TWO RAINBOW TEMPLES
Medieval Literature – Class 8 – Main Lesson
Note that in Earthschooling we do this block in high school so I have also filed it in the high school section. We do the Middle Ages block itself in 7th grade.
The most noble subject in the whole of the 12-fold Subject Zodiac we can teach high school students is World Literature. The greatest revelations for humankind have been given through the global opus of sacred texts. A main lesson in World Literature for Class 8 is most appropriate if it accords with their development stage; the Medieval.
14-year-olds are, in essence if not detail, Middle Ages souls, reliving in the great recapitulation of the epochs the period from about 1000 to 1450. The main lesson appeals first to the ‘head’, or academic soul of the student. The Language stream relates to the Ego – I am because I read!
Language further devolves into three strands, of which the third, World Literature, awakens spiritualawareness in the young readers. In the head, the ego region is the 4th vertical quarter – the purely spiritual expression of the ego is the top third of the band, the forehead zone; this top third of the 4th quarter is that part of the human being which reaches up to the – aptly called – ‘temples’.
These Temples of Humanity are those which respond to the content of World Literature; to its spiritual essence. Physically this inherently spiritual activity can be perceived as a subtle, glowing rainbow, arching across the head from temple to temple – a soul halo of Imagination.
Of course the teaching has to be of high quality for this rainbow arch to become active. Indeed spirit must be present in the classroom in the form of the students’ enthusiasm (meaning ‘to en-God’!) for learning meeting the teacher’s excellence of content. But when it happens, there is no doubt about it – positive attitude is palpable!
Actually this rainbow, the highest of educational soul manifestations, is comprised of the 7 colors of the planets, expressions of the soul as they are. These are the metaphysical embodiment of the 7 Canons of Quality Teaching. It is easy to test if one is meeting the highest expectations of the profession by simply asking 7 questions:
- Are the students Happy? This Moon aspect demands that most of them for most of the time enjoy school.
- Do they Learn at capacity, all of them in all 12 subjects!? Again most of them most of the time in this Mercury canon is okay.
- Do they Love their teacher? This is the Venus canon, more likely to occur if the teacher loves the students!
- And what of Health? Well according to Rudolf Steiner, a large degree of illnesses is either caused by bad teaching, or can be healed by good. It is the responsibility of every pedagogue to realize The Master’s maxim that ‘education is healing, and healing is education’. This is the Sun canon.
- That inspired by Mars is Safety, both physical and psychological; another central plank of Steiner education is ‘veneration for the child’s/student’s past protection for the present, and optimism for the future. A teacher whose call suffers a lot of injuries, or has evidence of emotional troubles, should be regarded with suspicion.
- Self-Esteem (self-expression) is the Jupiter canon; do the young address one in a spirit of freedom, with an inner confidence? Or do they swagger with self-importance, being constantly reminded by their teacher how superior they are to others?
- The last and most important of the 7 Canons of Quality Teaching is Without control, none of the other 6 can fully manifest, right down to happiness even. Without a loving discipline, Saturn does indeed ‘eat his own children’ – with the emphasis on loving of course.
And a good standard of discipline is what we expect from the lucky teacher who takes Class 8 for their Medieval Literature main lesson. A first principle, in terms of content at least, to introduce to any Literature unit is its 3-fold body-soul-spirit nature. This expresses through Prose, Drama and Poetry – all qualified by the writing-appreciation, not merely performing of same. Poetry, as the Medieval Celtic poets would agree, is the high vault of Temple Literature.
Poetry, in its purest sense, is one of the Seven Spiritual Arts, that of Spirit Self, fully realized astral body! Prose is, or certainly was, reserved for more pragmatic purposes – like shopping lists! Mind you, a shopping list set to verse would assure you didn’t forget something – a fun classroom exercise actually! Prose of course can reach the giddy heights as well, but it will always carry the ballast of its ‘body’ imperatives, after all, prose is akin to ‘prosaic’.
Drams, or more correctly ‘playwriting’, is the soul; that which yearns to find expression on the stage. It is usually quite tedious, and often misleading, to actually read a play – but not so a ‘play reading’! Drama, when staged, links soul to soul – actor-to-actor, players-to-audience, etc. – as no other art form, certainly of the language arts. An unplayed drama is unfulfilled soul.
Not so poetry; being of spirit, it can exist alone, to be enjoyed, even though never spoken or written down even, by the gods if no-one else. Often the greatest verse – delicate blooms indeed – must be hidden form the contaminating attention of the philistines!
Poetry however does yearn to express through the human voice – to be spoken – apostrophized to the trees even – but spoken nevertheless. Of course like any other literary form, it can be shared with the world. This simple trichotomy helps to clarify the mass of potentially confusing content the students will be assailed with over 3 weeks.
While on ‘content’, ‘theme’ and so on, the structure of a curriculum should be explained, as it serves as a scaffold for the Spirit to manifest in a good Steiner Education (and they’re not all necessarily ‘good’!)
The Physical Body, that which is essentially fast asleep, is represented by the subject itself. The 12 subjects, taught in most schools over most times, are inspired by that ‘body’ principle, that Zodiac. We achieve body-balance by assuring the even distribution of the 12 subjects over any given year.
In our case, the Subject is Language; one doesn’t have to be very awake to grasp that! Language is incidentally inspired by Aries. There is a static, spatial, physical body quality to this Subject placement.
Theme, that which moves in our curriculum scaffold, is of the dreaming – Etheric Body. Here the Theme is World Literature; the dynamic being that this Theme is continued through the 5 years of high school, from Medieval Literature in Class 8 to 20th Century in Class 12. If Subjects are not subtended with Theme, they remain like islands in the curriculum, curiosities even, and of little value. To test the validity of any given learning experience, see if it has a past or indeed a future. This past-present-future Theme is the Lifeline of curriculum.
From movement to color, and we focus the subject/theme down with our content choice. Content is of the Astral Body. How will we present this lesson? With the help of role play, with some Medieval music perhaps? Or will we vividly describe the living and social conditions of the time as influences on their word magic?
The Subject and Theme can be written into a year’s program and profitably presented to parents, students, teachers and others at the beginning of the year, but the astral content does not come alive until it is taught. Even the simple 3-fold division of poetry, playwriting and prose is part of the Content of the lesson. In the emerging consciousness of the adolescent, this Astral factor is very awake indeed, but not as awake as the Ego principle, that of concept.
This it is that forms the body of knowledge and skills the student takes into life. Concepts learned can be determined by the test at the end of the unit; or be seeing how well a student can read an original Latin text from the period. The Ego demands to thin, and indeed do. Subject-Theme-content must have the rigor of Concept!
But back to the Middle Ages; the 300-year period preceding 1000 A.D. produced almost nothing of great literary merit, in Europe anyway. However the word outpouring for the next half century was staggering., both in quality and Quantity. A great being, Samael, was in no small way responsible for this.
The Archangel who ministered to the previous Dark Ages, he who achieved the rank of Archai, and hence Time Spirit (Zeitgeist) – he who ministered to the cultural life of humanity from about 700 to 1000, was Raphael. He was a Being of light in a dark, dark world. Raphael stimulated much in European culture, especially the deepening of religious life – light indeed compared with the umbrate dragon of erstwhile Rome. But Raphael was not a wordsmith! In fact neither was Gabriel, the Zeitgeist who took the baton form Samael, in about 1510 to reign for the next 300 years – to 1879, the Michael Age, our own!
But Samael was. He loves words; he is an elevated Mars spirit; Mars has always been synonymous with The Word. Indeed he is the Spirit of Speech himself; the Mars region in occult anatomy being the larynx. Many of the greatest orators in history have been unashamed Mars personalities; like Hitler and his white adversary, Churchill.
In an unconscious way 14-year-olds are inspired by the Samael power – and power it is. This can be seen in their inclination for conflict and assertion; with each other, parents, teachers – the dog! A 15-year-old (Gabriel inspiration) is usually a much calmer being.
But always there is a redeeming factor, being Medieval souls, Class 8 carry in their hearts the Spirit of Chivalry. Good teachers will call on this rich soul lode, and call on it often, as an uplifting and strengthening force through this oft-difficult year.
Any given lesson should contain a range of activities for the students to assure a ‘soul breathing’; this takes place about 4 times an hour – 2 in-breaths and 2 out-breaths. These 15-minute – approximately only – natural division allow a range of about 8 in-out activities in any 2-hour lesson.
Included might be: a review of yesterday’s work – in; then some exercises or small tests, spelling even -out; new content presentation – in; discussion of same – out; note-taking on the new content – in; creative writing – out; reading of some sacred or profane text – in; and a drawing or role play to end the lesson – out… and out to break! This quarter hour division should never be artificially constructed, but flow naturally. If an activity is flying, do not stop it arbitrarily. If it works, then the Spirit is present, and should be permitted to climax and conclude whatever inspirational benison it is bringing to the lesson.
Another content clarification is the Seven Aspects of Literature, these are: History; The Epic; Tragedy; Biography; Satire; Lyric; comedy. This is a septual planetary picture of the mighty Being of Literature herself.
Saturn, the old Time Lord himself (Greek Cronus), dispenses his penumbrate inspiration to those who would have the temerity to write History. Colleen McCullock is a modern example of a saturnian soul, hidden away in her Norfolk Island retreat writing the entire history of Rome! Unlike Gibbon, this is in a fictionalized form.
Jupiter (Zeus) is that super-being personified in The Hero of The Epic. He is a kind of Representative Man on a quest for wisdom. Wisdom is a peculiarly Jupiter phenomenon. The Epic is our so-unwise generation is singularly absent!
The Tragedy is of Mars (Ares); how this karma-rending aspect of life savages the good intentions of men and gods – especially this god of War – of assertion, conflict, and in extremes, violence! The great tragedies of course usually relate in some way to the most profound tragedy of all – the imperative to incarnate; to leave the lap of the divine for the stony, steep and dangerous path of earth life. Tragedy is from the Greek ‘Tragus’, the goat. Being the animal of Pan – the Earth Lord – the hapless Caper embodies the whole dark principle of a perilous descent to earth – each of us is a scapegoat from heaven, in one form or another. This form is found in the tragedy in every life.
The Biography however is a happier tale, relating to the Sun (Helios) as it does. This is the true home of the human being; of the immortal Self at least. In the writing of Biography, the story of man, we trace the journey of a Sun Spirit – any person – in an often-dark world. Good Biography will always contain this radiant solar essence in some way.
The Lyric of course is a Venus (Aphrodite) word expression. The loving quality – often sacrificial – resounds in phrase and image; in romance and the romantics. Even the pilloried Mills and Boon romance novels are based, if somewhat simplistically, on this Venus element.
These planetary revelations provide insights into the imponderable puzzle of why one person likes one literary form over another. Most adolescents, entering their ‘Venus’ period of soul development as they are, will tend toward the Lyric form – exposed to it that is, as a comprehensive World Literature course!
Satire is of Mercury (Hermes); it is quick-witted, incisive and lacking somewhat in compassion, and indeed depth of feeling of any kind. Satire can, but not necessarily must, have a cruel edge, depending for its success on ridicule – often on those who deserve it! Even a word-dependent cartoon is satirical-Mercury literature.
Finally Moon and comedy: there are more moon-faced – Benny Hill! – comic writers (as opposed to satirists) than coincidence would allow. The Moon pours the forces of raw creativity into the human soul; comedy-writing calls on this more than any other psychic element.
This 7-fold planetary-literature picture is merely a convenient framework for the teacher of The Word; but one which makes sense of a seeming confused world of literature and its metaphysical inspirational Beings. One finds contradictions legion; especially on the level of the individual, who relishes the exceptions to an orderly world!
But what of the Content? How do we select texts to study – and read – from the thousands extant? Well one way is to make a representative selection from the main centers of medieval culture, especially of Europe (though Islam has some highly poetic work from the period). The main European Word centers are Spain; England; France/Italy and Germany.
This 4-fold arrangement illuminates the various Folk Souls which assist in inspiring the literature. There is a hidden spiritual reality expressing through this quartet, one based on the 4 Elements:
Spain is, as one would guess, Fire; England, with its faerie consciousness, Air; France/Italy, in this exposition at least, is the Water element, based on the fluency of their language/s; and Germany – and the North in general – is of the gnome-enlightened Earth.
In a 15-day main lesson, we might study 12 texts; this is a suggestion only; I’ve even seen a teacher of this unit take one only, Chaucer actually, as a representative of the whole ear. One could take a case author or country, and brush lightly over the rest; but I prefer a more comprehensive and chronological presentation.
This works well, beginning with the first great epic, written right at the start of the period in 1000 A.D. (and the first in the vernacular, non-Latin) for both Europe and England – Beowulf. The study of literature often leads one to the previous cultural period; much that was written in the Middle Ages was about the Dark Ages! Beowulf is one of these, penned from oral tradition as it was – with only one manuscript surviving – whew, that was close!!
For contrast we can then visit 11th Century Spain, and introduce the hot-headed 14-year-olds to the even more fiery exploits of El Cid; struggling against the positively incandescent incursions of Islam!
Now to France for the Song of Roland, a eulogizing of the great deeds of its greatest cultural and political hero, Charlemagne. These 12th Century epic poems embrace many of the 7 planetary inspirations mentioned earlier – history, biography, tragedy, epic, lyric! Of course these books all suffer from the shackles of translation.
Off to England to peruse the history of the kings, from the very first, Brutus, to King Arthur. All this ‘myth’ flowed from the sure pen of Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th Century. Apparently, Geoff’s interest waned when he reached the era of flesh-and-blood kings – I can sympathize with that!
Across to The Fatherland for the immortal Nibelungleid, that bold epic which later gave us such star opera characters as Brunhilda, the much-pilloried ‘fat lady’ – and the archetypal German hero, Siegfried.
From 13th Century Germany to Iceland, for those partners in poesy, the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda. Here the pantheon of Norse gods were revived from their Atlantean slumbers to haunt the psyches of Scandinavian children (and others) for centuries. They may be great literature, but their cruelty, violence and impoverished morality is unequalled – the same I’ve noticed of those who take the Norse Myths as their core canon in life, like the Nazis!
Not so with Parzival; Germany again. Parzival the earth-bound, seeking his spiritual apotheosis, the Holy Grail. This massive work, like much Medieval literature, can’t actually be read by the students (25,000 line!); but one can teach just by highlighting pertinent excerpts – even if Wolfram von Eschenbach might disagree!
How more comfortable we are with the 13th Century Canterbury Tales of Chaucer; the homey British counterpart to the dire spiritual implications of Parzival. These stories were well-written (the first in the vernacular), funny – and occasionally, to the 14-year-olds’ delight, bawdy – unlike the Divine Comedy of Italy’s pet literary son, Dante.
There’s not a comedy line it the whole saga; but it does put paid to the myth that ‘no-one knows what happens when you die’. Dante knew, and told a hard-of-hearing – or comprehending – world of the descent into Purgatory, Hell – and back up to Paradise. Teenagers are as keen as anybody for this vital planning information!
And speaking of bawdy – and Italy – we might peep through the forbidden keyhole at Boccaccio’s Decameron (’10 day’s work’) of the 14th Century. Even if we skip the rude bits (your young charges might object!), you can have them read the beautiful lyric poem at the end.
And Day 11; how appropriate for Sir Thomas Mallory’s English adaption of Christien de Troy’s Arthur stories – Morte D’Arthur. This is one of the first books produced on William Caxton’s famous printing press (1485). As such it seems to perform the threshold Janus function of being the last of one era, and the first of the next. The stories told in this historical, biographical, tragic, lyric epic (not much satire or comedy!) will be familiar to the Class from the World History last year.
The 12th and final literary form will be new ground for most; the Three M Plays! These Mystery, Miracle and Morality Plays of the period were usually village-based, and performed to instruct the illiterate peasantry on things spiritual and moral.
Mystery Plays depict religious episodes of some kind, like the Crucifixion or birth of Jesus – in some backwaters they’re still performed every year, like the Wakefield Mystery Plays; in which your author was a player, in a bewildered kind of way, as a young man.
Miracle Plays portray the lives of the saints; we learn from these that spiritual life flows along clearly divided streams, which may meet but never mix. The Catholic church knew it, creating the various separate Orders as they did.
The learned Dominican and the warm-hearted Franciscan Orders, were created by two ‘saints’ with clear mandates to build universities and charities respectively. Anthroposophy also is maturing, after nearly a century, into karmically ordained streams, each with its divine purpose – oppose this new plurality at your peril!
Morality Plays are simple allegories where Death meets Incontinence, or some other combination of moral combat. Perhaps the students can write a short Morality Play themselves, personifying their own particular set of vices and virtues; the Greedies versus the Greenies – Avarice against Altruism!?
If a class trip went wrong, and I was stranded on a desert island with a Class 8, and offered a limited choice of literature, I would select from the 12 above. Modern instant-gratification teens would probably opt for the carton full of surg magazines or romance comics; but hen as teachers our sacred task is to educate, not just entertain – and a main lesson on Medieval Literature will give them a legacy of knowledge which will last, if not necessarily consciously, for life. I don’t know if surg mags and comics will do that?