Persephone, Michaelmas and the Need for Living Thinking
As the days grow short again, and the year cycles around to the season of autumn, we stand once more in the autumn of the year. The fruits have of summer have ripened, and nature has given us of her abundance.
In Greek mythology, the richness of summer was brought forth, year after year, by the goddess Demeter. She is the archetypal earth-mother, and from her womb spring all the gifts of nature.
In time, Demeter brought forth a beloved daughter, Persephone, fathered by Zeus. The god of the underworld, Pluto desired this beautiful child, kidnapped her, and took her to Hades, his underworld kingdom. Demeter deeply grieved her absence, and forbade any living thing to grow on the earth. In time, Persephone was released, but because she had eaten pomegranate seeds in the underworld, she was now compelled to live part of each year in the underworld. Her return in springtime enables vegetation to spring forth anew, having lain in the depths of the earth through the months of winter.
Yet when the time comes for her to return to the underworld in the autumn, the forces of nature withdraw, and the world turns brown, gray and bleak.
As with all true mythologies, this tells a story that is true on many levels and resounds in harmony with other creation myths. Just as the Bible tells of a paradisiacal past in the Garden of Eden, Demeter reigned during the Springtime of humanity. Then, when human beings left the Garden of Paradise, are were “exiled” to walk in the earth, told we would need to earn our food with the fruit of our brow.
Still, even in our exile, Nature continued to give generously to us, and we lived in the sweet Summertime of the planet.
We have now stepped into a new world age. The return of Persephone each spring becomes less certain each year, for Demeter, Natura, has grown old. Increasingly, we can see that we have harmed her and wounded her, and her illnesses are many.
The myth of Persephone also speaks of the human soul. We humans are children of both Heaven and Earth. And as we took our first steps on earth in the innocence of the Garden, we lived with the blessed confidence of hunters and gatherers, trusting that Nature would provide.
Now, however, it is our higher selves that have been kidnapped by the spirit of materialism. Our souls are held hostage by the forces of the underworld, surrounded by the forces of death and evil, even as we go about the affairs of our daily lives.
This is the root cause of our current societal and environment ills. All around the globe, the shadows of Mordor—as the dark kingdom is named in The Lord of the Rings—is spreading, manifesting in the rise of hate and fear-mongering in many segments of our national psyche. We need not look far to see the seeds of fascism sprouting. We see, too, the tragedy of the refugees who dare to seek a land of light, escaping the violence of war zones and famines, and we see eco-systems devastated by climate change, melting ice caps, melting aquifers.
Emil Bock, a noted theologian of the Christian Community movement, called his age—the decades following World War II–the “Autumn of Earth Evolution.”
Yet because I believe in the mystery of mid-winter, the mystery of the spirit-birth of Christmas and the infinite possibilities of the human being, I face these days with steadfastness and courage. I know that evolution must take its next step—can only take its next positive step—if we human beings learn something new as a result of going through these dark times.
Where can we human beings turn for a new vision in this age?
With all of its microscopic and macroscopic intelligence, the natural sciences will not solve for us the urgent questions of morality we are facing. Nor can any religion that asks for blind faith give us a sure light to guide us through this darkness.
In this age, we can turn our gaze to another cosmic imagination, the presence of the Archangel Michael, the ruler of our age. He has been recognized and celebrated in many cultures under many names since the most ancient of days, for he has committed himself to supporting the evolution of human beings, the children of the universe.
Michaelmas, the annual feast day honoring his activity, is September 29. It falls rightly in the fall, shortly after the equinox, for he is the bearer of the spiritual forces that we need in this cosmic Autumn season. He, who believes deeply in the human being, is the archetypal hero of the knight who fights the demonic dragon that lurks everywhere in hate, death and destruction. In contemplating his bearing as a cosmic protective being, we can perceive the shortcomings of our own thinking. When our thoughts are “automatic,” non-creative and reactive, they bear none of the spirit consciousness that we are capable of. In this age, we are charged with the challenge to learn how to cultivate cosmically accurate thoughts with our consciousness. We must learn to reach beyond mere earth-thoughts and develop the capacity to understand things with the insights of the Gods. Michael-inspired thoughts and actions defend and protect the cosmic intelligence, in heaven as well as on earth.
Rudolf Steiner wrote that “the first creation has come to an end: the new creation begins with the Human Being.” Having lived with these powerful words for decades, I understand that only when we humans learn to transform the evil and death-bearing forces that live in our own souls can we create participate in creating a future as infinitely beautiful as the Garden once was.
And to do that, we must take hold of all the things that have been given to us “for free” by virtue simply of having been born. We must sanctify our bodies, we must transform the shadows in our feeling life, and we must learn to think in a completely new way. The old way of thinking can lead only to an increasingly death-affirming world. unless we can warm our thoughts with love and compassion.
What we must learn now is to “think with the heart.”
We must learn to how living thinking must become a practice that replaces automatic thinking. We must learn to warm our thoughts with love and compassion, born in our hearts as a result of our journey through the dark halls of Hades.
This is the message of this season, Michaelmas. In this year, with so much social-political-economic-ecological chaos, there is no place left to turn but to the deep resources of the heart, to those seed-forces that can be fructified by the very real love and wisdom of the universe. Such living thinking is literally not capable of being self-deluding and self-serving: such thinking shows us the way to actions that will sanctify this human race.
In this season of Michael, we can focus our meditations on the courage and insights we need to live rightly in this season of world-autumn. We will discover the right way to find the Sun forces that live on the earth, in the soul.
This, my favorite autumn poem, speaks of the beautiful and awful tumult we are all compelled to live through in this season of the Cosmic Autumn.
World dust, whirled dust, tossed and torn from trees,
No more do they labor for life,
no more shelter of green glade,
shade of apples under leaf,
Lifted in air they soar, no longer leaves.
What, wind that bears me, am I about to be?
Will water draw me down amidst its multitudes?
Earth, will I return?
Will I return to the trees?
Or by water go further from myself than I now can know
Today I would like to share with you two of the inspiring emails I have received from people who have used Eurythmy for their own healing journey. The first is a woman recovering from cancer: the second is a vet who writes about how he used eurythmy while stationed in Afghanistan. I hope you will enjoy these writings.
I just want to drop you a note of appreciation for creating online Eurythmy. I so love the feelings I am able to access- and these grace filled movements. My husband so loves the space I come from in doing it that he has created a calendar he checks off for doing my practice when we see each other at the end of his workday. Together we celebrate the great job I am doing.
My practice is now up to an hour a day. I love all of these gestures- they have become beloved family members to me. I can’t imagine not visiting and spending time with them everyday.
You would be proud. I started The Sister Goddess Marriage Club. At the end of our salon we girls- married and dating all do Eurythmy for the health of our marriages and relationships with men.
On the note of health- mine is coming along beautifully. Eurythmy is my “radiation and chemo” treatment. I attain a magnificent state of being are unparalleled to any meditative practice I have done. I am soaring with the angels! No comparison to what the doctors want me to do! Eurythmy is my medicine- my pills- my chemo- my radiation- that gratefully I take every morning- rain or shine- whether I feel like it or not.
(Note from Cynthia: I applaud this woman’s dedication, but her decision to chose eurythmy over medications was hers, not mine! Each person must find their own way!)
My Experience with Eurythmy in a War Zone
I am a 47 year old man who has been active for many years in the Waldorf and BD initiatives in the high desert near my home in Reno, Nevada, where I live with my wife and two daughters. Life had settled into a predictable and comfortable rhythm for our family. Two winters ago, however, I was quite unexpectedly notified that as a reservist in the US Navy I was going to be mobilized in the upcoming spring. I would be called to serve for one year in order to support a military unit in Afghanistan. The notification told me that I had about three months to prepare. Needless to say, many thoughts and emotions immediately flooded into my consciousness. My consciousness suddenly became more heightened, and I grew aware of every aspect of my life.
My immediate response was to focus on putting all of my affairs in as good an order as possible. Due to the training and preparation I had received I found this to actually be a fairly straightforward process. It included taking letting my employer know I was going to be gone for a year, completing a whole lot of pre-mobilization training and ensuring for the care of my family in their transition from a civilian family to an active duty military family. These things were fairly easily accomplished.
However, when I was visiting my Anthroposophical physician about one month prior to my mobilization, it was suggested that I see about learning some eurythmy exercises that might help me through the course of my impending journey and separation from my family. I had of course heard of eurythmy and had even practiced eurythmy at some events and classes that I had taken in the past. I immediately thought to myself, “Yes!!! I need to look into this”. So I contacted Cynthia Hoven, explained my situation, set an appointment, took a day off from work, and drove to Sacramento to the Rudolf Steiner College for my first session. In this and two more sessions Cynthia taught me several exercises that I could do for my own personal practice. These included what I will call warmups, threefold walking, contraction and expansion, and of course the Halleluiah exercise. I diligently practiced these exercises between each of our sessions so that I could ensure that I could remember them with my body and mind prior to my departure. I did this because I knew that I was going to have many demands, changes, challenges placed on me over the next year and I would not have too much opportunity to try and “remember” the exercises later. This initial commitment turned out to be very helpful.
When I first mobilized I did not immediately go to Afghanistan, but rather spent a month preparing and training in the United States. I took this time to make a nearly daily practice of incorporating the exercises into my personal practice. I managed to do them well over 90% of the time, even when this required me to wake up early before my fellow shipmates to be able to spend 15-20 minutes in the large open bay barracks in the dark. This room was a large space lined with bunk beds and lockers. Many people sleep and live in the barracks, yet is a very military environment.
Before long my preparations were complete, and I was on my way to Afghanistan with a brief stop in Germany and a couple of days stop in Kyrgyzstan along the way. I did not get any chances to do my exercises while I was travelling, but upon arriving in Afghanistan I was able to finally get some time and made a priority to resume my practice. It was at this time that I first became aware of a noticeable shift in my consciousness while doing these exercises. I felt how they enabled me to become more centered and more at peace with my surroundings. This was especially important to me now, for one of the many emotions that I had been experiencing was fear. This was the first time I actually had entered a “war zone.” I was surrounded by lots of armed people, given specific training on what to do in the event of an attack, and I had my own full body armor and helmet to wear, complete with my own personal arms to bear.
The next couple of weeks were a blur as I had to catch yet another flight to my final duty location, introduce myself to the folks who I would be working with, set up my accommodations, receive a full load of ammunition, recover from jet lag, start learning my new job, and acclimate myself to the higher altitudes of the Hindu Kush. As soon as possible, I also needed to find a time for physical training. I discovered I was able to incorporate my Eurythmy exercises in a quiet place after my “gym” time. I soon discovered that the best place for my eurythmy practice was my own room when my roommates were at work. Thank goodness that I did, because already within the first month I experienced the cacophony of a fire fight within a quarter mile of my location. I heard the full barrage of bombs, machine gun fire, and rocket propelled grenades. The eurythmy practice helped me to keep my equanimity.
I also faced other difficulties there. Several personalities made me uncomfortable in many different ways, my living accommodations were certainly less than what I was accustomed to, my ability to communicate with family back home was limited, and I was generally even less comfortable than I was even in the training prior to my actual deployment. I was struck by the realization that this was going to be my reality for the next 11 months, and pained by the thought that I was going to experience a near complete turn of the seasons in which I was going to miss every birthday, anniversary, and holiday at home with my family and friends. I knew that I had to choose how I was going to respond to this situation and that I could either work to be conscious in the situation or not. This was coupled with my personal belief that I had learned in studying the Hawaiian Ho’ Oponopono tradition, that everything around me was a result of my own creation or a reflection of some part of me. On some level, I had chosen to be in this world of discomfort, fear, exhaustion, different personalities, and imminent danger, through the culmination of my own thoughts and subsequent actions leading up to these moments.
I was tired at many levels and this provided many opportunities for what I call negative thoughts and emotions to manifest themselves in my consciousness. I soon experienced that the Eurythmy exercises were becoming a necessary part of what I call my soul and spiritual practice. I started to notice that when I did not do my “daily” practice I became more agitated and experienced a sort of disconnectedness from my body and immediate reality– whether I liked this reality or not.
One of the practices that Cynthia taught me was to do a series of three “Halleluiah’s:” one for myself, one for my spaces, and one for those who had crossed to the other side. My experience in the war zone provided me many opportunities to do this Halleluiah numerous times with what I call necessary conviction. I found myself grateful for the chance to ground myself, expand into my spaces and as well spaces of loved ones back home, and to release the impact of being near and around the death of many people. When I was doing these exercises I found myself mentally back at the Rudolf Steiner College in the small Eurythmy room grateful for the brief time away from my present circumstances.
I can most vividly remember doing these exercises right after receiving the news of death of others. One time in particular stands out for me. I had just arrived at a small base when reports of an attack that had just happened arrived. I witnessed what happened when the news was delivered, and even spoke with some of the people directly. Three service members had been killed, young men whose death was especially tragic. I could not wait to get back to my “quiet” place and do my exercise. This kind of experience occurred several times, and I have become more and more grateful for the opportunity to have the tools to do this.
Many times I felt myself wanting to go negative in terms of my thoughts and actions with the people I was working with or for, and in the past I would have become angry or bitter in similar circumstances. In my months in the war zone, I committed myself to work to not do this. The Halleluiah came to my rescue many times, because it enabled me to clear the spaces where I would meet with people in my mind. I have found it to be incredibly relieving and inspiring in my dealings in these uncomfortable situations to do Halleluiah’s both before and after these meetings. I was also able to allay some of my fears and concerns regarding my family by holding an image of my home during this exercise as well. I was also able to become more conscious of my own personal feelings and physical reactions while doing my exercises.
I would like to say that I have become a perfect practitioner, however, as it always seems to be when one climbs a hill I can see that there are many more hills to climb. I continue to make a regular practice of doing my exercises and see no reason to stop especially now that I am learning how to reintegrate back into my home life a changed person. The eurythmic exercises have withstood the forge and anvil of war and I can think of no good reason not to use them as I move forward.
Thoughts for St. John’s Tide (June 24)
To lofty summer heights,
The gleaming being of the Sun ascends;
It takes my human feeling
Along with it to space expanses.
In boding, there stirs with my being
A sensation, dimly heralding,
One day you will discern:
A godly being sensed in you.
From Rudolf Steiner’s Calendar of the Soul, June 9-15
It’s heating up here where I live, in Sacramento. Temperatures are peaking above 100 degrees, and we anticipate about 30 days of 3-digit heat this summer. The sun’s course across the sky approaches the absolute zenith, and the quality of the light is searing and relentless.
I am not a summer person, neither by inclination nor by constitution. The intense outer light and heat bore into me, and I find it hard to study and stay focused on my studying or consciousness work. I feel the sun burning into my crown chakra and I seek places of shade for respite.
At this season of the year, the marriage of the Sun with the Soul of the Earth has created the marvelous, multi-colored, multi-fragranced World of Nature. The seeds that were buried in the earth throughout the winter have left the nest of darkness, and the plants are daily drawn higher and higher, away from the earth. The Earth Soul now clothes herself in all the colors, fragrances, essential oils of the plant. These are enveloped by the frenzied dances of the birds, the dragonfies, the honeybees. The soul of the earth is ecstatic, as she celebrates a kind of sacred matrimony with the Sun. She holds nothing back, and loses herself in a divine cosmic union. It is said that the Earth is asleep in summer’s heat, and her sleep is in the arms of the sun.
How different this is from the depths of winter, when the soul of the earth chastely withdraws into herself! In the cold, dark time of the year, the Earth Soul is awake, covering herself with a blanket of snow and tending her seeds deep within in a sacred silence. In winter, it is the Sun who must go seeking, to find the soul of the earth in a different kind of marriage, deep in the hidden inner places.
In each season of the year, we humans are drawn into the recurring courtship of the sun and the earth. In winter, we draw inwards even as the Earth Soul does. We light candles for Christmas, and listen for the warmth of the heart fire.
At the summer solstice, however, we must open ourselves even as the Earth Soul does to the sources of life. Like the plants, we open ourselves to the cosmos. We are “turned inside out.”
And here, says Rudolf Steiner, is the true significance of the midsummer festival. This season is sacred to the Archangel Uriel, along with those spiritual beings close to him. This great spiritual being beholds US, in the naked openness of our inside-out souls.
In this season, our thoughts, our feelings, and, most importantly of all, THE EFFECTS OF ALL OF OUR DEEDS are “read” by the spiritual beings. It is in this season that the spiritual beings who are connected with earth clearly perceive what we are doing with our lives and with our planet. And the colors and fragrance that they perceive are the colors and fragrances of our morality.
If this is true—–what will be the response? If their dispassionate gaze sees us and our deeds clearly, what will they reflect back to us to help us evolve towards our human-earthly future?
In the Christian tradition, the festival of St. John is celebrated on June 24, three days after the solstice. John the Baptist was known as the “last prophet,” the hermit in the desert who baptized the man Jesus so that he could become the bearer of the Christ. John, they say, was a tremendous orator. Clothed in animal skins and eating only the food of the desert, he must have been a wild site to behold. He could perhaps have exalted his own personality so that people would worship and idolize himself.
But John the Baptist made himself subservient to a higher calling, and through his words we perceive the gesture of the midsummer sun. John said of Jesus, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” The midsummer sun will soon decrease so that the Inner Sun can appear in midwinter. And John, a radiant sun-like being, is willing to let his own light fade, so that he can make room for a new kind of spiritual awakening on the earth. He can foresee the mantra, “Not I, but Christ in me.”
Passing through the heart of summer, our answer to the Uriel challenge can be: “My I, my small all-too-human I, must decrease. so that the greater cosmic I-AM may live through me, aligning and guiding my personal biography and morality with the great Cosmic I-Am.
The beauty of the world
Compels me from the depth of soul
That I release to cosmic flight
The godly force of my own life:
To leave myself below
And trusting, seek myself
In cosmic light and cosmic warmth.
From Rudolf Steiner’s Calendar of the soul, June 24
China May 2016: Teaching in China
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I have just returned from my second trip to China this spring, my sixth trip in the past 3 years. In this issue, I would like to describe some of the communities I have been working with there.
There has been an enormous growth in Waldorf education in China, beginning in the early 2000’s. The Canadian-Chinese Harry Lee was one of the first inaugurators, who helped start the first school in Chengdu, in the heartland of China. Australian Ben Cherry and his wife have since stepped in to play a very important role in helping school communities around the country get started. (A parallel but independent movement has also been growing in Taiwan, with perhaps one of the largest Waldorf schools in the world: this merits a full essay on its own someday!)
Contemporary public school education in China is very tight. Students study extremely long hours each day, often continuing their studies in “cram schools” late into the evenings. The curriculum is very much oriented towards training the students to successfully pass the highly competitive college-entrance exams, and students live under a great deal of stress. Of course, this kind of education emphasizes multiple-choice tests and answers, and has the real danger of stifling original, creative thinking.
The citizens who have found Waldorf education hope it will help shift this paradigm. There are Waldorf Schools popping up all over the country, and almost all are illegal or at least “outside of the law.” (Several schools, however, are currently being supported by their district heads of education, which is a hopeful development.) At last count I had heard of over 400 Waldorf-inspired kindergartens and small schools, and one developing high school. Numbers are slippery, however, and I am fairly certain that no one knows how many initiatives there are.
Unfortunately, there is no way that there could be enough teachers to fill all these schools.
With the rapid growth of the Waldorf movement, schools are growing far faster than it is possible for teachers to be trained. Despite everyone’s best effort, trainings are, of necessity, short and fast. For this reason, I perceive a huge challenge for teachers to learn the basic philosophical underpinnings of anthroposophy. And if this foundation cannot be laid, teachers only work out of techniques, and not out of insight into how and why it works. Only if foundation studies can be developed that help really understand what they are doing will they be able to work creatively with Waldorf education. The consistent problem that I meet in China is that the enthusiasm for Waldorf Education is not supported by sufficient anthroposophically-rooted work.
In short: the schools are in grave danger of only giving the appearance of being Waldorf schools without developing the skills necessary for future autonomy or for building a contextualized currciculum. Some schools are carried by eager but inadequately trained parents, and some by financial speculators who hope to make a tidy business by funding Waldorf kindergartens.
In almost every school I visit, teachers want to organize their own local, in-house teacher training. However, this only compounds the difficulties of establishing a sufficiently deep basis for common understanding among schools.
Because I meet these challenges wherever I go, I am vigorously trying to encourage the schools that I come into contact with to consolidate their teacher training programs into several main centers, and also to develop consistent Waldorf school standards to certify that the schools have enough qualified teachers to ensure high quality schools.
Currently, the Chinese Waldorf movement is trying to focus on developing certification programs in four or five major centers.
- Beijing, in the north, is the capital city; it has a no-nonsense executive flair.
- Xi’an, in the middle, was the ancient home of the Qi dynasty, where the terra-cotta warriors were created. It feels old and culturally dense.
- Chengdu, in the west, is the home of the first (and largest) Waldorf school, and reminds me of the American heartland.
- Guangzhou, in the south, is only miles from HongKong, and one can feel a breathe of international openness there.
- The eastern coast also needs a Waldorf training center, but it isn’t clear yet, if one might be created in the fast-moving megapolis Shanghai or in the ancient capital city nearby, Nanjing.
Support for this initiative towards centralization is met in part by skepticism, because schools seem to be afraid of any possible element of “dogmatism.” I engage in many conversations trying to overcome this kind of resistance.
Building on my background as a Eurythmist and lecturer for Foundation Studies, most of my own teaching work in China focuses on the basic principles of anthroposophy, enlivened by really accessible eurythmy experiences. I have done this as part of the teacher trainings, and also as part of general community outreach work. I often work with the parents and community members as well as with teachers. I have been to all five of the major cities, but also work with some of the smaller schools as well. (On this last trip, for instance, I visited the coastal city of QingDao. which quickly became my favorite city in China, with its clean beaches, its bay ideally suited for the 2008 Olympics sailing events, and its surrounding mountains.)
I have cultivated a special offering for the communities where I teach, enlivening foundation studies through movement practices. Having taught these for over 25 years, I offer many things: Eurythmy, the Nature of the Human Being, Yin/Yang and Creation Myths in conjunction with Cosmic and Human Evolution, Life before Birth and after Death, Human Biography and Life Cycles, Developing Etheric Vision, Fundamentals of Biodynamics (with Harald), Group Processes and Coaching. Due to my background in the sciences, my experiences in the East and my studies of eastern philosophy, I understand the Eastern mind and paradigms. I am committed to helping bridge the Eastern and Western mind.
I seek above all to bring the teachings to people in a way that they feel moved in the hearts and understand what it means to “wake up.” I avoid what students tell me they often get: “cook-book anthroposophy that teaches the head but not the heart.” (This is what I teach around the world, including in many communities in the US.)
“Please help us to become more human”
Twelve months ago, I taught a two-week course in the Chengdu Community Education program. In the second week of that work, we began to speak of the eternal nature of the human spirit, and looked at the story of life before birth and after death. In time, the women dared to ask me, “What happens when we abort a child?” Knowing that many, if not most, Chinese women have had one or more abortions, I delicately found my way into this exploration of their deep wound. This work opened new levels of intimacy and candor I could not have anticipated.
This past year, these same women wrote to me with the request to begin a new work with them. They asked if I could come and offer a full training on Eurythmy, inner work and biography, saying, “We feel that we are becoming hardened, like robots. Please help us to become more human.” This request touched me deeply, and I knew that the unique gift of Eurythmy as a Personal Practice, combined with practices from self-transformation workshops and coaching would be able to answer their need.
This May we held our first five-day workshop, focusing on questions such as: What are the archetypes of man and woman? How do we meditate? What is biography work? With two lecture periods a day and two eurythmy classes, they could feel themselves getting out of their heads and into their hearts and bodiesBased on the success of this workshop, we are planning for more in the future.
My journey in China has many installments in the years to come. I also look forward to sharing more of these journeys with my husband Harald in the future. And although I am sure I will not move to China, I plan to return to offer the gifts that Rudolf Steiner offered to the world.
(PS: My husband and I are currently preparing to bring our workshops to two or three cities in Mexico next month. Life is full of surprises.)
China Blog May 2016
I have just returned from my second trip to China this spring, my fourth trip of the past 12 months. As I am fond of saying, “It is really fulfilling work, but a very LONG commute.”
When I was a young woman, fresh out of college, I boldly decided to travel to India. I began with four months in Europe, then traveled overland through the Middle East, and finally arrived in India, where I stayed for four months and—(unsuccessfully)—sought for a spiritual path I could resonate with. My trip continued to the East, taking me through Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, and culminated with a year in Japan. I ended up spending fully two years on the road, discovering how many ways there are to experience human life. The experiences in the far east changed my inner life in many ways, as I encountered levels of historical depths, cultural beauty and interpersonal sensitivity that I hadn’t met back home in Chicago.
My experiences there were so life-changing that, although my next years were more oriented towards Europe as I immersed myself in Anthroposophical studies, I always had a presentiment that I would return someday, to take up work in the east again.
I never expected, however, that I would begin in China.
In those days, China was still a closed country, and I had to circumvent it. However, for the last 25 years or so, China has opened its doors to the world, and it is currently in the midst of extraordinary change. Among other things, in the 2000’s the Waldorf school movement began to take root there, and by now there are some 400 Waldorf kindergartens and small schools there, with more being founded yearly.
Several hundred lecturers and workshop leaders from the western world—Canada, the US, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Holland (to name a few) who are helping to guide this movement. In addition to several Waldorf teacher training courses, there are also initiative for anthroposophical medical work, rhythmical massage training, business consulting services, eurythmy training initiatives, a Bothmer gymnastics training, and more, sprouting up all over the country.
And so I too have spent quite a bit of time recently in China. My first teaching trip was in 2013, and I have just returned from my 6th trip. In the past twelve months I visited four times, numbering a total of about sixty days. The work there is fascinating, intense, rich, frustrating, multi-faceted, and concerning. I have been asked time and again by my hosts there in various cities to make a permanent move to China, set up a eurythmy school, carry responsibility for a Waldorf school, create a BD farm initiative with my husband or commit to any number of other projects, but I don’t feel the call to move there. Life, however, continues to take me there and give me extremely meaningful opportunities to do some of the most creative work I am doing anywhere on the planet.
I find that the Chinese people are truly hungry for anthroposophical work—far more so than I have found in the western world since the 1980s. Yet every time I go, I am vividly aware of the urgent need for us foreign teachers to learn to contextualize the way we teach there. Anyone who teaches in China is well-advised to school themselves well in the Chinese history, lest what the westerners teach be a kind of cultural imperialism.
It would be a grave mistake to overlook the difference between the paradigms that Rudolf Steiner’s work is based on—thousands of years of Western philosophy—and the even longer history of philosophical traditions of the East, tracing back to Lao Tzu, the Yellow Emporer and others.
The path of the west is based on western philosophy, on rationalism, on phenomenological experience of the world, of developing the human ego and unfolding it in freedom.
Traditional Chinese culture, on the other hand, rests upon the tenets of Confucianism, Taosim, Buddhism. The basic world view is dualistic (yin/yang). The relationship to religion is frequently superstitious. The sense of the ego, or I-Am, as the central human consciousness, is awakening rapidly, but in an abstract way: society always asks the individual to retreat for the good of the society. Furthermore, there is no innate sense of freedom. There is no history of scholarly examination, no phenomenology. There is a tremendous drive towards consumerism. Whatever ancient sense of reverence for the elders there might have been, whatever tradition of ancient knowledge existed in the past, were systematically wiped out through the cultural revolution. What we have now is a generation of 50 and 60-year-olds who suffered more than we can imagine in the Cultural Revolution, a generation of 30- and 40-year olds who were parented by those broken people, the 20-somethings who are tremendously materialistic, but as tuned-in as their contemporaries in the west, and young people commonly referred to as “little emporers,” because their parents don’t discipline them.
The result is a modern culture largely bereft of their cultural heritage. The Chinese are an immensely proud and driven people, and their society racing at break-neck speed towards consumerism and modernity. And I only dare to make these assertions because my Chinese friends themselves have brought these concerns to me.
The Chinese people I meet are very fast and smart and need to be well respected. Yet they also have a deep hunger for substance that hasn’t been offered to them in their own world. Indeed, wherever I teach, I find people who are profoundly longing to find a spiritual orientation for their lives.
I would like to offer a snapshot of what I have experienced in China. In doing so, I confess I may have some facts wrong, because one of the difficulties of living and working there is that things change so fast that one never feels one has a complete picture.
China is approximately as large as the United States, and most of the population in located in the eastern half of the country.
The air pollution and environmental degradation are, in fact, as extreme as we have been told. Rarely can one see the moon or the stars in the east of the country, and often even the sun is only a pale ball in the sky.
Chinese traffic is amazing. Drivers weave through traffic, cutting each other off with impunity.
Pedestrian traffic runs in a similar manner. People cut into lines all the time, seemingly without offending anyone. My Chinese friends tell me that they are expected to learn and practice tolerance from a very young age.
Chinese architecture is nothing less than stunning, especially in the really large cities. Shanghai, for instance, with a population around 28 million, is the most international city I know on the planet, and its hundreds of skyscrapers are beautiful, creative, playful and breathtaking. At night most of them are lit from the top to the bottom with multi-colored LED lights, making a unique cityscape that never fails to impress me.
I have seen many of the truly great cities of the world, and Shanghai surely ranks as one of the most international places on the planet. Despite the inevitable pockets of poverty, it is fast, jazzy, blues-y, sophisticated, intelligent, and fun. The streets are crowded by day, as millions of pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders, cars and trucks jostle for position. Street-side cafes (yes, Starbucks, of course) and Chinese noodle shop line the streets. Dark alleys are still lined by Chinese traditional homes, often without indoor plumbing, but they are being replaced block-by-block by new, clean, and largely gorgeous neighborhoods. My sister and brother-in-law have lived there for 6 years, and I end each of my Chinese trips with a stay with them in their 42nd-floor apartment that looks out upon the city through the smog (a good day has an air-pollution rating of 100, and visibility on a good day is about 10 miles). Yet the city is fun, with great food, fabulous bath houses and massages, the spectacular Bund (waterfront park and promenade), and international cuisine.
I have also been to the more rustic small villages, such as are found in the southern province of Yunaan. There the traffic is still crazy, Chinese-style, but the people are somewhat more relaxed. In some of the small towns, it is impossible to walk the streets without being stared at by local people or photographed by image-hungry people.
I have also been to nature parks, to the terra-cotta warriors of Emporer Qi ( which was in concept and design uncannily similar to the Egyptian tombs), and to visit the panda bears near Chengdu. I have been so lucky to have seen more of China than many Chinese people have. I know it to be a country in rapid change, with enormous wealth in the cities and crushing rural poverty in the outlying areas. I have heard people assert
“We are so free in this country,” and others say “We only think we are free because we have no idea what freedom is. We don’t know how it could be different.”
My work there has largely been in conjunction with the Waldorf communities there. Because of that, I have had very deep and personal questions about life, meaning, and spirituality with people who are striving to wake up. I honor and respect these people, and hope to bring them a compass for their lives with the help of Anthroposophy.
In my next blog, I will describe my teaching experiences in depth.
In beautiful language, Rudolf Steiner writes that if there had existed a person who could have watched the earth from the vantage point of outer space through long ages of time, that person would have perceived one moment when the aura of the earth suddenly, and dramatically changed. That, he writes, was the moment of the crucifixion of the Jesus on Good Friday, when the blood of the Sun Being, who lived in Jesus as a man, fell upon the earth and entered it as a new medicine. At that moment, the earth was imbued with limitless vitality, with the Life, Light and Love of the Creator. Though the drops were but few, the aura of the earth began to glow, and this radiance has grown—and continues to grow– more powerful, more beautiful and more radiant with every cycle of the seasons.
When the Creator entered the earth as a human being, he placed himself directly into this material world. Here, he allowed himself to be crucified. Then, by continually affirming His spiritual nature, He was able to overcome Death, embracing it with the love of the spiritual world. The seed-force of the spirit now lives as spiritual potentiality right in the heart of the material world. As this seed-force continues to grow, it touches and changes all the substance of the earth.
Yet before His crucifixion, Christ told his disciples that still one more blessing would come to them after His death. He told them that he would send to them the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Something more was to be given to the human race than what was given to the material world.
Fifty days after Easter, the 12 disciples and Mother Mary were gathered together in the Upper Room, to mark the Jewish festival of Pentecost. They were filled with longing and sadness because they could no longer feel the Christ, who had been with them physically for three years. Although they had experienced the Resurrection, they could not directly perceive him in their midst.
It is said that as they shared their urgent longing for Him, the atmosphere of prayer in the room became charged. Suddenly the room was filled with flames of fire, as if a thunderstorm had broken into the room. Each individual vividly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit “descending upon him” and then working inside his own mind, comforting him and clarifying for him the entire meaning of the Christian mystery. Each person had an individual experience, within his or her own consciousness, and yet each could understand the other person with perfect clarity. The mood of transformation and en-lightenment was palpable, for each person was changed profoundly.
Later, when they left the room and walked the streets, they were able to speak about their experiences in such a way that everyone else could understand them. In fact, the story speaks of how the disciples eventually journeyed to other lands, and it was as if they each had become multi-lingual, able to describe in any and all languages what they had experienced. Through the activity engendered by the Holy Spirit, they were able to inspire others to understand the working of the Christ within themselves, with all persons, and on the earth.
What is significant about this story is that the experience created the possibility for each person to know in his or her own self the truth about the spiritual world. This represents a next step in the evolution of humanity. Until this point, human beings had experienced how the Spirit worked upon them from the outside. Humans felt that the spiritual world was “up there,” “beyond them,” in another sphere. As our human consciousness evolved, we needed to be taught about this divine spiritual world by the great teachers who walked with us and led us in prayer and ritual. We were taught to be obedient and mindful of the right ways of living to honor and respect our Creator, even when we could feel our own perception of the spiritual world fading. Spiritual experience became rules, became dogma.
This was the human condition until the event of Whitsun. For the Easter event was not complete until one more step was taken: to become completely self-aware spiritual beings, each person needed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in their own core.
It is said that the Holy Spirit has worked upon humanity in different ways through the ages. In ancient times, it was revealed through outer thunder and miracles, through the voices of the prophets and kings. In our age, however, the age of the Consciousness Soul, the Holy Spirit now sparks human beings from within. We are each tasked with finding in ourselves the voice of the Spirit. This voice speaks in a different way to each person, and yet unites us all. It is a voice that can and will bring all of humanity together, in which we all become conscious of how the Creator Spirit lives in and on the earth and unites all persons, totally irrespective of the names of religions that seemingly separate us. And however difficult our lives are in these turbulent years of the 21st century, those who seek will be able to find the reality of the seed-forces of Life and Light and Love that have been laid in the earth.
We human beings have only just begun to understand what it will mean to truly be a human being. If we can imagine the immensity of the spiritual world, the limitless consciousness and power of the Creator, we can realize that the possibilities of our future evolution are unlimited. We, too, can become like gods, for we were made in His image.
Through the gift of Easter, we have been vouchsafed a promise that we need not be bound by the chains of death. We will find a way forwards, back to the Creator.
Through the gift of Whitsun, we will not only be carried towards this future: we will become individually conscious in it. Through this, the Creator being evolves towards his perfection. For through this, those beings whom S/He created will themselves be able to evolve limitless consciousness, and perfectly mirror the Creator’s infinite nature.
“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.”
A Meditation on a Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins
It is late February where I live, here in California, and the triumphant forces of springtime are everywhere. After the welcome rains of winter, the dandelions now festoon my yard with their brilliant yellow cups. The early fruit trees —plums, almonds, apricots, wild pears—are crowned with delicate pink and white blossoms, and the air is so rich with their fragrance it is nearly intoxicating. The earliest seedlings are beginning to emerge, and the yellow calendulas and blue forget-me-nots will soon cover the garden beds. My husband’s beautiful biodynamic vegetable garden is now putting forth its bounty of spring lettuces and other greens, providing delicious and nurturing meals for the dozens of shareholders he feeds. On the fields, the new-born lambs are gaining their wobbly legs and will soon be racing about the fields.
Early spring is a beautiful season in California. The air is sweet, the temperatures are mild, and the senses are filled to overflowing. My heart is glad.
These are the pictures that the exquisite poet Gerard Manley Hopkins frames in loving words in my favorite poem, “Spring.” This wonderful sonnet open with a joyful celebration of budding growth, blue skies and racing lambs. The poet then declares that this power of spring gives us a moment to live each year as if in the paradise garden of earth’s beginning, when we were given the delights of the sense world to taste and to savor. “Have, get!” he declares, receive the gift of creation!
Yet paradise did not continue forever. In the Christian calendar, this season is called Lent. This is a season of conscious repentance and sobriety. We are reminded that spiritual traditions around the world have considered fasting and self-discipline to be important steps on the journey towards self-realization.
If we choose to live through this season as a spiritual quest, we are asked to hold in mind the counter-picture of joyful spring. We must not only rejoice in spring’s fecundity: we must also face its shadow-side, the dilemma of too much “astrality,” too much greed and too little kindness.
We as a humanity have eagerly tasted the fruits of the earth and harvested the gifts of nature, but in such excess that we ourselves have brought about the end of paradise. This is all too evident in the sad and evil news that we read and hear every day. Global warming, homelessness and refugees, politics and enmity: all these are created out of our own misdeeds. And even if I myself bear goodwill towards the downtrodden and miserable, I am complicit in the web of destructive deeds that have marred the Garden of Eden. I cannot escape this awareness at any time, for even as I walk through these spectacular spring days, my thoughts are not consistently kind and loving. I must work the complexity of my humanness every day.
This is the mystery of the season of Lent.
All of us were created in the springtime of the world, in the spirit of Love and Life and Abundance.
Each of us bears within us the sting of death, evil and illness.
And each one of us, vouchsafed the gift of Free Will, has the possibility of overcoming these negative attributes at any moment of time. We can do this, if we are willing to relinquish our self-seeking drives and activate the divine forces within us, through conscious thinking, feeling and willing.
The vision of Easter speaks of the power of resurrection. Here we are presented with a mystery so great that it takes a whole lifetime to solve. How could the Creator Spirit that brought this whole universe into being, touch into this realm of darkness and retrieve it without violating humanity’s free will? How could the Spirit of Love extend a hand to us without forcing us to take it?
Many traditions speak of the childlike nature, the inncoence of an enlightened person. They speak of “the eyes of a child,” or “beginner’s mind.” Can we become such beginners that we evolve beyond our self-serving desires and once again see the world with the eyes of a child and gladly grasp the outstretched hand of love?
At the end of his poem “Spring,” Hopkins pens an elegant tribute to Easter. This beauty of Spring, he writes, is
“Most, oh maid’s child, Thy choice,
and worthy the winning.”
This, the earth, the passion and power and life and abundance of spring, is what the Christmas child chose to be born into. This is where the Creator Spirit chose to be become human. Becoming human was death for His unlimited nature. Yet in death, He found a way to reach into our own dark places. If we can return His love for us, we can find the forces of resurrection. We can choose to be in conscious and loving relationship with the Earth and with all beings who live upon it. We can extend this love to all beings of the universe, who have participated in our becoming.
This is “worthy the winning.”
Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing:
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; the blue is all in a rush
With richness: the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning,
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning.
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
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The Hidden Gifts of Winter
In these dark evening hours, the rain is pouring over my roof, making its welcome music as it splatters through the trees and onto the ground. I love our California winters. Their cold and dark are enough to drive me indoors, but not as bitter as my childhood winters in Chicago were, when my tiny fingers became number with cold and the wind cut through my clothes, no matter how many layers I wore.
Our California winters echo these extremes more gently, but still invite me to draw near to our wood stove and take advantage of the long, quiet evenings to study and read. In winter, I like to go deep and turn my thoughts to winter things. My mind becomes more quiet, as my inner life becomes more rich.
My human experience is thus aligned with the experience of the natural world. As the animals become quiet, or even draw into their caves to hibernate, the movements of the natural world become hushed. The trees become bare, the annual plants wither away, and the earth pulls a blanket of darkness around her. As the sun and the earth turn their backs upon each other for a season, the earth is breathes her life into herself.
Rudolf Steiner tells us that the movements of the planets around the sun are more than mere mechanical phenomena: they are the expression of the movements of spiritual beings. These may at times affect one another closely, and at other times move apart and become relatively independent. The changing relationships of the spiritual beings of the sun and the earth in specific are the archetypes of the seasons.
In a beautiful meditative verse, Dr. Steiner speaks of how we can experience the dynamic life of the soul of the earth through the changing faces of the seasons. He says the earth-soul is awake in deep winter. When she is furthest away from the direct forces of the sun, she harbors within herself the wisdom of the plant world, entrusted to her through the untold billions of seeds that rest in her. All the seeds carry in themselves the archetypal forces of the planets and constellations, and we can imagine them scattered as stars buried in the soil. Her consciousness is quieted, and she enters into quiet communion with these star forces.
We are also invited to imagine that, buried under the protective mantel of fallen leaves and drifting snow, the rocks and crystals are re-enlivened in deep winter. They, too, are quickened through the star forces in the earth. And we can imagine how it might be that the metals in the earth are energetically freed in deep winter, so their forces seem to flow as rivers through the veins of ore deep beneath the surface.
As the season begins to turn towards spring, however, the forces of potentiality hidden beneath the surface begin to become physical realities. The promise of the seeds will give way to material form. The soul of the earth becomes the bride of the sun, and allows herself to be clothed in the beautiful garments of the plant world. From the greening of the leaves to the rainbow colors of the flowers, and on to the dizzying flights of the insects as they dance through the heady fragrances of the blossoms, the earth-soul manifests herself in the life of nature. And perhaps we are surprised to consider that the soul of the earth is asleep when she has poured all of her thoughts into material expression in the forms of nature.
Asleep is the soul of the earth in summer’s heat, While far are spread the shining rays of sun in space. Awake is the soul of the earth winter’s sleep, While deep within brightens in spirit the real sun. Summer’s day of joy For earth is sleep. Winter’s holy night For earth is day.
(verse by Rudolf Steiner)
For us as human beings, these two dynamic seasons offer us the opportunity to experience two faces of the World Creator. In summer, we can open ourselves in praise and gratitude to the magnificence of the created world. It is a season for outer adventure, for celebration of the life of the senses, for looking for God’s signature in all the colors and fragrances and shapes and sounds of the natural world.
In winter, however, we can turn our attention inwards. We can use this time to listen to how the creator lives inside of us. In winter, our thoughts can become cleaner and clearer, and if we polish them with our attention they shine with crystal clarity. We will find that the star forces of the universe live as seed forces inside of us, and through our exercises in consciousness we can bring them to life.
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During the Holy Nights of the 12 Days of Christmas, we can cultivate an especially close relationship to the spiritual world.
Each night when we sleep, our higher bodies—the ego and the astral body—slip out of the sleeping physical and etheric bodies and expand into the spiritual realms, which are their true home. From there, our higher selves can reflect on what we have experienced on the earth, and from this higher perspective we can align ourselves with intentions for how to live the day to come. And from these starry realms, we draw strength and healing for the physical and etheric bodies with which we re-unite upon awakening.
In these twelve holy days and nights, the heavenly worlds are especially open to us. Our sleep is deeper, and our dreams more profound. This is the time to go “fishing” in the spiritual world for inspiration and insights into the new year.
There are many living traditions associated with these holy nights. As the twelve nights correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac, so, it is said, the weather on the twelve days give a pre-vision of the weather to be had in the twelve months to come.
On an more personal and more intimate level, the dreams that we have in these nights may give us an indication of the events of life we will meet in the year to come. Many people choose to work vigorously on their dream journals in these days, to be in touch with the guidance that they may be given at night.
The New Year’s celebration marks the half-way point in the 12 Days of Christmas. Now we can discern a very palpable shift in the energy of the season. The quiet intimacy of Christmas Eve begins to fade, as we prepare to step into the new year and what it will bring.
In these days we can invite our dreams to turn towards our intentions for the year to come.
This is the time to give birth to our intentions for what is to come. Over the course of the next 6 days, from now until January 5th, you can work meditatively with the question of how you want to shape your life in the year to come.
Perhaps you can choose to focus on one higher value, one special purpose.
What might it be? Integrity? Commitment? Focus? Joy? Abundance? Presence?
As I consider the needs of our planet, I am acutely aware of how much we need human beings who are conscious, committed and awake. Let us, as individuals and together, cultivate love, seek for clarity of thought, and work vigorously for the betterment of our world.
Celebrating The Animals in the Stable
On Christmas Eve, the festival of the Nativity, time seems to stand still. For as long as I can remember, the elements grow calm on Christmas Eve. Even storms that have been forecast seem to hold back on that evening, as a mantel of stillness spreads around the globe. For on that night, the earth remembers the birth of the one called the Prince of Peace.
The sacred hour of Christmas happens at midnight, the darkest time of the night. At midnight, when the earth is wrapped in sleep, it remembers the birth of light that happened long ago, at the turning point of time. At that hour, a child was born who would prepare himself to become the earthly bearer of the World Creator, the Christ. It is said that this birth had been prepared over long ages of time. For earth evolution to take its next step, it was necessary that a human being would be born who would be able to sustain the purity of soul, the strength and health of the body, and the clarity of consciousness necessary to receive into himself the divine I-AM. The constitution of this child was so harmonious that body, soul and spirit would be able to be in perfect harmony. This person, the first Son of Man, would embody the prototype that all human beings can evolve towards.
On that cold and dark night in the Middle East, the earthly journey of this human child began in great humility. The Gospel of St. Luke tells us that Jesus was born in the most simple of circumstances. His mother gave birth to her son in a stable, possibly in a cave. Nestled into a manger, he was received into the earth even as a seed is laid into the ground. Around he stood were the goodly animals of the stable, kind creatures who embody the pure elements of the soul.
An old legend tells that those animals in the stall that witnessed the birth of the child who would embody the World Creator, the Cosmic Word, were able to understand human speech on that night. Even as the rocks and the plants, even as the simple shepherds who came to offer their gifts and the angels in the skies, the beasts of the stable were present to welcome his coming. And for that, on that one night, they were released from their mute language and become our soul-kin. And even today, it is said, the animals draw nearer to us at Christmas than at any other time in the year, to hear and understand our speech.
On Christmas Eve, my family and I turn off all of our electric devices. We light a fire in our wood stove and use candles for illumination. We eat a simple meal, and speak in quiet voices, attentive to the blessing spirit of the night.
Late in the evening, some of our dear friends come to our home to be gather around our tree and sing songs. We then take our candles and leave the house. We walk to the farm that is my husband’s creation, directly behind our home. We visit first the cows in the stable and sing to them. Then we trudge across the fields in the darkness to the bees in their hives and the chickens in their coops, the sheep in the stall and the ducks pen. We sing and speak to the animals, and thank them for their gifts.
If time permits, we walk further, down to the river where we may hear the salmon jumping and the beaver slipping into the water.
In the silence of that night, I can feel a wave of world-peace spreading around the world. It has already been midnight in many, many time zones on earth, and people are already sleeping their mid-winter dreams. And as they sleep, they are blest by the spirit of Christmas.
The blessing of Christmas Eve continues for twelve nights, the so-called “Twelve Days of Christmas.” During these twelve nights, the World Creator Spirit draws near to the earth. Even as the earth herself receives life forces for her sustenance and growth in the dark of winter, so too do we receive the deepest blessings of the spiritual world at Christmas. It is possible to become conscious of these deep processes, if we learn to pay attention, especially at night.
My wish and hope for all humanity is that we will be able to open ourselves in this Christmas season to receive the living good-will, love and wisdom of the Creative World as they shine down to the earth, and take root not only all around us but deep within our own hearts.
The Sun at the Midnight Hour
Winter Solstice marks the turning point of the year.
The earth has reached its deepest angle of inclination, and will begin to turn itself again.
Or, in other words, the sun is now at its deepest point in the sky (for us in the northern latitudes). The night has reached its climax: the earth is dark and cold, and seemingly cut off from the sun.
If we lived in the furthest northern regions, perhaps without even the comforts of electricity and indoor heating, we would know the fear of the winter months. Without the certainty that the sun will ever return, we would know the challenge of living in the dark, with only our faith to assure us that we have food, fuel and warmth enough to last through the winter months.
The spiritual teachers of ancient cultures, priests and priestesses alike, acted as guardians of the wisdom of the seasons. They were responsible for marking the two solstices and two equinoxes through ceremonies and monuments. It was who erected the massive stone monuments in alignment with the declination of the sun to mark these four turning points.
The ceremonies that were held at each season were appropriate to the lesson that each had to offer.
The mystery of midwinter was called “learning to behold the Sun at the Midnight Hour.”
We know from the Celtic mysteries that on the long night of the solstice, the teachers and their students entered into caves or hollows. Through their spiritual understanding, they confronted their fear of darkness and abandonment. They knew that when the earth is at its darkness, we have a unique opportunity to turn our attention away from the sense world. They knew that the solstice is the best time to perceive the Creative Forces that lie behind all sense phenomena. They used the experience of the solstice shadows to seek and find the sources of world creation as a spiritual light that shines in the darkness. This is called “Finding the Sun at the midnight hour.”
All spiritual realities have multiple levels of meanings. The solstice shows us one aspect of the Midnight Hour, but we can find this on myriad other levels as well. And all of them point ultimately to the Midnight Hour when the Christmas Child was born in the manger in the darkest hours of world evolution.
The midnight hour happens each night when we go to sleep. At the deepest point of each night, we are moving through the highest spiritual realties. Those who have attained the ability to perceive the source of their own I-Am as the Cosmic I-Am will be awake even at night. There they behold the Sun at the Midnight Hour.
On an ever grander scale, the midnight hour also happens for us between each of our lifetimes. As we journey away from the earth after each life, we move back into spiritual realms. At last we reach draw near to the loftiest spiritual beings, to the Creative Word. Before the majesty of these beings, our personal consciousness is dimmed, almost to the point of unconsciousness. Those who can sustain awareness of self even in the field of universal spirit mind will find that they are able to do so only when they can awaken in themselves the awareness of the Cosmic I-Am spirit. This spirit is the spirit that shines as the Sun at the Midnight Hour. This is the same Sun that the initiates seek at the midwinter solstice.
All these mysteries point to the grandest mystery of all, the birth of the Cosmic I-Am on Earth, at the Turning Point of Time.
Our human nature was originally one with the earth spirit, born out of the Creative Worlds. As we grew in perfection, the Creator Gods set us free, and the earth became material. As far as we know, ours is the most advanced, the most complex, and also the most bereft condition in the universe.
Only a few millennia ago, our Earth condition reached a point of deepest darkness.
From the perspective of the spiritual world, the earth had slipped into a condition of pure darkness.
The earth existed in a condition of permanent midnight.
At this Cosmic Midnight Hour, the World Creator freely chose to enter into this world of matter. S/He became a Sun on Earth, became light within the darkness.
Herein lies the real meaning of learning to behold the Sun at the Midnight Hour. If we seek and find the World Creator on the earth, we can experience that S/He shines on the earth as divine consciousness even as S/He shines in our consciousness as the essential I-Am that we are.
In times past, we could find our Creator in the Heavens above.
Now we find the Creator even here, in the world of the senses, and here in the core of our own heart and mind.
The yearly festival of the solstice marks the point when the darkness again turns towards the light.
What better season to celebrate the birth of the child, who would grow to be the bearer of the Spirit Light of the World, here on the earth?
This is the true meaning of the Turning Point of Time.
Now the twilight of the year
Comes, and Christmas draweth near.
See, across the Advent sky
How the clouds move slowly by.
Earth is waiting, wrapped in sleep,
Waiting in a slumber deep.
Waiting for the Christmas birth,
The birth that blesses Heaven and Earth.
In this beautiful dark season of the year, the seeds of new life are being laid into the earth. All the kingdoms of nature take part in the dying and the birth, as the earth inhales her life forces and wraps herself in blankets of leaves and drifts of snow.
And even as the outer world marks the season with the madness of pre-holiday shopping and feasting, another sacred festival is being prepared. The mid-winter festival is a festival of communion for the universe and the earth. The sacrament of birth is celebrated every year anew, in the humble place of the manger, in the listening human heart, in the deep center of the earth .
The four weeks preceding Christmas are called Advent, meaning “Coming towards.” The great Sun-Spirit of the Macrocosm “comes towards” the earth every Christmas, to be born in the Microcosm of the earth, in the microcosmic heart of the human being. And just as a mother must wait through a pregnancy until she gives gift to her child, so we must wait through the season of Advent as a kind of world-pregnancy. This is a season of waiting and envisioning, a season to prepare ourselves to connect with the spirit who wills to In the four weeks of Advent, the four kingdoms of Nature are each blessed, one by one, as the earth inhales, the seeds are laid beneath the ground, and the Spirit draws near, approaching from the heights of heaven to the depths of earth.
Many people choose to create a quiet ritual for Advent season, by preparing a table with four candles to notate the four weeks of Advent. In the first week, one single candle is lit daily to signify the mineral kingdom. In the second week, a second candle is also lit, for the plant kingdom; in the third week, a third is lit for the animal kingdom; and in the fourth week, a fourth is lit for the human kingdom.
This simple ritual prepares us then for the darkness of the midnight hour, Christmas Eve, when those who understand the esoteric nature of Christmas listen at the midnight hour for the sacred marriage of heaven and earth. At Christmas, the cosmic spirit of the heights enters into the non-physical space of the human heart.
In the deep darkness of a winter night, in the dark of the cave where the child is born, the mystery of birth will be celebrated. Christmas is the season to celebrate the birth of light in the darkness, the birth of spirit being in the darkness of matter.
In this winter season, meditate on the sound “B,” the sound of Birth, Boundaries and Blessings. Picture the heavenly Madonna, the Mother-Soul of the Universe, pulling a cloak of stars around herself. So is the earth held in the love of the world: so does our Guardian Angel hold us near: so do we humans hold our infants in joyful protection.
Picture yourself clothed in radiant yellow, wearing a star-cloak of midnight blue with a deep red lining. Reach back, and pull this cloak around yourself, as Madonna, as angel, and parent. Inside your cloak or protection, your sun-yellow soul shines bright, and your red lining protects you and gives you the strength you need.
You may hold this meditation as a pure mental imagination, if you like. Far more beautiful is it to move it in eurythmy as a short daily practice, grounding your spiritual quest into a body practice.