The Advent Spiral celebration is a profoundly simple, yet deeply touching winter festival – an inclusive and beautiful community sharing. Advent is the season marking the days before the ‘birth of the light’, a soul awareness of the rhythm of the year that applies to the Winter Solstice as well as to birth of the holy Christmas Child. After the winter solstice the longest night of the year has passed and the turning point has come when the sun will take its ascending celestial reign in our universe again (for the Northern hemisphere).
In the ritual of the Advent spiral, a path to the central candle is marked with branches of fragrant evergreens. The traveler to the light, be it child or adult,carries a candle, often held in an apple, a symbol of life and knowledge, and transformation to a higher consciousness.
In darkness, in silence, and then surrounded by gentle lyre, string or flute music, the journey to the light begins. The seeker steps out on the journey to perform the deed of lighting one’s own candle. The flame that rises, never before lit by that hand in just that unrepeatable moment in time, will be a sweet and new flickering of light to shine out in the surrounding darkness. It can be seen an outer representation of the inner fire of one’s own spirit, and the spiral path as the journey of the soul in growing inner awareness. Then the seeker turns back, reverses direction on the path and the treasure of light is carried spiraling back outward from the Source of light. There it is given away, placed on the sweet scented greens, a picture of giving one’s own unique gift to the swirling spiral of life.
With each individual candle laid on the path of the spiral becomes ever more luminous. The wonder of the ritual builds slowly until everyone’s candles are there shining brightly and harmoniously together. The darkened room becomes filled with the flowing light and warmth that a community of souls can create together. Wondrous!
The power of this simple universal community festival was the genesis moment in bringing a most beautiful healing impulse into the world. The compassionate exemplary work of the Camphill movement, an international movement arising from the humanitarian ideals of Rudolf Steiner, is dedicated to serving those individuals with special needs. It has been a profound inspiration for the curative work of our age.
In the 1920’s, a young Viennese born doctor, Karl Koenig, was spiritually awakened by this winter Advent celebration and the timeless archetypal truth within it. He was a brilliant and precocious Jewish boy who, on his own as a young child, found his way to the New Testament and was always impelled to serve those in need. He read, and was impressed by Steiner’s work, but did not get to meet him in his lifetime. Karl Koenig was an unusually short man, but great in bearing; a high sweeping brow, deep set, intense eyes filled with world wisdom and world pain, and the firmest mouth, evidencing a powerful will and unwavering dedication to fostering societal awareness of the deeper spiritual humanity of every individual.
He was invited by Dr. Ita Wegman, a co-worker of Rudolf Steiner who had begun a clinic for handicapped children in Arlesheim, Switzerland, to come and join her. One of Koenig’s first impressions was attending the Christmas Advent ceremony at the clinic. The children (regarded as feeble, inferior, and incompetent by many) came, some limping, hobbling, wide eyed, innocent and receptive, and walked (or were assisted) into the spiral to the light. There in this magical setting the holy quickening for them became apparent.
Their wonder-filled shining eyes, if only a flickering moment, reflected an enhanced knowing their own timeless inner light, the imperishable spiritual individuality that is our highest humanity. They knew they were supported and recognized by the loving souls around them. Dr. Koenig describes the impact of this experience in these words:
“In this hour the decision was taken that I would dedicate my life to the care and education of these children. It was a promise I gave to myself, to build a hill upon which a big candle was to burn so that many infirm, handicapped children would be able to find their way to this beacon of hope, and to light their own candles so that every single flame would be able to radiate and shine forth.” He spoke of this light as the ‘holy of holies’ of the human spirit.
Koenig and his co workers would individually escape Austria just as the Nazis occupied the country, but in parting made the promise they would later meet up to work together. They did so in Scotland and there the Camphill movement was born, with the dedicated workers eventually taking the impulse for compassionate curative work all over the world.
For each of us, we can ask will be be born of our experiences in this winter’s night – in this mighty season of birth? What will be born for each of us out of the womb of winter’s darkness, out of the womb of our own seeking soul, out of the longing for wholeness and connectedness?
For ready or not, we will birth something! Will it be cynical and careless excesses, despair, wizened disappointed loneliness, or the wonder we can become gently and greatly loving despite our handicaps through the cosmic outpouring of Love that is there for us? Can we take heart, that like Dicken’s immortal tale of Scrooge, the miser’s icy heart can experience awe inspiring transformation and become the warmed and vibrant source of the joyful largesses that followed when Scrooge found his true spirit?
The pain of our present day loneliness is for awakening – the awakening is to make a choice – and how blessed it is if the choice be for the loving embrace of the all accepting Holy Mother, the benevolence of the Father, and a heart made radiant and open to all the world through the unceasingly and timeless gifts of Love from the Holy Christmas child. And Joy…oh, yes, JOY! May we rise up singing the grand old song, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine!”
Nancy Jewel Poer,
Winter Solstice, 2015