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The Story of the Green Serpent and the Beautiful Lily

Schmidt Number: S-0814

On-line since: 17th June, 2004

The Story of the Green Serpent
and the Beautiful Lily

Das Märchen von der grünen Schlange
und der schönen Lilie — von Goethe

Lecture given by
Rudolf Steiner
April 1904

If Theosophy were to assert that it has in the last few decades brought any new thing into the world, it could easily and very effectively be contradicted. For it is easy to believe that any particular truth or achievement in a special branch of human knowledge, in man's conception of the world or in his world of thought, might enrich the advancing ages, but not that which concerns his innermost and deepest being — the source and origin of all human wisdom — could appear at any particular time. This in itself could not be believed; hence it is only natural that the belief that Theosophy could bring in or want to bring in anything completely new, must call forth a certain distrust against the movement itself.

But ever since Theosophy set out to obtain an influence upon modern civilisation, it has always described itself as possessing the old primeval wisdom, which man has ever sought and endeavoured to acquire in many different forms in the various ages. It is the task of the Theosophical Movement to look for these forms in the various religions and world-conceptions through which the peoples, throughout the ages, have striven to press through to the source of truth. Theosophy has brought to light the fact that in the various ages, even in the most primeval times, that wisdom by which man sought to attain his goal, has always in its really most profound essence been one and the same. That is a truth, Theosophy teaches us to be modest concerning the acquirements of our own times.

The well-known statement, which, in its lack of humility, boasts of the progress made in the 19th century, is felt to be particularly limited when we observe life in a deeper sense, extending through hundreds of thousands of years. But I do not wish to lead you back to those primeval ages.

I should like to ask you, by means of the example of a great personality of modern times, how he tried to carry out the wisdom-teaching inscribed in the Greek Temples; “Know thyself!” He, who made this saying his own, was really in complete harmony with the teaching and views of Theosophy. This personality is none other than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He certainly belongs not only to the German nation, but to many other civilized men of the present age and belongs indeed more or less to us all. Goethe is a spirit who affects us in a very special way. No matter to what part of his life we turn in study, we find, not only the great Poet very pre-eminently there, but, if we go more deeply into the subject, we soon discover in him the Wise One, to whose wisdom we turn back again after long years, always to discover something new.

We find that Goethe was one of those spirits who had within him an inexhaustible fund of greatness. And if we have learned to add to our own small stock of wisdom, by turning back to Goethe again and again, we are constantly astonished anew and stand in admiration before that which before was hidden from us, because there was in ourselves no responsive echo of the realm which expressed itself through him. No matter how polished a man may be, no matter how much wisdom he may have discovered in Goethe, if after some years he turns to him again, he will convince himself anew that there is still an infinite fund of what is beautiful and good in the works of Goethe. This experience may come in particular to those who believe profoundly in the evolution of the human soul. It has often been said that in his “Faust,” Goethe produced a sort of Gospel. If this be so, then, besides his Gospel, Goethe also produced a sort of secret Revelation, a sort of Apocalypse. This Apocalypse is concealed within his works, it forms the conclusion to his “Unterhaltung deutscher Ausgewanderten,” and is read only by few. I am always being asked where in Goethe's works this “Märchen” is to be found! Yet it is in all the editions and forms, as I have just said, the conclusion to the above. In this fairy tale, Goethe created a work of art of eternal beauty. The direct, symbolical impression of the work of art will not be interfered with, if I now try to give an interpretation of this fairy tale; Goethe put into this tale his most intimate thoughts and conceptions.

In the latter years of his life he said to Eckermann: “My dear friend, I will tell you something that may be of use to you, when you are going over my works. They will never become popular; there will be single individuals who will understand what I want to say, but there can be no question of popularity for my writings.” This referred principally to be the second part of “Faust,” and what he meant was that a man who enjoyed “Faust” might have a direct artistic impression, but that one who could get at the secrets concealed in “Faust” would see what was hidden behind the imagery. But I am not speaking of the second part of “Faust,” but of the “Fairy Tale of the Green Serpent and the Beautiful Lily,” in which Goethe spoke in an even more intimate way than in the former. I shall try to disclose in the course of this lecture the Mysteries concealed in these remarkable pictures, and to explain why Goethe made use of these symbolical images to express his most intimate thoughts. Anyone who is capable of understanding the Fairy Tale knows that Goethe was a Theosophist and a mystic. Goethe was acquainted with that wisdom and conception of the world which we try to give forth in a popular way in Theosophy; and the Fairy Tale itself is a proof of this; only, at the time when Goethe was writing, the endeavour had not yet been made to clothe the highest truths in words and to give them forth in open lectures by the power of reason; these most intimate human psychic truths were not then spoken of openly. Those who gave a hint of them put them into symbolical form, and expressed them by symbols. This was an old custom, dating from the middle ages, when it was thought that it would be impossible to put the highest insight into the abstract form, but that a sort of experience or initiation was necessary. This made it impossible for people to speak of these truths, who believed that a particular sort of mood, a sort of special soul-atmosphere was needed in order to understand such truths; they could not be grasped merely by the intellect. A certain mood was necessary, a certain disposition of the soul, which I will call a psychic atmosphere. The language of reason seemed to them to be too arid, too dry and cold to express the highest truths. Besides which they still retained a sort of conviction that those who were to learn these truths should first make themselves worthy of them. This conviction brought it to pass, that in the olden times, down to the 3rd century A.D. — the truth about the human soul and the human spirit was not given out publicly as it is now, but those who wished to attain to such knowledge had first to be prepared to receive that which was to be given to them in the Sanctuaries of the Mysteries. Therein all that had been preserved of the secrets of nature and of the laws of cycles, was given out as something which, to put it concisely, could not be learned and recognised as dry truths, but which the students had to recognise as living truths and learn to live them. It was not then a question of thinking wisdom, but of living it; not merely a question of permeating wisdom with the glow of the intellect, but of making it the mainspring of life, so that a man is transformed thereby. A certain shyness must possess a man before the Holy of Holies; he had to understand that truth is divine, that it is permeated by the Divine Cosmic Blood, which draws into the personality, so that the divine world lives anew within. The recognition of all this was included in the word “development.” This had to be made quite clear to the Mystic, and this it was which he was to attain through the stages of purification, on the way to the Mysteries, he was to acquire the holy shyness before the Truth, and to be drawn away from the longing for the things of the senses, from the sorrows and joys of life, from all that surrounds us in ever-day life. The Light of the Spirit, which is necessary to us when we withdraw from the profane life, we shall receive when we give up the other. When we are worthy to receive the Light of the Spirit, we shall have become different people; we shall then love with real, earnest sympathy and devotion, that which we are wont to look upon as a shadowy existence, a life in the abstract. We then live the Spiritual life which to the ordinary man is mere thought. But the Mystic learns to sacrifice the Self that clings to the everyday life, he learns not only to penetrate the truth with his thought but has to live it through and through, to conceive it within him as Divine Truth, as Theosophy. Goethe has expressed this conviction in his “West-Ostlichen Divan:” —

So lang dud as nicht hast,
Dies ‘stirb im Werde’,
Bist du nur ein trüber Gast
Auf der dunkeln Erde —

This it is that the Mystics of all ages have striven for, — to let the lower nature die out, and to allow that which dwells in the Spirit to spring forth; the extinction of sense reality, that man may ascend to the Kingdom of “Divine Purposes.” “To die in order to become.” If we do not possess this power we do not know of the forces that vibrate into our world, and we are but a “trüber Gast” (gloomy guest) on our Earth. Goethe gave expression to this in his “West-Ostlichen Divan,” and this he tries to represent in all the different parts of the “Fairy Tale” of the “Green Serpent and the Beautiful Lily!” The transition of man from one stage of existence to a higher one. That was the riddle he wanted to solve, the riddle as to how a man who lives in the everyday world, — and who can only see with his eyes, and hear with his ears, — can lay hold of this “dying and becoming!”

This was the question for the Mystics of all ages; and this great question was always called “Spiritual Alchemy.” The transmutation of man from the every-day soul to the Spirit-soul, one to whom the things of the Spirit are just as real as the things of this Earth, such as tables and chairs and so on, are to the ordinary man. When the alchemical transmutation had taken place in a man, he was then considered worthy to have the highest truths communicated to him, he was then led into the Holy of Holies. He was then initiated, and supplied with the teachings which instructed him as to the purposes of nature, those purposes which run through the plan of the world. It is an initiation of this kind which is described by Goethe, the initiation into the Mysteries, of one who has been made worthy to receive them.

There are two proofs of this — in the first place Goethe himself took a great deal of trouble to become acquainted with the secret which may be called the Secret of Alchemy. Between the studies he made at Leipzig and Strassburg he had already discovered that Alchemy had a Spiritual side, and knew that ordinary Alchemy was nothing but a reflection of the Spiritual, and all that is known of Alchemy consisted only in the symbolical expressions of realities. That is to say, he referred to that Alchemy which is concerned with the forces of the inner life.

Alchemists have also left indications of how this could be worked. As they were only able to describe the transmutation of the human forces by means of symbols, they therefore spoke of one substance being transmuted into another. All they related concerning the transmutation of matter, referred to what the human soul-life developed within itself at a higher stage, when it became transmuted spiritually. All that the great Spirits have disclosed about the Spiritual Realms to those men who are still bound to the life of every day, was taken by them as referring to the transmutation of substances and metals in the retorts, and they took great trouble to try and discover by what mysterious methods the transmutation of substances could be brought about.

Goethe, in one part of his “Faust,” shows us what he himself understood as to such things. In the first part of “Faust,” in the walk in front of the garden, he points clearly to the false, wrong and petty material conceptions that are held as to Alchemy. He makes fun of those who strive with such feverish efforts to discover these secrets, and who pour forth the lower substances, according to numberless receipts, in company of the Adepts.

“There a Red Lion, with the Lily wedded,
“A wooer bold, within the tepid bath,
“From bridal-bower to bridal-bower was speeded
“Racked by the naked fire's flaming wrath.”

The union with the Lily, which is made fun of by Goethe is what he wished to illustrate in his Fairy Tale, of the Green Serpent and the beautiful Lily.

The highest transmutation which man can accomplish is illustrated by Goethe in the symbol of the Lily. It is of like significance with what we call the Highest freedom. When a man follows the primal and eternal laws, in accordance with which we have to complete the primal and eternal circuit of our existence, and if he also recognises the primal and eternal evolution of his freedom, he will then find himself at a certain stage of his development which is accomplished by a disposition of the soul, which may be described by the symbol of the Lily. The highest forces of the soul, the highest state of consciousness, in which a man may be free because he will then not misuse his freedom, and will never create a disturbance in the circle of freedom, — this state of soul, which was communicated to the Mystics in the Mysteries, in which they were collectively transmuted, — this was from all time described as the “Lily.”

That which Spinoza expresses at the end of his “Ethics,” (dry and mathematical as he was in his other writings) — when he says that man ascended into the higher spheres of existence and penetrated them by means of the laws of nature, — this state of mind may also be described as the Lily, Spinoza describes it as the realm of Divine Love in the human soul, the realm in which man does nothing under compulsion, but in which everything belonging to the domain of human development takes place in freedom, devotion and utter Love, where everything arbitrary is transmuted by that Spiritual Alchemy in which every activity flows into the stream of freedom.

Goethe has described that Love as the highest state of Freedom, as the being free from all desires and wishes of our every-day life. He says, “Self-seeking and Self-will are not permanent, they are driven out by the Ego. Here we must be good.” The Divine Love, which is referred to by Spinoza, and which he wishes to attain through Spiritual Alchemy, — that it is with which man should unite himself, that it is with which man should unite his will. Human will active at every stage, is that which in all ages was known as the “Lion,” the creature in which the Will is most strongly developed, and that is why the Mystics have always called the will of man: the “Lion.” In the Persian Mysteries there were seven Initiations; there were the following: first the Raven, then the Occultist, then the Fighter; at the fourth grade the student was already able to look back at his life from the other side, and had really become Man, hence the Persians called one who had overcome the Lion stage a Persian. That was the fifth stage, and a man who had got so far that his actions flowed quickly along, just as the Sun runs its course in the Heavens above, was called a Sun-runner. But he who accomplished all his actions out of absolute and ceaseless love, was looked upon by the Persians as belonging to the grade of the “Father.” At the fourth grade, a man stood at the parting of the ways; he had then, besides his physical body, his etheric double, and that body which is subject to the laws of passions and desires, wishes and instincts; he was now organized for a higher life. These three bodies form, according to Theosophy, the lower part of man. From these the lower man is born. When a man was initiated into this grade and could see this connection the Persians called him a “Lion.” He then stands at the parting of the ways, and that which compelled him to act according to the laws of nature is transmuted into a free gift of Love. When he reaches the eighth stage of Initiation, when he has evolved himself into a free man, one who can allow himself to do, out of free love, what he was formerly driven to do by his own nature, this connection between the Lion and the free loving being, is described in Alchemy as “the mystery of human development.” This is the mystery Goethe represented in his Fairy Tale. First of all he shows us how this man of will stands there, drawn down to the physical world from higher spheres, from spheres of which he himself knows nothing. Goethe is conscious of the fact that man, in so far as his spiritual nature is concerned, comes originally from higher spheres; that he was led into this which Goethe represents as the world of matter, the world of sense-existence, this is the Land on the bank of the River.

But in the Tale of the green Serpent and the beautiful Lily, there are two Lands, one on this side of the River, and the other beyond. The unknown Ferryman conducts the man across from the far side into the Land of the sense-world; — and between the Land of spiritual existence and the sense-world there flows the River, the water which divides them. By water, Goethe describes that which the Mystics of all ages have symbolized as water. Even in Genesis the same meaning is applied to this word as we find in Goethe. In the New Testament too we find this expression in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. “He who is not born again of water and the Spirit, cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Goethe understood perfectly what was signified by the expression “born again of water.” And we can see in what sense he understood it by his “song of the Spirit.”

Seele des Menschen

Soul of humanity

Nie gleichat du dem Wasser!

How like to the water!

Schicksal des Menschen

Fate of humanity

Wie gleichst du dem Wind!

How like to the wind!

The world of humanity, the world of longing and wishes, the world of passions and desires, is a land inserted between our Spirit and our senses. Our senses know neither good nor evil, they cannot err. Anyone who goes into this question, knows that when we study the laws of nature, we cannot speak of good or evil. When we study nature in the animal world, we find that there are objectionable animals and useful ones, but we cannot speak of good and evil ones. Only when man plunges into the water — into the soul-world — does he become capable of good and evil. This world which is inserted between the Spiritual and the world of senses, is the River over which the Spirit passes from the unknown spheres. The innermost of man came across the River of passions and desires — and when he goes through further development he becomes like the Will-o'-the-wisp.

Thus man is subject to the laws within him, after he has crossed the River, and before he has received the Divine Spark which will take him across to the other world. He is therefore put ashore by the Ferryman who brings men across the River from the far bank to the near one. Nobody can be guided over by the Ferryman but all can be brought over by him. We feel ourselves being brought over without any action of our own, by the forces lying beneath our consciousness, which go ahead of our actions. By means of these forces we feel ourselves placed in the world of sense, — on the hither side; the Ferryman who brought us across from the Land of the Spirit, has put us into this world and cannot take us back to that country again to which we must however return, the Land of the beautiful Lily. The Will-o'-the-wisps wanted to pay the Ferryman his fare with gold, but he demanded fruits of the Earth, which they did not possess; they had nothing but gold, and he would not be paid with that. Gold coins, said he, were injurious to the River, it cannot bear such gold; which signifies that man can purchase wisdom with the fruits of the Earth. This is a profound wisdom; gold signifies the force of wisdom dwelling in man, and this is his guide through life. This force of Wisdom makes itself felt when a man is placed among the things of sense, as the forces of knowledge and reason. But this wisdom is not the wisdom which furthers his development. When it forms part of a man's nature, it makes him self-seeking and egotistical. If this force of reason and this knowledge were to join forces with what flows in the River, their passions would throw up huge waves; for whenever man does not place his wisdom at the service of selflessness, but simply throws it into the River, when he cultivates (frohmen) his passions, the River throws up great waves. Hence it is impossible to satisfy the River with gold; with that wisdom. So the Ferryman throws back the wisdom which has not yet passed through the stage of selflessness. He throws it back into the chasm, where reigns the profoundest darkness, and there it is buried. We shall hear why this is so.

The Ferryman demanded three cabbages, three artichokes, and three onions. — Thus he demands the fruits of the Earth. Now by what means can man attain his development? By ennobling the lower desire-forces of his nature, so that he purifies the sense-nature within him and casts this purified nature into the River, and thereby .................. this it is which Schiller refers to in his letters on the aesthetic education of man. He alone understands freedom who has set his own nature free; — when the outer sense-nature is so ennobled that it seeks for the good and the beautiful because it is no longer misled by passion, when we no longer throw our wisdom into the River, but reward our passions with the fruits of the Earth so that our sense-nature itself is taken up by them, just as the fruits of the Earth would be accepted by the River, we have then attained the first grade of initiation as expressed in the words, “Ye must know that I cannot be paid except with the fruits of the Earth.” Then the Will-o'-the-wisps proceed further on this side of the River, that means that man tries to follow his own way of life further.

On this side of the River he meets with the green Serpent, the symbol of human endeavours, of human knowledge. This Serpent had previously had a wonderful experience — the Ferryman had ferried over the piece of gold and concealed it in a cleft of the Earth, and here the Serpent had found it. The wisdom that brings men forward is still a hidden treasure, concealed in the mysteries, hence if a man wishes to find wisdom he must seek it far from all human self-seeking. When a man had made himself worthy to receive it, it will be found in its proper place; — the Serpent, the symbol of human striving after knowledge, permeates itself with the gold; this “self” is entirely permeated with wisdom, and becomes luminous. Then the Serpent desired from the Will-o'-the-wisps that which is a cause of pride to the self-seeking man, when he throws about him and pricks himself with, — this human knowledge which when used in the service of egoism is objectionable and worthless, will be attained when man crawls humbly on the ground as does the Serpent, and strives to recognize the reality piece by piece. If a man stands there, proud and stuck-up, he will never attain it, he can only receive it when like the Serpent, he goes horizontally on the ground and lives in humility, — then the gold of wisdom is in its place. Then the man may venture to permeate himself with wisdom — that too is why the Will-o'-the-wisps call the Serpent their relation, and say “We really are related on the side of light.” Indeed they are related, the wisdom that serves the self is related to the wisdom which serves humility; the Serpent is related to the Will-o'-the-wisps.

Now the tale relates further that the Serpent had been under the Earth in the clefts of the rock, and there had met something resembling human forms — the Serpent had reached a temple; this is none other than a symbol of the Mystery Temples of all ages, — this concealed Temple which was in the clefts below the Earth is the symbol of the Sanctuaries of Initiation. In this Temple the Serpent found the three great priests of Initiation; these priests were gifted with the highest forces of human nature, which theosophy calls Atma, Buddhi, Manas. They are called by Goethe the King of Beauty, the King of Wisdom, and the King of Strength or Will; — with these three basic forces of the soul, into which the human soul must be initiated, the Mystic had to be united in the Temple of the Mysteries — and Goethe represents the Serpent, all luminous within, because it had taken in the gold of wisdom, humility.

The old man with the lamp is another figure — what does he represent? He has a lamp which has the peculiarity of only shining when another light is there. Because the Serpent is luminous and illuminates the inner Hall of the Mystery Temple with its own radiating light, — Goethe expresses these thoughts in another passage in the words “If the eye were not sensitive to the Sun it could not perceive the light.” Here he expresses in poetic words what he expressed in the fairy tale in pictures; what we in Anthroposophy call “occult knowledge” is expressed by the old man with the lamp, — the light of occult knowledge cannot shine to anyone who had not prepared himself to receive it.

It appears to no one who has not worked his way up to that higher stage of development at which his higher self, his selfless nature shines forth from within, bringing light to meet light, — the highest wisdom is called occult, because it only appears when a man brings his own light to meet it. When those two lights, the intuitive light from above, and the light that comes from the personal, shine into one another, they then give that which man experiences in his transmutation as Spiritual Alchemy — then the space around him become light, he then learns to recognise the highest Spiritual forces, the gifts of the three Kings; Wisdom, Beauty, and Strength, — the gift of the golden King is Wisdom, that of the silver King is Beauty or Piety, the gift of the bronze King is Strength or force of Will. Man can only understand his innermost forces, he can only understand himself when he meets with the light of the lamp which can only shine when there is already a light. Then the three Kings appear in their radiance, and at the same time the significance of the fourth King becomes apparent — the King who is composed of the metals of the three others; — he is the symbol of the lower nature, in which the noble forces of Wisdom, Beauty, and Strength work together as disorderly and inharmonious chaos. These three forces that live in a highly developed soul are also to be found in lower natures, though there they are chaotic and inharmonious. This fourth King is the Kingdom of the present world; — the Chaotic mixture of Wisdom, Beauty, and Strength, — the soul-forces which can only attain the highest when they work together harmoniously, — affect one another in a chaotic way in the present age. The old man said of the fourth King “Er wird sich setzen” (here he will sit down) — The Chaotic mixture will have disappeared when that which Goethe so ardently longed for shall have come to pass, that is, that the Temple shall no longer be hidden, but shall be raised to the full light of day, when it shall have ascended from the depths, and all men will be able to serve in the Temple of Initiation, which will be a bridge across which all men may pass to and fro. That will be a time when all men will have made themselves worthy of being influenced by the highest wisdom, piety, and strength and will. The Temple will then have fulfilled its task. It will have raised itself above the river of passions, and the forces of passion will have become so pure and noble that the highest Spiritual can uplift itself in the Temple, in the clear light of day, above the stream of passions and desires. To this end it is necessary that mankind should be filled with the “Stirb und werde” (dying and becoming) which Goethe so distinctly outlined in his “West-Ostlichen Divan.” Goethe was frequently asked for the solution of the riddle and he replied “The solution of the riddle lies in the fairy tale itself, and not in one word alone.” There is a passage during the conversation in the Temple which we take to be the solution of the riddle. The solution is not a thing which can be expressed in words, but in an inner resolve; that was indicated by Goethe in the fairy tale. The Serpent said “I will sacrifice myself, I will purify myself through selflessness.” It is precisely this which must be taken as the profoundest solution of the riddle, it is an act, and not a doctrine. Till now one could only pass across the River in two ways. The one was when at noon the green Serpent laid itself across the River and formed a bridge, so that at the mid-day hour it was possible to go across the River. This means that at the present age there are moments in a man's life when the Sun is at noon for him, when he is ripe to yield himself to the highest Spiritual light; but he is always drawn away again and again from these noon-tide moments of life, into the lower world full of passions. In such noon-tide moments the elect of the Spirit can pass across from the shore of the sense-life to the shore of the Spirit.

But there is yet another way to pass over the River, and that is in the evening, when the shadow of the great giant is thrown across the River, — that too can form a bridge, but only in the hour of twilight. What is this shadow of the great giant? Goethe went into this question more deeply with his intimate and trusted friends; with them he spoke about the forces symbolized by him in the “Fairy Tale.” On one occasion when Schiller was planning a journey to Frankfort, Goethe wrote to him: “I am very glad you did not come here, to the West, for the shadow of the giant might have got hold of you unawares.” The meaning of the giant is moreover clearly expressed in the “Fairy Tale” itself, the giant who is weak, can do nothing of himself; but his shadow can form a bridge across to the far side. This giant is the crude mechanical forces of nature. Its shadow is sometimes able, when the light is no longer strong, to conduct the men of crude passions across the River. These are the people who, when their clear day consciousness is extinguished, pass over into the Land of the Spirit in trance, somnambulism, psychic vision, or some of the many similar conditions of the soul. Thus the clear day consciousness was also extinguished in the wild delirious acts by which at that time men tried to push their way into this realm of Freedom.

They wanted to penetrate into the realm of the beautiful Lily — But the shadow of the giant can alone reach across. Man is only able to overcome his passions in the twilight of his consciousness, when he is in an almost unconscious state, and not when living in clear consciousness. These are the two ways of reaching the opposite bank: First, in the holy moments of the noon-day hour, by the Serpent; and secondly, in the twilight of the consciousness — by the shadow of the giant.

But this one thing must be striven after: — the Serpent must sacrifice itself completely. Not only should it lead men over the River of passions at the noon-day hour, but at all hours of the day it should be ready to form the bridge from one side to the other; so that not only a few may be able to wander across, but that all men should be able to cross backwards and forwards at any time. The Serpent made this resolution, and so did Goethe; Goethe points to an age of selflessness, when man will not put his forces at the service of his lower self but at the service of unselfishness.

There are a few other thoughts connected with these basic thoughts about the Fairy Tale. I cannot go into them all today, and will only touch upon a few. We find the wife of the old man with the lamp, she is connected with the representatives of human occult knowledge. She keeps the house of the old man. To her come the Will-o'-the-wisps, they have licked off all the gold from the walls, and had at once given away all the gold which enriched them, so that the living “Mops,” who ate up the gold, had to suffer death. The old man is the force of reason, which brings forth that which is useful. It is only when occult force unites with this which forwards material civilization, when the highest is united with the lowest in the world, that the world itself can follow its proper course of development. Man should not be led away from everyday life, but should purify the everyday civilization. In the world man is surrounded in his dwellings by that which hangs as gold upon the walls. All that is around him is the gold. On the one hand he is a man of knowledge and on the other a useful man. Thus he has around him the two-fold experience of the human race; all the collective experience of humanity has been collected together in human science. Those who strive after this, seek what is written in the scriptures. They lick off the historical wisdom, as it were.

This it is which surrounds man in his strivings; this it is with which man must entirely permeate himself. But it can not be of use to that which is alive. The living Mops swallowed the gold and died of it. That wisdom which only rules as the dead wisdom of books, and which has not been made alive by the Spirit, kills everything living. But, when it is once again united with the origin of Wisdom, with the beautiful Lily, then it wakes to life again. That is why the old man gives the dead Mops to his wife, that she may carry it to the beautiful Lily. The Lamp has one great peculiarity, everything dead was made alive through it; and what was alive was purified by it. This transmutation is brought about in man by occult knowledge. Besides this, the old woman is begged by the Will-o'-the-Wisps to pay their debts to the Ferryman. These three fruits represent the human sense for usefulness in material civilization, which is to pay tribute to the passions. For from whence should the actual driving forces of nature come, if not from the technique, from the cultivation of material nature? It is an interesting fact that the shadow of the giant as it comes up from the River, takes one of the fruits of the Earth away with it, so that the old woman only has two left. Now she required three for the Ferryman and so had to renounce the River. Something then happens, something full of significance. She has to plunge her hands into the River, whereby she turns so black that she scarcely remains visible. She is still there, but she is almost imperceptible. That shows us the connection between external civilization and the world of the passions. Material civilization must be placed at the service of the Astral, of the soul. As long as the nature of man is not sufficiently ennobled to offer itself as tribute to the River of the passions, so long does technique remain in debt to the River of man (the soul of man). As long as human endeavours are devoted to human passions, man works invisibly at something of which he cannot perceive the final aim. It is invisible, yet it is there; it can be felt, but is not externally perceptible. Everything man does on the road to the great goal, until he pays his debts to the River or the Soul, — all that he has to throw into the River of passions becomes invisible, like the hand of the wife of the old man with the Lamp. As long as the sense-nature is not fully purified, as long as it is not consumed, as it were, by the fire of the passion it cannot shine, and remains invisible; that is what excites the old lady so much that she can no longer reflect any light of her own. This might be gone into more fully, in greater detail; every single word is fraught with meaning. But it would lead us too far to go into all that to-day.

So let us hurry on to the great procession in which we encounter a youth, who tried to capture the beautiful Lily too early, and in so doing crippled all his life forces. Goethe says (in another place): “A man who strives for freedom without having first liberated his own inner self, falls more deeply than before into the bonds of necessity. If he does not set himself free, he will be killed.” A man who has prepared himself, who has been purified in the Mysteries, and the Temple of the Mysteries, so that he may unite himself in a proper way with the Lily, he alone will escape death. One who has died to the lower to be born again in a higher sense, can grasp the Lily. The present time is represented by the crippled youth, who wanted to attain the highest by violence. He complains to all whom he meets that he cannot secure the Lily. He must now make himself ripe enough to do so, and to this aim those forces must be combined which are symbolized by those who took part in the procession. It consisted of the old man with the Lamp, the Will-o'-the-Wisps and the beautiful Lily herself. The procession thus included all the different beautiful forces, and it was led down into the clefts of the Earth to the Temple of Initiation. That too, is a profound feature of the enigmatical Fairy Tale, in that it allows the Will-o'-the-Wisps to open the door of the Temple. The self-seeking wisdom is not without object, it is a necessary stage of transition. Human egoism can be overcome if it is nourished by wisdom and permeated with the gold of true knowledge. This wisdom can then be used to open the Temple. Those who unconsciously serve wisdom in an external sense, will be led to the real sanctuaries of wisdom. Those learned men who only bury themselves in books are nevertheless our guides. Goethe does not undervalue science. He knew that science herself uncloses the Temple of Wisdom; he knew that everything must be proved and accepted by science, and that without her we cannot penetrate the Temple of the highest Wisdom. Goethe himself sought this wisdom everywhere. He only considered himself worthy of recognizing the highest revelation in Spiritual life, in Art, after he had gone through the study of Science. He sought wisdom everywhere, in physics, biology, etc., — And so, he admits the Will-o'-the-Wisps into the Temple, they who resting on themselves alone occupy a false position towards the others, towards the others who enter through experience and observations, like the Serpent. They cause the Temple to be opened and the procession passes in. Now follows what Goethe intended to apply to the whole of mankind; the whole Temple moves up and ascends through the cleft in the Earth. The Temple can now be set up over the River of the Soul, over the River of passions and desires, because the Serpent sacrificed itself. The Self of man has become selfless, the Serpent is transformed into precious stone, which forms the piles of the bridge. And now men can more freely go to and fro from the world of sense to the world of the Spiritual.

The union between sense and spirit is brought about by man, when he becomes selfless, by a sacrifice of himself, such as was made by the Serpent, which offered itself as a bridge over the River of passions. Thus the Temple ascended from the clefts of the Earth and is now accessible to all who cross the bridge, to those who drive over as well as to those who go on foot. In the Temple itself we meet once more with the three Kings; and the youth who had been made pure by having recognized the three soul-forces, is now presented to them. The golden King goes up to him and says “Feed my Sheep,” — in this Goethe gave expression to a thought which was very deeply engraved in his soul, that of uniting beauty with piety. It is the commandment given in the Bible. He applied these words to the youth in the same sense as when in Rome he stood before the statue of a God, and said “Here is necessity (notwendigkeit) it could not be different from what it is, this is a God. I feel that the Greeks worked according to the same Divine Laws that I am seeking.” It is a personal note of Goethe's when he causes the silver King to appear as Beauty and Piety: And then the King of Strength comes to the youth and says “The sword in the left hand, and the right hand free,” — the sword was not to serve for attack but for defence. Harmony was to be brought about, not conflict. After this event the youth was initiated into the three soul-forces; the fourth King has nothing more to say, he subsides into himself. The Temple has risen from its concealment into the clear light of day. Within the Temple there was raised a small silver Temple, which is none other than the transformed hut of the Ferryman. It is a remarkable feature that Goethe transformed the hut of the Ferryman, — he who carries us over into the land of the Spirit, — into pure molten silver so that it becomes a small altar, a small Temple, a Holy of Holies. This hut which represents the holiest in man, the deepest core of his being which he has preserved as a recollection of the land from which he came and to which the Ferryman cannot take him back, represents something which existed before our evolution. It is the memory that we are descended from the Spirit, — the memory of this stands as a Holy of Holies within the Temple. — The giant, — the crude force of nature, which lives in nature without the Spirit, and could not work through itself alone, but only as a shadow, — has been given a remarkable mission. Now this giant stands upright, and now only does he show the time. This is a profound thought — when man has laid aside everything belonging to his lower nature and has become entirely spiritualised, then the lower forces of nature will no longer spring up around him in their original elemental power, — in the form of storms, as they now do — the mechanical crude force of nature will then only perform mechanical service; man will always require these mechanical nature-forces, but they will no longer have power over him, he will use them in his service. His work will be the hour-hand of Spiritual culture, it will be the hour-hand pointing to the regular mechanical necessity, and will go regularly as the course of a clock. The giant himself will then no longer be necessary. We must not interpret the Fairy Tale pedantically, by interpreting every word, but we must feel our way into what Goethe wanted to say, and which he painted in such beautiful pictures. Goethe in his Fairy Tale brought out what Schiller expressed in his Aesthetic Letters; — the union of Necessity with Freedom. What Schiller tried to express in these letters Goethe could not grasp in abstract thought, but gave in the form of a Fairy Tale. “When I want to express these thoughts in all their living force I require pictures and pictures and pictures, such as the ancient priests of Initiation made use of in the Mysteries.” He did not teach his pupils by means of abstract thoughts, but by bringing the whole drama of Dionysos before them, by showing them the great course of the evolution of man, of the resurrection of Dionysos; and he also showed that which went on invisibly in the drama of “Dionysos and Osiris.”

Thus Goethe wished to express what lived in him in the form of drama and pictures, so we will not interpret the Fairy Tale in the ordinary way, but as theosophy would teach us to do, as representing the uniting of the lower nature of man with the higher; the union of the physical with the etheric body; the life-force and the passions and desires, with the higher nature of man: — the three purely Spiritual soul forces Atma, Buddhi, Manas, which we represented as the three Kings. This is the course of the evolution of man up to the time when every man will be himself an Initiate. This is what Goethe tried to express in a truly theosophical fashion. Just as those priests of Initiation expressed their wisdom in the form of pictures, so Goethe expressed in pictures in his Apocalypse that which represents the evolution of humanity, — that which will some day become the highest act of man — the transformation of the lower nature into the higher and the transmutation of the lower metals, the lower soul-forces into the gold of wisdom. The transmutation of that which dwells alone in the pure noble metal of wisdom is represented by the King who is embodied in the gold. Goethe wished to express this human alchemy, this Spiritual transmutation, in a somewhat different manner from what he had concealed occultly in the second part of “Faust.” Goethe was in the true sense of the word a Theosophist. He understood what it means that all the transitory things we see with our senses, are nothing but symbols, but he also understood that what man is trying to do is impossible to describe, but can be accomplished by an act, and that the “Unzulängliche” is that which lives among us on this side of the River, and we must experience it if the purpose of human evolution is to be fulfilled. Goethe also expressed this to this end in the “Chorus Mysticus” and included it in the second part of “Faust.” The highest soul-force in man is symbolically represented as the beautiful Lily, and the male principle — the force of Will unites with her. He expresses this in the beautiful and expressive words with which the second part of “Faust” concludes. These final verses are a mystical creed. We can only understand them completely when we see our own intimate life come to life again in the story of the green Serpent and the beautiful Lily.

Even before the close of the 18th century, when Goethe passed on to his work on the second part of “Faust,” his nature had already been transmuted and he had attained the vision of a higher world.

It is of profound significance if we are able to understand the words written by Goethe in his testament, the second part of “Faust,” when he had completed his course on the Earth. After his death, this second part was found in his writing table, closed and sealed. He put this book as a gospel into the world, as a testament. And this testament closes with his mystical creed:

Alles Vergängliche ist nur sin Gleichnis
Das Unzulängliche hier wird's Ereignis.
Das Unbeschreibliche, hier ist's getan,
Das ewig Weibliche zieht uns hinan.

One translation is as follows:

All things transitory
But as symbols sent,
Earth's insufficiency
Here grows to event.
The indescribable, here it is done.
The Woman Soul leads us upward, and on.



Last Modified: 18-Apr-2017
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