Thirteen holy nights
The period of twelve days or Thirteen holy nights between Christmas and Epiphany is a special and unique period, each year. It is said that in this period, the windows of the heaven are open and there is a special connection between the spiritual hierarchies and Man on Earth.
- historically, the birth of Christ in the body of Jesus of Nazareth was celebrated on 6th January. Rudolf Steiner confirms this as a 'great truth' and says that later "the birth of Christ was placed thirteen days earlier and envisaged as coincident with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth". This day, the 24th of December is the day dedicated to Adam and Eve. (1913-01-07-GA158)
- In this period of 12 days or 13 holy nights, mineral and plant consciousness interpenetrate at the turn of the year (first read 1911-12-26-GA127, then 1915-12-31-GA155)
- In spring the plant kingdom is really asleep, even though the etheric effects happen and are plainly visible in nature (even though the plant being asleep). In a similar way, the human being is conscious-wise also asleep now, even though the etheric Christ effect is happening.
- there is a yearly meeting of the White Lodge at Christmas, in which they send out their strength to people who want to entirely devote themselves to them (1905-12-13-GA266/1)
- see also the link with the Three meetings, and the yearly connection point of the life-spirit with Christ around Christmas
- scientific explanation for these thirteen nights, see Ernst Uehli's statement below in the context of (Schema FMC00.384 on) Lemniscatory timespace
- the 'Dream Song' story by Olaf Åsteson who slept through this period, this is a folk-poem in the old Norwegian language (1913-01-07-GA158)
- this folksong only came to light around 1850 in Norway, it is an ancient epic narrative telling the story of a young man who slept for twelve nights in the depths of winter, and then awoke to share the wondrous sights he had seen
- Joan of Arc is an example of someone who received the Christ Impulse in the period between Christmas and Epiphany (1915-01-30-GA161, 1915-03-13-GA159, see more on the Maid of Orleans covered on The Christ Impulse from the 1st to the 20th century)
- Iwer Thor Lorenzen reported his writings to have been inspired in the period of the twelve days between Christimas and Epiphany (quote below)
Lecture coverage and references
.. captures that Rudolf Steiner explained that ..
.. at Christmas the Sun stood at its lowest point in the year and on the 25th began to ascend, and that in this night the Masters of the White Lodge had a conference, in which they send out the power of the Sun of the coming year to those people who wanted entirely to devote themselves to them, to surrender entirely their personality and ask them for strength. If one celebrates Christmas this way, asks the Masters in this way, then they send their strength into these people on this December 25, so that the power of the Master works through them
.. (SWCC) gives more background on the deeper meaning of the dates
The hearts and minds of those who in the early centuries of our era understood the true import of Christianity turned to the Baptism in the Jordan of Jesus of Nazareth into whom Christ descended, Christ the Sun-Earth-Spirit. It was the birth of Christ that was celebrated as a Mystery in the early Christian centuries. ... What the Gnostics were able to teach trickled through into the world and although what had actually come to pass in the event indicated symbolically by the Baptism in the Jordan was not widely understood, there was nevertheless an inkling that the Sun Spirit had been born at that time as the Spirit of the Earth, that a cosmic Power had dwelt in the body of a man of earth. And so in the early centuries of Christendom the festival of the birth of Christ in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, the festival of Christ's Epiphany, was celebrated on the 6th of January.
But insight into this deep Mystery faded away more and more as time went by. The age came when men could no longer comprehend that the Being called Christ had been present in a physical human body for three years only. .. From the fourth century onwards, with the approach of the materialistic age, the powers of the human soul — then still at the stage of preparation — were not strong enough to grasp the deep Mystery which from our time on will be understood in ever greater measure. And so it came about that to the same extent to which the outer power of Christianity increased, inner understanding of the Christ Mystery decreased and the festival of the 6th of January ceased to have any essential meaning.
The birth of Christ was placed thirteen days earlier and envisaged as coincident with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. But in this very fact we are confronted by something that must always be a source of inspiration and thanksgiving. Actually, the 24th/25th of December was fixed as the day of Christ's Nativity because a great truth had been lost.
And yet ... although the error would seem to point to the loss of a great truth, such profound meaning lay behind it that — although the men responsible knew nothing of it — we cannot but marvel at the subconscious wisdom with which the festival of Christmas Day was instituted. Verily, the working of Divine wisdom can be seen in the fixing of this festival. Just as Divine wisdom can be perceived in outer nature if we know how to decipher what reveals itself there, so we can perceive Divine wisdom working in the unconscious soul of man when the following is borne in mind.
In the Calendar, the 24th of December is the day dedicated to Adam and Eve, the following day being the Festival of Christ's Nativity. Thus the loss of an ancient truth caused the date of Christ's birth to be placed thirteen days earlier and to be identified with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth — but in a most wonderful way the birth of Jesus of Nazareth was linked with the thought of man's origin in earth-evolution, his origin in Adam and Eve. All the dim feelings and experiences connected with this festival of Jesus' birth which were alive in the human soul — although in their upper consciousness, men had no knowledge of what lay behind — all these feelings that were astir in the depths of the soul speak a wondrous language.
But for one whose eyes of spirit are opened the Thirteen Days and Thirteen Nights between the 24th of December and the 6th of January are a time of deep spiritual experience.
Parallel with the experience of the plant-seed in the depths of the natural earth, there is a spiritual experience in the earth's spirit-depths — verily a parallel experience. And the seer for whom this experience is possible either as the result of training or through inherited clairvoyant faculties, can feel himself penetrating into these spiritual depths. During this period of the Thirteen Days and Nights, the seer can behold what must come upon man because he has passed through incarnations which have been under the influence of the forces of Lucifer since the beginning of earthly evolution. The sufferings in Kamaloca that man must endure in the spiritual world because Lucifer has been at his side since he began to incarnate on the earth — the dearest vision of all this is presented in the mighty Imaginations which can come before the soul during the Thirteen Days and Nights between the Christmas Festival and the Festival of the 6th of January, the Epiphany. At the time when the seed of the plant is passing through its most crucial period in the depths below, the human soul is passing through its deepest experiences. The soul gazes at a vista of all that man must experience in the spiritual worlds because, under Lucifer's influence, he alienated himself from the Powers by whom the world was created. This vision is clearest to the soul during these Thirteen Days and Nights. Hence there is no better preparation for the revelation of that Imagination which may be called the Christ Imagination and which makes us aware that by gaining the victory over Lucifer, Christ Himself becomes the Judge of the deeds of men during the incarnations affected by Lucifer's influence. The soul of the seer lives on from the festival of Jesus' birth to that of the Epiphany in such a way that the Christ Mystery is revealed. It is during these Thirteen Holy Days and Nights that the soul can grasp most deeply of all, the import and meaning of the Baptism by John in the Jordan.
.. during the centuries of Christendom, wherever powers of spiritual sight developed in the right way, it was known to seers that vision penetrated most deeply during the period of the Thirteen Holy Nights at the time of the winter solstice. Many a seer — either schooled in the mysteries of the modern age or possessing inherited powers of clairvoyance — makes it evident to us that at the darkest point of the winter solstice the soul can have vision of all that man must undergo because of his alienation from the Christ Spirit, how adjustment and catharsis were made possible through the Mystery enacted in the Baptism by John in the Jordan and then through the Mystery of Golgotha, and how the visions during the Thirteen Nights are crowned on the 6th of January by the Christ Imagination. Thus it is correct to name the 6th of January as the day of Christ's birth and these Thirteen Nights as the time during which the powers of seership in the human soul discern and perceive what man must undergo through his life in the incarnations from Adam and Eve to the Mystery of Golgotha.
is where Rudolf Steiner tells us he translated the old Norwegian folk poem into German verse, the lecture contains the full text of the poem.
Olaf Oesteson is a type of those people living in the North who, even in the Middle Ages, about the middle of that period, were able to experience literally, one might say, the things mentioned in this poem.
.. parallel with the seasons of the year, spiritually ..
- in the spring the plants spring forth the earth, everything wakens, the days grow longer .. we have to recognize what may be called a sort of sleeping of the elementary and higher spirits connected with the earth. When outwardly the earth awakens, we see that spiritually this is connected with a sort of falling asleep of the earth
- when outer nature dies down again it is connected with an awakening of the spiritual nature of the earth
- when about Christmas time outer nature is as though asleep, it is the time when the spiritual part of the earth is most active, and includes elemental, less important beings, as well as great and mighty beings connected with earthly life. It is only when it is observed outwardly that it seems as though we must compare spring with the awakening of the earth and winter to its going to sleep. Seen occultly it is the reverse. The “Spirit of the Earth” which however, consists of many spirits, is awake in winter and asleep in summer.
Just as in the human organism the organic and plant activities are most active during sleep, as these forces then work even into the brain, and as the purely organic activity is subdued while the person is awake, so is it also with the earth. When the earth is most active, when everything has sprouted forth, when the sun has reached its zenith about St. John's Day, the Spirit of the earth is asleep. In accord with this the festival of Christmas, of the awakening of the spirit, was fixed in winter.
Now one who knows how to live with the spirit of the earth celebrates, for example, the festival of St. John in summer, for this festival is a kind of materialistic festival; it celebrates that which is revealed in an outward materialistic form. One who is connected with the Spirit of the Earth, with what lives spiritually in the earth, awakens in his inner being — that is, he sleeps outwardly like Olaf Oesteson — best at Christmas time, during the “Thirteen days.”
This is an occult fact, which to occultism signifies exactly the same as the fact of the outer solstitial point to ordinary materialistic science.
.. Therefore to one who wishes to strengthen his soul's powers it may come about that he can have his best experiences during the thirteen days after Christmas. At that time, without noticing it, experiences come forth from the soul, — although the modern man is emancipated from outer processes, so that occult experiences can come at any time, but in so far as outer conditions can have an influence, the time between Christmas and New Year is most important.
1915-01-30-GA161 (SWCC) on Maid of Orleans
The soul of the Maid of Orleans had to be kindled for a great historic mission. There had to be present in her soul the impulses that surge and weave their way throughout the world with the Christ-Impulse. How should they enter her? They could indeed have entered her, if at some time in her life she had undergone an experience .. [during] the thirteen days after Christmas and .. 6th of January. And so indeed it was. .. in a certain sense she underwent in sleep this time which is so favourable to Initiation.
She underwent it in the last thirteen days of her embryonal life. She was borne by her mother, so as to pass through the Christmas season in the body of her mother in the last thirteen days of her embryo life. For she was born on the 6th January. That is the birthday of Joan of Arc. Thus she passed through the very time in which the spiritual forces weave and work most strongly in the Earth's aura.
Therefore we need not wonder, if even outer documents relate that on that 6 January 1412, the villagers ran hither and thither, feeling that something momentous had happened .. what it was that happened on that 6th of January they did not know until a later time, when the Maid of Orleans fulfilled her mission. For one who penetrates into the spiritual facts, it is of great significance to find it recorded in our calendar of births that Joan of Arc was born on the 6th January.
1915-03-13-GA159 on Maid of Orleans
.. before investigating anything historically, one should take for granted that the Christ-Impulse must have worked subconsciously for thirteen days also in the soul of a character such as the Maid of Orleans; she too must have experienced, as it were, what Olaf Asteson experienced in a sleeping condition during those thirteen days and nights; her sub-conscious soul-forces must, have been enlightened by the Christ-Impulse. In that case, the Maid of Orleans must once have been in a kind of sleeping condition during the thirteen days which lie between December 25th and January 6th, and on January 6th the Christ-Impulse must have taken hold of her soul, after a sleep-like state of existence.
What we may thus take for granted, really exists in a strange way, but during a special period, when the human being lives in a kind of sleep. Before he draws his first breath in earthly life, before he leaves his mother's body and is able to receive the first earthly-physical ray of light, he passes through a state of development which is really a sleeping state of experience. When we are within our mother's body, we live in a dreamlike sleep, a state of existence into which we enter at night when we fall asleep, and the last days of existence within our mother's body are those which are, so to speak, most accessible to the unconscious influences coming from the spiritual world.
In the Maid of Orleans these must have been the days chosen to implant the Christ-Impulse into her being, the days before she opened her physical eyes to the physical sunlight and before she drew her first breath outside her mother's body. This was indeed the case, for the Maid of Orleans was born on January 6th. On that day something occurred which caused a stir in her whole village; there was something undefined in its aura. This is a historical fact. The villagers did not know what had happened; they did not know that the Maid of Orleans had been born.
A great deal lies concealed in such facts. Only when these mysterious things are seen in their true light will it be possible to understand what is really taking place below the surface of the external physical world. The divine forces seek many different ways of entering human souls. Of course, the Karma of the Maid of Orleans had to be suited to these events. Because her Karma brought about the fact that she was born on January 6th, it provided the historical basis which enabled the Christ-Impulse to influence history in a special way through the Maid of Orleans. This fact gave Europe a completely new form.
Ernst Uehli in 'Atlantis und das Rätsel der Eiszeitkunst' (1936)
.. (freely translated here from Lazarides p 185, who provides a commentary)
The winter solstice was the key sun celebration of the year. As Earth passed through this place of the Sun's effect in the cosmos, it took with her all the forces that, when she rose in the skies, transformed in beneficial forces, in growth forces. In this encounter with the 'midnight Sun', Earth received beneficial health promoting forces for its new annual course. This encounter became a cosmic sacrament. These are the thirteen holy nights, counted from the winter solstice to the 6th of January. The holy nights indicate the time it takes for the Earth to cross the place of the solar action in the cosmos.
.. in a lecture on the topic (see 'Further reading and references' below)
We have to remember that the Moon holds profound secrets and is an immense factor in the universe. But the Moon calendar of the ancient peoples is twelve days shorter than our solar calendar, and these twelve extra days represent the twelve Holy Nights that we are now commemorating. These twelve Holy Nights come in the heart of the winter for their celebration, when the visible Sun is at its lowest point, but when the inner spiritual Sun at the center of the Earth, which was united with the Earth, is at its most powerful. Therefore, at this very time, there comes into arrangement a deep interconnection between the Sun and the Earth. When the physical Sun is at its lowest, it has the least effect, but the spiritual Sun is then more radiant, according to the ancient Mysteries.
The Moon forces remain silent on these twelve Holy Nights, because the Moon year has ended, and the pure Sun Being is wanting to stream out into the universe to the waiting cosmos of stars. The real Being that is born can be experienced by us on these twelve nights, and He lives on into the future, as He accompanies humanity as their silent Brother, deeply concerned with human destiny.
The twelve Holy Nights throw open the gate of necessity into the realm of the real, for the Moon in slipping back and the Sun forces are temporarily unopposed. This twelvefoldness connects the Earth with the Zodiac in its events. The path of the Sun and Moon and stars are each concentric rings around the Earth, as a kind of crude conception, which are marked by the constellations of the Zodiac. Instead of our usual imagination of the spiritual forces streaming down upon the Earth from the Zodiac, let us see it during these twelve nights as the inner spiritual Sun of the Earth streaming forth into the universe to illuminate one constellation each night in turn.
Iwer Thor Lorenzen
.. writes in a short note about his work, although a modest person he was very sure of the inspiration he had received:
Every year during the christmas holidays I brought the harvest of the year together. In this period of the ‘holy nights’ I found again and again a wonderful spirit [or: atmosphere] for working. The first christmas day I started in the morning between seven and eight and only stopped for meals .. I felt as if wrapped or embedded into a world of light and a sea of thoughts, from which I created. That went on upto my birthday on 5th january. One year I wrote the last sentences on the morning of 6th of January before drinking my coffee and driving to school. As this book is not written from the intellect, it may be challenging to read, otherwise one does not enter into its substance. This is a spiritual scientific book and not an amateur's thoughts, it will still be read in the 21st century when much, what is currently held for valuable, has become wasted.
- Christ Module 17 - The experience of the year
- Rhythm of a year
- Three meetings
- White Lodge
- Lemniscatory timespace
References and further reading
- Adriana Koulias
- Twelve Holy Nights: Contemplations (2017)
- Advent and the Twelve Holy Nights: Part III (2018)
- Janet Jordan: the Dream Song of Olaf Åsteson (2007) - illustrations
- Frans Lutters: 'Twelve holy nights meditations on the Dream Song of Olaf Åsteson' (2018 in EN, 2013 in NL as 'The 12 heilige nachten: het droomlied van Olaf Asteson')
- Kristina Kaine: 'Meditations on the Twelve Holy Nights'
- Sergei Prokofieff: 'Twelve holy nights and the spiritual hierarchies' (2004)
- Willi Sucher: The twelve holy nights (1953-01-06, unrevised lecture, PDF 2012 by the astrosophy research center, two different versions exist)
- Mary Stewart Adams: In consideration of the holy nights of Christmas (PDF 2014-15)