A Quest for the Higher Self
In 1920 Rudolf Steiner spoke of Goethe’s fairy tale TheGreen Snake and the Beautiful Lily as the archetypal seed of the Anthroposophical movement. The destiny of the first Goetheanum can be said to lead to ‘rebirth out of the ashes’. On 1 January, 1923, was the tragedy of the burning of the first Goetheanum. In retrospect (and from an alchemical point of view), it can be seen as a ‘mystical death’ by fire, Out of the living etheric forces of the First Goetheanum, Rudolf Steiner brought forth ‘The Foundation Stone Mantrum’ as an act of creative will. In response to the ‘cry of longing of mankind for the spirit’ had The House of the Word been built, and the 2nd Goetheaunum was to rise, phoenix-like out of the ashes.
An interesting way of exploring the time element in ‘The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily’ has been offered by Paul M. Allen in The Time Is at Hand.1)
I will also relate a short summary of the fairy tale in its sequence, as the times of days occur, woven into a tapestry, corresponding to the steps, which are involved in the alchemical transmutation inherent in this fairy tale.
‘Alchemy can perhaps best be described as a process of metamorphosis, a changing of form by means of the activity of the three fundamental powers of the soul; thinking, feeling and willing; These three can be likened to the nature of the substances Salt, Mercury, and Sulphur as they work upon the elements inherent in all created things Earth, Water, Air and Fire, transforming these from their fallen states of unredeemed matter to a restoration of their archetypal , original spiritual condition.’1)
I was privileged to know Agnes Linde, Herman’s daughter in the early to mid 1980’s, while I was living in Dornach. She was a Eurythmist and a painter. I was often able to observe the original illustrations made by her father of ‘The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily’, which portray the interwoven correspondence to Steiner’s first Mystery Play, ‘The Portal of Initiation’.
Now, let us begin with the following correlations involving the soul transformations of J. W. Goethe’s ‘The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily’:
- At Midnight begins the Transmutation –Prima Materia, in Goethe’s allegorical fairy tale. This Corresponds to Study or Pure Thought in the Rosicrucian Initiation, as Rudolf Steiner spoke of at The Munich Conference.
Here begins the fairy tale…
‘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’
This is the state at the beginning of the process of transmutation, ‘the given’, the basis, in musical expression, Prime. The ferryman meets the mischievous, unevolved, Will-o-the–Wisps who wish to cross the mysterious river, while boisterously shaking out heaps of glittering gold. The ire of the Ferryman is aroused; and disembarking, when he reaches the other side of the river, he gathers the gold pieces (which cannot be allowed to fall into that elemental stream), and throws them into a cleft of rock where they can safely lie.
Having now arrived on the other side of the realm, the earthly world, the Will-o-the-Wisps meet the Green Snake, who is swallowing the gold, (or the wisdom of spiritual science) and who is able digest it, having suffered and become open to spiritual understandings.
Afterwards, the Snake meets the Old Man with the Lantern in the subterranean temple, and undergoes a beginning step of initiation, as she answers the Sphinxlike questions of the four Kings in the temple, and comes to the first declaration of ‘The time is at hand’
In Christian Gnostic Initiation this can be compared with ‘The Washing of the Feet’
‘The time is at hand’, these words appear in the first verses of the book of Revelations. This ‘time’ is, paradoxically, referring to an individual as well as a universal moment of initiation.
- At Dawn the alchemical experience of Separation or Clarification of the Elements occurs; this is Imaginative Knowledge, in the Rosicrucian Initiation, The Second in musical intervals.
The Wisps go to the Old Woman’s cottage, and rudely devour the gold from the walls of the cottage, and again shower the realm with gold pieces. They cannot comprehend the Old Woman’s wisdom either, but can only intellectualise or ‘parrot’ undigested knowledge. Their gold pieces kill the dog Mops.
The Old Woman has somehow promised the Will o the Wisps to repay their debt to the Ferryman for their crossing. He can take no gold, only ‘fruits of the earth’: three cabbages, three artichokes, and three onions, deeds of thinking, willing and feeling. However the Giant who is bathing in the river, spots the Old Woman with her basket of fruits of the earth. He is able with his shadow to snatch up an artichoke (which represents deeds of the will) out of the basket. Mops has also been taken along in the basket, to give to the Fair Lily, on the Spirit side of the river. She can mysteriously make dead things living, and living things dead. Such is her nature. Before meeting the Prince, the Old Woman is obliged to pay a debt to the river to make up for the lost artichoke, and enable her to cross the river; this entails placing her hand in the stream, which causes it to blacken. Painful but necessary, these events have a relation in the Gnostic Christian Initiation, to the Scourging.
- Noon brings the Clarification and Uniting of Active and Passive, and the Rosicrucian stage of Inspiration. The interval of the Third is evoked. The Old Woman meets with the Prince, who is also seeking the fair Lily. The Prince is suffering from melancholy and can offer little information about his own being. They travel on the same path and cross the river together in reverence, at noon, on the back of the Green Snake who habitually offers service to all who are able to cross. This is the first bridge. In Christian Gnostic terms, it corresponds to the Crown of Thorns.
- Twilight appears as the Mystical Death, the transmutation of substance into carbon (the Philosopher’s Stone) The stage of Intuition. This is the fourth interval of music. All meet in the Kingdom of the Lily. Mops is brought back to life by the Lily’s touch. The Youth, overcome with desire, passionately reaches out and touches the Lily, which causes his death. The Snake then forms a protective ring around the Youth and the Canary bird that she had inadvertently killed. These events would be comparable to The Crucifixion in the Christian Gnostic Initiation,
- Midnight is the next time, the Washing or Purifying, Correspondence between the Microcosm and the Macrocosm the reuniting of the soul and the body, the greater and lesser worlds – Macrocosm and Microcosm; this is the fifth musical interval; the Old Man with the Lantern assigns tasks. The Old Man declares that at this point, ‘An individual helps not but he who combines himself with many at the proper hour does help.’ The procession crosses the bridge again on the back of the Snake. The Youth has a first awakening. For this to happen, the Lily must touch the Snake with the right hand and her lover with the left. The Snake then makes a final sacrifice and becomes a permanent jewelled bridge leading to the temple. All enter the temple and greet the Kings. This is related to The Mystical Death in the Christian Gnostic Initiation.
- At Dawn is theBursting Out, Living into the Macrocosm where reborn purified element appears in many colours, the Macrocosm: the sixth interval of music; the Temple rises to the surface of the earth. The final initiation of the Youth and the investiture into Kingship then occurs, as does the demise of the Mixed King. This corresponds to the Burial and Resurrection in Christian Gnostic terms.
- Bright Noonday brings aboutthe Chymical Wedding, the Stage of Divine Bliss, Royal Marriage, the Seventh interval in music, rejuvenation, including the healing of the Old Woman, and the transformation of the Giant.
‘All debts are paid’ There is a Michaelic bridge, the sacrifice of the Snake, now serving all of humanity. Goethe’s text end with the following words:… ‘and to the present hour the bridge is swarming with travellers, and the Temple is the most frequented on the whole earth. This stage must relate to the Ascension of the Soul in Christian Gnostic terms.
The Octave, then, would be related to the ultimate realities of the Eternal. Humanity will have been guided from the world of images in Space (the Earthly world, through events taking place in Time ( the Soul’s transformation ) as pictured allegorically in the ‘Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily’ – to pure Spirit, those ultimate eternal realities.
1) The Time is at Hand, Paul M.. Allen, Anthroposophic Press, RR4 Box 94 A-1, Hudson , NY 12534