I. THE EXCURSION
I AM penning these lines in a little village in the Alpine mountains, in Southern Bavaria, and only a short distance from the Austrian frontier. The impressions I received yesterday are still fresh in my mind; the experiences which caused them were as real to me as any other experience caused by the events of every-day life; nevertheless, they were of such an extraordinary character that I cannot persuade myself that they were more than a dream.
Having finished the long and tedious labour of investigating the history of the Rosicrucians, and studying old worm-eaten books, mouldy manuscripts hardly legible from age, passing days and parts of night in convent libraries and antiquarian shops, collecting and copying everything that seemed to be of any value for my object in view, and having at last finished my task, I made up my mind to grant to myself a few holidays, and to spend them among the sublime scenery of the Tyrolian Alps.
The mountains were not yet free from snow, although the spring had advanced; but I was anxious to escape the turmoil and noise of the city, to breathe once more the pure and exhilarating air of the mountain heights, to see the shining glaciers glistening like vast mirrors in the light of the rising sun, and to share the feeling of the poet Byron when he wrote the following verses:–
The loftiest peaks most wrapp’d in clouds and snow;
He who surpasses or subdues mankind
Must look down on the hate of those below;
Though high above the sun of glory glow,
And far beneath the earth and ocean spread,
Round him are icy rocks, and loudly blow
Contending tempests on his naked head,
And thus reward the toils which to these summits led.”
Boarding the train, I soon arrived at the foot of the hills. Thence I wandered on foot, highly enjoying the change from the smoky atmosphere of the crowded streets to the fresh air of the country, pregnant with the odour of the pines and the daisies, the latter of which were appearing in places from which the snow was gone. The road led up through the valley of the river, and, as I advanced, the valley grew narrower and the sides of the mountain steeper. Here and there were clusters of farmhouses, and some rustic cottages clinging to the projecting rocks of the mountains as if seeking protection against the storms which often blow through these valleys. The sun was sinking down below the western horizon, and gilded the snowy peaks of the mountains and the brazen cross on the top of the spire of the little village church, from which tolled the curfew, or, as it is here called, the Ave Maria, when I arrived at the place selected as a starting-point for my excursions into the mountains.
Finding a hospitable reception in the village inn, I soon retired to rest, and awoke early in the morning, having been aroused from my sleep by the tinkling of little bells hanging around the necks of the goats which were sent out to their pasturage. I arose and stepped to the window. The shadows of night were fleeing before the approach of the coming sun; the dawn had begun, and before me in sublime array stood the grand old peaks of the mountains, reminding me of Edwin Arnold’s description of the view to be had from the windows of Prince Siddârtha’s palace, Vishramvan. There the grand mountains stood:–
Infinite, wonderful–whose uplands vast,
And lifted universe of crest and crag,
Shoulder and shelf, green slope and icy horn,
Riven ravine and splintered precipice,
Led climbing thought higher and higher, until
It seemed to stand in heaven and speak with gods.”
Soon I was on the way, and wandered farther up through the valley along the river-bed; but the river was here merely a small stream, rushing and dancing wildly over the rocks, while farther down, where it had grown big, it flowed in tranquil majesty through the plains. The valley through which I wandered seemed to cut through long ranges of mountains, and other valleys opened into this. Some of these valleys were known to me, for I had roamed through them and explored their mysterious recesses, caves, and forests some twenty years ago; but there was one mysterious valley which had not yet been explored by me, and which led towards a high, bifurcated mountain peak, whose summit was said to be inaccessible, and upon which the foot of no mortal had ever trod. Towards this valley I seemed to be attracted by some invisible but irresistible power. I felt as if, in its unexplored depths at the foot of this inaccessible mountain, the secret and undefined longings of my heart were to be satisfied; as if there a mystery was to be revealed to me, whose solution could not be found in books.
The sun had not yet risen above the horizon, and the dark woods to the right and left were of a uniform colour. As I entered the narrow, mysterious valley, the path rose gradually, leading through a dark forest along the side of a mountain. Slowly and almost imperceptibly it ascended; at first it was near the rushing stream, but as I progressed the roar of the torrent sounded more and more distant; the foaming stream itself seemed to sink farther down. At last the forest became thinner, and the dark woods were now far below me; but before me and above the intervening trees rose the naked cliffs of the inaccessible mountain. Still the path led up higher. Soon the distant noise of a waterfall was heard, and I approached again the bed of the mountain stream, which, however, now seemed to be a mass of rocks, split into pieces by some giant power, lying about in wild confusion, while the white foam of the water danced between the cliffs.
Here and there were little islands of soil covered with green vegetation. They stood like isolated tables in the midst of the wilderness; for the combined action of water and air had decomposed and eaten away a great part of their foundations, and they looked like plates of soil resting upon small pedestals; hard as they are, their final tumble is merely a question of time, for their foundations are slowly crumbling away.
My path took me upwards, sometimes nearing the river-bed, sometimes receding from it, leading sometimes over steep rocks, and again descending to the bottom of ravines formed by the melting snows. Thus I entered deep into the mysterious valley, when the first signs of sunrise appeared upon the cliffs above my head. One of these towering peaks was crowned with a halo of light, while beyond it the full sunlight streamed into the valley below. A mild breeze swept through the tops of the trees, and the foliage of the birch-trees, with which the pine forest was sprinkled, trembled in the morning air. No sound could now be heard, except occasionally the note of a titmouse, and more rarely the cry of a hawk which rose in long-drawn, spiral motions high up into the air to begin its work of the day.
Now the ash-gray walls and cliffs began to assume a pale silvery hue, while in the rents and crags of the rock the dark blue shade seemed to resist the influence of the light. Looking backwards, I saw how the valley widened, and, far down, the stream could be seen as it wandered towards the plains. Obtaining more room as it advanced, it spread, and formed ponds and tanks and little lakes among the meadows. On the opposite side of the valley rose the tops of high mountains far into the sky, and between the interstices of the summits, still more summits arose. The foot of the range was covered with a dark vegetation, but the mountain sides exhibited a great variety of colours, from the almost black appearance of the rocks below to the ethereal white of the farthest peaks, whose delicate hues seemed to blend with the pale blue sky. Here and there the surface was already covered with spots of light from the rising sun, falling through the rents of the rocks and through the branches of trees, foreboding the near arrival of the orb of day. Thus the higher peaks enjoyed the warm light of the sun long before it shone into the valley below; but while it shone in its full brightness upon the mountain tops, the dark shadows in the deep valley became thinner and began to disappear.
At last the solemn moment arrived, and the sun rose in his sublime majesty over the tops of the mountains, becoming visible to all. The shadows fled, and a flood of light penetrated into the valley, lightening up the dark forest of pines and illuminating the caves of the rocks. Shining upon the fields of snow and the glaciers, its light was reflected as in a mirror and produced a blinding effect, but upon the rocky surface it became softened, and gave it the appearance of a thousand various hues.
The road turned round a projecting part of the height, and suddenly I stood in full view of the inaccessible mountain. Between the place where I stood and the base of the mountain there was a well-nigh treeless plain, and the soil was almost without any vegetation. Everywhere the ground was covered with stones and rocks, many of which seemed to have fallen down from the mysterious mountain and to have been broken in the fall. Here and there was a small spot covered with moss or small vegetation, sending fantastically-shaped branches of green upwards along the sides of the inaccessible mountain towards the bare gray walls of the summit, where giant sentinels of a forbidding mien stood eternal and immovable, and seemed to defend their strongholds against the aggressive vegetation, crowding the latter back into the valley. Thus the everlasting combat which had been raging for untold ages still continued; but the front lines of the contending armies changed from year to year. Everlasting, like the eternal truths, stand the bare gray rocks upon the summits; here and there the vegetation invades their kingdom, like illusions approaching the realm of the real; death is victorious; the green spots are buried each year under the descending rocks; but again life is the victor, for those rocks decay, and a new life appears upon their withered faces.
In the limestone formation of the Alpine ranges, the rocks decomposed by wind and rain assume often the most fantastic shapes, which suggest the names which are given to the mountains. Very little power of imagination is required to behold in the shape of the summits of the Wilden Kaiser mountain the figure of the Emperor Barbarossa, with his long red beard, with crown and sceptre, lying in state, unaffected by the cold of the winter or the summer’s heat, waiting to be resurrected; or we may see in the shape of the Hochvogel the form of an eagle spreading its wings; in the Widder-horn, the shape of the horns of a ram. At the base of the mountains and in the valleys the soil is covered with small loose rocks and piles of sand, in the midst of which the coltsfoot plant (Tussilago farfara) spreads its large green leaves, and the blue bell-shaped flowers of the monkshood (Aconitum napellus) wave their heads. In some secluded spots grows the celebrated edelweiss (Gnaphalium leontopodium), resembling in size those which grow on the Popocatepetl in Mexico, and on the Cordilleras of South America. There may also be found the mountain gentian, the Alpine rose, the mandrake, Arnica montana, the mysterious Hypericon, and other curious plants full of healing powers and strange virtues. Wherever a sufficient quantity of soil has accumulated to enable a tree to grow, a larger kind of vegetation appears; but the little crust of earth is not deep enough to afford a solid footing to large trees. They may grow to a certain height, but some day a storm will arise and sweep down the mountain sides, and then the work of destruction begins. Grand old tree-corpses, whose roots have been torn from the soil, are lying about, their barkless, bleached branches like so many skeleton arms stretched up towards heaven, as if they had been calling for help in the hour of their death, but no help had arrived. Smaller growths of dwarf-trees surround them, and cover the ground or feed like parasites upon the substance of the dead.
The spring had advanced; but among these mountains the seasons are interlaced with each other. The red and yellow leaves painted by autumn were seen among the green foliage of the stunted pines. The moss clinging to the steep precipices shows the reddish colour obtained in the fall, and in many clefts and caverns linger the snow and ice of the past winter; but above the red and green and the pure white snow the gray masses of the summits rise in a succession of pillars and points, with domes and spires and pinnacles, like a city built by the gods; while in the background spreads the gray or blue canopy of heaven. Thin streams of water run down from these heights over the precipices, and as they splash over the projecting rocks they are reduced to vapour before reaching the ground below. The rocks themselves have been hollowed out, forming large caves, and indicating how powerful those little veins of water may become, if swelled by the floods from the melting snows of the summits.
After enjoying for a few minutes the sublimity of this scenery, I continued my way and approached a little stream coming from a waterfall in the distance. I wandered along its border; the water was deep, but so clear that even the smallest pebble could be distinctly seen at the bottom. Sometimes it appeared as motionless as if it were liquid crystal penetrated by the rays of the sun, and again, meeting with obstacles in its way, it foamed in its rocky bed as if in a sudden fit of rage, while in other places it tumbled in little cascades over pretty pebbles and stones, forming miniature cataracts which exhibited manifold colours.
In these solitudes there is nothing to remind one of the existence of man, except occasionally the sawn-off trunk of a tree, showing the destructive influence of human activity. In some old, rotten, and hollow trunks rain-water has collected, sparkling in the sun like little mirrors, such as may be used by water nymphs, and around their edges little mushrooms are growing, which our imagination transforms into chairs, tables, and baldachinos for fairies and elves.
Where I now stood, the ground was covered with moss, and occasionally there was to be seen a great, white thistle, whose sharp-pointed leaves sparkled in the sunlight. At a short distance I saw a small grove of pines, looking like an island in the desert, and to that grove I directed my steps. There I resolved to rest and enjoy the beauty of nature. I laid myself down upon the moss in a place which was overshadowed by a mighty pine. The music of the mountain stream was heard at a distance, and opposite to the place where I rested there was to be seen a waterfall, spreading into a vapour as it fell over the rocks, and in the vapour appeared the colours of the rainbow. The mist fell into a basin formed of rock, and from a rent in this basin, overgrown with moss, the water foamed and rushed, hastening down towards the valley, to become united with the main body of the river.
For a long time I watched the play of the water, and the longer I watched the more did it become alive with forms of the most singular shape. Supermundane beings of great beauty seemed to dance in the spray, shaking their heads in the sunshine and throwing showers of liquid silver from their streaming curls and waving locks. Their laughter sounded like that of the falls of Minnehaha, and from the crevices of the rocks peeped the ugly faces of gnomes and kobolds watching slyly the dance of the fairies. Above the fall the current seemed to hesitate before throwing itself down over the precipice; but below, where it left the basin, it appeared to be irritated by the impediments in its way and impatient to leave its home; while far down in the valley, where it became united to its brother, the river, it sounded as if the latter was welcoming it back to its bosom, and as if both were exulting over their final union in a glad jubilee.
What is the reason that we imagine such things? Why do we endow “dead things” with human consciousness and with sensation? Why are we in our moments of happiness not satisfied to feel that we live in a body, but our consciousness craves to go out of its prison-house and mix with the universal life? Is our consciousness merely a product of the organic activity of our physical body, or is it a function of the universal life, concentrated–so to say–in a focus within the physical body? Is our personal consciousness dependent for its existence on the existence of the physical body, and does it die with the latter; or is there a spiritual consciousness, belonging to a higher, immortal, and invisible self of man, which is temporarily connected with the physical organism, but which may exist independent of the latter? If such is the case, if our physical organism is merely an instrument through which our consciousness acts, then this instrument is not our real self. If this is true, then our real self may exist independently of the latter. If we mentally float along the curves of the mountain tops, sinking gradually downwards, rising suddenly upwards, and examining in our imagination the things upon their surface, why do we feel such a sense of exhilaration and joy, as if we were really there, but had left our material body behind, because too heavy to accompany the spirit to the top of the inaccessible mountain? It is true, a part of our life and consciousness must remain with the physical form, to enable it to continue to live during our absence and to attend to the functions of life; but we have read of somnambules and persons in an ecstatic condition, whose inner spiritual self, with all its powers of consciousness, sensation, and perception, was absent from their apparently dead forms, and who visited distant places, going and returning with the velocity of thought, and bringing descriptions of such places which were afterwards verified and found to be true.
Why do we find life in all things, even in those which are considered “dead,” if we merely put ourselves in a condition in which we can perceive that they are living? Can there be any dead matter in the universe? Is not even a stone held together by the “cohesion” of its particles, and attracted to the earth by “gravitation”? But what else is this “cohesion” and “gravitation” but energy, and what is “energy” but the Soul, an interior principle called force, which produces an outward manifestation called matter; but which must ultimately be identical with force or substance, or by whatever name we may call a thing of which we have no conception. If this view is correct, then all things possess life, all things possess soul, and there may be soul-beings, whose outward forms are not so gross as ours, and who are therefore invisible to our physical senses, but may be perceived by our own soul.
In the silence of nature thoughts grow to be waking dreams, and dreams become visions. I imagined how in this solemn solitude I might remain all the rest of my life, perhaps sharing my habitation with a few congenial friends. I imagined how, united by common interests and having identical objects in view, we might be happy and obtain knowledge together. Here, far away from the superficiality and shallowness of common life, a far greater clearness of mental perception, a much deeper concentration of thought, a much higher conception of the truth regarding the mysteries of nature and man might be obtained. How much would our senses be sharpened for the perception of external and internal things! how much would our knowledge of self increase! What should we care about the tomfooleries of what is called “society”; what should we care to know of what is going on in that great insane asylum called “the world”? Here we could live undisturbed within our own selves, unpestered by the necromantic practices of “society,” which daily and hourly force us to go out from within our own selves, to appear where we do not desire to be, compel us to act as we do not desire to act, to bow down before the goddess of fashion, whom we despise in our hearts.
Would such a life be useful for us and useful for others? If it is true that the world and we ourselves are made up of ideas, then it is just in such solitudes that the best conditions might be found in which to grasp and remodel ideas. Thoughts and ideas cannot be merely illusions; they must have a real existence, as real and perhaps more lasting than the objective things of this world; for we know that ideas outlive the death of the forms in which they are represented; we know that ideas, like other fruits, are born and become mature, and whenever an idea is mature it appears on the mental horizon of the world, and is often grasped at the same time by some receptive minds. A man who is able to grasp and remodel exalted ideas, and give them material expression, may do much more for the benefit of the world by living alone and in solitude, than by living among the world where his work is continually impeded by affairs of minor importance. The ideas which he shapes will not die with his body. They will be thrown upon the great mirror, the Astral Light, and be preserved in the memory of the world, to be grasped and utilised by others.
What is that being we call man, after all? What is this living animal organism of flesh, blood, and bones, nerves and mind, which lives for a while and then dies, and which the great majority of people esteem so highly, as if it were their own immortal self, and for the comfort of which they often sacrifice their self-respect, their dignity, honour, and virtue? Is it anything else than an animal in whom an intellectual activity of a higher order than in other animals predominates? Can this mental activity be the product of the mechanical, chemical, and physiological activity of gross matter? If not, what is the cause of this activity, and can this cause exist independently of the form? What is a man without any intelligence? If intelligence, as it necessarily must be, is an attribute of the spirit, what is a man without any spirit and without spiritual intelligence?
While I was meditating about this question a stupid laughter sounded close by my side. I had been so much engaged with my own thoughts that I had not noticed the approach of the stranger; but looking up I saw close by my side one of those half-idiotic human beings whom they call cretins, and who are often found in the mountainous countries of Switzerland and Savoy. I was somewhat surprised and startled, and not a little annoyed at the unwelcome interruption, and I asked him rather abruptly, “What do you want?”
A broad grin passed over the face of the dwarf, for such he certainly was, as he answered, “Master says I should guide you to his house.” I was somewhat astonished by his reply, but remembering that the dwarf was an idiot, and that no intelligent answer was to be expected from him, I asked, “Who is your master?” His answer was, “Imperator”; and as he spoke that word a spark of intelligence seemed to shine in his eyes, and the tone of his voice seemed to indicate that this Imperator, whoever he might be, was undoubtedly somebody to whom the cretin rendered implicit obedience. I attempted to ask the dwarf more questions, and to find out who his Imperator was, or where he lived, but all my efforts to obtain information from one who was evidently an idiot were unavailing, and he merely grinned and repeated the words which he had already said before. I therefore at last made up my mind to go with him and see how the adventure would end.
The cretin walked ahead and I followed him; he led me towards the base of the inaccessible mountain. While we were walking on, and the idiot often turned back to see whether I was following him, I had a good opportunity to study his dress and features. He was not over three feet high, and evidently a hunchback. His clothing consisted of a brown gown, to which a hood was attached, which made him appear like a small Capuchin monk of the order of St. Augustine. An immense big head and a comparatively large body rested upon very thin and small legs, while his feet seemed again to be extraordinarily large. Perhaps on account of his small size and the healthy colour of his face, he appeared to be almost a child; but this opinion was contradicted by a gray beard of considerable length which adorned his face. In his hand he carried a staff made of a dead limb of a tree, which he had evidently picked up on his way.