Rudolf Steiner Archive 

Goethe's Secret Revelation — Esoteric

Berlin, 24th October, 1908

The reproach can be easily made that a talk like this one forcedly gives symbolic and allegorical interpretations of something that a poet created in the free play of imagination. We have predetermined the task for ourselves the day before yesterday to investigate the deeper sense of Goethe's Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. Repeatedly, it will happen that such an interpretation, an explanation — if one wants to say so of a work of imagination is discounted with the words: oh, there are searched all kinds of symbols and meanings in the figures of this work which should allegedly be profound. — Therefore, I would like to note from the start that that which should be said today by me has to do nothing with that which was often done just from theosophical side concerning symbolic or allegorical interpretations of fairy tales or poetic works. Because I know that one held over and over again against similar explanations which I have given, that one does not like to get involved in such symbolic interpretations of poetic figures, I cannot stress sharply enough that that which is to be said here must be entirely understood in the following sense.

A poetic work is a work of a comprising imagination penetrating into the deepness of the matters: Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. The question may be put: are we allowed to approach the work from any point of view and to try to fathom the ideal, real contents of such a poetic product? We see the plant before ourselves. The human being moves up to the plant; he investigates the principles, the inner lawfulness according to which the plant grows and develops its being bit by bit. Does the botanist have the right or anybody else who is no botanist, however, considers the plant ideally? One may hold against him: the plant knows nothing of the principles in it; it does not know the principles of its growth and its development! — The objection to such an explanation of Goethe's fairy tale would have the same justification as a subjection to the lyricist who expresses in his lyrical works what he feels with the plant. I would not like to know the matters understood in such a way, as if I said, there we have a snake, it signifies this or that, there we have a golden, a silver and bronze king, and they mean this or that. I would like to interpret the fairy tale not in this symbolic-allegorical sense. I would like to interpret it more in such a way: the plant grows according to the principles about which it can know nothing in its unconsciousness; however, the botanist has the right to find the principles of the plant growth. Likewise, the poet Goethe did never need to explain what is explained here in such a way. He did never need to bring it before his external day consciousness. However, it is also true that one has to consider the lawfulness, the real, ideal contents of the fairy tale in the same sense as that which we find as the principles of the plant growth. The plant grows after the same lawfulness, after which it has originated, but it is not aware of it because of its unconsciousness.

Hence, I ask you to comprehend what I say as if it shows the sense and the spirit of the Goethean way of thinking and ideation, and as if anybody who feels called, so to speak, is justified to present you the ideal Goethean worldview — that you can find the way to an understanding of the Goethean worldview. That is why I want to explain this product of Goethean imagination, to show the figures and the interrelations between them, just as also the botanist shows that the plant grows according to the principles he has found.

Goethe's psychology or soul doctrine, that means what he regards as determinative of the being of the soul is illustrated to us in his nice Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. If we want to communicate with each other about it, it is good if we bring up the spirit of his soul world vividly in a preliminary consideration. Already in the talk of the day before yesterday, I pointed to the fact that the worldview represented here assumes that the human knowledge is not to be considered as fixed for good and all. There is often the opinion: as the human being is today, that is the way he is, and as well as he is, he can decide on all matters absolutely. He observes the world with his senses, grasps it in its phenomena, combines with his intellect bound to the senses, and what he brings out there with intellectual activity adhering to observation is an absolute world knowledge that must apply to everybody. — The spiritual-scientific worldview that is represented here is in contrast to that, even if in a certain way. It assumes that our knowledge is dependent on our organs any time, on our abilities of knowledge, and that we ourselves are able of development as human beings that we are able to work on ourselves that we can develop those abilities of knowledge higher, which we have on a certain level of our existence.

It assumes that we can develop them further in a similar way as the human being developed from an imperfect state to his present point of view, and that we must penetrate deeper into the things rising to higher points of view, to a more correct worldview. If I have to express myself even clearer, I would like to say the following.

If we completely refrain from a development of humanity and only consider how the human beings are,

If we then look at those human beings of primitive tribes in the history of civilisation,

If we ask ourselves, what they are able to recognise and know of the principles of the world and compare it to that, which an average European can know with some scientific concepts about the world,

Then we see that the member of that primitive tribe differs from the average European quite substantially.

If we take, for example, the worldview of an Australian black and that of a European monist which has reality because it has absorbed a sum of scientific concepts of the present time, these two worldviews differ absolutely. However, on the other side, spiritual science is far away to disapprove the worldview of the materialistic human being or to declare it as invalid. These matters are rather considered in such a way that in every case the worldview of a human being corresponds to a level of human development, and that the human being is able to increase the abilities contained in him and to experience other, new abilities.

Spiritual science has the perspective that the human being comes to higher and higher knowledge, that he develops, and while he develops, is that which he experiences in himself objective world contents which he had only not seen once when he did not yet possess the ability to see it. Hence, spiritual science differs substantially from other, one-sided worldviews because it does not know infallible truth concluded for good and all but always only the wisdom and truth of a certain developmental level. Hence, it adheres to the Goethean saying: actually, the human being has his own truth only, and, nevertheless, it is always the same. — It is always the same, because what we absorb by our power of cognition, the objective, is always the same.

How does the human being get around to developing the abilities and forces lying in him? Spiritual science is as old, so to speak, as the thinking humanity. Spiritual science always had the point of view that the human being has the ideal to strive for a certain perfection of cognition. One called the principle that lies in it the principle of initiation. Initiation means nothing else than to increase the abilities of the human being to higher and higher levels of knowledge and thereby to attain deeper insights into the being of the world round us. Goethe stood completely — one is probably allowed to say his whole life through — on this point of view of the developing knowledge, on the point of view of initiation. Just his fairy tale shows us this in the most remarkable sense.

We understand each other the easiest if we start from the view that is mostly represented today and is in a certain contrast to the principle of initiation.

Today, one can hear those persons who think about such matters or believe to have a judgment about such matters representing the point of view more or less consciously that, actually, only sensory observation or objects of sensory perception can decide on truth, on objective reality. You can hear it repeatedly: science can only be what is based on objective observation. — One so often understands the sensory observation and the application of the human intellect and power of imagination on this sensory observation only. You all know that the ability to develop ideas, concepts is a human soul quality among other soul qualities, and you all know that this other soul qualities are our feeling and our willing. Thus, one can already say in case of a relatively superficial consideration, the human being is not only a thinking, but also a feeling and a willing being. Those who believe to have to represent the pure point of view of science, say over and over again, only the power of imagination is allowed to interfere in that which is science, neither human feeling nor intentions, because thereby the objective would be contaminated, thereby that would be impaired which the power of imagination could attain impersonally.

It is correct that — if the human being brings his feeling, his sympathy or antipathy into that which should be an object of science — he regards the things as repellent or attractive, sympathetic or antipathic. Whereto would we come if the human being considered his appetitive faculty as cognitive faculty, so that he could say to the things, I want it, or: I do not want it. — Whether it displeases or pleases you, whether you desire it, this is very irrelevant to the thing. As it is true that someone who believes to stand on the firm ground of science can stick only to the external things, as it is true that the thing itself compels you to say that it is red that that which you gain as an idea of the being of the stone is correct. However, it does not depend on the being of the thing that it appears to you ugly or beautiful, that you desire it or do not long for it. The fact that it appears to you red has an objective reason, however, there is no objective reason that you do not like it.

In a certain respect modern psychology has gone, actually, beyond the just characterised point of view. I do not talk for or against that direction of modern psychology which says there, if we consider the soul phenomena, we are not allowed to restrict ourselves only to intellectualism, we are not allowed to consider the human being only in relation to his imaginative power, but must also regard the influence of the worlds of emotions and intentions. — Perhaps some of you know that this belongs to the system of Wundt's philosophy (Wilhelm W., 1832–1920) which regards the will as an original soul activity. The Russian psychologist Lossky (Nikolai L., 1870–1965) has pointed to the will of the human soul life in his book with the title The Intuitive Basis of Knowledge (1906). I could still say a lot to you if I wanted to show how psychology endeavours to overcome the one-sided intellectualism, and if I wanted also to show that in the human soul force also the other forces are involved.

Someone who is able to think farther says to himself, we see from that how impracticable the demand is that only the power of imagination limited to observation can deliver objective results of science. If science itself shows that this is not possible, that, however, everywhere intention appears, where from do you want to determine that anything is purely objective observation?

Because your will played the above-mentioned trick on you and you prefer to regard that as objective only which is material and because you do not have the habitual ways of thinking and feeling to accept the spiritual in the things as objective, therefore, you ignore the latter in your theories. It does not depend on our abstract ideals if we want to understand the world, but it matters what we bring about in our soul, what we are able to do.

Goethe belongs to those persons who reject the principle the sharpest that one attains knowledge only by the one-sided imaginative power, only by the intellectual faculty. This is the prominent, important characteristic of Goethe's nature that he always takes the view — more or less clearly expressed — that the human soul must work with all its forces if the human being wants to solve the world riddles.

However, we must not be one-sided and unfair. It is correct if one objects concerning knowledge that the feeling and the will of the human being are subjective properties and if one says: whereto would we come if one considered not only that as belonging to the things which the eyes see which the microscope shows but what the feeling, the will say to the human being? However, it is just this which we must say to ourselves to understand anybody who stands like Goethe on the principle of initiation and development: that the average human feeling and will cannot be used today, indeed, to knowledge that they would lead the human beings to an absolute disagreement in their knowledge only. The one wants this, the other that, according to the subjective needs of his feeling and will. However, anybody who stands on the ground of initiation also gets clear about the fact that of the human soul forces — thinking, imagination, feeling and willing — in the development of the present average human being the imaginative faculty, the property of thinking is just farthest advanced and is inclined to exclude the personal and to come to objectivity. For that soul property that enjoys life in intellectualism is already so far today that the human beings if they rely on this soul property will argue the least, and come mostly to an agreement about what they say. This is why today the human beings are far developed concerning the imaginative and reasoning faculties, whereas feeling and will could not yet be developed to such objectivity.

We could also find differences with reason, if we looked around on the fields of the thought life. There are large fields of the thought life which deliver completely objective truths to us, truths which the human beings have recognised as those, completely regardless of the external experience and it is no matter whether a million human beings judges differently about that. Who has experienced the reasons for it in himself is able to affirm the truth, even if a million human beings mean something else. Everybody can find the said confirmed, for example, with such truths that refer to dimensions of number and space. Everybody can understand and experience that 3 times 3 are 9, and it is right, even if a million of human beings contradict him. Why is this the case? Because in relation to such truths, as the mathematical ones are, most human beings have brought about it to neutralise their preference and aversion, their sympathy and antipathy, briefly, the personal and let only speak the thing for itself. One has always called the elimination of everything personal in relation to the thinking and imaginative power the purification of the human soul, and one considered this purification as the first step on the path of initiation, or as one could say, on the road to higher knowledge.

An expert of these things says to himself, not only in relation to the feeling and the will the human beings are not yet so far that nothing personal is involved, but also in relation to thinking most people are not yet so far. However, there are methods to purify thinking so far that we do no longer think personally, but let the thoughts think in us, as well as we let the mathematical thoughts think in us. If we have purified the thoughts from the influence of the personal, we speak of the purification or catharsis as this was called in the old Eleusinian mysteries. The human being has to purify his thinking that gives him the possibility to grasp the things with objective thoughts.

As this is possible, it is also possible to blank out all personal from the feeling, so that then also that of the things which stimulates the feeling does no longer to do with person, sympathy and antipathy, but appeals the being of the thing solely, insofar it cannot speak to the mere imaginative power. The experiences in our soul can also be purified from the personal like thinking, so that the feeling provides such objectivity as the thinking or the powers of imagination can provide it. One calls this purification or development of the feeling enlightenment in all esoteric schools.

Any human being who is able of development and does not strive for it arbitrarily must take care that he is stimulated only by that which is contained in the being of the thing. If he has come so far that the thing wakes no sympathy or antipathy in him, then it lies in the being of the thing that the thinking and acting of the human being run in this or that direction, then this is a statement of the innermost being of the thing. One called this development of the will esoterically the completion.

If the human being stands on the ground of spiritual science, he says to himself, if I have a thing before myself, something spiritual lives in this thing, and I can stimulate my powers of imagination in such a way that the being of the things is objectively represented by my concepts and ideas. That has become present in me, as it were, which works outdoors, and I have recognised the being of the thing by the powers of imagination. However, what I have recognised is only a part of the being. There is something in the things that cannot speak to the idea, but only to the feeling, namely to the purified or objective feeling.-

Someone who has not already developed such a part of the being in himself in such an emotional culture cannot recognise the being in this direction. However, for someone who says to himself, the feeling can also be the basis of knowledge like the powers of imagination it becomes clear gradually that there are things that are deeper than the powers of imagination, things that speak to the soul and to the feeling. There are even things that reach down to the will.

Goethe got clear about the fact in particular that the human being really has these possibilities of development. He stood completely on the ground of the initiation principle. He represented the initiation of the human being, which he can attain developing his soul, developing three basic forces: will, feeling and powers of imagination, while he lets the representatives of these three initiations appear in his fairy tale.

The golden king is the representative of the initiation into the powers of imagination, the silver king is the representative of the initiation into the cognitive faculties of the objective feeling, and the bronze king is the representative of the initiation into the cognitive faculties of the will. At the same time, Goethe has drawn our attention emphatically to the fact that the human being has to overcome certain things if he wants to get these three gifts. The young man whom we have got to know in the fairy tale is nothing else than the representative of the human being striving for the highest. As well as Schiller represents the striving of the human being for perfect humaneness in his Aesthetic Letters, Goethe shows in the young man the human being striving for the highest. He wants to reach the beautiful lily at first; he attains, however, the inner human perfection from the three kings, the golden, silver and the bronze king.

It is indicated how this takes place in the course of the fairy tale. Remember that in the subterranean temple in which the snake looks by the crystallising force of the earth one of the kings was in each of the four corners. In the first was the golden, in the second was the silver, and in the third was the bronze king. In the fourth corner was a king who was mixed from the three metals in whom these three components are so combined that one cannot distinguish them from each other. This fourth king is the representative of that human developmental level where will, imaginative power, and emotional property are mixed. He is, with other words, that representative of the human soul who is controlled by will, image, and emotion because he himself is not master of these three properties. However, in the young man — after he had attained the gift from each of the kings in particular, so that they are no longer mixed chaotically — that level of knowledge is represented which cannot longer be controlled by thinking, feeling and willing but controls them. They control the human being as long as they are confused in him, as long as they are not pure in his soul, each working on its own. As long as the human being has not separated them, he is also not able to work with his three cognitive faculties.

However, if he has reached it, the chaos is no longer controlling him, but he himself controls his imaginative power. It is as pure as the golden king is, so that nothing else is added to it. If his emotional property is in such a way that nothing else is added to it that it stands there pure like the silver king, and the will is as pure as the bronze king, so that the images and feelings do not control him and he is able to freely present himself in his nature. In other words, if he can make individual use of willing, feeling, or thinking, then he has advanced so far beyond himself that the complete pure cognitive faculties, which face us in thinking, feeling, and willing, lead him to deeper insight. He really immerses in the flow of events, immerses in the inner being of the things. Of course, only experience can teach us that one can immerse in such a way.

It is no longer difficult now to admit that we have to see another spiritual constitution in the beautiful lily than in the young man. He attains that spiritual constitution if he understands the beings of the things and he raises his human existence by the fact that the things coalesce in him with the beings of the things in the outside world. Goethe shows representatively in the union with the beautiful lily what the human being experiences there because he outgrows himself and becomes master of the soul forces, this inner bliss, this conjointness, this mergence with the things. Beauty is here not only beauty of art, but also generally a quality of the human being who is perfect up to a certain degree. Thus, we find it also comprehensible now why Goethe shows how the young man moves to the beautiful lily, so that all forces disappear from him at first. Why is this that way?

We understand Goethe in the representation of such a picture if we go back to a thought that he pronounced once: “Everything that frees our mind without giving us self-control is perishable.” The human being must become free and master of his inner soul forces first, and then with real knowledge he can attain the union with the highest soul condition, with the beautiful lily. However, if he wants to attain it unpreparedly, he loses his forces and makes his soul dry up. Hence, Goethe calls attention to the fact that the young man searches that relief which makes him master of his soul forces. When his soul forces do no longer work chaotically in him, but are purified, he is ripe to attain that soul condition which is characterised or represented by the union with the beautiful lily.

Thus, we see Goethe forming these different figures in free imagination, we see them working in the whole soul if we regard them as soul forces. If we regard them in such a way, if we feel how Goethe felt in a certain way with regard to these figures, who is not content to say like a bad didactic poet what this or that soul force means, but expresses his feeling, then we recognise what such poetic figures express to him. Hence, the different figures are in such a personal relation as the soul forces of the human being interrelate.

One cannot emphasise sharply enough that the figures do not mean this or that. This is not at all the case. It is rather in such a way that Goethe feels this or that with this or that soul force, and that his feeling metamorphoses to this or that figure. Thus, he created the process of the fairy tale that is even more important than the figures. We see the will-o'-the-wisps and the green snake. We see the will-o'-the-wisps coming from the other river bank and showing quite strange qualities. They absorb the gold eagerly, lick it even from the walls of the room of the old man and cast it off lavishly around them. The gold is worthless to the will-o'-the-wisps. That is also suggested to us by the fact that the ferryman has to reject the gold because the river would rebel and accepts fruits as payment only. What does this gold cause in the body of the green snake? The snake becomes internally luminous, after it has absorbed it! The plants and other things round it are illuminated. However, to the will-o'-the-wisps a certain significance is also attributed. You know that the old man asks just the will-o'-the-wisps at determining hour to open the gate of the temple, so that the whole group is able to proceed to the temple.

Just the same event that takes place here with the green snake is found as experience in the human soul, which could face us especially in such a way of thinking as we have found it the day before yesterday in the conversation between Goethe and Schiller. We have seen that Schiller was still of the opinion at the moment when he spoke with Goethe about the method of the observation of nature that that which Goethe drew with a few lines as an archetypal plant was an idea, something abstract that one receives if one ignores the distinctive features and joins the common features. We have seen that Goethe said on it, if this is an idea, I see my ideas with eyes. At this moment, two completely different realities were confronted. Schiller really worked his way up to Goethe's point of view, so that one does not decrease the admiration of Schiller if one gives him as an example of that human soul quality which hovers in abstractions and lives preferably in the ideas of the things grasped by the mere intellect. This is a particular disposition of the soul which — if the human being wants to develop higher — may play a rather bad role under certain circumstances.

There are persons who have the advance preferably towards the abstract. If they connect abstractness with anything that faces them as a soul force, it is as a rule the concept of unproductiveness. These persons are sometimes very astute, are able to make exact differentiations, to connect this or that concept wonderfully. However, just such a soul mood is often connected with the fact that the spiritual influence, the inspirations find no entrance.

The soul condition that is marked by unproductiveness and abstractness is represented to us in the will-o'-the-wisps. They absorb the gold wherever they find it; they do not have any ingenuity, are unproductive, and cannot grasp any idea. These ideas are strange to them. They do not have the intention to dedicate themselves unselfishly to the things, to keep to the facts and to use concepts only as far as they interpret the facts. They take the chance to choke up their intellect with concepts and give these away lavishly. They resemble a human being who sits down in libraries, collects and absorbs wisdom and gives it away appropriately.

These will-o'-the-wisps are typical for that soul property which is never able to grasp one single literary thought or emotional content which is able, however, to grasp that very well which is there as history of literature, which is able to represent in nice forms what productive spirits have performed. Here nothing should be said against this soul property. If the human being did not have this soul property or did not cultivate it, if it were bestowed on him insufficiently, he would lack something that must inevitably exist concerning the real cognitive faculty. With the image of the will-o'-the-wisps, with the conditions in which Goethe lets them appear he represents how such a soul property works in relation to the other soul properties, how it is harmful, and how it is useful. Truly, if someone did not have this soul property and wanted to ascend to higher levels of knowledge, nothing would be there that could unlock the temple to him. Goethe arranges the advantages and disadvantages of this soul property. What is given in the will-o'-the-wisps represents a soul element. When it wants to lead an independent life to the one or to the other side, it becomes detrimental.

A critical property arises from the abstractness that develops the human beings in such a way that they learn, indeed, everything, however, cannot develop because they lack the productive element. However, Goethe points quite clearly, to what extent also something valuable is in the will-o'-the-wisps. What they have in themselves can also become something valuable: in the snake, the gold of the will-o'-the-wisps becomes something valuable, as far as it illuminates the objects that are round it. What lives in the will-o'-the-wisps becomes extremely fertile if it is processed in another way in the human soul. If the human being strives to arrange that which he can experience in concepts and ideas not as anything abstract for himself, but to look at it in such a way that it becomes his guide and interpreter of the reality round him, then he is with this soul force in the same case as the green snake. Then he can shape light and wisdom from the only abstract, from the mere concepts. Then it does not lead him to the fact that he becomes the vertical line that loses any connection and relation with the surface. The will-o'-the-wisps are the relatives of the snake; however, they are from the vertical line. The gold pieces fall between the rocks, the snake takes them up and becomes internally luminous. Somebody takes up wisdom who approaches the things with these concepts.

Goethe also gives us an example how one should work on the concepts. Goethe has the concept of the archetypal plant. What is that at first? An abstraction. If he developed it in the abstract, it would become an empty thing that kills any life as the dispersed gold of the will-o'-the-wisps kills the pug. Imagine, however, what Goethe does with the concept of the archetypal plant. If we pursue him on his Italian journey, we see how this concept is only the leitmotif to go from plant to plant, from being to being. He takes the concept, goes over from himself to the plant, and sees how it develops in this or that form how it takes up quite different forms in lower or higher regions and so on. Now he pursues gradually how the spiritual reality or figure creeps into any sensuous form. He himself crawls about like the snake in the abysses of the earth. Thus, the world of concepts is to Goethe nothing else than that which can be incorporated in the objective reality. The snake is to him the representative of the soul force which does not strive selfishly to the higher fields of existence and tries to place itself above everything, but which patiently allows the concept to prove perpetually by observation to be true which goes patiently from experience to experience.

If the human being does not only speculate, not only live in concepts, but applies them to life, to experience, then he is with this soul force in the position of the snake. This is right in a quite comprising sense. Who does not take up philosophy as a theory, but as that which it should be, who considers the spiritual-scientific concepts as tasks of life knows that just concepts — and may they be also the highest ones — should be used in such a way that they can flow into life and prove to be true in the daily experience. However, for someone, who has learnt a few concepts but cannot transfer them into life, a similar condition exists as for that who has learnt a cookbook by heart, but cannot cook. As well as the gold is the means to illuminate the things, Goethe illuminates the things, which are round him, with his concepts.

This is the instructive and great of Goethe's scientific nature and of any Goethean striving that his concepts and ideas have reality that they work like a light, become luminous, and illuminate the objects round him. The universal of Goethe, emphasised the day before yesterday, does never give us the feeling that this or that is Goethe's “opinion.” He stands there and if we see him, we think only that we understand the things better which were not so comprehensible to us before. That is why he could just become the point of mutual consent of hostile brothers as we have seen the day before yesterday. If we wanted to discuss any trait in the fairy tale, to characterise any figure, then I would have to speak about this fairy tale not for three hours but for three weeks. I can only give the deeper principles of this fairy tale. However, every trait points us to Goethe's imagination and worldview.

Those soul forces that are shown in the will-o'-the-wisps, in the green snake and in the kings are located on the one side of the river. Over there on the other bank lives the beautiful lily, the ideal of perfect knowledge and perfect life and creating. We heard about the ferryman that he is able to lead the figures of the bank on the other side, but he is not allowed to lead anybody back again. Let us apply that to our whole soul mood and its improvement.

We human beings find ourselves as mental beings here on earth. These or those soul forces work on us as dispositions, as more or less qualified soul forces. They are in us. However, it lives in us still something else. In us human beings — if we grasp ourselves correctly — lives the feeling, the knowledge that our soul forces which provide the being of the things to us are intimately related to the basic spirits of the world, to the creative, spiritual powers. While we long for these creative powers, we long for the beautiful lily. Thus, we know that everything that originates on the one hand from the beautiful lily, on the other hand, strives to return to her. The unknown forces that we do not master had brought us over here. We know that certain forces have brought us from the transcendent world over the border river to this world. These forces, characterised by the ferryman, however, active in the depths of the unconscious nature, cannot bring back us again, because, otherwise, the human being would return to the divine realm as the same without his work, without his assistance, just as he has come over. The forces that brought us as unaware natural forces into the realm of the striving human beings are not allowed to lead us back again. Other forces are necessary for that. Goethe knows this, too. However, Goethe also wants to show how the human being has to act, so that he can unite with the beautiful lily again.

There are two ways. The one leads about the green snake, we can walk across it, there we find the realm of spirit gradually. The other way leads about the shadow of the giant. It is shown that the giant who is usually quite weak stretches his hand in the twilight hour whose shadow extends then about the river. The second way leads about this shadow. Who wants to walk with bright daylight to the realm of spirit, must use the way, which the snake provides. Who wants to come over in the dim light can use the way, which leads, about the shadow of the giant. These are two ways to come to a spiritual world picture. That who does not strive for the spiritual world with human concepts, human ideas, not with those powers which are characterised by the worthless gold, by only sophistical spirits and by the will-o'-the-wisps, but walks in patience and unselfishness from experience to experience, reaches the other bank in the bright sunshine.

Goethe knows that real research does not stick to the material, but has to lead over the border, over the river that separates us from the spiritual. However, there is a second way, a way for more undeveloped human beings who do not want to go the way of cognition, but the way that is represented by the giant. This giant is weak, only his shadow has a certain strength. What is weak now in the real sense? Take all states into which the human being can come with reduced consciousness, like with hypnotism, somnambulism, even with dream states: everything belongs to the second way by which the bright day consciousness is reduced by which the human being opens himself to lower soul forces than the bright day consciousness. There the soul is led into the real realm of spirit if it becomes feeble. However, the soul itself does not become able to walk across in the spiritual world, but it remains unconscious and is led like the shadow into the spiritual world. Goethe still subsumes everything that works unconsciously, without the soul forces becoming effective with the bright day consciousness under the forces that one has to imagine in the shadow of the giant.

Schiller, who was initiated into that which Goethe meant, wrote at the time of the big storms in Western Europe once to Goethe: I am glad that you have not been grabbed rudely by the shadow of the giant. — What does Schiller mean with it? He meant if Goethe had walked farther to the west, he would have been seized by the revolutionary powers of the West.

Then we see that that which the human being should attain as a summit of knowledge is shown in the temple. The temple signifies a higher level of human development. Now, Goethe would say, the temple is something concealed, it is beneath the narrow abysses of the earth. Such a striving soul force, as the snake represents it, can feel the figure of the temple only indistinctly. Because it takes up ideals, the gold in itself, it can illuminate this figure, but this temple can be there at the present time only as a subterranean secret. However, because Goethe makes this temple something subterranean for the external culture, he also points to the fact that this secret has to be disclosed to an advanced human being. He points with it to the spiritual-scientific current that has already grasped human masses today which tries to make popular in a comprising sense what are the contents of spiritual science, of the initiation principle, the contents of the temple secrets.

Hence, in this free Goethean sense one has to consider the young man as a representative of the striving humanity. Hence, the temple should rise about the river, so that not only a few human beings that look for enlightenment can go over the bridge back and forth, but also with it, all human beings can pass the river over the bridge. Goethe arranged a future state in the initiation temple above ground, which will be there if the human being can walk from the sensuous realm to the spiritual one and from the spiritual realm to the sensuous one.

In what way was this attained in the fairy tale? By fulfilling the secret of the fairy tale. Schiller says, you can read the solution of the fairy tale in the fairy tale itself. However, he also pointed to the fact that the word of the solution can be found rather oddly. You remember the old man with the lamp that only shines where already light is. Who is the old man? What is this lamp? What a peculiar light does it have? The old man is above the situation. His lamp has the strange quality that it transforms the things, wood into silver, stone into gold. It also has the quality that it shines where already a susceptibility, a certain kind of light exists. As the old man enters the subterranean temple, he is asked,

“How many secrets do you know?”・

“Three,” he answers.

“Which is the most important?”・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.”・

Thereafter the snake whispers something in the ear of the old man on which he says: “The time has come!” What the snake said to the man is the solution of the riddle, and we have to investigate what the snake said to the old man. It would lead too far to say in detail what the three secrets mean. I want only to suggest it.

There are three realms which are — so to speak — static in their development today: the mineral, the plant and the animal realms, which are concluded compared to the human being who still keeps on developing. The inner development which the human being experiences is so vehement and significant that it cannot be compared with the development of the other three physical realms. The fact that a physical realm has thereby come to the present state that it has come to a conclusion, it is that which is contained in the secret of the old man It is this that which explains the principles of the mineral, plant and animal realms. Now there comes the fourth realm, the realm of the human being, the secret that should be revealed in the human soul. This secret is such that must be found by the old man only. How has he to experience it? He knows its contents, but the snake must say it to him first. This suggests that something particular has to happen to the human being if he wants to reach the destination of his development as the other three realms have reached it.

The snake whispers in the old man's ear what is all up with the human being in the core of his soul, and what must happen if he should reach his destination. It says how a certain soul force must develop if a higher level should be attained, it tells that it has the intention to sacrifice itself for it, and it sacrifices itself. Up to now it has formed a bridge only if now and then a single human being wanted to walk across; now, however, it becomes a permanent bridge, while the snake disintegrates, so that the human being will have a permanent connection between the life on earth and that on the other side, between the spiritual and the sensuous.

The fact that the snake has the intention to sacrifice itself is to be considered as the condition of the revelation of the fourth secret. At the moment when the old man hears that the snake wants to sacrifice itself, he can also say, “The time has come!” The soul force keeps to the outside. The way must be entered because this soul force and inner science does not become an end in itself, but sacrifices itself. This is really a secret, even if it is an “obvious” secret. That means that it can become obvious to everybody who wants it.

What is considered as an end in itself — everything that we can learn in the natural sciences, in the cultural science, in history, in mathematics and all other sciences — it can never be an end in itself. We can never come to the true insight into the depths of the world if we consider it as anything for itself. Not before we are ready any time to take up them in ourselves and to consider them as means that we sacrifice as the bridge about which we are able to walk, then we come to the real knowledge. We cut ourselves off from the higher, from the real knowledge if we are not ready to sacrifice ourselves. Only then, the human being gets a concept of initiation, if he stops making a worldview from exterior-sensuous concepts. He has completely to become emotion, to become such a soul mood that corresponds to that which Goethe characterises as the highest achievement of the human being in his West-Eastern Divan (1819):

And so long as you don't have it, this: “Die and be transformed!” you will only be a gloomy guest on the dark earth.

Die and be transformed! Get to know what life can offer, go through it, but overcome it, go beyond yourself. Let it be the bridge, and you revive in a higher life, you are one with the being of the things if you do no longer live in the mania that you can exhaust — separated from the higher ego — the being of the things. Where Goethe speaks about the sacrifice of the concepts and the soul material to revive in higher spheres, he likes to remember the words of Jacob Boehme who knows this experience of the sacrificing snake in himself. Perhaps, Jacob Boehme pointed it out to him and caused that he took stock of it in such a way that the human being is able to revive in a world, which he enters usually after death only, already in the physical body: in the world of the everlasting, of the spiritual. Jacob Boehme also knew that it depends on the human being whether he is able to enter the spiritual world in a higher sense. He shows it in the saying: “Who does not die, before he dies, is on the road to ruin if he dies.” — A meaningful saying! The human being who does not die, before he dies, that means who does not develop the everlasting, the internal essence in himself, he is not able to find the spiritual essence in himself again. The everlasting is in us. We must develop it in the body, so that we can find it outside the body. “Who does not die, before he dies, is on the road to ruin if he dies.” This also applies to the other saying: “And thus death is the root of all life.”

Then we see that the soul can only illuminate where already light is, the lamp of the old man can illuminate only what is already illuminated. Again, we are pointed to soul forces of the human being, to those soul forces that face us as something particular, the soul forces of religious devotion that have brought the message of spiritual worlds to the human beings for centuries and millennia, to those who could not search the light on the way of science or in any way. The light of the various religious revelations is shown in the old man who has this light. However, to anybody who does not give the religious sense a light from the inside the lamp of religion does not shine. It can shine only where light already meets with it. It has transformed the human being; it has transformed everything dead into something ensouled living.

Then we see that both worlds join due to the sacrifice of the snake. After it experiences, so to speak, by symbolic processes what the human being has to go through during his higher esoteric development, we see the three soul forces bringing the temple of knowledge across the river, we see the temple walking up and each soul force performing its service. It is suggested there that the soul forces have to be in harmony, while to us is said: the single personality is capable of nothing. If, however, all human beings co-operate at the good hour, if the powerful ones and the weak ones work in the right relation with each other, that can arise which enables the soul to attain the highest state, the union with the beautiful lily.

Then the temple walks up from the concealed abysses to the surface for all who strive in truth for knowledge and wisdom. The young man receives the cognitive forces of thinking and imagination from the golden king: “Recognise the highest.” He receives the cognitive forces of feeling from the silver king what Goethe suggests so nicely with the words: “Pasture the sheep!” Art and religion are rooted in the feeling, and as to Goethe, both were a unity, when he already wrote in his Italian Journey (1786–1788) about the pieces of art of Italy: “There is necessity, there is God!”

However, there is also the action — if the human being does not use it in the struggle for existence, if it is the means to win beauty and wisdom. This is included in the words that the bronze king speaks to the young man: “The sword to the left, the right free!” There a whole world is comprised. The right is free to work out of the human nature of the self.

What happens with the fourth king in whom all three elements are mixed? This mixed king melts away to a grotesque figure. The will-o'-the-wisps come and lick the still available gold from him. The human soul forces still want to study there what once existed in the human developmental states that are already overcome. If we take another trait, namely when the giant comes staggering, stands there like a statue, and shows the hours: if the human being has harmonised his life, the subordinated bears a meaning of that which should be methodical order. This should develop like a habit. Then even the unconscious receives a valuable sense. That is why the giant is shown as it were like a clock.

The old man with the lamp is married to the old woman. This old woman shows nothing else than the healthy prudent human soul force which does not penetrate into high regions of spiritual abstraction, which handles, however, everything healthfully and practically, as for example in the religion which is shown in the old man with the lamp. Then just she can also bring the payment to the ferryman: three cabbages, three onions, and three artichokes. Such a developmental level has not yet overcome temporality. The fact that she is treated in such a way as it happens by the will-o'-the-wisps is probably a likeness of how abstract spirits act superciliously on human beings who comprehend the things with immediate instincts or intuitions.

Any trait, any turn in this fairy tale is of profound meaning, and if one still explains it esoterically, one is only able to give the method of explanation. Become engrossed in the fairy tale, then you find that a whole world is to be found in it, far more than I could suggest today.

How much Goethe's spiritual worldview pervades his whole life, how in the matters of the cognition of the spirit he is still in harmony up to his latest age with that which he had created once, I would like to show this to you using two examples. When Goethe wrote the Faust, he had taken over a certain idea that goes back to a symbol of a deeper developmental way of nature. When Faust speaks about his father, who was an alchemist and had accepted the old teachings faithfully, but had misunderstood them, he says that his father also accomplished that

“... the Red Lion, a mercurial suitor, would in a tepid bath be married to the Lily.”

Faust says this without knowing the meaning of it. However, such a word can become the ladder that leads up to high developmental steps. Goethe shows the human being striving for the highest bride in the young man in the fairy tale, and he calls that with which he should be united the beautiful lily. You see, you find this lily also already in the first part of Faust. We also find what is expressed in the fairy tale as a basic nerve of the Goethean view in Faust, in the second part, in the Chorus mysticus, where Faust stands before the entry into the spiritual world, where Goethe professes his spiritual worldview with monumental words. He shows there how in three successive steps the ascent on the path of knowledge takes place, namely the purification of thinking, the enlightenment of feeling, and the working out of the will to pure action.

What the human being attains by the purification of thinking makes him recognise the spiritual behind everything. The sensuous becomes a symbol of the spiritual. He penetrates deeper to grasp what is inaccessible to thinking. Then he reaches a level on which he is no longer looking at the things with the help of images, but is led to the thing itself, where the being of the things and that which one cannot describe becomes attainable. What one cannot describe what one has to imagine in other way — as you will hear in the course of the winter talks — he just calls the “indescribable” whereby one has to advance to the secrets of the will. If the human being has covered the triple way through thinking, feeling and willing, he unites with that which is called in the chorus mysticus the “eternally female,” that which has gone through its development as a human soul which is represented as the beautiful lily.

Thus, we realise that Goethe pronounces his deepest confession, his secret revelation still there where he brings his great confessional poem to an end, after he has pervaded thinking, feeling and willing up to the union with the beautiful lily, up to the state which finds its expression in the mentioned passage of the Chorus mysticus that expresses the:

All that is transitory

is only a symbol;

what seems unachievable

here is seen done;*

what's indescribable

here becomes fact;

the eternally-female

shows us the way. **

* German: „Hier wird's Ereignis.” Steiner supposed that a hearing defect of Goethe's secretary happened and/or that Goethe pronounced it indistinctly so that the (nonce) word „Erreichnis” (“achievement”) should be used instead of „Ereignis” (“event” here translated as “fact”).

** German: „Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan, ”literally: “The eternally-female draws us upwards.”

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