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We all grow up with the tidy image in our mind of the nine planets, following nice lines of elliptical orbits around the sun - some nearer, some further away (Copernican view). Normally, we are told that this view replaced the mistaken older version, shown as five planets plus sun and moon following lines of circular orbits around the earth (Ptolemaic view).
If we pursue astronomy further, we find that planets occasionally appear to `pause' in their orbits, reverse direction briefly, and then continue on their way. A long history of observations shows that the sun itself is moving, so that following it, as it were, the whole solar system moves. The fact that this requires the conception of spiraling orbits is seldom, if ever, brought forward (except for the distant nebulae). For example, we see the following statement of fact: Comparison of measurements of the stars made over long periods shows that in the direction of the constellation Hercules the stars appear on the whole to be getting farther apart; in the opposite direction (the constellation Columba), they appear to be drawing together. This indicates that the sun and the members of the solar system are moving as a group with respect to the stars. However, descriptions of the realities of orbits and celestial mechanics do not even hint at spirals, but deal only with ellipses, parabola and hyperbola. (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1972, Vol. 21, pg. 414)
We see here a fact that is hidden by modern science - no elliptical or circular orbit exists, they are all spirals. Far from hiding this fact, Dr. Steiner elaborates it; along with several other challenging hints. These are to be tested and followed up, in order to give mankind a more accurate consciousness of heavenly motions now and for a few thousand years to come. In later epochs, he noted, `celestial mechanics' will become incalculable as they will revert to the free motions of spiritual beings (The Michael Mystery, 1984, pg. 92)
I would like to present such of his hints as I have found, as referenced quotes given chronologically. These represent a survey of about 170 books and lecture cycles.
The first observation of celestial movements I have, certainly sets a provocative stage. On 13 Sept. 1907, Steiner noted: You know that the earth revolves around the sun, that Mercury and Venus, as sisters of the earth, also revolve, and you know that the sun itself moves. Now occult astronomy has carried on exact investigations of this relationship. It has investigated not only the movement of the earth and the other planets, but also the movement of the sun itself. Here one comes to a definite point in cosmic space that is a kind of spiritual centre around which the sun, and with it our earth and all the planets, turn. The different bodies, however, do not move equally fast. It is just this relationship of the speed of their movements to one another that occult astronomy has determined. It proceeded from the fact that when we view Mars, Venus, and so forth, these heavenly bodies move at a certain speed, but the whole starry heaven is seemingly resting motionless. In the sense of true occult research, this repose is only apparent. In reality, this starry heaven moves a definite distance in one hundred years, and this distance throughout which the firmament progresses is designated as the basic number. If you assume this movement and compare the planetary movements with it, we find that Saturn's movement is two and one-half times that of Jupiter's; Jupiter's is five times that of Mars; Mars', twice that of the Moon. Saturn's movement, however, is 1200 times that of the whole celestial dome.
Through the relationship of the different speeds of the planets, the fundamental tones of the harmony of the spheres arise that sound through the cosmos. The School of Pythagoras was justified in speaking of a celestial harmony. With spiritual ears one can hear it. When you spread fine powder as evenly as possible on a thin brass plate and then stroke its edge with a fiddler's bow, the powder moves in a definite line pattern. All kinds of figures will arise depending on the pitch of the tone. The tone effects a distribution of the material. These are called Chladny figures. When the spiritual tone of the celestial harmony sounded forth into the universe, it organized the planets into their relationships. (Occult Signs and Symbols, 1972, pp. 9-12)
On 12 Jan. 1909, something previously discussed was more briefly reiterated: . . . The orbiting of a planet around its sun or of a satellite around its planet is by no means mere chance, nor is it unconnected with life, on the contrary it is regulated by those beings we have learnt about in the hierarchies of spirits. We have seen that it is absolutely untrue that the heavenly bodies rotate by themselves through merely lifeless forces. (The Being of Man and His Future Evolution, 1981, pp. 69-71)
An extensive discussion of the heavens, ranging from 3-14 Apr, 1912, gave this remarkable hint: When you see the forces developing in a spiral in a plant from stipule to stipule, you then have the activity of those forces which work down from the planets. And according as the forces of the offspring of the Spirits of Motion work down from this planet or that planet, does this peculiar line which puts forth the leaves vary. This gives a certain means of studying the actual orbits of the individual planets through their reflection; and when external science has once recognised this fact, it will have to correct a great deal of former astronomical systems. Certain plants are allotted to the forces of the Spirits of Motion who work from Mars, others to those who are on Venus, others to those on Mercury. They work in from the planet and according as they work in from one or the other, they impart to the plant the movement expressed in the coil of their leaves; it is the same movement which the corresponding planet makes; the absolute movement it makes in the heavens. (The Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and the Kingdoms of Nature, 1951, pp. 170-172)
The complicated forms of movements implied in the last observation were described in more detail, and included the sun and earth, on 1 Oct. 1916: But spiritually, things are otherwise. You see, to an observer able to behold the spiritual, the following is presented, for example. He comes upon a certain movement of the sun; it takes this course (lemniscate). Seen from a certain point of view, it is the sun's course; but when I draw this line here and bring the sun back again, the point does not fall exactly on the earlier point; it lies somewhat above it. This is a real movement of the sun that can be perceived spiritually.
But the earth, too, makes certain movements in the course of the year. Observed spiritually, it describes this orbit (intercepting lemniscate).
You must picture it in three dimensions. If you picture the orbit of the sun lying in a plane, then the orbit of the earth lies in this plane - seen, that is, from the side. If here is the orbit of the sun drawn as a line the earth orbit is so: (intercepting).
But, as you see from this, there is a point in the cosmos, where the sun and earth are both together, but not at the same time. When the sun is there on its path, or rather has left this point by a quarter of its path, the earth begins its movement at the point where the sun has left. After a certain time we are, in fact, on the spot in cosmic space where the sun was. Together with the earth, we actually pass in space through the spot where the sun has been. We sail through it. We do not only sail through it, however, because the sun leaves behind results of its activity in the space it has traversed, so that the earth enters into the imprints left behind by the sun and crosses them - really crosses them. Space has living content, spiritual content, and the earth enters and crosses, sails through, what the sun has called forth.
There is a similar relationship with the other planets, too. At certain times we are approximately at the place where Mercury was, etc. The planets carry out quite complicated movements in universal space, and they enter into the imprints of each other. We have now the external picture, the purely geometrical picture. The other picture will be added, and only from a combination of the two will a later humanity attain the concept it must have. (Inner Impulses of Evolution, 1984, pp. 145-147)
. . . Twice in the year we are where the sun has been operative in space. The first time it is as if the sun descended below the earth's path, and the second, as if the sun ascended and the earth's path was underneath. (Inner Impulses of Evolution, 1984, pg. 149)
On 26 Mar. 1920, Steiner again noted the relationship of plant growth and planetary movement.
It would be quite mistaken, however, to reckon only with the vertical upward impulse in plants, that depends on the sun . . . The solar force is, however, counteracted to some degree by that of the outer planets, in their spiral courses. For planets, as a matter of fact, do not move in an ellipse; their orbits are spiral. It is time that the whole Copernican system was re-examined and superseded by another. (Spiritual Science and Medicine, 1989, pp. 83-85)
Steiner challenges the static, elliptical concept of celestial movement, again and again; as on 10 Apr. 1920: An observer sees the Sun in this direction. The Earth progresses, but exactly in a line behind the Sun. When the Earth is here, the observer now sees the Sun in another direction. The Sun advances still further, the Earth following, and once again the observer sees the Sun in the other direction. That is to say, he sees the Sun at one time on the right, and another time on the left, owing to the way in which the Earth follows the Sun.
This has been interpreted as demonstrating that the Sun stands still and the Earth revolves around it. In reality it is not so; the Earth moves along behind the Sun. (Man - Hieroglyph of the Universe, 1972, pg. 33)
Slightly later, on 18 Apr., a different approach was taken to the same fact:
Whither does all this lead? If we have grasped the fact the motion of the daily metabolism corresponds to the motion of the Earth, we can no longer, with the Earth here, attribute to any one point a circular motion. On the contrary, we must form the conception that the Earth in actual fact proceeds along her path in such a way as to produce a line like that of a lemniscate. The motion is not a simple revolution, but a more complicated movement; each point of the terrestrial surface describes a lemniscate, which is also the line described by the metabolic process.
Now all this will certainly make it clear that we can certainly speak of a daily motion of the Earth around her axis, but by no means of a yearly motion of the Earth around the Sun. For the Earth follows the Sun, describing the same path.
Were the Earth revolving round the Sun, we should expect her axis, which owing to its inertia remains parallel, to point in the direction of different fixed stars during this revolution. But it does not! If the Earth revolved round the Sun, the axis could not indicate the direction of the Pole-star, for the point indicated would itself have to revolve round the Pole-star; . . . It is in a spiral, screw-like path that the Earth follows the Sun, boring her way, as it were, into cosmic space. (Man - Hieroglyph of the Universe, 1972, pp. 85-90)
Steiner's observation progressed another step on 2 May, 1920: Now let suppose that Saturn pursues his movement also in a like curve (lemniscate) - only, of course, his path is different through cosmic space - with the 30 times less rapid movement than the Earth; if we picture these two curves, we must realise that each cosmic body which follows such a path (lemniscate) is obviously moved in this path by forces, but each one by forces of a different kind.
To the modern materialistic view of the cosmos, Saturn is observed merely as a body moving about in cosmic space; and the same with the other planets. This is not the case; for if we take Saturn, the outermost planet of our Universe, we must represent him as the leader of our planetary system in cosmic space. He directs our system in space. He is the body for the outermost force which leads us round in the lemniscate in cosmic space . . . Were he alone to work, we should continually move in a lemniscate. But there are other forces in our planetary system which show a more intimate adjustment to the spiritual world - the forces that we find in Mercury and Venus. Through these forces our path is continually raised. Thus, when we look at the path from above, we have the lemniscate, but when we look at it from the other side, we obtain lines which are continually rising upwards; there is a progression . . .
Planets such as Mercury and Venus, however, have a relation to the extra-spatial, the supersensible, the spiritual, to that which does not originally belong in space but has, as it were, come into it. Thus if we have the paths of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and in the same space, draw in also the paths of Mercury and Venus, you will get at most a projection of the Mercury or of the Venus orbit, but in no sense the orbits themselves. If we employ the three-dimensional space to sketch in the orbits of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, we come at most to a boundary, where we get something like a path of the Sun. But if we wish to draw the others, we can no longer do so in the three-dimensional space, . . . .we cannot draw the path of Venus and that of Saturn in the same space. (Man - Hieroglyph of the Universe, 1972, pp. 151-156)
Beginning 1 Jan. 1921, Dr. Steiner gave a series of lectures in which he dealt with the entire question of celestial movements. All the points made over the last few years were pulled together with mathematical and philosophical considerations. What I would like to bring forward for the purposes of this essay is a rather remarkable summing-up:
. . . We have to draw the path of the Earth with the Earth tending, in a sense, towards where the Sun has been, and then again the Sun towards the place where the Earth has been. We thus get one half of the Lemniscate - Earth, Sun, Earth, Sun. When this has been gone round, then it goes on. They move past each other, as you see. Thus we obtain the true path of Earth and Sun if we alternately imagine the Earth to be at the place where in our usual drawings we are wont to put the Sun, and the Sun at the place where we are wont to put the Earth. The fact is, we do not get a true relation of movement as between Earth and Sun if we assume either one or the other to be at rest. We must imagine both to be in movement, whereby the one follows the other, yet at the same time they go past each other. So then we have to picture it: seen in perspective, the Sun is alternately in the middle point of our planetary system and then again the Earth is where we normally conceive the Sun to be. They change places, taking turns as it were. But it is complicated, for in the meantime the planets too, needless to say, have changed their situation, which brings in no little complication . . . You see, we are in a way misled by the perspectives, to the establishment of an extremely simple system, whereas in fact it is by no means simple. It is as though with respect to the planets, Earth and Sun were taking turns, alternately being in the centre of the system.
I confess that it is not at all easy for me to be telling you these things, which at the present stage might still be thought fantastic. We cannot now bring all the mathematical paraphernalia to bear on them, but I assure you they can be calculated in all detail. (The Relation of the Diverse Branches of Natural Science to Astronomy, undated typescript, pp. XVII 7-8)
On the 4th June 1924, Steiner qualified his previous discussions of the sun's movement in a rather dramatic way: Physical science speaks of a movement of the Sun; and it can do so, for within the spatial picture of the Cosmos which surrounds us, we perceive by certain phenomena that the Sun is in movement. But that is only an image of the true Sun-movement, - an image cast into space. If we are speaking of the real Sun it is nonsense to say that the Sun moves in Space; for Space itself is being radiated out by the Sun. The Sun not only radiates light; the Sun creates the Space itself. And the movement of the Sun is only a spatial movement within this created Space. Outside of Space it is a movement in Time. What seems apparent to us - namely, that the Sun is speeding on towards the constellation of Hercules - is only a spatial image of the Time-evolution of the Sun-Being. (The Festivals and Their Meaning, 1981, pp. 313-318)
Here, Dr. Steiner has certainly identified a dormant problem of astronomy. He explored extensively the issues of which I have only given his hints, in Man - Hieroglyph of the Universe, and The Relation of the Diverse Branches of Natural Science to Astronomy.