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The Riddles of the World and Anthroposophy

Schmidt Number: S-1279

On-line since: 15th August, 2016

Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods

Berlin, 22nd March 1906

It was something like a surprise when in the 18th century the German educated people discovered the legend of prehistoric time, the legend of the Nibelungs. Indeed, we owe the ideas of the European peoples about their origin to this legend, which was almost forgotten for centuries. One hardly knew what the Germans told themselves about the daybreak of their existence in old times. One hardly knew anything of it from the 12th to the 18th centuries, and spirits, who were able to recognise the whole significance of such a finding for the soul life of the German people like Goethe, ascribed the greatest importance to the legend of the Nibelungs in particular. Then one got to know that that which was got out from manuscripts of the 12th, 13th centuries were only later creations of a much older folk poetry. In the Poetic Edda, one found the way back to these older figures of the German legend of prehistoric time. They had escaped to the north, which then, however, returned — at first thanks to the scholarship — and delivered the basis of the great renewal of art by the poet musician Richard Wagner (1813-1883) in the second half of the 19th century. Richard Wagner attempted the renewal of art and did not take his figures from the everyday life. For he wanted to let pronounce them the deepest basis of human destiny, they should get interest out of us due to their special destinies extending beyond the everyday life. That is why he took the idealised superhuman figures of prehistoric time.

He knew well that the secrets of the human heart, of the human soul cannot be expressed with figures or events of the everyday life, he knew that just the myth, the legend, can be a reflection of that which goes forward inside of the human soul. The everyday life already shows us how every human being is, actually, a riddle and hides endlessly more than we can perceive with the usual senses and reason. We know that we have the obligation — if we accept such an ideal obligation — to consider the human beings as such riddles, never to finish our judgement about them. If we allow anything to have a lasting effect in us that a human being has stimulated in us, then, indeed, his figure grows into the superhuman. We can show it only increasing its traits in the right way, emphasising the typical without distorting it caricaturally. The right art of inner human characteristic consists of that.

As Wagner was clear in his mind that humanity can once express the highest of all with the usual language — but not yet today — as he was clear in his mind that one must take the high element of expression, music, to produce the deepest of the soul. He was also clear in his mind that he has to ascend beyond the everyday life to the mythical. The strength, the inner feeling, and reality that live in this myth face us in this renewer of art in an astonishing way.

Just Wagner's art much deepened this legend world. We also try today to penetrate from the spiritual-scientific point of view into the reality of this apparently unreal world, and you see that theosophy or spiritual science has to say something about the deeper core of these legends. For starting with Nietzsche (Friedrich N., 1844-1900, philosopher) up to the other interpreters of Wagner, some people got stuck in the symbolic view of the legend. This is because it is, actually, already something great in our time of materialistic thinking to accept symbolic suggestions of great inner human truth in the myth. It is impossible, of course, that I represent the whole issue of the Siegfried myth today; I can only give some points of view to show how from the point of view of deepened spiritual knowledge this myth gets life and reality.

The Siegfried figure is known from the German version of The Song of the Nibelungs at first. You know, Siegfried was able to make himself invisible. He was in the possession of the treasure of the Nibelungs, of the gold to which many things are connected like the external earthly happiness, but also a certain curse, a disaster. You also know that he was affianced to Brunhilda. This is a trait you cannot find in the German myth, without which, however, the German myth is hardly to be understood. After he has married Kriemhild, he just gains Brunhilda for Gunther by a deception, appearing in the figure of another. That becomes fatal and leads to his death. You know that his spouse avenges Siegfried at the Hun court of Etzel or Attila.

These are the main traits of Siegfried's figure. The traits in the German legend find an essential deepening in the Norse one that says something quite different to us. In the German legend, we find Siegfried in the possession of the magic hood with which he could make himself invisible. In the Norse one, we are led by the figure of Siegfried or Sigurd into the world of the gods. This myth of the gods is full of mysteries and secrets. There we get to know — I can only indicate a wee bit — that the gods themselves were forced to pass the gold, which they had acquired from the Nibelungs, on to a giant as a remuneration of a guilt they had committed. Now in the form of a dragon a giant guards this treasure. This is a significant trait that Siegfried, the sprig of the old gods and, so to speak, related with Wotan is destined in his youth to overcome the dragon, the guardian of the gold. Thereby he gets the strength by which he attains his power. By few drops of the dragon's blood, which he brings on his lips, he is able to understand the language of the birds; he is able to do a deep look in nature and to take up concealed wisdom in himself. By this perfection, he is able to approach the Valkyrie Brunhilda who is surrounded by fire and flames and to affiance with her, he who has managed to seize the treasure of the Nibelungs in the fight against the dragon.

This Siegfried is a legend type that we can often notice in the poetries of world literature. He is the conqueror of a dragon who dives into the blood of the dragon and thereby gains special perfection, for example, to make himself invisible and to approach a female figure to which one penetrates only through fire and flames. In the single genealogical phases of the gods quite significant ancient views are concealed which partly avoid any public discussion, because they lead into fields that belong to the deepest of occultism.

Scholarship has often seen in Siegfried the symbol of a sun hero, namely in such a way as scholarship just understands such symbols: the sun overcoming the clouds. Two weeks ago, I have already explained how little external symbolism copes with such a matter, how it just became clear due to the investigations of Ludwig Laistner about the riddle of the sphinx that the folk does not symbolise in such a way. We understand the Germanic world of gods and the Siegfried legend only if we also assume here that experiences of the gods are expressed in all these experiences.

Two weeks ago, we have seen that some experience of higher mental and spiritual worlds existed in the German prehistoric time and that the human being developed from the astral vision, from the vision into the spiritual world, to our usual everyday views, which look at the things with the external senses. Like a recollection, it was for our ancestors in Central Europe that once the human beings looked into the spiritual world that is now immersed, however, in darkness, after the external physical vision of humanity has perfected itself more and more. What lives even today as a legend and myth is the rest of such higher spiritual view. The gods are higher experiences, are real figures of that world, in which the human being settles in if he has attained higher senses. A straight line runs from the dream up to the highest astral-spiritual experiences of the soul. We want to cast a look at the difference between the so-called night consciousness and day consciousness so that this does not become too unclear to us.

The day consciousness of the normal human being by which culture has been created has been acquired. It comes about by the fact that the soul perceives the outside world with the senses, processes it with reason and imagination. If, however, the soul frees itself from the body at night, the gates of the senses are closed; the soul is in itself. Then, indeed, it lives in other spiritual surroundings, but it cannot perceive because it has no senses for it, just as a human being who has lost his eyes, ears, generally all senses, could still live, but would perceive nothing of the surroundings. The soul had the ability once to behold in the world, in which the human being descends if he leaves himself to sleep.

He beheld in the spiritual world, and the reflections of the spiritual world are in the myths, are real experiences. Therefore, it seemed to the human beings in Central Europe in such a way that they would have once perceived a light that has now disappeared in the darkness of the night. A light can illuminate the night that causes that one is able to behold spiritual and mental beings that one finds recorded in the myths. This disappearance of the astral consciousness is shown beautifully and tremendously in the figure of Baldr. It is only a speculative fiction of German scholarship if one asserts that Baldr is the sun. Baldr is the old astral light, which beholds into the spiritual-mental world which. However, died away in the course of development when a race came up for which the spiritual light was immersed in darkness. This race about which really the old Germans could have said: indeed, the lights appear in the darkness, but the darkness does not know the lights —, are the Nibelungs, the inhabitants of Niflheim. What is meant by this race for which the spiritual is dark and only the sensuous is bright? What changed with it?

The old forces which glowed through the space and lived in everything, the forces of love from which everything has arisen, they were — one remembered — the deeper source of life at this time when one was still able to behold into the spiritual world when one lived generally quite differently. With the emergence of the external sensory world, egoism took the place of love that up to now controlled everything, which raised any social intercourse of the beings, which led being to being and founded all conditions between them. A race that had still beheld into the spiritual world now turned its sense to the merely external physical, physical possession, physical property: the desire to grasp any piece of the sensory world. This is the “gold,” the external, physical possession. One always remembered that time in the German people even in narrow circumstances when the land still belonged to the whole village community. Those who sat on such a possession were still naturally connected with each other, at that time the blood still founded relationship. Now there came another time. The common possession that at the same time generated a certain community spirit, common love, passed into private ownership, into the urge and desire of possession. The old Germans went also through this development that almost all peoples went through. Thus, they felt the new conditions contrasting the old ones, as if in place of the inside the outside had appeared, as if one followed the desire in his activities once which lived inside, namely love, and now egoism. Now that which brought people together had also to be regulated by contracts and provisions of the law, instead by natural degrees of relationship as it used to be.

There came a new world order with the new gods who are commensurate with the external sensuous reality. This was our race of gods of the old times. However, these gods also appeared again in new figure, as those who have extracted the better part, the essence of the old, as supersensible powers for the sensuous time. The human beings seemed to be involved in sensuousness. Somebody, however, who wanted to be a leader of humanity, was also an initiate within the Germanic prehistoric time just as, otherwise, everywhere, who beheld deeper into the sources of existence and could penetrate to the divine, creative forces. Such an initiate must have overcome what connects the human being with sensuousness; he must be able to direct all his thoughts and energy only to the permanent, to that which is behind the sensuous things. He must raise himself out of the fight of the everyday life. Now every human being is in this fight of the everyday life with desires and everyday ideas. He must overcome all that; a real deeper insight into the things is not possible before. Because one realises that so little, one cannot understand what real and true wisdom is. Otherwise, one would also know that it is necessary, before one penetrates to knowledge, to make oneself worthy of knowledge, to feel that that which intellect and reason can grasp, what we can think, that these are divine thoughts according to which the world is built up. Not that is the point, what the initiates know, but how they know it, and they become knowing because they have overcome the lower nature of the human being. By the knowledge that is tied together with the transformation of the whole soul, knowledge becomes wisdom.

The peoples had different initiates according to their respective characters. We understand this if we understand the sense of initiation. Which task does the initiate have, actually? Above all, the initiates were those who gave the certainty of immortality of the human soul to the peoples. Soaring wisdom means experiencing the reality of the soul. One gets to know it if one looks into the world that the astral light illumines. There the immortality of the soul turns out to be a soul quality. Because the initiate can already enter these worlds in this life in which there is an everlasting life, therefore, he can inform about the destiny of the human being before birth and after death.

It was the task of the initiates at all times to make clear how the soul raises itself out of the transient sensuous existence. Wherever any belief exists based on deep knowledge and experience, one says something similar as that which in newer time the theosophical or spiritual-scientific movement says for the first time again. The more the human being changes the sensuous existence developing the most various virtues and abilities, the more he passes to another existence, which is imperishable. The Greeks called the soul a bee that flies, collects honey, and then returns to the beehive. The same applies to the soul. It flies in the physical world, collects experience, and brings it back to the spiritual world where it becomes its permanent possession. Where mystic facts form the basis, one imagined the soul as something female, thus, for example, Goethe as the “eternally-female,” the soul which takes up constantly from the surroundings and is fertilised by it. The universe, however, is male if one looks at it considering the soul. Every experience of the soul in the outside world is a fertilisation.

Hence, it appears as a union to somebody who can observe how the soul soars immortality, because it combines with its higher nature that it meets as it were if it has worked its way up to this higher level. Because bravery was the highest virtue with the Teuton, the warrior falling on the battlefield, attains immortality encountering the Valkyrie; the Valkyrie is nothing else than the immortal human soul. If the warrior has practiced the virtue that leads to immortality, he unites with the Valkyrie; someone who did not fall on the battlefield died the straw death and had to descend to the region of Hel where the spiritual light did not shine.

An initiate is someone who has met the soul already in this life. Thus, Siegfried is the initiate of the Germanic prehistoric time who overcomes the lower nature, the dragon, who ascends and acquires the right to behold as every initiate into the world that the human beings enter when they go through the gate of death.

Such initiates were always invisible to the physical eye of the human being; they always wore a magic hood. It is evident to everybody without further ado that if today in any modern city an initiate as for example Christ Jesus appeared, he would remain quite concealed as such. Even if one did not imprison him, nevertheless, one would feel that which is to be perceived only with spiritual eyes as something quite incredible at least. This applies to all initiates, also to Siegfried. Someone who ascends to the higher knowledge of wisdom must overcome not only the dragon, but has also to go through various dangers to a higher consciousness. The flames and the fires with which the Valkyrie is surrounded are real. Before the human being is able to behold in the higher world, the higher nature is always mixed with the lower one, it controls the lower one and guards what wants to come out of the lower stormy passions. If, however, the higher nature lifts out itself, the lower nature is left alone at first. Hence, those who have not strengthened their characters thoroughly before, but want to attain the clairvoyant ability and ascend to the spiritual world change often to the worse.

There the fire of the passions easily starts burning. The flames form from the higher consciousness, and the initiate has to go through the flames first. Here you have the initiation ceremonies of Siegfried. There were such initiates in those days; they were priest sages who combined bravery and wisdom in themselves, they were kings and priests at the same time. This ideal of the human being lived in the memory of the old German. It stood before his soul at the time when just this poetry originated like a recollection. This had now changed. Bravery is no longer subordinated to initiation and wisdom is assigned to a worldly class; now instead of warriorship, which was priestly knighthood at the same time, one has a priesthood that does not know anything of initiation.

The attainment of this higher consciousness of the priest sages is shown in the fact that Siegfried, who was already engaged with the Valkyrie Brunhilda, drinks the potion of forgetfulness. That means that he is placed in that world which knows nothing about the old times, and that he attains Brunhilda for someone who is no longer a priest sage who has cast off the one side, bravery, which is attained with the higher soul. Brunhilda should be attained for someone who was no longer a sprig of the old gods, an initiate.

The development of the spiritual culture is wonderfully expressed in the Siegfried legend. The times are past in which bravery and the deepest wisdom were combined in the initiate. The union with the Valkyrie is no longer bound to an initiation; those have remained from the prehistoric time in certain way who attain immortality by bravery now. The connection with the old world of the gods got lost; only the sensuous life that is bound to the gold remained. Nevertheless, for such a time — that was clear at least to the mystic thinking in this time — the higher consciousness signifies something dangerous. The initiate who has defeated the dragon can unite with the higher consciousness and let fulfil himself with it. The lower nature is not able to mislead him, because he has cast it off. However, with somebody, who must still go through this and has not overcome the lower nature, it may become dangerous. This should be brought home to the old Germans. For the union with the Valkyrie has a destroying effect unless it is closely related to internal worthiness.

She becomes the perishable power if she appears for herself. Thus, Brunhilda appears for itself, while she had to belong to the man who had not gone through initiation to whom she was affianced wrongfully. Hence, the higher consciousness must have a perishable effect. With it, we have also explained what causes the doom of Brunhilda finally. Brunhilda, the higher consciousness coming from the old gods, must ruin the old gods together with herself. The sprig of the gods was on a par with her. Once, it was right that Valkyries came down to the warriors because initiates were among them who had attained the right of the union with Brunhilda by a victorious life. This consciousness, the gift of the old gods they had originally given to the initiates was handed down, however, also to those who were no initiates, where she could work destroying, dissolving, and had to draw down the old world of the gods inevitably: the twilight of the gods or Ragnarök.

Not by chance, but from the deepest wisdom, also in the German version of the Song of the Nibelungs, where the people moves to the court of Attila the Hun to meet its doom, the new Christianity appears. Christianity shines into the old world.

The world started from love. One remembered an old love symbolically, which was substituted by the statutes that were based on the gold. The time of the gold caused that the higher consciousness of Brunhilda has a destroying effect. The point in time when the old gods perished is shown cosmically with the time when the astral vision was replaced by the physical vision that thereby becomes a reflection of the cosmic process.

Love instead of the statutes shall rise as a new element. Even the myth shows this allegorically, and in this fact, it appears more intimate: When Siegfried should be betrayed; his woman marked the place, where he could be wounded, with a cross. The soul of any initiate is invulnerable by the earthly sensuous, even if his body is torn to pieces. The soul itself has settled in the higher life. However, the initiate could not yet attain one thing. Siegfried has remained vulnerable where the moral legality purified to the divine should flare up in love. This inflammation of the self-deifying morality in love is the essence of Christianity. This did not yet belong to Siegfried's initiation.

After the twilight of the gods is over, another hero appears among the old fighter, who outranks Siegfried, who is invulnerable where Siegfried was still vulnerable. The great bore the cross on his back, which Kriemhilde could only mark. — You see what a deep underground, what a spiritual life portrait exists in this legend of prehistoric time. Everywhere sounds the riddle of humanity to us.

You all know that Richard Wagner (1813-1883, composer and poet) was not content with the Siegfried figure of the Song of the Nibelungs, but that he resorted to the Norse legend even if he changed the single motives and personalities somewhat. He shows Siegfried as the soul which has gone through initiation killing the dragon, as a being who understands the language of the birds who sees and hears not only through the gates of the sensory world.

In the Twilight of the Gods (completed in 1874), he lets us look at the connection which is symbolised in Brunhilda as the old world of the gods, which is immersed in the depths from which then the Christian love rises which has replaced the old world of the gods. I would not like to state that Richard Wagner had these thoughts in the abstract; but this does not need to be the case with the artist. One speaks so easily of the “unaware” creating of the artist. This is no good word. If the human being thinks in abstractions, in shadowy images, the artist works in the creating. It is more a higher misbehaviour of vain scholarship and intellect if one calls this living in imagination and creating “unaware.” Here rather something else forms the basis. What is art with its creative forming, through which a higher world shines? It is deeply significant that just by the renewal of the myth also a renewal of art was caused again. If to the usual human being the myth is only a symbol, it is to the initiate a spiritual reality, the expression of the experience of a higher spiritual world. It is such a full consciousness that the usual bright day consciousness is not able to grasp it. A shadowy reflection of it has remained in the myth, and we have something similar if we imagine how an initiate introduced his pupils in the old mysteries, are they Greek, Persian, Egyptian, or those about which German prehistory tells.

There we have the initiate who has the power to open the eyes of his pupils for this higher world. There they look into this spiritual world; scenes of a higher experience take place before them, not between human beings but between gods. A later time has retained these scenes taking place like in a silhouette, namely in the art. Art is like a dream or a silhouette a recollection of a former clairvoyance and a prophecy of a later clairvoyance of the whole humanity.

It was a great epoch when the last echo of that old time was got out in the German myth by Richard Wagner again to find the union of art and vision. Thus, the products of Richard Wagner's art have a prophetic significance. They are a great, eminent means of education of the newest time; they renew the myth and help to evoke the soul forces of the human being by the sound of music and by the supernatural taking place before his eyes.

The theosophical or spiritual-scientific worldview that works towards that future of humanity is allowed to consider this art reborn from the myth as a real sister. Thus, it is possible in a certain way to obtain another deepening of Richard Wagner's art from spiritual science. The living spiritual penetration that spiritual science aims at has to replace the mere abstract scholarship, which has seized the old legends and myths. The myth is a representation of deep truth, of high spiritual experience, and while the spiritual research that is different from the usual research wakes the consciousness of these spiritual experiences, it will put the myth across in its depths again. Then the essence of the legends of the daybreak of humanity can come to life again.

In the most different forms, the human beings have expressed truth. However, someone understands the form of truth who has a sense of the core and the living spring of truth. It is the task of the spiritual-scientific worldview to search for the core of this truth, and by this attitude, which constitutes the essentials in the spiritual-scientific realm; the best of the past spiritual treasures of humanity can just appear on the surface of modern educational life.

Last Modified: 17-Feb-2018
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