New Year, for me, has always thrown a long shadow; not just because the sun is low in the sky at this time of year – but also because of the cultural implications. Or rather the lack of them. Culturally, the end of the year has no real meaning. For anybody.
Real in as much as it’s a change in the year that has no meaning: the darkest night of the year is two weeks past, Christmas is over (at least in the shopping malls and apartment blocks) There’s no Duvali or Hannucha, because they’re in the past too. As for the Muslims, their celebrations can be found at almost any time of year, what with their calendar that is too short for the natural passing of the year.
The only thing that makes the last day of the year special is … that it’s the last day of the year. The next year is upon us and there’s a new number! It’s in black and white, and the bookshops can sell new diaries at a discount because they’re now printed and bound in China and not Greece. Or whoever it was that was cheapest that year.
The last day of the year has no cultural significance beyond it’s being the end. The business owner can look at his figures and groan a louder groan than he did last year; the tax authorities can look forward to a new harvest of printed paper and the electronic transfers that have replaced payments in silver and gold.
Rudolf Steiner was keenly aware of the significance of the new year – put better, the lack of any significance. What is most important to note is that if it’s a natural happening, it hasn’t happened by accident. There’s always something behind a natural occurrence, but to people for whom ‘natural’ means the paper on the desk in front of them in a warm and well lit office, that’s irrelevant. They’d no more look out their window to see what the weather’s doing than they would do a jig on their desktop.
Okay, so they do that at the Christmas party, but they are allowed to do that, aren’t they? They don’t have to look out the window, they do have to do the work they’re paid to do. Unless they’re Dutch, that is, because they’re the more unwilling when it comes to actually doing any work. But they’d no more look out the window than they would fly; they have coffee and the daily newspaper to keep them occupied through the interminable hours that stretch ahead of them.
Which is one reason why Rudolf Steiner founded the revivified Anthroposophical Society on the first of January, 1923. For a society dedicated to the spiritual to be founded on the least spiritual day of the year begs a few questions of its founder. But then, Rudolf Steiner was throwing down a gauntlet to them. All his Anthros could do was to cheer him and get down to building their new concrete
Well, it looks like a sarcophagus, doesn’t it? Gone are the heavenly domes, inverted in the way you can invert a football and it appears all dented and crunkled. The important thing to note here is how the domes have an affinity to the skull and the consciousness that lives within – and the crunkled, dented inversion has more of the air of a vertebra in the backbone. In the spinal cord that runs down the backbone, we have only the most vestigial forms of being. Leave alone consciousness.
Well, it meant that the Anthros could feel at home with their thoughts being reflected back to them.
It’s how to recognize a group (or a cult, come to that): they all agree with each other because they all use the same words. Their problem is that in only being aware of the words they like hearing, they will be unaware of the content, the emotional essence contained within the words, the two happy people could be talking at cross purposes. But that is why there was the societal equivalent of a civil war at Dornach in 1935, where the leading council members fell out with each other. They didn’t actually kill each other, but it wasn’t far short of that.
So here we are on the verge of 2018, whatever that means. Well, it’s reality for the Aussies, and it’ll be a reality for me an hour ahead of the English who sit just across the water. Not that it makes any difference to the moment the sun set, but that’s modern life for you. Not that putting up a new calendar actually does that much to change the length of the day…
But it was on the way home from Tilburg that it struck me. Up until now, the overwhelming feeling I had was one of people being happy because they had been told that they could. They don’t do this on January 2nd, do they? No. It’s December 31st or nothing. It’s entirely abstract, that is to say, it has nothing to do with reality in any shape or form. Everything about the new year is artificial and man made. Man made in a way that only man can make it: without any regard to the natural progression of the seasons.
But it was that very artificiality that is its gift! Yes, it is an artificial construct, but in being so, anybody can celebrate it without any religious connotations. Muslims, be they Turk or Syrian, the Greek communities here in the Netherlands, and of course the Dutch themselves can celebrate with each other without any prejudice. Not that the Dutch are prejudiced; to be prejudiced implies a degree of awareness – but that was the topic of the last post, wasn’t it? How to be intolerant of something you’re unaware of… and the Dutch, if they are good at anything, they’re good at being unaware.
Whatever, on New Year’s Eve, everybody can party.It’s the upside of a commodity: it’s the same for us all. In the way anyone can spend Euros or Dollars: they are a man-made artificial construct that is the same for all of us. But that, in and of itself, begs the kind of question that Rudolf Steiner posed to his followers. And it’s not something I’ve puzzled out thus far; when I do, I’ll let you know.