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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…
<This is June 20 in the Western Hemisphere>
With the first flash of sunlight on December 21 on the face of Mount Warning in northern NSW, the most easterly region of the continent, Australia will celebrate again the triumph of the light – the longest day of the year.
The Summer Solstice means little to most people, yet for eons humanity has been aware that this is one of the special days in the cosmological calendar. In Europe, Midsummer was celebrated with revelry and ritual. Fire was sacred to the events, and variations of fire-wheels representing spinning suns were rolled around by simpleminded but happy peasants. This invocation of heat was reflected in a higher way with the vast solar grids of ancient Britain. Here great bonfires were lit on cleared hilltops, and could be seen, one to the next, the length and breadth of the country.
Actually, this fire show was not really for the earth-bound, rather for the gods above to witness, who presumably could take in the whole display in one spectacular vision. For some reason, our traditionbound predecessors failed to make the adjustment of the seasonal festivals when colonizing Terra Nullius. Instead, they visited upon us in high summer fake snow, heat-stressed reindeer, and that ubiquitous and over-dressed patron of greed, Santa Claus – all in the middle of often scorching days and sweltering nights.
Paradoxically, this so-called ‘season of goodwill’ is notorious for suicide, violence, and family conflict – a poor testament to the spirit of peace and light it is purported to engender. Nevertheless, to simply transpose the European Midsummer festival to Australia, with strings of bonfires across tinder-dry hilltops, would really raise the temperature. Yet the imperative to celebrate the passage of the celestial year remains.
In midsummer Australia, heat is omnipresent. One symbolic function of the midsummer European bonfires was to banish rain – hardly a popular sentiment in rural Oz. Still, to those with ears to hear, eyes to see, et al, the celebration is all around us; examples being the pre-dawn summer birdsong heralding that first light, or the cicada symphony at dusk, foreshadowing the softness of Australia’s own ‘midsummer night’s dream’.
However, mere ritual is slowly giving way to heightened individual consciousness, such as the recognition of the sun’s journey through the Zodiac. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, the sun rises further along the ecliptic than it did the year before. It takes 2160 years, a so-called cosmic day, to move to the next sign.
As such, for many centuries now, the Southern Hemisphere’s Summer Solstice has moved from Capricorn to Sagittarius.
In strictly technical terms, that imaginary line running through Central Queensland at twenty-three and a half degrees south should really today be called the Tropic of Sagittarius!
This is due to the sun now rising in The Archer, not The Goat, on this longest day. The on~ time and place of the year in the Southern Hemisphere when a person does not throw a shadow is noon on December 21 on this Tropic line of latitude.
In 25,920 years (12 x 2160) the sun, having travelled through the 12 signs of the Zodiac, will again rise in the sign where it began. The cycle is known as a cosmic or Platonic year.
This dance through the constellations is curiously reflected in the physiology of man. Normal adults have an average of 18 breaths per minute, times 60 minutes an hour, times 24 hours a day – hence we have exactly 25,920 ‘breaths a day’. How intimately connected to the dynamics of the heavens we seem to be!
The festival of St John has always been the hub of the midsummer European frolics. Its floral talisman, mistletoe, the “oil of St. John”, was used as a symbolic safeguard against fire in the home. It is called the Golden Bough, due to its perceived association with the sun. Mistletoe is also used by some therapists to fight the ultimate darkness of cancer.’
St. John’s is traditionally a nature festival, as seen in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its delightful woodland elementals, such as the scintillating Puck, and the enchanting fairy royal couple, Titania and Oberon.
Australians are more in need of their own images for these realities. For instance, May Gibbs, with her Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, touched the spiritual essence of the invisible beings who inhabit the Australian bush as few others have done.
But why St. John? He was the writer of the Fourth Gospel, three Epistles, and the Revelation of St. John the Divine. (He, aptly, carried the acronym, The Theologian, meaning ‘God’s word’.) These timeless tomes were penned, he says, while he was ‘in the spirit’.
In Revelation, John provides us with the most enigmatic document in Western literature, with images sublime and terrible on a galactic scale, a sweeping tableau of good and evil, of life and death. In fact, his own death provides insight to both his message and the mystery of midsummer.
An apocryphal tale has it that at the conclusion of his evangelizing in Ephesus, John had his followers dig a grave. Though stilt hale and hearty, he stepped in and lay down, giving instructions to fill it in. As such, this Patron Saint of Writers committed the fire of his spirit to the dark body of the earth. Legend even has it that the soil from the grave was subsequently able to heal the sick.
From December 21 the sun will enact this same mystery, for half a year steadily waning in power and sinking into the earth of winter; dying so that new birth will be assured.
Just as it is a mirror of the solstice light, Mount Warning also casts the shadow of admonition. To remain asleep to the timeless cycles of the year, star-studded events which fashion our very being and that of nature, is to choose darkness in a world of light. May our Australian midsummer souls be kindled with the creative fire of the Spirit of St. John.
Having travelled through the cycle of the year as expressed through the four seasons of Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer, perhaps some general observations would be an appropriate conclusion. Actually, the concept of the four seasons seems to be a real problem for a lot of Northern Hemisphere immigrants to the South. These simple souls resolutely attempt to import the seasons unchanged from Munich, Manchester, or Maine.
This is not new; the first white settlers were (more forgivably) somewhat confused when they had to eat their Christmas pudding in the middle of bushfire threats and stifling heatwaves.
Today the legion of sweating department store Santa’s can attest to the inappropriateness of being rugged up in furs and high boots in the middle of summer! Ancient India was the first post-Atlantean civilization; it was also the first to experience the four seasons roughly as we know them today. This 4-fold seasonal arrangement is based on there being four major climatic aspects.
These are equivalent to the four pre-Atlantean epochs: Polaria contributed Temperature; Hyperborea, Wind; Lemuria, Precipitation; and Atlantis, firm landforms, or Topography. These ‘4 Elements’ – fire, air, water, and earth – constitute the four main dynamics of climate through which the four seasons express. Topography, you ask?
Mountains create rain shadows – and even permanent snow fields near the Equator, as on Mt Kilimanjaro. In the other extreme, in Winter much of the continent of Antarctica changes, it mineralizes (water to ice), actually enlarging its surface area.
Number four is the number of the earth, hence four seasons, the quintessential earth expression.
But another perspective is to see these wonderful annual changes as the Breath of the World. In Spring, there is a compelling outbreathing, when plants and animals create new life.
This is a carbonization, resulting in a transubstantiation of matter in the hemisphere experiencing its ‘Printemps’, as the French so charmingly call Spring.
In Summer there is a hiatus; both natural and supersensible forces hang suspended in atmosphere and stratosphere – dispersion occurs, and the active gas is that of the sun itself, Hydrogen. Autumn (Swedish ‘Host’) arrives with its chill winds and busy-builder will-to-work.
There is an in-breathing of the earth, an inspiration of Oxygen, which brings with it the powers of consolidation.
The earth braces itself for Winter (Italian ‘Invemo’) when denizens and forces of this shining planet are again held in a kind of spiritual limbo – this time within the earth itself.
And the active gaseous element of this aspect of the earth’s breath? Nitrogen, the stuff of imagination.
This carbon-transubstantiation – hydrogen-dispersion – oxygen consolidation – nitrogen-imagination is a cosmic picture; an event conducted as a mighty drama once a year (in a given Hemisphere). With every breath taken by man, this same event is played out on the microcosmic level as well. Man’s out-breath contains the carbon necessary for the creation of the plant world, and hence indirectly, the minerals, soils, and so on.
At the completion of the out-breath, we actually stop breathing for a few moments – a hiatus which allows the hydrogen to disperse the carbon and prevent poisonous concentrations.
We then breathe in; the oxygen in the in-breath reddens our blood – the ‘Autumn’ of the soul in every breath! This strengthens us for the rigors of the coming Winter. The inspiration described is both of a spiritual as well as a physical nature.
Then we have another hiatus, one in which the nitrogen in our breath (the most abundant element) sparkles through our brain, allowing pictures to form – a matrix of imagination! Man, like the plants and animals, lives in this annual ‘earth breath’, and whether consciously or not, functions in harmony with its profound dispensation – that is unless he deliberately espouses a different, and usually opposite, reality – a thing an animal or plant could never do!
Ah, sweet Spring brings the spirit of re-birth to us all, even culturally. On a higher plane this is seen as a sublime Resurrection. But in Summer there is (or should be) dispersion; Australians have a good instinct for this. At around December 21, the Summer Solstice, everyone drops their oars.
Good folk of every age and inclination disperse from office, home, and factory to ‘visit the family’ or any one of dozens of excuses. This Summer (French ‘Ete’) exodus is most often into nature (beach, river, rainforest); this is in accord with the ·celebration of Summer portrayed so beautifully, as mentioned above, in Shakespeare’s spiritually inspired – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is a play of bucolic simplicity, of feasting and partying on in general.
Indeed, ‘celebration’ is the word which best characterizes the Summer soul imperative. It means a joyous public event, an external festival. It is the wedding of the bride of the world with the groom of the high ether – divine nuptials where each individual, animal and plant is a celebrant. If only we could leave out the booze and other soul crutches. These things tend to eclipse the Spirit of festival. Even gift giving, parties and family get-togethers are worldly, if not otherworldly, expressions of the Summer festival. Distorting the seasons, like having a Christ Mass festival in Summer, with carols, candles, and ‘Chrissie’ trees – can burden society with a millstone of error.
Australians don’t have as sensitive a response to Autumn (‘Herbst’ in Spanish!); almost invariably they try feebly to make it an Easter celebration. Easter is traditionally cosmic based, being held on the first full moon of the planetary year – in Spring I Therefore Easter is a festival of Resurrection and re-birth (‘Easter’ – ‘oestre’ – ‘oestrus’!). Chocolate eggs and ever-fertile bunnies are unashamedly Spring images – the fun may be there, but the Spirit has excused itself. The oh-so-necessary bracing forces in Autumn of the Archangel Michael, in his eternal battle with the Dragon of Materialism, are missing from these saccharine sorties – these pseudo (Autumn) Easters.
The earth is actually inhaling in Autumn, not expiring, as the Easter mysteries all depict. And so we must inhale in Autumn – a resolute inbreath of spiritual commitment and soul courage.
Of course, at our Winter, because we’ve tried to cram two festivals in one in Summer, most Aussies give the important Winter Solstice festival a miss – their loss, I say.
The Winter Festival in some communities is often the cultural highlight of the year. Putting the lie to the oft-heard statement – ‘Nobody’s yet been successful in celebrating the seasonal festivals in Australia’. Winter is a wonderful, soulful festival, supported as it is by the inner resounding forces of the earth, the planetary h-earth (Rudolf Steiner called Winter the ‘festival of the hearth’. It’s hard to gather round the cozy fireplace in an Aussie Summer!). It is a festival of gentleness and love; of softness, tone, and color – not fireworks and bonfires as I’ve sometimes seen; a violation of its Gabrielic essence.
Rather than the fun of Summer, Winter is a festival of meditation, of going within, as does the earth, to meet the Self.
‘At last, it turns Spring, and the air does sing’ – is the opening line of a beautiful and joyous Spring teacher-penned song loved by everyone who heard and sang it. Why? Because it perfectly expressed the freedom and exhilaration of the new out-breath – a liberation from the soul and life-threatening poison of the carbon within that built up in the darkness of Winter. This idealized picture does exist, but only in two narrow bands of latitude around the earth; an area within only a few degrees of 45° north and south respectively (all other things being equal, like altitude). …
This band is approximately Domach in Switzerland for example, and Hobart. These places, and almost everywhere else along this ‘ideal season’ band, like northern Japan and the northern United States, experience almost perfectly balanced seasons, positioned as they are halfway between the Equator (0°), and the Poles (90°). These two bands have seasons of almost exactly three months: here the Season Express runs on time all year round. The further we move towards either the Equator or the Poles, the greater the seasonal distortion.
The Equator has virtually only one season, Summer; and at 90° north or south, there is only Winter all year. But at least they have the ‘polarity’ of light and dark. The sun shines weakly day and night, or, with short transitions, is evident by its absence!
Season observers must have a clear picture of the level of distortion of the four seasons in their own region; that is unless they teach on the soul-simple 45° lines! The globe, taught as a manifold seasonal being, encourages mobility of thinking, stereotypes never do. It also urges a heightened sensitivity to the often-subtle seasonal changes in say a sub-tropical climate; changes of which nature is aware’.
For example, when do the smooth gum trees lose their bark in your latitude? What date does the Jasmine flower? In which month do the Keels arrive from their annual Niu Gini holiday? The human immigrants may have a problem, but the plants they brought with them do not. These adapted immediately, the lovely liquidambars still change their leaf color in Autumn, no matter what their puzzled owners think. Some new settlers even protest that an Australian Autumn is really a kind of Spring. This fallacy is based on the flimsy fact that we have two wheat harvesting seasons, one being in the traditional ‘harvest’ season, Autumn, the other in Spring.
But nobody told the gum trees; of the 500 species or so, 80% flower in Spring – and the other 20%? Well, Australia is a complex country, seasonally and in every other way.
A simple but effective global picture is to see the seasons divided into three zones, the torrid, temperate, and frigid – both dry and wet in all cases. To bring it closer to home, Australia can be portrayed latitudinally as hot, warm, and cool, with their dry and wet differentiations respectively.
Another aberration is that the Top Enders only recognize two seasons, dry and wet – people in Alice Springs only have hot and warm. In theory at least, it is thought that there are four seasons everywhere, all around the world.
Not so: there may be up to six as the Aboriginal people recognize in the Northern Territory. Europeans find it hard to recognize them due to the six being too delicate to detect with their fast-degenerating senses. Subtle plant and animal seasonal responses can be observed beyond the normal four seasons almost anywhere on the globe.
As the four seasons are under the regency of a quadrivium of lofty spiritual beings, it seems that their influence penetrates where-ever life exists. The four are Hosts of the Etheric Christ, the Lord of Seasons, appearing, as he does to those with eyes to see, in the etheric mantle of the earth -‘ … walking on the clouds.”
These hosts are the four Archangels; Raphael, Uriel, Michael, and Gabriel, who, according to Goethe, pass the ‘golden urns’ of the seasons across from Hemisphere to Hemisphere – unending!
Rudolf Steiner also unequivocally states that the seasons, and all their spiritual implications -‘… are opposite in the antipodes.’! ”Just think, when we celebrate St. John’s Tide (mid-Summer), and if our souls follow the earth’s soul, which is outside, then in close union with the stars, the antipodeans celebrate Christmas”. Rudolf Steiner
The Spring Regent, Lord of the Etheric Body, is Raphael. He dispenses life and light into the out-breath of the world, assuring us of re-birth and spiritual hope.
Pensive Uriel, Archangel of the Ego, and Summer (‘Estate’ – Italian), peers into the open pages of the soul of each person as they bare their hearts to the sun. A stem judge Uriel is too, but a compassionate one. Having in high Summer assayed the misdeeds of man’s year, Uriel makes his ‘summing up’ available to his Autumn colleague, Michael, who, if man chooses to acknowledge him (by celebrating the festivals in the correct season!), provides seeds of progress and protection for the dark Winter days ahead.
Gabriel, the Winter Archangel, oversees the welfare of the unborn souls poised in the near firmament. This was beautifully depicted in Raphael’s Sistine Madonna.
But at least our children may be able to experience – to live into – the earth year as the great protective and supportive Being that it is. The following is a song I wrote for a school Summer Festival in 1972:
Sun, sun, at last you’ve come
To visit us here in the South.
Hot nights, hot days
And bushfire haze,
Summer swimming, Summer plays,
Deep below a dark blue world,
Shot with silver, shining crystals,
Moving, weaving Mother Earth,
Loving and providing.
Up above in yellow light,
Wings ‘encircle, garment bright,
Gold and silver, sparkling heights,
Wind-flung clouds are watching.
Here we play, we learn to love,
Dark below and light above,
Flower, fruit, a snow-white dove,
Summer days together!
“What man bears within him during the course of 24 hours, namely Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, is spread in nature over a period of 365 days.” Rudolf Steiner, Arnheim, July 1924.