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Goethe's Secret Revelation

Schmidt Number: S-1846

On-line since: 15th October, 2012

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(a) Exoteric
(b) Esoteric

Two Addresses given 22nd and
24th October, 1908, at Berlin


Whoever follows the history of human development, not only in the usual documents and traditions, but goes rather deeper into things which though at first appearing only symptomatic of that development, really point the way to the inner and therefore true forces of evolution, will find renewed significance in a memorable scene at the end of the eighteenth century. An address based on the highest contemporary Science was given to the Natural Science Society at Jena by a very important Botanist of the day called Batsch. Two men, one some ten years older than the other, listened to this address, and it happened that they left the place together and fell into conversation. The younger said to the elder: ‘When one considers such an address, it shows once again how the scientific method of observation picks things to pieces, sets one by the side of another, and scarcely takes into consideration the homogeneous spiritual bond existing in all the different units.’ In other words it seemed wrong to the younger man that plant should be put side by side with plant without any reference to a higher something, which must also exist in the world, uniting the various plants.

The elder man replied: ‘It might perhaps be possible to find a method of studying nature, which goes to work differently, and which in spite of being a study which must lead to knowledge, has, as its aim, the unifying element, namely that which is absent in external observation by the various senses.’ The man took a pencil and a piece of paper from his pocket and at once drew a remarkable shape, a shape that resembled a plant, but no existing plant, to be seen or perceived by the outward physical senses, a shape which, as it were, exists nowhere and of which he said that it existed indeed in no individual plant, but was the ‘plant-hood,’ the proto-plant type which existed in all plants and represented the unifying element. The younger man looked at it and said: ‘Yes, but what you have drawn there is not an experience, not observation, that is an idea’ — having in mind that only the human spirit could form such ideas, and that such an idea had no significance for external, so-called objective nature.

The elder man was unable to understand this objection at all, for he replied: ‘If that is an idea, then I see my ideas with my eyes!’ He meant that just as an individual plant is visible to the external sense of sight, and is an experience, so his proto-plant, although invisible by means of an external sense, was objective, existent in the outer world, living in all plants, the archetype in all individual plants. You know that the younger of these two men was Schiller, the elder Goethe.

This conversation is a symptomatic, significant indication of modern spiritual science.

What really prompted that reply of Goethe's to Schiller? There spoke in him the consciousness that one does not only grasp an external objective truth with that representation given by the external sense, and furnished by a limited understanding from external sense-perceptions, but that the human being, when he sets in motion higher spiritual forces, which are not applied to separate sense-observations, arrives at truth and reality just as one does by means of external sense perceptions.

We may well say that Schiller, who at that moment was incapable of realizing what lay behind, when he believed that Goethe had made his drawing in terms of subjectivity, has left us the finest testimony of man's capacity to scale the heights as revealed to him by Goethe. From that moment we see Schiller's ever increasing comprehension of Goethe's ideas. A letter of his provides a psychological document of the first importance, where he says: ‘For a long time, although from a distance, I have watched the progress of your spirit with ever renewed admiration, and noticed the path you have set yourself. You seek the necessity of nature, but on the most difficult road, from which indeed any weaker power would draw back. You take all nature as one in order to obtain light on each separate part, and you seek the explanation of the individual in the “all” of its phenomena. You ascend from the simple organism, step by step to the more complex, in order finally to erect genetically from the materials of all nature's structure the most complex of all, the human being. You seek to penetrate into his hidden technique, by re-creating him in the manner of nature. A great and truly heroic idea which sufficiently shows to what extent your spirit holds together the rich totality of its conceptions in a beautiful unity.’

Thus we may regard as a testimony to the objectivity of Goethe's idea-world that which in his consciousness brought forth such a reply, and which Schiller later confirmed in this letter.

It is remarkable that Heinroth, a psychologist who lived in the twenties of the nineteenth century and is to-day forgotten, uttered a very significant phrase about Goethe in his Anthropology, which is really a psychology — one of those phrases which are significant through their application, and throw great light on what they are meant to illumine. He used the phrase, speaking of Goethe's whole method of approach, ‘objective thinking’ and he enlarged upon the phrase by saying: Goethe's thinking is a quite peculiar thinking, really inseparable from the objectivity of things, resting quietly in objects, in which it is raised to ideas.

Now whoever is able to look into Goethe's whole spiritual organism — as we shall to-day and the day after to-morrow, when we shall try to penetrate still deeper into this question, when we shall consider more inwardly what we are to have presented to us to-day outwardly — will see that in this thought he adheres to facts without stopping merely at the surface of things and the experience of the senses, and finds within these facts the spiritual, the world of ideas. We see that for this reason Goethe's thought has become so important for a large part of our modern human development. We may say that there is something exceedingly remarkable in this effect of Goethe's spirit on the most diverse types of people, on the most varied views even on the different successive epochs.

Let us consider for a moment the point at issue and we shall see what unique results Goethe's spiritual standard has in fact produced. If we take three philosophers of German spiritual life, who are quite different from each other in their points of view, Fichte, Hegel and Schopenhauer, we find from a study of their mutual relationships and of their relationships to Goethe something quite remarkable about Goethe's influence on history. Fichte reveals himself as a thinker, wandering on remote heights, especially when he had finished his Foundation of Science at Jena in 1792. It is difficult to rise to an understanding of Fichte's peculiarity, it is difficult to penetrate to him, although everyone who has succeeded must admit that he has gained food for spiritual discipline from him to an extraordinary degree. But it is not for every man to ascend to such spheres of the purest concept. Fichte, who wandered on these heights of abstraction, particularly at that moment, sent his work to Goethe with the following significant words: ‘I see and have always seen in you the purest representative at the present stage of humanity of the spirituality of feeling. To your feeling therefore, philosophy rightly turns. The spirituality of your feeling is the normal standard for philosophy.’ Thus Fichte to Goethe.

Let us look now at another philosopher, at Schopenhauer, and let us see first how Schopenhauer stood to Fichte. They were, in truth, a hostile pair — at least Schopenhauer was very hostile to Fichte. Schopenhauer never wearied of abusing Fichte. To him he is a windbag, thinking and writing empty ideas. He repeatedly emphasizes how unreal and meaningless Fichte's philosophy is. In fact there could not be a greater contrast than these two. And Schopenhauer indeed went to Goethe to be taught. For a time he experimented together with Goethe in order to learn the fundamental physical concepts, and a good deal in his first work, and even in his chief work is derived from the impression Goethe made on him. If you know Schopenhauer, you know also with what homage he spoke of Goethe. Schopenhauer and Fichte — two great contrasts unite in Goethe, and he seems like the unifying force of each.

Let us take finally Hegel and Schopenhauer. Hegel is also difficult to reach with the understanding. He tries to create a fact-world of concepts in a comprehensive, systematic frame, and demands that man should lift himself to a stage where he grasps concept as fact, where he is capable of experiencing it directly. Schopenhauer finds in this something entirely worthless, merely a playing with abstract words. If we wish to know Hegel's relation to Goethe, we need mention only one instance and we shall see how they stand. There is a beautiful letter in which Hegel writes: ‘Goethe seeks behind the sense-revelations the actual spiritual phenomena, which he calls the proto-phenomena, as he calls the proto-plant the proto-phenomenon of the vegetable world. While he speaks from the heights of the spiritual world as philosopher and shows us what we can think and comprehend, he works himself on the other hand up to the point where he comes into touch with spirit-created thoughts. Thus Goethe's proto-phenomenon is united with what the pure, thinking philosophy derives from above.’

Here also we see a harmony between Hegel and Goethe, as between Goethe and Schopenhauer. In Goethe they find themselves united. And when we proceed from these older times to our own, what do we find?

In Goethe's lifetime research in Natural Science was different. More than then the only right method of strict Science to-day is considered to be a research relying on external sense-observations and the formal working out by the mind of what is limited by the obscuration of the results thus obtained. But a Haeckel, as he shows in every book, is determined to stand on the firm ground of Goethean world-conception, and so we see a more materialistically coloured philosophy emphasizing the importance of relying on Goetheanistic world-conception. You can find books to-day written on a basis for which the spirit is an absolute reality in the highest sense of the word, and in them you can trace the debt to Goethe. Spiritualistic and materialistic students can fight from opposite camps, but both believe they may look up to Goethe in the same way. He thus provides something which bridges the gulf between opponents.

These facts testify to the force of Goethe's world-conception, a force which has such an influence on others that though they do not understand each other, they find something in Goethe which they have themselves. Perhaps some of you know how widely apart Virchow and Haeckel stood from each other. But Virchow also, who saw eye to eye with Haeckel in so few things, has in an important address on Goethe equally found support in him. So in Goethe we see a power, which, in face of all the contradictions and struggles of world-conceptions, is able to show, that things are not what these representatives of science consider, and for which they so stubbornly fight.

It is just when you consider the relation of these important people to Goethe, that you realize that it is the same towards what is called knowledge as it is with different painters, sitting round a mountain, and painting it from different points of view. The resultant pictures must also of course be different, though it is the same mountain they paint. You will get a comprehensive idea of the mountain only by comparing the various representations with each other and compounding them into a whole. If you put yourself in the same position with regard to knowledge, you will see that Goethe does not select a single point of view, but rather scales the mountain and shows that it is possible to take up a position on the summit and there to find a comprehensive panorama, in which all views are revealed in their deeper consistency or interconnection.

It is this which makes Goethe's spirit so eminently modern, and if in plunging deep into Goethe we get the feeling that he appears to us a modern, it will be a sufficient justification if in our frequent studies here of spiritual science and a world-conception based on the spiritual, we consider what he did and wanted to do as a kind of invitation to penetrate deeper into his nature. If he is a stimulating spirit in so many respects, why should he not also be a stimulant for that spiritual tendency (Spiritual Stream) one of whose highest and most beautiful aims is a tolerant investigation into the different standpoints of world-conceptions, and which makes it a principle not to stand still on one fixed point, but, in order to find truth, to climb ever higher and higher by means of methods applied to inner development and growth of inner organs of perception, because thus alone can one see the deeper spiritual foundations? We shall now consider how far Goethe coincides with the deepest feelings of modern mankind on a narrowly limited subject. As an example we shall choose a feeling many of you know, which can be described by saying that there are many people to-day who strive to throw overboard old traditions, and create feelings, thoughts and ideas which lead direct to the present time. You will see at once what I mean when I remind you of a picture which many to-day cherish. You can take what attitude you like to the picture, but it is an expression of the contemporary age. I refer to the picture: ‘Komm, Herr Jesus, sei unser Gast’ — ‘Lord Jesus, come and be our Guest.’ The picture lives not only in its creator, but also in those who would enjoy it; they feel the longing to see the figure of Jesus in their immediate presence, as is represented near the table. One might say that the picture has not only value for this age, but for all ages, that it is there eternally and cannot pass away and that every age has the right to put this figure into its own epoch. These few words alone will indicate the feeling which many have towards this picture.

Now one might believe that in these things Goethe belonged still to the ancients — a conclusion one would draw from his preference for the old art, with its old, sound, artistic traditions, and his preference for the Greeks; one might believe Goethe had no understanding of the emotion expressed in this picture — ‘Lord Jesus, come and be our Guest.’ In order to get a glance into Goethe's soul let us refer to a book by Bossi on Leonardo da Vinci's ‘Last Supper.’ Goethe wrote a criticism of this book, and in it there are significant words. Of this picture which is in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie cloister at Milan and in spite of recent restoration looks as if it would soon disappear, Goethe relates how he stood in front of it at a time when it still had a certain freshness. He describes the impression which he once got from this picture in his youth: ‘Opposite the entrance in the narrower wall, in the body of the hall stood the Prior's table, on each side the monks' tables, all raised from the floor on a dais, and now when you had come in and turned round, you saw the fourth table painted on the fourth wall, above the fairly low doors; and at it Christ and His Disciples, just as if they belonged to the company.’ — He, summoned by the Dominicans in their sense and in their place, with the emotional thought ‘Lord Jesus, come and be our Guest.’ The whole, says Goethe, made a unified picture. And not to leave any doubt as to his meaning he adds: ‘It must have been a significant sight at meal-times, when the tables of the Prior and of Christ looked across at each other like two opposite pictures and the monks found themselves in between. And therefore the painter in his wisdom had to take the monks' tables as his model. And it is certain the table-cloth with its creases, its striped pattern and its open corners, was taken from the linen-room of the Cloister, and the dishes, plates, mugs and other utensils were copied from those the monks used. There was thus no question of approximation to an uncertain, old-fashioned costume. It would have been extremely clumsy to have made the Holy Company lie on cushions. No, it had to resemble the present; Christ was to take his Evening Meal with the Dominicans of Milan.’

And now let us ask whether Goethe had this understanding which we must call a modern understanding. He had it in that comprehensive manner which is another proof of how universal his powers are as against the sometimes one-sided powers which mutually exclude and fight each other.

We must put ourselves into Goethe's soul in this way and then we shall understand why Goethe stands so close to us and why we look up to him whenever the current attitude to deeper spiritual questions is under discussion. It was his deep consciousness that it is possible for man to awake in himself spiritual organs in order to ascend to higher conceptions, and thereby to gain something which not merely lives in the human spirit, but at the same time lies deeper.

Were it possible to enter upon Goethe's scientific studies, as you will find them discussed in detail in my book, Goethe's World-Conception, we should be able to show the working of his whole method. But to-day we want to approach him from another side. Goethe has expressed things here and there which indicate the deep foundation of his philosophy. We shall have to speak of this in the last two addresses of this winter's cycle on ‘Faust.’ [See note on publications at end of book. {There is none! - e.Ed}] He once said to Eckermann concerning Faust, that he had drawn him in such a way that the reader who is content only with externals has some satisfaction in the colourful scenes, but that he can also find behind the words the secrets which lie there. Here Goethe is pointing out in Part II that we have to differentiate between the external and the inner essential secret meaning. In accordance with ancient custom we describe the external as the exoteric and the other as the esoteric.

Now we shall approach Goethe by considering to-day in an external, exoteric way a work in which he expressed his whole ‘methodical thinking and willing;’ and the day after to-morrow we shall consider it esoterically.

It is a comparatively unknown little work of Goethe's to which we must go if we want to look into his deepest secrets of knowledge — we merely describe them as such. It is the little piece at the end of the ‘Conversations of German Emigrants,’ under the title, ‘Legends,’ from which the reader, if he strives to get Goethe's world-conception, will get the feeling that Goethe wishes to say more in it than appears from the scenes. For the thoughtful student this ‘Legend of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily’ will provide riddle after riddle.

And now allow me to explain the chief features of this story, for I cannot talk about it unless we recall the important points, if we are to look more deeply into Goethe's philosophy. We shall therefore have to give a moment to the content of this little work; and after that we shall understand each other better in what we shall have to say. I have often had it said to me when I have lectured on this story, ‘I never knew there was a “legend” in Goethe's works;’ and so I repeat that it is contained in every edition of Goethe and constitutes the ending of the ‘Conversations of German Emigrants.’

Now to the scenes. A Ferryman lives by a River and to him come remarkable forms — Will-o'-the-Wisps. They want to be put across to the other side by the Ferryman in his boat. The Ferryman agrees to take them across. On the way they behave in a curious manner; they are restless and fidgety, so that he is afraid they will upset the boat. But they arrive safely and then they propose to pay him in an odd way. They shake themselves and golden pieces fall from them, and they are the reward for his trouble in taking them over. The Ferryman is not enthusiastic about the golden pieces and says: ‘It is a good thing that nothing has fallen into the river, for it would have surged up wildly. I cannot take this payment; I can be paid only with the fruits of nature.’ And he demands three Onions, three Artichokes and three Cabbages. They had to pay with fruits of the earth. We shall soon see what deep significance every point and every fact has.

The Ferryman continues: ‘Now you give me the extra trouble of taking down the river the golden pieces you've thrown about and I must bury them.’ Wherefore he takes them actually a short way downstream and buries them in the crevices of the earth. When they have been thus buried, another remarkable being comes along to them — the Green Snake, who crawls in and on and about the earth and through its crevices. Suddenly she sees the pieces of gold falling down through the cracks of the earth and thinks at first they are falling from Heaven. She therefore devours them and becomes, by thus taking the golden pieces into her own body, more and more luminous. As she comes to the surface she notices that she gives off a peculiar light in a marvellous manner and gleams like emerald and precious stones.

Now the Snake and the Will-o'-the-Wisps come together, the latter still shaking themselves and throwing away what they shake out, the Snake, having acquired a taste for gold, taking up and swallowing what the others throw about. The conversation between them is significant. The Snake calls herself a relative of the Will-o'-the-Wisps in a horizontal line, the Will-o'-the-Wisps call themselves relations of the Snake in a vertical line. They ask the Snake moreover if she could not inform them how to come to the Beautiful Lily. ‘Oh,’ says the Snake, ‘the Beautiful Lily is on the other side of the River.’ ‘Well, then we've done a fine thing,’ answer the Will-o'-the-Wisps, ‘we've just had a lift across because we wanted to come to the Beautiful Lily. If we could only find a Ferryman who would ferry us back again!’ And now follow very important words. ‘You will not find the Ferryman again, and if you did, be certain that he may indeed take you across, but not back again. If you want to get to the other side of the River, there are only two ways. Either you try at noon, when the sun is at its highest, to find a bridge over my own body, in order to cross’ — The Will-o'-the-Wisps say, ‘We do not like journeying at midday’ — ‘Or you use the second way; for there is another possibility. At dusk you will find the huge Giant at a certain place. He has no strength in him, but when he stretches out his hand and its shadow falls across the river, you can cross over on the shadow. The shadow gives enough support to walk over on it. So if at midday you will not cross over me, you must find the Giant.’

The Will-o'-the-Wisps let themselves be told this, but the Snake has returned into the crevices, rejoicing in her increasing light-giving power through swallowing the gold.

And now the Snake notices something extremely odd. On descending again into the earth, she notices that where she had formerly found metals and so on, she now sees remarkable forms. Before, she had perceived them only through the sense of touch; now, being luminous, she can also see the things. She was able to feel pillars and also shapes like human beings, but till then she never really knew what there was in the underground caves. Now she enters again and her radiating light serves to illuminate everything.

On entering this large cavern under the earth, the Snake can at once perceive that there are four kingly figures standing in the four corners: a Golden King, a Silver King, a Brazen King, and in the fourth corner a Mixed King, put together in the gayest manner of all kinds of other metals.

The moment the Snake enters the cavern and lights up the figures, the Golden King puts the very significant question: ‘Whence comest thou?’

‘From the crevices, where the gold lives,’ answers the Snake.

‘What is more splendid than gold?’ asks the Golden King.

‘Light,’ is the Snake's reply.

The King asks further: ‘What is more comforting than Light?’


No one will doubt that these words are not meant to give just pictures, but that they also have a significant content.

As the Snake enters the cavern a crack opens in the Temple where the four Kings live and there enters the Old Man with the Lamp. He is asked why he comes at that moment, whereupon he says the remarkable words: ‘Do you not know that my lamp may illumine only what is already illumined? that I may not lighten the Darkness?’ After the Snake has lit up the objects in the room he may also come in with his wonderworking Lamp.

Now a conversation takes place between the Kings and the Old Man with the Lamp. He is asked:

‘How many secrets do you know?’

‘Three,’ he answers.

‘Which is the most important?’ asks the Silver King.

‘The open one,’ replies the Old Man.

‘Will you open it also to us?’ asks the Brazen King.

‘As soon as 1 know the Fourth.’

And now come the most significant words of the whole story:

‘I know the Fourth,’ said the Snake, and whispers something into his ear; whereupon the Old Man with a great voice cries out:

‘The time is at hand!’

There are a great number of attempts to solve the riddles of this story, and many people have tried to explain in one way or another what was felt to be a riddle even in Goethe's and Schiller's time. It is characteristic that Goethe and Schiller agreed about it and pronounced it explicitly in the words: the word that solves the story is in the story itself. So the solution has to be sought in the story itself, and in the course of my address it will be found to be so, though in a remarkable way. The Snake whispers something into the Old Man's ear, and what is whispered, but not spoken, is the solution of the riddle. The Old Man then says: ‘The time is at hand!’ So what we have to find out is what the Snake whispered to the Old Man in the subterranean Temple.

The Old Man now proceeds to the dwelling-place of his Wife. Through the power of the Lamp's light the most diverse materials are metamorphosed: stones into Gold, wood into Silver, dead animals into Precious Stones, but Metals are destroyed. He finds his Wife in an almost unconscious state. When he asks what has happened, she says: ‘There were quite extraordinary people here. One might have taken them for Will-o'-the-Wisps. They behaved pretty badly.’ ‘Well,’ says the Old Man: ‘considering your age, no doubt they were decently polite.’ Then she relates how the Will-o'-the-Wisps went for the Gold and licked it, so that they could shake it out again. ‘If it had been no worse than that — but just look at the Pug-dog. He ate of the golden pieces, was changed into precious stone, and died. Now he's dead,’ the Old Woman continues: ‘Had I known this before, I should not have promised them to pay their debt to the Ferryman, namely, three Cabbages, three Onions and three Artichokes.’

‘Well,’ says the Old Man, ‘take the Pug-dog and carry him to the Beautiful Lily, who has the quality of being able to change precious stone into life by touching it.’ So she takes the three times three fruits, to pay off the debt she has undertaken to the Ferryman, and takes the Pug-dog as well.

Now we come to a very significant point in the story. As she carries the basket, it seems unusually heavy, although anything dead has no weight for her; the basket with the dead dog alone would be no heavier than if it were empty; the living things, the Cabbages, Onions and Artichokes alone weigh down the basket. On the road to the Ferryman, another singular thing happens to her. The Giant holds his arm so that its shadow falls across the River, seizes one Cabbage, one Artichoke and one Onion out of the basket and devours them, so that she has now only two of each kind left. She proposes therefore to pay off only a part of the debt to the Ferryman. But he says that it is absolutely necessary to bring the whole of it at one time.

After considerable argument the Ferryman says there is a possible way out, namely, if she goes bail for the production of the three missing fruits. She must therefore put her hand into the river, as security that she will keep her promise. This she does, but notices that her hand as far as it is immersed in the River has become black and smaller. ‘Now it only looks like it,’ said the Old Ferryman, ‘but if you do not keep your word, it might become a fact. The hand will gradually dwindle and finally disappear, but without your losing the use of it. You will be able to do everything with it, but no one will see it.’ She prefers, however, to have a visible hand, even if it is useless. If she brings the tribute at the agreed time, the Ferryman says everything will be all right.

On the way to the Beautiful Lily, she meets a handsome Youth, who, however, as he says, has lost all his former power and strength, and we learn from their conversation how this has happened. The Youth had conceived the active desire to reach the Beautiful Lily. She had become his Ideal. But her lovely eyes had such a baneful effect that they deprived him of all his strength, and still he was ever attracted to her.

At length the two come to the Beautiful Lily. Everything, indeed, that surrounds her is highly indicative, but we can now select only a few points. The Beautiful Lily is the image of most perfect Beauty, but her touch possesses the power of killing everything that lives, and restoring to life everything that has gone through life and died.

The Old Woman now presents her requests. The Youth has come to satisfy his longing for the Beautiful Lily, but we see that she also feels a longing: she feels herself cut off from all living fruitfulness; in her garden flourish flowers, but only to the point of bloom, not to that of fruit; beautiful she is, but far from all life. The Old Woman then says something significant: she repeats what the Man in the subterranean Temple had said and that gives the Lily new hope. It was indeed the last moment in which she could receive any hope, for she had lost the last living thing, which had been a sort of link between her and the living. She had had a Canary in her neighbourhood, and had taken great care not to disturb it, since that would have killed it. But a Hawk had come near, the Canary fled from it and flew up against the Lily and was killed. And so the Beautiful Lily was reduced to complete spiritual loneliness and isolation from all that human beings have.

The Old Woman now gives the Pug to the Lily. The Lily touches him and thereby restores him to life. The Youth tries to calm his longing by embracing the Lily and thereby he is killed. Life is completely annihilated in him.

The Snake next forms a Magic Circle; and the Youth and the Canary are put inside it. By this means — and the Snake points this out significantly — what is hopeless is to be quickly altered, and in fact it is so. We learn that the Old Man with the Lamp now approaches and that through him a solution of the whole situation can be actually attempted. For there is still just time when he arrives; the bodies of the Canary and the Youth have not yet begun to decay.

The Old Man leads them towards the subterranean Temple, which the Snake had already reconnoitred. He says to the Will-o'-the-Wisps: ‘You are also there to help us. When we come to the Gates of the Temple, you will have to be the ones to unlock them.’ The Snake makes a bridge over the River and the whole company proceeds over it. Then we see, when they have arrived on the other side, that through the contact with the Snake, who now decides to sacrifice herself, the Youth becomes alive again, though not yet in possession of his spirit. And because the Snake is prepared to sacrifice herself, the Youth is translated into a remarkable state. He can see, but cannot understand what he sees. The Snake divides up into numerous wonderful precious stones, which the Old Man sinks in the River and thereby a bridge is formed over it. The procession moves on under the guidance of the Old Man into the subterranean Temple. As they enter we see that questions full of meaning are exchanged between the newcomers and the Kings. For instance: ‘Whence come ye?’ ‘From the World.’ ‘Whither are ye going?’ ‘Into the World.’ ‘What do ye want with us?’ ‘You to accompany!’ (i.e. the Kings.)

Now the group, with the Temple, begins to move. They go under the River and rise again, with the whole Temple, on the other side, and as when they have risen something that looks like woodwork falls into the Temple. It is the Ferryman's Hut. It changes and becomes a small Temple inside the large one. And now takes place a scene which is important for the Youth, who, you remember was until now alive, but not spiritualized.

We have seen that the first, the Golden King, represents Wisdom; the second or Silver one, Illusion, Semblance or Beauty; the third Brazen one, Strength or the Will. We now see a symbolic act taking place. The Youth is presented with three different gifts by the three Kings; the Brazen King with the Sword, accompanied by the significant words: ‘The Sword on the left hand, the right free,’ — Will-power. From the Silver King he receives the Sceptre, with the words, — ‘Tend the Sheep.’ We shall see that the Youth is filled with the feeling of the soul, which expresses itself in Beauty. The Golden King sets the Crown on his head, saying: ‘Recognize, Realize the Highest.’ And the power of imaginative thought enters the Youth. At this instant he is spiritualized, he gains his spirit and may be united with the Beautiful Lily. We are then also told that everything is made young.

What is still specially significant is the part played by the Giant, who has no strength in himself, but in his shadow. He staggers clumsily over the bridge and the King is indignant about it. But it turns out that the Giant's coming has a good meaning. Like the pointer of a great Sun-dial, he is held fast in the middle of the Temple Court. We see what strength we find in the Sun-dial, in the Giant pointing to and harmonizing Time, and we see how the bridge leading to the Temple across the River is made out of the Snake's body. We see also that not only pedestrians, but carts, horsemen and herds can cross to and fro. We are shown how the Youth, on being united with the Beautiful Lily, regains the strength of which her touch had deprived him, how he may now come near to her and embrace her and how happy and blessed they both are.

Who would not say, when he studies the scenes of the fairy tale: ‘These are riddles!’ For the moment we can get only a slight idea of what there is in this legend. But if we proceed historically, if we consider that it arose in the middle of the year 1800 at the beginning of his friendship with Schiller and what took place between Goethe and Schiller, we shall understand what Goethe set out to do in this story.

To this period belongs the production of a work, the fruit of a study of Goethe's world-conception, which became deeply important for the education and cultivation of German spiritual life; Schiller's letters on ‘The Æsthetic Education of Man.’ We can only outline Schiller's intentions in these letters.

He asks himself the question how man can succeed in developing his powers higher and higher, so that he can, in a free and perfectly human manner, penetrate the secrets of the world. This work is written in letter-form to the Duke of Augustenburg, and Schiller wrote this significant sentence in it: ‘Every individual human being, one may say, carries in him according to inclination and his destiny, a pure, ideal person, to find agreement with whose unchangeable unity in all its variations is the great task of his existence.’ And then Schiller tries to examine the means whereby man has to develop himself upwards to the higher stages of human existence.

There are two things that chain man and prevent a free view of the secrets of existence. One is the control by the senses, and the other is the insufficient development of the Reason. And Schiller explains these things thus: Take a person who is unaware of the compelling, logical part of concepts, or even the concept of duty, and follows only his inclinations and instincts. He cannot freely develop the powers of his nature, he is caught in the slavery of impulses, desires and instincts; he is unfree. But he also is not free who struggles with his desires, impulses and instincts, and follows only a purely conceptual and logical necessity of reason. Such a person becomes the slave either of the necessity of nature or the necessity of reason.

By what means can a man develop his inner powers? Schiller answers that he must develop his inner, divine states, strive to cleanse and purify them and make them correspond with what we call logic. When his impulses and instincts are purified so that he does willingly what he considers his duty, when the necessity of reason is no longer felt as compelling, then a man will act reasonably from force of habit, for then reason has led him down to the senses and the senses led him up again to reason.

Consider a man looking at a work of art. He sees something of the senses: but through every sense organ there is revealed to him something spiritual, for in the physical is expressed the spiritual which the artist has put into his work. Spirit and physical senses in the contemplation of beauty — these become the intermediaries. So art, life in beauty, becomes for Schiller a great means of education, a means of aesthetic education, a freeing of nature, so that it can unfold its own powers.

How, therefore, does a man develop himself in Schiller's sense? He must guide his nature down so that it proves true in physical nature, and train the sense up, so that it prove true in rational nature. Goethe uttered wonderful words concerning these letters: ‘Their effect on me is to show what I always lived or wished to live.’

It can be proved that Goethe was stimulated to write his fairy tale by Schiller's words in his aesthetic letters. Goethe expresses the same thing in it, in his own way. He did not wish to express the riddles of the soul in abstract ideas. For him they were too rich and too important to be grasped by natural necessity and in logic. Hence the need grew up in him to personify the different powers of the soul in the figures of his story. Goethe answers Schiller's question in this story and we shall see how wonderfully his psychology is revealed in it. We see in the presentation of the Will-o'-the-Wisps how the soul is always taking in and giving out, how certain powers are personified in the Snake, which works only on the ground like human research, human reason, and experience, which remain in the horizontal plane, while the idealist climbs to the heights. The power of the religious mood is characterized in the Old Man with the Lamp, and finally we see by means of the narrative events how Goethe shows the way in which each soul-power must work.

We shall see the day after to-morrow that Goethe shows how each soul-power must work together with the others, in order to formulate a complete picture of the soul, so that it can develop itself to human perfection, embracing all things. When man tries to grasp knowledge, but is immature, he is killed, like the Youth. There is such a thing as maturing towards knowledge. In the ‘Fairy Tale’ Goethe presents the evolution of the soul in a correct and pictorial way, by creating a parallel work to Schiller's ‘Æsthetic Letters.’ Goethe was aware that there is a goal for the development of the human soul, which in ancient times was called the ‘initiation into higher secrets.’ He knew such a thing is possible and that there are societies which develop the soul in secret places, in the Temples of Initiation. He shows also that humanity in the newer age must make it more and more possible to attain this Initiation, to develop the soul, and in larger spheres. He shows in the events that take place between the separate people, the progress of initiation up to the highest stages, to the point where the soul is capable of grasping the highest secrets. This is viewed exoterically, and purely historically.

By living with Goethe, Schiller experienced what Goethe had done in one of the most important periods of his life. And if Schiller had some difficulty in understanding Goethe, we must admit that what one said in an abstract answer in the Æsthetic Letters, and what the other had to say in a much more comprehensive way, in a way which is attained only by expressing oneself in scenes and persons, is one and the same thing. The Fairy Tale is Goethe-psychology in the deepest sense. We see that Goethe has become so fruitful through this method of his aspiration, that we still gladly take him as guide to-day. He still seems to us a man of the present. We read him as a writer of our time. He is so fruitful, because he has so much that belongs to all time in his work and his whole method. Thus his influence is consistent with that truth which he himself considered the real one, and he once uttered significant words when he said: ‘That which is fruitful alone is true.’

The meaning is that man must acquire such truths that when he enters upon life, they find confirmation by proving themselves fruitful. That was his criterion of truth: ‘That which is fruitful alone is true.’

These addresses, which are meant to bring Goethe nearer, ought to show us that he tested this saying himself, and those who go deeper into him will feel this. You will feel that there is something of genuine truth in Goethe, for he is fruitful, and what is fruitful is true.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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