This lecture is number four of nineteen lectures from the lecture series entitled, Answers to Universal Questions and Life Questions through Anthroposophy.
26 October 1908, Berlin
Translated by Hanna von Maltitz
Some poetry will be recited now and a corresponding mood in profound sense can only be created because the largest part of the friends present here have lately been deeply concerned with material concerning the spiritual world in relation to the entire historical development of humankind. What will be presented here in this lecture will bring to our awareness how spiritual science or Theosophy is not only something merely announced to the world through the Theosophical Society but that Theosophy as a teaching is based on the greater occult truth and wisdom which has already flowed through ancient times through the best minds searching for the Higher Worlds. We can find personalities in olden and recent times who can in actual fact show that in their imagination, ideas, feelings and experience, in their life mood they were totally permeated with a world view we could call theosophical and from which they worked, and that their entire life's activity unfolded in harmony with this. One such extraordinary personality lived in Novalis during the last three decades of the eighteenth century.
Not even reaching thirty years of age was Novalis, and we hope that through the lecture of his “Hymns to the Night” an awareness will be able to develop, which speaks out of these Hymns — so complete, as it was only possible in the last three decades of the eighteenth century — in an all encompassing manner, the precise knowledge of these spiritual scientific truths.
Out of a highly respected aristocratic family, Friedrich von Hardenberg, called Novalis, was born on 2 May 1772. Whoever has the opportunity to visit Weimar must not hesitate to view the impressive Novalis bust. It belongs to the classic records of Weimar, and clearly expresses how closely the spiritual high culture was connected to this time, the end of the eighteenth century. Whoever views this extraordinary bust will, if he or she has any sensitivity for it, get the impression that, one could say, out of this sphere of humble humanity the physiognomy of his soul expresses that he was totally established in the occult, in the spiritual worlds. To add to this, Novalis is one of those personalities who is a living proof of the possibility to connect this spirituality, this self-elevation in the highest sense of human beings reaching the spiritual worlds, to connect this to a solid practical `standing on the ground' physical reality. Basically Novalis never entered an angry conflict with the still conservative traditions in which his family circle lived, but we can take into consideration, that this family always had an open receptivity for everything noble and good, also when coming into contact with unknown people.
When we study Novalis' biography — it is in itself a work of art — and we allow it to work on us, his father is shown as having a practical, applied nature. Novalis was actually in his civil life educated for a totally practical career, for which knowledge of law and mathematics was necessary. He became a mountain engineer. Here is not the place to explore how he actually became a delight in this career for those whom he worked. It is also not the moment now to show how the mathematic-materialistic sciences, which lay at the foundation of this career, not only in full theory and practice came to be controlled by him completely, but that he was a diligent mathematician. What is most important is that Novalis as a spiritual being allowed mathematics to penetrate into his inner development.
When mathematics showed him how it is suitable for the elevation of pure sense-free thought, then we have where relevant, to refer to a classic example as here with Novalis, where outer observation doesn't have a say. For him life in the mathematical imagination became a great poem which filled him with delights, allowing his soul to experience an elevation when he dived into numbers and sizes. For him mathematics became the expression of divine creation, divine thought as it flashes through space in powerful directions and in measures of power and crystallize out there. Mathematics became for his mindset the warmest way to the spiritual life, while for many people, who only know mathematics from outside, it remains cold. It is so much more meaningful that we meet this spirituality in Novalis in a gentleness and refinement, as we would not meet in one or other of the most important intellects.
Novalis was a contemporary of Goethe. One should not place the kind of spirituality within Novalis, on the same level as what Goethe had. Goethe came to it through a regulated, out of a Higher World directed course towards an initiation, up to a particular stage. Novalis, by contrast, lived a life which one can best describe by saying: This young man, who left the physical plane at the age of twenty nine and who gave the German intellectuals more than a hundred thousand others could give, he lived a life which was actually a memory of a previous one. Through a quite specific event the spiritual experiences of earlier incarnations appeared, presented themselves to his soul and flowed in gentle, rhythmically woven poems from his soul.
Thus we can see that Novalis understood how the human being's soul can be lifted up into a higher world. For Novalis it gave the possibility to see that waking everyday awareness is only a fragment in a current human life, and how the soul who in the evening leaves the daily awareness and sinks into unconsciousness, in actual fact sinks into the spiritual world. He was able to experience deeply and to know, that in these spiritual worlds which are entered by the soul at night, lived a higher spiritual reality, that the day with all its impressions, even the impression of sun and light, only formed a fragment of the entire spiritual worlds. The stars, surreptitiously sending away the light of day during the night, appeared to him only in a weak glow, while in him spiritual truths rose up in his consciousness, which for the clairvoyant appears illuminated in a dazzling bright astral light when during the night he shifts himself spiritually into this state. During the night the actual spiritual worlds appeared to Novalis and thus the night from this perspective became valuable.
What enabled his memories of an earlier incarnation to appear? How did it happen that the experiences of the occult world, which we can reveal today in occult knowledge, rose so uniquely in him? His life unloosened him from the soul in whose knowledge slumbered earlier incarnations. One must take the result, which these spiritual experiences lifted out of this soul, back into the light of a spiritual observation, if one wants to understand it. Only childlike folly could place these experiences on the same footing as Goethe's meeting and Friederikes zu Sesenheim. This would be a coarsely unrefined comparison.
During his stay in Grüningen he became acquainted with a thirteen year old girl. Soul secrets played here which one could never, without abandoning the gentleness of a soul, call this a love relationship. Basically there was in Sophie von Kühn — that was her name — something like the lives of various beings. She became ill and soon died. The moment her spirit loosened from Sophie von Kühn, it wrestled with Novalis' inner life, awakening inner spiritual abilities.
Perhaps you could, when you allow yourself to admit it, obviously see the inability of a way of thought bound by outer experience coming to the fore here in what we must experience in judging these relationships, which can only be understood if we want to understand it in its spirituality, in our present materialistic time. People say science must be based on documentation; it must absolutely lead from everything concrete on the physical plane. Such natural scientists, who surely present a distorted side, the farcical side of natural science, have allowed us to experience what they believe in, that by presenting documents, Novalis basically had fallen prey to an illusion. The poetry is nice — they say — but show us the documents, let us look at who Herr von Rockenthien was where Sophie von Kühn lived. Look at — so the “Novalis adherents” said — various letters Sophie von Kühn wrote to Novalis. Sopie von Kühn made not only in every line but nearly in every word, a writing or spelling error! - concluding Novalis had fallen victim to a big deception.
In Jena, where she spent the last years, she also encountered Goethe — and made a deep impression on Goethe! Whoever can't comprehend that these unique words of Goethe are more valuable than documents which can be dug up — because all documents can lie — whoever wants to come with proof to show something, will not consider producing counter evidence, it will not help him, despite all his science.
What was the result for Novalis? Sophie von Kühn passed away and Novalis lived within a mood of: “I will emulate her in death” (Ich sterbe ihr nach!). Nevermore was he separated from her soul. Pouring out of the deceased soul of Sophie von Kühn came a force which he had in his own soul experienced as a mediator in the night, and within him rose enormous experiences which he depicted in his poetry.
Once again another feminine individual crossed his path: Julie von Charpentier. To him however, she was only the earthly symbol of Sophie von Kühn's deceased soul. Dissolved out of his soul were the elements of wisdom which he poured into the “Hymns to the Night”, through this first soul bond.
(Marie von Sivers (Marie Steiner) read the first two Hymns at this point.)
So far does this poem transport us into the worlds in which Novalis lived as a spirit, when he experienced from within the everlasting elements of wisdom.
You might often have heard that such reaching into the higher worlds is linked to a penetration of other secrets of existence. Out of this, a backward glance into the prehistoric times is necessary, where that, which now lives in the world, only existed as a sprig in the Divine and had not yet come down into an earthly form. When the soul of the natural kingdoms still existed in pure spirit, only perceptible in the astral world, all this contributed to the impressive images unfolding to Novalis the seer, when he glanced back. He saw the time when the souls of plants, animals and people were still companions of divine beings, when an interruption in awareness had not yet happened as it did later to human beings in the exchange between night and day — while nothing was influenced by any interruption, as is expressed in the words: birth and death. Everything living flowed in the spiritual-soul where there was no sense of death in this prehistoric past.
Then the thought of death struck into the life of these gods and divine earthly beings, and down into the earthly world the spirits moved. The godly beings were concealed in earthly bodies, the godly beings were enchanted into the mineral, plant and animal realms. Those who were able to return to the spiritual worlds found the gods within all phenomena, they recognised the earlier gods as linked to the human beings before an earthly existence began. They learnt what the life of a soul was, learnt to recognise that the day with its impressions creates a weaker fragment out of the great world of the beings whose existence was endurance, eternity. They learnt to become disenchanted by the world of nature.
This happened to Novalis' soul when he united his eternity to Sophie's soul by emulating her in death. In this emulation his spirit flourished. He experienced “die to live” and in him rose what he called his “magical idealism”.
(Now followed the recitation of the fourth hymn, fourth Hymn from part 20, and the start of Hymn 5.)
In this way Novalis could glance back to a time in which gods moved among men, when everything took place spiritually because spirits and souls had not yet descended into earthly bodies. He perceived a point of transition: how death hit the world and how the human beings during this time placed death as their earthly shadowing and how he tried to brighten it up through fantasy and art. But death remained a riddle.
Then something of universal significance happened. Novalis could perceive the universal meaning of what had happened at that time on earth. Souls from the kingdoms of nature descended to the earth. Forgotten were the memories of their spiritual original existence, yet a unique spiritual Being remained in this universal womb of creation from which everything descended. One Being provisionally held back; it had held itself above and only provisionally sent its gift of grace downward, and then, when human beings needed it the most, it also descend into the earthly sphere. It remained in the spiritual spheres above the being of the spiritual light, this Being was hidden behind the physical sun. It held itself in heavenly spheres and descended when human beings needed to once again be able to rise up to spiritual worlds. It descended with the Mystery of Golgotha when Christ appeared in a physical body.
Humanity understands Christ in His universal unfolding when the life of Jesus of Nazareth is followed back to His spiritual origins, to the unsolvable riddle of death. The Greek spirit of death appears as a pondering muse, as an enigma which cannot be solved. Even the Greeks sensed that the riddle which is hidden in the youth's soul, found its solution with the Event of Golgotha, that here victory overcomes death and as a result a new impulse is given to humanity.
This Novalis could see and as a result there appeared to him, from the mystery of faith and the mystery wisdom, the Star which the old Magi had followed. As a result he understood the actual essence of what the Christ death implied. In the night of the soul the riddle of death revealed itself to him, the riddle of the Christ. This was it, which this extraordinary individual wanted to learn — through the memory of earlier lives — what the Christ, what the event of Golgotha signified for the world.In closing Marie von Sivers (Marie Steiner) recited the ending of the fifth and the sixth Hymn.