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Fairy Tales in the Light of Spiritual Investigation

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Fairy Tales in the Light of Spiritual Investigation

Schmidt Number: S-2705

On-line since: 30th September, 2019


Old fairy tales that are an expression of the ancient spiritual secrets of the world, arose such that those who shaped them for the world harkened and listened to those who were able to relate the spiritual secrets to them, so that how they are put together, their composition, is commensurate with the spiritual secrets themselves.

                                                 

Rudolf Steiner, GA 124


Fairy Tales in the Light of
Spiritual Investigation


A public lecture held in Berlin, February 6, 1913


Initial Letter A number of things make it seem precarious to speak about fairy tales in the light of spiritual investigation. One of them is the difficulty of the subject itself, since the sources of a genuine and true fairy tale mood have in fact to be sought at deep levels of the human soul. The methods of spiritual research often described by me must follow convoluted paths before these sources can be discovered. Genuine fairy tales originate from sources lying at greater depths of the human soul than is generally supposed, speaking to us magically out of every epoch of humanity's development.

A second difficulty is that, in regard to what is magical in fairy tales, one has to a considerable extent the feeling that the original, elementary impression, indeed the essential nature of the fairy tale itself is destroyed through intellectual observations and a conceptual penetration of the fairy tale. If one has the justified conviction in regard to explanations and commentaries that they destroy the immediate living impression the fairy tale ought to make in simply letting it work on one, then one would far rather not accept explanations in place of their subtle and enchanting qualities. These well up from seemingly unfathomable sources of the folk-spirit or of the individual human soul-disposition. It is really as though one were to destroy the blossom of a plant, if one intrudes with one's power of judgment in what wells up so pristinely from the human soul as do these fairy tale compositions.

Even so, with the methods of spiritual science it proves possible nonetheless to illumine at least to some extent those regions of the soul-life from which fairy tale moods arise. Actual experience would seem to gainsay the second reservation as well. Just because the origin of fairy tales has to be sought at such profound depths of the human soul, one arrives as a matter of course at the conviction that what may be offered as a kind of spiritual scientific explanation remains something that touches the source so slightly after all as not to harm it by such investigation. Far from being impoverished, one has the feeling that everything of profound significance in those regions of the human soul remains so new, unique and original that one would like best of all to bring it to expression oneself in the form of a fairy tale of some kind. One senses how impossible any other approach is in speaking out of these hidden sources.

It may be regarded as entirely natural that someone like Goethe who attempted, alongside his artistic activity, to penetrate deeply into the background, into the sources of existence, in having something to communicate of the soul's profoundest experiences, did not resort to theoretical discussion. Instead, having gained insight into the underlying sources, he makes use of the fairy tale once again for the soul's most noteworthy experiences. This is what Goethe did in his Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, wanting, in his fashion, to bring to expression those profound experiences of the human soul that Schiller set forth in a more philosophical-abstract form in his Letters Concerning the Aesthetic Education of the Human Race. It lies in the nature of what is magical in fairy tales that explanations cannot ultimately destroy their productive mood. For, whoever is able to arrive at the aforementioned sources from the standpoint of spiritual investigation, discovers a peculiar fact. (If I were to say all that I should like to say about the nature of fairy tales, I would have to hold many lectures. Hence, it will only be possible today to put forward a few indications and results of investigation.)

That is to say, whoever seeks to come to the aforementioned sources from the standpoint of spiritual research finds that these fairy tale sources lie far deeper down in the human soul than do the sources of creativity and artistic appreciation otherwise. This applies even with regard to the most compelling works of art — the most moving tragedies for instance. Tragedy depicts what the human soul can experience in connection with powers the poet tells us derive from the tremendous destiny uplifting it, while overwhelming the individual. The shock-waves of tragedy derive from this destiny, but such that we can say: The entanglements, the threads spun in the course of the tragedy and unraveled again are inherent in definite experiences of the human soul in the external world. These are in many respects hard to foresee, since for the most part we penetrate only with difficulty into the particular make up of the individual. Still, they can be surmised and fathomed in sensing what takes place in the human soul in consequence of its relation to life. In experiencing something tragic, one has the feeling, in one way or another, a particular soul is entangled in a particular destiny, as this is presented to us.

The sources of fairy tales and of the moods out of which they arise lie deeper than these entanglements of tragedy. The tragic, as well as other forms of artistic expression, results for us, we may feel, in seeing the human being — for instance at a particular age, a particular period of life — at the mercy of certain blows of destiny. In being affected by a tragedy, we necessarily assume that the human being is led to the corresponding involvements of destiny as a result of particular inner experiences. We sense the need to understand the specific human beings presented to us in the tragedy with their particular sets of experiences. A certain circumscribed range of what is human comes to meet us in the tragedy, as in other works of art.

In approaching fairy tales with sympathetic understanding, we have a different feeling than the one just described, since the effect of the fairy tale on the human soul is an original and elemental one, belonging to effects that are hence unconscious. In sensing what comes to meet us in fairy tales we find something altogether different from what a human being in a particular life situation may become involved in. It is not a matter of a narrowly circumscribed range of human experience, but of something lying so deep, and so integral to the soul, as to be “generally human.” We cannot say, a particular human soul at a particular age of life, in a certain situation, encounters something of the kind. Rather, what comes to expression in the fairy tale is so deeply rooted in the soul that we identify with it no matter whether as a child in the first years of life, whether in our middle years, or whether in having grown old.

What comes to expression in the fairy tale accompanies us throughout our lives in the deepest recesses of the soul. Only, the fairy tale is often a quite freewheeling and playful, pictorial expression of underlying experiences. The aesthetic, artistic enjoyment of the fairy tale may be as far removed for the soul from the corresponding inner experience — the comparison can be ventured — as say, the experience of taste on the tongue when we partake of food is removed from the complicated, hidden processes this food undergoes in the total organism in contributing to building up the organism. What the food undergoes initially evades human observation and knowledge. All the human being has is the enjoyment in tasting. The two things have seemingly little to do with each other in the first instance, and from how a particular food tastes, no one is capable of determining what purpose this food has in the whole life-process of the human organism. What we experience in the aesthetic enjoyment of the fairy tale is likewise far removed from what takes place deep down in the unconscious, where what the fairy tale radiates and pours forth out of itself joins forces with the human soul. The soul has a deep-rooted need to let the substance of the fairy tale run through its spiritual “veins,” just as the organism has a need to allow the nutrients to circulate through it.

Applying the methods of spiritual research that have been described for penetrating the spiritual worlds, at a certain stage one acquires knowledge of spiritual processes that continually take place quite unconsciously in the depths of the human soul. In normal everyday life, such spiritual processes unfolding in the soul's depths surface only occasionally in faint dream experiences caught by day-consciousness. Awakening from sleep under especially favorable circumstances, one may have the feeling: You are emerging out of a spiritual world in which thinking, in which a kind of pondering has taken place, in which something has happened in the deep, unfathomable background of existence. Though apparently similar to daytime experiences, and intimately connected with one's whole being, this remains profoundly concealed for conscious daily life.

For the spiritual researcher who has made some progress and is capable of initial experiences in the world of spiritual beings and spiritual facts, things often proceed in much the same way. As far as one advances, one still arrives again and again, so to speak, only at the boundary of a world in which spiritual processes approach one out of the deep unconscious. These processes, it must be said, are connected with one's own being. They can be apprehended almost the same way as a fata morgana appearing to one's spiritual gaze, not revealing themselves in their totality.

That is one of the strangest experiences — this peering into the unfathomable spiritual connections within which the human soul stands. In attentively following up these intimate soul occurrences, it turns out that conflicts experienced in the depths of the soul and portrayed in works of art, in tragedies, are relatively easy to survey, as compared to the generally-human soul conflicts of which we have no presentiment in daily life. Every person does nonetheless undergo these conflicts at every age of life.

Such a soul conflict discovered by means of spiritual investigation takes place for example, without ordinary consciousness knowing anything of it, every day on awakening, when the soul emerges from the world in which it unconsciously resides during sleep and immerses itself once again in the physical body. As already mentioned, ordinary consciousness has no notion of this, and yet a battle takes place every day in the soul's foundations, glimpsed only in spiritual investigation. This can be designated the battle of the solitary soul seeking its spiritual path, with the stupendous forces of natural existence, such as we face in external life in being helplessly subjected to thunder and lightning — in experiencing how the elements vent themselves upon the defenseless human being.

Though arising with stupendous force, even such rare occurrences of Nature experienced by the human being are a trifling matter as compared with the inner battle taking place unconsciously upon awakening. Experiencing itself existentially, the soul has now to unite itself with the forces and substances of the physical body in which it immerses itself, so as to make use of the senses and of the limbs once again, these being ruled by natural forces. The human soul has something like a yearning to submerge itself in the purely natural, a longing that fulfils itself with every awakening. There is at the same time, as though a shrinking back, a sense of helplessness as against what stands in perpetual contrast to the human soul — the purely natural, manifesting in the external corporeality into which it awakens. Strange as it may sound that such a battle takes place daily in the soul's foundations, it is nonetheless an experience that does transpire unconsciously. The soul cannot know precisely what happens, but it experiences this battle every morning, and each and every soul stands under the impression of this battle despite knowing nothing of it — through all that the soul inherently is, the whole way it is attuned to existence.

Something else that takes place in the depths of the soul and can be apprehended by means of spiritual investigation presents itself at the moment of falling asleep. Having withdrawn itself from the senses and from the limbs, having in a sense left the external body behind in the physical sense-world, what then approaches the human soul may be called a feeling of its own “inwardness.” Only then does it go through the inner battles that arise unconsciously by virtue of its being bound to external matter in life — and having to act in accordance with this entanglement. It feels the attachment to the sense world with which it is burdened as a hindrance, holding it back morally. Other moral moods can give us no conception of what thus transpires unconsciously after falling asleep, when the human soul is alone with itself. And all sorts of further moods then take their course in the soul when free of the body, in leading a purely spiritual existence between falling asleep and waking up.

However, it should not be supposed that these events taking place in the soul's depths are not there in the waking state. Spiritual investigation reveals one very interesting fact in particular, namely that people not only dream when they think they do, but all day long. The soul is in truth always full of dreams, only the human being does not notice this, since day consciousness is stronger as compared to dream consciousness. Just as a weaker light is drowned out by a stronger one, so what continually takes place in the course of waking consciousness as an ongoing dream-experience is drowned out by day consciousness. Though not generally aware of it, we dream all the time. And out of the abundance of dream experiences, of dreams that remain unconscious, presenting themselves as boundless in relation to the experiences of day consciousness, those dreams of which the human being does actually become conscious, separate themselves off. They do so much as a single drop of water might separate itself from a vast lake. But this dreaming activity that remains unconscious is a soul-spiritual experience. Things take place there in the soul's depths. Such spiritual experiences of the soul located in unconscious regions take their course much as chemical processes, of which we are unconscious, take place in the body.

Connecting this with a further fact arising from these lectures, additional light may be shed on hidden aspects of the soul-life spoken of here. We have often stressed — this was emphasized again in the previous lecture — that in the course of humanity's development on the earth, the soul-life of human beings has changed. Looking back far enough, we find that primeval human beings had quite different experiences from those of the human soul today. We have already spoken of the fact — and will do so again in coming lectures — that the primeval human being in early periods of evolution had a certain original clairvoyance. In the manner of looking at the world normal today in the waking state, we receive sense impressions from an external stimulus. We connect them by means of our understanding, our reason, feeling and will. This is merely the consciousness belonging to the present, having developed out of older forms of human consciousness. Applying the word in the positive sense, these were clairvoyant states. In an entirely normal way, in certain intermediate states between waking and sleeping, human beings were able to experience something of spiritual worlds. Thus, even if not yet fully self-conscious, human beings were by no means as unfamiliar in their normal consciousness with experiences taking place in the depths of the soul, such as those we have spoken of today.

In ancient times human beings perceived more fully their connection with the spiritual world around them. They saw what takes place in the soul, the events occurring deep within the soul, as connected with the spiritual in the universe. They saw spiritual realities passing through the soul and felt themselves much more related to the soul-spiritual beings and facts of the universe. This was characteristic of the original clairvoyant state of humanity. Just as it is possible today to come to a feeling such as the following only under quite exceptional conditions, in ancient times it occurred frequently — not only in artistic, but also in quite primitive human beings.

An experience of a quite vague and indefinite nature may lie buried in the depths of the soul, not rising into consciousness — an experience such as we have described. Nothing of this experience enters the conscious life of day. Something is nonetheless there in the soul, just as hunger is present in the bodily organism. And just as one needs something to satisfy hunger, so one needs something to satisfy this indefinite mood deriving from the experience lying deep within the soul. One then feels the urge to reach either for an existing fairy tale, for a saga, or if one is of an artistic disposition, perhaps to elaborate something of the kind oneself. Here it is as though all theoretical words one might make use of amount to stammering; and that is how fairy tales arise. Filling the soul with fairy tale pictures in this way constitutes nourishment for the soul as regards the “hunger” referred to.

In past ages of humanity's development every human being still stood closer to a clairvoyant perception of these inner spiritual experiences of the soul, and with their simpler constitution people were able — in sensing the hunger described here far more directly than is the case today — to seek nourishment from the pictures we possess today in the fairy tale traditions of various peoples. The human soul felt a kinship with spiritual existence. Without understanding them, it sensed more or less consciously the inner battles it had to undergo, giving pictorial form to them in pictures bearing only a distant similarity to what had taken place in the soul's substrata. Yet there is a palpable connection between what expresses itself in fairy tales and these unfathomable experiences of the human soul.

Ordinary experience shows us that a childlike soul disposition frequently creates something for itself inwardly, such as a simple “companion” — a companion really only there for this childlike mind, accompanying it nonetheless and taking part in the various occurrences of life. Who does not know, for instance, of children who take certain invisible friends along with them through life? You have to imagine that these “friends” are there when something happens that pleases the child, participating as invisible spirit companions, soul companions, when the child experiences this or that. Quite often one can witness how badly it affects the child's soul disposition when a “sensible” person comes, hears the child has such a soul companion, and now wants to talk it out of this soul companion, even perhaps considering it salutary for the child to be talked out of it. The child grieves for its soul companion. And if the child is receptive for soul-spiritual moods, this grieving signifies still more. It can mean the child begins to ail, becoming constitutionally infirm. This is an altogether real experience connected with profound inner occurrences of the human soul.

Without dispersing the “aroma” of the fairy tale, we can sense this simple experience in the fairy tale which tells of the child and the toad, related by the Brothers Grimm [in “Tales About Toads”]. They tell us of the girl who always has a toad accompany her while eating. The toad, however, only likes the milk. The child talks to the animal as though with a human being. One day she wants the toad to eat some of her bread as well. The mother overhears this; she comes and strikes the animal dead. The child ails, sickens, and dies.

In fairy tales we feel soul moods reverberate that do absolutely in fact take place in the depths of the soul, such that the human soul is actually not only cognizant of them in certain periods of life, but simply by virtue of being human, irrespective of being a child or an adult. Thus, every human soul can sense something re-echo of what it experiences without comprehending it — not even raising it into consciousness — connected with what in the fairy tale works on the soul as food works on the taste buds. For the soul, the fairy tale then becomes something similar to the nutritional substance as applied to the organism. It is fascinating to seek out in deep soul experiences what re-echoes in various fairy tales. It would of course be quite a major undertaking actually to examine individual fairy tales in this regard, collected as they are in such numbers. This would require a lot of time. But what can perhaps be illustrated with a few fairy tales can be applied to all of them, in so far as they are genuine.

Let us take another fairy tale also collected by the Brothers Grimm, the fairy tale of “Rumpelstiltskin.” A miller asserts to the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold and is requested to have her come to the castle, so the king can ascertain her art for himself. The daughter goes to the castle. She is locked in a room and given a bundle of straw with which to demonstrate her art. In the room she is quite helpless. And while she is in this helpless state, a manikin appears before her. He says to her: “What will you give me, if I spin the straw into gold for you?” The miller's daughter gives him her necklace and the little man thereupon spins the straw into gold for her. The king is quite amazed, but he wants still more, and she is to spin straw into gold once again. The miller's daughter is again locked in a room, and as she sits in front of all the straw, the little man appears and says, “What will you give me, if I spin the straw to gold for you?” She gives him a little ring, and the straw is once more spun into gold by the little man. But the king wants still more. And when she now sits for the third time in the room and the little man again appears, she has nothing further to give him. At that the little man says, if she becomes queen one day, she is to grant him the first child she gives birth to. She promises to do so. And when the child is there, and the little man comes and reminds her of her promise, the miller's daughter wants a postponement. The little man then says to her: “If you can tell me what my name is, you can be free of your promise.” The miller's daughter sends everywhere, inquiring after every name. In learning every name, she wants to find out what the little man's name is. Finally, after a number of vain attempts, she actually succeeds in discovering his name — Rumpelstiltskin.

With really no work of art other than fairy tales does one have such a sense of joy over the immediate picture presented, while yet knowing of the profound inner soul-experience out of which the fairy tale is born. Though the comparison may be trivial, it is perhaps still apt: Just as a person can be aware of the chemistry of food and still find a bite to eat flavorful, so it is possible to know something of the profound inner experiences of soul that are only experienced, not “known,” and that come to expression in fairy tale pictures in the manner indicated. In fact, unknowingly the solitary human soul — it is after all alone with itself during sleep, as also in the rest of life even when united with the body — feels and experiences, albeit unconsciously, the whole disparate relation in which it finds itself in regard to its own immense tasks, its place within the divine order of the world.

The human soul does indeed feel how little it is capable of in comparing its ability with what external Nature can do, in transforming one thing into another. Nature is really a great magician, such as the human soul itself would like to be. In conscious life it may light-heartedly look past this gulf between the human soul and the wise omniscience and omnipotence of the spirit of Nature. But at deeper levels of soul experience, the matter is not done away with so easily. There, the human soul would necessarily go to rack and ruin if it were not after all to feel within it a more profound being inside the initially perceptible one, a being it can rely on, of which it can say to itself: As imperfect as you now still are — this being within you is cleverer. It is at work within you; it can carry you to the point of attaining the greatest skill. It can grant you wings, enabling you to see an endless perspective spread out before you, leading into a limitless future. You will be capable of accomplishing what you cannot as yet accomplish, for within you there is something that is infinitely more than your “knowing” self. It is your loyal helper. You must only gain a relation to it. You have really only to be able to form a conception of this cleverer, wiser, more skillful being than you yourself are, residing within you.

In calling to mind this discourse of the human soul with itself, this unconscious discourse with the more adroit part of the soul, we may feel reverberating in this fairy tale of “Rumpelstiltskin” what the soul experiences in the miller's daughter who cannot spin straw into gold, but finds in the little man a skillful, loyal helper. There, deep in the substrata of the soul — in pictures, the distinctive aura of which is not destroyed through knowing their origin — the profound inner life of soul is given.

Or, let us take another fairy tale. — Please do not take it amiss, however, if I connect this with matters having an apparently personal tinge, though not at all meant in a personal sense. The essential point will become clear in adding a few observations.

In my Esoteric Science you will find a description of world evolution. It is not my intention to talk specifically about this now — that can be left for another occasion. In this world evolution our earth is spoken of as having gone through certain stages as a planet in the cosmos, comparable to human lives that follow one upon the other. Just as the individual human being goes through lives that follow each other sequentially, so our earth has gone through various planetary life-stages, various incarnations. In spiritual science, we speak, for certain reasons, of the earth as having gone through a kind of “Moon” existence before beginning its “Earth” existence, and prior to this a kind of “Sun” existence. Thus, we may speak of a Sun-existence, a planetary predecessor existence of our Earth-existence, as having been present in a primeval past — an ancient Sun, with which the earth was still united. Then, in the course of evolution a splitting off of Sun and earth took place. From what had originally been “Sun,” the moon separated itself off as well, and our sun of today, which is not the original Sun, but only a piece of it, so to speak. Thus, we may speak, as it were, of the original Sun and of its successor, the sun of today. And we may also refer to the moon of today as a product of the old Sun. If spiritual scientific investigation follows the evolution of the earth retrospectively to where the second sun, the sun of today, developed as an independent cosmic body, it has to be said that at that time, of the creatures that might have been externally perceptible to the senses, among the animals, only those existed that had developed to the stage of the fishes.

These things can all be looked up more precisely in Esoteric Science. They can be discovered only by means of spiritual scientific investigation. At the time they had been discovered and written down by me in Esoteric Science, the fairy tale in question was quite unknown to me. That is the personal factor I should like to add here. I am able to establish with certainty that it was quite unknown to me, since I only later came across it in Wilhelm Wundt's Ethnic Psychology [published in 10 volumes, 1900-1920], whose sources I only then followed up further.

Before briefly outlining the fairy tale, I should like to say one thing in advance: Everything the spiritual researcher is able to investigate in this way in the spiritual world — and the things just referred to do have to be investigated in the spiritual world, since they are otherwise no longer extant — everything investigated in this way presents a world with which the human soul is united even so. We are connected with this world in the deepest recesses of our souls. It is always present, indeed we unconsciously enter this spiritual world in normal life upon falling asleep. Our soul is united with it and has within it not only the soul's experiences during sleep, but also those relating to the whole of evolution referred to here. Were it not paradoxical, one would like to say: in the unconscious state, the soul knows of this and experiences itself in the ongoing stream issuing from the original Sun and subsequently from the daughter sun we now see shining in the sky, as well as from the moon, also a descendant of the original Sun. And in addition, the soul experiences the fact that it has undergone an existence, soul-spiritually, in which it was not yet connected with earthly matter, in which it could look down on earthly processes; for instance, on the time in which the fish species were the highest animal organisms, where the present sun, the present moon, arose and split off from the Earth. In unconscious regions, the soul is linked to these events.

We shall now briefly follow the outline of a fairy tale found among primitive peoples, who tell us: There was once a man. As a human being, he was, however, actually of the nature of tree resin and could only perform his work during the night, since, had he carried out his work by day, he would have been melted by the Sun. One day, however, it happened that he did go out by day, in order to catch fish. And behold, the man who actually consisted of tree resin, melted away. His sons decided to avenge him. And they shot arrows. They shot arrows that formed certain figures, towering one over the other, so that a ladder arose reaching up to heaven. They climbed up this ladder, one of them during the day, the other during the night. One of them became the sun, and the other became the moon.

It is not my habit to interpret such things in an abstract way and to introduce intellectual concepts. But it is a different matter to have a feeling for the results of investigation — that the human soul in its depths is united with what happens in the world, to be grasped only spiritually, that the human soul is connected with all this and has a hunger to savor its deepest unconscious experiences in pictures. In citing the fairy tale just outlined, one feels a reverberation of what the human soul experienced as the original Sun, and as the arising of sun and moon during the fish epoch of the Earth. It was in some respects a quite momentous experience for me — this is once more the personal note — when I came across this fairy tale, long after the facts I have mentioned stood printed in my Esoteric Science. Though the notion of interpreting the whole matter abstractly still does not occur to me, a certain kindred feeling arises when I consider world evolution in the context of another, parallel portrayal — when I give myself up to the wonderful pictures of this fairy tale.

Or, as a further example, let us take a peculiar Melanesian fairy tale. Before speaking of this fairy tale, let us remind ourselves that, as shown by spiritual investigation, the human soul is also closely linked to prevailing occurrences and facts of the universe. Even if stated rather too graphically, it is still nonetheless true in a certain respect, from a spiritual scientific point of view, if we say: When the human soul leaves the physical body in sleep, it leads an existence in direct connection with the entire cosmos, feeling itself related to the entire cosmos. We may remind ourselves of the relationship of the human soul, or for example, of the human “I” with the cosmos — at least with something of significance in the cosmos. We direct our gaze to the plant world and tell ourselves: The plant grows, but it can only do so under the influence of the sun's light and warmth. We have before us the plant rooted in the earth. In spiritual science we say: the plant consists of its physical body and of the life-body which permeates it. But that does not suffice for the plant to grow and unfold itself. For that, the forces are required that work on the plant from the sun.

If we now contemplate the human body while the human being sleeps, this sleeping human body is in a sense equivalent to a plant. As a sleeping body it is comparable to the plant in having the same potential to grow as the plant. However, the human being is emancipated from the cosmic order which envelops the plant. The plant has to wait for the sun to exert its influence on it, for the rising and setting of the sun. It is bound to the external cosmic order. The human being is not so bound. Why not? Because what spiritual science points out is in fact true: the human being exerts an influence from the “I” — outside the physical body in sleep — upon the plant-like physical body, equivalent to what the sun exerts on the plant. Just as the sun pours its light out over the plants, so does the human “I” pour its light over the now plant-like physical body when the human being sleeps. As the sun “reigns” over the plants, so the human “I” reigns, spiritually, over the plant-like sleeping physical body. The “I” of the human being is thus related to the sun-existence. Indeed, the “I” of the human being is itself a kind of “sun” for the sleeping human body, and brings about its enlivening during sleep, brings it about that those forces are replenished that have been used up in the waking state. If we have a feeling for this, then we recognize how the human “I” is related to the sun. Spiritual science shows us in addition that, just as the sun traverses the arc of heaven — I am of course speaking of the apparent movement of the sun — and in a certain respect the effect of its rays differs according to whether it stands in this or that constellation of the zodiac, so the human “I” also goes through various phases in its experience. Thus, from one phase it works in one way, from a different phase it works in another way on the physical body. In spiritual science one acquires a feeling for how the sun works differently onto the earth according to whether it does so, for example, from the constellation of Aries, or from the constellation of Taurus, and so on. For that reason, one does not speak of the sun in general, but of its effect in connection with the twelve signs of the zodiac — indicating the correspondence of the changing “I” with the changing activity of the sun.

Let us now take everything that could only be sketched here, but which is developed further in Esoteric Science, as something to be gained as soul-spiritual knowledge. Let us regard it as what takes place in the depths of the soul and remains unconscious but takes place in such a way that it signifies an inner participation in the spiritual forces of the cosmos that manifest themselves in the fixed stars and planets. And let us compare all this, proclaimed by spiritual science as the secrets of the universe, with a Melanesian fairy tale, that I shall again outline only briefly:

On a country road lies a stone. This stone is the mother of Quatl. And Quatl has eleven brothers. After the eleven brothers and Quatl have been created, Quatl begins to create the present world. In this world he created, a difference between day and night was still unknown. Quatl then learns that there is an island somewhere, on which there is a difference between day and night. He travels to this island and brings a few inhabitants from this island back to his country. And, by virtue of their influence on those in his country, they too come to experience the alternating states of sleeping and waking, and the rising and setting of the sun takes place for them as a soul experience.

It is remarkable what reverberates once again in this fairy tale. Considering the fairy tale as a whole there re-echoes, with every sentence, so to speak, something of world secrets, something of what, in the sense of spiritual science, the soul experiences in its depths. One then has to say: The sources of fairy tale moods, of fairy tales generally, lie in hidden depths of the human soul. These fairy tales are presented in the form of pictures, since external happenings have to be made use of in order to provide what is to be spiritual nourishment for the hunger that wells up as an outcome of the soul's experiences. Though we are far removed from the actual experiences in question, we can sense how they reverberate in the fairy tale pictures.

With this in mind, we need not wonder that the finest, most characteristic fairy tales are those handed down from former ages when people still had a certain clairvoyant consciousness and found easier access to the sources of these fairy tale moods. Further, it need not surprise us that in regions of the world where human beings stand closer to spirituality than do the souls of the Occident, for example in India, in the Orient in general, fairy tales can have a much more distinctive character.

Neither need we be surprised that in the German fairy tales that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected in the form told them by relatives and others, often simple people, we come upon accounts reminiscent of the periods of European life in which the great heroic sagas arose. Fairy tales contain attributes found in the great heroic sagas. It need not surprise us to hear that it belatedly came to light that the most significant fairy tales are even older than the heroic sagas. Heroic sagas after all show human beings only at a particular age of life and in particular situations, while what lives in fairy tales is of a generally-human nature, accompanying human beings at every age, from their first to their last breath. It need not surprise us if the fairy tale also insistently depicts, for example, what we have referred to as a profound experience of the soul, the feeling of the soul's inadequacy on awakening in regard to the forces of Nature it helplessly faces and is only a match for, if it has the consolation of knowing at the same time: Within you, there is something that transcends your personal self, and makes you in a certain respect the victor once again over the forces of Nature.

In sensing this mood, one has a feeling for why human beings so often find themselves up against giants in fairy tales. Why do these giants appear? Well, as an image, these giants arise as a matter of course from the whole tone of the soul in wanting to make its way into the body again in the morning, seeing itself confronted by the “giant” forces of Nature occupying the body. What the soul senses there as a battle, what it then feels is altogether real — not in rational terms, but as corresponds to depictions of the manifold battles of the human being with giants. When all this comes to meet it, it clearly senses how it possesses only one thing, its shrewdness, in this whole battle — in its stand in confronting giants. For, this entails the feeling: You could now reenter your body, but what are you, as against the immense forces of the universe! However, you do have something not there in these giants, and that is cunning — reason! This does in fact stand unconsciously before the soul, even if it has also to say to itself, that it can do nothing against the immense forces of the universe. We see how the soul transposes this literally into a picture in giving expression to the mood in question:

A man goes along a country road and comes to an inn. In the inn he asks for milk-soup [blancmange]. Flies enter the soup. He finishes eating the milk-soup, leaving the flies. Then he strikes the plate, counts the flies he has killed, and brags: “A hundred at one blow!” The innkeeper hangs a sign around his neck: “He has killed a hundred at one blow.” Continuing along the country road, this man comes to a different region. There a king looks out the window of his castle. He sees the man with the sign around his neck and says to himself: I could well use him. He takes him into his service and assigns him a definite task. He says to him: “You see, the problem is, whole packs of bears always come into my kingdom. If you have struck a hundred dead, then you can certainly also strike the bears dead for me.” The man says: “I am willing to do it!” But, until the bears are there, he wants a good wage and proper meals, for, having thought about it, he says to himself: If I can't do it, I shall at least have lived well until then. — When the time came, and the bears were approaching, he collected all kinds of food and various good things bears like to eat. Then he approached them and laid these things out. When the bears got there, they ate until they were full to excess, finally lying there as though paralyzed; and now he struck them dead one after the other. The king arrived and saw what he had accomplished. However, the man told him: “I simply had the bears jump over a stick and chopped off their heads at the same time!” Delighted, the king assigns him another task. He says to him: “Now the giants will soon also be coming into my land, and you must help me against them as well.” The man promised to do so. And when the time approached, he again took a quantity of provisions with him, including a lark and a piece of cheese. On actually encountering the giants, he first entered into a conversation with them about his strength. One of the giants said: “We shall certainly show you that we are stronger,” taking a stone and crushing it in his hand. Then he said to the man: “That is how strong we are! What can you do as compared to us?” Another giant took an arrow, shooting it so high that only after a long time did the arrow come down again and said: “That's how strong we are! What can you do as compared to us?” At this, the man who had killed a hundred at one blow said: “I can do all that and more!” He took a small piece of cheese and a stone, spreading the stone with cheese, and said to the giants: “I can squeeze water out of a stone!” And he squashed the cheese so that water squirted out of it. The giants were astonished at his strength in being able to squeeze water from a stone. Then the man took the lark and let it fly off, saying to the giants: “Your arrow came back down again, the one I have shot, however, goes up so high that it does not come back down at all!” For the lark did not return at all. At that, the giants were so amazed, they agreed among themselves that they would only be able to overcome him with cunning. They no longer thought of being able to overcome him with the strength of giants. Nonetheless, they did not succeed in outwitting him; on the contrary, he outwitted them. While they all slept, he put an inflated pig's bladder over his head, inside which there was some blood. The giants had said to themselves: Awake, we shall not be able to get the better of him, so we shall do it while he sleeps. They struck him while he slept, smashing the pig's bladder. Seeing the blood that spurted out, they thought they had finished him off. And they soon fell asleep. In the peaceful quiet that overcame them, they slept so soundly that he was able to put an end to them.

Even though, like some dreams, the fairy tale ends here somewhat indefinitely and on an unsatisfactory note, we nonetheless have before us a portrayal of the battle of the human soul against the forces of Nature — first against the “bears,” then against the “giants.” But something else becomes evident in this fairy tale. We have the man who has “killed a hundred at one blow.” We have an echo of what lives at the deepest unconscious levels of the soul: the consolation in becoming aware of its own shrewdness over against these stronger, overwhelming forces. It is not a good thing when what has been presented artistically in pictures is interpreted abstractly. That is not at all what matters. On the other hand, nothing of the artistic form of the fairy tale is diminished if one has a feeling for the fact that the fairy tale is an after-echo of events taking place deep within the soul. These events are such that we can know a great deal about them, as much as one can come to know by means of spiritual investigation — yet, in immersing ourselves in fairy tales and experiencing them, they still remain original and elementary.

In researching them, it is certainly agreeable to know that fairy tales present what the soul needs on account of its deepest experiences, as we have indicated. At the same time, no fairy tale mood is destroyed in arriving at a deeper recognition of the sources of subconscious life. Presented only abstractly, we find these sources are impoverished for our consciousness, whereas the fairy tale form is really the more comprehensive one for expressing the deepest experiences of the soul.

It is then comprehensible that Goethe expressed in the significant and evocative pictures of the Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily what he was abundantly able to experience, and which Schiller chose to express in abstract-philosophical concepts. Thus, despite having thought a great deal, Goethe wanted to say in pictures what he felt concerning the deepest underlying strata of human soul-life. And because the fairy tale relates in this way to the innermost soul, it is precisely the form most suited to the child. For it may be said of fairy tales that they have brought it about that what is most profound in spiritual life is expressed in the simplest possible form. In fact, one gradually comes to feel that in all conscious artistic life there is no greater art than that which completes the path from the uncomprehended depths of soul-life to the delightful, often playful pictures of the fairy tale.

An art capable of expressing in the most self-evident form what is hard to comprehend is the greatest and most natural art, an art intimately related to the human being. And just because, in the case of the child, the essential human being is still united in an unspoilt way with the whole of existence, with the whole of life, the child especially needs the fairy tale as nourishment for its soul. What depicts spiritual powers can come alive more fully in the child. The childlike soul may not be enmeshed in abstract theoretical concepts if it is not to be obliterated. It has to remain connected with what is rooted in the depths of existence.

Hence, we can do nothing of greater benefit for the soul of the child than in allowing what unites the human being with the roots of existence to act upon it. As the child still has to work creatively on its own physical formation, summoning the formative forces for its own growth, for the unfolding of its natural abilities, it senses wonderful soul nourishment in fairy tale pictures that connect it with the roots of existence. Since, even in giving themselves over to what is rational and intellectual, human beings can still never be wholly torn away from the roots of existence, they gladly turn again at every age to the fairy tale, provided they are of a sufficiently healthy and straightforward soul disposition. For there is no stage of life and no human situation that can estrange us altogether from what flows from fairy tales — in consequence of which we could cease having anything more to do with what is most profound in human nature or have no sense for what is so incomprehensible for the intellect, expressed in the self-evident, simple, primitive fairy tale and fairy tale mood.

Hence, those who have concerned themselves for a long time with restoring to humanity the fairy tales that had been rather glossed over by civilization, individuals such as the Brothers Grimm, understandably had the feeling — even if they did not adopt a spiritual scientific view — that they were renewing something that belongs intimately to human nature. After an intellectual culture had done its part over a period of centuries to estrange the human soul, including the soul of the child, such collections of fairy tales as those of the Brothers Grimm have quite properly found their way again to all human beings receptive for such things. In this way they have become once more the common heritage of children's souls, indeed of all human souls. They will do so increasingly, the more spiritual science is not just taken as theory, but becomes an underlying mood of the soul, uniting it more and more in feeling with the spiritual roots of its existence. [In 1856 Wilhelm Grimm wrote: “Common to all fairy tales is a residual faith reaching back into ancient times, expressing itself in a pictorial grasp of supersensible things.”]

In this way, by means of the dissemination of spiritual science, what genuine fairy tale collectors, those truly receptive for fairy tales as well as those who present them have declared, will prove well-founded. This is what a certain individual, a true friend of fairy tales, often said in lectures I was able to hear. [This is in all probability a reference to Rudolf Steiner's friend and teacher Karl Julius Schröer (1825-1900), professor of literature at the Technische Hochschule (Institute of Technology) in Vienna, discoverer of the Oberufer Christmas Plays, and described by Rudolf Steiner as “a researcher in the style of the Brothers Grimm.” (Document of Barr, Sept. 1907.)] It is a wonderfully poetic utterance which at the same time summarizes what results from such spiritual scientific considerations as we have presented today. It may be formulated in words this man spoke — knowing as he did how to love fairy tales, collecting them, and appreciating them. He always liked to add the saying:

“Fairy tales and sagas are comparable to a good angel, granted human beings as a companion from birth on their life's wanderings, to be a trustworthy comrade throughout — offering comradeship, and making life inwardly into a truly ensouled fairy tale!”

[Note: Schröer was in turn quoting Wilhelm Grimm]

Translated by Peter Stebbing




Last Modified: 01-Dec-2019
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