THE time that I consumed in the setting forth of Goethe's
natural-scientific ideas for the introduction to Kürschner's
Deutsche National-Literatur was very protracted. I began this
task in the year 1880, and I had not finished even when I entered upon
the second phase of my life with the removal from Vienna to Weimar.
The reason for this lay in the difficulties I have described in
connection with the natural scientific and the mystical form of
While I was labouring to reduce to correct forms of thought Goethe's
attitude to the natural sciences, I had to advance also in the
formulation of that which had taken shape before my mind as spiritual
experience in my perception of the world process. I was thus
constantly driven from Goethe to the representation of my own
world-conception and back again to him, in order the better to
interpret his thoughts by means of the thoughts to which I myself had
attained. I felt that the most essential thing in Goethe was his
refusal to be content with any sort of theoretically easily surveyed
thought-pictures as contrasted with the knowledge of the illimitable
richness of reality. Goethe becomes rationalistic when he wishes to
describe the manifold forms of plants and animals. He struggles for
ideas which manifest themselves as active in the evolution of the
earth when he wishes to grasp the geologic building of the earth or
the phenomena of meteorology. But his ideas are not abstract thoughts;
they are images living in the form of thoughts within the mind.
When I grasped what he has set forth in such pictures in his
natural-scientific works, I had before me something which satisfied me
to the bottom of my soul. I looked upon a content of ideal images of
which I could not but believe that this content if followed further
represented a true reflection within the human spirit of that which
happens in nature. It was clear to me that the form of thought in the
natural sciences must be raised to this of Goethe's.
But at the same time, in this grasping of Goethe's knowledge of
nature, there came the need for representing the content of ideal
images in relation to spiritual reality itself. The ideal images are
not justifiable unless they refer to a spiritual reality lying at the
foundation of the things of sense. But Goethe, in his holy awe before
the immeasurable richness of reality, refrains from entering upon a
presentation of the spiritual world after having brought the
sense-world to the form of a spiritual image in his mind.
I had now to show that Goethe really experienced the life of the soul
in that he pressed forward from sense-nature to spirit-nature, but
that anyone else can comprehend Goethe's soul-life only by going
beyond him and carrying his own knowledge on to ideal conception of
the spiritual world itself. When Goethe spoke of nature, he was
standing within the spiritual. He feared that he would become abstract
if he proceeded further beyond this vital standing-within to a living
in thoughts concerning this standing-within. He desired the experience
of being within the spirit; but he did not desire to think himself
within the spirit.
I often felt that I should be false to Goethe's way of thinking if I
only gave expression to thoughts concerning his world conception. And
in regard to every detail which I had to interpret concerning Goethe I
had again and again to master the method of speaking about Goethe in
Goethe's own way. My setting forth of Goethe's ideas consisted in the
struggle, lasting for years, gradually to achieve a better
understanding of him with the help of his own ideas. When I look back
upon this endeavour I have to say to myself that I owe to this in
large measure the evolution of my spiritual experience of knowledge.
This evolution proceeded far more slowly than would have been the case
if the Goethe task had not been set by destiny on the pathway of my
life. I should then have followed my spiritual experiences and have
set these forth as they came to light. I should have broken through
into the spiritual world more quickly; but I should have had no
inducement to sink down by actual striving into my own inner self.
Thus by means of my Goethe task I experienced the difference between a
state of soul in which the spiritual world manifests itself, so to
speak, as an act of grace, and one in which step by step the soul
first makes its own inner self like the spirit, in order that, when
the soul experiences itself as true spirit, it may then stand within
the spiritual of the world. But in this standing-within man first
realizes that the human spirit and the spiritual world may come into
union one with the other within the human soul.
During the time that I was working at my interpretation of Goethe, I
had Goethe always beside me as an admonisher who called inaudibly to
me: Whoever too rashly moves forward on the spiritual way may
attain to a narrowly restricted experience of the spirit, but he
enters into a content of reality impoverished of all the richness of
In my relation to the Goethe work I could observe clearly how
Karma works in human life. Destiny is made of two forms of
fact-complexes which grow into unity in human life. The one streams
from the struggle of the soul outward; the other comes from the outer
world into man. My own mental impulses moved toward the perception of
the spiritual; the outer spiritual life of the world brought the
Goethe work to me. I had to reduce to a harmony within my
consciousness the two currents which there met. I occupied the last
year of the first phase of my life in justifying myself alternately in
the eyes of Goethe and then in my own eyes.
The task I set myself in my doctor's dissertation was an inner
experience: that of bringing about an understanding of man's
consciousness with itself. For I saw that man can understand
what the genuine reality in the outer world is only when he has
perceived this genuine reality within himself.
This bringing together of the genuine reality of the outer world and
the genuine reality of the inner life of the soul must be achieved for
the knowing consciousness through tireless spiritual activity; for the
willing and the acting consciousness it is always present when man in
action experiences his own freedom.
That freedom exists as a matter of fact for the unprejudiced
consciousness and yet becomes a riddle for the understanding is due to
the fundamental fact that man does not possess his own true being, his
genuine self-consciousness, as something given from the beginning, but
must first achieve this through an understanding of his consciousness
That which makes man of the highest worth-freedom can be won only
after appropriate preparation.
My Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is based upon an experience
which consists in the understanding of human consciousness with
itself. In willing, freedom is practised; in feeling, it is
experienced; in thinking, it is known. Only, in order to attain this
last, one must not lose the life out of thinking.
While I was working at my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, it
was my constant endeavour in the statement of my thoughts to keep my
inner experience fully awake within the very thoughts. This gives to
thoughts the mystical character of inner perception, but makes the
perception like the perception of the outer physical world. If one
forces oneself through to such an inner experience, then one no longer
finds any contradiction between knowledge of nature and knowledge of
spirit. It becomes clear to one that the second is only a
metamorphosed continuation of the first. Since this appeared thus to
me, I could later place on the title-page of my Philosophy of
Spiritual Activity the motto:
Seelische Beobachtungsresultate nach naturwissenschaftliche Methode(1).
For, when the
natural-scientific methods are truly followed in the spiritual sphere,
then these lead one in knowledge into this sphere.
There was great significance for me at that time in my thorough-going
work upon Goethe's fairy-tale of The Green Snake and the Beautiful
Lily, which forms the conclusion of his Entertainments of the
German Wanderers. These riddle tales have had many
interpreters. I was not at all interested in the
interpretation of the content. I wished simply to take
that in its poetic, artistic form. I always had an antipathy to
shattering the dominant fantasy with intellectual interpretation.
I saw that these poems of Goethe's had arisen out of his spiritual
intercourse with Schiller. When Schiller wrote his
Briefe fur Förderung der aesthetischen Erziehung des Menschen(2),
his mind was passing through the philosophical phase of its evolution.
The understanding of human consciousness with itself was a
mental task which occupied him most intensely. He saw the human mind
on the one side wholly absorbed in intellectual activity. He felt that
the mind dominant in the purely intellectual was not dependent upon
the bodily and sensible. And yet he found in this form of
supersensible activity something unsatisfying. The mind is in
the spirit when it is given over to the logical
necessity of the reason, but in this activity it is neither free
nor inwardly spiritually alive. It is given over to an abstract
shadow-image of the spirit, but is not weaving and ruling in the life
and existence of the spirit. On the other side, Schiller observed
that, in an opposite sort of activity, the mind is wholly given over
to the bodily the sense-perceptions and the instinctive impulses.
Then the influence out of the spiritual shadow-images is lost from the
mind, but it is given over to natural law, which does not constitute
its being. Schiller came to the conclusion that man is not true
man in either of these activities. But he can produce through
himself that which is not given to him by nature or by the rational
shadows of the spiritual coming to existence without his effort. He
can take his reason into his sense-activities; and he can elevate the
sensible into a higher realm of consciousness so that it acts like the
spiritual. Thus he attains to a mood midway between the logical and
the natural compulsion.
Schiller sees man in such a mood when he is living in the artistic.
The aesthetic conception of the world directs its look upon the
sensible, but in such a way that it perceives therein the spirit. It
lives in shadows of the spirit, but in its creating or its enjoying it
gives to the spirit a sensible form so that it loses the shadow
Years before had this endeavour of Schiller's to reach a conception of
the true man attracted my attention; now, when Goethe's
riddle fairy-tale became itself a riddle to me, Schiller's
endeavour occurred to me again. I saw how Goethe had taken hold of
Schiller's conception of the true man. For him no less
than for his friend this was a vital question: How does the
shadowy spiritual find in the mind the sensible-corporeal, and how
does the natural in physical bodies work itself upward to the
The correspondence between the two friends and all that can be learned
otherwise about their spiritual relationship indicates that Schiller's
solution was too abstract, too one-sidedly philosophical for Goethe.
He created the charming picture of the stream which separates two
worlds; of the will-o'-the-wisps who seek the way from one world to
the other; of the snake which must sacrifice itself in order to form a
bridge between the two worlds; of the beautiful lily who can only be
surmised as wandering in the spirit on the far side of the
stream by those who live on this side, and of much more.
Over against Schiller's philosophical solution he places a poetic
vision in fairy-tale form. He had the feeling that, if one attacked
with philosophical conceptions the riddle of the soul which Schiller
perceived, such a person impoverished himself while seeking for his
true being. He desired to approach the riddle in all the wealth of the
The Goethe fairy-tale images hark back to imaginations which had often
been set forth before the time of Goethe by seekers for the spiritual
experience of the soul. The three kings of fairy-lore are found in
some resemblance in the
by Christian Rosenkreutz. Other forms are revivals of those which had
appeared earlier in pictures of the way of knowledge. Only in Goethe
these pictures appear in a more beautiful, noble, artistic form of
fantasy, whereas they had until his time borne a less artistic
In these fairy-tales Goethe carried this fanciful creation near to the
point at which it passes over into the inner process of the soul which
is a knowing experience of the real world of spirit. I felt that one
could see to the utmost depths of Goethe's nature when one sank down
into this poetry. Not the interpretation, but the stimulus to the
experience of the soul, was the important result that came to me from
my work upon the fairy-tales. This stimulus later influenced my mental
life even in the shaping of the mystery dramas which I afterward
wrote. As to that part of my work which related directly to Goethe, I
could gain but little from these fairy-tales. For it seemed to me that
Goethe in their composition had grown beyond himself in his
world-conception, as if impelled by a half-conscious life of the soul.
In this way there came about for me a serious difficulty. I could set
forth my interpretation of Goethe for Kürschner's Deutsche
National-Literatur only in the style in which I had commenced
this; but this in itself did not suffice me at all. For I said to
myself that, while Goethe was writing the fairy-tales, he
had, as it were, looked across the boundary and had seen into the
spiritual world. But nevertheless what he wrote about natural
processes gave no attention to this glimpse. Therefore he could not be
interpreted on the basis of this insight.
But even though I obtained nothing at once for my Goethe writings from
sinking down into the fairy-tale, yet I gained much mental stimulus
from it. What came to me as mental content in connection with the
fairy-tale became most important material for meditation. I returned
to this again and again. By this activity I prepared myself beforehand
for the temper of mind into which I entered later during my Weimar
- The Results of Spiritual Observation According to
the Methods of Natural Science.
- Letters on the Advancement of the Aesthetic Education of man.
- Chemical Marriage.