XVII: symbols

I beg you pardon for my uninspired mind. Earlier, I’ve touched upon other parts of the anthroposophical christmas tree, but I’ve not yet said anything about the occult symbols. They’re made of yellowish metal: brass or bronze. This company sells the entire set of symbols, and you might want to take a look at the picture! In a 1906 lecture, Steiner explains the main seven symbols, which together form a cross.

On top is the pentagram, supposedly the cosmic symbol of man and humanity. (The picture to the right is borrowed from Erziehungskunst; see a larger version over there!) Under the star, we see tao — reminding present man, says Steiner, of the conception of the divine held by our ancestors. It’s also a reminder of the civilization of Atlantis; he says: ‘And within these voices of clouds and waters and leaves and winds a sound rang forth: TAO — That am I. The man of Atlantis heard and understood it, feeling that Tao pervaded the whole universe.’ In the middle is tarok, with alpha and omega on each of its sides: ‘Those who were initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries knew how to interpret this sign. They knew too, how to read the Book of Thoth, consisting of 78 leaves on which were inscribed all happenings in the world from the beginning to the end, from Alpha to Omega and which could be read if the signs were rightly put together.’ (Something like the akasha chronicle, right?) Then there’s the triangle, symbolizing the higher three ‘members’ of the human constitution — the spirit-self, the life-spirit and spirit-man –, and, at the bottom, the square, symbolizing four-fold man, consisting of physical body, etheric body, astral body and ego. The layout is, as you can see, cross-shaped.

In addition to these main symbols, there’s another set of seven symbols. These symbols — the planetary symbols — spiral around the tree. (Remember how the spiral is an important shape, though this isn’t a proper spiral.) They are meant to represent cosmic evolution; they refer to the planetary incarnations of the world and, thus, to the evolution of man as well. From top to bottom, spiralling the tree, we see: Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, Moon, Sun, Saturn. These symbols were added by Steiner in 1911, according to this article. Saturn, Sun and Moon are past evolutionary stages. Our current position, earth, is somehow divided onto two stages: Mars and Mercury. At the turn (from Mars to Mercury), happened the ‘Mystery of Golgatha’ (i e, Christ). The future epoch, which we’re eagerly awaiting, is that of Jupiter. But there’s a slight discrepancy between the evolutionary stages as represented by the christmas tree symbols and the evoloutionary cycles as Steiner used to refer to them. According to this handy summary, he talked about: ‘(old) Saturn, (old) Sun, (old) Moon, Earth, (future) Jupiter, (future) Venus, and (future) Vulcan.’ Earth, instead of Mars and Mercury. And after Venus: Vulcan! (In that conception, Golgatha is supposed to have happened right in the middle of the earth epoch, which is also the middle point of the entire cycle of all seven planetary incarnations. That’s significant, you see!)

Amazingly, you may actually encounter one such christmas tree in a waldorf school or kindergarten. I can’t personally remember ever having seen one, but I was a child and may not have cared. But the document from the german waldorf journal Erziehungskunst I linked to already says:

In der Weihnachtszeit begegnen Eltern vielleicht zum erstenmal in der Waldorfschule den Symbolen am Weihnachtsbaum und fragen sich, was sie zu bedeuten haben. Oft findet sich aber niemand, der sie ihnen, ohne geisteswissenschaftliche Kenntnisse vorauszusetzen, erklärt.

No, probably not. And given what parents might think about it, waldorf schools might be just as happy being ‘unable’ to explain. Because it certainly can’t be impossible to do so. If they manage to dress up the tree according to this interesting regiment, I would assume they were also able to explain why, even though that is assuming — or rather expecting — too much.

2 thoughts on “XVII: symbols

  1. A different brandof christian… But, anyway, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this xmas tree thing started when Steiner was a theosophist still. Maybe this is standard theosophy xmas tree? I didn’t think of it; should have googled.

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