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Richard Wagner in the Light of Anthroposophy
GA 92

Lecture IV

19 May 1905, Berlin

The same element which gave birth to egoism, to a love which is selfish, now gives birth to a new feeling, high above everything that is entangled in the physical sphere. Wisdom withdraws in order to give birth to love out of that part of the elements which is still chaste and virgin. This love is the Christ, the Christian principle. Unselfish love opposed to selfish love, this is the great process of evolution which must take place through the mysterious involution-process of death, the destruction of physical matter. The contrasts of life and death are drawn by Wagner in sharp outlines.

The wood of the Cross symbolizes life which has withered away, and upon this Cross hangs the new everlasting Life which will give rise to a new epoch.

A new spiritual life proceeds out of the Twilight of the Gods. Richard Wagner's longing, to set forth the Christ principle in all its depth, after his description of the four phases of northern life, appears in his Parsifal. This is the fifth phase. Because Wagner felt so deeply the tragic note contained in the northern world conception of evolution he also felt it incumbent upon him to set forth the glorification of Christianity.


The deeper we penetrate into Richard Wagner's work, the more we shall find in it cosmic-mystical problems, and riddles of life.

It is very significant that after having described the whole primordial age of the Germanic peoples in the four phases of the Ring of the Nibelungs, Richard Wagner created an eminently Christian drama, the work with which he closed his life: Parsifal. We must penetrate into Richard Wagner's personality if we wish to understand what lives in Parsifal.

For Richard Wagner, the character of Jesus of Nazareth was beginning to take on a definite shape ever since his fortieth year. At first he intended to create an entirely different work of art, by setting forth the infinite love for the whole of mankind which lived in Jesus of Nazareth. He conceived the fundamental idea of this drama when he was fifty, and it was to be entitled, “The Victor”. This work shows us the deep world-conception which was the source of the poet's intuitions. The contents of the drama is briefly as follows

Arnanda, a youth of the noble Brahmin caste, is loved passionately by Prakriti, a Chandala maiden, that is, of a lower, despised caste. He renounces this love and becomes a disciple of Buddha. According to Wagner's idea, the Chandala maiden was the reincarnation of a woman belonging to the highest Brahmin caste, who had haughtily spurned the love of a Chandala youth, and whose karmic punishment it is to be born again within the Chandala caste. When she has reached a point in her development enabling her to renounce her love, she also becomes a disciple of Buddha.

You see, therefore, that Wagner grasped the problem of karma in all its depth, out of the true spirit of Buddhism; when he was about fifty years old he had developed to the extent of being able to create a drama of such deep moral force and earnestness as “The Victor”. All these thoughts then flow together in his Parsifal, but at the same time the Christ-problem stands in the centre of the drama. Out of Parsifal streams the whole profundity of this medieval problem.

Wolfram von Eschenbach was the first one to give a poetical shape to the mystery of Parsifal. In him we find the same theme, created out of the deepest substance of the Middle Ages. In the highest minds of the Middle Ages who were imbued with spiritual life lived something which the initiated named the exaltation of love. Before and after, there were Minnesingers, minstrels of love. But there was a great difference between what was formerly understood as love in the Germanic countries, and what arose later on in Christianity as purified love.

This is illustrated and handed down to us in “Armer Heinrich” (“Poor Henry”). Hartmann von der Aue's “Poor Henry” is filled with the spiritual life which the crusaders brought back from the Orient. Let us place before us briefly the, contents of “Poor Henry”: A Swabian knight who has always been fortunate in life is suddenly struck by an incurable disease, which can only be healed through the sacrifice and death of a pure virgin. A virgin is found who is willing to sacrifice herself. They go to Salerno to a celebrated physician. At the last moment, however, Henry regrets the sacrifice and does not wish to accept it. The virgin remains alive. Henry regains his health after all, and they get married.

Here we have, therefore, a pure virgin and her sacrifice on behalf of a man who has only lived a life of pleasure and who is saved through her sacrifice. A mystery lies, concealed in this. From the standpoint of the Middle Ages, Minnesinging was looked upon as something which had been handed down from the four phases of ancient Germanic life, as contained in the sagas which Wagner placed before us in his Tetralogy. Love based on the life of the senses was considered at that time as something which had been overcome; love was to rise again spiritually, linked up with the feeling of renunciation.

In order to realise what took place, we must collect all the factors which reconstruct for us the expression, the physiognomy of that past period. And then we shall be able to understand what induced Wagner to set forth this legend.

The earliest Germanic races had a legend which we can trace throughout history, one of the root-legends which can also be found in a somewhat different form in Italy and in other countries. Let us place before you, the outline of this legend: A man has learnt to know the pleasures and joys of this world, and penetrates into a kind of subterranean cavern. There he meets a woman of exceeding great charm and attraction. He experiences the joys of paradise, nevertheless he longs to return to the earth. Finally he comes out of the mountain and returns to life.—This is a legend which we can find everywhere in Europe, and it appears to us very clearly in Tannhäuser. If we study this legend we shall find that it is, to begin with, the personification of love in the Germanic countries before the great turning point of the times. Life in the world outside is renounced for a retirement in the cavern to the joys brought by the old kind of love, by the goddess Venus.

In this form the legend has no real point of issue, no possibility of looking up to something higher. It arose before love underwent the already mentioned transformation. Later on, in the early times of Christianity when love began to take on a spiritual form, people sought to throw a glaring light on these earlier periods and on this paradise in the cave of Venus, as a contrast to the other paradise which they had found.

At this point we must consider our fifth root-race. When the floods had buried Atlantis, the sub-races of the fifth root-race gradually emerged: the Indian, the Median-Persian, the Assyrian-Babylonian-Semitic, the Graeco-Latin races. When the Roman culture began to flow off, our fifth sub-race emerged, the Germanic races in which we now live and which have a special significance for Christian Europe.

Not that Wagner was aware of all these things, but he possessed an unerring feeling for the world-situation and felt what tasks were incumbent upon the races; he felt it just as clearly as if he had known spiritual science.

You know that every one of these races was inspired by great initiates. The fifth root-race arose out of the ancient Semitic races. A trace of this origin still lives in all the sub-races which have so far constituted the fifth root-race. You know that after the destruction of Atlantis by the great flood the peoples who had emigrated and had thus been preserved from destruction were led by Manu, a divine guide, into Asia, into the desert of Gobi. Cultural influences went out from there to India, Persia, Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and even to our own countries.

History can no longer trace the first semitic streams of influence upon human civilisation when contemplating the ancient Aryan civilisation. This influence appears more clearly only in the third sub-race, in the Egyptian-Semitic-Babylonian peoples. The people of Israel even derive their name from it. Christianity itself may be led back, as a fourth influence, to a semitic impulse. If we continue studying the development of these influences we shall find the semitic impulse in the Moorish culture which penetrated into Spain, and spread over the whole of Europe influencing even Christian monks.

Thus the primal semitic impulse reaches as far as the fifth sub-race.

We see the impulses of one great stream penetrate five times into the earliest civilisations. We have one great spiritual stream coming from the South, which is met by another stream arising in the North, which penetrates into four phases of the early northern civilisation and develops until it meets the first stream, thus flowing together with it. A childlike, unworldly nation dwelt in northern Europe and these early inhabitants underwent the influence of the stream of culture coming from the South at the turning point of the 12th and 13th century. This new culture penetrated into these regions like a spiritual current of air. Wolfram von Eschenbach was entirely under the influence of this spiritual current.

The northern civilisation is symbolized in the legend of Tannhäuser, which also contains an impulse from the South. Everywhere we come across something which may be designated as a semitic impulse.

There was one thing, however, which was, felt very strongly: namely, that the Germanic races were a last link in this chain of development and that something entirely new would arise, preparing something completely different within the sixth sub-race: the higher mission of Christianity. The Germanic peoples longed for this new form of Christianity: a Christianity was to be called into life which had nothing to do with what had been taken over from the South. A contrast arose between Rome and Jerusalem; “Rome on the one side and Jerusalem on the other” was the battle-cry under which the crusaders fought. The idea that Jerusalem must be the centre was never lost.

A spiritual Jerusalem, rather then a physical one, was borne in mind: Jerusalem as a spiritual centre, and at the same time as an outpost of the future.

It was felt that the fifth sub-race had to serve still another purpose, that it had to fulfil a special task. The old impulses had ceased, something entirely new was to come, a new spiral curve in the civilisation of the world began. What had come from the South was only an attempt; the kernel was now to be peeled out of its skins. At the turn of the Middle Ages it was felt that something old, which had been experienced as a boon, was setting and had come to an end, and that the longing for something new contained a new impulse which was gradually coming into life. These were the feelings which lived particularly in the strong personality of Wolfram von Eschenbach.

Consider now the new period. Imagine this feeling rising up anew in a period of decadence, and then you will find in it something of what lived in Wagner. Many things had in the meantime taken place which were formerly experienced as decay of the race. Richard Wagner felt this particularly strongly ever since his conscious life began. The chaos which surrounds us to such a great extent to-day, the chaos in which the masses waste away through sickness, contain both the symptoms of decay and of a new life.

The misery of the great masses of European people, whose spiritual life remains hidden in darkness, who are cut away from education and culture, has never been experienced more deeply than by Richard Wagner, and for this reason he became a revolutionary in the year 1848, for the following thought weighed heavily on his heart: It lies within our power to help in accelerating the downward course of the wheel, or in guiding it up again.

This is the idea of Bayreuth. The events of 1848 were only an insignificant symptom of the coming spiritual movement. If we grasp this, we shall be able to understand how Richard Wagner came to his race-problem, dealt with in his prose-writings. He expresses himself more or less as follows: In Asia, in the Hindoo race, we may find something of the primordial force of the Aryan race. Some of the strong spiritual forces of the Aryan race exist for a chosen few, for the Brahmin caste. The lower castes are excluded, but a high spiritual standpoint is reached by the Brahmins. Then we may find in the North a more childlike race (thus Wagner continues), which has passed through the four stages of evolution within the race itself. These people delight in hunting; killing is a joy to them, but this pleasure in taking away life is a symptom of decadence. It is a deep, occult fact that life is strangely connected with knowledge, with the development of man in the direction of higher spiritual knowledge. Everything man doer, in the way of cruelty or of destruction of life takes away from him the pure spiritual forces. For this reason, those who increase the forces of egoism, who tread the black path, must destroy life. (In Mabel Collin's “Flita”, the story of a woman dealing in black magic, Flita destroys unborn existences, because she needs life in order to maintain her power.)

There is a deep connection between the taking away of life and the life of man. In the eternal course of evolution this is a lesson which must be learnt and experienced. But it is another matter if during a certain period of evolution people take away life in a naïve way. Once upon a time the act of killing made man feel his own strength. This may be said of the ancient Germanic races, the hunting peoples. Ever since Christianity has appeared, it is a mortal sin to kill, and killing is now a symptom of decadence in a race.

This was the foundation of the view which induced Wagner to become a strict vegetarian. In his opinion, the only way in which a race may grow in strength is through a nourishment which does not imply killing.

The feeling that a new impulse had to come produced in Wagner also his ideas concerning the influence of the Jews upon our present civilisation.

He was not anti-semitic in the present, odious way, but he felt that Judaism as such had finished to play its role, and that the semitic impulses must die out. This gave rise to his call for emancipation from these impulses. A powerful spiritual direction made him feel that something new must replace earlier influences. This is connected with his ideas about the Germanic races. He made a clear distinction between the development of the soul and of the race. This distinction must be made by saying: We were all incarnated in the Atlantean race. Whereas the souls have risen higher, the races have degenerated. Every step we ascend is connected with a descent. For every man who grows more noble-minded there is one who sinks down lower. There is a difference between the soul dwelling within the race-body and the race-body itself. The more a human being resembles the race to which he belongs, the more he loves what is transient and is connected with the qualities of his race, the more he will degenerate with the race. The more he emancipates himself, lifting himself out of the peculiarities of his race, the more his soul will have the possibility to incarnate more highly. Richard Wagner knows that in fighting against the Semitic element we should not fight against the souls who are incarnated within the race, but only against the race as such, which has finished to play its role. Wagner thus makes a distinction between the descending evolution of the race and the ascending evolution of souls. He felt the necessity of this ascending evolution just as keenly as a medieval soul, just as keenly as Wolfram von Eschenbach, or Hartmann von der Aue.

We must consider once more what is contained in the fact that in “Armer Heinrich” (Poor Henry) Henry is healed by a pure virgin. Henry has lived, to begin with, a life of the senses, his Ego is born out of his race. This “Ego” begins to all as soon as it begins to hear the higher call, the call meant for humanity in general. The soul grows ill because it connects itself with something which is only rooted in the race: with a form of love which is rooted in the race. Now this lower kind of love living within the race must develop into a higher form of love. What lives within the race must be redeemed by something higher, by the higher, purer soul that is ready to sacrifice herself for the striving soul of man.

You know that the soul consists of a male and a female part, and that the impressions of the senses which enter the soul push this soul-element into the background.

“The eternal Feminine draws us along!” (“Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan!” Goethe, Faust II). Salvation means that sense-life must be overcome. We find this redemption also in “Tristan and Isolde”.

The historical expression for the overcoming of sense-life is “Parsifal”. He is the representative of a new Christianity. He becomes the King of the Holy Grail because he redeems what has once been held in the bondage of the senses and thus brings into the world a new principle of love. What lies at the foundation of Parsifal? What is the meaning of the Holy Grail? The earliest legend which appears at the turning-point of the Middle Ages tells us that the Holy Grail is the cup which was used by Jesus Christ at the Lord's Supper, the cup in which he offered the bread and the. wine and in which Joseph of Arimataea caught up the blood streaming out of Christ's wound. The spear which caused this wound and the chalice were born up by angels, who held it suspended in the air until Titurel found them and built upon Montsalvat (which means: the Mountain of Salvation) a castle in which he could guard these treasures. Twelve knights gathered together to serve the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail had the power to avert the danger of death from these knights and to supply them with everything they needed for their life. Whenever they looked upon it they acquired new spiritual strength.

On the one side, we have the temple of the Holy Grail with its knights, and on the other, the Magic Castle of Klingsor with his knights, who are, in reality, the enemies of the knighthood of the Holy Grail. We are confronted with two forms of Christianity. One kind is represented by the knights of the Holy Grail and the other by Klingsor. Klingsor is the man who has mutilated himself in order not to fall a prey to the senses. But he has not overcome his desires, he has only taken away the possibility to satisfy them. Thus he lives in a sensual sphere. The maidens of the magic castle serve him, and everything belonging to the sphere of desires is at his disposal. Kundry is the real temptress in this kingdom: she attracts everyone who approaches Klingsor into the sphere of sensual love. Klingsor has not destroyed desire, but only the organ of desire. He personifies the form of Christianity which comes from the South and introduced an ascetic life; it eliminated a sensual life, but it could not destroy desire; it could protect against the tempting powers of Kundry. A higher element was perceived in the power of a spirituality which rises above sensual life into the sphere of purified love, not through compulsion, but through a higher, spiritual knowledge.

Amfortas and the knights of the Holy Grail strive after this, but they do not succeed in establishing this kingdom So long as the true spiritual force is lacking, Amfortas yields to the temptations of Kundry. The higher spirituality personified in Amfortas falls a prey to the lower memory.

Thus we are confronted with two phenomena. On the one hand, Christianity which has become ascetic and is unable to reach a higher spiritual knowledge; and on the other hand, the spiritual knighthood which falls a prey to Klingsor's temptation until the redeemer appears who vanquishes Klingsor. Amfortas is wounded and loses the sacred spear; he must guard the Holy Grail as a sorrow-laden king. This higher Christianity is therefore diseased and suffering; it must guard the mysteries of Christianity in sorrow until a new saviour appears. And this saviour appears in Parsifal.

Parsifal must first learn his lesson, he passes through tests; he then becomes purified and finally attains spiritual power, the feeling of the great oneness of all existence. Richard Wagner thus unconsciously comes to great occult truths. First of all to compassion. Parsifal at first passes through a scale of experiences which fill him with compassion for our older brothers, the animals. In his violent desire to embrace knighthood he has abandoned his mother Herzeleide, who has died of a broken heart. He has battled and killed. The dying glance of an animal then taught him what it means: “to kill”.

The second stage consists in rising above desire, without killing desire from outside.

So he reaches the sanctuary of the Grail, but he does not as yet understand his task. He learns his lesson through life, He falls into temptation through Kundry, but he stands the test. Just when he is about to fall, he rises above desire; a new pure love shines forth within him like a rising sun.

Something flares up which we already discovered in the Twilight of the Gods: “Incarnatus est de spiritum sanctum ex Maria Virgine”, born of the Spirit through the Virgin, (the higher love, which is not filled with sensual feelings).

The human being must awaken within him a soul which purifies everything transmitted by the senses. because virgin substance, virgin matter, will give birth to the Ego of the Christ. The lower female element in the human soul dies and will be replaced by a higher female element which lifts him up to the Spirit.

A higher virgin power faces the seducing Kundry. Kundry, the other female element pertaining to sex which draws man down, which seeks to draw him down, must be overcome.

Kundry has already lived once as Herodias who asked for the head of John the Baptist, Herodias, the mother of Ahasver. The force which cannot find peace and seeks everywhere a sensual love, this force takes on the form of a love which must first be purified, undergo a transformation, like Kundry. Emancipation from a love dependent on the senses—this is the mystery which Richard Wagner has woven into his Parsifal.

This thought permeates all the works of Richard Wagner. Even in his “Flying Dutchman” the intuitive force of his nature leads him to the same problem, for in this work we find that a virgin is willing to sacrifice herself for the Dutchman, thus redeeming him from his long wanderings. And the same problem is contained in “Tannhäuser”. The singer's contest on the Wartburg is set forth as a contest between the singer of the old sensual love, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, and Wolfram von Eschenbach, who is the representative of the new, spiritual Christianity. He overcomes Heinrich von Ofterdingen, who has called in the aid of Klingsor from Hungary, but Wolfram overcomes both. Now we are able to understand Tristan more deeply, because we know that what lives in him is not the killing of love, but the overcoming of the race, or the purification of love.

Richard Wagner rose from Schopenhauer's “Denial of the Will” to a purification of the will.

Wagner even expressed this purification in his “Meistersingers”, where Hans Sachs' feelings toward Eve undergo a purification when he seeks to win her for himself. This is expressed not so much in the text, as in the music.

All this has streamed together in his Parsifal. Richard Wagner looked back upon the ancient ideal of the Brahmins, and perceived with sorrow the symptoms of decay in the present race. He wished to give rise to a new impulse born out of art. In his Festivals at Bayreuth he had in mind to redeem the race by giving it a new spiritual content.

This was the spirit which prompted Nietzsche, so long as he was connected with Wagner, to write about “Dyonisian Art”. He felt that these Festivals contained something of the spirit of the ancient Mysteries. The Mysteries had contributed to the development of the human race up to the fourth sub-race. In the Mystery-temple of Dyonisos it was possible to experience this uplifting impulse, and in the North, the initiates, the druids, spoke of the twilight of the gods out of which a new race would come forth, would have to come forth.

Our civilisation, with its task of introducing Christianity, stands in the very midst of these ideas. Sorrowfully the Greek disciple of the Mysteries spoke of the man “who would come to fulfil the Mysteries”.

Richard Wagner saw the time approaching when Christianity, developing out of the fifth sub-race, would have to be fulfilled. He brought faith also to those “who could not see”. A time will come when the God of the Mysteries will rise again from the human into the divine sphere. The twilight of the gods of the ancient northern saga shows us this ascent, in the gods' journey to Walhalla along the rainbow-bridge. The time draws near and must be fulfilled when Christianity begins to speak its own characteristic language, when “those who believed will be able to see again”. Bayreuth thus shows us two currents of civilisation: The renewal of the Mysteries of Greece, and a new Christianity—thus uniting what had become severed.

Richard Wagner and all those who surrounded him felt this, and Edouard Schuré had the same feeling about this art. He saw in it the prologue introducing the union of what had become severed in the past.

Religion, art and science were united in the ancient primordial drama: then came the division and three separate currents began to flow out of the one source contained within the Greek Mysteries.

Each current owes its development to the fact that it went its own separate way. In the course of time a “religious” element arose for the soul, an “artistic” one for the senses, and a “scientific” one for the understanding.

This was inevitable, for perfection could be reached only if man unfolded every one of his capacities separately until they attained the highest point of development.

If religion is led toward the highest form of Christianity, it is willing to become reunited with art and science. Art—poetry, painting, sculpture and music—will reach the summit if it becomes permeated with true religion. And science, which has reached its full development in the modern period, has really given the impulse for the reunion of these three currents.

Richard Wagner, one of the first who felt the impulse leading to a reunion of art, science and religion, has offered this to humanity as a new gift.

He felt that Christianity is again called upon to unite everything. And he poured this new Christianity into his Parsifal.

The Good Friday music, expressing Wagner's own Good Friday feelings, re-echoes in our ear as if it were the great current of a new civilisation. The Good Friday experience revealed to him that the individual development of the soul and the development of the race must go separate ways, that the souls must be lifted up and saved, that it is our task to awaken the soul to new life, in spite of the tragic fate connecting the body with the race, with the forces which are doomed to decay.

To fill the world with tones pointing to a new future, this is what Richard Wagner wished to set forth at Bayreuth, this is the newly rising star which he pointed out to us. At least a small part of humanity should listen to the tones of the future age.

Wagner's life-work ends with apocalyptic words, the apocalypse which he wished to proclaim to his period, as a true prophet who knew that a new age would dawn very soon:

“Die Gesichte, die ich sehe,
Will ich Euch künden!”

“The visions I see

let me proclaim to you!”