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Spiritual Scientific Notes on Goethe's Faust, Vol. II
GA 273

6. The Helena Saga and the Riddle of Freedom

4 November 1917, Dornach

In the evolution of mankind, as I have recently been showing, inner spiritual connections prevail, which send their influences through the soul of man. I showed this in relation to Goethe's endeavours in his Faust, where he relates Faust to the impulse of the fifth post-Atlantean age by associating him with Mephistopheles, an Ahrimanic power. I then tried to show how Faust had to dive down into the impulses of the fourth post-Atlantean age, which I tried to describe in their real essence. All this is necessary, so that there takes place in the soul of Faust a conscious interpenetration of that which prevails unconsciously in human souls by virtue of the laws of evolution.

I said that the fifth post-Atlantean epoch—our epoch—will have to do with the great and significant life-question of Evil,—the mastery of Evil in all directions. Human beings will have to learn to know all that the soul must rouse and bring forth within itself in order partly to overcome the powers of Evil, partly to transmute them into impulses of Good. All this has arisen on the foundation of the impulses of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, which had to do especially with the problem of Birth and Death,—a problem which it had received as heritage from Atlantean time. We need only turn our gaze to the Christ-Impulse itself, entering in as it did in the first third of the fourth post-Atlantean period. This period began with the founding of Rome in the year 747 before the Birth of Christ. Thus, of the 2160 years of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, 747 years had to run their course before the main impulse—the Christ-Impulse could enter in, as indeed it did precisely in this fourth post-Atlantean epoch. Has not the Christ-Impulse to do with the great and important question that summons into the evolution of mankind problems of Birth and Death in their supersensible significance? How much discussion, how much thought and feeling has there not been on Christian soil about the Birth of Christ! How infinitely significant a part is played by the Death of Christ! In the Birth and Death of Christ we see most pregnantly this wrestling of the soul of man with the problem of Birth and Death. It was a wrestling in the soul, because the same struggle had already been there in a more elemental, in a more physical form in the great Atlantean epoch. Notably in the fourth civilisation-epoch of Atiantis-in the middle of Atlantean time, and as an after-effect in the fifth period also,—forces connected with Birth and Death were subject to the power of individual human beings. I have already described some aspects of this fact. Forces there were in the Atlanteans—forces that could be developed and that had influence on Birth and Death in a far more than merely natural degree. The good and evil forces in the human being had a far-reaching influence upon the health and sickness of their fellowmen, and thereby also upon Birth and Death. In Atlantean time one saw an actual connection between the things one did as human being and what took place in the so-called “course of Nature,” as Birth and Death.

In post-Atlantean time—in the fourth civilisation-epoch of post-Atlantean time—this problem of Birth and Death was transplanted more into the region of the soul. But in our epoch, in the fifth, human beings will have to grapple with the forces of Evil in an elemental way, just as they did with Birth and Death in Atlantean time. Notably through the quite different mastery over the forces of Nature, the impulses of Evil will work into the world on a grand scale, in a gigantic way. In the resistance which human beings will have to summon forth from spiritual depths, the opposite forces—the forces of Good—will have to grow. And in particular, already during the fifth epoch it will be possible for men to bring Evil over the Earth, by exploiting the force of Electricity, which will assume far greater dimensions than hitherto. Even directly out of the force of Electricity itself, Evil comes over the Earth.

We need to place these things before our consciousness. He who desires to receive the spiritual impulses will then find points of resistance; he will find the starting-points for those impulses which must evolve by the very resistance of Evil. It is difficult as yet to speak in any detail in this connection; for in the widest spheres as yet, these details touch on interests of human beings which they do not wish to have molested. In this respect, human beings are divided. On the one hand are those who suffer greatly, because they cannot clearly realise how they are interwoven with World-Karma; how they simply must take part in this thing or that, and cannot become abstractly pious all at once. On the other hand are those who in many ways are caught up in this World-Karma of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. They would rather not hear of what is really contained in the impusles that are going through the world, for it is often to their interest to represent as constructive the very impulses that are destructive. We have described, how since the last third of the nineteenth century there have been working among human beings those Beings whom I characterised as fallen Spirits of Darkness—Beings of the hierarchy of Angeloi. In the fourth post-Atlantean period, these Beings were still ministering members of the good, progressive Powers. They served in the creation of those orders which, as I told you, are derived out of the blood-relationship of men. Now they are in the realm of men, and as Angel-beings who have remained behind, they work into the inner impulses of human beings, to make effective in a retrogressive way—and thereby in an Ahrimanic way—all that which is connected with relationships of blood and clan, nation and race. Thereby they work to mar and to hinder those other social structures of mankind which should now arise out of quite other foundations than for example the bonds of blood, of family and race, clan and nation. To-day a very serious beginning of the work of these Spirits consists precisely in the abstract emphasis that is laid on the principle of Nationality. This abstract emphasis on Nationality, this setting up of programmes on the foundations of a national principle, is among those endeavours which we must attribute to the Spirits of Darkness who will stand far nearer to man—who will approach man in a far more intimate way—than did the backward Spirits of the fourth post-Atlantean period. The latter belong to the hierarchy of Archangeloi. Precisely this will be the significant aspect of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. These Beings who stand immediately above the hierarchy of Man—these Angel-beings—are able to approach the individual human being very nearly and intimately. They do not merely approach the groups. The individual will believe that he is representing things out of his own personal impulse, where in reality—for we can truly put it so—he is possessed by the kind of Angel-being of whom we have been speaking.

Let us once more make clear to ourselves, what was the nature of the efforts of the backward retrogressive Spirits of Darkness of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. For we shall then be more able to understand what is the nature of their efforts in our present, fifth post-Atlantean epoch. In the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, as I have told you, it was the normal thing to build all the social structure of humanity upon the bonds of blood—blood-relationship. During that time—that is, during the Graeco-Latin civilisation-epoch—the Ahrimanic-Luciferic backward Beings rebelled precisely against the bonds of blood. They were the inspirers of that rebellion which wanted to loosen human beings from blood-kinship. You can derive it even from the general teachings of Spiritual Science. And above all, it was in a sense the descendants of individualities who in the Atlantean time had still been working in a magical way,—it was the descendants of these, who as rebelling individualities, became the “Heroes” in the recapitulation of Atlantean time, in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. I beg you now to observe how the Graeco-Latin epoch met these rebel-beings. For in that time, after all, there was still the wise guidance of mankind out of the Mysteries. They did not say to human beings: “Avoid these rebel natures! Avoid the Ahrimanic, Luciferic spiritual Beings!” They did not say this to them; they knew that it lay in the wise plan of cosmic evolution to place these Beings where they were and to use them. It is a weakness of many people to-day, when they hear of Lucifer and Ahriman, to explain: “For Heaven's sake, let us avoid them!” As though they could avoid them! I have often spoken of this. Knowledge was brought to the human beings of the fourth post-Atlantean time in the form in which it had to be at that time. The influence of the good Gods was there in the bonds of blood. Human beings gave themselves up to it, in the mutual love which was founded in the blood-relationships (for so it was at that time; to-day it must be more purely spiritual.) Yet, for the sake of progress, rebellions always had to take place. This way of cosmic evolution had to be explained to the people in myths and legends. To the Initiates they were communicated in another form—in a way more similar to the way in which these truths are being taught to us to-day. But in the widest circles, human beings of that time would not have been ready to receive the explanations of the myths. Therefore the exoteric myths were told to them. In these, however, deep significant truths of evolution lay concealed.

Let us consider an outstanding myth, connected with the very thing I have just been placing before you. It tells how an oracle prophesied to Laius of Thebes at his betrothal with Jocaste. It prophesied that from this union a son would be born who would become his father's murderer and live in incest with his mother. Laius did not let this deter him from the contemplated union; but when the son was born, he pierced his heels and had him exposed on Mount Cithaeron. To a shepherd the boy became entrusted. The shepherd's wife called him Oedipus on account of his pierced heels. You know how the story goes on. The boy Oedipus grew up; his talents developed. At an early age his soul was beset by doubts concerning his descent, for his companions drew his attention to many things. Then the Delphic Oracle pronounced an important saying, painful to study nowadays, if you can study it in its whole context. The saying is: “Avoid thy home-country; otherwise thou wilt become thy father's murderer, thy mother's husband.” This was said to Oedipus.

Now he was under a complete illusion. He did not know who his father and his mother really were. He could not but think Corinth, where he had grown up, his home. At last he wandered from Corinth in order not to bring about disaster there by killing his father and marrying his mother. But the very fact that he set out and took the way to Thebes became his doom. On the way he met a chariot in which his father Laius was travelling with a companion. A conflict arose; he killed his father and continued on his way to Thebes, and his first deed was, as you know, to solve the Riddle of the Sphinx. So we hay e Oedipus placed in the very fullest way into the evolutionary nexus of the fourth post-Atlantean age. For in a certain sense the Riddle of the Sphinx—the Riddle of Man—belonged to the fourth epoch. Oedipus was one of those who knew. Far from replying to the Sphinx: “I am reluctant to unveil a higher secret”; he solved the secret. Something was thereby implanted in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. It was an impulse that worked on and on, and in which Oedipus played an essential part. For we Wright speak for many hours about the solving of the Riddle of the Sphinx by Oedipus; but we need not do so to-day. To-day we will only make clear that this deed reveals him as a characteristic Hero of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch.

Now he went on to Thebes, married his mother, whom of course he did not hold to be his mother, and was comparatively happy—till a plague arose. At length it was the seer Tiresias who revealed the truth. Jocaste, suddenly knowing herself tobe the wife of her son, killed herself by suffocation. Oedipus blinded himself and was driven away by his own sons. Another one, Theseus, then protected him in the Grove of Attica until his death, and he was buried in Attic soil. We need only call to mind the Oedipus-drama up to this point.

What does it represent? It represents an individuality—the Oedipus individuality—taken out of the blood connection, growing up outside the bonds of blood and then transplanted back again into the blood-connection, to his own detriment. We have before us no mere subjective rebel against the bonds of blood, but one who by the very laws of Nature becomes a rebel against the bonds of blood and thereby kindles and enflames them even against himself.

Look through the Greek mythology, and you will often find such human beings—Heroes who are placed into the blood-relationship in such and such a way, but who are then exposed so that they undergo their evolution outside the blood-relationship. Through the very fact that they are removed from the old order, from the normal order, they then bring in quite other impulses of evolution. Such an Hero is Oedipus; such too is Theseus who protects him in the wood of Attica.

No wonder if in ancient Greece they could not tell the people who was really behind these Heroes! They could not tell them that they were the great rebels, who were none the less necessary in the wise course of World-evolution. Think, for example, of Theseus himself. Here, too, it was an oracular saying that reached the ears of his father, so that he had his son educated far away. The mother, who had given birth to Theseus far from his father's home, was told: When the youth grows up so that he can wield a certain sword, then and then only let him return. Here again, Theseus is removed, transplanted away from the blood-connection. He too has to solve important riddles of the fourth post-Atlantean time. You know the legend of how he liberated Athens from the tribute of the youths who had to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, and of how he saved himself by means of Ariadne's thread. Theseus became the protector of Oedipus; yet Theseus is the very one who carries Helena away when she is ten years old, and keeps her in hiding. Theseus is brought into close connection with Helena.

Deep evolutionary riddles of the fourth post-Atlantean age are concealed beneath these things. The Court lady of the sixteenth century naturally had no more inkling of them than to exclaim: “From her tenth year onward she was nothing worth.” Yet in this line again, Goethe is hinting at sometning deeply significant. Goethe was well aware that that which stands behind Helena is in reality worthy of reverence, even as Faust revered her. But with regard to Helena of all people, the worst forces of calumny have been at work. Mankind might learn from such things; it can very easily happen that that which is worthy of true recognition—that which perhaps is highest—can be the most calumniated!

I only wished to point this out, to show how Helena herself stands in mysterious connection with those individualities who were the rebels of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, and who at that time had the task—for the wise guidance of the Universe—to break through the blood-relationship.

How does it stand with Paris, who is presented to us by Goethe in the Invocation Scene—forgive the trite expression, I do not mean it trivially—as Faust's competitor or rival? How does it stand with Paris? Here too we are told; he was the son of Priam and of Hecuba, and his mother had a dream when she was pregnant with him. In this case it began not with an oracle but with a dream—albeit a dream containing deeper wisdom. It prophesied to Paris' mother that she would give birth to a burning torch that would set fire to the city of Troy. Therefore the parallel legend tells also of an oracle which announced to the father that this his son would serve in Troy's destruction. Whether for the one reason or the other, the father had Paris exposed. Paris, therefore, was also among those who were put outside the blood community. He was brought up in Parion, far from the bonds of blood; and it was there that there took place what the legend tells: how Eris assigned the apple to the most beautiful, and how Paris was called upon by the Goddesses, Hera, Pallas and Aphrodite, to determine which of them was the fairest. It was even said that Hera promised Paris Asia, that is the ruler- ship over the Earth, for ‘Asia’ at that time signified the rulership of the entire Earth. Pallas Athene promised him fame in battle; Aphrodite the fairest of women. Paris gave Aphrodite the prize of beauty.

Nov the great Song of Homer describes how significantly Paris thereby entered into the whole course of the affairs of Greece. In Paris himself we have an individuality rebelling against the bonds of blood. He takes Helena out of the Grecian bonds,of blood and tries to transplant her to Troy. He wants to break the bonds of blood. These things are always connected in this way; in the Greek Hero-legends we always see how there is placed into the midst of evolution that which is meant to break the bonds of blood. For the bonds of blood—in themselves strong, mighty and powerful—they are the thing that really brings about the social structure in that time.

There is one question which can come before us very clearly in this field, and it shall occupy us now for a few minutes. Someone might easily raise the following question: How does it stand with human freedom if such important deeds as the rape of Helena by Paris are accomplished by something taking place in the Spiritual World above, as in this case the rivalry of the three Goddesses? The human being then appears as the mere tool to execute what is not only prepared, but actually worked-out, in spiritual realms above. Now in a certain sense we must truly say: That which takes place through human beings here below is the reflected image of what happens in the Spiritual World. This is a point where the great riddle of freedom mightily knocks upon the doors of human knowledge. Are we really automata, who by their actions reveal the mere reflected image of what happens in the Spiritual World above? And again, how would the Spiritual World, which is the guide and leader in all that happens,—how would the Spiritual World stand there if, so to speak, it had nothing to do, if it were actionless? Two things must be understood: First, the universal course is really led and guided by spiritual forces, spiritual Powers; and nothing happens that does not happen down from the Spiritual World. And the second is, that the human being has Free Will. The two things seem diametrically opposite. We are here touching a great riddle, a problem that gives men very much to do, and they can never get beyond it lightly. For it is truly so: If we look up into the Spiritual World, what the Gods do there represents the deeds of Gods; and the human beings here below carry out the impulses of Gods. So indeed it is. How then can human beings be free?

Let me now place these problems before you with a few brief strokes. Of course one can only indicate a little of this problem at a time. Let us assume therefore: Up yonder are the three Goddesses with the conflict that is taking place among them. As a result of their conflict, there comes clown on to the Earth the impulse that proceeds from these their actions. We need not consider for our present purpose how these actions are in turn connected with still higher Hierarchies. That which takes place up yonder takes place with absolute Necessity; and as to that which Paris does, this also happens because the three Goddesses above have had this conflict with one another. How then is any freedom possible for Paris? It is practically out of the question, you will say. Yet it is not. For the ray falls down, as it were, on to the Earth; and here on Earth there is not one whom it can reach, but there are many. Assume, for example, that there are an hundred. Ninety and nine do not do the deed; the hundredth does it. Here in effect once more the Mystery of Number plays its part. These things are always confused. Paris does the deed, it is true, but the point is that Paris only becomes fully Paris inasmuch as he finds himself prepared to put himself in the very place where this impulse was able to he fulfilled. In short, the Gods would have found another one if Paris had not done it; and in that case the legend would be told of another.

It is through Number that you will come to the solution of this Riddle of Freedom. And if so be, at any given point of time, among the hundreds who stand here below no one is found, then the Gods wait till one arrives. He then accomplishes what the Gods place before him. Be that as it may, Paris it is who has accomplished the deed. It does not mar his freedom in the very least, for he could perfectly well have left the deed undone. Think of this aspect of the problem of Number, and you will find that the divinely necessary, wisdom-filled guidance of the Universe stands not in contradiction to human Freedom. Needless, to say, this does not exhaust the problem of freedom; this again is only a part.

You see, therefore, how in the total evolution of mankind the Heroes of ancient Greece, of whom we are told that they were exposed in childhood, are of great significance. And you may also call to mind (you will find it in one of my lectures; I do not know, I may even have said it several times) there is a similar legend of exposure in connection with Judas. Of Judas Iscariot we are also told that he was put out in his youth. This is a typical feature; it signifies in the language of myth and legend the entry of the rebel Powers, who rebel against the bonds of blood of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch.

Now the region out of which these impulses proceeded in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch is the region wherein the Archangel-Beings rule. Therefore the narratives are always such that the human being stands rather remote from the influences that take place out of the Spiritual World. Either it is an oracle that brings the message from the Spiritual World, or else it is the direct intervention of the World of the Gods Themselves. Helena, you know, is a daughter of Leda and Zeus; here too the Spiritual World works in directly. In our time it is the dark and backward Angel-Beings, and they naturally work through a far more intimate intercourse with human beings. I have already told you, if one would discuss or even only hint at many things that are connected with this working of the Dark Powers since the last third of the nineteenth century, one treads on very thin ice indeed! But you can tell from the whole context; the seeking of social structure through the bonds of blood, which was the right and normal evolution for the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, represents, where it remains behind in the fifth epoch, one of those impulses with which the human beings of this epoch will have to battle. We must however add another thing which I have also told you. Something entirely new is now occurring. The fourth post-Atlantean epoch—its wrestling with Birth and Death—was a repetition of Atlantean time. Now something new makes it appearance—something created directly out of Maya or Illusion. Yet this Illusion we must also understand; we must only understand it rightly. It goes without saying, Maya was always there. As I explained in the essay which you will shortly be able to read in the Reich, in relation to the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz, all consciousness originates out of Illusion. Yet since the fifth post-Atlantean epoch began, Illusion is present in a more than usual degree. Illusion will appear increasingly in this form:—Human beings will give themselves up to illusions. Illusions there always were, but they were always connected with other powers in the third post-Atlantean epoch, with the forces of “elective affinity”; in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch with the forces of Birth and Death; in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch with the forces of Evil. Illusion, Maya itself, will be seized upon by Evil. Moreover, it will all be permeated by that element of which I have also told you—by cleverness, intelligence.

It sounds paradoxical when one asserts that it is good for men that they can learn to know all these things. But the fact is, the human being can only come to spiritual freedom by growing strong against resistance. This, one can readily see.

Moreover, precisely that which is connected with the number Five is always connected in this way with the unfolding of Evil. Human beings will have to accustom themselves to one thing: to regard the inrush of the forces of Evil as an inrush of very laws of Nature, forces of Nature. Then they will learn to know them, and they will know what lives and moves in the very depths of things. We must not regard Evil from the outset as one would, who in the fulness of his egoism merely wanted to get away, to flee from it. We cannot do so. But we must penetrate it with consciousness; we must learn to know it,—really learn to know it. Above all, in our time already a force is preparing in the realm of human beings,—a force which tends to create illusions that are harmful and destructive. I will give you a little example of one such illusion. In giving this example, once again I do not wish in any way or in the very least to take sides in one direction or the other; I simply wish to give you an example of this entry of Illusion.

Assume that a politician appears upon the scenes to-day, wishing to speak out of his inmost impulse of his own attitude to the wheel of the world—to the various things that are being said and done to-day, from one quarter or another. Suppose that this politician found occasion to express himself about the part that is being played in the events of our time by the British State system (I say the State system; for with the nations themselves we are not concerned in this connection) and by the hidden powers that are behind it,—powers of which we have often spoken. Assume that a politican feels called upon to speak of this. He wishes to make plain how he considers that a right relationship to the British impulses can be established.

Suppose now that such a politician were to say the following. Suppose he were to say: It would be an unfriendly action against the Power that rules the Sea, to paralyse or lessen its superiority. What would you say? This politician notes the fact that there is a Power that rules over the Sea. One must take some attitude towards it. Since, after all, this Power rules the Sea, it would be an unfriendly act, he says, to hinder its development. Therefore one should refrain from such unfriendly action.

What could one say of such a politician? I think the very least that one could say would be that he stands for a policy of Power—Machtpolitik. Is is not so? Wherever the Power is, in that direction let us turn. This, at the least, seems to emerge from his words. But to-day one does not say so. One does not take one's stand in such a case and frankly say: “I stand for a policy of Power; I will attach myself to the Power which happens to have power.” But on the contrary one says, one defines it thus: “I stand for Right and Freedom and for the Independece of Nations.”

One says these two things side by side. One says that one stands for Right and Freedom of the Nations, and directly side by side with this, one says: “Let us above all attach ourselves to the particular Power which has the power, and commit no unfriendly act in relation to it.”

You see from this how human beings involve themselves in illusions. For I have here put before you the case of the Swedish politician Branting. He, a neutral politician, is the man who spoke in this way. That is the way one carries on a neutral policy, of course. I do not say it as a reproach or to take sides with one or another party. I say it as a pure description of how such things must take their course to-day. One is enthusiastic, needless to say, for Right and Freedom of the Nations, and yet—one stands for a such a policy. One does not confess that one stands for it for the simple reason that one can do no other,—that would be the truth,—but on the contrary one says that one stands for it inspired by the impulses of Right and Freedom for all Nations.

With such things as these we must indeed concern ourselves. It is not enough for anyone to give himself up to the fairy-tales that are going through the world to-day; we must take these things into our consciousness. Only by this means is it possible to attach oneself to the real impulses of evolution which I have described. No age was ever so little enlightened about itself as is the present. No other age stands in such dire need of enlightenment about itself. Think only how proud it was of its great progress in every kind of human thought. Why, they had even succeeded in finding impulses for Social Science, out of Natural Science! I have often spoken to you of the science of social life.

Think for a moment, what is so often said in official quarters to this day on educational and social questions, questions of right and justice and so forth. Try to transplant yourself into the frame of mind in which these people bring forward their supposed infallible truths, while at the same time they would suppress absolutely everything that resounds from any other quarter. Part of what modern humanity believed thus fondly, has led to the event that through the impulses of this humanity,—impulses of Illusion upon the one hand, of Nationality upon the other—five million human beings have been consigned to death during two years and three to three-and-a-half million have been permanently wounded. It was so after two years, and now, considerably more than three years have elapsed. This is only the consequence of the false thoughts that were entertained,—thoughts in which illusion was allied with destructive power. From many another thing that is spoken nowadays about education or questions of right and justice, similar consequences will evolve if it goes on in this way, uninfluenced by spiritual life and being. For in the last resort everything depends on this. To kindle the spiritual forces in the consciousness of mankind is an absolute need for the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Our criticism of the opposite, materialistic opinion is but a part of the zeal with which we call to life the spiritual impulses within us. This is the thing that matters. Whatever has to happen among men must also be undertaken by men. If we have made ourselves ready to take our stand where the ray falls, the ray will come in good time; of that you may be certain. This preparation, this making-ready, can, however, only take place through the community. It will be for the individual human beings, in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, only so far as the ideas are concerned; but it will depend on the understanding with which communities will receive these ideas.

Hold to this thought, my dear friends.