Berlin, 3rd May 1906
Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) is probably one of the strangest personalities of the last centuries. In the aurora of a quite new time, in the turn of the 16th to the 17th centuries, he stands there with a knowledge and a wisdom, with a worldview which appears like a completion of many centuries. He stands there as a person who was understood a little in the following time up to this day, even if he was called Philosophus Teutonicus and societies existed in Holland, in England, in Germany which tried to make Jacob Boehme's views popular. There have been always persons who occupied themselves with Jacob Boehme.
About 1600, when Giordano Bruno died a martyr's death, Jacob Boehme's soul was penetrated by great, immense ideas for the first time. Who starts devoting himself to Jacob Boehme and, besides, goes out from the views of the present time finds his way in him a little. Hence, one can read in the modern books about Jacob Boehme that he showed his view in images which are incomprehensible and dark. If one reads the stuff that has been said about him in newer handbooks, one may say, it is completely comprehensible that one finds Jacob Boehme incomprehensible. What one can read in the handbooks of history of philosophy about him, however, is the most incomprehensible stuff of the world. This is the peculiar phenomenon which one experiences with Jacob Boehme.
If one knows the spiritual life of the 19th century exactly, in particular that German spiritual life, which especially philosophical circles influence, one can understand that Jacob Boehme was understood so little. There are hardly bigger contrasts than Jacob Boehme and Immanuel Kant. Whatever the education of the 19th century produced is far away from the spirit of this strange man. All who try to approach Jacob Boehme from the theosophical worldview are surprised that one still needed a theosophical deepening with that nation that had Jacob Boehme. One needs only to know Paracelsus and Jacob Boehme to know theosophy. Everything that they wrote is given from a deep spring, with immense deepness and magic power. Jacob Boehme was one of the greatest magicians of all times, of a greatness that has not yet been reached up to now.
In 1575, Jacob Boehme was born as a child of poor people. He was first a herd boy and could hardly read and write. While he tended livestock, already some strange flashes of inspiration lighted up in him. Sometimes it seemed to him, as if any leaf in the trees, as if the animals of the wood had something to say to him, as if all beings of nature spoke to him. Then he was apprenticed to a shoemaker. During his apprenticeship, he had a strange experience that cannot be discussed in the general public concerning its real basis. Jacob Boehme had to look after the shop once when his master and wife stepped out. However, he should sell nothing. A person entered whose eyes made a particular impression on him. This person wanted to buy something. Jacob said to him, he was not allowed to sell anything. The look of the stranger was something quite extraordinary to him. Then the stranger went out. After a few minutes, Jacob heard calling his name. The stranger said to him, Jacob, you are still small now, but you are destined to something great! — Jacob Boehme knew that these words transferred anything remaining to him.
Jacob Boehme tells another experience, about a mountain. Once he saw into a cave where something like gold shone to him. Again, it seemed to him like a revelation, like something that would tell about the concealed forces of nature to him. If one touched that all, it would lose its magic, which one can only understand by occult means.
Like all young craftsmen of the past, Jacob Boehme started wanderings after his apprenticeship and then settled down as master of his craft in his hometown Görlitz. He began soon to write down what lived in his soul. It is important to illuminate the sensations somewhat that were in this personality. He felt raised above himself if he put pen to paper to write down what was revealed to him. Something was in him like a higher nature. This was so strong in him that — if he was back again in the everyday life and if he wanted to read the written down — he could not understand it. He could not follow that spirit. What he wrote down were words from the beginning, which were taken only from the centre of wisdom. Aurora or the Rising of the Dawn was the first book he wrote. Aurora or the Rising of the Dawn was always a symbol of the birth of the higher self to the mystics if the soul rises above the lower existence. The spiritualisation of the human being was always symbolised by the dawn. At that time, Jacob Boehme wrote words, which sound quite naturally with him because they carry the stamp, the seal of truth. Thus, he said once that he knows that “the sophist reproves him” if he speaks of the beginning of the world and its creation, “because I was not present and did not see it. I say to him that I was present in the essence of my soul and, when I was not yet a self, but because I was Adam's essence I was present and forfeited my glory in Adam.”
This simple man, who probably only read Paracelsus if any, had the consciousness that the everlasting soul that lives in the human being is not bound to space and time that there is an expansion of consciousness of this soul by which the human being is able to rise above space and time. Thus, the unity was clear to him, which lives in everything, which lives in every human soul, so that one needs only to remove the narrow borders in order to get a picture, a face that shows everything to us that goes back to the beginning of the creation of the human being. All that was founded on deep devoutness with Jacob Boehme.
He says about his soul condition: “When I struggled with God's assistance, a strange light emerged to my soul that was quite foreign to the wild nature. I only recognised in it what God and the human being is, and what God deals with the human being.”
It was an immediate experience of Jacob Boehme, the emergence of the divine soul in the usual human soul. This experience that was detached in a completely elementary way from the soul founded his enthusiasm. Thus, we see him grasping the human nature, the historical evolution of the whole humanity in a way, which — if one cannot penetrate to the springs — gives him a hard fight to understand this spirit.
What we find with Paracelsus faces us in a spiritualised and transfigured form with Jacob Boehme. It already faces us in his first work, in the Aurora. This work was not printed first, but circulated only as a manuscript among his friends. It fell into the hands of a zealotic preacher. He preached against it and was successful that the City Council of Görlitz forbade Jacob Boehme to write anything in future. One regarded him as such a dangerous person already in those days. However, Jacob Boehme wrote nothing for years. All his other writings date from the last five to six years of his life, that life which one made to him continuously rather hard because one understood nothing of that which lived in this man, For the fanatical priesthood was fulfilled by zealotic hatred for anything that it had not written itself. His works were translated, before they were printed in Germany, into English, into Dutch and other languages. Jacob Boehme's destiny and works are an example of how little the ways of true spiritual life depend on the official education and how difficult it is to overcome the obstacles that are put in the way of the spiritual life by all possible powers.
Already in the Aurora, that faces us which lived in Jacob Boehme. At first, he said that something lives in the human being that can outgrow itself, a divine spark of life. This remained nothing abstract to him, but took shape of a big world building and human building in his thoughts, in his world of sensations. Someone who wants to understand Jacob Boehme has to recognise that only a profound spiritual-scientific education can penetrate into that which lived in Jacob Boehme. He knew of the human being that the physical human being has another, more spiritual, finer nature as its basis. Something is between the physical human being and the mental one that Jacob Boehme called “tinctura.” This is an often misunderstood word. At that time, there were also great spirits like for example Newton, who endeavoured for years to become clear in their mind about what Jacob Boehme means speaking of the tinctura.
If we look back at former times of the distant past, we find that there the world was still completely different from now. Jacob Boehme was completely filled with an immense doctrine of evolution. As extensive, splendid, and applicable to everything spiritual and sensuous at the same time as Jacob Boehme's view of world evolution understands it, no scientific view has shown it. He looks back at far distant periods when the earth still looked completely different from now. Jacob Boehme understood in a strange way what some naturalists have said in an amateurish way about the primeval condition of the earth. The modern naturalist pursues the living beings back to more imperfect forms. He still says then at best, everything on earth developed from a universal nebula. The forms emerged from the principles inherent in a universal nebula.
Jacob Boehme considers this development in much bigger style. He turns his look at all mental beings, at all animal beings, at all minerals, plants, and animals. He is able to behold the former conditions, the forms, which the human being had in former times when these beings were not yet such beings as they are today. In those days, they were included in a kind of original matter from which only the later world has arisen. He sees the world of appearance and the beings as they existed as rudiments at that time. He beholds an earth that is not solid, not air, not water, not fire on which neither animals nor plants do exist, but which contains everything that appeared then. Boehme does not speak of a fantastic primeval nebula, but about the tinctura that was real once when it formed our globe and that rests in secrecy on the basis of the beings today. This tinctura exists in the human being as a spiritual-mental organism behind the physical being. It is also in all other things. From the tinctura, Jacob Boehme derives the creation of all living beings with which he distinguishes seven basic qualities. With it, one comes to a very deep basis of his worldview. Equipped with it, one has a means to solve countless riddles of the world. Besides, Jacob Boehme has a wonderful language, compared with it, our modern language appears grey and lifeless with its concepts.
We have to imagine that the tinctura lives in the world like the primeval matter, that in it everything rests like in a maternal womb, that then the forms come out. He calls a type of the forms the acerbic ones. The human forefather was a being with a cartilaginous scaffolding, as well as the cartilaginous fishes have it today. The skeleton crystallised then from the original tinctura; with acerbity the skeleton of the earth crystallised from the original tinctura. Jacob Boehme calls this the salty in the world. One must not imagine that the original acerbic also had the form of a skeleton. However, everything that tended to become solid and earthy, that crystallised from the original spiritual matter was for Jacob Boehme the acerbic, the salty.
The second form of nature is that which preserves the internal mobility, so that the parts can perpetually interact with each other. Jacob Boehme calls this the mercurial.
The third is the sulfuric, containing the power of fire in itself like a concealed force. What one sees as fire originating from the matter is the one side, and the human and animal passions are the other one. Now they are separated from each other like North Pole and South Pole. The intuition of the folk, as well as Jacob Boehme looked back at a time of the earliest development. There was something that was not a material fire and also not passion from which, however, the fire differentiated on one side, on the other side the passion. At that time, they had a common basis. Jacob Boehme finds the same spiritual basis in the material fire as in the human passion. There is a relationship between that which slumbers in the matter and the human passion. There is something in it that is related to the spiritual side of the fire.
The sulphur contains the fire in itself concealed as the body contains the animal passion. Thus, Jacob Boehme distinguishes this four at first, tinctura, salt, sulphur, fire.
In the same way as the old German folk intuition looked back at a time when there was neither fire nor passion, Jacob Boehme looks back at such a condition, at such a thing, which becomes the fifth original form of nature if it spiritualises itself. He calls it water. It is water in the sense as we find the water in the Bible, as an external symbol of the soul. The spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water, over the soul forces slumbering in the matter, so that they can be raised.
The sixth form of nature originates if the inside penetrates outwardly if the inner life comes to life in such a way that it can be perceived. Jacob Boehme calls it sound. This is any soul expression that the inside of the being has in itself in such a way as the bell the peal. The sound can also express the uniform divine nature. The seventh form then originates, the wisdom, the divine force contained in the world. In these seven forms, Jacob Boehme sees the whole nature included.
The lowest member of the human nature has to do something with the salt-like acerbity; then it rises higher and higher up to wisdom. Furthermore, the forces of nature and the human being are related to the solar system. The relationship of all beings expresses itself everywhere. Jacob Boehme also calls tinctura everything that moves like the spiritual life blood through all beings. It is between the world thought and any matter. Jacob Boehme imagines the great master builder of the world as an artist who organised the world sensuous-physically. He calls the connection between the sensuous-physical and the creator of the world tinctura again. He searches it in any single being.
This is the difficult in his writings that we have to come to grips with his ideas. The human being is normally glad if he has established a few concepts to himself. Jacob Boehme does not form single abstractions that stand side by side like soldiers. He creeps as it were into all beings. He regards all beings as related, as connected with each other. In order to understand Jacob Boehme you have to make your mind flexible as nature is flexible, so that the concepts can also change as the things in nature change. Theosophists also often establish narrow concepts. However, it does not matter to have a concept, but that you are able to dissolve the concept immediately again. If you have a concept, you must be able to transform it as the things change. Nothing is more obstructive than abstract, carefully weighed concepts. Therefore, those cannot understand Jacob Boehme who read him because they form solid concepts first; however, he follows the living life of the things. The concepts must change, as well as the things change. However, people feel hovering as it were. One has really lost ground if one wants to understand the world. You have to keep the centre in yourselves only.
Jacob Boehme's soul painting is a reproduction of nature. He finds in the human mind what is related to the tinctura, the imagination. Imagination is a soul force that is in the middle between the force of thinking and the force of willing. Someone who is able to understand his concepts pictorially and to visualise them in his mind, so that not an abstract picture of the plant faces him, but a plant like of sensuous appearance. That viewable concept is impregnated as it were with real life from within. Someone who is able to do this has imagination. It can be increased in such a way that the human being works creatively and gains influence on that which lives as tinctura in the things.
Here begins for Jacob Boehme that alchemy which is able to react on the matter, the tinctura, and from there also on the sensuous things. Thus, the imaginative human being is able to become a magician. Because Jacob Boehme understood this, we are allowed to call him the greatest magician of the new time. Jacob Boehme calls imagination the great virgin of nature, the virgin wisdom. Now, he goes back to the creation of Adam and further on to the original divine imagination. He says, the divine imagination imprinted the original spiritual human being in the matter according to its likeness. He calls this spirit man the original Adam.
While this spiritual human being is there from the outset, he shows how the spiritual human being already existed in the original tinctura, how then, however, an entire spiritual change took place in the world creation. He places this change on the fourth day of creation. He did not see this original human being whom he calls the tinctura man with eyes, but inside he was clairvoyant, so that he could clairvoyantly perceive everything that took place in him. Then selfhood, independence appeared in this human being. That came during the fourth day, and the clairvoyant human being became aware of himself, started looking his own being. Spiritual-divine creation was originally all around. The primeval man beheld this clairvoyantly. He saw himself now. This was his renunciation of God. This human being would completely have solidified unless anything else were possible. The human being did no longer behold the world clairvoyantly. The point in time happened when the clairvoyant human being could perceive externally what is divine. At first, sun, moon, and stars are pictures of the divine he had seen once in himself.
Thus, the human being had seceded divinity, but due to the senses the world had become perceptible to him. It is the idea of the sensuous perception, which made the ancient tinctura man the material man. He becomes a material human being by his own idea taken from the material world, so that he himself became a sensuous human being from within due to his own imagination of the sensuous.
Jacob Boehme saw a deep relationship of all beings, of the animals, plants, and minerals. He said, everything that lives in the world in skin and bone, in flesh and blood and so on is related to something on earth. Jacob Boehme relates the whole social and artistic structure also to the constellations of the planets. He shows the connection of the planets with the human life. All that is so clear to someone who wants to understand him, but so big that a small-minded time cannot understand him.
Another question still entered his scope of view, the question of the origin of the evil, the evil in the world, the question, how does the evil come into the world? Is the evil contained in the primal ground of the world? The primal ground is then not a good one.
He finds an answer comparing the original good to the light, the pure light. No darkness is included in it. While the light appears, becomes discernible, it appears by the objects with the shadow. Are we allowed to say that darkness is included in the light? Certainly not. Pure light only goes out from the source of the light. However, from the objects the opposite of the light goes out. The light faces us in the world as the primal ground ... (gap in the text). As it is true that the shadow must be present with the light, it is true that the bad must be in the good. We can compare the divine harmony to the human soul. It penetrates the organism. The soul puts the limbs of the human in motion. The world harmony of the divinity enjoys life in the soul in such a way that the limbs have independence. Although the harmony of the soul forms the basis, the limbs can turn against each other. If freedom should be in the world, the limbs must be able to turn against each other. Freedom and the possibility of the bad belong together, harmony and the possibility of disharmony. Just this thought of Jacob Boehme inspired Schelling (Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Sch., 1775-1854, philosopher), and you find a wonderful representation of that which lives in the freedom of the human being (Philosophical Inquiries into the Essence of Human Freedom, 1809).
This writing by Schelling about the freedom of the human being is like an offering to Jacob Boehme. Schelling understood something of Jacob Boehme. Boehme lived on with Goethe and other great spirits of the 19th century. Only when materialism arose, the spiritual life was alienated from Jacob Boehme. Then one understood him less and less. A time comes again in which one will not only understand him but in which one wants to learn from him. A new era approaches for theosophy. A time comes then, when one understands such great spiritual deeds like Jacob Boehme's writings, like the Germanic mythology again when they progress towards a new glorification. A spiritualisation of all wisdom, all human energy can then be caused. If the age comes to an end, which has the task of the external control of all natural forces, then Jacob Boehme will also be understood again. Copernicus, Galilei, and Giordano Bruno also belonged to the same age to which Jacob Boehme belongs. They have the world led to the observation of the sensuous world, the external world.
Jacob Boehme appeared just in that age, and his works are like a big summary of all mental achievements of humanity. He arranges all that for the world in the dawn of an age that introduces the materialistic epoch. When the materialistic age has topped out, Jacob Boehme is also found again and everything that is contained in his works. Everything is contained in his works that the world has collected as spiritual treasures.
We must not consider the achievements of theosophy as something particular. The theosophical world movement must be something that is alive, that signifies life and growth. If the theosophical society represents this, it understands how to work in the sense of the great spirits of former times, in the sense of Jacob Boehme, it becomes theosophical work in the true sense of the word.