Dear BACWTT Students, Alumni, Friends and Colleagues,
Here is the Calendar of the Soul, looking back over the past week:
Calendar of the Soul
To delve into my being’s depths
Stirs up prophetic longing,
That Self-beholding, I may find myself,
As gift of summer sun, a seed
Which, in autumn’s mood, lives warming
As driving forces of my soul.
En las profundidades de mi ser penetra:
inquieto un anhelo lleno de presentir,
que me encuentre contemplándome a mí mismo,
como entrega del sol estival, que como germen
dando calor, en la sensación otoñal vive,
como impulso de fuerza de mi alma.
This week, the Calendar of the Soul places us in a process—a soul process that has a correspondence and mirrors the plant world. As the seeds mature and fall to the ground, we too find our-selves as a seed with something to be harvested from our summer experiences. We seek the safe ground that will allow these experiences to incubate before they are able to take root.
On either side of this idea of the seed, two other expressions are important to grasp. The opening of the verse, “To delve into my being’s depths/Stirs up prophetic longing” describes the experience we have at this time of year: as the days become noticeably shorter and the temperature begins to drop, we feel ourselves turning inward and developing an inward-looking, introspective gaze. In this moment, something that has been dreaming through the summer begins to awaken and we connect again to our life’s deeper intentions.
There is something poignant about our experience at this time of year. No matter how old we are and how many autumns we have been through, we still can feel the undefined longing that we have had since childhood—a reminder of our deeper wishes and goals for ourselves.
It is interesting to look for things that can help us to put this feeling into words—or pictures. Almost all of the paintings of the German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, have something of this autumnal mood—the dying of the light coupled with the introspection of the figures, and a melancholy longing for something not quite within the reach of our consciousness.
As teachers, when we work with students who are moving into adolescence, we can feel this mood slowly dawning in them—the stirrings of their inner world, unclear and uncertain, growing stronger in the depths. In my experience, we can see this emerging in 7th grade and growing and changing each year through 10th Grade, before something steps into the light in 11th Grade. It can be a guiding thought when we are working with this age group, helping us connect to their experience when we remember this in ourselves.
The verse ends with the phrase “Which, in autumn’s mood, lives warming/As driving forces of my soul.” This is the opposite and a compliment to the earlier line about “prophetic longing,” which has an open, expansive and dreamlike mood. This line has more of a will quality, filled with warmth and moving forward into the future with “driving forces.”
Again we can turn to seed image—another aspect of the seed—and try to imagine ourselves into the inner life of the seed, the embryo of the plant. On the one hand, it is waiting silently in the dark, remembering and dreaming. On the other hand, it is filled with enormous will forces just waiting for the right conditions to sprout forth.
Contained within the seed is an enormous power of expansion. Everything in the mature plant has been miniaturized and condensed; the whole of the outer manifestation of the plant and its future, energetic unfolding is held back for a moment. It is like a coiled spring waiting for its time to unfold.
Looking into our inner life, do we feel something of this? Is there a spring wound up waiting? Are there things we have put away for a while that now begin to demand our attention as we re-member them? A Mars quality quietly simmering in the background?
We are part of a contemporary movement to find ways in which we can evolve Waldorf education so that it is embedded more deeply in its specific location, to the land—the specific geology, flora and fauna—to its history, to the people and the cultures that were present before Europeans.
At this moment in the year we are asking. “How can we do that with the festival of Michaelmas here in Northern California?” To me, we can find many ideas to build a bridge between Michael-mas and the Indigenous Peoples’ festival of the acorn harvest. The seeds of the Oak trees are crowding the surface of the Earth right now and, as they fall at the end of September, they mirror the meteoric iron showers that are falling from the sky.
The Oak tree has an ancient association with the planet Mars and, through that, to the metal iron. Aspects of the Mars energy can be seen in the form of the leaves, in the powerfully twisting branches and in the strength of the wood. It can be experienced in these details but also in the whole quality and gesture of the tree, which stands strongly rooted with a powerful trunk and branches reaching out determinedly and firmly occupying its space.
Woodworkers in the past understood the nature of the Oak tree through their intimate knowledge of the wood—its smell, the texture, the flow of the grain, the way that it made their tools blunt and the way that the tannin would stain and react with steel. They also knew the uses to which this tough material could be put, like making beams and supports. Oak can carry weight and be re-lied upon to provide support for hundreds of years. It is the manifestation of earthly strength, durability, reliability and integrity.
We should also be clear that the Mars quality is not masculine and that associations with Mars as a destructive force are one-sided. In the implacable, protective gesture of a mother for her off-spring, we can feel this force. When we sense the connection between the Oak and Mars, we are going in the right direction when we, along with the Indigenous People. refer to these trees as Mother or Grandmother Oaks.
Another aspect of the Mars energy that is really important to grasp in our time is that it expresses the forcefulness that is needed to break through blockages and barriers, allowing for renewal. When things have become rigidified, hardened, fixed and unable to grow, it is the energy of Mars that breaks through, temporarily causing upheaval so that new life and new directions can emerge. It is in this context that that Mars and the Michaelmas festival is associated with courage—the courage to face and push back, or push through things that are wrong, harmful, hurtful.
When you look at the branching habit of the Oak tree, you can see how they twist and turn as if constantly meeting resistance that they have to push through. The branches of the Oak do not stream out elegantly or delicately like some other trees. Rudolf Steiner revived ancient knowledge about trees and their wood for us when he was working on the first Goetheanum building, de-scribing them and including the wood of the seven trees associated with the seven planets into the building.
I hope you can begin to sense through these descriptions the quality of the Oak, its relationship to Mars, the relationship to iron and that these have a relationship to the Archangel Michael.
The classic image of this Archangel is of a being that is wearing iron armor and bears an iron sword. Rudolf Steiner modified this image by describing the sword of Michael as being formed out of meteoric iron and, in Lecture I from Four Seasons/Archangels, “The Michael Imagination,” describes the importance of this cosmic iron at Michaelmas time:
“The force which falls on the earth in the meteoric iron is indeed a cosmic force whereby the higher gods endeavor to gain a victory over the Ahrimanic powers, when autumn comes on. And this majestic display in cosmic space, when the August meteor showers stream down, has its counterpart — so gentle and apparently so small — in a change that occurs in the human blood. This human blood, which is in truth not such a material thing as present-day science imagines, but is permeated throughout by impulses from soul and spirit, is rayed through by the force which is carried as iron into the blood and wages war there on anxiety, fear and hate. The processes which are set going in every blood-corpuscle when the force of iron shoots into it are the same, on a minute human scale, as those which take place when meteors fall in a shining stream through the air. This permeation of human blood by the anxiety-dispelling force of iron is a meteoric activity. The effect of the raying in of the iron is to drive fear and anxiety out of the blood.
And so, as the gods with their meteors wage war on the spirit who would like to radiate fear over all the earth through his coiling serpent-form, and while they cause iron to stream radiantly into this fear-tainted atmosphere, which reaches its peak when autumn approaches or when summer wanes — so the same process occurs inwardly in man, when his blood is permeated with iron.
A man who looks out into space and sees a shooting-star should say to himself, with reverence for the gods: ‘That occurrence in the great expanse of space has its minute counterpart continuously in myself. There are the shooting-stars, while in every one of my blood-corpuscles iron is taking form: my life is full of shooting-stars, miniature shooting-stars.’ And this inner fall of shooting-stars, pointing to the life of the blood, is especially important when autumn approaches, when the Sulphur-process is at its peak. For when men are shining like glow-worms in the way I have described, then the counter-force is present also, for millions of tiny meteors are scintillating inwardly in their blood. Then, out of all I have described, the majestic image of Michael and the Dragon will arise once more. But this picture of Michael and the Dragon paints itself out of the cosmos. The Dragon paints himself for us, forming his body out of bluish-yellow Sulphur streams. We see the Dragon shaping himself in shimmering clouds of radiance out of the Sulphur-vapors; and over the Dragon rises the figure of Michael, Michael with his sword.
But we shall picture this rightly only if we see the space where Michael displays his power and his lordship over the dragon as filled not with indifferent clouds but with showers of meteoric iron. These showers take form from the power that streams out from Michael’s heart; they are welded together into the sword of Michael, who overcomes the Dragon with his sword of meteoric iron.”
Can we, out of a deep and heartfelt understanding, align with the festivals that arose within the Indigenous People. Out of their deep and heartfelt relationship to nature, the heavens and the spirit that moves through creation they developed festivals that are now ancient and stretch back into the distant past.
Ronni Sands, who teaches at Summerfield Waldorf School and has been working with our Foundation Studies students, offers this perspective:
“Ritual and celebration hold us in the cycles of the seasons and are expressed through dance, story, prayer, song and food. Many of the Native People of California celebrate the Acorn Festival at this time of year. For hundreds of years, Native People have gathered together to give thanks and dedication to the new year’s gathering of acorns. Julia Parker, who lived in Yosemite says, “We have a feeling about our acorn. When the acorn does come, there’s dances and songs. We take from the earth, we give back to the earth, and we say thank you.
There are sixteen different species of Oaks in CA. The Black Oak acorn is the preferred one, having increased nutritional value. Acorns are gathered, not collected, by the native peoples. Gathering is respectfully taking only what you need and respectfully giving back for what you take. Collecting can mean thoughtless hoarding, without care or respect. When one gathers responsibly, there is possibility for future generations.
The ritual for processing acorns was passed down through the generations. After the gathering of the acorns, they are dried in the sun, then shelled, winnowed to remove the skins, pounded with rocks to make flour, and then put into baskets or sacks and left in the flowing creek to rinse away the tannins. This flour is a highly nutritious food that feeds the community throughout the year.
Acorns, the seed of the great Oak Tree, still lives as ritual and sustenance for Native People. I can imagine the deep connections that one has with the land when this interdependence and respect continues to live in a community.
I want to stop my busy life, sit under the branches of the Great Oak, carefully gather and process acorns and live into this ritual, finding my place in this shifting cycle of time.”
For more on the acorn ritual read: “It Will Live Forever- Traditional Yosemite Indian Acorn Preparation ” by Beverly R. Oritz as told by Julia Parker.
Here is a further thought from the same lecture as above by Steiner:
“During the last three or four centuries we have developed a magnificent natural science and a far-reaching technology, based on the most widely-distributed material to be found on earth. We have learnt to make out of iron nearly all the most essential and important things produced by mankind in a materialistic age. In our locomotives, our factories, on all sides we see how we have built up this whole material civilization on iron, or on steel, which is only iron transformed. And all the uses to which iron is put are a symbolic indication of how we have built our whole life and outlook out of matter and want to go on doing so. But that is a downward-leading path. Man can rescue himself from its impending dangers only if he starts to spiritualize life in this very domain, if he penetrates through his environment to the spiritual; if he turns from the iron which is used for making engines and looks up again to the meteoric iron which showers down from the cosmos to the earth and is the outer material from which the power of Michael is forged. Men must come to see the great significance of the following words: Here on earth, in this epoch of materialism, you have made use of iron, in accordance with the insight gained from your observation of matter. Now, just as you must transform your vision of matter through the development of natural science into Spiritual Science, so must you rise from your former idea of iron to a perception of meteoric iron, the iron of Michael’s sword. Then healing will come from what you can make of it.”
I hope we can sense that our striving within the Waldorf movement to learn from non-European peoples and their cultures, to seek connection without appropriating, to adjust our practices and our guiding images – is in itself a Michaelmas work. It is a transformational work, in the image of Steiner, from a materialistic iron to a spiritualized meteoric iron.
In the quote below by N. Scott Momaday, we can be reminded that in our striving in the Waldorf movement towards wholeness, which encompasses the spiritual, we are on a path towards healing the harms that have been done (and continue to be done) by a materialistic worldview.
“I believe that the greatest threat to the survival of American Indians — more than the wars, the disease, the poverty, the discrimination, and the European occupation — is the removal of the spiritual matrix of traditional life, the theft of the sacred. From the beginning, American Indians have centered their world views upon profound belief in the spiritual. That belief has become tentative in our time. Fewer and fewer Indian young people are acquiring those aspects of sacred being which have always defined them. I am deeply concerned to expose this theft of the sacred, and to see that American Indians, young people especially, are allowed to define themselves in terms of the spiritual values that inform their ancient heritage.” — N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa)