Saturday, March 25, 2017

Goethe's "Nature Table"

If you are setting up a house altar there are many examples, from many cultures today and in the past. Try representatives from the Elements: the Earth, the Air, Fire and Water (plants are of the Earth).
"When he [Goethe] was seven he built himself an altar to nature, taking his father's music stand and placing on it plants from his father's herbarium and also minerals and crowning it all with a little incense candle that he lit by focusing the beams of the morning sun with a burning-glass; an offering to the great god of nature, a rebellion against everything imposed on him by education."

-Rudolf Steiner, Practical Advice to Teachers, Stuttgart,  21st August to 5th September 1919

"We see the seven year old boy — Goethe — who could have absorbed quite ordinary ideas from his environment as any other boy would be able to do; but that did not satisfy him. He himself tells us so in his “Poetry and Truth”. There we see this boy begin something quite extraordinary in order to express his longing for the Divine. He takes a music stand from his father's effects and transforms it into an altar by placing upon it all kinds of minerals and plants and other products of nature from which the spirit of nature speaks.



"With a certain premonition this boy-soul builds an altar, places a candle upon it, takes a burning-glass, which for the first rays of the rising Sun, gathers these with his glass and focuses them upon the candle till the smoke rises. And in advanced age he remembers how he, as a boy, sends his pious feelings to the great God of nature Who speaks through plants and mineral and sends us His fire through the rays of the Sun. All this develops further in Goethe.

"We see how it comes to expression, at a more mature age, after he arrives in Weimar and is called as advisor to the grand Duke — in the beautiful prosahymn, in which he says: Nature, we are surrounded and embraced by thee. Unwarned and unmasked she takes us into the cycles of her dance, hurrying along with us until we fall exhausted from her arms." -Rudolf Steiner

Goethe's words from his Poetry & Truth:
The boy had chiefly concentrated his attention upon the first article of the creed. The God who stands in immediate connection with nature, and recognizes and loves it as His handiwork, seemed to him the real God, who might enter into closer relationship with man, as with everything else, and who would make him His care, as well as the motion of the stars, times and seasons, plants and animals. There were passages in the Gospels which explicitly stated this.

The boy could ascribe no form to this Being; he therefore sought Him in His works, and desired to build Him an altar in true Old Testament fashion. Natural productions were to represent the world symbolically; above these a flame was to burn, signifying the aspiration of man's heart towards his Maker. From his natural history museum, gradually stocked as opportunity occurred, the boy brought out his best samples of ore and other specimens; but now came the difficulty how to arrange them and build them up into a pile. His father possessed a beautiful red lacquered music-stand, ornamented with gilt flowers, in the form of a four-sided pyramid with ledges at various heights, which had proved convenient for quartets, but had been little used latterly.


The boy possessed himself of this stand, and built up his representatives of Nature one above the other in tiers, so that the result was pleasing, and at the same time impressive. The first act of worship was to take place at early sunrise, but the young priest had not yet made up his mind how to produce a flame which should at the same time emit an agreeable odour. A method of attaining these two ends at last occurred to him, for he possessed a few fumigating tapers, which if they did not make a flame, yet diffused a pleasant fragrance as they smouldered. Indeed, this gentle burning and exhalation seemed a more fitting symbol of what passes in the soul than an actual flame. The sun had risen long before, but the neighbouring houses shut out the east. At last it rose above the roofs; forthwith a burning glass was applied and kindled the tapers, which were placed at the top of his erection in a beautiful china saucer.

Everything succeeded according to his heart's desire, and his religious service was complete. The altar was left standing as a special ornament in the room which had been assigned him in the new house. Every one regarded it as merely an ornamental collection of natural curiosities. The boy knew better, but concealed his knowledge. He longed for a repetition of the ceremony. But unfortunately, just as the sun rose most favourably, the porcelain saucer was not at hand; he placed the tapers directly on the upper surface of the stand; they were kindled, and so great was the devotion of the priest, that he did not observe, until it was too late, the mischief his sacrifice was doing.

The tapers had burned mercilessly into the red lacquer and beautiful gold flowers, as if some evil spirit had been there, and left black, ineffaceable footprints. This disaster caused the young priest extreme embarrassment. The damage could be concealed, it was true, by the larger specimens, but he had lost heart for new offerings, and the accident might almost be considered an indication and warning as to the danger which subsists in attempting to approach the Deity in such a way.



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