From Anthroposophy

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was a German writer, scientist, and statesman. His works include:

  • four novels, including his masterwork 'Faust', epic and lyric poetry; prose and verse dramas; memoirs; an autobiography; literary and aesthetic criticism
  • scientific treatises on botany (theory of metamorphosis of plants), light and colour, and anatomy.


  • his initiation and imaginative clairvoyance
  • theory of plant metamorphosis
  • theory of light and colour
  • Individuality and previous incarnations


Schema FMC00243 shows an example of historical personalities covered by Rudolf Steiner. KR numbers are the chronological lecture numbers as part of the Karmic Relationship lectures, as per FMC00.241 above. The schema illustrates 'human encounters' of important Individualities in a certain timeframe (peaking 1780-1800) and geography (Weimar, Jena). It also illustrates the 'waves of reincarnation souls'. Goethe plays an important role in this network, and survives many of the other personalities on the chart. Click the image to enlarge.

Lecture coverage and references

Lecture coverage



Goethe's theory of metamorphosis could thus have been continued in a straight line. I have pointed out to you that Goethe was unable to develop his theory of metamorphosis. If you observe with an unprejudiced mind how matters stood with Goethe, you will find that he was unable to continue. He observed the plant in its development and found the primordial plant (Urpflanze). Then he approached the human being and tried to study the metamorphosis of the human bones. But he came to a standstill and could not go on.

If you peruse Goethe's writings on the morphology of the human bony system you will see that, on the one hand, his ideas are full of genius. The cleft skull of a sheep which he found on the Lido in Venice, showed him that the skull-bones are transformed vertebrae, but he could not develop his idea further than this.

I have drawn your attention to some notes that I found in the Goethe-Archives when I was staying at Weimar. In these notes Goethe says that the entire human brain is a transformed spinal ganglion. Again, he left it at this point. These notes are jotted down in pencil in a note-book and the last pencil-marks plainly show Goethe's discontent and his wish to go further. But scientific research was not advanced enough for this. To-day it is advanced enough and has reached long ago the point of facing this problem. When we contemplate the human being, even in his earliest embryonic stages, we find that the form of the present skull-bones cannot possibly have evolved from the vertebrae of the spine. This is quite out of the question. Anyone who knows something of modern embryology argues as follows: what we see in man to-day, does not justify the statement that the skull-bones are transformed vertebrae. For this reason we can indeed say that when Gegenbauer investigated this matter once more at a later date, results proved that as far as the skull-bones and especially the facial bones were concerned, matters stood quite differently from what Goethe had assumed.

But if we know that the present shape of the skull-bones leads us back to the bones of the body of the preceding incarnation, we can understand this metamorphosis. Exterior morphology itself then leads us into the teaching of repeated lives on earth. This lies in a straight line with Goethe's theory of metamorphosis. But the stream of evolution that finally led to Darwin and still rules official science, cannot advance as far as truth. For the misunderstood fall of man has ruined thinking and has caused its decay. The question is far more serious than one is inclined to imagine to-day.


.. I already spoke at this place some time ago of a young artist who grew up while Plato was still living, not exactly in Plato's School of the Philosophers but under Plato's influence. Indeed I mentioned this matter already many years ago. Having passed through other incarnations in the meantime this individuality was reborn, not out of the Platonic philosophy but out of the Platonic spirit. He was reborn as Goethe, having karmically transformed in the Jupiter region what came to him from former incarnations, and notably from the one in which he partook of the Platonic stream, so that it became that kind of wisdom which does indeed permeate all the contents of Goethe's work. Thus we can indeed turn our gaze to a noble and pure relationship between Plato and this — I will not say “disciple” — but follower of Plato. For as I said, he was not a philosopher but an artist in that Grecian incarnation. Nevertheless Plato's eye did fall upon him and perceived the infinite promise that lay within this youth.

Quotes by Goethe

  • Letter to C.F. Zelter on 6 Jun 1825 (ao from 'Rudolf Steiner and Christian Rosenkreuz', by Peter Selg (2010), note 72)
    • "Wealth and rapidity are what the world admires, and what everyone strives to attain. Railways, quick mails, steamships, and every possible kind of facility in the way of communication are what the educated world has in view, that it may over-educate itself, and thereby continue in a state of mediocrity. Properly speaking, this is the century for clever people, for practical people of quick perception, who, because they possess a certain adroitness, feel their superiority to the multitude, even though they themselves may not be gifted in the highest degree. Let us, as far as possible, keep the attitude with which we came here; we shall, with a few others, be the last of an era that will not so soon return again."



His initiation happened in the period he was ill, he was unaware of it (RSL quote).

As a result had imaginative consciousness.


A large part of Goethe's initiate knowledge stems from the knowledge of the Rosicrucians.



To use Goethe's phrase: the spiritual ears and eyes awaken, and then the soul of man can perceive in its environment what is otherwise concealed.

Interestingly that same lecture contains a statement about Moses (see below)

Anyone who from the point of view of Spiritual Science, reads of the call to Moses at the Burning Bush will understand that in reality Moses was then raised into the Spiritual world.

1911-03-09-GA060 talks about the link between soul powers and clairvoyant faculties:

... It is a striking and pertinent fact that Goethe, when he looked out of a window could often predict, hours in advance, what kind of weather was in store.

Previous incarnations(s)

Clearly Rudolf Steiner regarded Goethe as a high individuality, and there are many links between Steiner's life and work and that of Goethe. Steiner was choosen at age 21 to be responsible for editing Goethe's scientific writings in the 1880s, he named the Dornach building 'Goetheanum' after him, etc.

There are arguments and/or insinuations to believe Goethe would be an incarnation of Moses. This remains speculation however as Steiner explicitly never mentioned this, quite consciously.

Sources: Konrad Burdach on the report by Rudolf Meyer in 1984; heard from witness report Schröder in Bremen around 1920 (Der Europäer, May-98), with reference to 1913-08-28-GA191

In the lecture on Moses of 1911-03-09-GA060, Steiner mentions Goethe three times:

The account of the experiences of Moses while a disciple of this great wise priest, opens with a description of his meeting with Jethro’s seven daughters [in the land of Midian. Ex. ii, 15, 16] near-by to a well (a symbol betokening: — source of wisdom). Anyone who would comprehend the deeper significance underlying a graphic narrative of this nature must above all remember that mystical descriptions of every period have symbolically portrayed all such knowledge and power as the soul itself may display in the form of female figures — even down to Goethe, who in the closing words of Faust, alludes to the ‘eternal feminine’.

In another lecture of 1908-12-05-GA068 also Goethe and Moses are both mentioned.


Steiner calls Goethe 'the great opponent of Kant' in 1917-04-19-GA175

Related pages

References and further reading