The Transitional Seasons

Anthroposophical Movement 10.2 (26 Jan. 1933): 10-12

In his admirable article in the Christmas number of Anthroposophy Dr. Karl König sets forth the relation between the seasons and their festivals on the one hand and the human body on the other. He quotes from Rudolf Steiner the four mottoes or maxims which epitomise the spirit of each festival: for Christmas, Protect thyself from the Evil!; for Easter, Know thyself!; for St. John’s Day, Receive the Light!; and for Michaelmas, Look around thee!

In this connection a difficulty may occur. There may seem at first sight to be a discrepancy between the meaning of the maxim and what, from another point of view, one feels to be the meaning of the season itself. Some light is thrown on this by the fifth and last lecture of the great series on the four Archangels (printed some years ago in these pages, and re-issued in a bound volume) where something is said of the double significance which the seasons can have for man according to whether he is on the same or the opposite side of the earth. And in respect of summer and winter this is readily understood. For summer may be looked on as an imagination, this is, a picture in the sense world, of what in winter should be a purely supersensible experience. And vice versa.

When, however, we reflect on the four maxims quoted in Dr. König’s article, the difficulty which we feel is more with respect to the two transitional seasons of spring and autumn. Summer and winter are contraposed in a polar sense and their meaning is seen to be related to the polar opposition in man between spirit and sense. But spring and autumn are not contrasted in quite the same way. Inasmuch as they are both intermediate between the seasonal extremities, they are similar seasons and their contrariety is directional only.

Autumn is the time when the outer world is dying and man feels within himself an enhancement of creative spiritual activity. Many of us can still remember the subdued excitement of the October dusk through which, as children, we came home earlier from the afternoon’s exercise, to take up with renewed zest our primitive attempts to make something. In the writer’s case primitive is hardly a strong enough word. Nevertheless, he remembers vividly how the clearness of the outer air seemed to impart its quality to the tempting vision of the finished product which danced on such occasions before his prophetic soul. In autumn the whole impulse of the soul turns inward, and one would expect accordingly the motto, “Know thyself!” Actually it is “Look around thee!”

Spring, on the other hand, is the season of bodily illness and exhaustion. We are probably recovering from the last ravages of influenza, and we feel in more senses than one that life is too much for us. Looking within, we are apt to find there lassitude and languor, and we prefer accordingly to crawl out into the noticeably warmer rays of the sun and look around us at nature’s promise of another June. Yet the maxim now is not, as we should expect, “Look around thee!” It is “Know thyself.”

The seeming contradiction begins to resolve itself if we consider that each of these two transitional seasons, mediating as they both do, like the rhythmic system of our own organism, between the two seasonal poles, may itself at different times be experienced in two directionally alternate ways. Let us look at the human being for a moment, as St. Paul, for instance, regarded him. For St. Paul the human being is really two men, the old man and the new. The old Adam dies in each soul, as Christ brings to birth in it the new regenerate Adam. For many of us this picture has been renewed in a very remarkable way by Rudolf Steiner; but what is especially characteristic of spiritual science is its revelation of this birth of the new out of the old as a process. It is a process which is based on the rhythmic alteration in man of dying echoes of the old consciousness and premonitory experiences of the new. And according to Anthroposophy the free will of man and the grace of God in this matter do not express themselves in some sudden emotional conversion or salvation by means of which the old is alleged to have been destroyed for ever and the new created, intact and perfect, out of nothing, in the twinkling of an eye. Grace would not be itself, if it were theatrical. Rather they work, within the rhythmic system, gradually emphasising the new direction more and the old less. The new all the time is growing out of the old rather than in its despite, and the old Adam is not violently denied, but lovingly redeemed. Moreover, all the rhythms of the earth are subservient to precisely this diapason of the pulsing growth of new consciousness out of the old. The alternation of the seasons and the alternation of life and death are there for man to work with as a magician. He shall learn how to bring the dreaming summer to birth in the conscious depths of winter; he is to “charm the night into the day,” to sleep while he is awake, and in a secret spiritual activity to be breathing out even while, physically, he is breathing in.

Now it would appear to be these (to begin with) elusive and secret spiritual activities of the new Adam which the festivals of the seasons, as distinct from the seasons themselves, exist to develop in man. Dr. König well calls them the spiritual part of the seasons. Thus, while the seasons themselves make a ready appeal to the feelings, the maxims for spring and autumn really summon the will to build up out of its own strength the same activity that the feelings formerly induced involuntarily. Both are spiritual activities in the broad sense, and both are necessary; for the first can only come by drawing on the strength of the second and transmuting it. But, while the second is the activity of that spiritual in man which was born in him (in the words of St. John’s Gospel) “of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man,” the first is the activity of that spiritual which comes to him altogether elsewhence, and by the power of which men “become the sons of God.”

The Christian festival of Easter is totally different from the old pagan festival of the Goddess of fertility, from which it takes its name. Shining forth upon the year from behind the black abyss of Good Friday, the light of Easter Sunday points us, as to its source, to a life which is not the life that is bursting into green all around. From one point of view no doubt it may be viewed as a sort of continuation and development of vegetable “life,” but from another it is at the opposite pole to such life, and much more like what on earth is called death. This is the self-conscious life of the spirit which, wherever it is lived at all, must, as a matter of bare fact and no less by the voluptuary than by the ascetic, be lived at the expense of the natural life, whose sacrifice it accepts.

In this way it is possible to link the festival of Easter with the season of autumn, and again the festival of Michaelmas with the season of spring, and thus to gain a deeper experience of all. The creative thrill which the Gods transmit to us in the eager nip of their October air is but a premonitory hint, sent to us, that we may recognise and lay hold of it when it comes, of something immeasurably greater. And if, not only in the autumn, when all the external aids are present, but also in the spring when they are withdrawn, we could awaken our lassitude to the activity of self-knowledge, then we should experience that which autumn alone can never give us. We should experience, not a foretaste of the divine life of creative activity, but the divine life itself; and we should experience it as the energy of our own will operant on earth. And there is need of such energy.

Owen Barfield