Goethe's Secret Revelation — Exoteric
Berlin, 22nd October, 1908
If you pursue the history of spiritual development not only according to the traditions and according to the normally usual documents, but if you go a little deeper, while you get involved in something that could seem symptomatic maybe at first only for the human development that, however, intensely points to the internal and true developmental forces. Then you find an unforgettable scene in the newer spiritual history significant repeatedly, a scene that took place in the nineties of the eighteenth century in Jena.
In those days, a talk was given in the society of naturalists in Jena by a botanist, called Bartsch, who stood absolutely at the summit of his discipline at that time. Two men, a younger one and an around ten years older one, listened to this talk, and it happened that they went out from the talk at the same time and got into conversation with each other. Besides, the younger man said to the older one: if I open myself to such a talk, it appears, nevertheless, over and over again how the scientific approach picks the things to pieces, putting them side by side, and regards the uniform spiritual tie so little which lives in all various details. —
It went, so to speak, against the younger man's grain that there the plants were put side by side, without any tip that anything higher must exist that connects the various plants. The older man replied that an approach of nature might be found which does not go about its work in such a way and which, although it is a knowledge, a consideration, must lead to the knowledge that aims very well at the uniform, at that which is separated in the external considerations for the different senses. — The man took a pencil and a piece of paper from his pocket and drew a strange thing straight away. It was a thing that looked similar to a plant, but none of the living plants, which one can see or perceive with the external physical senses. It was no individual plant and he said about it that it lives, indeed, in no single plant, but that it is the archetypal plant in all plants and constitutes the connecting tie.
The younger man had a look at this and said, what you draw there, however, is no experience, this is no observation, and this is an idea. He had the opinion that only the human mind could develop such ideas, and that such an idea had no significance for the life outdoors in the so-called objective nature. The older man could not understand this objection at all and he answered: if this is an idea, I see my ideas with eyes. He thought that in the exact same sense, as the single plant is visible to the external sense of the eye, his archetypal plant is an experience, although it cannot be seen by the external senses, it is an objective experience existing in the external world, just that which lives in all single plants. — You know that the younger one of both men was Schiller, the older one Goethe.
This conversation is a symptomatic, important manifestation of the newer spiritual science. What spoke, actually, in Goethe's answer in those days? In Goethe spoke the consciousness that one grasps not only something externally true, something externally objective with each idea that the external sense perception, the limited intellect gives. The human being rather sets higher spiritual forces in motion that do not turn to single sensory observations and he also gets something true, something real as one gets something true, something real with the external sense perception.
One may say that Schiller could not yet see at that moment what was behind it and believed that that was subjective which Goethe had drawn for him. However, he delivered the most beautiful document how to ascend to that summit Goethe had shown. From that time, we see Schiller understanding the Goethean ideas more and more. A psychological document first-rate is a letter of Schiller, who says there, “I have watched the course of your spirit long-since, although from considerable distance, and I have observed the way that you have predetermined for yourself with always renewed admiration. You search the necessary of nature, but you search it in the hardest way, which any weaker strength will probably avoid. You take together the whole nature to get light about the single phenomenon; you look for the reason of the individual in the allness of her appearance. From the simple organisation you ascend, gradually, to more developed ones to build, finally, the most developed one, the human being, genetically from the materials of the whole building of nature. Because you recreate him from nature as it were, you try to penetrate into his concealed technology. A great and really heroic idea which shows well enough how much your mind holds together the rich entirety of its ideas in a beautiful unity!”
Thus, we are allowed to consider as a document of the objectivity of Goethe's world of ideas what in Goethe's consciousness led to such answer and what Schiller confirmed later with this letter.
It is very strange: a psychologist who lived during the twenties of the nineteenth century and is forgotten today, Heinroth (Johann Christian August H., 1773–1843, German physician, psychiatrist), spoke a very significant word about Goethe in his Textbook of Anthropology (1822) which is, actually, a textbook of psychology. He used the word “concrete thinking” for Goethe's whole point of view, and he explained this term, saying: Goethe's thinking is a quite peculiar thinking which does not really separate from the objective of the objects which lives quietly in the objects in which it rises up to the ideas.
If anybody can look deeper into Goethe's whole spiritual organisation as we will do it today and the day after tomorrow, he sees that Goethe keeps in this thinking with the facts in a certain way without sticking to the surface of the things and in the sensory experience and that he finds the spiritual, the world of ideas. We see that Goethe's thinking has become so significant just in this kind for a big part of our modern human development. We are allowed to say that it is something extremely peculiar with this effect of the Goethean spirit on the most different human beings, on the most different views, even on the different following epochs.
If we consider what it concerns here, we see how peculiarly Goethe's mind worked actually. If we face, for example, three philosophers of the German spiritual life who are very different according to their attitudes: Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and then something quite peculiar arises about the world-historical effect of the Goethean attitude from their mutual relation and their relation to Goethe.
Fichte turns out to be a thinker floating in abstract heights, in particular when he had finished his Foundations of Entire Science of Knowledge in Jena in 1794. It is difficult to rise to the understanding of Fichte's characteristic; it is difficult to penetrate him, although anybody who penetrates him would have to say to himself that he took immense fruits for his spiritual discipline from him. Nevertheless, it is not everybody's thing to walk up to such spheres of the purest concept. He, who walked in such abstracts heights, in particular in that time, sent his Science of Knowledge to Goethe with the following important words: “I regard you, and I have always regarded you as the representative of the purest spirituality of feeling on the present level of humaneness. Philosophy turns to you rightly. Your feeling is the touchstone of it.”
If we look now at another philosopher, at Schopenhauer, we see first how Schopenhauer stood to Fichte. They were hostile brothers; at least Schopenhauer was a rather hostile brother to Fichte. Schopenhauer does not tire to speak about Fichte almost with invectives. He is to him a windbag who has reflected and written in empty concepts. Over and over again he comes back to stress the insubstantiality, the insignificance and unreality of Fichte's philosophy. It is true, there can be no bigger contrasts than Schopenhauer and Fichte. Schopenhauer really apprenticed to Goethe. For a while, he experimented together with Goethe to realise the physical basic concepts, and something that you read in Schopenhauer's first work and in his main work arose from the impression that Goethe made on him. However, who knows Schopenhauer also knows how devotedly he spoke of Goethe. Schopenhauer and Fichte, two big contrasts, unite in Goethe and he appears like the unifying force of both.
Now we take, finally, Hegel and Schopenhauer. It is hard to understand Hegel, too. He who tries to get a factual world of concepts in a comprising, organic system demands that the human being rises to a level where he grasps the concept as a fact where he becomes able to experience it. Schopenhauer also finds something worthless in this conceptual technique; everything is a play of abstract words.
If we want to visualise again the relation of Hegel to Goethe, we need only to call one thing and we see how Hegel relates to Goethe. Hegel writes in a nice letter, Goethe looks for the actual, spiritual phenomena that are behind the sensuous ones which Goethe calls the archetypal phenomena as he calls the archetypal plant the archetypal phenomenon of the plant world. — While Hegel speaks as a philosopher from the height of the mental world and shows us what we can think and understand, he works the way up to the other side where he gets into contact with the concepts taken from the spirit. Thus, Goethe's archetypal phenomenon unites with that which the pure, thinking philosophy grasps from above. We see a harmony here between Hegel and Goethe like between Goethe and Schopenhauer. In Goethe, they meet. If we go up from these older times to our times, what do we find there?
At that time in which Goethe himself lived, the scientific research had, so to speak, another physiognomy. Even more than it was the case at Goethe's times, one considers as the only right method of the strict science that research which rests on the external sensory observation, and one relies on that which the intellect, limiting itself to observation, can obtain from those results. However, Haeckel wants also to stand on firm ground of the Goethean worldview, as he stresses in every book again. Thus, we see a more materialistically coloured worldview placing value on following Goethe. However, you can also find writings, even today, for which the spirit is absolute reality in the most eminent sense of the word, and with them, you can note the citation of Goethe. Spiritualistic and materialistic researchers can oppose each other inimically, both believe, however, to be able to look up at Goethe in the same way. Thus, he also offers something that bridges contrasts. These facts witness the strength of the Goethean worldview, the strength that works on the others so that they find something own in Goethe although they do not understand each other. Maybe some of you know how antithetic Virchow (Rudolf V., 1821–1902, German pathologist, biologist) and Haeckel (Ernst H., 1834–1919, German biologist, philosopher) were. However, Virchow who complies in so few matters with Haeckel followed Goethe in an important lecture about Goethe. We have in Goethe a force that is able to harmonise the contrasts, the struggle of the worldviews and shows that it is not with the worldviews in such a way as the representatives of science assert so tenaciously.
Just if one considers the relation of these significant persons to Goethe, one realises that knowledge is something like paintings of the same mountain painted by painters from different points of view. Of course, the pictures which you get there must be very different and, nevertheless, it was the same mountain which they painted. You can get a comprising idea of the mountain only if you compare the different pictures with each other and join them to a whole. If you position yourselves to knowledge in such a way, you see that Goethe chooses no single point of view, but climbs up the mountain and shows that you can take the point of view at the summit and can find a comprising panorama where all views show their deeper compatibility.
However, this makes Goethe such an eminently modern spirit. If we receive the feeling — responding wholeheartedly to Goethe — that he appears to us as a modern spirit, then it is already justified to consider our talks and considerations about spiritual science as a kind of instruction to go deeper into his nature. He is a stimulating spirit in so many relations. Why should he not be a stimulating spirit of that spiritual current that has the tolerant penetration in the different points of view as one of its highest aims and that has the principle not to stop at a once fixed point of view? In order to find truth, to rise higher and higher one has to apply the methods of developing inner organs of perception.
We still want to consider to what extent Goethe addresses the deepest feelings of the modern human being in a narrow field. As an example, a feeling is chosen which many of you know, a feeling that one could characterise with the words that there are in our time persons who strive to abandon some old traditions and to create feelings, thoughts and ideas which lead into the immediate present. You will see immediately what I mean if I remind you of a picture, which many people appreciated in our time. One may adhere to the picture howsoever, but it is an expression of the modern time. I mean the picture Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest (by the painter Fritz von Uhde, 1848–1911). The picture lives not only with that who created it, but also in those who want to enjoy it; the longing lives in them to see the figure of Jesus in the immediate present as He positions Himself at the table. One could say that the picture has not only value for this time, but for all times, that it has an everlasting, imperishable existence, and that any time has the right to put this figure in its own epoch. Only with these few words, the feeling that many have at the sight of this picture may be suggested.
Now could believe that Goethe belongs in this respect still to the old people. One deduces that from his preference of the old art which wanted to stick to the old, good, artistic traditions, from his preference of the Greeks. One could believe that he would maybe have no deeper understanding for a feeling as it is characterised in the picture Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.
To do a look at Goethe's soul once, we want to follow a book, Bossi's book Del Cenacolo di Leonardo da Vinci (On Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, 1810, Giuseppe B., 1777–1815, Italian painter and writer on art). Goethe wrote a review of this book. You can read important words in it. This picture is located in the refectory of the cloister Maria delle Grazie in Milan and makes the impression — in spite of the lately carried out restoration — as if it goes to rack and ruin. Goethe tells about the picture how he himself faced it once at a time when it was still preserved in a certain freshness. He describes the impression that he got from this picture in his youth, “Opposite the entrance on the narrow side was the dining table of the prior, at both sides were the tables of the monks, all were a step raised from the ground. If one turned round, one saw the fourth table painted on the wall above the not too high doors. At the table, Christ and his disciples were sitting, just as if they belonged to the community.” He was called by the Dominicans in their sense, in their position with the feeling: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” The whole unites, Goethe says, to a uniform picture. In addition, in order to give no rise to doubts about what he meant, actually, he said, “A significant sight must have been at mealtime when the tables of the prior and Christ, as two counter-images, looked at each other and the monks found themselves enclosed in between at their tables. That is why the wisdom of the painter had to take the available tables of the monks as a model. The tablecloth with its squeezed folds, patterned stripes, and untied corners was also taken from the washing chamber of the cloister, bowls, plates, mugs and other devices are imitated to those, which the monks themselves used. Here could be no talk of approaching an uncertain, outdated costume. It would have been extremely clumsy to let the holy community stretch out on cushions at this place. No, it should be approximated to the present; Christ should take his supper with the Dominicans in Milan.”
Now we ask, did Goethe just have this understanding that one must call a modern understanding? He had it in that comprising way which can be again an argument how universal his strength is, compared with the sometimes one-sided forces that exclude and combat each other. Thus, we have to project our thoughts in Goethe's soul and then we understand why Goethe is so close to us and why we are allowed to look up at him if it concerns the preliminary orientation about deeper spiritual issues. This was Goethe's deep consciousness that it is possible for the human being to wake spiritual organs in himself to ascend to higher views and to gain thereby something that does not live only in the mind of the human being, but that is deeper at the same time.
If I had the possibility to go into Goethe's scientific studies as you find them discussed in detail in my book Goethe's World View (GA 6), we could show how this Goethean method works. However, today we want to approach Goethe from another direction. Goethe expressed various things that can point us to the deep basis of his worldview. We have to speak about that in two talks of this winter cycle on his Faust. He said about it once to Eckermann (Johann Peter E., 1792–1854, author, Conversations with Goethe) that he formed it so that the reader if he wants to keep only to external instructions already has something in the coloured pictures; however, that he can find also the secrets behind the words, which are in it. Goethe points there in the second part to the fact that one has to differentiate what is external and what is internal, the being, that which he has hidden. In old way one calls the outside the exoteric, the inside the esoteric.
We want to approach Goethe now considering the work in which he expressed his whole methodical thinking and willing, in an exterior, exoteric way today, and then in an internal, esoteric way the day after tomorrow. It is a relatively unknown little work to which one must keep if one wants to figure out Goethe's deepest secrets of knowledge — one is allowed to call it that way. It is the little work at the end of the Conversations of German Emigrants with the heading: Fairy Tale (1795). Somebody who strives to penetrate Goethe's worldview deeper has the feeling from the start that Goethe wants to say more with it than the pictures present at first. This Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily presents riddle by riddle to the meditative contemplator.
Allow me now to explain the principal features of this fairy tale at first, because it is not possible to speak about it without imagining those features that are of importance if we want to have a deeper look at Goethe's worldview. It is necessary that we dedicate ourselves some time to the contents of this little work; but in return, we understand ourselves so much the better. It has happened to me repeatedly if I held a talk on this fairy tale that one said to me: “I do not know that in Goethe's works is a fairy tale.” Therefore, I repeat: it is included in every issue of Goethe's works and concludes the Conversations of German Emigrants.
Now to the pictures! A ferryman lives by a river. Some strange figures come to this ferryman: will-o'-the-wisps. They want to be ferried over by him in a small boat to the other riverbank. The ferryman agrees and ferries them over. Besides, they behave oddly, are restless and fidgety, so that he gets fear they may capsize. However, he succeeds in ferrying them over, and when they have arrived, they want to pay him in a peculiar way. They shake and gold pieces drop from them; this should be the payment for the trouble of the passage. The ferryman takes a dim view of the gold pieces and says, it is good that nothing has fallen in the river, because it would wildly well up. However, I cannot accept this payment; I can be paid only with fruits of nature. — He demands three onions, three artichokes, three cabbages. They should pay with fruits. We see soon which deep meaning any feature and any single fact has. The ferryman keeps on saying: you are still a trouble to me because I have to drive the gold pieces down the river and bury them. —
Afterwards he really drives the gold pieces a certain distance down the river and buries them in the abysses of the earth. When they have been buried there, another strange being approaches these gold pieces: the green snake, creeping in the earth, on the earth, and through the abysses of the earth. Suddenly it sees the gold pieces falling through the crevices. At first, it believes that they fall from heaven. Then it consumes them, however, and its body becomes more and more luminous by the intake of these gold pieces. When it goes to the surface, it notices that it emits a peculiar light, radiant like emerald and precious stones in a miraculous way.
Then the snake and the will-o'-the-wisps meet, the will-o'-the-wisps are still shaking and throwing away what they have in themselves. The snake, which has acquired a taste for the gold takes them up in its body and processes what the will-o'-the-wisps throw around themselves. The snake and the will-o'-the-wisps say something significant about their mutual relation.
The snake is called a relative of the will-o'-the-wisps from the horizontal line and the will-o'-the-wisps call themselves relatives of the snake from the vertical line. The will-o'-the-wisps still ask the snake whether it cannot give information how to come to the beautiful lily. The snake says, the beautiful lily is beyond the river. — Now, then we have get into some trouble, the will-o'-the-wisps replied. We were ferried over because we wanted to come to the beautiful lily. If we only could reach a ferryman who leads us back again! Now there important words follow: you will not find the ferryman again, and if you find him, be clear in your mind that he is allowed to ferry you over but he is not allowed to lead you back. If you want to go back again to the other side of the river, you can do it only in two ways. Either you attempt at noon when the sun is highest to find a bridge over my own body to come over. — The will-o'-the-wisps say, noon is a time in which we do not like to travel.
Alternatively, you use the second way. There is still another possibility. In the twilight hour, you find a huge giant at a certain place. He has no strength in himself, but if he stretches his hand and the shadow of this hand falls over the river, one can cross the river about the shadow. The shadow has the weight-bearing capacity that one can walk across it. If you do not want to go over me at noon, visit the giant. — The will-o'-the-wisps accept this advice. Then the snake goes back again into the abysses of the earth and enjoys the inner light due to the uptake of the gold.
The snake then notices something extremely strange. When it searches the abysses again, it perceives that it sees strange things now where it had once found irregular products of nature. Once it perceived them only by the sense of touch, now after it has become luminous, it notices that it can also see the things. It could feel columns and manlike things, but it had never become clear to it until then what there is really in the subterranean abysses. Now it moves again into them and uses its emitting light for the illumination of the things. When it penetrates into this big cave underground, it can immediately perceive four royal figures standing in the four corners: a golden king, a silver king, a bronze king and a mixed king in the fourth corner. This figure is joined from the other metals in the most various way, so that all possible metals are chaotically mingled in him.
When the snake comes to the cave and is able to illuminate the figures, the golden king puts the very important question:
“Where from do you come?”
“From the abysses,” the snake replied, “where the gold lives.”
“What is more marvellous than gold?” the king asked.
The snake answers: “The light!”
The king continues asking: “What is more refreshing than light?”
Nobody doubts that in these words not only pictures should be given, but that they also have important contents.
When the snake comes in the cave, a gap opens in the temple in which the four kings live. The old man with the lamp comes into the room, and he is asked why he comes just now. There he says the strange word: “Do you not know that my light is allowed only to illuminate what is already illuminated? That I am not allowed to illuminate the dark?” — After the snake has illuminated the things in the room, he is also allowed to come with his miraculous lamp.
Now a conversation develops between the kings and the old man with the lamp. The old man is asked:
“How many secrets do you know?”
“Three,” he answers.
“Which is the most important one?” the silver king asks.
“The obvious one,” the old man replies.
“Would you reveal it to us?” the bronze king asks.
“As soon as I know the fourth.”
Then come the most important words of the fairy tale: “I know the fourth,” the snake says and whispers something in his ear, whereupon the old man shouts in a loud voice: “The time has come!”
There is a big number of attempts to solve the riddles of this fairy tale. Many people have also tried to interpret this or that way, what one felt as a riddle already at Schiller's and Goethe's time. It is peculiar that Goethe and Schiller agreed about it and expressly pronounced it with the words: the word of the solution of the fairy tale is contained in the fairy tale itself. So one is allowed to search for the solution of the fairy tale only in the fairy tale itself, and it will be found in the course of the talk that the word of the riddle is contained in the fairy tale, even if in a peculiar way. The snake whispers something in the ear of the old man, and that is the solution of the riddle but it is not said. Then the old man says, “The time has come!” One has to fathom what the snake has whispered to the old man.
The old man with his lamp goes to his wife. The force of the light of the lamp transforms the most various matters: stones into gold, wood into silver, dead animals into precious stones, however, metals are destroyed. He meets his wife in downright stunned condition. When he asks what has happened, she says, there were quite strange personalities here. One could regard them as will-o'-the-wisps. They have remained very little in the borders of decency. — Now, the old man says, in view of your age one has probably kept to the general politeness. — She tells how the will-o'-the-wisps have approached the gold and have licked off it, so that they could shake off it again. If it were only this, but have a look at the pug. It has eaten from the gold pieces and was transformed into a precious stone and died. Now he is dead. — The old man replies: if I had known this before, I would not have promised to pay their debt with the ferryman: three cabbages, three onions and three artichokes.
The old man said, take the pug; carry it to the beautiful lily. She has the capacity to transform any precious stone into something living by her touch. — She takes three times three fruits to clear away the accepted debt with the ferryman, and lays the pug to them. Then a very important feature of the fairy tale comes: when she carries the basket, it seems to her exceptionally heavy, although the dead has no weight to her, the basket with the dead pug would only be as light, as if it were empty; only by the living, due to the cabbages, onions and artichokes the basket becomes heavy. However, on the road to the ferryman she still experiences something peculiar. The giant lays his arm just in such a way that the shadow falls about the river, picks a cabbage, an artichoke and an onion out of her basket, and consumes them, so that she has two of any kind only. Hence, she wants to clear away a part of the debt. However, he says that it is necessary to bring the whole payment immediately.
After some discussions, the ferryman said, there would be still another resort if she stood security for the supplying of the three lacking fruits. Hence, she has to put the hand in the river, as a security for her promise. She does it; however, she notices that, as far as the hand was put into the river, it has become black and smaller. “It only seems so now,” the old man said. “However, if you do not keep your word, it may become true. The hand will dwindle bit by bit and disappear completely, finally, without you being devoid of its use. You can do everything with it, only that nobody sees it.” However, she prefers that everybody sees it, even if she can do nothing with the hand. If she brings the tribute to the agreed time, the ferryman says, everything becomes good again.
Now on the road to the beautiful lily, she meets a handsome young man to whom, however, as he says, all his former power and strength have dwindled; and from the conversation, we find out how this has happened. The young man had got the lively desire to reach to the beautiful lily. She had become his ideal. However, her beautiful eyes looked so unfortunate that they had taken all his strength from him and, nevertheless, he feels attracted to her over and over again.
Finally, both arrive at the beautiful lily. Indeed, everything that surrounds the beautiful lily is extremely typical; but we can only take out single features. The beautiful lily is the picture of the perfect beauty; but she has the property that she kills all living by her touch at first, and brings everything back to life that has gone through life and is doomed.
The old woman brings her concern forward. The young man has come to satisfy his longing for the beautiful lily; however, we also see that the beautiful lily also feels a longing. She feels far from all fertile living; in her garden plants thrive, but come only into bloom and do not fructify; she is beautiful but far from all living. Then the old woman says an important word. She repeats what her husband said in the subterranean temple, and this gives the lily new hope. However, this was also the last moment when she could hope; for she had lost the last living creature that established a kind of connecting tie between her and the living. She had a canary in her surroundings, and was on her guard to touch it because this would have killed it. However, a hawk had come near; the canary fled from it, flew to the lily but was killed. Thus, the beautiful lily was in complete mental loneliness and isolation of that which the human beings have.
Then the old woman gives the lily the pug. The lily touches it and brings it back to life again. The young man tries to satisfy his longing embracing the lily. Thereby he is killed. His life is destroyed.
Now the snake forms a magic circle. The young man and the canary are put into this circle. Thereby that shall be changed in the near future — and the snake points knowingly to it — which is hopeless. Indeed, it changes. We hear that now also the old man with his lamp approaches, and that really he can tackle a solution of the whole situation. Because the old man approaches at that time, the bodies of the canary and the young man have not yet passed over into decay.
The old man leads them to the subterranean temple that the snake had already explored. He says to the will-o'-the-wisps, you are also appropriate to serve us. When we reach the gate of the temple, you have to unlock the gate for us. — Now, the snake forms a bridge over the river. They all go over the snake bridge. There we see when they have come over that by the touch with the snake which decides to sacrifice herself the young man comes to life again, even if not yet mentally. He experiences a strange condition because the snake is ready to sacrifice herself. He can see but cannot grasp the seen.
The snake divides in nothing but precious stones that the old man casts into the river and from them a bridge originates over the river. The old man leads them to the subterranean temple. When they arrive there, we see that between the arrivals and the kings important questions are put which point to the fact that a big riddle is hidden there. For example, “Where from do you come?” “From the world.” “Where to you go?” “To the world.” “What do you want from us?” “We want to accompany you!,” namely the kings. Now the group moves with the temple. They go under the river and rise again with the whole temple. When they have risen about the river, from above something like planks falls in the temple: it is the hut of the ferryman. It changes and becomes a small temple within the big temple. Now a scene takes place that is of importance to the young man who is revived by now, but not yet spirit-endowed.
We have seen: the first golden king represents wisdom; the second, the silver one the light or beauty; the third, the bronze king the strength or the will. Now we see a symbolic act taking place. The young man receives three gifts from the kings. While he gets a sword from the bronze king, the important words are spoken: “The sword on the left, the right free.” — Strength of the will. — From the silver king, he gets the sceptre with the words: “Pasture the sheep.” We shall see that the young man is fulfilled by the emotional strength of the soul that expresses itself in beauty. The golden king places the crown on his head with the words: “Recognise the highest.” The strength of the image grasps the young man. At this moment, he is spirit-endowed and is able to unite with the beautiful lily. Thereafter, our attention is still called to the fact that everything becomes rejuvenated.
Especially significant is still the peculiar role that the giant plays who has no strength in himself, however, in his shadow. He stumbles extremely clumsily over the bridge, and the king is annoyed about that. However, it turns out that the arrival of the giant has its good sense. As the hand of a big sundial he stands there, he is held in the middle of the temple court. We see which strength is there in the sundial, in the time registering and harmonising giant, we see the bridge originating from the body of the snake that leads to the temple. Then we see not only pedestrians, but also carriages, riders, herds passing back and forth over the bridge. It is shown to us how the young man regains his former strength due to the union with the beautiful lily, how he is now allowed to approach the lily, to embrace her and how happy they are.
Who would not like to say when he opens himself to the pictures of the fairy tale: they are riddles! At first we can only feel a little of that which lives in this fairy tale. However, if we proceed historically if we consider how it originates in the middle of 1795, in the beginning of the friendship with Schiller, from that which took place between Goethe and Schiller, then we understand what a task Goethe set himself in the fairy tale.
In this time, a work was written, a fruit of the study of the Goethean worldview, which became deeply significant for the education and cultivation of the German cultural life: On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters by Schiller (1794). I can only outline what Schiller intended with these letters.
He asks himself, how the human being gets the possibility to develop his forces higher and higher, so that he can penetrate in a free and perfect human way into the secrets of the world. This work is written in letter form to the Duke of Augustenburg, and Schiller wrote the important sentence in it: “Every individual human being, one can say, bears a pure ideal human being in himself as a natural disposition and destiny. And it is the great task of his existence to agree with this unchangeable unity in its transformations.” Now, Schiller tries to explain how the human being has to develop to the higher stages of human existence.
There are two ways to make the human being unfree, to give him no free look at the secrets of existence. On one side, he is controlled by sensuousness, on the other side, his reason is insufficiently developed. Schiller explains these things in such a way: we take a human being who does not feel the compelling, logical of the concepts, also not the concept of duty in himself, but follows his inclinations and instincts. He cannot develop the forces of his nature freely, he is the slave of impulses, desires and instincts, and he is not free. But also that is not free who fights against his desires, against his impulses and instincts first of all and follows a purely conceptual and logical necessity of reason. Such a human being becomes either a slave of physical necessity or a slave of the necessity of reason.
In what way can the human being develop his inner forces? Schiller answers: he has to develop his inner divine conditions and endeavour that they are purified and coincide with logic. If then his desires and instincts are purified, so that he does with pleasure what he feels as duty, if the necessity of reason is not felt as compelling, the human being will act with pleasure already from the usual desire what is reasonable. Then reason has led the human being down to sensuousness, and sensuousness leads him again up to reason.
Let us look at a human being facing a piece of art. He looks at something sensuous. However, any part of the sensuous manifests something spiritual to him. For in the sensuous that is expressed which the artist has put as something spiritual into the piece of art. Spirit and sensuousness in the view of beauty, this becomes the condition of the mediator. Thus, art, the life with beauty, becomes for Schiller a big means of education, a means of aesthetic education, a freeing of nature, so that it can unfold its own forces. How does the human being develop according to Schiller? He has to lead down his nature, so that it proves itself in the sensuous nature, and develop the senses, so that they prove themselves in the reasonable nature.
Goethe pronounces wonderful words about these letters: they work on me in such a way that they explain to me what I lived or forever wanted to live. — One can prove that Goethe was inspired to write his fairy tale by that which Schiller pronounced in his letters on the aesthetic education of the human being. Goethe pronounces the same in the fairy tale in his way. Goethe did not want to pronounce the riddles of the soul in abstractions. He regarded the single soul riddles as too rich and too immense to be able to grasp them in physical necessity and logic. Thus, he felt the necessity to personify the single soul forces in the figures of his fairy tale. Goethe answered to Schiller's question in his fairy tale, and we see how the Goethean psychology is characterised wonderfully in the fairy tale. We see how the soul continually absorbs and releases from itself in the representation of the will-o'-the-wisps, how certain forces are personified in the snake, which works only on earth like the human research, the human mind and experience which remain in the horizontal line, whereas the idealist rises upwards. The force of the religious attitude is characterised in the old man with the lamp, and we see, finally, how with the help of the processes that are told to us Goethe explains in which way any soul force has to work.
We shall see the day after tomorrow Goethe showing in the representation how any soul force must work moderately together with the other soul forces to develop the soul to a general view, so that it is able to develop to human perfection, encompassing the things. If the human being wants to grasp knowledge immaturely, he is killed like the young man. Knowledge has to mature. In the fairy tale, Goethe shows to us the development of the soul correctly and pictorially creating a parallel work of Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man.
Goethe knew that there is an aim of the development of the human soul that one called initiation in the higher mysteries in ancient times. He knew that there is such a possibility, and he knew that there are communities that foster the soul forces at concealed places, in the temples of initiation. He also shows how the newer time has to reach the aim to enable humankind to attain this initiation largely, to develop the soul. He shows the process of initiation up to the highest levels in the processes that happen between the single persons. Up to that level where the soul becomes able to grasp the highest secrets. This is exoteric, from a purely historical viewpoint.
By the living together with Goethe, Schiller experienced what Goethe had experienced in one of the most important periods of his life. Even if it was hard to Schiller, nevertheless, we must say: what Schiller says in the abstract in the aesthetic letters and what Goethe had to say in much more comprising manner, in a manner which is only attained if one expresses himself in pictures and personalities, this is one and the same. The fairy tale is Goethean psychology in the deepest sense. We realise that Goethe became so fertile by the way of his striving that even today we orientate ourselves with pleasure to him. Still today, Goethe appears as somebody present to us. We read him like an author of our time. He is so fertile because he has so much of eternal substance in his creating and his whole way. Thus, he works in the sense of that truth which he himself regarded as the right one, and once he said something significant: “What is fertile is true only.” That means that the human being has to acquire truth that works in such a way, that if he enters life it is confirmed because it proves to be fertile. This was the criterion of truth to him: what is fertile is true only!
Just these talks, which are intended to illustrate Goethe to you, should show that Goethe has proved this saying. Everybody feels it who settles in him. He feels that in Goethe something true lives, because Goethe is fertile, and what is fertile is true.