From Anthroposophy

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (28 august 1749-1832) was a German writer, scientist, and statesman and a key person in German idealism in Weimar and Jena, see Schema FMC00.243 below. He was also an clairvoyant initiate in the rosecrucian tradition, his initiation happened by a rosecrucian master during a period of serious illness around his first moon node (aged 18-19 in 1768-69).

His works include:

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


  • his initiation and imaginative clairvoyance
    • due to loosened etheric body and the illness (around 1768) in Leipzig (1916-11-05-GA172), and afterwards (around 1769) receiving initiation from a rosecrucian master (1904-11-27, 1903-08-28)
    • see Note [1] in Discussion area below
    • Goethe's greatest poetic achievements were nourished from Rosicrucian sources (1909-05-06-GA057)
    • faily tales
  • Goethean science
    • epistimological foundation
    • theory of plant metamorphosis: book 'Metamorphosis of Plants (1790)
    • theory of light and colour: book 'Theory of Colors' (1810)
  • Individuality and previous incarnations
    • KRID=34 (KRI stands for Karmic Relationships Individuality, to uniquely denote the different Individuality threads covered in these lectures). A previous incarnation in the Greek cultural age is described, as a artist and follower of Plato. He is given as an example of someone benefiting from the Jupiter sphere in the process between death and a new birth.
    • 'spider in the web' of karmic relationships in the period of German idealism (see Schema FMC00.243)
      • relationship with Schiller
      • other friends or interesting souls: Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869)
    • a previous incarnation of Goethe could (based on word of mouth) potentially be Moses
      • report by Rudolf Meyer in 1984, heard from witness report by Schröder in Bremen around 1920 (Der Europäer, May 1998)
      • research has been made on this, oa that Steiner mentions both Moses and Goethe on a number of occasions in the same lecture on the one or the other (eg 1908-12-05-GA068, 1911-03-09-GA060), and certain elements in Goethe's biography. See also the positioning of the Moses-Goethe stream in Note [2] - 'On Hermetics and Anthroposophy' in the Discussion area of Franz Bardon and initiation
    • postmortem influence of this Individuality in the three periods from 1865 onwards (Thirty three years rhythm#1919-12-14-GA194), see also reference to 1914-10-07-GA156 on Impulses from waves of reincarnating souls
  • Rudolf Steiner worked as an editor at the Goethe archives in Weiner between 1888-1896 and wrote:
    • introductions for and commentaries to four volumes of Goethe's scientific writings
    • books: Goethean Science (1883-GA001), The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World-Conception (1886-GA002), Goethe's Conception of the World (1897-GA006).


Schema FMC00.243 shows an example of historical personalities covered by Rudolf Steiner.

KR numbers are the chronological lecture numbers as part of the Karmic Relationship lectures, and master reference table FMC00.241. Five of these were covered in the 1924 Karmic Relationship lectures: Lessing: KRID=11, Pestalozzi KRID=20, Holderlin KRID=26, Schiller KRID=32, Goethe KR=34 (the others mentioned below in other lectures).

The schema illustrates 'human encounters' of important Individualities in a certain timeframe (peaking 1780-1800) and geography (Weimar, Jena). It also illustrates the concept of 'waves of reincarnation souls'. See: Impulses from waves of reincarnating souls

Goethe plays an important role in this network, and survives many of the other personalities on the chart. Click the image to enlarge.

Note the network influence of an Individuality is not limited to the souls alive, example of which is Hermann Grimm KRID=23, or Rudolf Steiner himself.

Lecture coverage and references

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."

Lecture coverage

  • GA002 - Goethe's Theory of Knowledge: An Outline of the Epistemology of His Worldview (1886)
  • 1888-GA030 and GA0271 - Goethe as the Founder of a New Science of Aesthetics (Rudolf Steiner's very first lecture)
  • 1897-GA006 - Goethe's World View
  • 1905-GA053
    • 1905-01-26-GA053: Goethe's gospel
    • 1905-02-16-GA053, 1905-02-23-GA053, 1905-03-02-GA053: Goethe's secret revelation (3 lectures)
  • 1906-07-10-GA035 - The Spiritual-Scientific Basis of Goethe's Work
  • 1908-10-22/24-GA057 - Goethe's secret revelation
  • 1909-03-01/02 are on The riddle in Faust
  • 1910-01-23-GA272 - Goethe's Faust from the Point of View of Spiritual Science
  • 1911-01-26-GA060 - Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and Goethe
  • 1911-08-28-GA129 - On the Occasion of Goethe's Birthday
  • 1916-11-04-GA172 - Karma of vocation
  • 1916-11-05-GA172 - The Karma of the Individual and the Collective Life of Our Time, Goethe
  • 1919-GA188 - Goetheanism as an Impulse for Man's Transformation (6 lectures)
  • 1921-08-19-GA206 - Goethe and the Evolution of Consciousness
  • 1923-GA036 - Goethe's Cultural Environment and the Present Epoch
  • Goethe's connection with rosecrucianism - text of around 1906



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


Between his student years in Leipzig and his stay in Strassburg, Goethe received an Initiation at the hands of a Man who was himself deeply initiated into the secrets of the Rosicrucians. From that time on, Goethe spoke a mystical Anthroposophical language.

Biographical note: Goethe stayed in Strassbourg between April 1770 to August 1771, before he studied law at Leipzig University from 1765 to 1768.

One source (wikipedia): Goethe was forced to return to Frankfurt at the close of August 1768 and became severely ill in Frankfurt. During the year and a half that followed, he had several relapses During convalescence, Goethe was nursed by his mother and sister. In April 1770, Goethe left Frankfurt in order to finish his studies at the University of Strasbourg.

Another source: In 1768 Goethe was forced by illness to return home (=Frankfurt), and developed an interest in occult philosophy and alchemy. After his recovery was complete, he went to Strasburg to finish his legal training;

Rudolf Steiner talks about his illness in Leipzig (1916-11-05-GA172), not Frankfurt. From the above two sources, it appears he fell ill in Leipzig and stayed ill for a longer period in Frankfurt.

See more: Note [1] in Discussion area below.


on clairvoyance

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.


Many things have trickled through into outer life in regard to the Rosicrucian Mysteries, but much that is told is a caricature of the truth. Profound achievements of spiritual life were influenced by the mysterious threads of Rosicrucianism which found their way into civilisation.

Goethe's greatest poetic achievements were nourished from Rosicrucian sources. It is not without significance that in his poem Die Geheimnisse he speaks of a man who was led to a house and found on its door the sign of the Rose Cross. “Who brought the roses to the Cross?” — Who were these Initiates of the European Mysteries who linked the mysteries of the rose to the mystery of the Cross? How deeply Goethe had penetrated these things is apparent, for instance when he speaks of the twelve gathered around the table — twelve as in the ancient Trotten Mysteries. Oh! Goethe knew all these things.

But those who study him today, study only the Goethe they are capable of understanding. But although he was only able to speak a mysterious language, the time has now come to speak openly about Initiation.


is a lecture on Moses, and talks about the link between soul powers and clairvoyant faculties, the all at once:

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.


is the first of two descriptive lectures where Rudolf Steiner describes Goethe's life.


.. in Goethe's case especially we can see his preordained karma working from earliest youth onward.


When we follow Goethe's life with a vision sharpened by spiritual science, we find that, apart from everything else, it is divided into certain periods.


One who, with the aid of spiritual science, is able to enter into Goethe's boyhood and youth, finds that he possesses a spiritual life-force which he brings with him into his existence through the gate of birth, but which would not have been able to accompany him throughout his whole life if certain events had not taken place. What lived in Goethe as his individuality, was far greater than his organism could really receive and express.


[Goethe's illness in Leipzig end of 1760s]

In Goethe this force of soul became still greater, and yet he lived to a ripe old age.

How was this possible?

In the last lecture I mentioned a fact which played a very important part in Goethe's life. After he had lived a few years as a student in Leipzig, he fell ill, seriously ill, and almost died. We may say that he really looked death in the face. This illness was of course a natural phenomenon connected with his body; but we can never understand a man who works out of the elemental forces of the world, nor indeed can we understand any human being at all, unless we also take into consideration events such as these, which take place in the course of their Karma.

What really happened to Goethe when he lay ill at Leipzig?

There took place what we may call a complete loosening of the etheric body in which the life-force of the soul had until then been active; this was so loosened that after his illness Goethe no longer had the firm connection between the etheric body and the physical body which he had before.

Now the etheric body is that part of our supersensible nature which really makes it possible for us to form concepts, to think. Abstract ideas such as we have in ordinary life, and which are alone appreciated by most materialistically minded people — these we have through the fact that the etheric body is bound up with the physical body very closely, as it were by a strong magnetic tie. This also gives us the strong impulse to carry our will into the physical world. Notably we have this impulse of the will when the astral body also is very strongly developed. If we consider Robespierre, Mirabeau or Danton, we find in them an etheric body firmly united with the physical, but they also have a strongly-developed astral body which in its turn acts strongly upon the etheric body and places these human individualities strongly into the physical world. Goethe was organised in this way too; but in him there was another force at work, and this produced a complication. It was this force which brought it about that through the illness which took him almost to death's door, his etheric body was loosened, and remained so.

Now when the etheric body is no longer so intimately bound up with the physical body, it no longer thrusts its forces into the physical, but preserves them within itself. Hence the change which took place in Goethe when he then returned from Leipzig to Frankfurt, where he became acquainted with Fräulein von Klettenberg the mystic, and with various medical friends who were devoting themselves to alchemical studies, and where he also studied the works of Swedenborg. At this time he really constructed for himself a spiritual system of the world. Chaotic as yet, it was nevertheless a spiritual system; for he possessed a very deep inclination to occupy himself with supersensible things. This, however, was essentially connected with his illness. And his soul, while carrying into this earth-life the foundations for this force which acts downward like gravity, also brought with it the impulse, through the above-mentioned illness, so to prepare the etheric body that it not merely manifested in the physical, but received the impulse — and not only the impulse but the capacity — to fill itself with supersensible ideas. So long as we consider merely the outer biographical facts in a person's life in a materialistic fashion, we never perceive the subtle connections which exist in the stream of his destiny; but as soon as we go into the connection of the natural events which occur in the body — such for instance as Goethe's illness — with what is manifested ethically, morally and spiritually, it becomes possible for us to have a presentiment of the profound working of karma.


In Goethe's life, such an event had taken place as that above-described in Leipzig at the end of the 1760's, when he stood face to face with death. But the forces for this had already been preparing for a long time before. Anyone wishing to trace back such an illness to external or merely physical events, has not yet reached in spiritual spheres the point at which the scientists already stand, who say, that if one thing follows on another it must not therefore necessarily be looked upon as its direct result. In Goethe, therefore, this isolating of himself from the world was always there, owing to the peculiar connection between his physical body and his etheric body, which only reached its crisis through his illness.

When the outer world affects a man in whom there is a close connection between the physical body and the etheric, the impressions made upon the physical body pass on at once into the etheric; they become one with it, and the etheric body simply experiences the impressions of the outer world simultaneously with the physical.


How, then, did it come about that Goethe, who was so near and yet so far removed from the circumstances into which he had entered — so near that if it had been anyone else it would have led to something altogether different, and so far that he could still withdraw — how did it come about that on this occasion he actually met himself?

In a human being who experiences something in the etheric body, this experience may very easily become objectified if the etheric body is thus loosened. He sees it as an external object, it is projected outward. This really took place with Goethe. On a specially favourable occasion, he actually saw the other Goethe — the etheric Goethe who lived within him, and who through his karma remained united with Frederica of Sesenheim. Hence he saw himself as a spectre coming towards him. This event in the deepest sense confirms what may already be seen from the very facts of Goethe's nature.


If you trace the development of spiritual life during the last decades before Goethe, you will see that 'Faust' was an absolute requirement of the time. Lessing is a characteristic spirit; he too wished to write a 'Faust'. He even wrote one scene, which is very beautiful. It was not Goethe's mere subjective needs which called for 'Faust'; it was the Time itself.


'Faust' always grows beyond Goethe.


For a work such as 'Faust' is not merely a poem like other poems.' Faust' springs forth as it were out of the whole spirit of the fifth post-Atlantean age of civilisation; it grows far beyond Goethe himself.


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


[1] - Goethe's initiation

His initiation happened in the period he was ill, he was unaware of it (RSL quote, reference still to be added). As a result Goethe had imaginative consciousness.

From the quotes above, it can be said there was a karmic origin to Goethe's bodily constitution which already lie at the basis of his illness. It is interesting to try and time the events of his illness, and his meeting with the rosecrucian initiator.

Goethe was studying at university, and was 'forced out' of his normal flow of life by this illness. He stopped his studied, went home because of this illness, and that appears to have been the time of his initiation and the start of his building a spiritual scientific view of the world.

Even without having done rigorous biographical research, it is remarkable to read Goethe was forced to leave Leipzig for home (Frankfurt) in August 1768. He was born 28 august 1749. This means this was probably just before his 19th birthday on 28 august 1768. The first moon node, see Eighteen year rhythm, is at 18 years and 7 months.

Goethe became 21 on 28 august 1770. Just before, in April 1770 he moves to Strassbourg to continue his studies. So by that time he is 'into' the esoteric spiritual scientific worldview.

[2] - Previous incarnation(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