought to expression in certain festivals that were celebrated in the latter half of September and have still left traces in country districts in the form of the Michaelmas festival. Through these festivals man reminded himself that when all the paths in the Earth which led out into the Cosmos have failed, he must unite himself with something that is not bound up with the happenings of the physical and etheric worlds, he must turn his soul to the spiritual content of the Cosmos. And even in the kind of festival that is now celebrated at Michaelmas, there is still a reminiscence of humanity turning to that Spirit of the Hierarchies who will lead men in a spiritual way when external guidance through the Stars and through the Sun has lost its power.
Through everything that man read in this way in the Autumn — a reading that was also contemplation — he steeped himself in the secrets of the human astral body. Autumn was the season when those who were initiated and inspired by the Year-God read with him the secrets of the human astral body and contemplated them under his inspiration. It was at this Autumn season that the Initiates said to their pupils: “Hold fast to the Being who stands before the Face of the Sun! (The name Micha-el is still reminiscent of this.) Think of this Being, for you will need the power when you have passed through the gate of death into the supersensible worlds, when you have to go through again whatever has remained in your astral being from Earth-existence.” Secrets of the human astral body were thus drawn from what revealed itself not only in the ripening, but also in the withering plants, and in the insects creeping away into the Earth. Man already knew that if they wished to make the astral body worthy of true manhood, their gaze must be turned to the spiritual worlds. It was for this reason that the souls of those who were candidates for Initiation were directed to the Being whom we can commemorate under the name of Micha-el.
But then came the season at the middle of which is our present Christmas. This was the time when those who were inspired and initiated by the Year-God pointed out to their pupils the mysteries that are revealed when water covers the Earth in the beautiful forms of snowflakes. The reading which in Autumn had already become reflection and contemplation, now became inner, active life; what in earlier seasons of the year had been observation, running parallel with the outer physical world, now became inner spiritual effort and activity. Life was deepened inwardly. Man knew that he can only comprehend the deepest essence of his Ego when he listens to the secrets projected by the Cosmic Word, the Cosmic Logos, into everything that takes place in Nature at the time when the Earth is swathed in her mantle of snow and when life around and on the Earth is contracted by cold. It was incumbent upon those who were initiated and inspired by the Year-God to learn to understand his writing from the indications that were given in the season of Winter. Their observation was sharpened so that it could follow the processes at work in the seeds which had been laid into the Earth, and how the insects hibernate within the closely contracting forces of the Earth. Man's gaze was led from physical light into physical darkness.
There were certain Mysteries where the pupils were told: “Now you must gaze at the Midnight Sun! You must behold the Sun through the Earth. If the eyes of your soul are filled with the power which can follow the plants and the lower animals into the Earth, then the Earth herself will become transparent to your inmost soul.” It is at the time when the Earth's forces are most contracted that man can eventually see through the Earth and behold the Sun as the Midnight Sun, for the Earth is now inwardly spiritualized; whereas at Midsummer, he beholds the Sun with his physical senses when he turns his gaze from the Earth to the Cosmos. To behold the Sun at the Midnight Hour in a deep Winter night was something which the pupils of the Initiates of the Year-God must learn. And it was their duty to communicate the secrets revealed to them by the Midnight Sun to those who were faithful followers of the Mysteries but could not themselves become Initiates or actual pupils of the Mysteries.
And more and more it came about in those ancient times that when the Initiates pointed to the Sun at the Midnight Hour in the depth of Winter, they were obliged to make known to their pupils that man on Earth feels his Ego deserted and forsaken in a certain way. The festival of Midwinter became for those possessed of the greatest knowledge more and more a festival of sadness and mourning through which it was to be brought home to man that within earthly existence he cannot find the way to his Ego, that he must learn from what is to be read in the signs written by the Logos on the Earth in Midwinter, how he with his Ego had been forsaken by the Cosmos. For it was the Earth alone of which he was aware at this time, and that for which the Ego yearns — the power of the Sun — was covered by the Earth. The Sun did indeed appear at the Midnight Hour, but man felt that the strength which would enable him to reach the Sun-Being was continually waning. At the same time, the very fact that man was made aware in this way of the loneliness of the human Ego in the Cosmos, was the prophetic indication that the Sun Being would come to the Earth, would in the course of evolution permeate the being of man, would appear in order to heal a humanity ailing on account of its loneliness in the Cosmos.
Thus even in those ancient times, intimation was given of what was to come in the evolution of man, whereby the Winter festival of sorrow and mourning would be changed — especially among the people of the South — to a festival of inner joy through the appearance of Christ upon Earth. And when this revelation descended from the Cosmos into earthly existence, those who announced the Event declared how to all men on Earth the message had gone forth that the ancient festival of mourning was now transformed into a festival of rejoicing. In the inmost depths of the Shepherds' hearts, where their dreams were woven, the words resounded: “The Godhead is revealing Himself in the Heights of the Cosmos, and peace will spring forth on Earth in men who are of good will.” Such was the proclamation in the hearts of simple Shepherds.
And at the other pole, to those who were the most deeply imbued with magical knowledge, there could come from the surviving relics of ancient Star Wisdom, the message of the entry of the Cosmic Spirit into earthly matter.
Today, when we speak of the Christmas Mystery, we must think of all that is experienced through it against the background of the ancient festival of mourning; we must think of how there has entered into the course of human evolution the power by which man can wrest himself free from everything that fetters him to the Earth. We must be able to formulate the Christmas thought in such a way that we say to ourselves: The inspirations of the Year-God which revealed to the old Initiates how in the depths of Winter the Earth withdraws from the Universe and enters into a time of self-contemplation — those inspirations are still true; man can still understand how the secret of the human Ego is connected with this secret of the year. But out of his human insight, out of his discerning feeling, out of the wisdom of his heart, he can surround himself with pictures of Christ Jesus entering into the life of men on Earth, can learn to experience in all its depths the thought of the Holy Night.
But he will only be able to experience it truly if he also has the will to follow the Christ as He reveals Himself through all the ages. The task of the Initiates of the ancient Initiation-Science was to unveil the mysteries of human nature through a profound understanding of the course of the year. We too must understand what the year reveals but we must also be able to penetrate into the inner nature of Man. And when we do this, anthroposophical Spiritual Science shows us how the letters which are written in heart and lungs, in the brain and in every part of the human organism, unveil the secrets of the Cosmos, just as those secrets were unveiled to men inspired by the Year-God in the letters of the Logos which they read in the budding plants, in the animals, and their manner of life on the Earth. We in our time must learn to look into the inner being of Man — which must become for us a script from which we read the course of human evolution, and then devote ourselves to understanding the meaning and purpose of that evolution. Through deepened vision we must unite ourselves with the spiritual forces that weave through the evolution of humanity. And because this evolution is forever advancing, we must experience the Mystery of Golgotha, the Mystery of the Holy Night, anew in every epoch. We must realize the full depth of meaning contained in words spoken by the Spirit who sought out for Himself the body that was born in Bethlehem on Christmas night: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the days of Earth.” We must also have a spiritual ear for the perpetual revelation of the Logos through the being of Man himself. Humanity must learn to listen to the inspirations of this God of mankind, who is Christ Himself, as men learned long ago to listen to the inspirations of the Year-God.
Humanity will then not confine itself to contemplation of what is transmitted in the Bible concerning the spiritual sojourn on Earth of Christ Jesus, but will understand that ever since then, Christ has united Himself with man in earthly life, and that He reveals Himself perpetually to those who are willing to listen. Humanity in our time will then learn to understand that just as the Christmas festival once followed the Michael festival of Autumn, so the Michael-revelation which began at a time in the Autumn in the last third of the 19th century, should be followed by a sacred Christmas festival through which men will come to understand the spirit-birth needed along their path on Earth, in order that the spiritualized Earth may eventually be able to pass into future forms and conditions of existence. We are now living in an age when there should not merely be a yearly Michaelmas festival followed by a yearly Christmas festival, but when we should understand in the depths of our souls, out of our own human nature, the Michael-revelation of the last third of the 19th century, and then seek for the path leading to the true Christmas festival — when with increasing knowledge of the Spirit we shall be permeated by that same spirit.
Then we shall understand the words in the Gospel: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” Humanity is so constituted that it is capable of bearing more and more of Christ's teaching. Humanity is not intended only to listen to those who want to hinder progress, who point to what was once written down in barren letters concerning the Mystery of Golgotha, and who do not want the power of that Mystery to reveal itself to men as a living reality through the ages. Today is not the time to listen to those who would like to remain at a standstill in the Springtime of the world, which reveals outer physical nature in its brightest glory, but cannot reveal the Spiritual. Today is the time when the path must be found from the Michael festival to the Midwinter festival, when there should come to pass a Sunrise of the Spirit. We shall never find this path if in the evolution of man on the Earth we surrender to the illusion that there is light in external life, in external civilization, in external culture today; we must realize that in those spheres there is darkness. But in this darkness we must seek for the light which it was Christ's will to bring into the world through Jesus.
Let us then follow, with the same devotion with which the Shepherds and the Magi from the East sought the way to the Manger on that Christmas night — with the same devotion let us follow the signs which can be read in the being of man himself, in letters that are still indistinct, but will become clearer and clearer. Then it will be granted to us to celebrate anew the Christ Mystery of the Holy Night ... but only if we have the will to seek in the darkness for the light.
Today we often call by the name of ‘science,’ not that which explains the world but which instead of bringing light, sheds darkness and obscurity. These darknesses must reach out and take hold of the light!
If men do but try with depth and tenderness of feeling and with strongest power of will to find in the darkness the light of the Spirit, then that light will shine as did the Stars of heaven when the birth of Jesus was announced to the Shepherds and the Magi.
We must learn to place the Christmas thought into the historic evolution of humanity. We have not to wait for a new Messiah, for a new Christ. Much has been revealed to humanity through Nature — which in the course of the last few centuries has been leading men deep into the darkness of matter — and we must wait for what can now be revealed to humanity through understanding of the ever-living Christ Jesus.
We must not fasten the Christmas thought in a conventional yearly festival, but make it fluid and radiant, so that it will shine for us as did the Star at Bethlehem.
It was of this Light, this radiant Star, that I wished to speak to you, my dear friends, on this Christmas Eve. I would like to have done something to ensure that with the will that is inspired in you by anthroposophical Spiritual Science, you will unite that other will to follow the Star which in very truth shines forth to man all through the Holy Night. In deep and intimate stillness to permeate oneself with this Light — that is the deepest and truest Christmas consecration for our time. Everything else is in reality no more than an outward sign for this true Christmas feeling which we can carry over from this Christmas evening to Christmas morning tomorrow. Then this Holy Night can be for us not merely a symbol but a symbol that can become a living force. And we shall also be mindful of how deeply we ought to unite with the spiritual striving that in all good men leads on into the future, and at the same time is the true Christmas striving — the striving towards that Spirit who willed to incarnate in the body born in Bethlehem on the historic Christmas Night.