Heavenly forces ascending and descending

Andreas Höyng

The course of the year is a living temporal organism, a great process of breathing in and breathing out similar to the human respiratory process. Breathing in corresponds to the autumn and winter, breathing out to spring and summer. We can perceive the individual phenomena of this temporal organism in many different sub-processes of mineral, plant and animal life, in the weather, the clouds, in the air, in heat and cold, in sun, stars and moon. All these different spheres are interrelated, coordinated in the course of the year and form a unified whole. They represent a great, always re-forming and changing fabric. “Thus I work on the speeding loom of time / Weaving the living garments of the divine” the Earth Spirit says in Goethe’s Faust, creating an apt image for us of this living happening that occurs around us and affects us.

Spring: the earth turns salty

We experience spring above all through its blossoms. Violets, anemones, daffodils, tulips and meadows of blossoming fruit trees give us great pleasure at this time of the year. But this multitude of blossoms is not what is actually happening in spring. It is only the result of the warmth from the previous year which was stored through the winter in the bulb, the bud on the tree or the seed in the earth. Spring means reuniting with the earth. The plants and seeds were thrown wholly back on themselves during winter with no interrelationship with their environment.

Spring, then, is the time when the soil comes back to life with the most intensive root growth. In a first step, the plant unites with the earth. The scent of the soil changes in spring. Only then does the plant emerge from the earth. Calcium and carbon dioxide are important for this connection with the earth. They form the salt of the earth. Calcium also forms the human and animal skeleton. But we also find it in stalks, wood and roots. A concentration and rooting process takes place which is the prerequisite for the sprouting life we know from spring.

Summer: nature cooking

The growth and sprouting of spring has come to a halt. Shimmering heat lies over the ripe corn fields. Larkspur gleams blue and the roses spread their scent, bees buzz in the linden trees – it is summer, dream-time while time stands still. Earth and cosmos come together.

“And here nature brings development to a halt with mighty hands and guides it gently into greater perfection,” it says in Goethe’s Metamorphosis of the Plant. What sprouts and burgeons is arrested at its height in summer. A layer of warmth which makes everything hold its breath descends from out of the cosmos. Growth stops. There is a pause. The process which takes place in plants at this time is a delicate fire process: the protein in the plants is burned and thereby turned into the most delicate etheric scents and resin forms. The liquid starch is transformed into nectar and thus into food for the bees. This is a fire-related event of summer in which vitality is sacrificed to create colour and substance, and make food for humans. Rudolf Steiner compares this combustion process to cooking – only in this case it is nature doing the cooking.

Autumn: the ash created maturity

In autumn, nature shows us in a great gesture how to let go. Rilke put this process into words in his autumn poem:

“The leaves they fall as if afar
they withered in the distant heavens’ gardens;
they fall with gestures of negation.
And in the nights the heavy earth it falls
from all the stars to loneliest seclusion.”

The intimate interpenetration of the soul of the earth and the cosmos which takes place in summer dissolves again the autumn. The dull thud of falling apples, the clattering walnuts, the smell of withering leaves, indeed of decay, the bonfire on the harvested fields: that is autumn. The birds fall silent. There is a jangling, a rustling among the leaves and branches from which life is withdrawing.

The fruits ripen in the autumn. Ripening and the development of aroma are mineralisation processes, something we would not think; they are ash processes which are not completed. The development of fruit, of seeds thus means ash formation in a higher sense.

Winter: water preserves life

The colours have faded, the vitalising scents disappeared. Everything is gray. The trees are bare, the fields deserted. Nature become still and silent. Nothing seems to be left of its once rich life. The earth wants to freeze in winter, it wants to form crystals through ice and snow. But it does not really freeze. Because the soil is saturated with the seeds of life, thousands of seeds lie concealed in it which are not outwardly visible.

For this future hidden in the ground not to die away requires the vitalising force of the water and light which the earth has absorbed throughout the summer. The aqueous mercurial element of winter preserves the readiness of the earth to see, grow and blossom so that it does not have to freeze.

The heavenly council

In the lectures cited, Steiner describes how spiritual beings are at work in the individual sensory phenomena, the many different processes – decay, withering, sprouting, blossoming and maturing – and the overarching cosmic functions such as expansion, contraction, sleeping and waking. They are the genii of the seasons in the form of the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. They radiate out into the cosmos and provide impulses for the wealth of annual processes. They are like a kind of heavenly council, a delegation of the seasons. Because their forces stream out into the cosmos, “forces can stream back into human beings which form them” (Steiner).

These four principles of the seasonal forces which interweave in nature and thus actuate the stream of life can also be found in the human stream of life. Because what arises in the warming power of fire as a natural process turns into nourishment which we imbibe. What nourishes is raised and transformed through digestion and respiration into something that heals, it turns into the inner autumn of human beings. “A medicament is always healing because it is on the way to the spirit,” Steiner explains in this connection. The healing element in turn is carried forward to become the power of thought. In outer nature that is winter. And finally, the vitalising powers of thought can flow down as will impulses.

What happens constantly in the interior of human beings as a physical and soul-spiritual process, what takes place independently of what happens externally, that can be seen externally as a process of nature. Summer nourishes, autumn heals, winter enlivens the thinking so that in the spring new will impulses can flow into us. These forces do not stand side-by-side without any connection. One force metamorphoses into the other and is enhanced. Thus Steiner opens and closes the great Imagination with the words at the beginning of Faust at the sight of the symbol of the macrocosm:

How everything weaves into one,
Living and acting in each other!
Heavenly forces rising and descending,
Passing gold pails to one another!
Penetrating the earth from heaven
On wings scented with blessing
Sounding in cosmic harmony!

The golden pails are not, of course, empty. They contain what nourishes and heals, the forces of thought and powers of will.

These forces which the archangels let flow into human beings have to be renewed each year. The nourishing and healing element, the forces of thought, the impulses of will: all these things would dry up if the archangels did not keep giving them to us from out of the cosmos. It is a kind of unconscious memory of nature which has to be refreshed each year.

Thus human beings are placed in the progression of nature; they have not been thrown out for all their emancipation.

The cosmos looks at human beings

The gaze and gesture of the archangels as Steiner describes them in the Imaginations are very different. They can become our model in the education process.

Uriel, the archangel with whom we are perhaps least familiar, works in nature in summer; in human beings he works in the soul in winter. He looks with serious judging eyes and a gesture pointing downwards. He compares human error with what lives and works in the pure, shining crystals in the earth. His gesture is one of admonishment – it unceasingly calls on human beings to transform their errors into virtues.

Michael affects nature in the autumn. We know him from many depictions as the fighter against the dragon, as the one who points the way, but also as the archangel who holds the scales in his hands. He is closely connected with the will forces in human beings and works in the human soul life in spring. His look has something pointing and instructive. It is an “active, a positive, dynamic” look.

Gabriel acts on nature in the winter. We know this archangel from Christian iconography as the angel with the white lily in his hand who brings Mary the tidings that she will bear a child. His look is a mild, loving gaze and his gesture is one of blessing. Gabriel works in human beings in the summer.

Raphael is the cosmic spirit of spring who works as a healer in human beings in the autumn. We know him from Rembrandt’s etchings for the Book of Tobit or through Francesco Botticini’s painting depicting how Raphael guides the blind Tobias on his journey. Michael and Gabriel are next to him. Raphael looks with a profound, contemplative gaze. He looks behind things and can thereby see their healing power.

Let us consider these gazes and gestures as models. If we remember that the archangels always work together, that one force is transformed into another, we are given productive help in educating our children. If the gestures of the archangels are internalised such that they become an invisible soul garment of the educator, then the respective gestures and looks can appear always at the right time.

About the author: Andreas Höyng has been a horticulture teacher at the Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School in Stuttgart for thirty years.