Storm's Journal

--| Goethe meets Goethe |--- 

Goethe... lived to an advanced age. What enabled him to live so long? You
will recall that I reminded you yesterday of a fact that intervened
significantly in Goethe's life. After he had spent some years in Leipzig
as a student, he became seriously ill and stood face to face with death.
He virtually looked death in the face. This illness is, to be sure, a
natural phenomenon in the organism. However, we never learn to understand
a man who creates out of the elemental forces of the world--indeed, we
never learn really to understand any man--unless we take into
consideration such events in the course of his karma. What really happened
to Goethe when he became ill in Leipzig? We may describe it as a complete
loosening of the etheric body in which the life forces of the soul had
been active until then. It was loosened to such an extent that, after this
illness, he no longer had that closely knit connection between the etheric
and the physical bodies that he had formerly possesed.

The etheric body, however, is the supersensible member in us that really
makes it possible to form concepts, to think. Abstract concepts such as we
have in ordinary life, the only concepts that are approved by most persons
who are materialistically disposed, come about through the fact that the
etheric body is, as it were, closely united with the physical by a strong
magnetic union. It is also through this fact that we possess a strong
impulse to project our will into the physical world, that is, provided the
astral body is strongly developed. In the case of Robespierre, Mirabeau
and Danton, we have an etheric body strongly united with the physical but
also a powerfully developed astral [i.e. passion / subconscious] body.
This works in turn, upon the etheric body, which establishes these human
individualities strongly in the physical world.

Goethe was also organised like this, but another force now worked in him
and brought about a complication. The result was that the etheric body was
loosened and remained so through the illness that had brought him to the
point of death. When the etheric body is no longer so intimately united
with the physical body, however, it no longer thrusts its forces into the
physical but retains them. This explains the transformation Goethe passed
through when he returned to Frankfurt. There, during his aquaintance with
FrŠulein von Klettenberg, the mystic, and with various medical friends who
were devoted to studies in alchemy, and through the writings of
Swedenborg, he really developed a systematic spiritual world conception.
It was still somewhat chaotic, but nevertheless a systematic spiritual
world conception, and he was profoundly inclined to occupy himself with
supersensible things.

These things are, however, connected with Goethe's illness. The soul that
had brought this predisposition for this illness into his earthly life
also brought the impulse so to prepare his etheric body through his
illness that it should not be expressed merely in the physical. It
maintained the urge and the capacity to become permeated with
supersensible concepts...

The revolutionary force would certainly have been manifest in Goethe in a
way that would have consumed him at an early age. Since an external
expression of the life of these revolutionary forces would certainly not
have been possible in his environment, and since he could not have written
dramas as Schiller did, this force would necessarily have consumed him. It
was turned aside through the loosening of the connection of the magnetic
union between his etheric and physical bodies...

Goethe now comes to Strassburg with an etheric body that is in a sense
filled with occult knowledge, and in this condition he meets Herder, whose
vast conceptions had to become something quite different in Goethe because
the same conditions did not exist in Herder's more subtle constitution.
This event of near death appeared in Goethe at the end of the sixties in
Leipzig, but its force had been prepared long before that. Anyone who
undertakes to trace such an illness to external or merely physical events
has not yet attained the same standpoint in the spiritual sphere as that
occupied by the natural scientist who knows that what follows must not be
viewed necessarily as the result of what it follows. This tendancy to
isolate himself from the world to some degree was a manifestation of the
connection between physical and etheric bodies. It was always present in
Goethe, and it really only became a crisis through his illness.

In anyone possessing a compact connection between the physical and etheric
bodies, the external world exerts its influence and, as it makes
impressions on the physical body, they pass over immediately into the
etheric body; this is one and the same thing. Such a person simply lives
in direct contact with the impressions of the external world. In Goethe's
case, the impressions are, of course, made upon the physical body, but the
etheric body does not immediately respond because it is loosened. As a
result, such a person can be more isolated, in a sense, from his
environment, and a more complicated process takes place when an impression
is made on his physical body. If you establish a connection between this
organic structure of Goethe and the fact that, as we learn from his
biography, he lays himself open even to historic events without forcing
them, you have then arrived at an understanding of the peculiar
functioning of his nature. I told you that he took the autobiography of
Gottfried of Berlichingen and, influenced only by the dramatic impulses
recieved from Shakespeare, did not really alter much in it. So he did not
call it a drama but *The History of the Iron-handed Gottfried of
Berlichingen, Dramatized*. You see, this soft and almost timid handling of
things, as I might call it, without taking hold of them forcefully is due
to his quite unusual connection between the etheric and physical bodies.

This relationship between the etheric and physical bodies was not present
in Schiller. For this reason, he creates characters that he has certainly
not derived from external impressions but has formed forcefully out of his
own nature; Karl Moor is an example. Gothe, however, needs the influence
of life, but he does not force it; he only helps with a light touch to
elevate the living into a work of art.

It was the same when he was confronted with the exeriences that he later
reduced to artistic form in *Werther*. His own life situtations as well as
those of his friend Jerusalem are not twisted; he does not alter the form
greatly but takes life and retouches it a little. Through the delicate
manner in which he renders assistance by means of his etheric body, life
is transformed into a work of art. But because of this organisation he
gains, I might say, only an indirect contact with life, and thereby he
prepares his karma in this incarnation.

Goethe goes to Strassburg. In addition to the experience that advanced him
on his way, he experienced also, as you know, the romantic involvement
with Friederike, the daughter of the pastor in Sesenheim. His affections
were deeply involved in this relationship, and many moral doubts may be
raised against the course of it--doubts that may also be fully justified.
We are not now concerned with that aspect of the matter, but rather with
an understanding of it. Goethe really passed through everything that, in
another, not only must, but obviously would, have led to a permanent life
union. But he does not experience directly. Through what I have explained,
a sort of chasm had been created between his unusual inner nature and the
external world. Just as he does not alter by force what is living in the
external world but only delicately modifies the form, he also does not
carry his feelings and sensations, which he can experience only in his
etheric body, through the physical body to such a firm contact with the
external world--something that, in others, would have led to quite
definite events in life. So he withdraws from Friederike Brion, but one
must accept this from the viewpoint of the soul.

The last time he went to Sesenheim, he met himself; you can read of this
in his autobiography. Gothe meets Goethe! Long afterward he related how he
then encountered himself, Goethe meeting Goethe. He sees himself; he
drives out to Sesenheim and Goethe comes to meet him, not in the same
clothing he was wearing, however, but in another outfit. When he went
there again many years later to visit his old acquaintances, he realized
that he was unintentionally wearing the clothes in which he had seen
himself many years before. We must believe this event took place in the
same way we believe anything else he relates. Considering his love of
truth with which he described his life to us, to find fault with it is not

How does it happen, then, that Goethe, so remote that he could actually
withdraw, and yet in such loose contact with the circumstances that for
anyone else it would have led to something quite different--how does it
come about that he meets himself? Now a man who has an experience in his
etheric body finds that it easily takes objective form when the etheric
body is loosened. He sees the experience as something external; it is
projected outside him. This actually happened to Goethe. In a moment
peculiarly appropriate, he saw the other Goethe, the etheric Goethe who
lived in him, who remained united in karma with Friederike of Sesenheim,
and he met himself as a ghost. But this is just the kind of event that so
profoundly confirms what is to be percieved from the facts regarding his

We see here how a man may stand within external events and how it is also
necessary to grasp the special, individual wayy in which he stands among
them. It is a complicated relationship that exists between the human being
and the world; it is complicated also by the interrelationship between
what he brings from the past into the present. Through the fact, however,
that Goethe had wrenched his inner nature out of the corporeal connection,
it was possible for him even in his early youth to cherish in his soul the
profound truths that so astonish us in his *Faust*.

(Rudolf Steiner, The Karma of Vocation, pp 33-38)


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