XII. Richard Wagner and Mysticism
28 March 1907, Berlin
To link Richard Wagner 1Richard Wagner (1813–1883) was a major German opera composer. with mysticism, as we shall do in today's consideration, will easily give rise to objections based on the misconception that to speak about an artist from a particular spiritual-scientific viewpoint is impermissible. Other objections will be directed against mysticism as such.
Today we shall look at Richard Wagner's relation to art on the one hand and mysticism on the other. The objection can be made that Wagner never spoke, or even hinted at, some of the things that will be mentioned. Such an objection is so obvious that anyone would have thought of it before speaking. It must be borne in mind that when a cultural phenomenon such as Richard Wagner is to be considered, one cannot be limited to say only what Wagner spoke about. That would make a discussion on any issue from a higher point of view impossible.
No one would suggest that a botanist or a poet should refrain from expressing what he discovered, or what he felt about plants and other phenomena. When discussing issues, whether cultural or natural, one cannot be limited to say only what the phenomenon conveys. In that case the plant should be able to convey to the botanist the laws of its growth; and the feelings and sentiments it aroused in the poet would be unjustified. The reality is that in the human soul, precisely what the external world is unable to say about itself is revealed.
It is in this sense that what I have to say about the phenomenon that is Richard Wagner must be taken. Certainly a plant knows nothing of the laws, however, it nevertheless grows and develops. Similarly, an artist need not be aware of the laws inherent in his nature of which the observer with spiritual insight is able to speak. The artist lives and creates according to these laws as the plant creates according to laws that are subsequently discovered. Therefore, the objection should not be made that Wagner did not speak about things that will be indicated today.
As regards other objections concerned with mysticism, the fact is that people, educated and uneducated alike, speak of mysticism as of something obscure. In comparison with what is known as the scientific world view, they find it nebulous. This has not always been so. The great mystics of the early Christian centuries, the Gnostics, have thought otherwise, as does anyone with understanding of mysticism. The Gnostics have called it “mathesis,” mathematics, not because mysticism is mathematics, but because genuine mystics have striven for a similar clarity in the ideas they derive from spiritual worlds. Properly understood, mysticism, far from being obscure or sentimental, is in its approach to the world crystal clear. Having now shown that the two kinds of objections are invalid, let us proceed with today's considerations.
Richard Wagner can indeed be discussed from the highest spiritual scientific viewpoint. No seeker after Truth of the nineteenth century strove, his whole life long, more honestly and sincerely to discover answers to the world-riddles than Richard Wagner. His house in Bayreuth he named, “Inner Peace” (Wahnfried), saying that there he found peace from his “doubts and delusions” (sein Wähnen Ruhe fand). These words already reveal a great deal about Richard Wagner.
What is meant by error and delusion is all too well-known to someone who honestly and sincerely pursues the path to higher knowledge. This happens irrespective of whether the spiritual realm a person believes he will discover finds expression through art, or takes some other form. He is strongly aware of the many deluding images that come to block his path and slow his progress. That person knows that the path to higher knowledge is neither easy nor straightforward — that truth is reached only through inner upheavals and tribulations. Moreover, he is aware that dangers have to be met, but also that experiences of inner bliss will be his. A person who travels the path of knowledge will eventually reach that inner peace that is the result of intimate knowledge of the secrets of the world. Wagner's awareness and experience of these things comes to expression when he says: “I name this house ‘Inner Peace’ because here I found peace from error and delusions.” (“Weil hier mein Wahnen Ruhe fand, Wahnfried sei dieses Haus genannt.”)
Unlike many artists who attempt to create out of fantasy that lacks substance, Wagner saw from the start an artistic calling as a mission of world historical relevance; he felt that the Beauty created by art should also express truth and knowledge. Art was to him something holy; he saw the source of artistic creativity in religious feelings and perceptions. The artist, he felt, has a kind of priestly calling, and that what he, Richard Wagner, offered to mankind should have religious dedication. It should fulfill a religious task and mission in mankind's evolution. He felt that he was one of those who must contribute to their era something based on the fullness of truth and reality.
When spiritual science is properly understood, it will be seen that, far from being a gray theory remote from the real issues, it can help us to understand and to appreciate on his own terms a cultural phenomenon such as Richard Wagner.
Wagner had a basic feeling, an inner awareness, that guided him to the same Truth about mankind's origin and evolution as that indicated by spiritual science. This inner awareness linked him to spiritual science and to all genuine mysticism. He wanted a unification of the arts; he wanted the various branches of art to work together, complementing one another. He felt that the lack, the shortcomings, in contemporary art forms was caused by what he called “their selfishness and egoism. Instead of the various art forms going their separate ways, he saw their working together as an ideal, creating a harmonious whole to which each contributed with selfless devotion. He insisted that art had once existed in such an ideal form. He thought to recognize it in ancient Greece prior to Sophocles, 2Sophocles (c. 495 B.C.–406 B.C.) was a great Athenian dramatist and one of the founders of Greek tragedy Euripides 3Euripides (c. 480 B.C.–406 B.C.), a Greek dramatist. and others. Before the arts separated, drama and dance, for example, had worked together and had selflessly created combined artistic works. Wagner had a kind of clairvoyant vision of such combined endeavor. Although history does not speak of it, his vision was true and points back to a primordial time when not only the arts but also all spiritual and cultural streams within various people worked together as a harmonious whole.
Spiritual science recognizes that what is known today as art and science are different branches originating from a common root. Whether we go back to the ancient cultures of Greece, Egypt, India or Persia, or to our own Germanic origin, everywhere we find primordial cultures where art and science are not separated. However, this is a past that is beyond the reach of external research, and is accessible only to clairvoyant vision.
In the ancient civilizations, art and science formed a unity that was looked upon as a mystery. Mystery centers existed for the cultivation of wisdom, beauty and religious piety before these became separated and cultivated in different establishments.
We can visualize what took place within the mysteries, with in these temples, which were places of learning and also of artistic performances. We can conjure up before our mind's eye the great dramas, seen by those who had been admitted to the mysteries. As I said, ordinary history can tell us nothing of these things. The performances were dramatic musical interpretations of the wisdom attained within the mysteries, and they were permeated with deep religious devotion. A few words will convey what took place in those times of which nothing is known save what spiritual science has to say. Those admitted to the Mysteries came together to watch a drama depicting the world's creation. Such dramas existed everywhere. They depicted how primordial divine beings descended from spiritual heights and let their essence stream out to become world-substance that they then shaped and formed into the various creature's of the kingdoms of nature: the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, and that of humans. In other words, divine essence streamed into and formed everything that surrounded us, and it finally celebrated a kind of resurrection within the human soul.
Thoughtful people have always felt that the world is of divine origin, that the divine element attains consciousness in the human soul, and, as it were, looks out through human eyes observing itself in its own creation. This descent and resurrection of the divine element was enacted in Egypt, in the drama of Osiris, and dramatized also at various places of initiation in Greece. Those who were permitted to watch saw how art and knowledge combined to depict in dramatic form the creation of the world. Deep feelings of religious piety were called up in the onlooker by this drama, which might be said to be the archetypal drama. With reverence and awe the onlooker watched the gods descend into matter, to slumber in all beings, and resurrect within human beings. Filled with awe, the onlooker experienced a mood described once by Goethe in the following significant words: “When man's whole being functions as a healthy entity, and he feels the world to be a great, beautiful, worthy and estimable unity; when pleasure in the harmony gives him pure delight, then, had it self-awareness, the whole universe, feeling it had reached its goal, would shout for joy, and admire the pinnacle of its being and achievement.” A wondrous, deeply religious mood filled the hearts of those who watched this drama of the creation of the world.
And not only was a religious mood created, but the drama also conveyed the kind of knowledge that was later imparted in scientific concepts to explain the creation of the world and its beings. However, at that time one received, in the form of pictures, a knowledge that was both scientific and religious. Science and religion were one.
Richard Wagner had a dim feeling that such harmony had once existed. He looked back to a very old culture in ancient Greece that still had a religious character. He saw that in gray antiquity music, drama, dance and architecture did not operate as separate undertakings; they all functioned in conjunction with one another: Knowledge, art and religion were a unity. He concluded that as they separated the arts became self-seeking, egoistical. Wagner looked back as it were to a far distant past when human beings were not so individual, when a person felt as a member of his dass, of his whole tribe, when the folk spirit was still regarded as a concrete reality. In that ancient time a natural selflessness had existed. And the thought came to him that man, in order to become an individual, a personality, had to leave the old clan-community to enable the personal element to assert itself. Only in this way could man become a free being, but the price was a certain degree of egoism.
Wagner looked back to what in a primordial past had held people together in communities, a selflessness that had to be left behind so that human beings could become more and more conscious. He had an intuitive presentiment about the future; he felt that once individual freedom and independence had been attained, humans would have to find the way back to fellowship and caring relationships. Selflessness would have to be consciously regained, and loving kindness once more would have to become a prominent factor of life.
For Wagner the present linked itself with the future, for he visualized as a distant ideal the existence of selflessness within the arts. Furthermore, he saw art as playing a significant role in evolution. Human development and that of art appeared to him to go hand in hand; both became egoistical when they ceased to function as a totality. As we see them today, drama, architecture and dance have gone their independent ways. As humanity grew more and more selfish, so did art. Wagner visualized a future when the arts would once more function in united partnership. Because he saw a commune of artists as a future ideal, he was referred to as “the communist.”
He aimed to contribute all he could to bring forth harmony among the arts; he saw this as a powerful means of pouring into human hearts the selflessness that must form the Basis for a future fraternity. He was a missionary of social selflessness in the sphere of art; he wanted to pour into every soul the impulse of selflessness that brings about harmony among people. Richard Wagner was truly possessed of a deep impulse of a kind that could only arise and be sustained in someone with a deep conviction of the reality of spiritual life. Richard Wagner had that conviction.
Already his work The Flying Dutchman bears witness to his belief in the existence of a spiritual world behind the physical. You must bear in mind that I do not for a moment suggest that Wagner himself was conscious of the things I am indicating. His artistic impulse developed according to spiritual laws, as a plant develops according to laws of which it is not conscious, but which are discovered by the botanist.
When a materialist observes his fellowmen, he sees them as physical entities isolated from one another, their separate souls enclosed within their bodies. He consequently believes that all communication between them can only be of an external physical nature. He regards as real only what one person may say or do to another. However, once there is awareness of a spiritual world behind the physical, one is aware also of hidden influences that act from person to person without a physical agent. Hidden influences stream from soul to soul, even when nothing is outwardly expressed. What a person thinks and feels is not without significance or value for the person towards whom the thoughts and feelings are directed. He who thinks materialistically only knows that one can physically reach and assist another person. He has no notion that his inner feelings have significance for others, or that bonds, invisible to physical sight, link soul to soul. A mystic is well aware of these bonds. Richard Wagner was profoundly aware of their existence.
To clarify what is meant by this, let us look at a significant legend from the Middle Ages that to modern humans is just a legend. However, its author, and anyone who recognizes its mystical meaning, is aware that this legend expresses a spiritual reality. The legend, which is part of an epic, teils us about Poor Henry who suffered from a dreadful illness. We are told that only if a pure maiden would sacrifice herself for him could he be cured of his terrible infliction. This indicates that the love, offered by a soul that is pure, can directly influence and do something concretely for another human life.
Such legends depict something of which the materialist has no notion, namely, that purely spiritually one soul can influence another. Is the maiden's sacrifice for Poor Henry ultimately anything else than a physical demonstration of what a large part of mankind believes to be the mystical effect of sacrifice? Is it not an instance of what the Redeemer on the Cross had bestowed on mankind; is it not an instance of that mystical effect that acts from soul to soul? It demonstrates the existence of a spiritual reality behind the physical that can be sensed by man, and led Wagner to the legend of The Flying Dutchman — the legend of a man so entangled in material existence that he can find no deliverance from it. The Flying Dutchman is with good reason referred to as the “Ahasverus of the sea,” that is, The Wandering Jew of the sea.
Ashasverus' destiny is caused by the fact that he cannot believe in a Redeemer; he cannot believe that someone can guide mankind onwards to ever greater heights and more perfect stages of evolution. An Ashasverus is someone that has become stuck where he is; human beings must ascend stage by stage if they are to progress. Without striving, he unites himself with matter, with external aspects of life, and becomes stuck in an existence that goes on and on, at the same level. He pours scorn on Him that leads mankind upwards, and remains entangled in matter. What does that mean? Existence keeps repeating itself for someone who is completely immersed in external life. Materialistic and spiritual comprehension differ, because matter repeats itself, whereas spirit ascends. The moment spirit succumbs to matter, it succumbs to repetition.
That happens in the case of The Flying Dutchman. Various peoples related this idea to the discoveries of foreign lands; the crossing of oceans and reaching foreign shores was seen as a means of attaining perfection. He who lacked the urge, who did not sense the spirit's call, became stuck in sameness, in what belongs solely to matter. The Flying Dutchman, whose whole disposition is materialistic, is abandoned by the power to evolve, by the power of love, which is the means to ascend to ever greater perfection. He becomes entangled in matter and consequently in the eternal repetition of the same. Those who suffer inability to ascend, who lack the urge to evolve, must come under the influence of a soul that is chaste and pure. Only an innocent maiden's love can redeem the Flying Dutchman.
A certain relationship exists between a soul that is as yet untouched by material life and one that has become entangled in it. Wagner has an instinctive feeling for this fact, and portrays it with great power in his dramas. Only someone with his mystical sense, and perception of the spirit behind the physical, would have the courage to take on a cultural mission of the magnitude Richard Wagner has assigned to himself. It has enabled him to visualize music and drama in ways no one has thought of before. He has looked back to ancient Greece, to a time when various art forms still played an integral part in performances, when music expressed what the art of drama could not express, and eternal universal laws were expressed through the rhythm of dance.
In older works of art, where dance, rhythm and harmony still collaborated, he recognized something of the musical-dramatic element of the artistic works of antiquity. He acquired a unique sense for harmony, for tonality in music, but insisted that contributions from related arts were essential. Something from them must flow into the music. One such related art was dance, not as it has become, but the dance that once expressed movements in nature and movements of the stars. In ancient times, dance originated from a feeling for laws in nature. Man in his own movements copied those in nature. Rhythm of dance was reflected in the harmony of the music. Other arts, such as poetry, whose vehicle is words, also contributed, and what could not be expressed through words was contributed by related arts. Harmonious collaboration existed among dance, music and poetry. The musical element arose from the cooperation of harmony, rhythm and melody.
This was what mystics and also Richard Wagner felt as the spirit of art in ancient times, when the various arts worked together in brotherly fashion, when melody, rhythm and harmony had not yet attained their later perfection. When they separated, dance became an art form in its own right, and poetry likewise. Consequently, rhythm became a separate experience, and poetry no longer added its contribution to the musical element. No longer was there collaboration between the arts. In tracing the arts up to modern times, Wagner noticed that the egoism in art increased as human beings egoism increased.
Let us now look at attempts made by Wagner to create something harmonious within the artistic one-sidedness he faced. This is the sphere that reveals his greatness as he searched for the true nature of art.
To Richard Wagner, Beethoven 4Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was a German composer born in Bonn. and Shakespeare 5William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was an English poet, playwright and actor-manager of the Globe Theatre. represented artists who one-sidedly cultivated the two arts he particularly wanted to bring together, music and drama. He only had to look at his own inner being to recognize the impossibility of conveying, merely through words, the whole gamut of human feelings, particularly feelings that do not manifest externally through gestures or words. Shakespeare was in his view a one-sided dramatist because dramatic words on their own are incapable of expressing things of deeper import. Only when inner impulses have become external action, have become part of space and time, can they be conveyed through dramatic art. When watching a drama, one must assume the impulses portrayed to be already experiences that are past. What one witnesses is no longer drama taking place within the. person concerned; it has already passed over into what can be physically seen and heard. Whatever deeper feelings and sensations are the basis for what is portrayed on the stage cannot be conveyed by the dramatist.
In music, on the other hand, Wagner regarded the symphonist, the pure instrumentalist, to be the most one-sided, for he conveyed in wonderful tone and scales the inner drama, the whole range of human feelings, but had no means of expressing impulses once they became gestures, or became part of space and time. Thus, Wagner saw music as able to express the inner life, but unable to convey what came to expression outwardly. Dramatic art, on the other hand, when refusing to collaborate with music, only conveyed impulses when they became externalized.
According to Wagner, Shakespeare conveyed one aspect of dramatic art, and Mozart, 6Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), Austrian composer. Haydn 7Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), Austrian composer who established the accepted classical forms of the Symphony, string quartet, and piano sonata. and Beethoven another. In Beethoven's Ninth Symphony Wagner sensed something that strove to break away from the one-sidedness of this art form, strove to burst the Shell and become articulate, strove to permeate the whole world and envelop mankind with love. Wagner saw it as his mission not to let this element remain as it was in the Ninth Symphony, but to bring it out still further into space and time. He wanted it not only to be an external expression of a soul's inner drama, but also to flow into words and action. He wanted to present on the stage both aspects of dramatic art: in music, the whole range of inner sensations, and in drama, the aspect of those inner sensations that come to external expression. What he sought was a higher unity of Shakespeare and Beethoven. He wanted the whole of humanity represented on the stage.
When we watch some action taking place on the stage, we should become aware of more than can be perceived by eyes and ears. We should be able to be aware also of deeper impulses residing in the human soul. This aspect caused dissatisfaction in Wagner with the old type of opera. Here the dramatist, the poet and the musician worked separately on a production. The poet wrote his part, the musician then came along and interpreted what was written through music. But the task of music is rather to express what poetry by itself cannot express. Human nature consists of an inner as well as an outer aspect. The inner cannot be portrayed through external means; the outer aspect can indeed be dramatized, but words are incapable of conveying impulses that live within human beings. Music should not be there to illustrate the poetry, but to complete it. What poetry cannot express should be conveyed by music.
That was Wagner's great ideal and the sense in which he wanted to create. He assigned to himself the mission to create a work of art in which music and poetry worked together selflessly. Wagner's basic idea was of mystical origin; he wanted to understand the whole human being, the inner person as well as what he revealed outwardly. Wagner knew that within human beings a higher being resides, a higher self that was only partially revealed in space and time. He sought to understand that higher entity that rises above the everyday. He felt that it must approached from as many sides as possible. His search for the superhuman aspect of man's being, for that which rises above the merely personal, led him to myths. Mythical figures were not merely human, they were superhuman: They revealed the superhuman aspect of a person's being. Characters like Siegfried and Lohengrin do not display qualities belonging to a single human being, but to many. Wagner turned to the superhuman figures portrayed in myths because he sought understanding of the deeper aspects of the human being.
A clear look at his work reveals how deep an insight he had attained into mankind's evolution. In The Ring of the Nibelung and Parsifal we witness, powerfully presented, great riddles of humanity's existence. They reveal his intuitive perception, his deep feelings for all mankind.
We can do no more than turn a few spotlights on Wagner's inner experiences as an artist. In so doing we soon discover his strong affinity with what could be called "man's mythical past." His particular interest in the figure of Siegfried can easily be understood when seen in connection with his concept of mankind's evolution. Looking back to ancient times, Wagner saw that formerly the bond between human beings was based on selfless love within the confines of a tribe. Human consciousness at that time was duller; he did not yet experience personal independence. Each one felt himself, not so much an individual, but rather as a member of his tribe. He experienced the tribal soul as a reality.
Wagner felt that especially traits in European culture can be traced back to the time when natural instinctive love united human beings in interrelated groups, a time of which spiritual science also speaks when showing that everything in the world evolves, and that today's clear consciousness gradually evolved from a different type, of which there are still residues. In pictures of dream-consciousness Wagner recognized echoes of a former picture-consciousness that had once been the normal consciousness of all mankind. The waking consciousness of today replaced a much duller type; while it lasted, human beings were much closer to one another. As Wagner recognized, those related were bound together by natural love connected with the blood. Not until later did individuality, and with it egoism, assert itself. However, this constitutes a necessary stage in man's evolution.
The subject I shall now bring up will be familiar to those acquainted with spiritual science, but others may find it somewhat strange. The lucid day-consciousness now existing in Europe evolved from the very different consciousness of a primordial human race that preceded our own — a humanity that existed on Atlantis, a continent situated where the Atlantic Ocean is now. Those who take note of what goes on in the world will be aware that even natural science speaks of an Atlantean continent. A scientific journal, Kosmos, recently carried an article about it. Physical conditions on Atlantis were very different; the atmosphere in which the ancestors of today's European lived was a mixture of air and water. Large areas of the continent were covered with huge masses of dense mist. The sun was not seen as we see it, but surrounded by enormous bands of color due to the masses of mist. In Germanic legends a memory is preserved of that ancient country, and given descriptive names such as Niflheim or Nibelungenheim. As the Hood gradually submerged the Atlantean continent, it also gave shape to the German plains. The Rhine was regarded as a remnant of the Atlantean "Being of Mist” that once covered most of the countries. The water of the Rhine was thought to have originated in Nibelungenheim or Nebelheim (Nebel means “mist”), to have come from the dense mist of ancient Atlantis. Through a dreamlike consciousness, full of premonition, all this is told in sagas and myths wherein is described how conditions caused the people to abandon the area and how, as they wandered eastwards, their dull consciousness grew ever more lucid while egoism increased.
A consequence of the former dull consciousness was a certain selflessness, but with the clearer air, consciousness grew brighter and egoism stronger. The vaporous mist had enveloped the people of Atlantis with an atmosphere saturated with wisdom, selflessness and love. This selfless, love-filled wisdom flowed with the water into the Rhine and reposed beneath it as wisdom, as gold. But this wisdom, if taken hold of by egoism, provides it with power. As they went eastward, the former inhabitants of Atlantis saw the Rhine embracing the hoard of the gold of wisdom that had once been a source of selflessness. All this is intimated in the world of sagas that took hold of Wagner. He had such inner kinship with that lofty spiritual being who preserves memory of the past, whose spirit lives in sagas and myths, that he extracted from myths the whole essence of his view of the world. We therefore witness, dramatized on the stage and echoing through his music, the consequences of human egoism.
We see the Ring closing, as Alberich takes the gold of the Rhine from the Rhine Maidens. Alberich is representative of the Nibelungs, who have become egoistic, of the human being that forswears the love through which he is a member of a unity — a dan or tribe. Wagner links to the plan that weaves through the legend the power of possession — that the ancient world arises before his mind's eye, the world that has produced Walhalla, the world of Wotan, and of the ancient gods. They represent a kind of group-soul possessing traits that a people have in common. But when the Ring cioses around man's “I,” the individual too is taken hold of by greed for gold.
Wagner sensitively portrays what lives in Wotan as group-soul qualities, and in human beings become egoistic craving for the Rhine-gold. We hear it in his music; how could one fail to hear it? It should not be said that something arbitrary is at this point inserted in the music. No human ear could fail to hear in that long E-flat major in the Rhine-gold the impact of the emerging human “I.” Wagner's deep mystical sense can be traced in his music.
We are shown that Wotan has to come to terms, not with the consciousness that had become individualized, but with that which had not yet become so, and still strongly acts as group-consciousness. When he tries by stealth to take away the Ring from the giant, he meets this consciousness in the figure of Erda. She is clearly representing the old all-encompassing consciousness through which knowledge is attained clairvoyantly of the whole environment. The words spoken at this point are most significant:
To thee is known
What lies hidden in the deep,
What weaves in air and water
Through mountain and valley.
Thou breathest through The wele of existence;
When heads ponder Thy sense emerges.
It is said that to thee All things are known.
The old consciousness that held sway in Nebelheim cannot be better described than in the words:
My sleep is a dreaming
My dream is a musing
My musing is ruled by wisdom.
The old consciousness was a dreaming consciousness, but in this dream human beings knew of the whole surrounding world. The dream encompassed the depth of nature and spun its wisdom from person to person, whose musing and actions all stemmed from this dreaming consciousness. Wotan meets it in the figure of Erda with the result that a new consciousness arises.
What is of a higher order is always depicted in myths and sagas as a female figure. In Goethe's Faust it is indicated in the words of the Chorus Mysticus: “The eternal feminine draws us upwards and on.” Various peoples have depicted a person's inner striving towards a higher consciousness as a union with a higher aspect of the being that is seen as feminine. What is depicted as a marriage is a person's union with the cosmic laws that permeate and illumine his soul. For example, in ancient Egypt we see Isis, and as always the female figure that is looked up to as the higher consciousness has characteristics that correspond to those of the particular people. What a people feels to be its real essence, its true nature, is depicted as a female figure corresponding to this ideal — a feminine aspect with which the individual human being becomes united after death, or also while still living.
As we have seen, man can rise above the sensual, either by leaving it behind, and in death uniting with the spirit, or he may attain the union while still living by attaining spiritual sight. In either case, this higher self is depicted in Germanic myths as a female figure. The warrior who fought courageously and died on the battlefield is regarded by ancestors of today's Middle European as someone who, on entering the spiritual world, would be united with this higher aspect of his being. Hence, the Walkyries are shown to approach the dying warriors and carry them up into spiritual realms. Union with the Walkyrie represents union with the higher consciousness. The Walkyrie Brunnhilde is created through the union of Wotan and Erda. Siegfried is to be united with her and guided into spiritual life. Thus, the daughter of Erda represents the higher consciousness of initiation. Siegfried represents the new, the different human being that has come into existence. Because of the configuration and higher perfection of his inner being, he is united with the Walkyrie already in life.
The hidden wisdom in Germanic legends comes to expression in Wagner's artistic creation. He shows that through the Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), the old group-soul consciousness must die out as the new individual consciousness develops in Siegfried. Wagner had a deep awareness of the great mysteries connected with mankind's evolution. A human being's inner experiences he expressed through music, his action through dramatic art.
His sense for the mystical aspect of evolution enabled him to portray a person's higher development. It made him place at the centre of one of his dramas the figure of Lohengrin. Who is Lohengrin? He can be understood only when seen an the background of the momentous upheavals taking place all over Europe at the time when the legend was living reality. Only then can we understand what Wagner had in mind when he depicts Lohengrin's relationship with the Lady he names as Elsa von Brabant. Throughout Europe a new epoch was dawning; An individual's striving personality was coming to the fore. Though described in prosaic terms, these phenomena hide events of greatest significance. In France, Scotland, England and as far away as Russia, a new social structure was developing, in the form of the “Free City.” In rural districts, people still lived in groups, in clans; those who wanted to escape flocked to the cities. The urban environment promoted individual consciousness and feelings of independence. People in the city were those who wanted to strip off the bonds of clan or tribe; they wanted to live their own lives in their own way.
In reality a mighty revolution was taking place. Up till then a person's name decided where he belonged and his status. In the City, a person's name was of no importance, family background of no concern. What counted was personal ability; in the city individuality developed. The evolution from selflessness to individuality became an evolution from individuality to brotherhood. The legend depicted this. In the middle of the Middle Ages the old social structure was being replaced with a new structure, within which each person contributed according to his individual capacity.
Formerly, Leaders and rulers, were always descended from priestly and aristocratic families. The fact that they came from such a background was what mattered; they must have the “right” blood. In the future that would be of no account; someone chosen as leader might be completely unknown as regards descent, and it would be regarded as irreverent to link him with a particular name. The ideal was seen in the great individuality, in the anonymous sage who continued to grow and develop; he was not significant because of his descent, but because of what he was. He was a free individual acknowledged by others just because his achievements were his own.
In this sense, Lohengrin comes before us as representative of man, leading men to freedom and independence. The lady who becomes his wife represents the consciousness described as that of city-dweller of the Middle Ages. He who mediates between the Lofty Being that guides mankind and the people is always associated with great individuality, and is always known by a specific name. Through spiritual knowledge he is known by the technical name “Swan,” which denotes a particular stage of higher spiritual development. The Swan mediates between ordinary people and the Lofty Being that leads humanity. We see a reflection of this in the legend of Lohengrin.
If we are to do
justice to the wisdom found in legends, to things revealed
through Wagner's artistry, we must bring to it an open mind
and mobile ideas. If taken in a narrow, pedantic sense, we
are left with empty words instead of being inwardly fired
with enthusiasm by the far-reaching vistas opened up through
his work. I must be permitted to bring these things before
you in concepts that point to a greater perspective. A figure
like Lohengrin must be presented in light of its
world-historical background and significance. And we must
recognize that an understanding of this significance dawned
in Wagner, enabling him to give it artistic
The same also applies to Wagner's comprehension of the Holy Grail. We concerned ourselves with the Holy Grail in the previous lecture: “Who are the Rosicrucians?” It is indeed a remarkable fact that at a certain moment there arose in Wagner an inkling of the great teaching that flourished in the Middle Ages. Before that happened, another idea, as it were, prepared the way, but first it led him to create a drama called The Victor; this was in 1856.
The Victor was never performed, but the idea it embodied was incorporated into his Parsifal. The Victor depicted the following:
Ananda, a youth of the Brahman caste, was loved by a Tschandala maiden; because of the caste system he cannot reciprocate the love. Ananda became a follower of Buddha, and he eventually conquered his human craving: He gained victory over himself. To the maiden was then revealed that in a former life she was a Brahman and had overcome her love for the youth who was then of the Tschandala caste. Thus, she too was a victor. She and Ananda were spiritually united.
Wagner renders a beautiful interpretation of this idea, taking it as far as reincarnation and karma in the Christian-Anthroposophical sense. We are shown that the maiden herself, in a former life, brought about the present events. Wagner has worked on this idea in 1856.
On Good Friday, 1857, he was sitting in the Retreat, “the sanctuary on the green hill.” Looking out over the fields watching the plants come to life, sprouting from the earth, an inkling arose in him of the Power of the germinating force emerging from the earth in response to the rays of the sun: a driving force, a motivating force that permeates the whole world and lives in all beings; a force that must evolve, that cannot remain as it is; a force that, to reach higher stages, must pass through death. Watching the plants, he felt the force of sprouting life, and turning his gaze across the Lake of Zürich to the village; he contemplated the opposite idea, that of death — the two polar concepts to which Goethe gives such eloquent expression in his poem, Blessed Longing.
And until thou truly hast,
This dying and becoming,
Thou are but a troubled guest
O'er the dark earth roaming.
Goethe rewrote the words in his hymn to nature saying: “Nature invented death to have more life; only through death can she create a higher spiritual life.”
On Good Friday, as the symbol of death came before mankind in remembrance, Wagner sensed the connection between life, death and immortality. He felt a connection between the life sprouting from the earth and the Death on the Cross, the Death that is also the source of a Christian belief that life will ultimately be victorious over death, will become eternal life. Wagner sensed an inner connection between the sprouting life of spring and the Good Friday belief in Redemption, the belief that from Death on the Cross springs Eternal Life. This thought is the same as that contained in the Quest for the Holy Grail, where the chaste plant blossom, striving towards the sun, is contrasted with human desire filled nature. On the one hand Wagner recognized that human beings steeped in desires; on the other he looked towards a future ideal — the ideal that human beings shall attain a higher consciousness through overcoming their lower nature, shall attain a higher fructifying power, called forth by the Spirit.
Looking towards the Cross, Wagner saw the blood flowing from the Redeemer, the symbol of Redemption, being caught in the Graul Chalice. This picture, linked itself within him to the life awakening in nature. These thoughts were passing through Wagner's soul on Good Friday, 1857. He jotted down a few words that later became the basis from which he created his magnificent Good Friday drama. He wrote: "The blossoming plant springs from death; eternal life springs from the Death of Christ." At that moment Wagner had an inner awareness of the Spirit behind all things, of the Spirit victorious over death.
For a time other creative ideas pushed those concerned with Parsifal into the Background. They came to the fore once more near the end of his life, when, clearer than before, they conveyed to him a person's path of knowledge. Wagner portrayed the path to the Holy Graul to show the cleansing of a human beings' desire nature. As an ideal this is depicted as a pure holy chalice whose image is the plant calyx's chaste fructification to new creation by the sunbeam, the holy lance of love. The sunbeam enters matter as Amfortas' lance enters sinful blood. But there the result is suffering and death. The path to the Holy Grail is portrayed as a cleansing of the sinful blood of lower desires till, on a higher level, it is as pure and chaste as is the plant calyx in relation to the sunbeam. Only he who is pure in heart, unworldly, untouched by temptation, so that he approaches the Holy Grail as an "innocent fool" filled with questions of its secret, can discover the path.
Wagner's Parsifal is born out of his mystical feeling for the Holy Grail. At one time he meant to incorporate the idea into his work Die Wibelungen, an historical account of the Middle Ages. He wanted to elevate the concept of Emperor by letting Barbarossa journey to the East in search of the original spirit of Christianity, thus combining the Parsifal legend with history of the Middle Ages. This idea led to his wonderful artistic interpretation of the Good Friday tradition, so that it can truly be said that Wagner has succeeded in bringing religion into art, in making art religious.
In his artistic new creation of the Good Friday tradition, Wagner had the ingenious idea of combining the subject of faith with that of the Holy Grail. On the one hand stands the belief that mankind will be redeemed, and on the other, that through perfecting its nature humanity itself strives towards redemption; the belief that the Spirit permeating mankind — a drop of which lives in each individual as his higher self — in Christ Jesus foreshadowed humanity's redemption. All this arose as an inner picture in Wagner's mind already on that Good Friday in 1857 when he recognized the connection between the legend of Parsifal and Redemption through Christ Jesus.
We can begin to sense the presence of the Christ within mankind's spiritual environment when, with sensitivity and understanding, we absorb the story of the Holy Graul. And it can deepen to concrete inner spiritual experience when we sense the transition from the midnight of Maundy Thursday — events of Maundy Thursday — to those of Good Friday, which symbolize the victory of nature's resurrection.
Wagner's Parsifal was inspired by the festival of Easter. He wanted new life to pour into the Christian festivals, which originally were established out of a deep understanding of nature. This can be seen especially in the case of the Easter festival, which was established when it was still known that the constellation of sun and moon affected human beings. Today people want Easter celebrated an an arbitrarily chosen date, which shows that the festival is no longer experienced as it was when there was still a feeling for the working of nature. When the spirit was regarded as a reality it was sensed in all things. If we could still sense what was bequeathed to us through traditions in regard to the festivals, then we would also have a feeling for how to celebrate Good Friday. Richard Wagner did have that feeling, just as he also perceived that the words of the Redeemer: “I am with you to the end of the world,” called human beings to follow the trail that led to the lofty ideal of the Holy Grail. Then people who lived the Truth would become redeemers.
Mankind is redeemed by the Redeemer. But Wagner adds the question: "When is the Redeemer redeemed?" He is redeemed when He abides in every human heart. As He has descended into the human heart, the human heart must ascend. Something of this was also felt by Wagner, for from the motif of faith he lets sound forth what is the mystical feeling of mankind in these beautiful words from Parsifal:
Greatest Healing Wonder
Redemption for the Redeemer!
These words truly show Wagner's deep commitment to the highest ideal a person can set himself: to approach that Spiritual Power that came down to us and lives in our world. When we are worthy, we bring what resounds at the dose of Richard Wagner's Parsifal: Redemption for the Redeemer.