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

5. Faust and the Problem of Evil

3 November 1917, Dornach

To characterise the successive epochs of human evolution on the earth (referring, to begin with, only to post-Atlantean time) we can select one item or another out of spiritual science; we are thus gradually led to form real conceptions of the several epochs. To-day we shall speak about the fourth—that is, the Graeco-Latin time; and about the fifth, our own time, which began about the year 1413. We shall add certain particulars to what we already know about these epochs.

Every such epoch may be said to have a special task. I beg you not to think in this connection of a merely theoretic or scientific task, or of anything exclusively concerned with knowledge.

Every epoch has a special task,—a task which must be solved in life itself. In actual life itself, impulses have to arise with which the individuals living in these epochs must come to terms,—with which they have to wrestle, and out of which proceed not only their ideas but their feelings, their emotions, their loves and hates, and the will-impulse which they receive into themselves. Thus in the widest sense we can say: Every such epoch has a task to solve.

Looking into the Graeco-Latin epoch, we find that the task it had to solve is chiefly related to what we may comprise with the words “Birth and Death” within the Universe. These things have become rather vague and obliterated in our time. No longer in the deepest sense of life, but in a more theoretic sense, the great problems of Birth and Death stand before the human being of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. He no longer has a true feeling of the deep way in which the phenomena of Birth and Death entered the heart and mind of the human being of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. We human beings of the fifth epoch (as you know, we are still more or less at the beginning of it, for it began in the year 1413; and an epoch lasts 2160 years) We have to solve in the widest sense, in a living and energetic way, what we may call the problem of Evil. I beg you to envisage this most thoroughly. Evil will approach the human being of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch in every conceivable form. Scientifically he will have to solve the nature and essence of Evil. In his loving and in his hating, he will have to grapple in the right way with all that springs from Evil; he will have to fight and wrestle with the resistances of Evil to the impulses of the Will. All this is essential to the tasks of the fifth post-Atlantean time.

Nay, more, the problem of Evil belongs to the fifth post-Atlantean epoch in a still higher degree than did the problem of Birth and Death to the life of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. Why so? It was, in fact, the Atlantean time which had to solve the question about Birth and Death with the same vital intensity with which the fifth post-Atlantean time will have to solve the problem of Evil. In Atlantean time the phenomena of Birth and Death stood before the human beings of that evolutionary epoch far more vividly and directly, in a far more elemental way, than now. That which is hidden behind Birth and Death, is, in effect, far more concealed to-day from human vision and from human feeling. Now the Graeco-Latin time, fundamentally speaking, was after all but a faint repetition of that which the Atlanteans had had to experience with regard to Birth and Death. The experiences of the Graeco-Latin time were, therefore, not so intense and vivid as will become the wrestlings of the fifth post-Atlantean time, which began in 1413, with all the powers of Evil,—with all that springs from Evil. For the human being himself will have to free himself from all this by means of the very opposite forces, which to evolve is in effect the specific task and need of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. What I have said in this moment need only be envisaged in a sufficiently intense and vivid way, and many things which we have characterised during these weeks will be clearly illustrated. Many things will appear as consequences of this fundamental premiss: that it is the task of the fifth post-Atlantean time to wrestle with the life-problem of Evil.

Let us now ask, how did Goethe perceive that this is so, when in his drama he showed Faust as the representative of humanity, placing him in conflict with Mephistopheles who is the representative of Evil? From this very fact you can see that the Faust drama is derived out of the deepest interests of the present epoch.

It is peculiar to man that he can only come to terms with the things with which he has to wrestle, if he extends his consciousness over them, i.e., if they do not remain in the unconscious. (We emphasised this more than once during our recent studies.) That is the peculiarity: Whatever evil impulses can possibly arise from the foundations of the cosmic order, must betray their presence to our consciousness.

But there is also another necessity. It is insufficient, as a rule, merely to know what belongs to the one epoch. These things can only be rightly judged by comparison. It is not really enough to be aware that now, in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, man has to wrestle with Evil in the historic evolution of Earth-life. There must be added a certain consciousness about the preceding epoch,—that is, in our case, the Graeco-Latin epoch. The impulses that lived in the Graeco-Latin epoch must also become impulses of human beings of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Observe how wonderfully what the poet Goethe felt is connected with this perception, derived as it is from the very nature of human evolution—of the historic evolution of mankind. Goethe longed to know the world of classical-antiquity by direct perception, as well as it could be known in his time. He wanted, as it were, to guess its secret from all that he saw and realised in Italy. Therefore the longing for Italy lived in him like a kind of illness. But this was essentially due to the fact that Goethe felt himself in the fullest way a child of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Goethe did not aspire to Italy with the kind of impulse which inspires any Professor of the History of Art, who thinks himself already clever in every domain, and only wishes to extend his information. That was not what Goethe wanted. Goethe desired no less than a change in his state of consciousness,—another kind of vision. Many things could be cited in evidence of this. Goethe said to himself as it were: If I remain only in the North, my soul will have a form of vision that is not wide enough. I must live, for once, in the atmosphere of the South in order to get other forms of vision,—other forms of concept, other forms of thought, of feeling. The Witches' Kitchen Scene in Faust, for example, with its decidedly Northern content, was written by Goethe in Rome. He believed that he would only be able to enter fully into the very nature of spiritual contemplation, if his state of consciousness was transformed by the atmosphere that there prevailed. We must endeavour to find our way into Goethe in a more intimate and delicate way.

Now we can also see that Goethe did not set Faust over against Mephistopheles out of an empty or merely abstract reflection, but rather because he wanted to portray the representative man of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch within the evolution of mankind. At the same time, endeavouring as he did to compare things vividly in the two states of consciousness, he found it necessary to let Faust experience not only conditions and events of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, but to carry him backward in time and let his soul dive down into the fourth epoch, so that this epoch, too, might set its stamp upon Faust's consciousness. For this is what happens where Faust comes together with Helena.

It is often interesting to put the different Scenes together in this all-embracing poem. It would be interesting, for example, to produce one after another the Witches' Kitchen, the Invocation Scene at the Imperial Court, and then the Scene where Helena herself appears. For these three scenes represent three successive acquaintances of Faust with Helena. In the Witches' Kitchen, while Mephistopheles is entertaining himself with the apes, etc., and with the witch. Faust sees the picture in the magic looking-glass. Faust, as he sees it, only speaks of the woman's beauty, but the words of Mephistopheles even now remind us that the picture of Helena appears:—

“Thou'lt find, this drink thy blood compelling,
Each woman beautiful as Helen.”

Here, then, emerges for the first time what is afterwards developed in the scene at the Emperor's Court, and finally appears in its third form in the “Classico-romantic Phantasmagoria” in the third Act of the Second Part. It would be interesting, for once, to see these three put together one after another. People might then perceive that the Faust drama is an organic, living entity, full of inner order.

It is not for nothing that we hear it again out of the lips of Faust himself at the Emperor's Court: “I scent the Witches' Kitchen.” As soon as the action is approaching Helena once more, he scents the Witches' Kitchen. We are reminded of Helena. These things are carefully weighed. Goethe is not like any other poet. Goethe is one who created out of necessities and impulses derived from a far wider sphere.

Let us now ask ourselves more precisely: “What is the meaning of this threefold encounter of Faust with Helena? The three are very different from one another. In the first, in the Witches' Kitchen, in the magic looking-glass, Faust is to a slight extent transfixed. He sees a picture. One who is acquainted with the more subtle distinctions of occult science can well estimate this picture which Faust sees in the magic look-glass. As I have often told you, our thoughts or ideas in ordinary life are no more than the corpses of that which we really experience. Behind all thoughts are Imaginations; we, however, kill the Imaginative part. You can read of it in a more exact philosophic form in my forthcoming book Riddles of the Soul, which contains a brief chapter on this very subject. That which Faust sees in the magic mirror in the Witches' Kitchen is something which is living in himself, raised up into an Imagination. In ordinary life he only has the idea in an abstract form. Now he experiences the picture of Helena which Goethe lifts out of the whole realm of his imaginative life; now he experiences it transformed again to a living Imagination. Thus in the first place—I beg you to observe this well—in the Witches' Kitchen Scene we have an Idea that has become Imagination.

In the Invocation Scene at the Emperor's Court, the thing goes further. Far more of Faust is taken hold of than the mere life of ideas. if Faust had merely seen the picture as he saw it in the magic mirror, he could not have reproduced it outwardly, whether by smoke or any other means. For him to reproduce it outwardly, it must be connected with his inner life of feeling and emotion. We cannot but admit that Goethe indicates his meaning with the greatest possible intensity. Faust no longer merely admires—within the life of ideas—the beauty of Helena, as in the picture in the magic looking-glass in the Witches' Kitchen. You can perceive this from the wonderful way in which Goethe describes, in the Invocation Scene, the entire scale of emotions and feelings whereby Faust feels himself united with Helena. Truly it is a wonderful enhancement. No single word could be removed, where Faust breaks out into the words that tell of his inner relationship to Helena: inclination—love—worship—mania. It could not be described more truly to the inner life of soul. Remember this enhancement, and you will see how Goethe emphasises the intimate connection of what happens here with all that Faust experiences in his heart, in his life of feeling. That which emerges in the Invocation Scene is no longer merely an idea transformed into Imagination; it is Feeling that has become Imagination. Here, then, you have the second stage—the Invocation Scene in the Emperor's Court—Feeling that has become Imagination.

Now we pass on to the “Classico-romantic Phantasmagoria,” where Helena appears not merely as a spectre, but as a present reality to Faust, for he begets Euphorion his son. Here Goethe clearly indicates that the ‘Classico-romantic Phantasmagoria’ proceeds from Faust's life of Will, no longer merely from his Feeling or his Thinking. The ‘Classico-romantic Phantasmagoria’ is Willing that has become Imagination.

Ideation, Feeling and Willing, translated into the Imaginative sphere—that is what you have in the enhancements of the encounter with Helena. All this is shaped with artistic truth. Even for one who does not dismember Faust as we are doing, but simply enjoys it, these things are there. Now the very fact that Goethe chooses Helena to appear to Faust, is in a way connected with the essence of the life-tasks of the fourth and fifth post-Atlantean epochs. We are here touching upon a problem which even the Bible only very gently touches. Ricarda Huch in her new book on Luther's Faith touches it rather less gently. It is the connection of the problem of the knowledge of Woman with that of the knowledge of Evil. A mysterious connection is indicated in the Bible, in that the Luciferic temptation took place through the Woman in Paradise. The longing for the Devil during the present, fifth post-Atlantean epoch is well described in Ricarda Huch's book, Luther's Faith. It is characteristic; but we cannot enter into these things any more, for we should be treading on very thin ice in our time if we were to indicate them, let alone to discuss them further.

Nevertheless, it was out of this impulse that the culture of ancient Greece—and Goethe in connection with it—derived the figure of Helena. We must, remember that the Helena problem played an important part in the content of the old Greek Mysteries. To recognise the being of Helena was essential to a certain process of Initiation. For in the being of Helena, in the old Greek Mysteries, one learned to know something of the tasks of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch in relation to the Spiritual World. Therefore in ancient Greece there was an exoteric and an esoteric legend of Helena. The exoteric legend is well known; the other has also become known, for all things esoteric become exoteric by-and-by. The exoteric legend is as follows: Through the well-known event with the three Goddesses, Paris was instigated to take Helena from Menelaus. He appeared in Greece; and with Helena's consent eloped with her,—took her to Troy. Thereupon the Trojan War broke out. The Greeks besieged and conquered Troy, and Menelaus took Helena back with him again. That is the exoteric legend.

Homer, as you are well aware, only reveals this exoteric legend. Though he himself was initiated into the esoteric legend, he would in no way betray it. It was not until a later period of Greece that the Dramatists—Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides—condescended to betray something of the esoteric legend, which was to this effect: that Helena did not acquiesce in her elopement; Paris did not elope with her, but stole her away by force against her will, and went with her across the sea. Hera drew the ships from their course, and Paris had to land with Helena in Egypt, where at that time king Proteus was ruling. Slaves who had escaped from Paris' ships told the whole story to Proteus, whereupon he took Paris and his train, and Helena, into captivity. Paris he let go, but he took Helena from him. According to this legend, Helena never became the wife of Paris. His treasures were taken from him; he was sent back to Troy without Helena, but on this journey to Troy he was able to take with him the Idol of Helena, in place of the real Helena who had remained behind with Proteus in Egypt. Paris, therefore, appeared in Troy with the mere Idol of Helena, and it was for the Idol that the Greeks fought; they would not believe the Trojans that the real Helena was not in Troy. Then, when the Trojan War was ended, Menelaus himself travelled to Egypt, and brought with him from thence his wife who had remained guiltless.

You are perhaps aware that Goethe very clearly hints at this esoteric aspect of the legend in the third Act of the Second Part of Faust,—in the ‘Classico-romantic Phantasmagoria.’ Mephistopheles-Phorkyas continues the speech of Helena who is at a loss and no longer knows where she is. In this Act Goethe places Helena before us, burdened with all the doubts that have befallen her. She has been robbed, and now she hears all that is being said of her. It is all utterly confusing. Things that relate to the Idol and not to the reality come to her ears, and in the last resort she herself no longer knows who she is. And out of all these doubts we hear her say:—

“Name not those joys to me! for
sorrow all too stern.
Unendingly was poured upon my
breast and brain.”

Mephistopheles-Phorkyas replies:

“Nathless, they say, dost thou
appear in double form,
Beheld in Ilion,—in Egypt, too,

Thus Goethe very clearly hints at the fact, how complicated the figure of Helena really is. He brings it into his Faust. For with the Helena problem much indeed is told. And it is not without meaning that it is Mephistopheles who acts as mediator in the second part of the Drama. He gives the key to Faust, directing him into those regions which to Mephistopheles himself are empty Nothing, yet in which Faust is confident that he will find the All. Here again, every word is of significance. Faust has the possibility to change his state of consciousness,—to lead it over into that which was experienced in the preceding, Graeco-Latin epoch,—in the fourth post-Atlantean. We must not take ‘the All’ in a merely abstract sense, but in a concrete spiritual shape and form. Into this spiritual form Mephistopheles cannot enter. He belongs to a different region. Mephistopheles is really there to work as Spirit in the spiritless world of material events, which above all must give its impulses to the man of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch.

In effect, during this fifth post-Atlantean epoch certain human beings have the task to be aware of the aspect of the spiritual world, thus to make conscious that which can really be achieved by means of the impulse of Evil.

Just as the eye cannot see itself but only other things, so too Mephistopheles, who is the very Impulse of Evil cannot see Evil himself. This is among the things which Faust must see and learn to know. Mephistopheles cannot see Helena; at least he cannot see her with full consciousness, with full attention. Yet after all, he is not altogether unakin to Helena. The way to Mephistopheles was only possible out of those impulses which Christianity gave for the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. There is indeed a certain tendency to Helena; nevertheless, what ancient Greece—or her Initiates—desired to express through the Helena-problem remained remote and strange. The Christians of past centuries also knew Helena, but they knew her in the form of ‘Hell.’ However remote the kinship is, the word ‘Hell’ is not altogether without etymological connection with ‘Helena,’ for the things themselves have to do with one another. The Helena-problem is very complicated, as you can see when you behold the esoteric form of the Greek legend.

The same thing is clearly indicated at several points in my Mystery Plays: Ahriman-Mephistopheles must be recognised; we must see through him. The Faust Drama says in a certain sense the same. Referring to Ahriman-Mephistopheles, Goethe coined a sentence of great importance for the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. The human being of the fifth post-Atlantean age must somehow bring it about that Ahriman-Mephistopheles feels himself recognised by him. You will recall the closing scene in the last of my Mystery Plays. It is an important moment where Ahriman-Mephistopheles feels that he is recognised. At this moment the Impulse of Evil knows it:—Those who are having to experience Evil have found a standpoint which enables them to stand not within Evil, but outside it. That is most important. It is of deep significance when Mephistopheles calls out to Faust:—

“I'll praise thee, ere we separate; I see
Thou knowest the Devil thoroughly.”

This is important. Mephistopheles would not have said the same to Woodrow Wilson. He would have had no cause.

This relation between Faust and Mephistopheles contains a great deal of the problem of the fifth post-Atlantean age. For, as I told you, this fifth post-Atlantean age has the task to go on into the inevitable battle with the most manifold forms of Evil. The impulses of human evolution must become sharp and clear again. Such impulses must arise as have arisen in the conflict with Evil. Far more intense, I said, is this experience than the experience of the fourth postAtlantean age, because the latter was in a sense a repetition of the Atlantean epoch.

Wherein sloes a first experience in the course of human evolution on the Earth consist? It is indeed a first experience—an initial experience—which stands before us here. The fourth post-Atlantean age had to live through the problem of Birth and Death, but only as a repetition of the Atlantean epoch. Now, in the fifth post-Atlantean age, an initial experience has entered in once more. And—it consists in this: that we must draw anew out of the fount of Maya—out of illusion. The human being must make acquaintance with illusion—with Maya, with the great illusion.

I have repeatedly drawn attention to this from quite other. points of view. I did so, for instance, in my book The Riddle of Man, where I associated the problem of freedom with the fact that in our consciousness, to begin with, mere mirror-images take place,—mirror-images, that is to say, Maya. And in my present essay on the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, anno 1459, I emphasise the real function of illusion for our consciousness. The fact is that these things can only now be said directly for the first time. They do not belong to any abstract theory or fantasy, but to immediate reality. It is wonderful to see how Goethe was initiated into these things. The fifth post-Atlantean epoch must create very much out of illusion. In the character of Faust Goethe represents the human being of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. When Faust enters the larger world, he creates, paper currency. This too is characteristic of the Ahrimanic nature of commerce in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Paper currency is the tangible economic proof of the fact that the imaginary, the unreal, the illusory, prevails and plays its part in the commerce of this time.

It was not so in those periods of human evolution when the chief thing was not money but the exchange of commodities, or barter. Even if money was there, the economic life was not based upon it. In those times it would not have been true to say that the outer economic life was permeated by a network of illusions, as in fact it is during the present, fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Goethe brings Faust himself into connection with this illusion of the economic life. What does he mean to tell us when he places the second appearance of Helena directly after the Scene at the Emperor's Court? What is it really at this point? We are confronted with the whisperings of an astrologer, with suggestive influences—I mentioned it in yesterday's lecture—we are confronted with illusion. Illusion lives—this was what Goethe meant to say—illusion lives in the outer historic reality, lives in it spiritually. How often have we spoken of it in recent lectures! The concepts, the ideas, that lead to such great errors as I mentioned recently,—all these are born of illusion. You will remember: I told you of one characteristic error, but we could mention hundreds of others of this kind. Certain economists who thought themselves particularly clever, stated in 1914—out of their economic laws—that the War could not last longer than four to six months at most. It was impossible otherwise. Yet it will soon have lasted as many years. Why is it so? Why do human beings live in ideas that are proved absurd by the reality? Because there plays into their life of thought that ‘spectral fabric’ which Goethe represents as coming into the Emperor's Court through Faust. It is because the human beings do not see through what lives as spectral fabric in their ideas. As soon as the fifth, post-Atlantean epoch began, the imagination of those, who were sensitive to such things, was turned to the perception of reality over against such ‘spectral fabrics.’ Goethe had a prototype for this Scene at the Emperor's Court. I refer to Hans Sachs' beautiful description of the necromancer who causes Helena to appear at the Court of the Emperor Maximilian. It is not Faust in this case, it is the Emperor himself who wants to seize the image and falls a prey to it,—is paralysed by it. So then we have this weaving of ‘spectral fabrics’ into the reality of the historic process. And I should like to ask: Where else is it represented so grandly, so truly, out of the fulness of spiritual realities, as in Goethe's Faust?

Now as I said before, the consciousness of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch and that of the fourth must work together. Faust grows away from Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles gains nothing from it but the conclusion:—

“One's self with fools to hamper,
At last even on the Devil puts a damper.”

Faust is seized by apoplexy, he is paralysed. His soul-nature has separated from his body. Yet there now follows the Scene which we presented here last year,—Faust's dream, which is perceived by Homunculus.

Whence comes the Helena of this second apparition, even though she is a mere ‘spectre’? It, is quite clearly indicated: it is the astrologer who brings her—albeit only by suggestion—out of the rhythm of the stars. Connect this fact with what I told you recently of the macrocosmic element that works in the woman before fertilisation. This Helena comes from the stars; but she guides the impulses within Faust's soul towards another Helena. Homunculus sees how in the vision of Faust the birth of Helena emerges. It is the Scene of Zeus, of Leda with the Swan. Faust is led over to the problem of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch,—to the solving of the problem of Birth. This is the thing that emerges at the very moment where Faust grows away from the clutches of Mephistopheles,—where Mephistopheles has nothing left of him but the outer physical body. Now there arises in the soul of Faust the impulse to go over into the fourth post-Atlantean epoch.

It is roost wonderful how the motifs are intertwined. We see how Goethe uses the interplay of that which lives within us out of the fourth and the fifth post-Atlantean epochs. But he knew still more. He points to the esoteric legend of Helena,—of how in Troy there was only the Idol, that which is founded in the stars, which is of cosmic origin; while the other, the individual Being of Helena, had moved to Egypt, to Proteus. In the declining city of Troy, that part of Helena remained which belonged to the third post-Atlantean epoch, which the third post-Atlantean epoch expelled. It was the part of Helena which Egypt allowed to go; while as to that which Egypt reserved for the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, Menelaus took it back from Egypt and brought it again to Greece. Thus in the esoteric Helena-legend, which Goethe certainly adapted, not only the fifth but the fourth and also the third post-Atlantean epochs play their part. Goethe made use of the Helena-problem in a most wonderful way.