Goethe's Secret Revelation.
Part II: The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily
23rd, February, 1905
Already eight days ago,
I pointed to the fact that the basic question should be solved in Goethe's
Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily how the
human being develops from his lower self to the higher one, and that
a big view of the future underlies the fairy tale.
How can the human being
get to the gate which leads into the spiritual land? This was a basic
problem for Goethe. He seizes this problem emphatically and tries to
explain in many ways how the human soul forces develop.
Starting from this great
point of view, he tries to show as a knowing man in all details which
inner ways the human being has to finish.
We have stopped at the moment
when the old man with the lamp and the snake meet in front of the statues
of the kings, the representatives of the highest spiritual powers. We
have to regard the temple as a symbol of the great occult schools which
have always existed and exist even today. Into this temple the human
beings are led and come gradually so far by the teachings and instructions
which they receive there if they exercise them really that, finally,
the initiation can be given to them.
We have seen that the snake
hisses a word into the ear of the old man. We know that this is the
resolution of the riddle, the most important word of which Goethe and
Schiller said: “One reads the resolution in the fairy tale.”
In these words is the resolution,
the behaviour of the old man reveals that to us. Immediately after the
snake has spoken the words, the old man replies significantly: “The
time has come!”
The snake knows the fourth
secret; this is why the old man says: “The time has come!”
When later the beautiful lily is informed about these words, she regards
them as a ray of hope, as an indication of her redemption.
The old man returns home;
he finds his wife upset. She tells him that two will-o'-the-wisps
were there which did not behave adequately, licked off the gold from
the walls, and then cast it off from themselves. The pug has eaten the
gold and died. Then the wife still had to promise to pay the debts of
the will-o'-the-wisps to the river. The old man approves this,
because the will-o'-the-wisps would turn out grateful now and
then. At first he neatens the house while he lets his lamp shine and
covers the walls with gold anew that way.
A contradiction seems to
be here. The golden king says to the old man: why do you come, although
we have light? The old man answers: you know that I am not allowed to
illuminate the dark. The human being must obtain an internal light first
of all which he shows to the ancient wisdom; then only it can shine
to him. However, when the old man has sunk to the west and walks with
his lamp through the veins of the earth, one reads: all veins filled
with gold behind him straight away; for his lamp had the miraculous
quality to transform all stones into gold, all wood into silver, dead
animals into precious stones and to delete all metals. However, it had
to shine all by itself to show this effect. If another light was beside
it, it only caused a nice bright light and refreshed everything living.
Thus you can understand
this contradiction that it only shines if it meets with light; however,
if no other light is there, it shines particularly and transforms everything
that is round it: the stones become gold; the dead pug becomes an onyx.
In such a way an interpretation results that gives the gist.
The old man now says to
his wife: go to the ferryman, bring him the three kinds of fruit, and
carry the dead pug to the beautiful lily; as she kills life, she brings
the dead animal back to life touching it. His wife starts on her way.
The basket with the dead pug is quite light; it becomes heavy when she
adds the fruits. This is a significant feature.
The giant crosses her way;
his shade robs one of each fruit and he consumes them. The ferryman
cannot be contented with the remaining fruits; within 24 hours he must
deliver the toll to the river. The woman commits to the river and dives
her hand in it. Her hand becomes smaller and smaller and black and,
in the end, it becomes invisible, while it is there according to her
feeling; if the woman brings the toll, she will receive her hand again.
Just as the old woman arrived,
the ferryman ferried a young man over who is like paralysed. Finally,
both get across the bridge, which is formed by the snake at noon, to
the kingdom of the lily. They find her surrounded by three servants,
harp playing. She is of miraculous beauty, but sad, because the bird
whose singing delighted her has fled from a hawk to her and has been
killed by her touch. She is sorrowful about this new fright. Also the
old woman complains her grief; however, at the same time she announces
the message of her husband that the time has come.
Meanwhile, the snake and
the will-o'-the-wisps have also arrived. The snake comforts the
beautiful lily. The old woman asks for the missing fruits; however,
in the kingdom of the lily nothing grows that blossoms and yields fruit,
hence, she cannot receive them.
The point in time of something
important seems to have come closer; there the young man tries to embrace
the lily and sinks down dead. The snake draws a magic circle around
the body to protect it against putrefaction which must meet it, otherwise,
at sunset. Finally when the sun sets, the man with the lamp, led by
the hawk, comes as well as the will-o'-the-wisps which the old
woman has summoned.
Everybody prepares himself
for contributing his part so that the harmonious resolution can take
place. The will-o'-the-wisps have to open the temple; however,
they cannot find the way to the temple. The dead young man and the body
of the bird are carried off, the snake spreads about the river; when
they all are over this bridge, it agrees to sacrifice itself.
All events are changed due
to the sacrifice of the snake. The ancient wisdom once worked in all
religions which were given to humanity by initiates. The religions brought
refreshment to the souls which joined them vividly. The old man sinks
to the west; he goes to the realm of the human beings. The snake, the
intellect, which strives for enlightenment, sinks to the east, because
from the east the spiritual light of the sun always shines bringing
knowledge to the human soul.
The temple resounded, the
metal statues sounded , this is a picture of the soul condition that
takes the principles of the spiritual world upon itself by the sacrifice.
In devachan everything sounds, expresses its being in sounds. Goethe
speaks of a sounding sun in his Faust in the Prologue in
Heaven this is devachan:
In ancient rivalry with fellow spheres
The sun still sings its glorious song.
Goethe means the spiritual sun, for the physical sun
does not sound.
As long as the intellect
strives only for enlightenment, as long as it acquires more and more
inner light to itself by its striving one is able to do this also with
the reason which becomes brighter and brighter , the old man with the
lamp must have a soul light in which he can shine his light. Because
the soul wants to sacrifice itself, the enlightenment takes place and
everything changes. Everything is beheld in its spiritual condition,
no longer in its physical one. Here conditions are described that the
human soul goes through in the initiation.
The young man is reanimated
by the sacrifice of the snake; however, he is still lacking consciousness.
The body of the snake disintegrates into beautiful precious stones which
the old man throws into the river. From them a nice constant bridge
to the other bank comes into being. Thus a free transition from the
sensuous realm to the spiritual land is created.
However, we have to hear
first what happens within the temple. The gate is opened, the old man
says again: the time has come! The temple lifts itself above the river;
the hut of the ferryman forms a nice small temple within the other,
an altar of sorts. The old man becomes a young man again; also the ferryman
and the wife of the old man are rejuvenated. The latter joins the three
companions of the beautiful lily and is the fifth in the alliance. The
young man experiences the initiation in the further course of the fairy
tale. The three kings give him what they have to give. The bronze king
gives him the sword with the words: the sword on the left, the right
hand free! The silver king presents the sceptre to him, speaking: graze
the sheep! While the golden king presses the wreath of oak leaves on
his head and reminds him: recognise the highest! He is endowed with
strength, beauty and knowledge.
Now the young man is not
only alive, but is also mind-endowed. Hitherto he followed the old man
with the lamp mechanically as it were from the world into the temple
which is still subterranean. Then the temple rises upward. The man with
the lamp gives light to the young man; he always stays on his side and
leads him, finally, to the three kings who give him their gifts. You
read then: “His eyes shone out of inexpressible spirit”
, then the initiation is carried out! The young man is now allowed to
unite with the beautiful lily, to embrace her in love, to consummate
the marriage with her.
The fourth king collapses
in himself, after the will-o'-the-wisps have licked all gold out
of him. The giant arrives on the scene; in the beginning the young man
is astonished, however, the shade does no longer cause damage. The giant
becomes a kind of obelisk; he serves as a sundial with which artificial
human figures instead of the numbers display the time.
The bridge and the temple
are admirable buildings; people come in flocks, the bridge seethes with
travellers, and the temple is the most visited on earth.
This is the end of the fairy
This point in time is neither
a present one nor a past one; it is one of a distant future of the human
development when the consciousness of the present humanity which is
directed completely unilaterally to the sensory world has gone through
the soul path. This is described in the fairy tale; when the human being
has got the wisdom, the initiation which grasps the things not only
but also masters them. Then the whole humanity is able to receive the
What does this mean now?
The old man with the lamp is, as already explained, the ancient wisdom,
that wisdom which works by means of intuition which has the power to
develop divine force not human force, to master the things, and to transform
all things. It imprints the spirit into all things. It knows how to
transform the stones into gold, how to destroy the metals. These are
all qualities that are attributed to the elixir of life of the true
alchemist. A profound knowledge is indicated with it. In the whole progress
of the events which are shown in the fairy tale, Goethe shows a future
condition of humanity and indicates how to attain this condition. If
we consider Goethe wants to say what happens round us, we see the human
development in a perpetual transformation; also nature changes perpetually.
It is the task of the human being to penetrate the whole physical nature
with his thinking.
The human being is able
due to the progress of technology to transform the raw product of nature
into something that serves the civilisation. In his art he breathes
his mind into the lifeless marble. The human being converts nature into
an art product; he transforms everything that nature presents to him
into something that carries his character. Today nature is rationally
spiritualised that way. The human being becomes the creator of a higher
This is the development
of humanity, this alchemy: bit by bit the human mind is imprinted on
everything lifeless. Goethe looks in big perspective at a world where
everything in the world is transformed, is infiltrated with the human
mind, so that nothing of the realm of nature exists, but everything
is converted by the human mind in such a way that everything lifeless
is infiltrated with it.
This external transformation
of the lifeless matter is shown in the fairy tale with the light that
shines from the lamp of the old man and changes the stones and metals.
However, if this light shines into the human soul, it has attained a
quite different power, it not only controls the dead matter but it spreads
also over life. The human being becomes able, taking up the ancient
profundities in him and obtaining internal knowledge, to attain quite
different forces. He will not only rule over the lifeless matter in
future times but also over life. He will also change living beings by
his spiritual alchemy. He takes up the same wisdom which once created
the world, the ancient wisdom of the world, and that is why he is able
to transform dead matter into living matter.
Wisdom transforms the plant
which is lignified and withered. The dying plant realm becomes silver,
the glamorous appearance. However, the living, the feeling, the animal
goes another way; its lower nature is sacrificed, must die to ascend
to the height. What Jacob Böhme said who probably knew these secrets
of the alchemists: “death is the root of all life” and:
Who does not die, before he dies,
Ruins himself when he dies.
And what Goethe puts into the words:
As long as you don't have
This dying and growing,
You are any dull guest
On the dark earth only. (From West-Eastern Divan)
Hence, the human being is able to attain the ability
to develop his higher self in himself if he deadens the lower one in
himself. The human being is only able to approach the godhead if he
has overcome his lower nature.
Only the prepared human
being who has experienced the hard ordeals, the internal purification,
and the catharsis can understand the divine. Hence, the young man is
killed who approaches the lily, before he is prepared and purified.
Who lifts the veil of Isis,
who walks through guilt to the image of the goddess must perish. Only
after he has slowly prepared himself, has familiarised himself with
all probations, he is able to receive the initiation. The young man,
who faces us in the fairy tale at first, has not yet purified his inside.
He is paralysed when he wants to get to the spiritual world with such
a soul constitution, and later when he forces entry, he is killed by
the lily. In Faust we find how Faust can probably get to the spiritual
world using magic where those are who are no longer in the physical
existence: Paris and Helena. But he is led by Mephistopheles, not by
own internal soul work, and he is paralysed. Only the human being, purified
by grief and pain, carried by serious desire and striving can find entry,
after he has been well prepared by the “lamp.” Only then
he can hope to get to the initiation.
The old man with the lamp
returns to the hut. The will-o'-the-wisps have been there in the
meantime. He finds his wife in big distress, because the will-o'-the-wisps
were ill-behaved to her and have licked off all gold that covered the
walls since ancient times. They have called her their queen wantonly,
and then they have shaken off the gold licked from the walls. The pug
has eaten of it, and now it lies there dead. The will-o'-the-wisps
are the representatives of the lower personality full of desire; they
take up all gold of knowledge wherever they find it, but in futile,
complacent, selfish attitude. They cannot recognise the high value of
the gold; they do not respect it and cast it off from themselves. They
spread the gold to the ferryman. The ferryman is terrified from this
gold in which the personality full of desire is involved. He says: the
river the pure cosmic astrality cannot use it; the river wildly foams
However, the snake transforms
the gold; it uses it for its searching striving. It feels that it has
to bend its head to the earth to stir from the spot. Thanks to the gold
the will-o'-the-wisps have ideas and concepts, but these are abstractions,
are rigid; the will-o'-the-wisps themselves are unproductive.
The snake makes the gold valuable; it becomes luminous from within.
It makes the gold fertile; the gold changes its thinking, so that it
can penetrate the nature of the things. With the will-o'-the-wisps
it leads only to the vertical line, to the soul constitution, flitting
about, without life. It loses the relation to that which is below.
The animal, the pug, cannot
take up wisdom; it is killed. Now the effect of the lamp comes to the
fore. As long as the pug lived, the lamp could not lead it to God; this
is only possible by deadening the lower qualities. The old man with
the lamp can transform the dead pug into a nice onyx. The change of
the brown and black colours of the precious rock makes it the rare piece
of art but he cannot reanimate it. Wisdom only cannot give life; other
forces must be added. The pug can only receive life if it has gone through
death. Death means deadening everything, all lower desires. Thus Goethe
points to the fact that also the animal is developing, even if not the
single animal; the animal type is determined to perfection.
Goethe was a theosophist;
that is why he knows this ancient wisdom of ascending; from the purification
of all beings which all religions contain in their core. The ancient
wisdom of the world gleams in all religious systems; its truth shines
on all confessions of the different peoples of the earth. Goethe shows
this wisdom in the old man. But what suppresses the lower desires and
passions only does not suffice. An even higher wisdom must come; the
ancient wisdom will be replaced by an even higher wisdom. The events
in the hut of the old man point to it: “The fire of the fireplace
had burnt down, the old man covered the coal with a lot of ash, put
the luminous golden pieces aside and now his lamp shone brightly again.”
The secret doctrine in which
the ancient wisdom is hidden is a property of humanity since many thousand
years. There was the strictest secrecy of it; only to somebody who was
prepared the light of wisdom was allowed to shine. The snake sacrificing
itself represents the higher self of the human being which gets to knowledge.
The lamp must not illuminate the dark; the wisdom of the teacher is
not allowed to approach anybody who wants to accept it only, but anybody
who meets it with inner life. But this refers only to the highest enlightenment.
The great teachers of humanity, the great initiates are always active.
The effect of the ancient wisdom always takes place, takes also place
if no other light shines unless it is disturbed. Thus we find profound
significance in this apparent contradiction. Everything that happened
in the course of human development was caused by the ancient wisdom.
The administrators of this ancient wisdom, the initiates stood behind
everything that happened from culture to culture by human beings; they
direct the destinies and events that happen on the external plane of
We look now at the wife
of the old man; we face a female figure. Mysticism shows the different
soul states of the human being as different female figures. The old
woman is the soul state of the present humanity remaining in the sensuous
life. With it something low is meant; it is the general condition of
the human beings. She is married to the old man with the lamp. humanity
is married to the ancient wisdom. The ancient wisdom also works on the
present-day humanity; humanity could not survive without it. This ancient
wisdom has always combined with the sensuous humanity.
The woman goes to the ferryman
who represents the natural forces. She must clear away the debt of the
will-o'-the-wisps. The present humanity owes something to nature.
The lower self, the human being who feels himself gifted with the body
has to pay the price to the remaining nature which also belongs to him
even if he does not feel it belonging to him. The flickering soul-life
of the will-o'-the-wisps does not accept this; they cannot get
to such concepts. Nevertheless, the law has an effect: “they feel
chained to the soil in incomprehensible way, it was the most disagreeable
sensation which they ever had.” The will-o'-the-wisps represent,
as already mentioned, the lower knowledge. The human being who is gifted
with sensuousness has become this only because he has gone through the
whole nature. This is shown in the picture of the river
The river, the passing current
of passions, must receive the toll in form of “earth fruits.”
Three bowl-shaped fruits are the single covers which surround the true
human being, the real self. This self descended from the kingdom that
is beyond the river. The river must be crossed in order to land in the
astral kingdom; the river has to get the skinned fruits. The old woman
the healthy prudent human soul-force is able to give the toll to the
ferryman, the representative of the unconsciously active soul forces,
but she cannot pay the complete one; for the present general consciousness
does not suffice for that. Because the old woman remains in debts, the
sense-perceptible disappears. It can reappear to new life only if she
penetrates to the spiritual.
The giant hindered the old
woman to pay the debt to the ferryman; he robbed and ate a part of her
fruits which she wanted to carry to the river. Previously the snake
said to the will-o'-the-wisps when they required knowing how they
can get to the kingdom of the beautiful lily: “The giant is capable
of nothing with his body; his hands lift no straw, his shoulders would
carry no faggot; but his shade is capable of a lot, of everything. That
is why he is most powerful with sunrise and sunset, and one needs only
to sit down on the nape of his shade in the evening; the giant then
gently approaches the bank and the shade brings the traveller over the
refuse the way over the snake which wants to lie down as a bridge over
the river at the bright midday. What is the giant? About the snake that
soul gets to the spiritual world which developing its own forces is
able to devotedly cross the threshold with bright daytime consciousness.
However, there is a second way, when this bright daytime consciousness
is lessened, in the somnambulistic states. The human being is weak there,
without own consciousness. Lower forces then work on the human being;
the soul itself is without own forces, is powerless. Nevertheless, the
human being can also experience something of the spiritual world that
way even if it is subjected to errors.
There is grief in the kingdom
of the beautiful lily. The lily is desolate; to her feet the canary,
her last joy, lies dead who usually accompanied her songs. The lily
is mourning; for the bird is dead which reminded her of the sensuous.
However, the spiritual and sensuous realms belong together; harmony
is there only where both penetrate each other. But a new harmonisation
between both should be attained; this is why the memory of the sensuous
has to go through death to become new afterwards.
In the companions of the
lily again three beings face us. We hear about them next time. They
complement each other with the lily. The old woman represents the present
condition of consciousness, the human intellectual soul, the lily the
higher consciousness that the human being obtains if he sacrifices himself
like the snake. The old woman is the bright daytime consciousness, the
lily the clairvoyant consciousness that will be given to the human being.
Before humanity got the present consciousness, three former states of
consciousness which are shown as the three companions led the way. These
are states, like they appear in trance today; still appear in certain
atavisms sometimes, dreamy, vague, but comprehensive states of consciousness.
The human being experienced other conditions of consciousness, before
he got his present waking consciousness. In them the harmony between
sensory being and spiritual being was given by nature. The three companions
sleep, while the transformation takes place; they live over into the
new state without noticing the transformation. They already got by nature
what the other soul forces have to acquire for themselves.
With the rise of the temple
the lily also brings the old woman with her. Then the human being will
combine all five states of consciousness, the previous ones and the
future ones, in him. The young man attains the highest consciousness
in the last scene which can be given to the human being for the time
The hawk has killed the canary. The harmonisation of the sensuous and
the spiritual has no longer to be sought looking back at old achievements
of humanity, but looking at the future. The hawk is the herald of the
future, of the prophetic. He collects the last rays of the setting sun
with his crimson chest. The sign leads the old man with the lamp who
causes the transformation and leads all to the temple of initiation.
The hawk hovers about this temple and throws the light of the newly
rising sun to the temple, so that it is illuminated with a heavenly
shine. Thus the hawk connects a setting world day with a newly dawning
one. The hawk is that in the human soul which senses in advance what
should come true in future.
In the temple the initiation
takes place. There is shown how the young man is gifted with the three
forces: manas, buddhi and atma. We see next time why Goethe depicts
these three forces just as the three kings,
The temple was once in the
abysses of the earth. One had to join an occult school which deeply
hidden from the external world unfolded its effectiveness in order to
get to the higher secrets. However, the time comes when the temple of
the esoteric training does no longer rest in concealed depths, but ascends,
is there open and free in front of the whole world, accessible to all
human beings. When does this time come?
Remember the mystery word
which the snake whispers into the ear of the old man in the subterranean
temple; the solution of this mystery word is reserved to our time. What
did it answer to him on the question what it has decided? I want to
sacrifice myself, before I am sacrificed.
The time comes for humanity
when the human being is really ready to sacrifice himself, to enter
the whole nature, to feel effective in the elements of the whole nature,
not in his narrow own being; when he will be ready to give up his self
as single egoistic self and to enter the all-embracing self, to regard
himself as part of the all-embracing self. Then the human being has
achieved his goal, the gate of higher knowledge uncloses itself to him,
as well as he gives up everything that closes him from the remaining
world. The true initiation can now take place for humanity.
This time is when “the
three are there who rule on earth: wisdom, appearance and power.”
– The old man with the lamp says who brings about this state.
The initiation is now described: “With the first word the golden
king got up, with the second one the silver, and with the third one
the bronze king slowly stood up, when the composed king suddenly sat
down clumsily.” The golden, silver and bronze kings are the three
highest forces of the human being in their purity. In these three forms
the human being experiences the divine in himself. Only when the human
being can survey the forces in him and in their origin worlds in full
purity and integrity, he is ripe to initiation. These are the pure,
divine forces which experience themselves in the human being as human
thinking, feeling and willing. The course of the fairy tale shows the
purification of these forces from the lower personal.
All that still lives chaotically
in the human being. As long as the human being is still undeveloped,
chaos prevails in the interaction of these forces. The fourth king is
a representative of the present humanity; but he collapses in himself,
that means that this state of humanity is replaced by the new state
which the initiation of the young man shows. Everything is transformed.
Then that happens which the hawk prophetically announces, while it collects
the rays of the sun which shines to the new world day: “the king,
the queen and their companions appeared in heavenly shine in the twilit
vault of the temple;” there will be peace and the harmony which
will bring the rest in the all-embracing consciousness of humanity.
The representative of humanity,
the young man, is endowed in the temple with this new consciousness
of humanity. He is endowed with a new life; previously he was directed
mechanically by other forces, so to speak, not by his own forces. Now
he has gained these new forces, he can get married to the beautiful
lily, the clairvoyant consciousness, and this world and the next world
can be combined with each other by the sacrificing snake which establishes
the foundation of the bridge on which all human beings can walk to and
The young man receives the
force for that from the three kings. He is led by the old man first
to the third, the bronze king. He receives a sword from him in a bronze
scabbard; this is the symbol of the highest human force: atma. The king
shouts: “the sword to the left, the right hand free!” In
the left hand that should be which represents the human strength, where
it does not serve quarrel, but only defence. The right hand should be
free to the work, to the service of humanity. The young man is endowed
by the silver king with that which buddhi can give the human being:
wisdom in harmony with feeling is true philanthropy. With this love
the young man should live among people and graze the sheep. The golden
king presses the wreath of oak leaves on the head of the young man and
speaks: “recognise the highest.” The young man receives
the knowledge of the most perfect kind, manas, from the golden king.
Now he can enter into the bond of marriage with the beautiful lily and
the bond is much influenced by love: “love does not rule, but
it cultivates, and this is more.”
The subconsciously working
soul forces the giant have lost their destroying force; the giant damages
for the last time when he staggers about the bridge to the temple. He
is seized by the soil and is only a pointer of a past human cycle, a
gigantic statue which displays the course of the hours and days and
human cycles like a sundial.
If we want to summarise
what Goethe wanted to express with his fairy tale, we can say: Goethe
wanted to show the development and final redemption of the single human
being and the whole human race in poetic pictures. The fairy tale contains
the secret of the decay of the lower and of the rise of the higher human
being and of the condition of the final union with the divine which
any mysticism strives for as its loftiest goal, as salvation, as rest
in salvation, as union with God. When this moment of sacrifice has come,
when this “dying and growing” has become fact, then not
only the spiritual comes to the sensuous, but also the sensuous to the
spiritual. When this time has come, not only single esoteric students,
single inspired mystics are able to get to the temple, but all human
beings walk to it, to and fro, to the spirit-land.
Goethe pointed to this great
moment in the evolution of humanity in his fairy tale. A lot could still
be said that is included in this fairy tale. But one can indicate a
lot only. If one can usually say of the poet:
Who wants to understand the poet
Has to walk to poet's land,
we must realise speaking of Goethe that we apply this
saying to Goethe in such a way that Goethe's land is the land
of spiritual reality. Only somebody who knows the mysteries and the
mystery knowledge can completely penetrate into the rich contents of
this fairy tale. What has only been indicated here can serve as a signpost
to a more and more intimate understanding of the contents of this fairy