Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Earth is Breathing Its Soul Back In

“The original idea of any sacred festival is to make the human being look upward from his dependence on earthly things to those things that transcend the Earth.”
- Rudolph Steiner

Rudolph Steiner was a visionary and philosopher who lectured profusely through the early decades of the 20th century. He developed a model of thinking about human life that he called anthroposophy and is the founder of the Waldorf school movement. At the center of Steiner's philosophy is the understanding of man as a three fold being of body, spirit and soul and much of his work focuses on how we can balance and align these three parts of ourselves to meet our personal and cultural soul destiny.

One of the tools Steiner advocated for aligned our beings with the cosmic rhythm of the universe is the seasonal festival. He incorporated many elements of esotaric Christianity in his philosophy but, conciously or not, his descriptions of the festivals corresponds amazingly well with the pre-Christian wheel of the year festivals that I celebrate and talk about in this blog. Waldorf schools are the main celebrants of these festivals today and each group chooses different festivals to focus on, much like ancient pagan groups would have chosen some of the 8 quarter and cross quarter days to celebrate with a big party. The main festivals Waldorf or Steiner followers celebrate are Christmas (Dec 24), Candlemas (Feb 2), Easter and possibly Pentecost/Whitsun (March/April/May), May Day, St. John's Day (June 24), Michaelmas (Sept 29) and Martinmas (Nov 11). It is obvious that the dates align with the wheel of the year celebrations but I am more and more amazed that the essence behind the festivals is so similar as well.

This is the time of year of Michaelmas, the time when summer is tipping into Autumn. Steiner writes of the rhythm of the earth's year as being like any other living thing's rhythm. It includes outbreaths and inbreaths - times of being expansive and times of being contractive and huddled. He speaks of midwinter, around Christmas and the solstice, as being the most contractive part of the Earth's year and as a time when the Earth's soul, it's life force, is contained deep within her. At the other end of the rhythm is midsummer when the soul of the earth is completely exhaled and at one with the universe. Michaelmas represents the time when the Earth is breathing it's soul back in. Humans can use the spirit of this time to bring the universe's cosmic wisdom to bolster our will and courage as we face the dark days of winter and the dark times in our lives.

But these are big, unweildly concepts that aren't very practical, or much fun. Waldorf education uses stories to introduce academic material and the story associated with Michaelmas is that of the Archangel Michael, or St. George under the protection of Michael, battling a dragon with his sword of heavenly iron. Depending on who is doing the telling and who is doing the hearing the story could take the form of this classic tale of St. George and the Dragon, this tale of Li Chi and the Serpent, this lovely story in verse from the Wynstones Press book Autumn or any other story that shows an individual standing up against a large, scary force or being. Michaelmas activities include a pageant retelling the story, baking dragon shaped bread, tasks of courage and strength and parties featuring blackberries (one story says that Lucifer/The Dragon fell into a blackberry briar when he was defeated and so the fruit is no good to eat after Michaelmas). All much more accessable, and fun than deep philosophy, don't you think?

The Festivals that Rudolph Steiner writes of have captured my imagination thorougly these last few months. I know already that the celebrations marking the wheel of the year mirror cosmic truths and that symbols and stories help bring those truths to an accessable level. The writings of Steiner and the activities of all the Waldorf families and schools that have brought his writings to life have illuminated this knowledge in a whole new way for me though. And equally importantly, have given me some new ideas as to why it is important to celebrate the turning of the wheel - both to celebrate the turning itself and to use the reflection of our lives in the turning of the year to make our selves, our families and our communities the best they can be.

"The Festivals have become abstractions, matters of indifference to modern people. The word as a medium of strife and blasphemy often means more than the Word conceived as the power by which the world itself was created. Yet the alphabetical word ought to be the representative, the symbol of the Word Creative in Nature around us, in the great universe and within us too when self-knowledge awakens, and of which all mankind can be made conscious by those who truly understand the course of Nature. It was for this that the Festivals were instituted and with the knowledge we have gleaned from Spiritual Science we will try to understand what it was that the wise men of old set out to express in the... Festival[s]."

- Rudolph Steiner

For more information on Rudolph Steiner, Waldorf schools and the Steiner/Waldorf festivals, check out some of these resources:


icedteaforme said...

Thanks for these resources...we are trying to use some waldorf principles in our home education of our son and there are also loads of waldorf groups on flickr as well!!!-Michelle

barefoot mama said...

Thank you! -Barefoot Mama