How do you heal spiritually from tragedy?


To get well because you felt that you were exhausted, you make yourself sick in a certain sense, you need a cure, if you want to remain fully human at all, that's why you went to tragedy. [1] Aristotle had the tradition that the Greek drama reflected in small ways the colossal, grandiose feeling of fear and ego, of overcoming fear through fearlessness, of egoity in infinite compassion - Aristotle, who knew that this Drama was the means of education on a small scale, defined tragedy in such a way that it should be a representation of coherent events capable of arousing fear and compassion in the human soul and of purifying it with regard to these qualities. [2]

The Greek at least still had the ability to experience the two points of view side by side without any special training. The Greek still clearly experienced the spiritual-soul element in the spring, in the river, in the mountain, in the tree, albeit weaker than the people of older times. But at the same time he was able to ignore the spiritual and soul, also experience the dead in nature and have a sense of himself. This is what gives Hellenism its special character. (But) the Greek felt it like a kind of mental and physical illness, just looking at dead nature. In ancient Greek times it was vividly felt that day life makes you sick, that you need something to get well again: and that was the tragedy. To get well because you felt that you were exhausted, you make yourself sick in a certain sense, you need a cure, if you want to remain fully human at all, that's why you went to tragedy. And even in Aeschylus' time tragedy was played out in such a way that the person who formed the tragedy, who shaped it, was perceived as the doctor who, in a certain sense, made the exhausted person well again. The feelings that were aroused by fear, by pity for the heroes who appeared, worked like a medicine. They permeated people, and by overcoming these feelings of fear and pity they formed a crisis in him, as in pneumonia (pneumonia), for example, a crisis develops. And by overcoming the crisis, you get well. The play again presents the god, because it was essentially a presentation of the divine world and of the fate that even the gods have to endure, that is, a presentation of that which asserts itself as spiritual behind the world. That was what was shown in the tragedy. For the Greeks, art was still a kind of healing process. The god Dionysus, because he worked his way out of the spiritual forces and penetrated the surface of the earth, took part in the suffering of the earth. In a sense, as God, he felt spiritually - not as it was with the Mystery of Golgotha, also physically - what it meant to live among beings who go through death. He did not learn to experience death in himself, but he did learn to look at it. One felt that there is the god Dionysus, who suffers deeply from people because he had to see everything that people suffer. There was only a single entity on the stage at first, the god Dionysus, the suffering Dionysus, and around him a choir who spoke and recited, so that the people could hear what was going on in the god Dionysus. Because that was the first figure of the play, the tragedy, that the only really acting person who appears was the god Dionysus, and around him the choir, which recited what was going on in the soul of Dionysus. Gradually, the one person who portrayed the god Dionysus in earlier times became several people, and then the one drama became the later drama. So one experienced the god Dionysus in the picture. And one later experienced in reality, as a historical fact of human evolution, the suffering and dying God, the Christ. For once, as a historical fact, it was supposed to take place before mankind, so that all people could feel what had otherwise been experienced in a drama in Greece. But as mankind lived up to this great historical drama, the drama that was so sacred in ancient Greece that one felt in it the Savior, the miraculous remedy for mankind, more and more, I might say, was thrown down from its pedestal and became a Entertainment, as is already the case with Euripides. [3]

The Greek felt, while he was facing his tragedy, in such a way that it shook him, shook him right down to his physical body; that he saw something essential in whether he felt goose bumps down his back with this or that. And he felt something like a cure in the tragedy, for the idea was also present among the Greeks that life is permeated by sin, guilt, that is, illness, that in public displays one needs remedies, which life always has to rise again and again from a culpably ill life into his real, proper essence. So the Greek tragedy was the cure for what always got sick in social life, not what was there for amusement in the corner of life. [4]

Why should man experience fear in tragedy? He should experience fear because experiencing that fear strengthens his power to properly take possession of the physical body each morning. And he should feel pity, because this makes his astral body stronger every morning in order to shape the etheric body in the right way. Put tragedies in front of me, said the Greek, then I will be able to properly take possession of my physical body, to build up my etheric body correctly, then I will be able to be a real person in the fullest sense of the word. The Greek wanted to be a real person on earth. In addition to the other, the fact that he placed himself in his culture should also be served by tragedy and tragedy. Aristotle gives a definition of tragedy. He says: The tragedy is the imitation of an action through which fear and pity are aroused, so that through the excitement of fear and pity man experiences catharsis, the crisis of fear and pity - crisis, catharsis, that is an expression borrowed from the older Greek medicine, the art of healing, and the tragedy itself is felt by him as something healing, something strengthening, even when Aristotle was already developing Greek culture into pedantry should have. [5]

In earlier times one had a very specific feeling about the progress of human development from unconsciousness. That was that the becoming of humanity, of the whole of humanity, if left to itself, would continually degenerate, would continually be seized by harmfulness, would continually tend towards a kind of dying, would continually fall ill. But one also had the consciousness that when man intervenes in this human development, he becomes a healer of illnesses and damage by relying precisely on that which illuminates him from the essence of the unconscious. In the times of unconscious development of humanity, all knowledge, all knowledge, was felt as a healing force of human culture, because one did not stop at only wanting something in one corner and not taking part in the external cultural process - on the contrary, one wanted to participate precisely as Healer this cultural process.

And the word that sounds over us from Greek knowledge, characterizing one of the deepest artistic creations, tragedy, the word "catharsis", sounds from Greek culture and means what the effect of the tragedy is actually based on. This effect is based on this: to create images of passions in people so that these passions can be healed in the face of the tragic act of tragedy - mentally. The fact that this expression "catharsis" emanates from Greek culture as that which dominates tragedy indicates to us how the artistic was also regarded as the healing process of life in Greek culture, which is so close to life. Because "catharsis" is a word - we can only translate it with the abstract word "purification" - which is also needed for the appearance that leads to a crisis during a person's illness; and if this crisis leads to the elimination of the injured person, then healing takes place. The Greek took the task for tragedy from the human-individual healing process. He did not take the artistic out of the rest of culture; he thought it was in there. [6]


[1]  GA 211, page 53 (Edition 1986, 223 pages)
[2]  GA 129, page 223 (Edition 1960, 254 pages)
[3]  GA 211, page 52uf (Edition 1986, 223 pages)
[4]  GA 212, page 46 (1978 edition, 178 pages)
[5]  GA 211, page 84 (Edition 1986, 223 pages)
[6]  GA 335, page 62f (Edition 2005, 498 pages)


GA 129: World wonders, soul trials and spiritual revelations (1911)
GA 211: The mystery of the sun and the mystery of death and resurrection. Exoteric and Esoteric Christianity (1922)
GA 212: Human soul life and spiritual striving in connection with world and earth development (1922)
GA 335: The present crisis and the path to sound thinking (1920)