Goethe produced his “Tale of Tales” called The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily over 200 years ago and it is still as applicable today as it was then. This “extraordinary masterwork”, as Friedrich Schiller called it, is unique among Goethe’s works. As an initiation fairy tale of transformation the highly symbolic story arose out of Rosicrucian-Alchemical impulses, which also play an important role in Faust and in Goethe’s other writings. Among those influenced deeply by it was Rudolf Steiner, whose Mystery Dramas reflect some of the same themes. Both Goethe’s fairy tale and Schiller’s Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man inspired Steiner to respond to these great works with his own ideas through the Four Mystery Plays he created for the stage in Dornach, Switzerland, in the building he named the Goetheanum.
In June of 1786 Goethe wrote: “I have read with great interest once again the old story of The Chymical Wedding. One day this tale will have to be told anew, but then it will have to be reborn, for it cannot be enjoyed in its old skin.” And this Goethe did when nine years later he penned the wonder fable entitled, The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. In this work, the spiritually creative faculties of Goethe brought about an artistic metamorphosis and a profound enhancement of the Rosicrucian themes first presented in his poem The Mysteries (The Secret Revelations).
In 1794, Goethe meet Schiller in Jena where they had their famous conversation about Goethe’s ability to “see” the archetypal plant. From then on, Goethe had found someone with whom he could share his most intimate ideas and a lasting fruitful friendship was birthed which cultivated their shared ideas on beauty, art, and aesthetics. Schiller shared with Goethe his plans to create a periodical called, The Hours. Goethe responded to this idea by writing to Schiller: “I will, with joy, with my whole heart, be of the company. A close alliance with such excellent men will certainly bring again into active current and circulation much in me that has fallen into stagnation.” Goethe’s initial contribution was entitled, Conversations of German Emigrants, wherein The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily was contained. This was the setting in which the remarkable imaginative pictures of The Fairy Tale were first presented to the world.
The artistic images comprising The Fairy Tale began to appear before Goethe’s creative consciousness during a journey from his home in Weimar to Karlsbad, which he made in the company of Schiller in 1795. In a letter Goethe wrote to Schiller, he said: “Perhaps the idea for a fairy tale story that has come to me will develop further, but in its present form it does not entirely please me. However, if I can sail the little boat out upon the ocean of imagination, there it may yet become a fairly good composition.” In its first rendition it was called: The Forever Glorious Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. It eventually appeared in The Hours at Michaelmas 1795, and received positive reviews that repeatedly asked Goethe to explain the meaning of The Fairy Tale; but alas, Goethe declined to interpret the symbols and the meaning of the characters.
The first English translation of The Fairy Tale appeared in Fraser’s Magazine in 1832 by the historian, essayist, and philosopher Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle was unstinting in his enthusiasm and praise of Goethe’s story and later referred to it as: “One of the notabelist performances produced in the last one thousand years.” Later Carlyle wrote: “In our age of transition, Goethe’s “Fairy Tale of Tales” has found a whole universe of imagination, of such style and grandeur and celestial brilliancy – it should be enjoyed for its own sake before the malady of thought begins to affect the reader.”
We present here a paraphrased summary of two lectures by Dr. Rudolf Steiner about Goethe’s Fairy Tale. Steiner has gone beyond Carlyle’s recommendation and attempted an interpretation of the symbols and characters brought forward from Goethe’s imagination. Steiner was the editor of Goethe’s scientific work and thus has an unparalleled understanding of the inner thoughts of Goethe. We can find through Steiner’s decoding of Goethe’s symbols, the flavor of Rosicrucian-Alchemical ideas for which Steiner himself was well known through his philosophy of Anthroposophy.
Nothing is diminished by these interpretations and the core beauty and insight of Goethe resonate as truth and wisdom that the reader of The Fairy Tale of Tales finds through the beautiful imaginative pictures painted by Goethe’s unending creative mind. Many of the mysteries of Goethe’s symbology are explained by Steiner’s profound insights into the “Forever Glorious” Fairy Tale of the struggle of the soul reaching up to its spirit as the Youth finds and falls in love with the Beautiful Lily.
A Summary of the Fairy Tale
The following content is drawn from: The Story of the Green Serpent and the Beautiful Lily, Two lectures given by Rudolf Steiner, April & November, 1904
I am always being asked where in Goethe’s works this “Fairy Tale” is to be found. Yet it is in all his works. With The Green Snake and the Beauty Lily, Goethe created a work of art of eternal beauty. It is a direct, symbolical expression of art that shared his most intimate thoughts and conceptions. Anyone who is capable of understanding the Fairy Tale knows that Goethe was a theosophist, alchemist, and a mystic – the Fairy Tale itself is proof of this. At the time when Goethe was writing The Fairy Tale these intimate human psychic truths were not spoken of openly, so he had to endeavor to clothe the highest truths in symbolical form. This made it possible to experience these truths by people who believed that a particular sort of mood and soul-atmosphere was needed in order to understand such truths which could not be grasped merely by the intellect. A certain mood was necessary, a certain disposition of the soul which I will call a psychic atmosphere.
In those times, the truth about the human soul and the human spirit was not given out publicly as it is now, but those who wished to attain to such knowledge had first to be prepared to receive that which was to be given to them in the sanctuaries of the Mysteries. Therein all that had been preserved of the secrets of nature and of the laws of cycles, was given out as something which could not be learned and recognized as dry knowledge, but which the students had to recognize as living truths in symbolic images. It was not a question of thinking about wisdom, but of living it; not merely a question of permeating wisdom with the glow of the intellect, but of making it the mainspring of life so that a person is transformed thereby.
Goethe gave expression to this in what was called “dying and becoming”, and this he tried to represent in all the different parts of The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. The transition of humanity from one stage of existence to a higher one was the riddle he wanted to solve, the riddle as to how a person who lives in the everyday world – and who can only see with his eyes, and hear with his ears – can lay hold of this wisdom. This was the question for the mystics of all ages; and this great question was always called “Spiritual Alchemy” — the transmutation of humanity from the “everyday-soul” to the “spirit-soul”, to whom the things of the spirit are just as real as the things of this Earth.
When the alchemical transmutation had taken place in a person, they were then considered worthy to have the highest truths communicated to them and then they were led into the Holy of Holies. The novice was then initiated and supplied with the teachings which gave instruction concerning the purposes of nature which run through the plan of the world. It is an initiation of this kind which is described by Goethe in the Fair Tale, an initiation into the Mysteries, for those who have been made worthy to receive them.
In other works, Goethe makes fun of those who strive with feverish efforts to discover these secrets according to numberless receipts coming from the adepts. As Goethe says in The Mysteries:
There a Red Lion, with the Lily wedded,
A wooer bold, within the tepid bath,
From bridal-bower to bridal-bower was speeded
Racked by the naked fire’s flaming wrath.
The union with “The Lily”, which is made fun of by Goethe, is what he wished to illustrate in The Fairy Tale of the Green Serpent and the Beautiful Lily. The highest spiritual and alchemical transmutation which humanity can accomplish is illustrated by Goethe in the symbol of the Lily, the highest freedom. When people follow the primal and eternal laws and recognize eternal freedom, they will find a stage of development which is accomplished by a disposition of the soul which is described by the symbol of the Beautiful Lily. The highest forces of the soul, the highest state of consciousness in which a person may be free will never create a disturbance in the circle of human freedom. This condition of soul was communicated to the mystics through the Mysteries and they were transmuted – this was described as the “Lily.”
Goethe has described love as the highest state of freedom, as the being free from all desires and wishes of our every-day life. He says, “Self-seeking and self-will are not permanent, they are driven out by the ego. Here we must be good.” In this process of divine love, through spiritual alchemy, the self unites with human willpower. Human willpower activates every stage of spiritual alchemy, that which in all ages was known as the “Lion,” the creature in which the will is most strongly developed. That is why the mystics have always called the will of humanity: the “Lion.” In the Persian Mysteries there were seven stages of initiation: the Raven, the Occultist, the Fighter, and the Lion. At the fourth stage, the student was able to look back at his life from the other side and had really become a true human being, hence the Persians called one who had overcome the Lion stage, a Persian. The Persian was the fifth stage, and a person who had got so far that their actions flowed quickly along was called a Sun-runner. But one who accomplished all their actions out of absolute and ceaseless love, was looked upon by the Persians as belonging to the grade of the Father.
At the fourth stage, the aspirant stood at the parting of the ways; one had developed, besides their physical body, their etheric double, and that body which is subject to the laws of passions and desires, wishes and instincts now organized for a higher life. These three bodies form, according to theosophy, the lower part of the human being. From these three, the lower human being is born. When a person was initiated into this grade and could see this connection the Persians called them a “Lion.” One then stands at the parting of the ways, and that which compelled them to act according to the laws of nature was transmuted into the free gift of love. When one reaches the eighth stage of initiation, above the seven, they have evolved themself into a Free Human Being, one who can allow themself to do, out of freely created love, what one was formerly driven to do by their own nature.
This connection between the Lion stage and the free loving being, is described in alchemy as “the mystery of human development.” This is the mystery Goethe represented in his Fairy Tale. First of all, he shows us how this person of will stands there, drawn down to the physical world from higher spheres, from spheres of which they themself knows nothing. Goethe is conscious of the fact that the human being, in so far as their spiritual nature is concerned, comes originally from higher spheres, that they were led into this which Goethe represents as the world of matter, the world of sense-existence, this is the land on the bank of the River found in the Fairy Tale.
In The Fairy Tale of the Green Serpent and the Beautiful Lily, there are two lands, one on this side of the River, and the other beyond on the far shore. The Ferryman conducts the person across from the far side into the land of the sense-world. Between the land of spiritual existence and the sense-world there flows the River, the water which divides them. By water, Goethe means that which the Mystics of all ages have symbolized as water. Even in Genesis, the same meaning is applied to this word as we find in Goethe. In the New Testament too we find this expression in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. “He who is not born again of water and the spirit, cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Goethe understood perfectly what was signified by the expression “born again of water.”
The Fairy Tale is Goethe’s Apocalypse, his Revelations and in its symbolical presentation the profoundest secrets are concealed. Goethe, however, declared that it would be impossible for him to speak of the highest questions of existence in philosophical terms, but that he would do so in great imaginative pictures. He then contributed The Fairy Tale, in which he tried to answer this question in his own way.
We can only understand Goethe’s Fairy Tale when we have the key to it, the interpretation of the symbols and characters. Essentially, this Fairy Tale revealed Goethe’s own Anthroposophical conception of the world. It is the bridge leading from the world of sense to the world of the super-sensible. Therein we find represented the three kingdoms in which the human being lives, the physical, the soul-world, (astral world), and the spirit-world. The symbol of the astral or soul-world is the water, the River in the story.
On one side of the River we find the Kingdom of the Gods, which humanity is ceaselessly striving to reach. The alchemists used the analogies of chemical processes as the striving after this spiritual Kingdom of the Gods. They called it the “Lily” or “the realm of the Lily.” The striving human they called the “Lion”, who fights for the kingdom, and the Lily is the bride of the Lion.
In The Fairy Tale, Goethe represents three kingdoms: the kingdom of the senses (as one shore), the kingdom of the soul (as the river), and the kingdom/garden of the Beautiful Lily (as the shore of the spiritual realm). The whole relation of humanity to the three kingdoms is symbolized in this beautiful story. We initially came across from the kingdom of the spirit and are striving to return there. The wanderers must cross the river – must pass from the world of physical sense perception into the super-sensible world of the spirit. When these wanderers accomplish the task, all of humanity shall be united in harmony.
But first, the Temple must be lifted up above the river from its underground hidden chamber. A journey of the wanderers must move towards the River; the Will-o’-the-Wisps are in front and they open the door. The self-seeking wisdom of the Will-o’-the-Wisps is the bridge to lead towards selfless wisdom. Wisdom leads an aspirant from self to selflessness. In the end, the Serpent/Snake sacrificed itself to create a permanent bridge from one shore to the other.
When this is understood, we then can know the meaning of love, it is a sacrifice of the lower self for the good of humanity, a united brotherhood of humanity. The Serpent represent this selfless love. When this sacrifice of the self builds the permanent bridge, the whole company moves towards the Temple, which rises above the river from its place underground. Then, the Youth is brought to life again and is furnished with Manas (spirit self), Buddhi (life spirit), and Atma (spirit human). Atma stands before the Youth in the form of the Bronze King and gives him a sword. This represents the higher will of the spirit, and is not connected with the lower will of the physical world. Atma works in humanity so that the sword shall be on his left while the right hand is free – until then, humanity works separately in the “war of all against all.” But when humanity’s will becomes purified, peace comes instead of war. Only when humanity is purified will peace take the place of war, at which time the sword will then be worn on the left side for defense only, leaving the right hand free for doing the good.
The second King signifies that which at one time was known as the second principle, Buddhi (life spirit) or the mood of piety which turns humanity in faith to the highest spirit – silver is the symbol of piety. The second King says: “Feed my sheep”, for here we are concerned with the force of the spirit – the radiance of beauty. Goethe connects art with a feeling of religious reverence. He saw in art the manifestation of the divine kingdom – radiance of beauty. The Bronze King signifies strength without the lower principles, the Silver King signifies peace, and the Golden King wisdom. The Golden King says: “Recognize the highest.”
The Youth is the four principled human being who is developing his highest principle. The four lower ones are crippled by the spirit until they have undergone purifying development; after that the three higher principles work together harmoniously in humanity. The Youth then becomes strong and able and may unite with the Lily. This is the union between the soul and the spirit of each wanderer. The soul is always represented as feminine in humanity. The Mystery of the eternal and immortal is represented in this striving toward the feminine principle; as Goethe says in Faust: “The eternal feminine draws us upward.” Goethe makes use of the same image in his story, in the union of the Youth with the Beautiful Lily. The sacrificed human self, represented by the Serpent/Snake as the new bridge between the two shores, creates the possibility for all living beings to pass over the bridge that arches across the River. Wanderers then can go to and fro and all the kingdoms are now united in beautiful harmony. Thus, the Old Woman grows young, and the Old Man with the Lamp is rejuvenated – old age has passed away and everything has become new.
The Ferryman’s little hut can then become gilded over in silver, and is now preserved as a sort of altar in the Temple that has arisen. What humanity formerly took over the bridge unconsciously now is taken over in full consciousness. The fourth King, mixed from many metals, has now collapsed. The Will-o’-the-Wisps lick the gold out of the fourth King that is still connected with the lower worlds. The Giant now indicates that the time is at hand for resolution. What formerly were the sense-principles (which can only lead into the shadows), which lead humanity across in the hour of twilight and belonged to the things of sense, to nature-conditions, now points to the even and regular course of time. As long as humanity has not developed the three higher principles, the past and the future are in conflict – the Giant then works inharmoniously. But now, through these ideal conditions which bridge the two shores, time is in harmony. Higher thought permanently strengthens that which was wavering, and makes it steady. The Youth is united with the Beautiful Lily and the alchemical wedding is consummated.
The Nature of the Characters
The Beautiful Lily
The Youth must first mature and be purified, before he can enter the kingdom of the spirit – the garden of the Beautiful Lily. He must go through various stages of purification before he can be united with the Lily, and he is guided through them by the Lily. The Beautiful Lily gathers those together who are seeking the new way, all those who are striving after the spiritual. The beautiful Youth, who strove after the kingdom of the Lily (spirituality), was crippled by her. Goethe by this meant the ancient wisdom, for which man must be prepared and purified to undergo katharsis, so that the Youth should no longer reach wisdom through sin but might take into himself the higher spirituality. The Youth had not been prepared properly by katharsis and needed to wander to find the Lily, even though he began his journey on her side of the River. Thus, every living thing which is not yet mature is killed by the touch of the Beautiful Lily. All the dead that have passed through “dying and becoming”, are brought to life again by the Lily when the time has come. Goethe is indicating that one who has attained freedom within themself, is ripe for love.
The Youth tried to capture the Beautiful Lily too early, and in so doing crippled all his life forces and swooned unto death. Goethe has said in another writing: “A man who strives for freedom without having first liberated his own inner self, falls more deeply than before into the bonds of necessity. If he does not set himself free, he will be killed.” The Youth who has prepared himself by being purified through the Temple of the Mysteries, so that he may unite himself in a proper way with the Lily, he alone will escape death. One who has died to the lower self to be born again in a higher sense to the spiritual self can touch the Beautiful Lily. The present time is represented by the crippled Youth, who wanted to attain the highest by violence. He complains to all whom he meets that he cannot secure the Beautiful Lily. He must now make himself worthy enough to do so, and to this aim those forces must be combined which are symbolized by those who took part in the procession across the bridge.
The Green Snake or Serpent
The Green Snake is the symbol of human endeavors, of human knowledge. The Old Man with the Lamp has a lamp which has the peculiarity of only shining when another light is present. Because the Serpent is luminous and illuminates the inner hall of the Mystery Temple with her own radiating light, the Old Man with the Lamp then can properly witness the four Kings. Goethe expresses these thoughts in another passage in the words “If the eye were not sensitive to the Sun it could not perceive the light.” Here he expresses in poetic words what he expressed in The Fairy Tale in pictures; what we in Anthroposophy call “occult knowledge” is expressed by the Old Man with the Lamp – the light of occult knowledge cannot shine to anyone who had not prepared himself to receive it. The Temple can be set up over the River of the soul, over the River of passions and desires, because the Green Snake sacrifices herself. This represents the self of humanity becoming selfless, represented by the Serpent being transformed into precious stone, which forms the piles of the bridge. Once this sacrifice is made, humanity can more freely go to and fro from the world of sense to the world of the spirit. The union between sense and spirit is brought about by the individual who becomes selfless by a sacrifice of the lower self, such as was made by the Green Snake which offered herself as a bridge over the River of passions. The Serpent has the strength not to fill her ego with pride, not to allow it to become self-seeking, not to raise herself up in pride to an upright position, but to pursue her way in a horizontal position and to move into the clefts of the Earth and there attain perfection gradually. At first, the Serpent could only find things by the sense of touch, but after her sacrifice becomes visible through her own light. After the sacrifice, the three higher principles of humanity now become visible to the Serpent. She represents: “To become”, in order in the fullest sense of the word “to be”, so that humanity can develop through love, devotion, and sacrifice. The Serpent is the example for humanity to follow. This will happen when humanity is ready to make this sacrifice personally. When this happens, the Temple will be raised above the river so that the new bridge, created by the sacrifice of the Green Snake (developed humanity), will connect both shores.
In The Fairy Tale there are two lands, one on this side of the River, and the other beyond. The Ferryman conducts people across from the far side into the land of the sense-world. Between the land of spiritual existence and the sense-world there flows the River which divides them. The Youth is therefore put ashore by the Ferryman who brings people across the River from the far bank to the near one. Nobody can be guided over by the Ferryman but all can be brought over by him. The Ferryman brings us across from the land of the spirit and has put us into this world but cannot take us back to that country again to which we must however return, the land of the Beautiful Lily. The Will-o’-the-wisps wanted to pay the Ferryman his fare with gold but he demands fruits of the Earth, which they did not possess, they had nothing but gold and he would not be paid with that. The Ferryman said that gold coins were injurious to the River, it cannot bear such gold. This signifies that humans can purchase wisdom with the fruits of the Earth. Gold is a force of wisdom dwelling in humanity and is the soul’s guide throughout life. This force of wisdom makes itself felt when a person is placed among the things of the sense world with the forces of knowledge and reason.
This sense bound knowledge is not the wisdom which furthers their development of spiritual capacities. When sense bound knowledge forms part of a person’s nature, it makes them self-seeking and egotistical. If this force of reason or sense bound knowledge joined forces with what flows in the River, their passions toss up huge waves whenever the person does not place their wisdom at the service of selflessness but simply throws it into the River. It is impossible to satisfy the River with gold, so the Ferryman throws back the wisdom which has not yet passed through the stage of selflessness. He throws it into the chasm where darkness reigns and there it is buried. The Serpent, the symbol of human striving after knowledge, permeates itself with the gold and this sense-bound self is entirely permeated with wisdom, and becomes luminous.
The Serpent desired from the Will-o’-the-wisps that which is a cause of pride to the self-seeking person. This human knowledge, used in the service of egoism, is objectionable and worthless. Wisdom is attained when humanity crawls humbly on the ground as does the Serpent and strives to recognize spiritual reality piece by piece. The Will-o’-the-wisps call the Serpent their relation, and say: “We really are related on the side of light.” Indeed they are related, the wisdom that serves the self is related to the wisdom which serves humility. Goethe represents the Serpent as all luminous within because it had taken in the gold of wisdom, humility. The Ferryman brought the Will-o’-the Wisps across from the kingdom of the spirit to that of the kingdom of the senses. The Ferryman can bring anyone across, but he may not take them back. We come across by no will of our own, but we cannot get back again in that way. We must ourselves find the way back into the spiritual realm.
The Old Man with the Lamp
The Old Man with the Lamp has a lamp which has the peculiarity of only shining when another light is there already. The Serpent is luminous and illuminates the inner hall of the Mystery Temple with its own radiating light and therefore the Old Man with the Lamp can add to the illumination of the Temple provided by the Serpent. Goethe expresses these thoughts in another passage in the words: “If the eye were not sensitive to the Sun it could not perceive the light.” Here he expresses in poetic words what he expressed in The Fairy Tale in pictures. In Anthroposophy we call the Old Man’s light “occult knowledge”; the light of occult knowledge cannot shine to anyone who has not prepared himself to receive it. Humanity can only understand their innermost forces when they meet with the light of the lamp which can only shine when there is already a light.
The Old Man represents the force of reason, which brings forth that which is useful. It is only when spiritual force unites with this, which advances material civilization, when the highest is united with the lowest in the world so that the world itself can follow its proper course of development. The lamp has another great peculiarity, everything dead was made alive through it and what was alive was purified by it. This transmutation is brought about in humanity by spiritual knowledge. The Old Man with the Lamp represents the person who can today attain knowledge without climbing to the apex of wisdom, namely to the forces of piety of mind and of faith. Faith requires light from without if it is really to lead to the higher Mysteries. The Serpent and the Old Man with the Lamp have the forces of the Spirit, which already shines in those who are to lead in the future.
Even today anyone who feels these forces is aware of this through certain secrets. The Old Man says he knows three secrets, but the strangest thing is said of the fourth secret. The Serpent whispers something into his ear, whereupon the Old Man calls out: “The time has come when a great number of people shall understand which is the right road. The Serpent has proclaimed that it is ready to sacrifice itself. It has reached the point of recognizing that the individual must die, in order to become.”
The Old Woman
We find the Old Woman keeps the house of the Old Man with the Lamp and is connected with the representatives of human spiritual knowledge. To her come the Will-o’-the-wisps who lick off all the gold from the walls of her house and shake off all the gold which enriched them so that the living dog (Mops) ate the gold and suffered death. The Old Woman is begged by the Will-o’-the-Wisps to pay their debts to the Ferryman because all they had was gold that was unacceptable to the Ferryman. The three fruits, which are the only acceptable payment to the Ferryman, represent the human sense for usefulness in the material world which pays tribute to human passions.
It is an interesting fact that the shadow of the Giant, as it comes up from the River, takes one of the fruits of the Earth away with it so that the Old Woman only has two left with which to make the payment for the Will-o’-the-Wisps. She needed three for the Ferryman and so had to owe the debt to the River. She plunges her hand into the River to seal the agreement, whereby her hand turns so black that it scarcely remains visible and is almost imperceptible. That represents the connection between the external world and the domain of the astral passions. The material world must be placed at the service of the astral, of the soul.
As long as the nature of humanity is not sufficiently ennobled to offer itself as tribute to the River of the passions, so long does it remain in debt to the River of humanity (the soul of humanity). As long as human endeavors are devoted to human passions, humanity works invisibly at something of which it cannot perceive the final aim. It is invisible, yet it is there; it can be felt, but is not externally perceptible. Everything humanity does on the road to the great goal, until they pays their debt to the River (the soul), all that it dips into the River of passions becomes an invisible debt, like the hand of the Old Woman. As long as the sense-nature is not fully purified and consumed by the fire of passion, it cannot shine and remains invisible.
This invisible effect is what excites the Old Woman so much that she can no longer shine any light of her own. When the Old Man with the Lamp comes home, he sees what has occurred and tells the Old Woman she must keep her promise but must also carry the dead Mops (the dog) to the Beautiful Lily, for she can bring all dead things to life again. The Old Woman goes with her basket to the Ferryman and the Giant takes from her one cabbage, one onion, and one artichoke, so that she only retained a part of that with which she was to pay the debt of the Will-o’-the-Wisps. The three-fold number is thus no longer complete. That which we require and which we must weave into our soul-life is taken from us by the twilight forces of the Giant.
There is danger in yielding oneself to such forces. The lower forces must be purified by the soul-forces, the body itself can only ascend when the soul completely absorbs it. As the payment of the Old Woman was insufficient, she had to plunge her hand into the river and afterwards she could only feel her hand, but could no longer see it. That which in man’s external physical appearance, that which is visible in the body, must be purified by the soul-life. This means that if humanity cannot pay with the plant-nature, they remain in debt and the actual bodily nature of humanity becomes invisible. The ego can only be seen in the light of day, when purified by the soul-life and is the part of humanity which distinguishes it from the animals. That which as spirit shines through humanity becomes invisible if it is not purified by his karma.
The living dog, Mops, swallows the gold of the Willow-o’-the-Wisps and died of it. That wisdom which only rules as the dead wisdom of books, and which has not been made alive by the spirit, kills everything living. But, when it is once again united with the origin of wisdom, with the Beautiful Lily, then it awakens to life again. That is why the Old Man gives the dead Mops to his wife so that she may carry it to the Beautiful Lily to be brought to life again.
The Will-o’-the-Wisps open the door of the Temple because the self-seeking wisdom is not without power, it is a necessary stage of transition. Human egoism can be overcome if it is nourished by wisdom and permeated with the gold of true spiritual knowledge. This wisdom can then be used to open the Temple as an initial stage. Even those who unconsciously serve wisdom in an external sense will be led to the real sanctuaries of wisdom. The Will-o’-the-Wisps enter into the Temple and rest upon themselves alone and occupy a false position towards the others who enter through experience and observations. The Will-o’-the-Wisps take gold as nourishment, they eat it, and it permeates their bodies. But at the same time, they throw it from themselves on all sides carelessly. They try to throw it to the Ferryman as payment, but he says that the River cannot bear gold, it would make it surge up wildly.
This gold signifies material wisdom. The Will-o’-the-Wisps are those who seek after wisdom superficially, and do not mingle it with their nature, but give it away again undigested. The Will-o’-the-Wisps are still the slaves of the lower ego and their type of wisdom cannot endure. The soul-life must be purified slowly and must ascend slowly towards spiritual wisdom. The Will-o’-the-Wisps scatter their gold about in the meadow and the Serpent devours it and unites itself with it. The Will-o’-the-Wisps were not able to pay their debt (three cabbages, three onions and three artichokes) to the Ferryman with gold so they had to promise the Ferryman to settle it later. Ultimately, the wife of the Old Man paid the debt for the Will-o’-the-Wisps.
The River is the soul-life, the totality of human instincts, desires, and passions. When the wisdom of the Will-o’-the-Wisps (gold coins) are introduced into the River, the River of the Soul is thrown into a state of disturbance, just as the gold coins caused the River to react wildly. The River represents the passions that can become so pure and noble that the highest spiritual nature can uplift itself bringing the subterranean Temple into the clear light of day above the River of passions and desires. To this end, it is necessary that mankind should be filled with the “dying and becoming” which Goethe so distinctly outlined.
Goethe was frequently asked for the solution to the riddle inside The Fairy Tale and he replied: “The solution of the riddle lies in the fairy tale itself, and not in one word alone.” The solution to the riddle is not a thing which can be expressed in words, but in an inner resolve that was indicated in The Fairy Tale.
The Serpent said: “I will sacrifice myself, I will purify myself through selflessness.” It is precisely this which must be taken as the profound solution of the riddle, it is an act and not a doctrine. Till now, a traveler could only pass across the River in two ways. The one was when at noon the green Serpent laid itself across the River and formed a bridge, so that at the mid-day hour it was possible to go across the River. This means that in the present age there are moments in a person’s life when the Sun is at noon for him, when he is ripe to yield himself to the highest spiritual light; but he is always drawn away again and again from these noon-tide moments of life into the lower world full of passions. In such noon-tide moments, the elect of the spirit can pass across from the shore of the sense-life to the shore of the spirit. But there is yet another way to pass over the River, and that is in the evening, when the shadow of the great Giant is thrown across the River to form a bridge, but only in the hour of twilight.
The giant who is weak can do nothing of himself but his shadow can form a bridge across to the far side. This Giant is the crude mechanical forces of nature whose shadow is sometimes able, when the light is no longer strong, to conduct the men of crude passions across the River. These are the people who, when their clear day consciousness is extinguished, pass over into the land of the spirit in trance, somnambulism, psychic vision, or some of the many similar conditions of the soul.
These are the two ways of reaching the opposite bank: First, in the holy moments of the noon-day hour, by the Serpent; and secondly, in the twilight of the consciousness by the shadow of the Giant. But one thing must be striven after as the solution to the riddle – the Serpent must sacrifice itself completely. Not only should the bridge lead people over the River of passions at the noon-day hour but at all hours of the day it should be ready to form the bridge from one side to the other so that not only a few may be able to wander across but that all people should be able to cross backwards and forwards at any time.
The Temple is a symbol of the Mystery Temples of all ages. This concealed Temple was in the clefts below the Earth as the symbol of the sanctuaries of initiation. In this Temple, the Serpent found the three great priests of initiation. These priests were gifted with the highest forces of human nature, which theosophy calls Manas, Buddhi, and Atma. They are called by Goethe the King of Beauty, the King of Wisdom, and the King of Strength. With these three basic forces of the soul (beauty, wisdom, and strength) the human soul must be initiated.
The Serpent, through the gold it had swallowed, has become luminous and the Temple is illuminated by its radiance. The lamp of the Old Man has the property of only shining where light is, and it then shines with a very peculiar light. Thus, on the one hand there is the Serpent, luminous through the gold, and on the other the Old Man with the Lamp, which is also a light. Through this two-fold illumination everything in the Temple becomes visible. Eventually, the whole Temple moves up and ascends through the cleft in the Earth. The Temple can now be set up over the River of the Soul, over the River of passions and desires because the Serpent sacrificed itself. Thus, the Temple ascended from the clefts of the Earth and is now accessible to all who cross the bridge, to those who drive over as well as to those who go on foot. In the Temple itself we meet once more with the Kings and the Youth, who had been made pure by having recognized the three soul-forces, who is now presented to them. The Temple has risen from its concealment into the clear light of day.
Within the Temple there was raised a small silver Temple, which is none other than the transformed hut of the Ferryman. It is a remarkable feature that Goethe transformed the hut of the Ferryman – he who carries us over into the land of the Spirit – into pure molten silver so that it becomes a small altar, a small Temple, a Holy of Holies. This hut which represents the holiest in humanity, the deepest core of its being which it has preserved as a recollection of the land from which they came and to which the Ferryman cannot take them back, represents something which existed before our evolution. It is the memory that we are descended from the spirit – the memory of this stands as the silver Holy of Holies within the Temple. The Temple is the sanctuary of initiation, the Mystery school which can only be entered by those who themselves bring light when they are selfless like the Serpent. The Temple was destined one day to be revealed and to raise itself above the river. This rising of the Temple is the kingdom of the future towards which we are striving; the secret places of learning must be brought up into the light of day. Everything which is human must struggle upwards, must become harmonious, must strive after the higher principles. That which was formerly taught in the Mysteries must become an open secret.
The Four Kings
The gifts of the three Kings are wisdom, beauty, and strength. The gift of the golden King is wisdom, that of the silver King is beauty (piety), the gift of the bronze King is strength (force of willpower). The significance of the fourth King, who is composed of the metals of the three others, becomes apparent through the story that he is the symbol of the lower nature, in which the noble forces of wisdom, beauty, and strength work together as disorderly and inharmonious chaos. These three forces (wisdom, beauty, and strength) that live in a highly developed soul are also to be found in lower natures, though there they are chaotic and inharmonious. This fourth King is the kingdom of the present world which is the chaotic mixture of wisdom, beauty, and strength.
The soul-forces can only attain the highest when they work together harmoniously, instead of affecting one another in a chaotic way in the present age. The golden King goes up to the Youth and says: “Feed my Sheep.” In this phrase Goethe gave expression to a thought which was very deeply engraved in his soul, that of uniting beauty with piety. It is a personal note of Goethe’s when he causes the silver King to appear as beauty and piety. And then the King of strength comes to the Youth and says: “The sword in the left hand, and the right hand free.” Thus the sword was not to serve for attack, but for defense. Harmony was to be brought about, not conflict. After these events, the Youth was initiated into the three soul-forces. The fourth King has nothing to say and he subsides into himself.
The three Kings are the three higher principles of humanity, and the fourth King represents the lower principles. The bronze King represents Atma (spirit human), or the divine ego. The silver king represents Buddhi (life spirit), or the love whereby all humans can understand one another. The golden King represents Manas (spirit self), or the wisdom that radiates out into the world. Atma, Buddhi, and Manas are drawn into the spheres of physical phenomena, but in a state of disharmony. Only when this is purified can something develop which could not live where there was a lack of harmony.
The Giant is the rude physical development along which humanity must necessarily pass. In so doing it also reaches the yonder realm, but only in the twilight, when its consciousness is blotted out. That however is a dangerous path, which is followed by those who develop psychic forces and go into states of trance. This crossing of the bridge is accomplished in the twilight of trance. Schiller also wrote on one occasion about the shadow of the Giant: “These are the dark powers which lead man across the threshold.” The Giant also represents the crude force of nature which lives in nature without the spirit and cannot work through itself alone, but only as a shadow with its remarkable mission. The Giant stands upright and only then does he show the time – this is a profound thought.
When humanity has laid aside everything belonging to his lower nature and has become entirely spiritualized, then the lower forces of nature will no longer spring up around him in their original elemental power like the form of storms. When the Giant stands up and declares the time, the mechanical crude force of nature will then only perform mechanical service. Humans will always require these mechanical nature-forces but they will no longer have power over them – humanity will use these forces in their service. The Giant’s work will be the hour-hand of spiritual culture, it will be the hour-hand pointing to the regular mechanical necessity and will go regularly as the course of a clock. The Giant himself will then no longer be necessary. The Serpent meets the great Giant, whose peculiarity is that in the evening he throws his shadow across the River so that the wanderer can pass over on its shadow. The Giant can make a bridge across at midnight, but when the Sun is at its highest point of noon, the Serpent can do so also. Through the radiant noon-day Sun of knowledge, humanity raises its ego to the divine. In the sacred moments of life, at the moments of the complete blotting out of self, humanity unites itself with the godhead.
The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by: Thomas Carlyle (1832)
In his little hut by the great river, which a heavy rain had swollen to overflowing, lay the ancient Ferryman, asleep, wearied by the toil of the day. In the middle of the night, loud voices awoke him; he heard that it was travelers wishing to be carried over.
Stepping out, he saw two large Will-o’-wisps, hovering to and fro on his boat, which lay moored: they said, they were in violent haste, and should have been already on the other side. The old Ferryman made no loitering; pushed off, and steered with his usual skill obliquely through the stream; while the two strangers whiffled and hissed together, in an unknown very rapid tongue, and every now and then broke out in loud laughter, hopping about, at one time on the gunwale and the seats, at another on the bottom of the boat.
“The boat is keeling!” cried the old man; “if you don’t be quiet, it’ll overset; be seated, gentlemen of the wisp!”
At this advice they burst into a fit of laughter, mocked the old man, and were more unquiet than ever. He bore their mischief with silence, and soon reached the farther shore.
“Here is for your labor!” cried the travelers; and as they shook themselves, a heap of glittering gold-pieces jingled down into the wet boat. “For Heaven’s sake, what are you about?” cried the old man; “you will ruin me forever! Had a single piece of gold got into the water, the stream, which cannot suffer gold, would have risen in horrid waves, and swallowed both my skiff and me; and who knows how it might have fared with you in that case? here, take back your gold.”
“We can take nothing back, which we have once shaken from us,” said the Lights.
“Then you give me the trouble,” said the old man, stooping down, and gathering the pieces into his cap, “of raking them together, and carrying them ashore and burying them.”
The Lights had leaped from the boat, but the old man cried: “Stay; where is my fare?”
“If you take no gold, you may work for nothing,” cried the Will-o’-wisps. “You must know that I am only to be paid with fruits of the earth.” “Fruits of the earth? we despise them, and have never tasted them.” “And yet I cannot let you go, till you have promised that you will deliver me three Cabbages, three Artichokes, and three large Onions.”
The Lights were making-off with jests; but they felt themselves, in some inexplicable manner, fastened to the ground: it was the unpleasantest feeling they had ever had. They engaged to pay him his demand as soon as possible: he let them go, and pushed away. He was gone a good distance, when they called to him: “Old man! Holla, old man! the main point is forgotten!” He was off, however, and did not hear them. He had fallen quietly down that side of the River, where, in a rocky spot, which the water never reached, he meant to bury the pernicious gold. Here, between two high crags, he found a monstrous chasm; shook the metal into it, and steered back to his cottage.
Now in this chasm lay the fair green Snake, who was roused from her sleep by the gold coming chinking down. No sooner did she fix her eye on the glittering coins, than she ate them all up, with the greatest relish, on the spot; and carefully picked out such pieces as were scattered in the chinks of the rock.
Scarcely had she swallowed them, when, with extreme delight, she began to feel the metal melting in her inwards, and spreading all over her body; and soon, to her lively joy, she observed that she was grown transparent and luminous. Long ago she had been told that this was possible; but now being doubtful whether such a light could last, her curiosity and her desire to be secure against her future, drove her from her cell, that she might see who it was that had shaken in this precious metal. She found no one. The more delightful was it to admire her own appearance, and her graceful brightness, as she crawled along through roots and bushes, and spread out her light among her grass. Every leaf seemed of emerald, every flower was dyed with new glory. It was in vain that she crossed her solitary thickets; but her hopes rose high, when, on reaching her open country, she perceived from afar a brilliancy resembling her own. “Shall I find my like at last, then?” cried she, and hastened to the spot. The toil of crawling through bog and reeds gave her little thought; for though she liked best to live in dry grassy spots of the mountains, among the clefts of rocks, and for most part fed on spicy herbs, and slaked her thirst with mild dew and fresh spring water, yet for the sake of this dear gold, and in the hope of this glorious light, she would have undertaken anything you could propose to her.
At last, with much fatigue, she reached a wee rushy spot in the swamp, where our two Will-o’-wisps were frisking to and fro. She shoved herself along to them; saluted them, was happy to meet such pleasant gentlemen related to her family. The Lights glided towards her, skipped up over her, and laughed in their fashion. “Lady Cousin,” said they, “you are of the horizontal line, yet what of that? It is true we are related only by the look; for, observe you,” here both the Flames, compressing their whole breadth, made themselves as high and peaked as possible, “how prettily this taper length beseems us gentlemen of the vertical line! Take it not amiss of us, good Lady; what family can boast of such a thing? Since there ever was a Jack-o’-lantern in the world, no one of them has either sat or lain.”
The Snake felt exceedingly uncomfortable in the company of these relations; for, let her hold her head as high as possible, she found that she must bend it to the earth again, would she stir from the spot; and if in the dark thicket she had been extremely satisfied with her appearance, her splendor in the presence of these cousins seemed to lessen every moment, nay she was afraid that at last it would go out entirely.
In this embarrassment she hastily asked: If the gentlemen could not inform her, whence the glittering gold came, that had fallen a short while ago into the cleft of the rock; her own opinion was, that it had been a golden shower, and had trickled down direct from the sky. The Will-o’-wisps laughed, and shook themselves, and a multitude of gold-pieces came clinking down about them. The Snake pushed nimbly forwards to eat the coin. “Much good may it do you, Mistress,” said the dapper gentlemen: “we can help you to a little more.” They shook themselves again several times with great quickness, so that the Snake could scarcely gulp the precious victuals fast enough. Her splendor visibly began increasing; she was really shining beautifully, while the Lights had in the meantime grown rather lean and short of stature, without however in the smallest losing their good-humor.
“I am obliged to you forever,” said the Snake, having got her wind again after the repast; “ask of me what you will; all that I can I will do.”
“Very good!” cried the Lights. “Then tell us where the fair Lily dwells? Lead us to the fair Lily’s palace and garden; and do not lose a moment, we are dying of impatience to fall down at her feet.”
“This service,” said the Snake with a deep sigh, “I cannot now do for you. The fair Lily dwells, alas, on the other side of the water.” “Other side of the water? And we have come across it, this stormy night! How cruel is the River to divide us! Would it not be possible to call the old man back?”
“It would be useless,” said the Snake; “for if you found him ready on the bank, he would not take you in; he can carry anyone to this side, none to yonder.”
“Here is a pretty kettle of fish!” cried the Lights: “are there no other means of getting through the water?” “There are other means, but not at this moment. I myself could take you over, gentlemen, but not till noon.” “That is an hour we do not like to travel in.” “Then you may go across in the evening, on the great Giant’s shadow.”
“How is that?” “The great Giant lives not far from this; with his body he has no power; his hands cannot lift a straw, his shoulders could not bear a faggot of twigs; but with his shadow he has power over much, nay all. At sunrise and sunset therefore he is strongest; so at evening you merely put yourself upon the back of his shadow, the Giant walks softly to the bank, and the shadow carries you across the water. But if you please, about the hour of noon, to be in waiting at that corner of the wood where the bushes overhang the bank, I myself will take you over and present you to the fair Lily: or on the other hand, if you dislike the noontide, you have just to go at nightfall to that bend of the rocks, and pay a visit to the Giant; he will certainly receive you like a gentleman.”
With a slight bow, the Flames went off; and the Snake at bottom was not discontented to get rid of them; partly that she might enjoy the brightness of her own light, partly to satisfy a curiosity with which, for a long time, she had been agitated in a singular way.
In the chasm, where she often crawled hither and thither, she had made a strange discovery. For although in creeping up and down this abyss, she had never had a ray of light, she could well enough discriminate the objects in it, by her sense of touch. Generally she met with nothing but irregular productions of Nature; at one time she would wind between the teeth of large crystals, at another she would feel the barbs and hairs of native silver, and now and then carry out with her to the light some straggling jewels. But to her no small wonder, in a rock which was closed on every side, she had come on certain objects which betrayed the shaping hand of man. Smooth walls on which she could not climb, sharp regular corners, well-formed pillars; and what seemed strangest of all; human figures which she had entwined more than once, and which appeared to her to be of brass, or of the finest polished marble. All these experiences she now wished to combine by the sense of sight, thereby to confirm what as yet she only guessed. She believed she could illuminate the whole of that subterranean vault by her own light; and hoped to get acquainted with these curious things at once. She hastened back; and soon found, by the usual way, the cleft by which she used to penetrate the Sanctuary.
On reaching the place, she gazed around with eager curiosity; and though her shining could not enlighten every object in the rotunda, yet those nearest her were plain enough. With astonishment and reverence she looked up into a glancing niche, where the image of an august King stood formed of pure Gold. In size the figure was beyond the stature of man, but by its shape it seemed the likeness of a little rather than a tall person. His handsome body was encircled with an unadorned mantle; and a garland of oak bound his hair together.
No sooner had the Snake beheld this reverend figure, than the King began to speak, and asked: “Whence comest thou?” “From the chasms where the gold dwells,” said the Snake. “What is grander than gold?” inquired the King. “Light,” replied the Snake. “What is more refreshing than light?” said he. “Speech,” answered she.
During this conversation, she had squinted to a side, and in the nearest niche perceived another glorious image. It was a Silver King in a sitting posture; his shape was long and rather languid; he was covered with a decorated robe; crown, girdle and scepter were adorned with precious stones: the cheerfulness of pride was in his countenance; he seemed about to speak, when a vein which ran dimly-colored over the marble wall, on a sudden became bright, and diffused a cheerful light throughout the whole Temple. By this brilliancy the Snake perceived a third King, made of Brass, and sitting mighty in shape, leaning on his club, adorned with a laurel garland, and more like a rock than a man. She was looking for the fourth, which was standing at the greatest distance from her; but the wall opened, while the glittering vein started and split, as lightning does, and disappeared.
A Man of middle stature, entering through the cleft, attracted the attention of the Snake. He was dressed like a peasant, and carried in his hand a little Lamp, on whose still flame you liked to look, and which in a strange manner, without casting any shadow, enlightened the whole dome.
“Why comest thou, since we have light?” said the golden King. “You know that I may not enlighten what is dark.” “Will my Kingdom end?” said the silver King. “Late or never,” said the old Man.
With a stronger voice the brazen King began to ask: “When shall I arise?” “Soon,” replied the Man. “With whom shall I combine?” said the King. “With thy elder brothers,” said the Man. “What will the youngest do?” inquired the King. “He will sit down,” replied the Man.
“I am not tired,” cried the fourth King, with a rough faltering voice.
While this speech was going on, the Snake had glided softly round the Temple, viewing everything; she was now looking at the fourth King close by him. He stood leaning on a pillar; his considerable form was heavy rather than beautiful. But what metal it was made of could not be determined. Closely inspected, it seemed a mixture of the three metals which its brothers had been formed of. But in the founding, these materials did not seem to have combined together fully; gold and silver veins ran irregularly through a brazen mass, and gave the figure an unpleasant aspect.
Meanwhile the gold King was asking of the Man, “How many secrets knowest thou?” “Three,” replied the Man. “Which is the most important?” said the silver King. “The open one,” replied the other. “Wilt thou open it to us also?” said the brass King. “When I know the fourth,” replied the Man.” “What care I” grumbled the composite King, in an undertone.
“I know the fourth,” said the Snake; approached the old Man, and hissed somewhat in his ear. “The time is at hand!” cried the old Man, with a strong voice. The temple reechoed, the metal statues sounded; and that instant the old Man sank away to the westward, and the Snake to the eastward; and both of them passed through the clefts of the rock, with the greatest speed.
All the passages, through which the old Man travelled, filled themselves, immediately behind him, with gold; for his Lamp had the strange property of changing stone into gold, wood into silver, dead animals into precious stones, and of annihilating all metals. But to display this power, it must shine alone. If another light were beside it, the Lamp only cast from it a pure clear brightness, and all living things were refreshed by it.
The old Man entered his cottage, which was built on the slope of the hill. He found his Wife in extreme distress. She was sitting at the fire weeping, and refusing to be consoled. “How unhappy am I!” cried she: “Did not I entreat thee not to go away tonight?” “What is the matter, then?” inquired the husband, quite composed.
“Scarcely wert thou gone,” said she, sobbing, “when there came two noisy Travelers to the door: unthinkingly I let them in; they seemed to be a couple of genteel, very honorable people; they were dressed in flames, you would have taken them for Will-o’-wisps. But no sooner were they in the house, than they began, like impudent varlets, to compliment me, and grew so forward that I feel ashamed to think of it.”
“No doubt,” said the husband with a smile, “the gentlemen were jesting: considering thy age, they might have held by general politeness.”
“Age! what age?” cried the Wife: “wilt thou always be talking of my age? How old am I, then? General politeness! But I know what I know. Look around there what a face the walls have; look at the old stones, which I have not seen these hundred years; every film of gold have they licked away, thou couldst not think how fast; and still they kept assuring me that it tasted far beyond common gold. Once they had swept the walls, the fellows seemed to be in high spirits, and truly in that little while they had grown much broader and brighter. They now began to be impertinent again, they patted me, and called me their queen, they shook themselves, and a shower of gold-pieces sprang from them; see how they are shining under the bench! But ah, what misery! Poor Mops ate a coin or two; and look, he is lying in the chimney, dead. Poor Pug. O well-a-day! I did not see it till they were gone; else I had never promised to pay the Ferryman the debt they owe him.” “What do they owe him?” said the Man. “Three Cabbages,” replied the Wife, “three Artichokes and three Onions: I engaged to go when it was day, and take them to the River.”
“Thou mayest do them that civility,” said the old Man; “they may chance to be of use to us again.”
“Whether they will be of use to us I know not; but they promised and vowed that they would.”
Meantime the fire on the hearth had burnt low; the old Man covered-up the embers with a heap of ashes, and put the glittering gold-pieces aside; so that his little Lamp now gleamed alone, in the fairest brightness. The walls again coated themselves with gold, and Mops changed into the prettiest onyx that could be imagined. The alternation of the brown and black in this precious stone made it the most curious piece of workmanship.
“Take thy basket,” said the old Man, “and put the onyx into it; then take the three Cabbages, the three Artichokes and the three Onions; place them round little Mops, and carry them to the River. At noon the Snake will take thee over; visit the fair Lily, give her the onyx, she will make it alive by her touch, as by her touch she kills whatever is alive already. She will have a true companion in the little dog. Tell her, Not to mourn; her deliverance is near; the greatest misfortune she may look upon as the greatest happiness; for the time is at hand.”
The old Woman filled her basket, and set out as soon as it was day. The rising sun shone clear from the other side of the River, which was glittering in the distance; the old Woman walked with slow steps, for the basket pressed upon her head, and it was not the onyx that so burdened her. Whatever lifeless thing she might be carrying, she did not feel the weight of it; on the other hand, in those cases the basket rose aloft, and hovered above her head. But to carry any fresh herbage, or any little living animal, she found exceedingly laborious. She had travelled on for some time, in a sullen humor, when she halted suddenly in fright, for she had almost trod upon the Giant’s shadow which was stretching towards her across the plain. And now, lifting up her eyes, she saw the monster of a Giant himself, who had been bathing in the River, and was just come out, and she knew not how she should avoid him. The moment he perceived her, he began saluting her in sport, and the hands of his shadow soon caught hold of the basket. With dexterous ease they picked away from it a Cabbage, an Artichoke and an Onion, and brought them to the Giant’s mouth, who then went his way up the River, and let the Woman go in peace.
She considered whether it would not be better to return, and supply from her garden the pieces she had lost; and amid these doubts, she still kept walking on, so that in a little while she was at the bank of the River. She sat long waiting for the Ferryman, whom she perceived at last, steering over with a very singular traveler. A young, noble-looking, handsome man, whom she could not gaze upon enough, stepped out of the boat.
“What is it you bring?” cried the old Man. “The greens which those two Will-o’-wisps owe you,” said the Woman, pointing to her ware. As the Ferryman found only two of each sort, he grew angry, and declared he would have none of them. The Woman earnestly entreated him to take them; told him that she could not now go home, and that her burden for the way which still remained was very heavy. He stood by his refusal, and assured her that it did not rest with him. “What belongs to me,” said he, “I must leave lying nine hours in a heap, touching none of it, till I have given the River its third.” After much higgling, the old Man at last replied: “There is still another way. If you like to pledge yourself to the River, and declare yourself its debtor, I will take the six pieces; but there is some risk in it.” “If I keep my word, I shall run no risk?” “Not the smallest. Put your hand into the stream,” continued he, “and promise that within four-and-twenty hours you will pay the debt.”
The old Woman did so; but what was her affright, when on drawing out her hand, she found it black as coal! She loudly scolded the old Ferryman; declared that her hands had always been the fairest part of her; that in spite of her hard work, she had all along contrived to keep these noble members white and dainty. She looked at the hand with indignation, and exclaimed in a despairing tone: “Worse and worse! Look, it is vanishing entirely; it is grown far smaller than the other.”
“For the present it but seems so,” said the old Man; “if you do not keep your word, however, it may prove so in earnest. The hand will gradually diminish, and at length disappear altogether, though you have the use of it as formerly. Everything as usual you will be able to perform with it, only nobody will see it.” “I had rather that I could not use it, and no one could observe the want,” cried she: “but what of that, I will keep my word, and rid myself of this black skin, and all anxieties about it.” Thereupon she hastily took up her basket, which mounted of itself over her head, and hovered free above her in the air, as she hurried after the Youth, who was walking softly and thoughtfully down the bank. His noble form and strange dress had made a deep impression on her.
His breast was covered with a glittering coat of mail; in whose wavings might be traced every motion of his fair body. From his shoulders hung a purple cloak; around his uncovered head flowed abundant brown hair in beautiful locks: his graceful face, and his well-formed feet were exposed to the scorching of the sun. With bare soles, he walked composedly over the hot sand; and a deep inward sorrow seemed to blunt him against all external things.
The garrulous old Woman tried to lead him into conversation; but with his short answers he gave her small encouragement or information; so that in the end, notwithstanding the beauty of his eyes, she grew tired of speaking with him to no purpose, and took leave of him with these words: “You walk too slow for me, worthy sir; I must not lose a moment, for I have to pass the River on the green Snake, and carry this fine present from my husband to the fair Lily.” So saying she stepped faster forward; but the fair Youth pushed on with equal speed, and hastened to keep up with her. “You are going to the fair Lily!” cried he; “then our roads are the same. But what present is this you are bringing her?”
“Sir,” said the Woman, “it is hardly fair, after so briefly dismissing the questions I put to you, to inquire with such vivacity about my secrets. But if you like to barter, and tell me your adventures, I will not conceal from you how it stands with me and my presents.” They soon made a bargain: the dame disclosed her circumstances to him; told the history of the Pug, and let him see the singular gift.
He lifted this natural curiosity from the basket, and took Mops, who seemed as if sleeping softly, into his arms. “Happy beast!” cried he; “thou wilt be touched by her hands, thou wilt be made alive by her; while the living are obliged to fly from her presence to escape a mournful doom. Yet why say I mournful? Is it not far sadder and more frightful to be injured by her look, than it would be to die by her hand? Behold me,” said he to the Woman; “at my years, what a miserable fate have I to undergo! This mail which I have honorably borne in war, this purple which I sought to merit by a wise reign, Destiny has left me; the one as a useless burden, the other as an empty ornament. Crown, and scepter, and sword are gone; and I am as bare and needy as any other son of earth; for so unblessed are her bright eyes, that they take from every living creature they look on all its force, and those whom the touch of her hand does not kill are changed to the state of shadows wandering alive.”
Thus did he continue to bewail, nowise contenting the old Woman’s curiosity, who wished for information not so much of his internal as of his external situation. She learned neither the name of his father, nor of his kingdom. He stroked the hard Mops, whom the sunbeams and the bosom of the youth had warmed as if he had been living. He inquired narrowly about the Man with the Lamp, about the influences of the sacred light, appearing to expect much good from it in his melancholy case.
Amid such conversation, they descried from afar the majestic arch of the Bridge, which extended from the one bank to the other, glittering with the strangest colors in the splendors of the sun. Both were astonished; for until now they had never seen this edifice so grand. “How!” cried the Prince, “was it not beautiful enough, as it stood before our eyes, piled out of jasper and agate? Shall we not fear to tread it, now that it appears combined, in graceful complexity of emerald and chrysoprase and chrysolite?” Neither of them knew the alteration that had taken place upon the Snake: for it was indeed the Snake, who every day at noon curved herself over the River, and stood forth in the form of a bold-swelling bridge. The travelers stepped upon it with a reverential feeling, and passed over it in silence.
No sooner had they reached the other shore, than the bridge began to heave and stir; in a little while, it touched the surface of the water, and the green Snake in her proper form came gliding after the wanderers. They had scarcely thanked her for the privilege of crossing on her back, when they found that, besides them three, there must be other persons in the company, whom their eyes could not discern. They heard a hissing, which the Snake also answered with a hissing; they listened, and at length caught what follows: “We shall first look about us in the fair Lily’s Park,” said a pair of alternating voices; “and then request you at nightfall, so soon as we are anywise presentable, to introduce us to this paragon of beauty. At the shore of the great Lake you will find us.” “Be it so,” replied the Snake; and a hissing sound died away in the air.
Our three travelers now consulted in what order they should introduce themselves to the fair Lady; for however many people might be in her company, they were obliged to enter and depart singly, under pain of suffering very hard severities.
The Woman with the metamorphosed Pug in the basket first approached the garden, looking round for her Patroness, who was not difficult to find, being just engaged in singing to her harp. The finest tones proceeded from her, first like circles on the surface of the still lake, then like a light breath they set the grass and the bushes in motion. In a green enclosure, under the shadow of a stately group of many diverse trees, was she seated; and again did she enchant the eyes, the ears and the heart of the Woman, who approached with rapture, and swore within herself that since she saw her last, the fair one had grown fairer than ever. With eager gladness, from a distance, she expressed her reverence and admiration for the lovely maiden. “What a happiness to see you! what a Heaven does your presence spread around you! How charmingly the harp is leaning on your bosom, how softly your arms surround it, how it seems as if longing to be near you, and how it sounds so meekly under the touch of your slim fingers! Thrice-happy youth, to whom it were permitted to be there!”
So speaking she approached; the fair Lily raised her eyes; let her hands drop from the harp, and answered: “Trouble me not with untimely praise; I feel my misery but the more deeply. Look here, at my feet lies the poor Canary-bird, which used so beautifully to accompany my singing; it would sit upon my harp, and was trained not to touch me; but today, while I, refreshed by sleep, was raising a peaceful morning hymn, and my little singer was pouring forth his harmonious tones more gaily than ever, a Hawk darts over my head; the poor little creature, in affright, takes refuge in my bosom, and I feel the last palpitations of its departing life. The plundering Hawk indeed was caught by my look, and fluttered fainting down into the water; but what can his punishment avail me? my darling is dead, and his grave will but increase the mournful bushes of my garden.”
“Take courage, fairest Lily!” cried the Woman, wiping off a tear, which the story of the hapless maiden had called into her eyes; “compose yourself; my old man bids me tell you to moderate your lamenting, to look upon the greatest misfortune as a forerunner of the greatest happiness, for the time is at hand; and truly,” continued she, “the world is going strangely on of late. Do but look at my hand, how black it is! As I live and breathe, it is grown far smaller: I must hasten, before it vanish altogether! Why did I engage to do the Will-o’-wisps a service, why did I meet the Giant’s shadow, and dip my hand in the River? Could you not afford me a single cabbage, an artichoke and an onion? I would give them to the River, and my hand were white as ever, so that I could almost show it with one of yours.”
“Cabbages and onions thou mayest still find; but artichokes thou wilt search for in vain. No plant in my garden bears either flowers or fruit; but every twig that I break, and plant upon the grave of a favorite, grows green straightway, and shoots up in fair boughs. All these groups, these bushes, these groves my hard destiny has so raised around me. These pines stretching out like parasols, these obelisks of cypresses, these colossal oaks and beeches, were all little twigs planted by my hand, as mournful memorials in a soil that otherwise is barren.”
To this speech the old Woman had paid little heed; she was looking at her hand, which, in presence of the fair Lily, seemed every moment growing blacker and smaller. She was about to snatch her basket and hasten off, when she noticed that the best part of her errand had been forgotten. She lifted out the onyx Pug, and set him down, not far from the fair one, in the grass. “My husband,” said she, “sends you this memorial; you know that you can make a jewel live by touching it. This pretty faithful dog will certainly afford you much enjoyment; and my grief at losing him is brightened only by the thought that he will be in your possession.”
The fair Lily viewed the dainty creature with a pleased and, as it seemed, with an astonished look. “Many signs combine,” said she, “that breathe some hope into me: but ah! is it not a natural deception which makes us fancy, when misfortunes crowd upon us, that a better day is near?”
“What can these many signs avail me?
My Singer’s Death, thy coal black Hand?
This Dog of Onyx, that can never fail me?
And coming at the Lamp’s command?
From human joys removed forever,
With sorrows compassed round I sit:
Is there a Temple at the River?
Is there a Bridge? Alas, not yet!”
The good old dame had listened with impatience to this singing, which the fair Lily accompanied with her harp, in a way that would have charmed any other. She was on the point of taking leave, when the arrival of the green Snake again detained her. The Snake had caught the last lines of the song, and on this matter forthwith began to speak comfort to the fair Lily.
“The prophecy of the Bridge is fulfilled” cried the Snake: “you may ask this worthy dame how royally the arch looks now. What formerly was untransparent jasper or agate, allowing but a gleam of light to pass about its edges, is now become transparent precious stone. No beryl is so clear, no emerald so beautiful of hue.”
“I wish you joy of it,” said Lily; “but you will pardon me if I regard the prophecy as yet unaccomplished. The lofty arch of your bridge can still but admit foot passengers; and it is promised us that horses and carriages and travelers of every sort shall, at the same moment, cross this bridge in both directions. Is there not something said, too, about pillars, which are to arise of themselves from the waters of the River?”
The old Woman still kept her eyes fixed on her hand; she here interrupted their dialogue, and was taking leave. “Wait a moment,” said the fair Lily, “and carry my little bird with you. Bid the Lamp change it into topaz; I will enliven it by my touch; with your good Mops it shall form my dearest pastime: but hasten, hasten; for, at sunset, intolerable putrefaction will fasten on the hapless bird, and tear asunder the fair combination of its form forever.”
The old Woman laid the little corpse, wrapped in soft leaves, into her basket, and hastened away.
“However it may be,” said the Snake, recommencing their interrupted dialogue, “the Temple is built.”
“But it is not at the River,” said the fair one.
“It is yet resting in the depths of the Earth,” said the Snake; “I have seen the Kings and conversed with them.”
“But when will they arise?” inquired Lily.
The Snake replied: “I heard resounding in the Temple these deep words, The time is at hand.”
A pleasing cheerfulness spread over the fair Lily’s face: “Tis the second time,” said she, “that I have heard these happy words today: when will the day come for me to hear them thrice?”
She arose, and immediately there came a lovely maiden from the grove, and took away her harp. Another followed her, and folded-up the fine carved ivory stool, on which the fair one had been sitting, and put the silvery cushion under her arm. A third then made her appearance, with a large parasol worked with pearls; and looked whether Lily would require her in walking. These three maidens were beyond expression beautiful; and yet their beauty but exalted that of Lily, for it was plain to everyone that they could never be compared to her.
Meanwhile the fair one had been looking, with a satisfied aspect, at the strange onyx Mops. She bent down and touched him, and that instant he started up. Gaily he looked around, ran hither and thither, and at last, in his kindest manner, hastened to salute his benefactress. She took him in her arms, and pressed him to her. “Cold as thou art,” cried she, “and though but a half-life works in thee, thou art welcome to me; tenderly will I love thee, prettily will I play with thee, softly caress thee, and firmly press thee to my bosom.” She then let him go, chased him from her, called him back, and played so daintily with him, and ran about so gaily and so innocently with him on the grass, that with new rapture you viewed and participated in her joy, as a little while ago her sorrow had attuned every heart to sympathy.
This cheerfulness, these graceful sports were interrupted by the entrance of the woeful Youth. He stepped forward, in his former guise and aspect; save that the heat of the day appeared to have fatigued him still more, and in the presence of his mistress he grew paler every moment. He bore upon his hand a Hawk, which was sitting quiet as a dove, with its body shrunk, and its wings drooping.
“It is not kind in thee,” cried Lily to him, “to bring that hateful thing before my eyes, the monster, which today has killed my little singer.”
“Blame not the unhappy bird!” replied the Youth; “rather blame thyself and thy destiny; and leave me to keep beside me the companion of my woe.”
Meanwhile Mops ceased not teasing the fair Lily; and she replied to her transparent favorites, with friendly gestures. She clapped her hands to scare him off; then ran, to entice him after her. She tried to get him when he fled, and she chased him away when he attempted to press near her. The Youth looked on in silence, with increasing anger; but at last, when she took the odious beast, which seemed to him unutterably ugly, on her arm, pressed it to her white bosom, and kissed its black snout with her heavenly lips, his patience altogether failed him, and full of desperation he exclaimed: “Must I, who by a baleful fate exist beside thee, perhaps to the end, in an absent presence; who by thee have lost my all, my very self; must I see before my eyes, that so unnatural a monster can charm thee into gladness, can awaken thy attachment, and enjoy thy embrace? Shall I any longer keep wandering to and fro, measuring my dreary course to that side of the River and to this? No, there is still a spark of the old heroic spirit sleeping in my bosom; let it start this instant into its expiring flame! If stones may rest in thy bosom, let me be changed to stone; if thy touch kills, I will die by thy hands.”
So saying he made a violent movement; the Hawk flew from his finger, but he himself rushed towards the fair one; she held out her hands to keep him off, and touched him only the sooner. Consciousness forsook him; and she felt with horror the beloved burden lying on her bosom. With a shriek she started back, and the gentle Youth sank lifeless from her arms upon the ground.
The misery had happened! The sweet Lily stood motionless gazing on the corpse. Her heart seemed to pause in her bosom; and her eyes were without tears. In vain did Mops try to gain from her any kindly gesture; with her friend, the world for her was all dead as the grave. Her silent despair did not look round for help; she knew not of any help.
On the other hand, the Snake bestirred herself the more actively; she seemed to meditate deliverance; and in fact her strange movements served at least to keep away, for a little, the immediate consequences of the mischief. With her limber body, she formed a wide circle round the corpse, and seizing the end of her tail between her teeth, she lay quite still.
Ere long one of Lily’s fair waiting-maids appeared; brought the ivory folding-stool, and with friendly beckoning constrained her mistress to sit down on it. Soon afterwards there came a second; she had in her hand a fire-colored veil, with which she rather decorated than concealed the fair Lily’s head. The third handed her the harp, and scarcely had she drawn the gorgeous instrument towards her, and struck some tones from its strings, when the first maid returned with a clear round mirror; took her station opposite the fair one; caught her looks in the glass, and threw back to her the loveliest image that was to be found in Nature. Sorrow heightened her beauty, the veil her charms, the harp her grace; and deeply as you wished to see her mournful situation altered, not less deeply did you wish to keep her image, as she now looked, forever present with you.
With a still look at the mirror, she touched the harp; now melting tones proceeded from the strings, now her pain seemed to mount, and the music in strong notes responded to her woe; sometimes she opened her lips to sing, but her voice failed her; and ere long her sorrow melted into tears, two maidens caught her helpfully in their arms, the harp sank from her bosom, scarcely could the quick servant snatch the instrument and carry it aside.
“Who gets us the Man with the Lamp, before the Sun set?” hissed the Snake, faintly, but audibly: the maids looked at one another, and Lily’s tears fell faster. At this moment came the Woman with the Basket, panting and altogether breathless. “I am lost, and maimed for life!” cried she, “see how my hand is almost vanished; neither Ferryman nor Giant would take me over, because I am the River’s debtor; in vain did I promise hundreds of cabbages and hundreds of onions; they will take no more than three; and no artichoke is now to be found in all this quarter.”
“Forget your own care,” said the Snake, “and try to bring help here; perhaps it may come to yourself also. Haste with your utmost speed to seek the Will-‘’-wisps; it is too light for you to see them, but perhaps you will hear them laughing and hopping to and fro. If they be speedy, they may cross upon the Giant’s shadow, and seek the Man with the Lamp, and send him to us.”
The Woman hurried off at her quickest pace, and the Snake seemed expecting as impatiently as Lily the return of the Flames. Alas! the beam of the sinking Sun was already gliding only the highest summits of the trees in the thicket, and long shadows were stretching over lake and meadow; the Snake hitched up and down impatiently, and Lily dissolved in tears.
In this extreme need, the Snake kept looking round on all sides; for she was afraid every moment that the Sun would set, and corruption penetrate the magic circle, and the fair youth immediately molder away. At last she noticed sailing high in the air, with purple-red feathers, the Prince’s Hawk, whose breast was catching the last beams of the Sun. She shook herself for joy at this good omen; nor was she deceived; for shortly afterwards the Man with the Lamp was seen gliding towards them across the Lake, fast and smoothly, as if he had been travelling on skates.
The Snake did not change her posture; but Lily rose and called to him: “What good spirit sends thee, at the moment when we were desiring thee, and needing thee, so much?”
“The spirit of my Lamp,” replied the Man, “has impelled me, and the Hawk has conducted me. My Lamp sparkles when I am needed, and I just look about me in the sky for a signal; some bird or meteor points to the quarter towards which I am to turn. Be calm, fairest Maiden! Whether I can help, I know not; an individual helps not, but he who combines himself with many at the proper hour. We will postpone the evil, and keep hoping. Hold thy circle fast,” continued he, turning to the Snake; then set himself upon a hillock beside her, and illuminated the dead body. “Bring the little Bird hither too, and lay it in the circle!” The maidens took the little corpse from the basket, which the old Woman had left standing, and did as he directed.
Meanwhile the Sun had set; and as the darkness increased, not only the Snake and the old Man’s Lamp began shining in their fashion, but also Lily’s veil gave-out a soft light, which gracefully tinged, as with a meek dawning red, her pale cheeks and her white robe. The party looked at one another, silently reflecting; care and sorrow were mitigated by a sure hope.
It was no unpleasing entrance, therefore, that the Woman made, attended by the two gay Flames, which in truth appeared to have been very lavish in the interim, for they had again become extremely meagre; yet they only bore themselves the more prettily for that, towards Lily and the other ladies. With great tact and expressiveness, they said a multitude of rather common things to these fair persons; and declared themselves particularly ravished by the charm which the gleaming veil spread over Lily and her attendants. The ladies modestly cast down their eyes, and the praise of their beauty made them really beautiful. All were peaceful and calm, except the old Woman. In spite of the assurance of her husband, that her hand could diminish no farther, while the Lamp shone on it, she asserted more than once, that if things went on thus, before midnight this noble member would have utterly vanished.
The Man with the Lamp had listened attentively to the conversation of the Lights; and was gratified that Lily had been cheered, in some measure, and amused by it. And, in truth, midnight had arrived they knew not how. The old Man looked to the stars, and then began speaking: “We are assembled at the propitious hour; let each perform his task, let each do his duty; and a universal happiness will swallow-up our individual sorrows, as a universal grief consumes individual joys.”
At these words arose a wondrous hubbub; for all the persons in the party spoke aloud, each for himself, declaring what they had to do; only the three maids were silent; one of them had fallen asleep beside the harp, another near the parasol, the third by the stool; and you could not blame them much, for it was late. The Fiery Youths, after some passing compliments which they devoted to the waiting-maids, had turned their sole attention to the Princess, as alone worthy of exclusive homage.
“Take the mirror,” said the Man to the Hawk; “and with the first sunbeam illuminate the three sleepers, and awake them, with light reflected from above.”
The Snake now began to move; she loosened her circle, and rolled slowly, in large rings, forward to the River. The two Will-o’-wisps followed with a solemn air: you would have taken them for the most serious Flames in Nature. The old Woman and her husband seized the Basket, whose mild light they had scarcely observed till now; they lifted it at both sides, and it grew still larger and more luminous; they lifted the body of the Youth into it, laying the Canary-bird upon his breast; the Basket rose into the air and hovered above the old Woman’s head, and she followed the Will-o’-wisps on foot. The fair Lily took Mops on her arm, and followed the Woman; the Man with the Lamp concluded the procession; and the scene was curiously illuminated by these many lights.
But it was with no small wonder that the party saw, when they approached the River, a glorious arch mount over it, by which the helpful Snake was affording them a glittering path. If by day they had admired the beautiful transparent precious stones, of which the Bridge seemed formed; by night they were astonished at its gleaming brilliancy. On the upper side the clear circle marked itself sharp against the dark sky, but below, vivid beams were darting to the center, and exhibiting the airy firmness of the edifice. The procession slowly moved across it; and the Ferryman, who saw it from his hut afar off, considered with astonishment the gleaming circle, and the strange lights which were passing over it.
No sooner had they reached the other shore, than the arch began, in its usual way, to swag up and down, and with a wavy motion to approach the water. The Snake then came on land, the Basket placed itself upon the ground, and the Snake again drew her circle round it. The old Man stooped towards her, and said: “What hast thou resolved on?”
“To sacrifice myself rather than be sacrificed,” replied the Snake; “promise me that thou wilt leave no stone on shore.”
The old Man promised; then addressing Lily: “Touch the Snake,” said he, “with thy left hand, and thy lover with thy right.” Lily knelt, and touched the Snake and the Prince’s body. The latter in the instant seemed to come to life; he moved in the Basket, nay he raised himself into a sitting posture; Lily was about to clasp him; but the old Man held her back, and himself assisted the Youth to rise, and led him forth from the Basket and the circle.
The Prince was standing; the Canary-bird was fluttering on his shoulder; there was life again in both of them, but the spirit had not yet returned; the fair Youth’s eyes were open, yet he did not see, at least he seemed to look on all without participation. Scarcely had their admiration of this incident a little calmed, when they observed how strangely it had fared in the meanwhile with the Snake. Her fair taper body had crumbled into thousands and thousands of shining jewels: the old Woman reaching at her Basket had chanced to come against the circle; and of the shape or structure of the Snake there was now nothing to be seen, only a bright ring of luminous jewels was lying in the grass.
The old Man forthwith set himself to gather the stones into the Basket; a task in which his wife assisted him. They next carried the Basket to an elevated point on the bank; and here the man threw its whole lading, not without contradiction from the fair one and his wife, who would gladly have retained some part of it, down into the River. Like gleaming twinkling stars the stones floated down with the waves; and you could not say whether they lost themselves in the distance, or sank to the bottom.
“Gentlemen,” said he with the Lamp, in a respectful tone to the Lights, “I will now show you the way, and open you the passage; but you will do us an essential service, if you please to unbolt the door, by which the Sanctuary must be entered at present, and which none but you can unfasten.”
The Lights made a stately bow of assent, and kept their place. The old Man of the Lamp went foremost into the rock, which opened at his presence; the Youth followed him, as if mechanically; silent and uncertain, Lily kept at some distance from him; the old Woman would not be left, and stretched-out her hand, that the light of her husband’s Lamp might still fall upon it. The rear was closed by the two Will-o’-wisps, who bent the peaks of their flames towards one another, and appeared to be engaged in conversation.
They had not gone far till the procession halted in front of a large brazen door, the leaves of which were bolted with a golden lock. The Man now called upon the Lights to advance; who required small entreaty, and with their pointed flames soon ate both bar and lock.
The brass gave a loud clang, as the doors sprang suddenly asunder; and the stately figures of the Kings appeared within the Sanctuary, illuminated by the entering Lights. All bowed before these dread sovereigns, especially the Flames made a profusion of the daintiest reverences.
After a pause, the gold King asked: “Whence come ye?” “From the world,” said the old Man. “Whither go ye?” said the silver King. “Into the world,” replied the Man. “What would ye with us?” cried the brazen King. “Accompany you,” replied the Man.
The composite King was about to speak, when the gold one addressed the Lights, who had got too near him: “Take yourselves away from me, my metal was not made for you.” Thereupon they turned to the silver King, and clasped themselves about him; and his robe glittered beautifully in their yellow brightness. “You are welcome,” said he, “but I cannot feed you; satisfy yourselves elsewhere, and bring me your light.” They removed; and gliding past the brazen King, who did not seem to notice them, they fixed on the compounded King. “Who will govern the world?” cried he, with a broken voice. “He who stands upon his feet,” replied the old Man. “I am he,” said the mixed King. “We shall see,” replied the Man; “for the time is at hand.”
The fair Lily fell upon the old Man’s neck, and kissed him cordially. “Holy Sage” cried she, “a thousand times I thank thee; for I hear that fateful word the third time.” She had scarcely spoken, when she clasped the old Man still faster; for the ground began to move beneath them; the Youth and the old Woman also held by one another; the Lights alone did not regard it.
You could feel plainly that the whole temple was in motion; as a ship that softly glides away from the harbor, when her anchors are lifted; the depths of the Earth seemed to open for the Building as it went along. It struck on nothing; no rock came in its way.
For a few instants, a small rain seemed to drizzle from the opening of the dome; the old Man held the fair Lily fast, and said to her: “We are now beneath the River; we shall soon be at the mark.” Ere long they thought the Temple made a halt; but they were in an error; it was mounting upwards.
And now a strange uproar rose above their heads. Planks and beams in disordered combination now came pressing and crashing in at the opening of the dome. Lily and the Woman started to a side; the Man with the Lamp laid hold of the Youth, and kept standing still. The little cottage of the Ferryman, for it was this which the Temple in ascending had severed from the ground and carried up with it, sank gradually down, and covered the old Man and the Youth.
The women screamed aloud, and the Temple shook, like a ship running unexpectedly aground. In sorrowful perplexity, the Princess and her old attendant wandered round the cottage in the dawn; the door was bolted, and to their knocking no one answered. They knocked more loudly, and were not a little struck, when at length the wood began to ring. By virtue of the Lamp locked up in it, the hut had been converted from the inside to the outside into solid silver. Ere long too its form changed; for the noble metal shook aside the accidental shape of planks, posts and beams, and stretched itself out into a noble case of beaten ornamented workmanship. Thus a fair little temple stood erected in the middle of the large one; or if you will, an Altar worthy of the Temple.
By a staircase which ascended from within, the noble Youth now mounted aloft, lighted by the old Man with the Lamp, and, as it seemed, supported by another, who advanced in a white short robe, with a silver rudder in his hand; and was soon recognized as the Ferryman, the former possessor of the cottage.
The fair Lily mounted the outer steps, which led from the floor of the Temple to the Altar; but she was still obliged to keep herself apart from her Lover. The old Woman, whose hand in the absence of the Lamp had grown still smaller, cried: “Am I, then, to be unhappy after all? Among so many miracles, can there be nothing done to save my hand?” Her husband pointed to the open door, and said to her: “See, the day is breaking; haste, bathe thyself in the River.” “What an advice!” cried she; “it will make me all black; it will make me vanish together; for my debt is not yet paid.” “Go,” said the man, “and do as I advise thee; all debts are now paid.”
The old Woman hastened away; and at that moment appeared the rising Sun, upon the rim of the dome. The old Man stepped between Virgin and the Youth, and cried with a loud voice: “There are three which have rule on Earth; Wisdom, Beauty and Strength.” the first word, the gold King rose; at the second, the silver one; and at the third, the brass King slowly rose, while the mixed King on a sudden very awkwardly plumped down.
Whoever noticed him could scarcely keep from laughing, solemn as the moment was; for he was not sitting, he was not lying, he was — leaning, but shapelessly sunk together.
The Lights, who till now had been employed upon him, drew to side; they appeared, although pale in the morning radiance, yet the more well-fed, and in good burning condition; with their peaked tongues, they had dexterously licked-out the gold veins of the colossal figure to its very heart. The irregular vacuities which this occasioned had continued empty for a time, and the figure had maintained its standing posture. But when at last the very tenderest filaments were eaten out, the image crashed suddenly together; and then, alas, in the very parts which continue unaltered when one sits down; whereas the limbs, which should have bent, sprawled themselves out unbowed and stiff. Whoever could not laugh was obliged to turn away his eyes; this miserable shape and no-shape was offensive to behold.
The Man with the Lamp now led the handsome Youth, who still kept gazing vacantly before him, down from the Altar, and straight to the brazen King. At the feet of this mighty Potentate lay a sword in a brazen sheath. The young man girt it round him. “The sword on left, the right free!” cried the brazen voice. They next proceeded to the silver King; he bent his scepter to the Youth; the latter seized it with his left hand, and the King in a pleasing voice said: “Feed the sheep!” On turning to the golden King, he stooped with gestures of paternal blessing, and pressing his oaken garland on the young man’s head, said: “Understand what is highest!”
During this progress, the old Man had carefully observed the Prince. After girding-on the sword, his breast swelled, his arms waved, and his feet trod firmer; when he took the scepter in his hand, his strength appeared to soften, and by an unspeakable charm to become still more subduing; but as the oaken garland came to deck his hair, his features kindled, his eyes gleamed with inexpressible spirit, and the first word of his mouth was “Lily!”
“Dearest Lily!” cried he, hastening up the silver stairs to her, for she had viewed his progress from the pinnacle of the Altar; “Dearest Lily! what more precious can a man, equipped with all, desire for himself than innocence and the still affection which thy bosom brings me? O my friend!” continued he, turning to the old Man, and looking at the three statues; “glorious and secure is the kingdom of our fathers; but thou hast forgotten the fourth power, which rules the world, earlier, more universally, more certainly, the power of Love.” With these words, he fell upon the lovely maiden’s neck; she had cast away her veil, and her cheeks were tinged with the fairest, most imperishable red.
Here the old Man said with a smile: “Love does not rule; but it trains, and that is more.”
Amid this solemnity, this happiness and rapture, no one had observed that it was now broad day; and all at once, on looking through the open portal, a crowd of altogether unexpected objects met the eye. A large space surrounded with pillars formed the forecourt, at the end of which was seen a broad and stately Bridge stretching with many arches across the River. It was furnished, on both sides, with commodious and magnificent colonnades for foot-travelers, many thousands of whom were already there, busily passing this way or that. The broad pavement in the center was thronged with herds and mules, with horsemen and carriages, flowing like two streams, on their several sides, and neither interrupting the other. All admired the splendor and convenience of the structure; and the new King and his Spouse were delighted with the motion and activity of this great people, as they were already happy in their own mutual love.
“Remember the Snake in honor,” said the Man with the Lamp; “thou owest her thy life; thy people owe her the Bridge, by which these neighboring banks are now animated and combined into one land. Those swimming and shining jewels, the remains of her sacrificed body, are the piers of this royal bridge; upon these she has built and will maintain herself.”
The party were about to ask some explanation of this strange mystery, when there entered four lovely maidens at the portal of the Temple. By the Harp, the Parasol, and the Folding-stool, it was not difficult to recognize the waiting-maids of Lily; but the fourth, more beautiful than any of the rest, was an unknown fair one, and in sisterly sportfulness she hastened with them through the Temple, and mounted the steps of the Altar.
“Wilt thou have better trust in me another time, good wife?” said the Man with the Lamp to the fair one: “Well for thee, and every living thing that bathes this morning in the River!”
The renewed and beautified old Woman, of whose former shape no trace remained, embraced with young eager arms the Man with the Lamp, who kindly received her caresses. “If I am too old for thee,” said he, smiling, “thou mayest choose another husband today; from this hour no marriage is of force, which is not contracted anew.”
“Dost thou not know, then,” answered she, “that thou too art grown younger?” “It delights me if to thy young eyes I seem a handsome youth: I take thy hand anew, and am well content to live with thee another thousand years.”
The Queen welcomed her new friend, and went down with her into the interior of the Altar, while the King stood between his two men, looking towards the Bridge, and attentively contemplating the busy tumult of the people.
But his satisfaction did not last; for ere long he saw an object which excited his displeasure. The great Giant, who appeared not yet to have awoke completely from his morning sleep, came stumbling along the Bridge, producing great confusion all around him. As usual, he had risen stupefied with sleep, and had meant to bathe in the well-known bay of the River; instead of which he found firm land, and plunged upon the broad pavement of the Bridge. Yet although he reeled into the midst of men and cattle in the clumsiest way, his presence, wondered at by all, was felt by none; but as the sunshine came into his eyes, and he raised his hands to rub them, the shadows of his monstrous fists moved to and fro behind him with such force and awkwardness, that men and beasts were heaped together in great masses, were hurt by such rude contact, and in danger of being pitched into the River.
The King, as he saw this mischief, grasped with an involuntary movement at his sword; but he bethought himself, and looked calmly at his scepter, then at the Lamp and the Rudder of his attendants. “I guess thy thoughts,” said the Man with the Lamp; “but we and our gifts are powerless against this powerless monster. Be calm! He is doing hurt for the last time, and happily his shadow is not turned to us.”
Meanwhile the Giant was approaching nearer; in astonishment at what he saw with open eyes, he had dropped his hands; he was now doing no injury, and came staring and agape into the fore-court.
He was walking straight to the door of the Temple, when all at once in the middle of the court, he halted, and was fixed to the ground. He stood there like a strong colossal statue, of reddish glittering stone, and his shadow pointed out the hours, which were marked in a circle on the floor around him, not in numbers, but in noble and expressive emblems.
Much delighted was the King to see the monster’s shadow turned to some useful purpose; much astonished was the Queen, who, on mounting from within the Altar, decked in royal pomp, with her virgins, first noticed the huge figure, which almost closed the prospect from the Temple to the Bridge.
Meanwhile the people had crowded after the Giant, as he ceased to move; they were walking round him, wondering at his metamorphosis. From him they turned to the Temple, which they now first appeared to notice, and pressed towards the door.
At this instant the Hawk with the mirror soared aloft above the dome; caught the light of the Sun, and reflected it upon the group, which was standing on the Altar. The King, the Queen, and their attendants, in the dusky concave of the Temple, seemed illuminated by a heavenly splendor, and the people fell upon their faces. When the crowd had recovered and risen, the King with his followers had descended into the Altar, to proceed by secret passages into his palace; and the multitude dispersed about the Temple to content their curiosity. The three Kings that were standing erect they viewed with astonishment and reverence; but the more eager were they to discover what mass it could be that was hid behind the hangings, in the fourth niche; for by some hand or another, charitable decency had spread over the resting-place of the fallen King a gorgeous curtain, which no eye can penetrate, and no hand may dare to draw aside.
The people would have found no end to their gazing and their admiration, and the crowding multitude would have even suffocated one another in the Temple, had not their attention been again attracted to the open space.
Unexpectedly some gold-pieces, as if falling from the air, came tinkling down upon the marble flags; the nearest passers-by rushed thither to pick them up; the wonder was repeated several times, now here, now there. It is easy to conceive that the shower proceeded from our two retiring Flames, who wished to have a little sport here once more, and were thus gaily spending, ere they went away, the gold which they had licked from the members of the sunken King. The people still ran eagerly about, pressing and pulling one another, even when the gold had ceased to fall. At length they gradually dispersed, and went their way; and to the present hour the Bridge is swarming with travellers, and the Temple is the most frequented on the whole Earth.
The Spiritual-Scientific Basis of Goethe’s Work, Rudolf Steiner, Address given on July 10, 1906, London, England at the Second Annual Congress of the Federation of European Sections of the Theosophical Society, GA 35
“Goethe now endeavored on his part to set forth the same idea from the depths of his conception of the world – but veiled in imagery – in the problem-tale of The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. It is placed in the editions of Goethe at the end of the Conversations of German Emigrants. The Faust story has often been called Goethe’s Gospel; this tale may, however, be called his Apocalypse, for in it he sets forth – as a fairy-tale – the path of man’s inner development. Here again, we can only point out a few short passages, it would need a large book to show how Goethe’s spiritual insight is concealed in this tale.
The three worlds are here represented as two regions separated from one another by a river. The river itself stands for the astral plane. On this side of it is the physical world, on the other side the spiritual where dwells the Beautiful Lily, the symbol of man’s higher nature. Into her kingdom, man must strive if he would unite his lower with his higher nature. In the abyss – that is, in the physical world – dwells the serpent which symbolizes the self of man. Here too is a temple of initiation, where reign four kings, one golden, one silver, one bronze, and a fourth of an irregular mixture of the three metals. Goethe, who was a freemason, has clothed in freemasonic terminology what he had to impart of his mystic experiences. The three kings represent the three higher forces of man: Wisdom (Gold), Beauty (Silver), and Strength (Bronze). As long as man lives in his lower nature, these three forces are in him disordered and chaotic. This period in the evolution of man is represented by the mixed king. But when man has so purified himself that the three forces work together in perfect harmony, and he can freely use them, then the way into the realm of the spiritual lies open before him. The still unpurified man is represented by a youth who, without having attained inner purity, would unite himself with the beautiful lily. Through this union he becomes paralyzed.
Goethe here wished to point out the danger to which a man exposes himself who would force an entrance into the super-sensible region before he has severed himself from his lower self. Only when love has permeated the whole man, only when the lower nature has been sacrificed, can the initiation into the higher truths and powers begin. This sacrifice is expressed by the serpent yielding of its own accord and forming a bridge of its body across the river – that is to say, the astral plane – between the two kingdoms, of the senses and of the spirit. At first man must accept the higher truths in the form in which they have been given to him in the imagery of the various religions. This form is personified as the man with the lamp. This lamp has the peculiarity of only giving light where there is already light, meaning that the religious truths presuppose a receptive, believing disposition. Their light shines where the light of faith is present. This lamp, however, has yet another quality, “of turning all stones into gold, all wood into silver, dead animals into precious stones, and of destroying all metals,” meaning the power of faith which changes the inner nature of the individual.
There are about twenty characters in this allegory, all symbolical of certain forces in man’s nature and, during the course of the action, the purifying of man is described, as he rises to the heights where, in his union with his higher self, he can be initiated into the secrets of existence. This state is symbolized by the Temple, formerly hidden in the abyss, being brought to the surface, and rising above the river – the astral plane. Every passage, every sentence in the allegory is significant. The more deeply one studies the tale, the more comprehensible and clear the whole becomes, and he who set forth the esoteric quintessence of this tale at the same time has given us the substance of the Anthroposophical outlook on life.”
Goethe’s Standard of the Soul as Illustrated in his Fairy Story of The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, Rudolf Steiner, GA 22
“Everything that I have allowed to be printed or that I have said verbally about the fairy tale, is only a further elaboration of the thoughts expressed in my Mystery Play, The Portal of Initiation.
The Old Man with the Lamp and the Will-o’-the-Wisps in the fairy tale are nothing more nor less than the phantasy figures as they appear in the composition. The student of Goethe’s fairy tale needs the thought content, for this alone can enable his soul to follow the course of Goethe’s creative phantasy in re-creative imagination. The striving towards the condition truly worthy of man to which Schiller refers and which Goethe longs to experience, is personified in the Young Man in the fairy tale. His marriage with the Lily, who embodies the realization of the world of freedom is the union with those forces which slumber in the human soul and when awakened, lead to the true inner experience of the free personality.
The Old Man with the Lamp plays an important part in the development of the fairy tale. When he comes with his lamp into the clefts of the rocks, he is asked which is the most important of the secrets known to him. He answers, “the revealed,” and when asked if he will not divulge this secret, replies, “When I have learnt the fourth.” This fourth secret, however, is known to the Green Snake, who whispers it in the Old Man’s ear. There can be no doubt that this secret concerns the condition for which all the figures in the fairy tale are longing. This condition is described at the end of the tale. A picture portrays the way in which the soul of man enters into union with the subterranean forces of its nature. As a result of this, the soul’s relationship to the supersensible, – the kingdom of the Lily, – and to the material, – the kingdom of the Green Snake, is so regulated that in experience and in action it is freely receptive to impulses from both regions. In union with both, the soul is able to fulfil its true being. It must be assumed that the Old Man knows this secret; for he is the only figure who is always master of the circumstances, everything is dependent on his guidance and leadership.
What then can the Snake say to the Old Man? He knows that the Snake must be offered up in sacrifice if the longed-for goal is to be attained. But this knowledge of his is not unconditional. He must wait until the snake, from out of the depths of her nature, is ripe to make the sacrifice. Within the compass of man’s soul life is a power which bears the soul’s development on to the condition of free personality. This power has its task on the way to the attainment of free personality. When this is achieved, the task is over. This power brings the human soul into connection with the experiences of life and transforms into inner wisdom all that science and life reveal, and makes the soul ever riper for the desired spiritual goal. This attained, it loses meaning for it establishes man’s relation to the outer world. At the goal, however, all external impulses are changed into inner impulses of the soul, and there this power must sacrifice itself, must suspend its functions; it must, without separate existence of its own, live on now in the transformed man as the ferment permeating the rest of soul life. This soul-power is personified in the Green Snake. It devours the gold, – the wisdom derived from life and science, which must be so worked upon by the soul that wisdom and soul become one. This soul-power will be sacrificed at the right time; it will bring man to his goal, will make him a free personality.
The Snake whispers to the Old Man that it will sacrifice itself. It confides to him a mystery that is revealed to him, but of which he can make no use so long as it is not unfilled by the free resolve of the Snake. When this soul power in man speaks to him as the Snake speaks to the Old Man, “the time has come” for the soul to realize life experience as life wisdom; harmony between the material and the supersensible is re-established. The Young Man has had premature contact with the supersensible world, and has been paralyzed, deadened. Life revives in him and he marries the Lily when the Snake, – the soul experience, is offered up in sacrifice. Thus the longed for consummation is attained. The time has now also come when the soul is able to build a bridge between the nether and the further regions of the river. This bridge is built of the Snake’s own substance. From now on, life experience has no separate existence; it is no longer directed merely to the outer sense world as before. It has become inner soul power which is not consciously exercised as such, but which only functions in the reciprocal illumination of the material and super-sensible life of man’s inner being. This condition is brought about by the Snake. Yet the Snake by itself cannot impart to the Young Man the gifts whereby he is able to control the newly fathomed soul kingdom. These gifts are bestowed on him by the Three Kings. From the Brazen King he receives the sword with the command: “Take the sword in your left hand and keep the right hand free.” The Silver King gives him the scepter with the words: “Feed my sheep.” The Golden King sets the Crown of Oak on his head, saying, “Acknowledge the Highest.” The fourth King, who is formed of a mixture of the three metals, Copper (Bronze), Silver and Gold, sinks lifelessly to the ground.
In the man who is on the way to become a free personality there are three soul forces in alloy: – Will (Copper/Bronze), Feeling (Silver), Knowledge (Gold). In the course of existence the revelations of life experience give all that the soul assimilates from the operation of these three forces. Power, through which virtue works is made manifest in Will: Beauty (beautiful appearance) reveals itself in Feeling; Wisdom, in Knowledge. Man is separated from the state of “free personality” through the fact that these three forces work in his soul in alloy; he will attain free personality to the degree in which he assimilates the gifts, each of the three in its specific nature, in full consciousness and unites them in free conscious activity in his own soul. Then the chaotic alloy of the gifts of Will, Feeling and Knowledge which has previously controlled him, falls asunder.
The Wisdom King is of Gold. Gold personifies Wisdom in some form. The operation of Wisdom in the life experience that is finally sacrificed has already been described. But the Will-o’-the-Wisps too, seize upon the Gold in their own way. In man there exists a soul quality, – (in many people it develops abnormally and seems to fill their whole being) – by which he is able to assimilate all the wisdom that life and science bestow. But this soul quality does not endeavor to unite wisdom wholly to the inner life. It remains one-sided knowledge, as an instrument of dogma or criticism; it makes a man appear brilliant, or helps to give him a one-sided prominence in life. It makes no effort to bring about a balance through adjustment with the yields of external experience. It becomes superstition as described by Goethe because it does not try to harmonize itself to Nature. It becomes learning before it has become life in the inner being of the soul. It is that which false prophets and sophists like to bear through life. The Snake, the selfless life-experience that has developed for love’s sake to conscious wisdom, surrenders its existence in order to build the bridge between material and spiritual existence.
An irresistible desire presses the Young Man onward to the kingdom of the Beautiful Lily. Although men have the deepest longing for the world of the Lily, they can only reach it at certain times before the bridge is built. At noon the Snake, even before its sacrifice, builds a temporary bridge to the supersensible world. And evening and morning man can pass over the river that separates sense-existence from supersensible existence on the Giant’s Shadows – the powers of imagination and of memory. Anyone who approaches the ruler of the supersensible world without the necessary inner qualification must do harm to his life like the Young Man. The Lily also desires the other region. The Ferryman who conveyed the Will-o’-the-Wisps over the river can bring anyone back from the supersensible world, but can take no one to it.
The Ferryman can bring anyone to the realm of sense but cannot convey them to the realm of spirit. All men have involuntarily descended from the supersensible world. But they can only re-establish a free union with this supersensible world when they have the will to pass over the bridge of sacrificed life-experience. It is a union independent of “Time,” of all involuntary conditions of soul. Before this free union has taken place there exist two involuntary conditions of soul which enable man to attain to the supersensible world – the kingdom of the free personality. One such condition is present in creative imagination or phantasy which is a reflection of supersensible experience. This is depicted in the crossing which the Snake makes possible at noon. The Snake typifies life-experience not yet ready for supersensible existence. The other condition of soul sets in when the conscious soul of man – of the Giant in man who is an image of the macrocosm – is dimmed, when conscious cognition is obscured and blunted in such a way that it becomes superstition, hallucination, mediumistic trance.
The Old Man’s lamp has the quality of only being able to give light where another light already is. Just as the lamp does not give light in the darkness, so the light of wisdom, of knowledge, does not shine in the man who does not bring to it the appropriate organ, the inner light. What the lamp denotes will become still more intelligible if we take heed of the fact that it can in its own way shed light upon what is developing as a resolution in the Snake, but there must first be knowledge of the Snake’s willingness to make this resolution. The Old Man can change everything by his lamp in such a way that it assumes a new life-serving form, but actual development is dependent upon the ripening of the life-experience.
The wife of the Old Man is she whose body is pledged to the river for the debt which she has come to owe it. This woman personifies the human powers of perception and conception as well as humanity’s memory of its past. She is an associate of the Old Man. By her aid he has possession of the light that is able to illumine what is made evident already by external reality.
The river divides the two kingdoms of free spiritual activity in supersensible existence and of necessity in material life. The unconscious soul powers, the Ferryman, transport man whose origin is in the supersensible kingdom into the material world. Here in the first place he finds himself in a realm wherein the powers of conception and remembrance have created conditions in which he has to live. But they separate him from the supersensible world; he feels himself beholden to them when he must approach the power (the Ferryman) that has brought him unconsciously out of the supersensible world into the material sense world. He can only break the power which these conditions have over him, and which is revealed in the deprivation of his freedom, when with the “Fruits of the Earth” that is to say, with self-created life wisdom, he frees himself from the obligation imposed upon him by the conditions, from coercion. If he cannot do this, these conditions – the water of the river – take his individual wisdom away from him. He is swallowed up into his soul being.
On the river stands the Temple in which the marriage of the Young Man with the Lily takes place. The “marriage” with the supersensible, the realization of the free personality, is possible in a human soul whose forces have been brought into a state of regularity that in comparison with the usual state is a transformation. The wisdom of the Will-o’-the-Wisps, for example, which has broken loose from the sense world and has wandered into superstition or chaotic thought, serves to open the door of the Palace, that is the personification of the soul condition wherein the chaotic alloy of will, feeling, and cognition holds man in chains within a constricted inner life shut off from the supersensible world. The fairy tale is a picture of man’s soul life as it strives towards the supersensible world.”
Goethe’s Secret Revelation, Where and How Does One Find the Spirit?, Lecture 3, Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, October 24, 1908, GA 57
“In Goethe’s fairy tale, the golden king is the representative of the initiation into the powers of imagination, the silver king is the representative of the initiation into the cognitive faculties of the objective feeling, and the bronze king is the representative of the initiation into the cognitive faculties of the will. The young man whom we have got to know in the fairy tale is nothing else than the representative of the human being striving for the highest. He wants to reach the beautiful lily at first; he attains, however, the inner human perfection from the three kings, the golden, silver and the bronze king. This fourth king is the representative of that human developmental level where will, imaginative power, and emotional properly are mixed. He is that representative of the human soul who is controlled by will, image, and emotion because he himself is not master of these three properties. However, in the young man – after he had attained the gift from each of the kings in particular, so that they are no longer mixed chaotically – that level of knowledge is represented which can no longer be controlled by thinking, feeling, and willing but controls them. They control the human being as long as they are confused in him, as long as they are not pure in his soul, each working on its own. As long as the human being has not separated them, he is also not able to work with his three cognitive faculties.
It is no longer difficult now to admit that we have to see another spiritual constitution in the beautiful lily than in the young man. He attains that spiritual constitution if he understands the beings of things and he raises his human existence by the fact that things coalesce in him with the beings of things in the outside world. Goethe shows representatively in the union with the beautiful lily what the human being experiences there because he outgrows himself and becomes master of the soul forces, this inner bliss, this conjointness, this mergence with things.
The snake is the representative of the soul force which does not strive selfishly to the higher fields of existence and tries to place itself above everything, but which patiently allows the concept to prove perpetually by observation to be true which goes patiently from experience to experience.
We know that everything that originates on the one hand from the beautiful lily, on the other hand, strives to return to her. The unknown forces that we do not master had brought us over here. We know that certain forces have brought us from the transcendent world over the border river to this world. These forces, characterized by the ferryman, however, active in the depths of the unconscious nature, cannot bring us back again, because, otherwise, the human being would return to the divine realm as the same without his work, without his assistance, just as he has come over. The forces that brought us as unaware natural forces into the realm of the striving human beings are not allowed to lead us back again.
The temple signifies a higher level of human development. The temple is something concealed, it is beneath the narrow abysses of the earth. Such a striving soul force, as the snake represents, can feel the figure of the temple only indistinctly. The temple can be there at the present time only as a subterranean secret. However, because Goethe makes this temple something subterranean for the external culture, he also points to the fact that this secret has to be disclosed to an advanced human being. He points with it to the spiritual-scientific current that has already grasped human wisdom which tries to make popular the contents of spiritual science, of the initiation principle, the contents of the temple secrets.
The temple rises above the river so that not only a few human beings that look for enlightenment can go over the bridge back and forth, but also with it, all human beings can pass over the river on the bridge. Goethe indicated a future state of human consciousness in the initiation temple above ground, which will be there if the human being can walk from the sensuous realm to the spiritual one. We see that both worlds join due to the sacrifice of the snake. After it experiences the symbolic processes that the human being has to go through during his higher esoteric development, we see the three soul forces bringing the temple of knowledge above the river, we see the temple waking up and each soul force performing its service.
The old man with the lamp is married to the old woman who shows that the healthy, prudent soul force does not penetrate into high regions of spiritual abstraction but handles everything in a healthy and practical manner, just as religion does. If the human being has understood the triple way through thinking, feeling, and willing he unites with that which is called in the chorus mysticus the “eternally feminine,” that which has gone through its development as a human soul which is represented as the beautiful lily.”
Goethe’s Secret Revelation, Origin and Goal of the Human Being, Part I: The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, Lecture 12, Berlin, GA 57
“The fairy tale concerns the great connection of body and spirit, of the earthly and the super-sensible, to demonstrate the path which the human being must take by using his developing cognitive faculties to ascend from the earthly to the spiritual. This fairy tale leads deeply into theosophy and shows the development of the human soul into higher insights, because all human soul forces can develop higher human intellectual capacity. Soul forces, feelings, and willing can penetrate into the objective world secrets – but you have to eliminate everything personal. Up until the foundation of the Theosophical Society it was only possible to share these higher truths pictorially through symbols.
Goethe’s fairy tales reveal his most profound revelations. The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily begins mysteriously. Three fields are brought forward to us, a worldly one, a yonder one, and in-between them is a river, which shows the world of body, soul, and spirit and the soul’s path of the human being to the super-sensible world. The near side bank is the physical world, the yonder one, the country of the beautiful lily, is the spiritual world; in between is the river, the astral world, the world of desire. A bridge is now built across the river and the human being gets to the kingdom of the beautiful lily – this is the goal of the striving human being.
The lily signifies Mercury – a technical term of alchemy and theosophy – and is the symbol of the wisdom the human being is striving for towards the spirit. The lily is that condition of consciousness in which the human being exists when he has obtained the highest. The marriage of the male with the female in the human soul is shown here when the youth marries the lily.”
Goethe’s Secret Revelation, Origin and Goal of the Human Being, Part II: The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, Lecture 13, Berlin, GA 57
“The scene of the fairy tale is neither a present one nor a past one; it is one of a distant future of human development when the consciousness of the present materialistic humanity has gone through soul development. This is described when the human being has gotten the wisdom and the initiation which masters this development. At that time, all of humanity is able to receive the initiation. This alchemy of the human mind is imprinted on everything lifeless also. This external transformation of lifeless matter is shown in the fairy tale with the light that shines from the lamp of the old man that changes wood and stone into metals. Humanity will not only rule over the lifeless matter in the future but also over life itself. Humanity will also change living beings by his spiritual alchemy and will take up the same wisdom which once created the world, the ancient wisdom of the world, and that is why he is able to transform dead matter into living matter.
Hence, the human being is able to attain the ability to develop his higher self if he deadens the lower one. The human being is only able to approach the godhead if he has overcome his lower nature. Only the prepared human being who has experienced the hard ordeals, the internal purification, and the catharsis can understand the divine. Hence, the young man is killed who approaches the lily before he is prepared and purified.
One who lifts the veil of Isis, who walks through guilt to the image of the goddess must perish. Only after he has slowly prepared himself, has familiarized himself with all probations, he is able to receive the initiation. The young man, who faces us in the fairy tale at first, has not yet purified his inside. He is paralyzed when he wants to get to the spiritual world with such a soul constitution, and later when he forces entry and is killed by the lily. Only the human being, purified by grief and pain, carried by serious desire and striving can find entry, after he has been well prepared by the “lamp.” Only then he can hope to get to the initiation.
The secret doctrine in which the ancient wisdom is hidden is a property of humanity veiled by the strictest secrecy. Only one who was prepared by the light of wisdom was allowed to shine. The snake sacrificing itself represents the higher self of the human being which gets to knowledge which refers to the highest enlightenment.
The old woman represents the present condition of consciousness, the human intellectual soul, – the lily, the higher consciousness that the human being obtains if he sacrifices himself like the snake. The old woman is the bright daytime consciousness, the lily the clairvoyant consciousness that will be given to the human being. With the rise of the temple the lily also brings the old woman with her.
The time comes for humanity when the human being is really ready to sacrifice himself, to enter the whole nature, to feel effective in the elements of the whole nature, not only in his narrow being; when he will be ready to give up his self as single egoistic self and to enter the all-embracing self. Then the human being has achieved his goal, the gate of higher knowledge opens itself to him, as well as he gives up everything that separates him from the world.
Goethe wanted to show the development and final redemption of the single human being and the whole human race in poetic pictures. The fairy tale contains the secret of the decay of the lower and of the rise of the higher human being and of the condition of the final union with the divine which any mysticism strives for as its loftiest goal, as salvation, as rest in salvation, as union with God. When this moment of sacrifice has come, when this “dying and growing” has become fact, then not only the spiritual comes to the sensuous, but also the sensuous to the spiritual. Only somebody who knows the mysteries and the mystery knowledge can completely penetrate into the rich contents of this fairy tale.”
Inner Impulses of Evolution, Ancient Cultural Impulses Spiritualized in Goethe, The Cosmic Knowledge of the Knights Templar, Lecture 6, Dornach, September 25, 1916, GA 171
“Goethe has concealed in his fairy tale what he knew of the spiritually hidden active forces at work in mankind since the fifteenth century, and that will be at work for about two thousand years more. You know, too, how in our Mystery Dramas we have sought to bring to life in all possible detail what Goethe saw when he composed The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. The intention was to bring to expression what inspired Goethe and is to inspire the entire fifth post-Atlantean culture as the highest spiritual treasure.
Goethe knew the secret of the Templars. Not without purpose has he used gold as he has done in his fairy tale, in which he made the snake consume the gold and then sacrifice itself. By this deed the gold is wrested from the powers with which Goethe truly knew it must not be allowed to remain. Read once more the fairy taleand try to feel how Goethe knew the secret of gold as he is looking back into earlier times. When, for the first time in the eighties of the last century, I faced the question of the gold in Goethe’s fairy tale, the meaning of the story emerged for me through the development of the gold in it.”
A Turning-Point in Modern History, Goetheanism as an Impulse for Transformation, Human Science and Social Science, A lecture by Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, January 24, 1919, GA 188
“Goethe was stirred to write his Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, in which about twenty powers of the soul are described, not in concepts, but in pictorial forms, open to various interpretations. They are headed by the Golden King, who represents wisdom, the Silver King who represents beautiful appearance, the Bronze King, who represents power, and Love who crowns them all. Everything else, too, indicates soul-forces; you can read this in my articles about the fairy tale. Thus Goethe was impelled to conceive this path for the human being from necessity to freedom in his own way. He was the spiritualized man of instinct.”