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The Spiritual-Scientific Basis of Goethe's Work
Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document
10th July, 1906
The Spiritual-Scientific Basis of Goethe's Work
On-line since: 5th May 2004
An Address By
Address given in 1906; Bn 35.2.30; GA 35
Copyright © 1982
This address was given on July 10, 1906 in London, England at the Second
Annual Congress of the Federation of European Sections of the
Theosophical Society. It has been edited for this printing by
The German text is published under the title Die okkulte Grundlage in
Goethes Schaffen, Bibl. No. 35 by the Rudolf
Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.
This translation has been authorized for the Western Hemisphere by
agreement with the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach,
This e.Text edition is provided through the wonderful work of:
St. George Publications
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The Spiritual-Scientific Basis of Goethe's Work
— In the case of the quotations in this paper, the
translations of Goethe's works by Anna Swanwick and John
Anster and R. Farrie have been used freely. G. Calvert's
translation of Schiller's work has also been quoted.
Anthroposophy will only be able to fulfill its great and universal mission
in modern civilization when it is able to grasp the special problems
which have arisen in every land by reason of the intellectual
possessions of the people. In Germany, these special problems are in
part determined by the inheritance bequeathed to her intellectual
life by the men of genius living at the close of the 18th and
beginning of the 19th centuries. Any one who approaches those great
minds, Lessing, Herder, Schiller, Goethe, Novalis, Jean Paul and
many others, from the point of view of Anthroposophical thought and
its attitude toward life, will have two important experiences. The
first being that, as a result of this profoundly spiritual attitude,
a new light is thrown upon the working and works of these men of
genius; the second, that through them Anthroposophy receives new
life-blood, which must, in some way as yet not clear, produce a
fructifying and strengthening effect in the future. It may be said
without exaggeration that the German will understand
Anthroposophy if only he brings his mind to bear upon the highest
conceptions for which the leading spirits of his land have striven,
and which they have embodied in their works.
It will be the task of future generations to reveal the Anthroposophical
and spiritual-scientific basis of the great advancement in the
intellectual life of Germany during the period in question. It will
then be shown what an intimate knowledge and understanding of the
influences at work during this period is obtainable by regarding
things from an Anthroposophical point of view. It is only possible
on this occasion to make a few references to one man of genius who
was the leading light of this age of culture, namely, Goethe. It is
possible that new life may be infused into the active principles of
Anthroposophy through Goethe's thought and the creations of
his mind, with the result that, in Germany, Anthroposophy may appear
by degrees to be something akin to the spirit of the people. One
thing will be made clear: that the source of the Anthroposophical
conception is one and the same as the fount from which
Germany's great poet and thinker has derived his creative
The most clear-sighted of those among whom Goethe lived
acknowledged without any reservation that there was no branch of
intellectual life which his attitude toward life and the world could
not enrich. But one must not allow oneself to be deceived by the
fact that the quintessence of Goethe's mind really lies
concealed below the surface of his works. He who wishes to
win his way to a perfect understanding of them must become intimate
with their innermost spirit. This does not mean that one should
become insensitive to the beauties of their style or their artistic
form. Nor must one put an abstract interpretation upon his art by
means of intellectual symbols and allegories. But, just as a noble
countenance excites no less admiration for the beauty of its
features because the beholder is able to perceive the greatness of
the soul illuminating this beauty, so it is with Goethe's art;
not only can it lose nothing, but rather will it gain infinitely,
when the outward expression of his creative power is illuminated
by that depth of conception of the universe which possesses his
Goethe himself often has shown how justified we are in
having such a profound conception of his creative power. On January
29, 1827, he said to his devoted secretary Eckermann concerning his
Faust, “It is all scenic and, from the point of
view of the theatre, it will please everyone. More than this I did
not wish. If only the performance gives pleasure to the
majority of the audience, the initiated will not miss the
deeper meaning.” It is only necessary to bring an
impartial insight to bear upon Goethe's creative power in
order to recognize that it is only an esoteric conception
which can lead us to a full understanding of his working. He felt
within him an ardent desire to discover in all phenomena of the
senses the hidden spiritual force. It was one of his principles of
search that the inner secrets are expressed in outward
facts and objects, and that those only can aspire to understand
Nature who look upon the phenomena as mere letters which enable them
to decipher the inner meaning of the workings of the spirit. The
words: “All we see before us passing, Sign and symbol is
alone,” in the Chorus Mysticus, at the end of
are not merely to be regarded as a poetical idea, but as the outcome
of his whole attitude toward the world. In Art, too, he saw
only a revelation of the innermost secrets of the world; in his
opinion, it was through Art that those things are to be made clear
which, though having their origin in Nature and being active in her,
yet with the means at her disposal, she cannot express. He sought
the same spirit in the phenomena of Nature as in the works of a
creative artist; only the means of expression were different in
the two cases. He was constantly at work on his conception of a
gradual process of evolution of all the phenomena and creatures in
the world. He regarded man as a compilation of the other kingdoms.
The spirit of man was to him the revelation of a universal spirit,
and the other realms of Nature, with their manifestations,
appeared to him as the path of evolution leading to man. All this
was not merely a theory with him, but became a living element in his
work, permeating all that he produced. Schiller has given us a fine
description of this peculiarity of Goethe's mind, in the
letter with which he inaugurates the intimate friendship which
united them (August 23, 1794):
For a long time I have watched, although from some distance, the
procedure of your mind, and ever with renewed wonder have observed
the track that you have marked out for yourself. You seek for the
necessary (the absolute) in Nature; but you seek it by the most
difficult route, which every weaker spirit will take care to avoid.
You grasp in your view entire Nature in order to obtain light on her
parts: in the totality of her manifestations, you search for the key
to lay open the individual. (Correspondence between Schiller
and Goethe, from 1794 to 1805.)
In his book on Winckelmann, Goethe has expressed his
opinion as to the position of man in the evolution of the realms of
When the sound, healthy nature of man works as a whole, when he feels
himself at one with the world as a great, beautiful, worthy whole,
when this harmonious feeling of well-being gives him a pure free
delight, then might the Universe, could it consciously feel, deeming
itself at the goal, cry out for very joy, and be lost in admiration
of the climax of its own development and organization.
It was Goethe's life-work to strive to obtain an ever clearer
insight into the evolution of the living world. When, after moving
to Weimar (about 1780), he embodied the result of his investigation
in the beautiful prose-hymn, Nature, we find over the whole a
certain abstract tinge of pantheism. He must perforce use words to
define the hidden forces of being, but before long these cease to
satisfy his ever-deepening conception. But it is in these very words
that we first meet with the ideas which we find later in such
perfect form. He says there, for instance:
Nature! we are surrounded and embraced by her ... Unasked and without
warning she draws us into the circle of her dance and carries us
along with her until we are weary and slip from her arms. For ever
is she creating new forms; what is, never was before; what has been,
never will be again; everything is new, and yet ever old ...
Each one of her works has its own individuality, each of her
phenomena requires individual comprehension, and yet it all
makes but one whole ... She has thought, and is for ever meditating;
not as man, though, but as Nature. She has her own all-embracing
meaning, which no one can learn from her by observation only
... She envelops man in a mist, and is ever spurring him on toward
the light ... She creates wants because she loves action ...
She has neither speech nor language, but she creates tongues and
hearts through which she feels and speaks ... Her crown is love,
through which alone she may be approached ... She has isolated
everything in order to draw everything together ... Past and future
knows she not. The present is her eternity.
When Goethe (1828), having reached the summit of his insight, looked back
upon this stage, he expressed himself thus concerning it:
I would call that former stage of insight the Comparative, which is
impelled to express its tendency toward an, as yet, unattained
Superlative ... But what is wanting for its fulfillment is the
conception of the two great driving-wheels of all Nature, the
comprehension of polarity and self-perfecting evolution,
the former belonging to matter, insofar as we call it material,
the latter opposed to it, insofar as we call it spiritual; the
former is everlastingly attracting and repelling, the latter is ever
striving to ascend. But, as matter cannot exist and operate without
spirit, nor spirit without matter, even so matter has the power
to raise itself, nor can spirit be prevented from attracting and
It was with such a conception that Goethe approached the animal,
mineral and vegetable kingdoms to grasp the hidden spiritual unity
in the manifest multiplicity of sense-perceptible phenomena. It is in
this sense that he speaks of primeval plant, primeval animal.
And it was for him Intuition which stood behind these conceptions as
the active spiritual force. In his contemplation of things, his
whole being strove toward what in Anthroposophy is called tolerance.
And ever more and more he sought to acquire this quality by means of
the strictest inward self-education. To this he frequently refers;
it will suffice to quote a very characteristic example from the
Campaign in France (1792): —
As I was for the most part almost entirely engrossed by the business
and occurrences of the moment, with which kind of life I had reason
to be satisfied, of late years particularly, I had the peculiarity
of never forming conceptions beforehand of persons whom I expected
to meet, or places that I intended to visit, but allowed them to
produce their effect upon me without being previously prepared for
The advantage that arises from this is very great; one does not require
to come back from a previously conceived idea, to blot out a picture
arbitrarily painted by ourselves, and painfully to adopt the
reality in its place.
Thus he endeavored to rise higher and higher and to reach the point which
divided the real from the unreal.
Only here and there do we find references to his innermost convictions.
One of these occurs, for instance, in the poem The Mysteries,
which contains his confession as a Rosicrucian. It was
written in the middle of the 80's in the 18th century, and was
regarded by those who knew him intimately as revealing his
character. In 1816, he was called upon by a “fraternity of
students in one of the chief towns of North Germany” to
explain the hidden meaning of the poem, and the explanation which he
gave might well stand as a paraphrase of the three objectives of the
programme of the Anthroposophical Society.
Only when one is capable of appreciating the full significance of such
points in Goethe is one in a position to recognize the higher
meaning, to use his own expression, which he has introduced into his
Faust for the initiated. In the second part of this
dramatic poem is in fact to be found what Goethe had to say concerning the
relation of man to the three worlds: the physical, the astral
and the spiritual. From this point of view, the poem represents his
expression of the incarnation of man. A character which, to the
mind that refuses a spiritual-scientific basis, presents insuperable
difficulties, is that of Homunculus. Every passage, every word,
however, becomes clear as soon as one starts from this basis.
Homunculus is created by the help of Mephistopheles. The latter
represents the repressive and destructive forces of the Universe
which manifest in the realms of man as Evil. Goethe wishes to
characterize the part which Evil takes in the formation of
Homunculus; and yet from such beginnings is to be produced a man.
For this reason, he is led through the lower realms of Nature to the
scene of the classical Walpurgis Night. Before he sets forth
on these wanderings, he possesses only a part of human nature. What
he himself says concerning his connection with the earthly part of
human nature is striking.
Hither and thither, up, down, in and out;|
From place to place still hovering about,
Impatient the free air of life to breathe.
Longing to break the glass that is my sheath —
My chrysalis; but everywhere I see
Such sights! I could not venture yet to be.
Now for a secret — I am on the track
Of two Philosophers. Their tongues, clack! clack!
Went evermore, and Nature — Nature was
The word. Keep me not from them. Of the laws
Of earthly being they must somewhat know:
Between them I may learn some little; so
Pass into life by their experience wiser.
Part ii, Act ii.|
The Nature of Homunculus becomes quite clear in the light of the
following lines which refer to him:
He wants your counsel — has come a long distance:|
His object is to get into existence.
He is, by what he told me of his birth,
Miraculously come but half to earth:
A lively spark — has every mental quality,
But, luckless fellow, ‘twas his strange fatality
An active, naked spirit, all alone —
Without a shred of body, blood, or bone,
Into the world to be at hazard thrown —
His glass is all he has to steady him:
He wants and wishes body, life, and limb.
Part ii, Act ii.
The following words are also added, “He is, methinks,
Hermaphrodite.” Goethe here intends to represent the astral
body of man before his incarnation in mortal (earthly) matter. This
he also makes clear by endowing Homunculus with powers of
clairvoyance. He sees, for instance, the dream of Faust in the
laboratory where work is going on with the help of Mephistopheles.
Then in the course of the classical Walpurgis Night the
embodying of Homunculus, that is, the astral man, is described. He
is sent through the realms of Nature to Proteus, the spirit of
Away to Proteus! Question the magician|
As to the spark's proposed change of condition.
You thus may learn what transformations he
Must pass through to be anything — to BE.
Part ii, Act ii.
Proteus then describes the road which astral man has to take through the
realms of Nature in order to arrive at an earthly incarnation
and receive a physical body.
... In the broad sea thy being must commence;|
On a small scale one there begins,
Well pleased the smallest to devour;
Till, waxing step by step, one wins
A loftier achievement, ampler power.
Part ii, Act ii.|
The passage of man through the mineral kingdom is then described.
Goethe makes his entrance into the vegetable kingdom particularly
contemplative. Homunculus says:
A tender air is wafted here;|
Dear is the greenness, and the fragrance dear.
The philosopher Thales, who is present, adds in elucidation of what is
Obey the noble inspiration,|
And at its source begin creation.
Make ready for the great emprize!
By laws eternal still ascending,
Through myriad forms of being wending,
To be a man in time thou'll rise.
The moment, too, when the asexual being has implanted within him the
double sex, and therewith sexual love, is also represented:
And all things are gleaming by fire girt around,|
Prime source of creation, let Eros be crowned.
That the investing of the astral body with the physical body, composed
of earthly elements, is really meant here is expressly stated in the
closing lines of the second act:
Hail each softly blowing gale!|
Caverns rich in marvels, hail!
Highly honored evermore,
Be the elemental four!
Goethe here makes use of the evolution of beings in the
course of the fashioning of the earth in connection with the
incarnation of man as a special being. The latter repeats as such
the transformations which mankind has undergone in reaching its
present form. In these conceptions, he was in line with the theory
of evolution held by spiritual science. His explanation of the
origin of the lower forms of life was that the impulse which was
aspiring to a higher grade had been stopped on a certain level. In
his diary of the Journey through Switzerland, of 1797, he
noted a conversation with the Tübingen professor Kielmeyer,
which is interesting in this connection. In it, the following words
occur, “Concerning the idea that the higher organic natures in
their evolution take several steps which the others behind them are
unable to take.” His studies of plants, animals, and of man
are entirely pervaded by these ideas, and he seeks to invest them
with an artistic form in the transformation of Homunculus into a
man. When he becomes acquainted with Howard's theory of the
formation of clouds, “he expresses his thoughts
concerning the relation of spiritual archetypes to the ever-changing
forms in the following words:
When the deity Kama-Rupa, high and sublime, wanders, wavering, on
the breeze, light and heavy, gathers together the folds of his veil,
shakes them out again, rejoicing at the variety of forms, remains
now motionless, and now disappears as a dream, we are amazed
and scarce believe our eyes.
In Faust, we also find represented the
relation of the imperishable spiritual man to the mortal envelope.
Faust has to go to the Mothers to seek for this imperishable
essence, and the explanation of this important scene is
developed quite naturally in the second part of the play. Goethe
conceives the real being of man as a trinity (in accord with the
Anthroposophical teaching of Spirit-self, Life-spirit, Spirit-man).
And Faust's visit to the Mothers may be termed in
Anthroposophical phraseology the forcible entry into Devachan.
There he is to find what remains of Helena. She is to be
reincarnated; that is, she is to return from the realm of the
Mothers to the earth and, in the third act, we really do in
fact see her reincarnated. In order to accomplish this it is
necessary to reunite the three natures of man: the astral, the
physical, and the spiritual. At the end of the second act, the
astral (Homunculus) has put on the physical envelope and this
combination is now able to receive within it the higher nature. Such
a conception introduces an inner dramatic unity into the poem,
whereas with a non-occult forcible entry the individual
events remain a mere arbitrary collection of poetical incidents.
Without taking into account the spiritual-scientific foundation of
the poem, Professor Veit Valentin, of Frankfort, has already drawn
attention to the inner connection of Homunculus and Helena in an
interesting book, Die Einheit des Ganzen Faust, 1896. But the
contents of this work can only remain an intelligent hypothesis if
one does not penetrate into the spiritual-scientific substratum
underlying it all. Goethe has conceived Mephistopheles as a
being to whom Devachan is unknown. He is only at home on the astral
plane. Hence he can be of service in the creation of Homunculus, but
he cannot accompany Faust into the realm of the Mothers. Indeed,
that plane is to him Nothingness. He says to Faust, in
speaking to him of that world:
Naught, in the everlasting void afar,|
Wilt see, nor hear thy footfall's sound,
Nor for thy tread find solid ground!
Part ii, Act i.
But Faust, with his spiritual intuition, at once divines that in that
world he will find the real essence of Man.
We'll fathom it! Come on, nor look behind!|
In this thy Naught, the All I hope to find.
In the description which Mephistopheles gives of the
world which he dares not enter, one understands exactly what Goethe
means to express.
Sink then! Arise! This also I might say: —|
‘Tis all the same. Escaping from the real,
Seek thou the boundless realm of the ideal.
Delight thyself in forms long past away!
The train-like cloud-procession, glides along:
* * * * *
A glowing tripod teaches thee thou hast|
The deep attained, the lowest deep, at last;
There by its light the Mothers thou wilt see;
Some sit, while others, as the case may be,
Or stand, or walk: formation, transformation
Of mind etern, eternal recreation!
While forms of being around them hover.
Only by means of the archetype which Faust fetches from the devachanic
world of the Mothers can Homunculus, the astral being who has
assumed physical form, become a spiritually-endowed entity,
Helena in fact, who actually appears in the third act. Goethe
has taken care that those who seek to penetrate the depths shall be
able to grasp his meaning for, in his conversations with Eckermann,
he has lifted the veil as far as it seemed to him practical to do
so. On December 16, 1829, he said concerning Homunculus:
For such spiritual beings as Homunculus, who have not
yet had their powers obscured and confined by becoming completely
human, were reckoned as among the demons.
And, on the same day, he points out further how Homunculus is still
wanting in Mind: “Reasoning is not his concern, he
wants to act.”
The whole of the further development of the dramatic action in
Faust, according to this reading, follows easily on the
foregoing. Faust has become acquainted with the secrets of the three
worlds. Henceforth, he looks at the world from the point of view of the
mystic. One could point out scene after scene which bears this out,
but it will be sufficient to draw attention here to a few passages.
When, towards the end, Care approaches Faust, he becomes
outwardly blind but, in the course of his development, he has
acquired the faculty of inward sight.
Deeper and deeper night is round me sinking;|
Only within me shines a radiant light.
Part ii, Act v.
Goethe once, in answer to the question, “What was
Faust's end?” replied definitely, “He becomes a
mystic in the end,” and the significant words of the
Chorus Mysticus, with which the poem closes, can only be
interpreted in this sense. In the West-East Divan he also
expresses himself very clearly on the subject of the spiritual
development of man. It is to him the union of the human
soul with the higher self. The illusion that the real man
exists in his outward body must die out; then higher man
comes into existence. That is why he begins his poem Blessed
Longing with the words: “Tell it to none but to the wise,
for the multitude hasten to deride. I will praise the living who
longs for death by fire.” And, in conclusion, he adds: “And
as long as thou hast not mastered this; dying and coming into
existence; thou art but a sad and gloomy guest on the dark
Quite in harmony with this is the Chorus Mysticus, for its inner
meaning is but this: The transient forms of the outer world have
their foundation in the imperishable spiritual ones to which we
attain by regarding the transient only as a symbol of the hidden
All of mere transient date|
As symbol showeth.
That to which reason, appointed as it is to deal with the world of the
senses and its forms, cannot attain, is revealed as an actual vision
to the spiritual sight; further, that which this reason
cannot describe is a fact in the regions of the spiritual.
Here the inadequate|
To fullness groweth.
In harmony with all mystical symbolism, Goethe represents the higher
nature of man as feminine, entering into union with the
Divine Spirit. For in the last lines:
The eternal feminine|
Draws us upward.
Goethe only means to characterize the union of the purified soul drawing
near to the Divine. All interpretations which are not made in a
mystic sense fail here.
Goethe considered that the time had not yet come when
it was possible to speak of certain secrets of our being in any
other manner than he has done in some of his poems. And, above all,
he felt it to be his own mission to furnish such a form of
expression. At the beginning of his friendship with Schiller, he
raised the question, “How are we to represent to ourselves the
relationship between the physical and the spiritual natures of man?”
Schiller had tried to answer this question in a philosophical style
in his letters Concerning the Aesthetic Education of Man.
To him, it was a question of the ennobling and purifying of man; to
him, a man under the sway of nature's impulses of sensual love
and desires appeared impure; but then he considered just as far
removed from purity the man who looked upon the sensual impulses and
desires as enemies, and was obliged to place himself under the rule
of moral or abstract intellectual compulsion. Man only attained
inner freedom when he had so absorbed moral law into his inner being
that he desired only to obey it. Such a man has so ennobled his
lower nature that it becomes by itself an expression of the higher
spiritual, and he has so drawn down into the earthly human nature
the spiritual that the latter possesses a direct sentient existence.
The explanations which Schiller gives in these Letters form
excellent rules of education, for their object is to further the
evolution of man so that he may, by absorbing the higher ideal man,
come to contemplate the world from a free and exalted point of view.
In his way Schiller refers to the higher self of man thus:
Every individual man, one may say, harbors within him, according to his
character and type, a pure, ideal man, with whose unalterable unity
through all changes it is the great task of his life to harmonize
All that Schiller says in this connection is of the most far-reaching
significance. For he who really carries out his injunctions
accomplishes within himself an education which brings him
directly to that inward condition which paves the way for the inner
contemplation of the spiritual. Goethe was satisfied, in
the deepest sense of the word, with these ideas. He writes to
I read the manuscript you sent me at once with the greatest delight; I
swallowed it at one gulp. Just as a delicious drink, in sympathy
with our nature, slips down willingly and, while still on the
tongue, shows its wholesome workings in a pleasant harmony of the
nervous system, so were these letters highly pleasing and beneficial
to me; and how could it be otherwise, when I found set forth therein
so coherently and nobly what I had long recognized as right, what I
partly carried out in my life, and partly wished to carry out?
Goethe now endeavored on his part to set forth the same idea from the
depths of his conception of the world — but veiled in imagery
— in the problem-tale of The Green Snake and the
Beautiful Lily. It is placed in the editions of Goethe at
the end of the Conversations of German Emigrants. The
Faust story has often been called Goethe's
Gospel; this tale may, however, be called his Apocalypse, for
in it he sets forth — as a fairy-tale — the path of
man's inner development. Here again, we can only point out a
few short passages, it would need a large book to show how Goethe's
spiritual insight is concealed in this tale.
The three worlds are here represented as two regions separated from
one another by a river. The river itself stands for the astral plane. On
this side of it is the physical world, on the other side the
spiritual (Devachan), where dwells the beautiful lily, the
symbol of man's higher nature. In her kingdom, man must strive
if he would unite his lower with his higher nature. In the abyss —
that is, in the physical world — dwells the serpent which
symbolizes the self of man. Here too is a temple of initiation,
where reign four kings, one golden, one silver, one bronze, and a
fourth of an irregular mixture of the three metals. Goethe, who was
a freemason, has clothed in freemasonic terminology what he had to
impart of his mystic experiences. The three kings represent the
three higher forces of man: Wisdom (Gold), Beauty (Silver), and
Strength (Bronze). As long as man lives in his lower nature, these
three forces are in him disordered and chaotic. This period in the
evolution of man is represented by the mixed king. But when man has
so purified himself that the three forces work together in perfect
harmony, and he can freely use them, then the way into the realm of
the spiritual lies open before him. The still unpurified man is
represented by a youth who, without having attained inner purity,
would unite himself with the beautiful lily. Through this
union he becomes paralyzed.
Goethe here wished to point out the danger to which a man exposes
himself who would force an entrance into the super-sensible region
before he has severed himself from his lower self. Only when love
has permeated the whole man, only when the lower nature has been
sacrificed, can the initiation into the higher truths and powers
begin. This sacrifice is expressed by the serpent yielding of its
own accord, and forming a bridge of its body across the river —
that is to say, the astral plane — between the two kingdoms,
of the senses and of the spirit. At first man must accept the higher
truths in the form in which they have been given to him in the
imagery of the various religions. This form is personified as the
man with the lamp. This lamp has the peculiarity of only
giving light where there is already light, meaning that the
religious truths presuppose a receptive, believing disposition.
Their light shines where the light of faith is present. This
lamp, however, has yet another quality, “of turning all stones
into gold, all wood into silver, dead animals into precious stones,
and of destroying all metals,” meaning the power of faith
which changes the inner nature of the individual. There are about
twenty characters in this allegory, all symbolical of certain forces
in man's nature and, during the course of the action, the
purifying of man is described, as he rises to the heights where, in
his union with his higher self, he can be initiated into the secrets
of existence. This state is symbolized by the Temple,
formerly hidden in the abyss, being brought to the surface, and
rising above the river — the astral plane. Every passage,
every sentence in the allegory is significant. The more deeply one
studies the tale, the more comprehensible and clear the whole
becomes, and he who set forth the esoteric quintessence of this tale
at the same time has given us the substance of the Anthroposophical
outlook on life.
Goethe has not left the source uncertain from whose depths he has drawn his
inspiration. In another tale, The New Paris, he gives in a
veiled manner the history of his own inner enlightenment. Many will
remain incredulous if we say that, in this dream, Goethe represents
himself just at the boundary between the third and fourth sub-race
of our fifth root-race. For him, the myth of Paris and Helen is a
symbolic representation of this boundary. And as he — in a
dream — conjures up before his eyes in a new form the myth of
Paris, he feels he is casting a searching glance into the
development of humanity. What such an insight into the past means to
the inner eye, he tells us in the Prophecies of Bakis,
which are also full of occult references:
The past likewise will Bakis reveal to thee; for even the past oft lies,
oh blind world, like a riddle before thee. Who knows the past knows
also the future: both are joined in To-day in one complete whole.
Much, too, might be quoted to show the underlying
elements of spiritual science in the fairy tale, The New
Melusine, a Pandora-fragment, and many other writings. In his
novel, Wilhelm Meister's Traveling Years, Goethe has
given us quite a masterly picture of a Clairvoyante in
Makarie. Makarie's power of intuition rises to the level of a
complete penetration of the inner mysteries of the planetary system:
She stands with regard to our solar system in a
relationship which one hardly dares to express. In the spirit, of
the soul, of the imagination, she fosters it, not only gazes at it,
but at the same time forms part of it; she sees herself drawn on
into those heavenly circles, but in quite a peculiar way; she has
wandered since her childhood round the sun, and, in fact, as has now
been discovered, in a spiral, circling ever further and further from
the center towards the outer regions. If one may assume that beings
insofar as they are embodied strive towards the center, but insofar
as they are spirits strive towards the periphery, then our friend
belongs to the most spiritual; She seems to have been born only to
detach herself from the earthly and to force her way into the
nearest and furthest realms of existence. This quality,
glorious as it is, was laid upon her from her earliest years as a
difficult task. She remembers her inner self penetrated, as it were,
through and through by shining beings, illuminated by a light which
not even the brightest sunlight could rival. She often saw two suns,
one, that is, within, and one without in the heavens, two moons, of
which the outer retained its size through all its phases; the inner
ever more and more decreased.
These words of Goethe's prove clearly how intimate he is with these
matters, and whoever reads through the whole passage will recognize
that Goethe so expresses himself, albeit with reserve, that he who
looks beneath the surface may feel quite certain of the
spiritual-scientific foundation in his being.
Goethe always looked upon his mission as a poet in relation to his striving
toward the hidden laws of Life. He was often forced to notice how
friends failed to understand this side of his nature. He describes
thus, in the Campaign in France in 1792, how his
contemplation of Nature was always misunderstood:
... the passionate earnestness with which I addicted myself to this (the
study of natural philosophy) seemed inconceivable to all, nobody
observing how it sprang from my innermost being itself; they
considered this laudable pursuit as a whimsical mistake; in their
opinion, I could do something better, and leave my abilities to work
in their old direction. They felt the more entitled to do this as my
way of thinking did not agree with theirs, expressing rather, in
most points, exactly the contrary. No more isolated being can
be imagined than I was then, and for a long time afterwards. The
Hylozoism, or whatever it may be called, to which I was attached,
and the deep foundation of which I left untouched in all its sacred
dignity, made me unsusceptible, nay, intolerant, toward that way of
thinking which set up as an article of belief the existence of
matter as a dead thing, in whatever way it may be supposed to be
stirred up and put in motion.
Goethe could only understand artistic work when based
on a profound penetration of the truth. As an artist, he wished
to give utterance to that which in Nature is suggested without
being fully expressed. Nature appeared to him as a product of
the same essence which also works through human art, only that in
the case of Nature the power has remained on a lower level. For
Goethe, Art is a continuation of Nature revealing that which in
Nature alone is hidden:
For in that man is placed as the peak of Nature, he perceives himself in
his turn as a complete nature, which, in its turn, has within
himself to produce a peak. With this objective in view, he
raises himself, striving to win his way by all perfections and
virtues. Selection, order, harmony, and purpose he calls to his
aid, until finally he rises to the production of a work of art.
To understand the world is to Goethe to Hue in the spirit of
worldly things. For this reason, he speaks of a perceptive power of
judgment (intellectus archetypus), through which Man draws
ever nearer to the secrets of our being:
If, then, in a moral sense, we are, through faith in God, to attain to
youth and immortality in a higher region, and are to draw near to
the Most High, it should surely be the same in an intellectual
sense, that only by the contemplation of an ever-creating Nature, we
shall become worthy of spiritual participation in her
Thus did Goethe represent to himself Man as the organ
of the world, through which its occult powers should be revealed.
The following was one of his aphorisms:
For this has man been placed so high that what must otherwise have
been unmanifest might manifest through him. Truly may we say: What
are even the workings of Nature's elements in comparison with
man, who, that he may in some degree assimilate, must first control
and modify them?
PLEASE NOTE: Although Rudolf
Steiner in giving this address, used the words theosophy,
Theosophical Society and occult, we have replaced these with the
words Anthroposophy, Anthroposophical Society and, except in two or
three cases, Spiritual Science, since, when Rudolf Steiner gave this
address, he already had written KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS and
THEOSOPHY and used the words theosophy, etc., in the sense that they
are used in these books and in his subsequent writings and lectures.
This was done as an attempt at corrective updating and no polemic is
Last Modified: 06-Jan-2021
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