The decision to give public expression to the esoteric from my own
inner experience impelled me to write for the Magazine for August 28,
1899, on the occasion of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of
Goethe's birth, an article on Goethe's fairy-tale of The Green
Snake and the Beautiful Lily, under the title
Goethes Geheime Offenbarung(1).
This article was, of course, only
slightly esoteric. But I could not expect more of my public than I
there gave. In my own mind the content of the fairy-tale lived as
something wholly esoteric, and it was out of an esoteric mood that the
article was written.
Since the 'eighties I had been occupied with imaginations which were
associated in my thought with this fairy-tale. I saw set forth in the
fairy-tale Goethe's way from the observation of external nature into
the interior of the human mind as he placed this before himself, not
in concepts, but in pictures of the spirit. Concepts seemed to Goethe
far too poor, too dead, to be capable of representing the living and
working forces of the mind.
Now in Schiller's letters concerning education in aesthetics, Goethe
saw an endeavour to grasp this living and working by means of
concepts. Schiller sought to show how the life of man is under
subjection to natural necessity by reason of his corporeal aspect and
to mental necessity through his reason. And he thought the soul must
establish an inner equilibrium between the two. Then in this
equilibrium man lives in freedom a life really worthy of humanity.
This is clever, but for the real life of the soul it is far too
simple. The soul causes its forces, which are rooted in the depths, to
shine into consciousness, but to disappear again in the very act of
shining forth after they have influenced other forces just as
fleeting. These are occurrences which even in arising also pass away;
but abstract concepts can be linked only to that which continues for a
longer or shorter time. All this Goethe knew through experience; he
placed his picture-knowledge in a fairy-tale over against Schiller's
conceptual knowledge. In experiencing this creation of Goethe's, one
had entered the outer court of the esoteric.
This was the time when I was invited by Count and Countess Brockdorff
to deliver a lecture at one of their weekly gatherings. At these
meetings there came together seekers from all sorts of circles. The
lectures there delivered had to do with all aspects of life and
knowledge. I knew nothing of all this until I was invited to deliver a
lecture; nor did I know the Brockdorffs, but heard of them then for
the first time. The theme proposed was an article about Nietzsche.
This lecture I gave. Then I observed that among the hearers there were
persons with a great interest in the spiritual world. Therefore, when
I was invited to give a second lecture, I proposed the subject
Goethe's Secret Revelation, and in this lecture I became
entirely esoteric in relation to the fairy-tale. It was an important
experience for me to be able to speak in words coined from the world
of spirit after having been forced by circumstances throughout my
Berlin period up to that time only to let the spiritual shine through
The Brockdorffs were leaders of a branch of the Theosophical Society
founded by Blavatsky. What I had said in connection with Goethe's
fairy-tale led to my being invited by the Brockdorffs to deliver
lectures regularly before those members of the Theosophical Society
who were associated with them. I explained, however, that I could
speak only about that which I vitally experienced within me as
In truth, I could speak of nothing else. For very little of the
literature issued by the Theosophical Society was known to me. I had
known theosophists while living in Vienna, and I later became
acquainted with others. These acquaintance ships led me to write in
the Magazine the adverse review dealing with the theosophists in
connection with the appearance of a publication of Franz Hartmann.
What I knew otherwise of the literature was for the most part entirely
uncongenial to me in method and approach; I could not by any
possibility have linked my discussions with this literature.
So I then gave the lectures in which I established a connection with
the mysticism of the Middle Ages. By means of the ideas of the mystics
from Master Eckhard to Jakob Böhme, I found expression for the
spiritual conceptions which in reality I had determined beforehand to
set forth. I published the series of lectures in the book
Die Mystik im Aufgange des neuzeitlichen Geisteslebens(2).
At these lectures there appeared one day in the audience Marie von
Sievers, who was chosen by destiny at that time to take into strong
hands the German section of the Theosophical Society, founded soon
after the beginning of my lecturing. Within this section I was then
able to develop my anthroposophic activity before a constantly
No one was left in uncertainty of the fact that I would bring forward
in the Theosophical Society only the results of my own research
through perception. For I stated this on all appropriate occasions.
When, in the presence of Annie Besant, the German section of the
Theosophical Society was founded in Berlin and I was chosen its
General Secretary, I had to leave the foundation sessions because I
had to give before a non-theosophical audience one of the lectures in
which I dealt with the spiritual evolution of humanity, and to the
title of which I expressly united the phrase
Annie Besant also knew that I was
then giving out in lectures under this title what I had to say about
the spiritual world.
When I went to London to attend a theosophical congress, one of the
leading personalities said to me that true theosophy was to be found
in my book Mysticism ..., I had reason to be satisfied. For I
had given only the results of my spiritual vision, and this was
accepted in the Theosophical Society.
There was now no longer any reason why I should not bring forward this
spiritual knowledge in my own way before the theosophical public,
which was at first the only audience that entered without restriction
into a knowledge of the spirit. I subscribed to no sectarian
dogmatics; I remained a man who uttered what he believed he was able
to utter entirely according to what he himself experienced in the
spiritual world. Prior to the founding of the section belongs a series
of lectures which I gave before Die Kommenden, entitled
Von Buddha zu Christus(4).
In these discussions I
sought to show what a mighty stride the mystery of Golgotha signifies
in comparison with the Buddha event, and how the evolution of
humanity, as it strives toward the Christ event, approaches its
culmination. In this circle I spoke also of the nature of the
All this was accepted by my hearers. It was not felt to be
contradictory to lectures which I had given earlier. Only after the
section was founded and I then appeared to be stamped as a
theosophist did any objection arise. It was really not
the thing itself; it was the name and the association with the Society
that no one wished to have.
On the other hand, my non-theosophical hearers would have been
inclined to permit themselves merely to be stimulated by
my discussions, to accept these only in a literary way.
What lay upon my heart was to introduce into life the impulse from the
spiritual world; for this there was no understanding. This
understanding, however, I could gradually find among men interested
Before the Brockdorff circle, where I had spoken on Nietzsche and the
on Goethe's secret revelation, I gave at this time a lecture on
Goethe's Faust, from an
esoteric point of view.(5)
The lectures on mysticism led to an invitation during the winter from
the same theosophical circle to speak there again on this subject. I
then gave the series of lectures which I later collected into the
volume Christianity as Mystical Fact.
From the very beginning I have let it be known that the choice of the
expression as Mystical Fact is important. For I did not
wish to set forth merely the mystical bearing of Christianity. My
object was to set forth the evolution from the ancient mysteries to
the mystery of Golgotha in such a way that in this evolution there
should be seen to be active, not merely earthly historic forces, but
spiritual supramundane influences. And I wished to show that in the
ancient mysteries cult-pictures were given of cosmic events, which
were then fulfilled in the mystery of Golgotha as facts transferred
from the cosmos to the earth of the historic plane.
This was by no means taught in the Theosophical Society. In this view
I was in direct opposition to the theosophical dogmatics of the time,
before I was invited to work in the Theosophical Society. For this
invitation followed immediately after the cycle of lectures on Christ
Between the two cycles of lectures that I gave before the Theosophical
Society, Marie von Sievers was in Italy, at Bologna, working on behalf
of the Theosophical Society in the branch established there.
Thus the thing evolved up to the time of my first attendance at a
theosophical congress, in London, in the year 1902. At this congress,
in which Marie von Sievers also took part, it was already a foregone
conclusion that a German section of the Society would be founded with
myself shortly before invited to become a member as the general
The visit to London was of great interest to me. I there became
acquainted with important leaders of the Theosophical Society. I had
the privilege of staying at the home of Mr. Bertram Keightley, one of
these leaders. We became great friends. I became acquainted with Mr.
Mead, the very diligent secretary of the Theosophical Movement. The
most interesting conversations imaginable took place at the home of
Mr. Keightley in regard to the forms of spiritual knowledge alive
within the Theosophical Society.
Especially intimate were these conversations with Bertram Keightley
himself. H. P. Blavatsky seemed to live again in these conversations.
Her whole personality, with its wealth of spiritual content, was
described with the utmost vividness before me and Marie von Sievers by
my dear host, who had been so long associated with her.
I became slightly acquainted with Annie Besant and also Sinnett,
author of Esoteric Buddhism. Mr. Leadbeater I did not meet, but
only heard him speak from the platform. He made no special impression
All that was interesting in what I heard stirred me deeply, but it had
no influence upon the content of my own views.
The intervals left over between sessions of the congress I sought to
employ in hurried visits to the natural-scientific and artistic
collections of London. I dare say that many an idea concerning the
evolution of nature and of man came to me from the natural-scientific
and the historical collections.
Thus I went through an event very important for me in this visit to
London. I went away with the most manifold impressions, which stirred
my mind profoundly.
In the first number of the Magazine for 1899 there appears an article
by me entitled
Neujahrsbetractung eines Ketzers(6).
The meaning there is a scepticism, not in reference to religious
knowledge, but in reference to the orientation of culture which the
time had taken on.
Men were standing before the portals of a new century. The closing
century had brought forth great attainments in the realm of external
life and knowledge. In reference to this the thought forced itself
upon me: In spite of all this and many other attainments for
example, in the sphere of art no one with any depth of vision can
rejoice greatly over the cultural content of the time. Our highest
spiritual needs strive for something which the time affords only in
meagre measure. And reflecting upon the emptiness of
contemporary culture, I glanced back to the time of scholasticism in
which, at least in concepts, men's minds lived with the spirit.
One need not be surprised if, in the presence of such phenomena,
men with deeper intellectual needs find the proud structure of thought
of the scholastics more satisfying than the ideal content of our own
time. Otto Willmann has written a noteworthy book, his
Geschichte des Idealismus(7)
in which he appears as the eulogist
of the world-conception of past centuries. It must be admitted that
the human mind craves those proud comprehensive illuminations through
thought which human knowledge experienced in the philosophical systems
of the scholastics ... Discouragement is a characteristic of the
intellectual life at the turn of the century. It disturbs our joy in
the attainments of the youngest of the ages now past.
And in contrast to those persons who insisted that it was just
true knowledge itself which showed the impossibility of a
philosophy comprising under a single conception the totality of
existence, I had to say: If matters were as they appear to the
persons who give currency to such voices, then it would suffice one to
measure, weigh, and compare things and phenomena and investigate them
by means of the available apparatus, but never would the question be
raised as to the higher meaning of things and phenomena.
This is the temper of my mind which must furnish an explanation of
those facts that brought about my anthroposophic activity within the
Theosophical Society. When I had entered into the culture of the time
in order to find a spiritual background for the editing of the
Magazine, I felt after this a great need to recover my mind in such
reading as Willmann's History of Idealism. Even though there
was an abyss between my perception of spirit and the form of
Willmann's ideas, yet I felt that these ideas were near to the spirit.
At the end of September 1900, I was able to leave the Magazine in
The facts narrated above show that the purpose of imparting the
content of the spiritual world had become a necessity growing out of
my temper of mind before I gave up the Magazine; that it has no
connection with the impossibility of continuing further with the
As into the very element suited to my mind, I entered upon an activity
having its impulse in spiritual knowledge.
But I still have to-day the feeling that, even apart from the
hindrance here described, my endeavour to lead through
natural-scientific knowledge to the world of spirit would have
succeeded in finding an outlet. I look back upon what I expressed from
1897 to 1900 as upon something which at one time or another had to be
uttered in opposition to the way of thinking of the time; and on the
other hand I look back upon this as upon something in which I passed
through my most intense spiritual test. I learned fundamentally to
know where lay the forces of the time striving away from the spirit,
disintegrating and destructive of culture. And from this knowledge
came a great access of the force that I later needed in order to work
outward from the spirit.
It was still before the time of my activity within the Theosophical
Society, and before I ceased to edit the Magazine, that I composed my
two-volume book Conceptions of the World and of Life in the
Nineteenth Century, which from the second edition on was extended to
include a survey of the evolution of world-conceptions from the Greek
period to the nineteenth century, and then appeared under the title
Ratzel der Philosophie(8).
The external occasion
for the production of this book is to be considered wholly secondary.
It grew out of the fact that Cronbach, the publisher of the Magazine,
planned a collection of writings which were to deal with the various
realms of knowledge and life in their evolution during the nineteenth
century. He wished to include in this collection an exposition of the
conceptions of the world and of life, and this he entrusted to me.
I had for a long time held all the substance of this book in my mind.
My consideration of the world-conceptions had a personal point of
departure in that of Goethe. The opposition which I had to set up
between Goethe's way of thinking and that of Kant, the new
philosophical beginning at the turning-point between the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries in Fichte, Schelling, Hegel all this was to
me the beginning of an epoch in the evolution of world-conceptions.
The brilliant books of Richard Wahle, which show the dissolution of
all endeavour after a world-conception at the end of the nineteenth
century, closed this epoch. Thus the attempt of the nineteenth century
after a world-conception rounded itself into a whole which was vitally
alive in my view, and I gladly seized the opportunity to set this
When I look back to this book the course of my life seems to me
symptomatically expressed in it. I did not concern myself, as many
suppose, with anticipating contradictions. If this were the case, I
should gladly admit it. Only it was not the reality in my spiritual
course. I concerned myself in anticipation to find new spheres for
what was alive in my mind. And an especially stimulating discovery in
the spiritual sphere occurred soon after the composition of the
Conceptions of the World and of Life.
Besides, I never by any means penetrated into the spiritual sphere in
a mystical, emotional way, but desired always to go by way of
crystal-clear concepts. Experiencing of concepts, of ideas, led me out
of the ideal into the spiritual-real.
The real evolution of the organic from primeval times to the present
stood out before my imagination for the first time after the
composition of Conceptions of the World and of Life.
During the writing of this book I had before my eyes only the
natural-scientific view which had been derived from the Darwinian mode
of thought. But this I considered only as a succession of sensible
facts present in nature. Within this succession of facts there were
active for me spiritual impulses, as these hovered before Goethe in
his idea of metamorphosis.
Thus the natural-scientific evolutionary succession, as represented by
Haeckel, never constituted for me something wherein mechanical or
merely organic laws controlled, but as something wherein the spirit
led the living being from the simple through the complex up to man. I
saw in Darwinism a mode of thinking which is on the way to that of
Goethe, but which remains behind this.
All this was still thought by me in ideal content ; only later did I
work through to imaginative perception. This perception first brought
me the knowledge that in reality quite other beings than the most
simple organisms were present in primeval times. That man as a
spiritual being is older than all other living beings, and that in
order to assume his present physical form he had to cease to be a
member of a world-being which comprised him and the other organisms.
These latter are rejected elements in human evolution; not something
out of which man has come, but something which he has left behind,
from which he severed himself, in order to take on his physical form
as the image of one that was spiritual. Man is a microcosmic being who
bore within him all the rest of the terrestrial world and who has
become a microcosm by separating from all the rest this for me was a
knowledge to which I first attained in the earliest years of the new
And so this knowledge could not be in any way an active impulse in
Conceptions of the World and of Life. Indeed, I so conceived
the second volume of this book that a point of departure for a
deepening knowledge of the world mystery might be found in a
spiritualized form of Darwinism and Haeckelism viewed in the light of
When I prepared later the second edition of the book, there was
already present in my mind a knowledge of the true evolution. All
through I held fast to the point of view I had assumed in the first
edition as being that which is derived from thinking without spiritual
perception, yet I found it necessary to make slight changes in the
form of expression. These were necessary, first because the book by
undertaking a general survey of the totality of philosophy had become
an entirely different composition, and secondly because this second
edition appeared after my discussions of the true evolution were
already before the world. In all this the form taken by my Riddles
of Philosophy had not only a subjective justification, as the
point of view firmly held from the time of a certain phase in my
mental evolution, but also a justification entirely objective. This
consists in the fact that a thought, when spiritually experienced as
thought, can conceive the evolution of living beings only as this is
set forth in my book; and that the further step must be made by means
of spiritual perception. Thus my book represents quite objectively the
pre-anthroposophic point of view into which one must submerge oneself,
and which one must experience in this submersion, in order to rise to
the higher point of view. This point of view, as a stage in the way of
knowledge, meets those learners who seek the spiritual world, not in a
mystical blurred form, but in a form intellectually clear. In setting
forth that which results from this point of view there is also present
something which the learner uses as a preliminary stage leading to the
Then for the first time I saw in Haeckel the person who placed himself
courageously at the thinker's point of view in natural science, while
all other researchers excluded thought and admitted only the results
of sense-observation. The fact that Haeckel placed value upon creative
thought in laying the foundation for reality drew me again and again
And so I dedicated my book to him, in spite of the fact that its
content even in that form was not conceived in his sense. But
Haeckel was not in the least a philosophical nature. His relation to
philosophy was wholly that of a layman. For this very reason I
considered the attack of the philosophers that was just then raging
around Haeckel as quite undeserved. In opposition to them, I dedicated
my book to Haeckel, as I had already written in opposition to them my essay
Haeckel und seine Gegner(9).
Haeckel, in all
simplicity as regards philosophy, had employed thought as the means
for setting forth biological reality; a philosophical attack was
directed against him which rested upon an intellectual sphere quite
foreign to him. I believe he never knew what the philosophers wished
from him. This was my impression from a conversation I had with him in
Leipzig after the appearance of his Riddle of the Universe, on
the occasion of a presentation of Borngräber's play Giordano
Bruno. He then said: People say I deny the spirit. I wish
they could see how materials shape themselves through their forces;
then they would perceive spirit in everything that happens in a
retort. Everywhere there is spirit. Haeckel, in fact, knew
nothing whatever of the real Spirit. The very forces of nature were
for him the spirit, and he could rest content with this.
One must not critically attack such blindness to the spirit with
philosophically dead concepts, but must see how far the age is removed
from the experience of the spirit, and must seek, on the foundation
which the age affords the natural biological explanation to strike
the spiritual sparks.
Such was then my opinion. On that basis I wrote my Conceptions of
the World and of Life in the Nineteenth Century.
- Goethe's Secret Revelation.
- Mysticism at the Beginning of the Modern Spiritual Life.
- An anthroposophy.
- From Buddha to Christ.
- This was the lecture which was later published,
together with my discussions of Goethe's fairy-tale,
by the Philosophische-Anthroposophische Verlag.
- New Year Reflections of a Sceptic.
- History of Idealism.
- Riddles of Philosophy.
- Haeckel and His Opponents.