This article was first published in Das Goetheanum,
a weekly periodical edited by Albert Steffen. Presented in two parts, it
is from Volume 3, Numbers 8 and 9, 30th September and 7th October, 1923.
It was first published in English in the quarterly journal,
Anthroposophy, Michaelmas 1927, Volume 2, Number 3.
we turn our gaze back into earlier times of human evolution, we are
inevitably struck with the change that has come about in the pictures man
makes for himself — pictures, on the one hand, of Nature, on the
other hand, of Spirit. Nor do we need to go back very far to observe the
change. As late as the eighteenth century the forces and substances
of Nature were thought of in a much more spiritual manner than they
are to-day, while spiritual things were conceived more in pictures
taken from Nature. It is only in quite recent times that men's ideas
of the Spirit have become so utterly abstract and their ideas of
Nature been referred to a spirit-estranged matter that human
perception cannot hope to penetrate. For the human understanding of
the present-day Nature and Spirit fall apart, and men can find no
bridge that shall lead over from one to the other.
The consequence is
that sublime world-pictures which in past times had great
significance for man as he sought to comprehend his place in the
Universal Whole have passed completely into the region of things
deemed to be no more than airy fancy — mere fancy to which man
could only give himself up so long as an exact science was not there
to forbid him. Such a cosmic picture is that of Michael fighting with
This picture belongs
to a time when man traced back his own evolution quite differently
from the way that is taught to-day. To-day as we follow the history
of man back into primeval times, we look to find beings less and less
human, from whom the man of the present day is descended. We pass
from more spiritual to less spiritual beings. In earlier times it was
different. Then as men traced back the evolution of mankind, it led
them to more spiritual conditions of existence than prevail
They looked back to a
pre-earthly condition when the present form of man did not as yet
exist. They pictured to themselves beings in the existence of that
time who lived in a finer substance than that of which man is
composed to-day. These beings were ‘more spiritual’ than
the men of to-day. Of such a nature was the Dragon-being whom Michael
fights. He was destined one day in a later age to assume human form.
But he must bide his ‘time.’ The time did not depend on
him, but on the decree of Spirit-Beings who stood above him. Until
that time it was for him to remain entirely within the will of these
But now before his
hour was come, pride was begotten in him. He wanted to have an
“own will” in a time when he should have been still
living in the higher Will. Thus did he set himself in opposition to
the higher Will. Independence of will was only possible to such
beings in a denser matter than then existed. If they persisted in
opposition, they must needs change and become different beings. This
being found it impossible any longer to live in the same
spirituality. His fellow-beings felt his existence in their realm as
disturbing, nay even destructive. Michael felt it so. Michael had
remained in the Will of the Spirit Beings. He undertook to compel the
opposing being to assume the form which was alone possible for an
independent will at that stage of the world's development, to assume
that is, animal form, the form of the ‘Dragon’, of the
‘Serpent.’ Higher animal forms had not yet made their
appearance. This ‘Dragon’ was of course not even then
imagined as visible, but as super-sensible.
Such was the picture
the man of an earlier time had in his mind of the fight of Michael
with the Dragon. For him it was a fact that had taken place before
ever there was a Nature visible to the human eye, before even man
was, in his present form.
The world we know has
proceeded from out of the world in which this event took place. The
kingdom into which the Dragon was driven has become
‘Nature,’ and is now so constituted as to be visible to
the senses; it is, as it were, in substance the deposit of the
earlier world. The kingdom in which Michael has preserved his
spirit-devoted will, has remained ‘above’ —
purified, like a liquid from which a substance once contained in
solution has been deposited. It is a kingdom that must still continue
invisible to the senses.
considered apart from man, has not succumbed to the Dragon. The power
of the Dragon was not strong enough to come to visibility in Nature.
It remained in her as invisible Spirit. The Dragon had to sunder his
being from Nature. She became a mirror of the higher spirituality
from which he had fallen.
Into this world Man
was set. He was able to partake in Nature and in the higher
spirituality. He became thus a kind of double being. In Nature
herself the Dragon remained powerless. In Nature as she comes to life
in man, he retains his power. The Nature man receives into himself
lives in him as desire, as animal lust. Into this sphere the fallen
spirit has entrance. And so we have the ‘Fall of
The Adversary has
found his abode in man. Michael has remained true to his nature. When
man turns to Michael with that part of his life which has its origin
in the higher spirituality, then there arises in the soul of man the
inward fight of Michael and the Dragon.
As recently as the
eighteenth century such a conception was still current. External
Nature was still to many men the mirror of a higher spirituality,
Nature in man still the seat of the Serpent, which the soul must
fight through devotion to the power of Michael.
And now, when
conceptions of this kind were living in a man's soul, how must he
look out upon external Nature? The time of the approach of Autumn
must needs recall the fight with the Dragon. The leaves fall from the
trees, all the flowering and fruiting life of the plants dies away.
In gentle and friendly guise did Nature receive man in Spring;
tenderly she cherished him through the long Summer days, nurturing
him with the warmth-laden gifts of the Sun. When Autumn comes, she
has nothing more to give him. Her forces of decay press in upon him,
through his senses he beholds them in pictures. From out of his own
being man must give himself what hitherto Nature has given him. Her
power grows weaker and weaker within him. From out of the Spiritual
he must create for himself forces that shall help where Nature fails.
And with Nature the Dragon too loses his power. The picture of
Michael rises up before the soul — Michael the opponent of the
Dragon. That picture was dimmed, when Nature, and with her the
Dragon, was all-powerful. With the oncoming of the frost, the picture
looms up again before the soul. Nor must we think of it merely as a
picture, it is a reality for the soul. It is as if the warmth of
summer had dropped a curtain before the spiritual world, and this
curtain were now lifted. Man partakes in the life of the year, he
goes with it in its course. Spring is his earthly friend and
comforter; but she enmeshes him in that kingdom where the
‘adversary’ sets the ugliness of his invisible power
within man over against the beauty of Nature.
(see Note 1)
With the beginning of
autumn appears the spirit of ‘strength in beauty’ the
while Nature hides her beauty, driving the adversary too into
With such thoughts and
feelings did men of ancient times keep the Festival of Michael in
In the picture of the
fight of Michael with the Dragon one thing is clearly and strongly
present; that is, the consciousness that man himself must give to his
inner life of soul the direction and guidance that Nature cannot
give. Our present-day thinking is inclined to mistrust such an idea.
We are afraid of becoming estranged from Nature. We want to enjoy her
in all her beauty, to revel in her abundance of life, and we are
loath to let ourselves be robbed of this enjoyment by admitting that
Nature has fallen from the Spiritual. In our striving for knowledge
moreover we want to let Nature speak. We fear to lose ourselves in
all kinds of fantasy, should we allow the Spirit, that transcends the
perception of external Nature, to have a voice concerning the reality
Goethe had no such
fear. He found nowhere in Nature any estrangement from the Spirit. He
opened his heart to her beauty, to the inner power and might of all
that she revealed. In the life of man he felt the presence of much
that was inharmonious, much that grated and jarred, or that gave rise
to doubt and confusion. And he felt an inner urge and impulse to live
in communion with Nature, where the eternal laws of sequence and
compensation prevail. Some of his most beautiful poems have sprung
from such a life with Nature.
Goethe was however at
the same time fully conscious of how the work of man must fulfil and
complete the work of Nature. He felt all the beauty of the plants.
But he felt too something incomplete in that life which the plant
displays before man. In that which weaves and works unseen within the
plant, there lay for him far more than manifests itself to the eye
within the bounds of visible form. For Goethe, what Nature attains is
not the whole. He felt as well what we may call the purposes of
Nature. He did not let himself be deterred by the fear of
personifying Nature. He knew well that he was not as it were dreaming
such purposes into the life of the plant out of any subjective fancy,
he beheld them there quite objectively, just as truly as he could
behold the colour of the flowers.
This is why he was so
indignant when Schiller designated as ‘idea’ and not
‘experience’ the picture Goethe had sketched with a few
strokes for his poet friend of the inner striving of the plant
towards life and growth. Goethe's reply was that if that were an
idea, then he could see ideas with his eyes just as well as he could
perceive colours and shapes.
Goethe was conscious
of how there is in Nature not only an ascending but also a descending
life. He felt the growth from the seedling to leaf and bud and
blossom and fruit; but he felt too how all in turn withers, decays,
dries up and dies away. He felt the Spring: but he felt also the
Autumn. In Summer he could partake with his own inner sympathy in the
unfolding of Nature, but in Winter he could also partake in her death
with the same openness of heart.
We may not find in
Goethe's works a clear expression in words of this twofold experience
with Nature, but we cannot fail to be sensible of it in his whole
manner of thought. It is as it were an echo of the experience of
Michael's fight with the Dragon. Only, the experience is lifted in
Goethe to the consciousness of a later age.
The nineteenth century
has not given us any further development of thought on these lines.
The new perception of the Spirit that is now being attained must set
itself to strive after a continuation and development of Goethe's
understanding of Nature.
Our experience of
Nature is incomplete as long as we partake in our inner being with
her ascending life alone — seed, shoot, leaf, bud, blossom, and
fruit. We need to have a feeling also for the withering and dying
away. Nor shall we thereby become estranged from Nature. We have not
to shut ourselves up from her Spring and her Summer, we have but to
enter as well into her Autumn and her Winter.
Spring and Summer
require of man that he give himself up to Nature; man lives his way
out of himself and into Nature. Autumn and Winter would have man
withdraw into his own human domain and set over against the death and
decay of Nature the resurrection of the forces of soul and spirit.
Spring and Summer are the time of man's Nature-consciousness; Autumn
and Winter are the times when he must experience his own human
As Autumn approaches,
Nature withdraws her life into the depths of the Earth; she takes
away all sprouting and blossoming far from the sight of man. What she
leaves to his view bears within it no fulfilment; therein lies hope,
hope for a new Spring to come. Nature leaves man alone with
Then begins the time
when it rests upon man to prove by his own forces within him that he
is quick and alive and not dead. Summer said to man: I receive your
Ego, your ‘I’; I let it bloom in my bosom with the
flowers. Autumn begins now to say to man: Descend into the depth of
your soul, there to find the forces whereby your ‘I’ may
live, the while I hold my life hidden in the depths of the Earth.
Goethe resented Haller's thought:
Ins Innere der Natur
dringt kein erschaffener Geist;
glückselig, wem sie nur die äussere Schale weist.
Goethe's feeling was:
Natur hat weder Kern
alles ist sie mit einem Male.
Nature has need of
death for her life; man can also live this dying through
with her. Thereby he enters only more deeply into the inner being of
Nature. In his own organism man experiences his breathing process and
his blood circulation. They are for him his life. The germinating
life of the Spring is in reality as near to man as his own breathing,
it entices him out into Nature-consciousness. So too the death and
decay of Autumn is in reality no further away from man than his own
blood; it steels self-consciousness within him.
The Festival of
Self-consciousness, bringing man near to his true humanity —
wherever the leaves are falling, there it is solemnized, man only
needs to become conscious of it. It is the Festival of Michael, the
Festival of the Beginning of Autumn. The picture of “Michael
Triumphant” can be there; it can live in man. In Summer man is
received lovingly into Nature; but if he would not be deprived of the
centre and balance of his being, he must not lose himself in her but
be able to rise up in Autumn in the strength and might of his own
spirit-being. Then will the picture of Michael Triumphant live within
- See also
The Cycle of the Year as Breathing Process of the Earth,
5 lectures, Anthroposophical Publishing Co.
- No created spirit can penetrate the inner being of Nature:
happy is he to whom she shows even the outer shell.
- Nature hath neither shell nor kernel; Nature is all, and all