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Alan speaks in a very symbolic and esoteric manner in some parts of his books. Although they can be read anthroposophically, passages speaking of Atlantis, archangels, gods, etc. do not need to be taken literarily to be meaningful. The more you read, the more you will realize he uses many different religions to express ideas in a symbolic manner and not in a religious manner. His writings are not religious. In some places his writings are meant to refer to religious events in a historical way. In some places he is using religious figures (from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Ancient Roman and Greek Religions, etc.) in a symbolic manner. However, at no point is he promoting a specific religion or speaking from a religious point of view.
I have kept the writing as close to one-hundred percent original so you will also find that he speaks of Australia often and some spelling or manners of speaking may be cultural. Any words I have changed are presented like this: <word>.
Also keep in mind that these books are written by a Waldorf teacher with decades of experience who also studied with a Steiner student himself, so he speaks to an audience that is dedicating their lives to the Waldorf method without exception.
Because of this, all of his views are not reflected in the Earthschooling curriculum and not all of them may be ones you want to embrace or are able to use. In all of Alan Whitehead’s writings the opinions are his own and may not align with Earthschooling or Waldorf Books. In some cases, we will be updating some of these chapters in the future with additional and/or updated information.
Ultimately, however, as I read through these passages I find I can distill wisdom from even those paragraphs that do not resonate with me.
We invite you to read with an open mind and heart and with eagerness to learn and discuss…
In large part, life for human beings throughout the eons has been one of drudgery at best, sustained misery at worst. To cast a light of hope into this perennial gloom man invented festivals and celebrations. From the spirit-torrid, to the soul-temperate, to the body-frigid regions of planet Earth, individuals and communities have eagerly looked forward to these events which ever so reliably sectioned their year into manageable slices of the monotony cake – the icing being the various festivals.
Oppressed workers could toil away in field, forest, or factory for months on end, in some extreme cases for seven days a week, knowing that, for perhaps only one day of the year, they could down tools, dress up, and join their fellows in festive mood of one kind or another.
Though sometimes the events were not necessarily imbued with merriment, maybe they were more funerary in character, or what some Aboriginal societies call “sorry business”. Even these melancholy assemblies had, as an underlying principle, the Spirit of Celebration, often with an abundance of singing and dancing. The major festivals of the Far East, especially China, are also of this ilk, usually centered round ancestor worship.
And yes, even otherwise hedonistic modem Australia has its memorial festival – Anzac Day. This is arguably the most revered date in our Special Events calendar.
Probably the most ubiquitous excuse for cultures world-wide to create a festival has been provided by the Cosmos, with its immutable cycle of the seasons, moon phases, astrological events – and even the weather, like the coming of the rains.
Here the approach of the beloved celebrations, perhaps a harvest festival, was removed from the mere abstract, by the clear evidence seen in the path of sun and stars.
In relation to the stars, Rudolf Steiner spoke of Event as a soul quality; one he relegated to the sign of Aries. (He also nominated “qualities” to the other eleven zodiacal houses.) Therefore, the spirit of Event (always capitalized to acknowledge its proper noun status) is a fundamental necessity for the psychological and even the spiritual health of the human being.
Events throughout the year give everyone something to look forward to – it gives hope of a higher life from the mundanity of everyday existence. In fact, the most important Event of a person’s personal calendar might be merely one’s birthday. This is obviously the case with many if not most children.
However, the favorite event of my own childhood was not so much my birthday, which was always great, but “cracker night”, or Empire Day, to use its official title. “24th of May is Empire Day” we would gratefully yell in chorus as we ran home from school for our half-day holiday!
Obviously I did not give a hoot about the British Empire, but rather looked forward with feverish excitement to a night of bonfire-centered pagan fire festivities, sometimes involving penny hungers as big as small sticks of dynamite!
This celebration later degenerated into the Queen’s Birthday, which was a bit of a squib: and with the still later banning of over-the-counter sales of fireworks, all the nocturnal fun was finally extinguished.
The festival pinnacle for others may not have the spirit-bankrupt Empire Day, but something more aspirational or elevated, such as a religious festival. This could again be a birthday, but this time of a loftier being than oneself, such as Jesus, or Buddha.
This cyclical Events soul health is taken very seriously in Rudolf Steiner Education, where the year is punctuated by festivals of varying kinds. Of course, the aforementioned child’s birthday is always an excuse for a class to enjoy an impromptu celebration, usually including a cake!
Many schools also have a “Monatsfier”, or Monthly Festival. Here classes delight in sharing small performances of poems, plays or music, mostly based on classroom activities during the previous couple of weeks. The biggest Events -in Steiner Schools, however, are the four seasonal festivals, detailed in the pages to follow. In the hearts of many children, these are the most enjoyable Events of the year, being fondly remembered right into adulthood. For these the teachers often create appropriate season-specific content, largely based on the performing arts, including Rudolf Steiner’s new movement art of Eurythmy. These make the four solstice and equinox festivals memorable indeed.
However, the cardinal principle of these school festivals must always be fun – but fun underpinned with spiritual (rather than religious) significance of some kind.
The spirit of these four-season festivals, with almost all peoples over all time, is encapsulated in the Four Hs.
Spring is the season of the Harbinger, where, in the spirit of resurrection, all is new and pregnant with promise. Summer follows with its Holiday adventures of various kinds – a sort of body-and-soul liberation. Autumn is of course the season of the Harvest, generically speaking. Here the Spring promise is realized in the bounty of the good earth.
Finally, Winter, where time and place appropriate, communities gather round the Hearth (h-eart, h-earth!). This too is a counterpoint, but to the expansion of Summer this time. How reassuring it is to exist in the annual certainty of this Harbinger, Holiday, Harvest, Hearth cycle.
Even though many of the two dozen or so festivals and celebrations described in this book may not be appropriate to celebrate in schools, at least attention can be drawn to them when they arrive. Perhaps Senior’s Week could be one of these. In this case the children may not celebrate the Event as such, but at least have their attention drawn to the esteemed place our Elders have in our community. A visit where an aged person talks about days of yore can be an unforgettable experience for children, who otherwise might have no access to an older person, and their wisdom. As such, an Events Calendar based largely on the contents of this book, is a valuable addition to every classroom noticeboard.
The cycle of the year, in the world generally, and Australia in particular, is a luminous odyssey enjoyed annually by, potentially at least, every individual in society. It can be merely a journey of special days interspersing the monotony of the more prevalent ‘un-special days’ . For most people, however, there is a laminate of higher meaning, or indeed spiritual significance, in this remarkable Events phenomenon. This book is an attempt to heighten the consciousness of these annual light shafts into the number of everyday human existence.
Alan Whitehead, January 2013