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Goethe's Secret Revelation

Schmidt Number: S-1848

On-line since: 15th October, 2012

(b) ESOTERIC

The objection might easily be raised to an address such as this to-day that symbolic and allegoric meanings are forced out of something which a poet has created in the free play of his imaginative fancy. The day before yesterday we set ourselves the task to explore the deeper meaning of Goethe's ‘Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily,’ as it was then presented to our eyes. It will always happen that such an analysis or explanation of a work of fantasy will be turned down with the remark: ‘Oh, all sorts of symbols and meanings with profound applications are looked for in the figures of the work.’ Therefore I want to say at once that what I shall say to-day has nothing whatever to do with the symbolic and allegoric interpretations often made by Theosophists about legends or poetic works. And because I know that again and again the objection has been made to similar explanations which I have given: ‘We are not going to be caught by such symbolic meanings of poetic figures,’ I cannot stress the fact sufficiently that what is to be said here must be taken in no other sense than the following. We have before us a poetic work, a work of comprehensive imaginative power or fantasy, that goes to the depths of things: ‘The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily.’ We may well be allowed the question, whether we may approach the work from any particular point of view, and attempt to find the basic idea, the true content of this so poetic a product.

We see the plant before us. Man goes to it and examines the laws, the inner regularity, by which the plant grows and flourishes, by which it unfolds its nature bit by bit. Has the botanist, or even someone who is no botanist, but arranges the growth of the plant in his imagination, the right to do it? Can one object: the plant knows nothing of the laws you are discovering, the laws of its growth and development! This objection against the botanist or the lyric poet who expresses the sensations derived from the plant in his poetry would have the same weight as the objection one could bring against such an explanation of Goethe's story. I do not want things to be taken as if I were to say to you: There we have a Snake, which means this or that, there we have a Golden, a Silver, and a Brazen King, who stand for this or that. I do not intend to expound the story in this symbolic, allegoric sense, but more in such a way that as the plant grows according to laws of which it is itself unconscious, and as the botanist has the right to discover these laws of its growth, one must also say to oneself that it does not follow that the poet Goethe was consciously aware of the explanations which I shall give you. For it is as true that we must consider the inevitability, and the true ideal content of the story as it is that we discover the laws of the plant's growth; that the plant grows in accordance with the same inevitability which originated it, though it is itself unconscious of it.

So I ask you to take what I shall say as if it presented the sense and the spirit of Goethe's methods of thought and idea-conception and as if he who, as it were, feels himself called upon to put before you the ideal philosophy of Goethe, were justified — that you might find a way to it — in expounding the product of Goethe's invention, in emphasizing the figures, and in pointing out their correlation — just as the botanist demonstrates that the plant grows in accordance with laws he has discovered.

Goethe's psychology or soul-philosophy, namely, what he considers determinative for the nature of the soul, is illustrated in his beautiful Fairy Story of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily; and if we are to understand each other in what I have to say it will be a good thing if, in a preliminary study, we make the spirit of his soul-world clear. It has been already pointed out in the previous address that the world-conception represented here starts from the view that human knowledge is not to be looked upon as something stationary once for all. The view is widely held that man is as he is to-day, and being what he is he can give unequivocal judgment on all things; he observes the world with his sense-organs, takes in its phenomena, combines them with his reason, which is bound to his senses, and the result is an absolute knowledge of the world which must be valid for all. On the other side — but only in a certain way — stands the spiritual scientific world-conception which is represented here. This starts from the premise that what is to become our knowledge is continually dependent on our organs and our capacity for knowledge and that we ourselves are, as men, capable of development; that we can work on ourselves, and raise higher such capabilities as we have on a given level of existence. It holds that we can educate them, and they can be developed still further, even as man has developed himself from an imperfect state to his present position, and that we must come to a deeper penetration of things, and a more correct view of the world by rising to higher standards. To put it more clearly, if also more trivially: if we leave out altogether a development of humanity and look only at people as they are around us; and then turn our eyes on those men whom one reckons as belonging to primitive races in the history of civilization, and if we ask ourselves what they can know of the laws of the world around us and compare it with what an average European with some ideas of science can know of the world, we shall see there is a great difference between the two. Take, for instance, an African negro's picture of the world and that, let us say, of an European monist, who has a sense of reality through having absorbed a number of the scientific ideas of the present age: the two are entirely dissimilar.

But on the other hand Spiritual Science is far from depreciating the world-picture of the man who takes his stand on pure materialism, and from declaring it invalid. It is more true to say that in these things it is considered that in every case a man's world-picture corresponds to a stage in human evolution, and that man is able to increase the capabilities in him and to discover by means of the increase other new things.

It lies thus in the purview of Spiritual Science that man reaches ever higher knowledge by developing himself, and what he experiences in the process is objective world-content, which he did not see before because he was not capable of seeing it. Spiritual Science is therefore different from other one-sided world-conceptions, whether spiritualistic, or materialistic, because it does not recognize an absolute, unchangeable truth, but only a wisdom and truth belonging to a given stage of evolution. Thus it adheres to Goethe's saying: ‘Man has really always only his own truth, and it is always the same.’ It is always the same because what we instil into ourselves through our power of learning, viz., the objective, is the same.

Now how does man succeed in developing the capabilities and powers that lie in him? One may say that Spiritual Science is as old as human thought. It always took the view that man has before him the ideal of a certain knowledge-perfection, the object of his aspiration. The principle contained in this was always called the ‘principle of initiation.’ This initiation means nothing other than increasing the powers of man to ever higher stages of knowledge, and thereby attaining deeper insight into the nature of the world around him. Goethe stood completely and all his life long, one may say, on this principle of development towards knowledge, this principle of initiation; which is shown us most particularly in his Fairy Tale.

We shall understand each other most easily if we proceed from the view which is held most often and most widely to-day, and which is to a certain extent in opposition to the initiation-principle.

To-day one can hear in the widest circles those people who think about such things and believe themselves to have an opinion on them representing, more or less consciously, the point of view that in what concerns truth and objective reality only physical observation, or objects of physical observation can be decisive in formulating ideas. You will constantly hear it: that alone can be Science which is based on the objective foundation of observation, and by this one understands so frequently is meant only the observation of the senses and the application of the human reason and capacity to formulate thoughts to these sense-observations. Every one of you knows that the capacity to formulate ideas and concepts is a capacity of the human soul among other capacities and every one of you also knows that these other capacities of the soul are our feeling and our will. Thus, even with this comparative superficial review, we may say: man is not merely an ideating, but also a feeling and willing being. Now those who think they must put forward the purely scientific point of view will always repeat: in science, only the power of thought may enter, never human feeling, never what we know as will-impulses, for otherwise that which is objective would become clouded, and that which the power of thought might achieve by being kept impersonal, would only be prejudiced.

It is correct enough that when a man introduces his feeling, his sympathy or antipathy, into the object of a scientific enquiry, he finds it repulsive or attractive, sympathetic or antipathetic. And where should we be if he were to consider his desire as a source of knowledge, so that he could say about a thing, I want it or I do not want it? Whether it displeases or pleases you, whether you desire it or not, is entirely the same to the thing. As true as it is that he who believes himself able to stand on the firm ground of science can confine himself only to externals, so true it is that the thing itself compels you to say it is red, and that the impression you get concerning the nature of a stone is the correct one. But it does not lie in the nature of the thing that it appears to you ugly or beautiful, that you desire it or not. That it appears to you red has an objective reason; that you do not desire it has no objective reason.

In a certain respect modern psychology has got beyond the point of view just described. It is not my task here to speak for or against that tendency of modern psychology which says: ‘When we consider psychic phenomena and the soul-life, we must not confine ourselves only to intellectualism, we must regard man not merely in what concerns the power of conception, we must also consider the influences of the world of feeling and will.’ Perhaps some of you know that this belongs to Wundt's system of philosophy, which takes the will to be the origin of soul-activity. In a way that is in some respects fundamental, whether one agrees with it or not, the Russian psychologist Losski has pointed out the control of the will in human soul-life, in his last book called ‘Intuitivism.’ I could say much to you if I wanted to show how concerned the theory of the soul is to overcome the one-sidedness of intellectualism, and if further, I wanted to show you that the other powers also play a part in human soul-power.

If you carry the thought a step further, you will be able to say that this shows how impossible the demand is that the power of formulating ideas, limited as it is to observation, may lead to objective results in science. When science itself shows its impossibility, shows that everywhere Will plays a part, on what grounds would you then establish the purely objective observation of anything? Because you prefer to recognize only matter as objective, subject as you are to the tricks played by the will and your habits of thought, and because you have not the habit of thought and feeling to recognize also the spiritual element in things, therefore you omit the latter altogether in your theories. It is not a question, if we want to understand the world, of what kind of abstract ideals we set before us, but of what we can accomplish in our souls.

Goethe belongs to those people who reject the principle most categorically that knowledge is produced only through the thinking capacity, the one-sided capacity to form ideas. The prominent and significant principle expressed more or less clearly in Goethe's nature is that he considers that all the powers of the human soul must function if man is to unravel the riddles of the world.

Now we must not be one-sided and unjust. It is quite correct, when the objection is raised that feeling and will are qualities subjected to the personal characteristics of a man, and when it is asked where we should come to if not only what the eyes see and the microscope shows, but also what feeling and will dictate were considered as attributes of things! All the same that is just what we have to say in order to understand someone who, like Goethe, stands for the principle of initiation and development, namely, that, given the average feeling and will in man to-day, they cannot be applied to the acquirement of knowledge, that, in fact they would lead only to an absolute disharmony in their knowledge. One man wants this, the other that, according to the subjective needs of feeling and will. But the man who stands on the ground of initiation is also quite clear that of the powers of the human soul — thinking, representation, feeling, will — the capacity to construct thoughts and to think has advanced furthest, and is most inclined and adapted to exclude the personal element and to attain objectivity. For that soul-power which is expressed in intellectualism is now so advanced that when men rely upon it, they quarrel least, and agree most in what they say. Feeling and will have not had the chance of being developed to this point. We can also justifiably find differences when we examine the region of ideas and their representation. There are regions of the idea-life which give us completely objective truths, which men have recognized as such, quite apart from external experience, and these truths are the same if a million people differ in their opinions about them. If you have experienced in yourself the reasons for it, you are able to assert the truth even if a million people think otherwise. For instance, everyone can find such truths confirmed as those dealing with numbers and space dimension. Everyone can understand that 3 x 3 = 9, and it is so, even if a million people contradict it. Why is this the case? Because regarding such truths such as mathematical truths, most people have succeeded in suppressing their preference and their aversion, their sympathy and their antipathy, in short, the personal factor, and letting the matter speak for itself. This exclusion of the personal in the case of thought and the capacity to formulate ideas has always been called the ‘purification’ of the human soul, and considered the first stage on the way to initiation, or, as one might also say, on the way to higher knowledge.

The man who is versed in these things says to himself: It is not only with regard to feeling and the will that people are not yet so far that nothing personal enters into it, and that they can verify objectivity, but also with regard to thought the majority are not yet so far as to be able to give themselves up purely to what the things, the ideas of the things themselves say to him, as everyone can in mathematics. But there are methods of purifying thought to such a point that we no longer think personally, but let the thoughts in us think, as we let mathematical thought do. Thus, when we have cleansed thought from the influences of personality, we speak of purification or catharsis, as it was called in the old Eleusinian mysteries. Hence man must reach the point of purifying his thinking, which then enables him to comprehend things with objective thought.

Now, just as this is possible, so is it also possible to eliminate all the personal factor from feeling, so that the appeal of things to the feelings has no longer any say, to the Personal, or to Sympathy and Antipathy; nothing but the nature of the thing is evoked, in so far as it cannot speak to mere concept capacity. Experiences in our souls which have their roots or origin in our feelings, and which therefore lead to inner knowledge, and lead deeper into the nature of a thing, speaking however to other sides of the soul than mere intellectualism, can be purified of the personal element as well as thought, so that feeling can transmit the same objectivity as thought can. This cleansing or development of the feelings is called in all esoteric doctrine ‘enlightenment.’ Every man capable of development, and striving after it in no casual way, (that lies in intention of the personality) must take pains to be stirred only by what lies in the nature of the thing. When he has reached the point where the thing rouses in him neither sympathy nor antipathy, where he allows only the nature of things to speak, so that he says: whatever sympathies or antipathies I have are immaterial and are not to be taken into consideration, then it lies in the nature of the thing that the thought and action of the man assume this or that direction — then it is a declaration of the innermost nature of the thing. In esoteric doctrine this development of the will has been called ‘consummation.’

If a man takes his stand on the ground of spiritual science, he says to himself: ‘If I have a thing in front of me, there is in it a spiritual element, and I can so stimulate my mode of conception, that the essence of the thing is represented objectively through my concepts and ideas. Hence there is present in me the same thing that works externally, and I have recognized the essence of the thing through my mode of conception. But what I have recognized is only a part of the essence.’ There exists in things something which can speak not to thought at all, but only to feeling, and indeed only to purified feeling or to feeling which has become objective. The man who has not yet developed in himself by this cultivation of the feelings such a part of the essence, cannot recognize the essence along these lines. But for the man who says to himself that feeling as well as the capacity to think can provide a basis of knowledge (not the feeling as it is, but as it can become by means of well-founded methods of the teaching of cognition) for such a man it becomes gradually clear that there are things deeper than thought possibilities, things which speak to one's soul and the feelings. There are also things which reach even down to the will.

Now Goethe was particularly convinced that this really is the case, and that man really has in him these possibilities of development. He stood firmly on the ground of the principle of initiation, and he has shown us the initiation of man through the development of his soul and the development of the three powers of will, feeling and thought by representing them in his Fairy Tale.

The Golden King represents the initiation for the thought-capacity, the Silver King represents the initiation with knowledge capacity of objective feeling, and the Brazen King the initiation for knowledge capacity of the will. Goethe has emphasized that man must overcome certain things if he wishes to receive these three gifts. The Youth in the story represents man in his struggle for the highest. As Schiller in his Æsthetic Letters depicts man's aspiration towards complete humanity, so Goethe depicts in the Youth man's aspiration for the highest, wanting straight away to reach the Beautiful Lily, and attaining then inner human perfection, given him by the three Kings.

How that happens is pointed out in the course of the story. You remember that in the subterranean Temple, into which the Snake looks because of the earth's power of crystallization, one King was in each of the four corners. In the first was the Golden, in the second the Silver, in the third the Brazen King. In the fourth was the King who was a mixture of the other three metals, in whom, therefore, the three composite parts were so welded that one could not distinguish them. In this fourth King, Goethe depicts for us the representative of that stage of human development in which will, thought and feeling are mixed together. In other words he stands for that human soul which is governed by will, thought and feeling, because it is itself not master of these three capacities. On the other hand in the Youth, after he receives the three gifts from the three Kings separately, so that they are no longer chaotically mixed, that stage of knowledge is represented which does not allow itself to be ruled by thought, feeling and will, but which, on the contrary, rules over them. Man is ruled by them as long as they flow chaotically and intermingled in him, as long as they are not pure and independent in his soul. Until man has reached this separation, he is not capable of being effective through his three knowledge-capacities. When he has reached this point, however, he is no longer the subject of Chaos, but on the contrary himself controls his thought, his feeling and his will, when each is as pure and unalloyed as the metal of the respective Kings: his mode of Conception, pure as the Golden King (for nothing is mixed in him); his mode of Feeling, where nothing is added or mixed, but pure as the Silver King; and so too the Will, pure as the brass of the Brazen King; Concepts and Feelings no longer govern him, for he stands, in his nature, free; he is capable, in a word, of comprehension by means of thought, of feeling and will as required, making use of each separately. He can grasp according to necessity and the nature of things either by means of thinking, feeling or willing. Then he has advanced so far that the whole pure knowledge-capacity which we see in thought, feeling and will, leads him to a deeper insight, and he really steeps himself in the current of events, in the inner nature of things. Of course only experience can teach that this is possible.

Now it will not be difficult to agree, after what I said just now, that if Goethe makes the Youth represent striving mankind, we may see in the Beautiful Lily another soul-condition, namely, that soul-condition which man attains when the beings lying in things spring forth in the soul, and he thereby raises his existence by blending the things in himself with the nature of things in the external world. What man experiences in his soul by growing out of himself, by becoming master of the powers of the soul, victor over the chaos in his soul; what man then experiences, that inner blessedness, that unity with things; their awakening in him, is shown us by Goethe in his representation of the union with the Beautiful Lily. Beauty here is not merely aesthetic beauty, but a quality of man brought to a certain stage of perfection. So that we shall also now find it easy to understand why Goethe makes the Youth proceed in his effort to reach the Beautiful Lily, in such a way that all his powers at first disappear. Why is this?

We understand Goethe's presentation of such a scene if we hold fast to a thought he once expressed: ‘Everything which gives us mastery over ourselves without liberating us, leads us into error.’ Man must first be free, he must reach the point of being master of his inner soul-powers, and then he can attain union with the highest soul-condition, with the Beautiful Lily. But if he sets out to attain it unprepared, with still immature powers, they are lost and his soul is shrivelled. Hence Goethe points out that the Youth seeks this liberation which will make him captain of his soul. The moment his soul-powers are no longer chaotic, but are purified, cleansed and ordered, he is ready to reach that condition of soul which is symbolized by his union with the Beautiful Lily.

So we see that Goethe constructs these figures in free creative fantasy, and if we look upon them as representing soul-powers, we see that they permeate and work in his whole soul. If we look upon them like this, if we are as sensitive to these figures as in a way Goethe was — Goethe who unlike a second-rate didactic poet was not content to say what this or that soul-quality meant, but used it to express what he felt himself, then we shall realize what is expressed in these poetic figures. And therefore the various figures stand in the same personal relationship to each other as the soul-powers of a man stand to each other.

It cannot be clearly enough insisted upon that there is no question of the characters meaning this or that. That is certainly not the case. Rather is it that Goethe felt this or that in this or that soul-activity and transformed his feelings in connection with one or the other soul-activity into one or the other figures.

Thus he created the sequence of the story's events, which is still more important than the figures themselves. We see the Will-o'-the-Wisps and the Green Snake, and that the former cross over from the other side of the river and reveal quite peculiar qualities. They absorb the gold greedily, even lick it from the walls of the Old Man's room, and then throw it about prodigally. The same gold which in the Will-o'-the-Wisps is a sign of worthlessness, as we are also shown by the fact that the Ferryman has to refuse it — otherwise the river would surge up [and the waves rear up like horses — aufbäumen. Ed.] — the Ferryman may take only fruits in payment — this gold — what effect does it have in the body of the Green Snake? The Snake, after taking it, becomes internally luminous! And the plants and other things round her are also lit up because she takes into herself what in the case of the Will-o'-the-Wisps is a symbol of worthlessness.

But a certain importance is ascribed even to them. You know that the Old Man at the critical moment calls upon the Will-o'-the-Wisps to open the Temple gates, so that the whole train can enter in. Precisely the same thing which happens here in the case of the Green Snake, is to be found in the human soul, a thing we came across particularly clearly two days ago in the conversation between Goethe and Schiller. We saw that Schiller, as he spoke with Goethe about the way in which nature should be regarded, was still of the opinion that the drawing with a few strokes by Goethe of the proto-plant was an idea, an abstraction, which one receives when one omits the differentiating features and puts together the common ones. And we saw that Goethe thereupon said that if that was an idea, then he saw his ideas with his eyes. At this moment there were two quite different realities in opposition. Schiller trained himself completely to take Goethe's way of looking at things; so that it shows no lack of honour to Schiller if he is taken as an example of that human soul which moves in abstractions, and preferably in those ideas of things which are comprehended by the mere reason. That is a particular inclination of the soul, which, if a man wishes to attain a higher development, can, in certain circumstances, play a very dangerous part.

There are people whose inclination lies in the direction of the abstract. Now when they combine this abstraction with something they come across as soul-power, this is, as a rule, the concept of unproductivity. These people are sometimes very acute, they can draw fine distinctions, and connect this or that concept wonderfully. But you also often find with such a soul-condition, that the spiritual influences, inspirations, are excluded. This soul-condition, characterized by unproductivity and abstraction, is represented to us in the Will-o'-the-Wisps. They take up the gold wherever they find it; they lack any inventive faculty, are unproductive and can grasp no ‘ideas.’ These ideas are alien to them. They have not the will unselfishly to yield themselves up to things, or to stick to facts or to use concepts only as far as they are interpreters of facts. All they care about is to stuff their reasons full of concepts, and then scatter them about prodigally. They are like a man who goes to libraries, collects wisdom there, and takes it in and then gives it out again correspondingly. These Will-o'-the-Wisps are typical of that soul-capacity which is never able to grasp a single literary thought, or feeling, but which can nevertheless grasp in beautiful forms what creative spirits have produced in literature. I do not mean to say anything against this kind of soul. If a man did not have it nor cultivated it when he was insufficiently endowed with it, he would lack something which must be present when it comes to the real capacity for knowledge. In his picture of the Will-o'-the-Wisps, in the whole circumstances in which they appear and act, Goethe shows the manner in which such a soul-type functions, in relation to other soul-types, how it harms and benefits. In truth, if someone wanted to climb to higher stages of knowledge and had not this faculty of soul, there would not be the means to open the Temple for him. Goethe shows the advantages equally with the drawbacks of this soul-condition. What he gives us in the Will-o'-the-Wisps represents a soul-element. The moment it wants to lead an independent life in one direction or another, it becomes harmful. This abstraction leads to a critical faculty which makes men learn everything indeed, but incapable of further development, because the productive element is missing in them. But Goethe also clearly shows how far there is value in what the Will-o'-the-Wisps represent. What they contain can become something valuable; in the Snake the Will-o'-the-Wisps' gold turns to something valuable in so far as she illumines the objects round about her.

What lives in the Will-o'-the-Wisps, when worked out in another way, will become extremely fruitful in the human soul. When man strives so to regard his experiences of concepts and ideas and ideal creations not as something abstract in themselves, but as capable of leading to and interpreting the realities round him, so that he thinks as selflessly and willingly of his observations as of the abstract quality of the concepts, then he is as regards this soul-power in the same position as the Green Snake: then he can produce light and wisdom out of the purely abstract concepts. Then he is not brought to be in the vertical line which loses all connection and relation to the horizontal plane. The Will-o'-the-Wisps are the Snake's relatives, but of the vertical line. The gold-pieces fall through the rocks, are absorbed by the Snake which thereby becomes inwardly luminous. He who approaches the things themselves with these concepts absorbs wisdom.

Goethe gives us also an example of how one is to work on the conceptions (Begriffe). He has the conception of the proto-plant. Primarily it is an abstract conception, which, were it worked out in the abstract, would become an empty picture, killing all life, as the gold, thrown down by the Will-o'-the-Wisps, killed the Pug-dog. But just think what Goethe does with the conception of the proto-plant. If we follow him on his Italian journey, we see that this conception is only the ‘leit-motif’ going from plant to plant, from being to being. He takes the conception, goes from it over to the plant, and sees how this is made in one or another shape, taking on quite different shapes, in lower or higher places, and so on. Now he follows from step to step how the spiritual reality or form creeps into every physical form. He himself creeps about like the Snake in the crevices of the earth. Thus for Goethe the conception-world is nothing else but that which can be spun into objective reality. The Snake for him is the representative of that soul-power which does not struggle upward selfishly to higher regions of existence in an attempt to raise itself above everything, but which continually and patiently lets the conception be verified by observation, patiently goes from experience to experience. When man not merely theorizes, not merely lives in the conceptions, but applies them to life and experience, then he is as far as this soul-power is concerned, in the position of the Snake. This is so in a very wide sense. He who takes philosophy not as a theory, but as what it is meant to be, he who regards the conceptions of spiritual science as exercises for life, knows that just such conceptions, even the highest, are meant to be applied in such a way that they merge into life and are verified by daily experience. The man who has learnt a few conceptions but is incapable of applying them to life is like a man who has learned a cooking-book by heart, but cannot cook. As the gold is a means to throw light on things, so Goethe illuminates the things round him by means of his ideas.

This is the instructive and grand thing about Goethe's attitude to Science, and his every effort, that his ideas and conceptions have reality and have the effect of lighting up all objects round him. The day before yesterday special importance was laid on the universality in Goethe which gives the reason why we never have the feeling: that is Goethe's ‘meaning.’ He stands there, and when we see him, we find only that we understand things better which before were not so clear. For this reason he was capable of becoming the point of agreement between two hostile brethren, as we saw the day before yesterday.

If we wanted to discuss every feature in this fairy tale and characterize every figure in it, I should have to speak not for three hours but for three weeks on it. So I can give you only the deeper principles contained in the story. But every feature shows us something of Goethe's method of thought and his opinion of the world.

Those soul-powers which are represented in the Will-o'-the-Wisps, in the Green Snake and in the Kings, are on one side of the River. On the other side lives the Beautiful Lily, the ideal of perfect knowledge and perfect life and work. We heard from the Ferryman that he can bring the people (gestalten, forms) from the other side to this, but can take no one back again. Let us apply this to our whole soul-mood or soul-condition and our improvement.

We find ourselves on earth as beings with souls. These or the other soul-capacities work upon us as talents, as more or less developed soul-powers. They are in us; but we have also something else in us. In us human beings if we take ourselves properly there is the feeling, the knowledge that the powers of our soul, which finally interpret the nature of things to us, are closely related to the elemental spirits (grundgeister) of the world, with the Creative, Spiritual forces. The longing for these creative forces is the longing for the Beautiful Lily. Thus we know that everything derived on one hand from the Beautiful Lily, strives on the other to return to her. Unknown forces unmastered by us have brought us from the world on the other side over the river-boundary to this side. But these forces, characterized by the Ferryman, and working in the depths of unconscious nature, cannot take us back again, for otherwise man would return, without his work and co-operation, to the kingdom of the divine, precisely as he came over. The forces which as unconscious nature-forces have brought us over into the kingdom of struggling humanity, may not lead us back again. For this other forces are required; and Goethe is aware of it. But he wants to show also how man must set about being able to re-unite with the Beautiful Lily. There are two ways. One leads over the Green Snake; we can cross by it and gradually find the kingdom of the spirit. The other way goes across the Giant's shadow. We are shown that the Giant, otherwise without strength, stretches out his hand at dusk, and its shadow falls across the River. The second road leads over this shadow. Whoever wishes therefore to cross by clear daylight to the kingdom of the spirit must use the way provided by the Snake; and whoever wishes to cross at dusk can use the way leading across the Giant's shadow. Those are the two ways to reach a spiritual picture of the world. The man who aspires to the spiritual world — not with human concepts and ideas, not with those forces which are symbolized by the worthless gold (as spirits of bare sophistry) and the Will-o'-the-Wisps — but by proceeding patiently and selflessly from experience to experience, succeeds in reaching the other bank in full sunlight.

Goethe knows that real research does not stop at material things, but must lead over beyond the boundary; beyond the river which separates us from the spiritual. But there is another way, a way for undeveloped people, who do not want to take the road of knowledge, but a way represented by the Giant. He himself is powerless, only his shadow has a certain strength. Now what is powerless in a true sense? Take all the conditions possible to man when his consciousness is reduced, as in hypnotism, somnambulism and even dream-conditions; everything by which the clear consciousness of day is subdued, whereby man is subject to lower soul-power than in clear consciousness, belongs to this second way. Here the soul, by surrendering its ordinary daily functional power of the soul, is led into the real kingdom of the spirit. The soul, however, does not itself become capable of crossing into the spiritual kingdom, but remains unconscious and is carried across like the Shadow into the kingdom of spirit. Goethe includes in the forces represented by the Giant's shadow everything which functions unconsciously and from habit, without the soul-powers which are active during clear consciousness taking part. Schiller, who was initiated into Goethe's meaning, once, at the time of the great upheavals in Western Europe, wrote to Goethe: ‘I rejoice that you have not been roughly caught in the shadow of the giant.’ What did he mean? He meant that had Goethe travelled further West, he would have been caught in the revolutionary forces of the West.

Then we see that the objects of man's quest, the height of knowledge, is represented in the ‘Temple.’ The Temple represents a higher stage of man's evolution. Goethe nowadays would say that if the Temple is something hidden, it is under the narrow crevices of the earth. Such an aspiring soul-force as is represented in the Snake can feel the shape of the Temple only dimly. By absorbing the ideal, the gold, she can illumine this shape, but fundamentally the Temple can be there to-day only as a subterranean secret. But though Goethe leaves the Temple as something subterranean for external culture, he points out that to a further-developed man this secret must be unlocked. In this he indicates the current of Spiritual Science which to-day has already caught up wide masses of people, which in a comprehensive sense seeks to make popular the content of Spiritual Science, of the principle of initiation, and of the Temple's secret. The Youth is therefore to be regarded in this truly free Goethean sense as the representative of aspiring mankind. Therefore the Temple is to rise beyond the River, so that not only a few individuals who seek illumination can cross and re-cross, but so that all people can cross the River by the bridge. Goethe, in the Temple of Initiation above the earth puts before us a future state, which will have arrived when man can go from the kingdom of the senses into the kingdom of the spiritual, and from the kingdom of the spiritual into the kingdom of the senses.

How is this attained in the Fairy Tale? Because the real secret of it is fulfilled. The solution of the story is to be found in the story itself, says Schiller, but he has also pointed out that the word that solves it is inserted in a very remarkable way. You remember the Old Man with the Lamp, which illuminates only where there is already light? Now, who is this Old Man, and what is the Lamp? What is its curious light? The Old Man stands above the situation. His lamp has the peculiar quality of changing things, wood into silver, stone into gold. It has also the quality of shining only where there is already a receptivity, a definite kind of light. As the Old Man enters the subterranean Temple he is asked how many secrets he knows. ‘Three,’ he replies. To the Silver King's question, ‘Which is the most important,’ he answers: ‘The open one.’ And when the Brazen King asks whether he would tell it them also, he says: ‘As soon as I know the fourth.’ Whereupon the Snake whispers something in his ear and he says at once:

‘The Time is at Hand.’


The solution of the riddle is what the Snake whispered in the Old Man's ear, and we have to find out what that is. It would lead us too far to say at length what the three secrets mean. I shall only hint at it. There are three Kingdoms which in evolution are so to speak stationary: the mineral, the vegetable and the animal Kingdoms, which are completed, as compared with progressive man, who is still developing. The inner development of man is so vehement and important that it cannot be confused with the development of the other three nature kingdoms. What the secret of the Old Man contains is the fact that one Kingdom of nature has arrived at the present point of a full-stop, and this is what explains the laws of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. But now comes the fourth kingdom, that of man, the secret which is to be revealed in the human soul. The secret which the Old Man must first discover, is of this kind. And how must he discover it? He knows of what it consists, but the Snake has to tell him first. This indicates to ns that man has still to go through something special, if he wants to attain the goal of evolution as the three other kingdoms have done. What this is the Snake whispers to the Old Man. She tells how a certain soul-power must be developed, if a higher stage is to be reached; she says that she has the will to sacrifice herself for this, and she does in fact sacrifice herself. Hitherto she has made a bridge when here and there someone wished to cross; but now she will become a permanent bridge, by falling in pieces, so that man will have a lasting connection between this side and that, between the spiritual and the physical. That the Snake has the will to sacrifice herself must be taken as the condition of revealing the fourth secret. The moment the Old Man hears that the Snake will sacrifice herself, he can even say: ‘The time is at hand!’ It is that soul-power which adheres to the external. And the way to be trodden is not to make this soul-force and inner science the ultimate end but self-surrender. That really is a secret, even if it is called an ‘open secret,’ that is, when any who will can know it. What is regarded in a wide circle as end in itself — everything we can learn in natural science, in political science of civilization, in history, in mathematics and all other sciences can never be an absolute end. We can never come to a true insight into the depths of the world, if we consider them as ends in themselves. Only if we are at all times ready to absorb them and regard them as means, which we offer as a bridge to let us cross over, do we come to real knowledge. We bar ourselves off from the higher, true knowledge unless we are also ready to sacrifice ourselves. Man will get an idea of what initiation is only when he ceases to carve for himself a world-conception out of external-physical concepts. He must be all feeling, with all-attuned soul, such a soul as Goethe describes in his ‘Westöstlichen Divan’ as the highest acquisition of man:

‘And so long thou hast not this, Death and Birth!
 Thou art but a sorry guest, on this dark Earth.’


Death and Birth! Learn to know what life can offer, go through with it, but surpass, transcend yourself. Let it become a bridge for you, and you will wake up in a higher life and be one with the essence of things, when you no longer live in the illusion that, cut off from the higher ego, you can exhaust the essence of things. When Goethe speaks of the sacrifice of the idea and the soul-material, in order to acquire new life in higher spheres, and of the deepest inner love, he likes to think of the words of the mystic Jacob Böhme, who knows from experience this self-surrender of the Snake. Perhaps Jacob Böhme has pointed out just this to him and made it so clear to him that a man can live, even in the physical body, in a world which otherwise he would tread only after death, in the world of the eternal, the spiritual. Jacob Böhme knew also that it depends on the man, whether he can, in the higher sense, slide over into the spiritual world. He shows it in the saying: ‘Who dies not before he dies, is ruined when he dies.’ A significant saying! Man, who does not die before he dies, that is, who does not develop in himself the eternal, the inner kernel of being, will not be in a position, when he dies, to find again the spiritual kernel in himself. The eternal is in us. We must develop it in the body, so that we may find it outside the body. ‘Who dies not before he dies, is ruined when he dies.’ So it is also with the other sentence: ‘And so death is the root of all life.’

Thus we see that the things of the soul can only illumine a place where light already is: the Lamp of the Old Man can only shine where there is already light. Once more our attention is directed to those special soul-powers, of devotion and religious self-surrender, which for hundreds and thousands of years have brought the message of spiritual worlds to those who could not seek the light by way of Science or otherwise. The light of the different religious revelations is represented in the Old Man, who has this light. But to him who does not bring an inner light to meet the sense of religion, the Lamp of Religion gives no light. It can shine only where light already is and meets it. It is the Lamp which has transfigured man, which has led all mortality across to a life of soul.

And then we see that the two Kingdoms are united through the Snake's sacrifice. After it goes, so to say, through incidents symbolic of what man has to go through in his higher development in an esoteric sense, we see how the Temple of Knowledge is brought by means of all the three human soul-powers across the river, how it rises and each soul-power performs its service. This is meant to show that the soul-powers must be in harmony, since we are told: the single personality can achieve nothing; but when all work together at a favourable moment, when the strong and the weak co-operate in the right relationship, then the soul can acquire the ability to reach the highest state, the union with the Beautiful Lily. Then the Temple moves out of the hidden crevices up to the surface for all who strive in truth after knowledge and wisdom. The Youth is endowed with the knowledge-powers of thought by the Golden King: ‘Know and recognize the highest.’ He is endowed with the knowledge-powers of feeling by the Silver King, which Goethe expresses beautifully with the words: ‘Tend the sheep!’

In feeling are rooted art and religion, and for Goethe both were a unity — already at the time when he wrote on his Italian journey concerning Italy's works of art: ‘There is necessity, there is God!’

But there is also the doing — when man does not apply it to the struggle for existence, but when he makes it into a weapon for gaining beauty and wisdom. This is contained in the words spoken by the Brazen King to the Youth: ‘The Sword in the left hand, the right free!’ There is a whole world in these words. The right hand free to work the self out of human nature.

And what happens with the Fourth King, in whom all three elements are mingled together? This mixed King melts into a grotesque figure. The Will-o'-the-Wisps come and lick what gold there is off him: man's soul-powers here still want to examine what sort of stages of human development, now overcome, there once were.

Let us take yet another feature: namely, when the Giant comes staggering in and then stands there like a statue, pointing to the hours: when man has brought his life into harmony, then the subordinate has a meaning for what is intended to be methodical order. It ought to express itself like a habit. The unconscious itself will then receive a valuable meaning. Hence the Giant is depicted like a clock.

The Old Man with the Lamp is married to the Old Woman. This Old Woman represents to us nothing else but the healthy, understanding human soul-power, which does not penetrate into high regions of spiritual abstractions, but which handles everything healthily and practically, as, for instance, in religion, represented by the Old Man with the Lamp. She is the one to bring the Ferryman his pay: three heads of cabbage, three onions and three artichokes. Such a stage of development has not passed beyond the contemporary. That she is so treated by the Will-o'-the-Wisps is no doubt a reflected picture of how abstract minds look down with a certain amount of scorn on people who take things in directly by instinct or intuition.

Every point, every turn of this story is of deep significance, and if we enter into one more explanation, it must be of an esoteric kind, and you will find that one can really only give the method of explanation. Bury yourselves in the story, and you will discover that a whole world is to be found there, very much more than it has been possible to indicate to-day.

I should like to show you in two examples how much Goethe's spiritual world-view runs through his whole life, how in things of spiritual knowledge he stands in agreement in extreme old age with what he had written earlier.

While Goethe wrote ‘Faust’ he adopted a certain attitude which harks back to a symbol of a deeper evolution-path of nature. When Faust speaks of his father, who was an alchemist, and had taken over the old doctrines credulously, but had misunderstood them, he says that his father also made

‘... a Lion red, a wooer daring, Within the Lily's tepid bath espoused.’

Faust I, Scene II, p. 32.


That is what Faust says, without knowing its significance. But such a saying can become a ladder leading to high stages of development. In the Fairy Tale Goethe shows in the Youth the human being striving for the highest bride, and that with which he is to be united he calls the Beautiful Lily. You notice this Lily is to be found already in the first parts of ‘Faust.’

And, again, the very nerve of Goethe's philosophy which found expression in his Fairy Tale, is to be found also in ‘Faust:’ in Part II, in the Mystic Chorus, where Faust confronts the entry into the spiritual world, where Goethe sets down his avowal of a spiritual world-conception in monumental words. He shows there how the ascent on the road of knowledge follows in three successive stages, namely, the purification of the thought, the illumination of feeling and the working out of will. What man attains through the purification of the thought leads him to recognize the spiritual behind everything. The physical becomes a symbol of the spiritual. He goes deeper still, in order to grasp what is unattainable to thought. He then reaches a state at which he no longer regards things by means of thought, but is directed into the thing itself, where the essence of it, and what one cannot describe become accomplished fact. And that which one cannot describe, that which, as you will hear in the course of the winter addresses, must be thought of in another way, that whereby one must advance to the secrets of the will, he labels simply ‘the indescribable.’ When man has completed the threefold road through thought, feeling and will, he is united with what is called ‘eternal womanhood’ in the Chorus Mysticus, the goal of the human soul's development, the ‘Beautiful Lily’ of the Fairy Tale.

Thus we see that Goethe utters his deepest conviction, his secret revelation there also, where he brings his great confessional poem to an end, after rising up through thought and feeling and will to union with the Beautiful Lily, up to that state which finds its expression in the passage of the Chorus Mysticus, which expresses the same thing as Goethe's philosophy and spiritual science, as well as the Fairy Tale:

‘All things transitory
 But as symbols are sent:
 Earth's insufficiency
 Here grows to Event:
 The Indescribable,
 Here it is done:
 The Woman-Soul leadeth us
 Upward and on!’





Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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