The Ring


A Summer Fairy Tale by Rudolf Steiner

Related by Marina from the Author’s Life


(Translated from the original German by David W. Wood)


S. turned with his confidant Z. into the animated Schottengasse in the city of V. Both walked silently for a while, side-by-side. You could see from their faces that the two of them were preoccupied with something extremely close to their hearts. Z.’s face, however, serenely radiated joy, whereas S.’s traits became progressively sombre and serious. Z. then spoke the following words: “You can scarcely imagine how happy you’ve made me today, on account of your good mood and the cheerfulness that you have displayed the whole day; I never thought that I could occasion this kind of mood in you. You have also never been so unreservedly in agreement with one of my actions.” S. appeared not to have heard a single word, for he did not reply. In order to coax an answer out of him, Z. directly posed a question: “Do you think I should tell my close friend in my distant homeland about my current experiences?” S. still seemed as though he were absent. “Why are you so quiet all of a sudden, especially after having been so sincerely happy the entire day?” S. broke his silence and said: “We passed an enjoyable evening. You, my dear friend, have now met a young woman whose unassuming nature has rightfully captivated your spirit. Her indescribable kindness is capable of bringing your spiritual forces into the most beautiful harmony, and her glorious beauty ought to engender in you a reverential inclination towards a divine form. It was an enchanting sight for me to see how devoted you were to her tonight, as I – the third person in your delightful company – saw how blissful you were in her presence. However, as we were saying goodbye to her and I extended my hand in parting, a beam of light from the street light suddenly fell on my fingers. My eye caught sight of the ring on my hand, and this ring – I assure you – is a magic ring. At certain moments of my life it continually conjures forth things of which you cannot have any idea.” Z. replied: “There are always magic rings in fairy tales, surely you do not want to make a new version out of an old story of this kind.” – “Yes, rings are ancient magical objects. That’s what I also said when I first received the ring in an altogether miraculous place.” Z. answered: “Well, then it’s finally time I heard the story of your enchanted ring.”

S. began to speak: “I had just had a few years under my belt, where I was preparing my spirit for something higher, living in earnest expectation of the time when I was to be initiated into the deeper secrets of science. Then it abruptly happened. I was walking along the street without any particular purpose, and without thinking of anything significant. A wondrous vehicle appeared behind me, moving at great speed. It was drawn by horses of such beauty that it is simply impossible to picture them if you’ve only seen earthly horses. The carriage was as light as a feather and beautifully furnished. The goddess Fortuna was seated in it with a shining countenance. She beckoned to me, intimating that I should sit down next to her. I was unable to resist. We then travelled through provinces that were initially desolate and empty, before passing through regions filled with the most magnificent things. Our vehicle started to slow down in a plain in which there was nothing to see for miles on end, except a tiny cottage. We drew closer and closer to the small cottage, and I soon realised that this was our destination. As we stopped my heavenly driver said to me: this is one of my best homes, ring the bell, I have prepared everything for you.

As I fully came to my senses, the goddess and her vehicle had already vanished and there was nothing left for me to do but to anxiously ring the doorbell. The mysterious door opened and a tender young girl appeared. Before I could utter a word, she said: “Everything is ready for you here, I will lead you to my mistress. However, let me warn you, the appearance of my mistress might be shocking to you at first, but try to overcome your aversion. After preparing me in this manner she led me through a side door into her lady’s chamber. Sitting in an arm-chair was a woman with an incredibly ashen face, the likes of which I have never seen on earth. It was a deeply moving scene – the entire being of the woman betrayed a youth in which every trait of her face expressed but a single word: profound suffering. Her bleak eyes, furrowed brow, and indescribably contorted mouth, ready at any moment to break forth into sighs and laments. All of this presented such a graphic image to me, powerfully seizing the forces of my spirit, and I would not have been able to speak had not this sight been preceded by so many other wondrous ones. On catching sight of me the woman placed her hands on my shoulders, and spoke the following heartfelt words to me: “This cottage in which you now find yourself is the one I have chosen for myself. I must live extremely far from the whole world, because I have suffered so much there and can no longer look upon it. Here I mourn and lament my former happiness. Apart from my servant girl, no one else lives here except my dear lovely little daughter. I myself have renounced all earthly joy and earthly life. However, she should not do that. I cannot allow my daughter to leave me for the time being, because her hour has not yet come. She should receive here the best and most beautiful spiritual treasures that the earth can offer. I have chosen you to teach her these things. I hope you will fulfil your task.

After these words, she took me by the hand and led me into the room of the young girl. She introduced me to her, and left us after a few further instructions. The lessons were to begin at once. But as the first lesson began I noticed that the earlier astonishing events had robbed me of my entire memory. I did not know a thing, and so began my first lesson in the most embarrassing fashion. All of a sudden, however, the lesson went excellently, and I easily explained a world to the girl the nature of which I myself had never learned, or even had the slightest idea. The girl was enthusiastic about the elevated content of my instruction and attentively listened to my words in the most indescribable manner. What was the origin of this miraculous knowledge that I now suddenly possessed? Oh! I was reading the entire text in those loving eyes that were so intensely directed at me, they furnished me with everything, and I only needed to present it back to the girl. The mother had infinite trust in me, and I spent the most wonderful time there.

A year after my arrival at that extraordinary place, the lady of the house sought me out. With a thoroughly serious demeanour, she spoke the following words to me: “The time has come, we have to take leave of one another. The goddess who brought you here will return in a few moments to pick you up. Very soon my daughter will be placed back into the world, in order to live again with people. I cannot give you anything else, except this magic ring. I do not know its effects, but I have to give it to you for reasons unknown to me. In any event, the goddess Fortuna will be able to explain its significance to you.” The doors immediately opened, and the goddess appeared, tearing me from that exalted happiness. I got into the carriage that had brought me there one year previously, and once again I had to travel through the same regions that I had earlier traversed. I barely exchanged further words with the goddess, and had to put the question to her myself about the significance of the ring. The goddess knew all about it. “The ring”, she said, “will have the wonderful effect on you, that you will never be able to think of any female being without remembering the girl that you have just become acquainted with. It will help you to find her again, when within the workings of the world, the friend is in need.” Her words became fulfilled. The parting words of the suffering lady: “My daughter will soon be placed back into the life of the world” continue to deeply reverberate within me. Now that I too have left that magic realm, and have been placed back into this world, my longing is directed towards that being, who also has to return here. My wish is to encounter her again somewhere, in order to save and protect her with my devoted love.



Afterword: Rudolf Steiner’s Early Enigmatic Tale


David W. Wood


Rudolf Steiner published the fairy tale “Der Ring” (The Ring) in August 1884, when he was twenty-three years old.[1] Forgotten for almost 130 years, the tale was never reprinted or included in any subsequent German edition of Steiner’s writings, only becoming rediscovered in a Budapest library archive in 2011.[2] It is translated and made publicly available here for the first time since 1884.

The tale originally appeared in two instalments of the weekly Siebenbürgen or Transylvanian newspaper, the Carlsburger Wochenschrift.[3] The town of Carlsburg (Karlsburg, Alba Iulia), the place in whose newspaper the fairy tale appeared, is a town in the Siebenbürgen region of Romania. In the 1880s Siebenbürgen had a significant German-speaking population, which had emigrated there from Germany in the 12th century. In his autobiography, The Course of My Life, Rudolf Steiner recounts how he personally visited Hermannstadt (Sibiu) in Siebenbürgen in 1889, with his friend Moritz Zitter as his guide.

This 1884 fairy-tale is not the first text ever published by Steiner, but certainly among his earliest extant writings. More significantly, however, it seems to be the first-ever published artistic work by Rudolf Steiner. The first published writings of Steiner were several essays from the years 1882/1883. As Steiner himself relates in his long 1913 autobiographical lecture, the first essays he ever wrote for publication were around 1882 on Goethe’s Theory of Color, but only later made it into print with the help of Karl Julius Schroër.[4] These were then followed by four essays: “Lessing”, “Hermann Hettner”, “Auf der Höhe”, and “Parallels between Shakespeare and Goethe”, all four of which now appear to be lost.

Alongside this essayistic work in the years 1882 and 1883, Steiner was working on his introduction and commentary to the first volume of Goethe’s Natural Scientific Writings. He had received the commission from Joseph Kürschner in September 1882, the first volume was finished a year later, and then published in March 1884. This first volume also contained an introduction by Karl Julius Schröer, dated August 1883, in which he briefly introduced Steiner to the scholarly world.[5] In addition, in June 1884 a summary of some of Steiner’s thoughts on Goethe appeared in the newspaper Deutsche Zeitung under the title: “Goethes Recht in der Naturwissenschaft. Eine Rettung”.[6] From Steiner’s writings and letters, one can see that around the period 1882-1884 he was above all active with his Goethe scientific studies, as well as with philosophical works and literature.

There is no doubt that Rudolf Steiner’s August 1884 fairy tale “The Ring” is a highly enigmatic piece of writing, and could even be called an esoteric tale. How can or should we try to interpret it?

The story begins in the evening in the earthly realm, with two friends walking along and discussing in a street – the Schottengasse – in the city of ‘V’ – i.e. Vienna (‘W’ in the German text, for: Wien). These friends are designated by the initials ‘S’ and ‘Z.’ Rudolf Steiner seems to be openly hidden behind the ‘S’ and his close friend Moritz Zitter behind ‘Z.’ Just after the appearance of this fairy tale, Steiner wrote and published in November 1884 an essay – “Ein freier Blick in die Gegenwart” (A Free Glance at the Present Time) in another Siebenbürgen publication, the Deutsche Lesehalle für alle Stände, which had succeeded the Carlsburger Wochenschrift, and was edited by Moritz Zitter.[7]

After beginning in the terrestrial sphere of a Vienna street and a conversation about love, devotedness and happiness, the tale then proceeds to relate how one of the two friends came to possess a magic ring that makes him remember a young girl he had met and tutored in a small isolated cottage, after being whisked there in the heavenly carriage of the Goddess Fortuna. The appearance of this celestial horse-drawn carriage had also occurred while the protagonist was walking along the street. The young girl in this cottage has a mother who has renounced all earthly life, in a manner similar to the Buddha, and it is from this mother that he receives the magic ring. Her incessant worries about her daughter furthermore recall Mother Demeter’s constant laments for her daughter Persephone, in stories connected with the “Mothers” of the Greek Eleusinian mysteries. As is well-known, Persephone periodically alternates between the upper and lower worlds, and we are told that this young woman too – after being tutored at home for a year by the young man – is soon to return to the earth.

Like the eternal feminine of Goethe’s Faust, and the figure of Lily in Goethe’s Fairy-Tale, the love for this young woman continually uplifts and draws ‘S’ on to encounter her again. Goethe’s Fairy-Tale concludes with the building of a new temple, and accordingly can be read in the prophetic esoteric Christian tradition of the Revelation of John, as Goethe himself admitted to Prince August von Gotha in a letter of December 1795.[8] As just noted, Steiner’s tale “The Ring” also contains a prophecy – one concerning the future destiny of the young girl: “My daughter will soon be placed back into the life of the world.”  

And who is the mysterious figure of “Marina”, who is said to narrate the tale from the life of the author? Both Shakespeare’s Pericles and Schiller’s Demetrius contain figures called Marina, and Steiner was also occupied with Shakespeare and Schiller at this time. Thaisa – the mother of Marina in Shakespeare’s drama – is also connected with the ancient Greek mysteries – this time as a priestess of Diana/Artemis at Ephesus. – Could Steiner’s female fairy-tale narrator be somehow inspired by these earlier literary and cultural models?

Then there is the “magic ring” at the heart and in the title of the tale. – It appears to recall other significant “ancient magical objects” in spiritual history, such as Solomon’s magic and protective ring in the Jewish mystery tradition, or even G.E. Lessing’s later ring parable – another author Steiner was busy reading in the early 1880s.

Finally, the course of the events in the tale is guided by the Goddess Fortuna – the Roman divinity of fortune or fate. Hence, the most fruitful interpretations of this fairy-tale will no doubt be those that take into account Steiner’s other autobiographical indications concerning his enlightenment experiences for the period of the early 1880s. In this respect the protagonist ‘S’ in the fairy-tale says he received the ring sometime earlier: “I had just had a few years under my belt, where I was preparing my spirit for something higher, living in earnest expectation of the time when I was to be initiated into the deeper secrets of science” (Ich hatte soeben die Jahre hinter mir, in denen ich meinen Geist für höheres vorzubereiten hatte und lebte in banger Erwartung auf die Zeit, in welcher ich in die tieferen Geheimnisse der Wissenschaft eingeführt werden sollte). If this does indeed refer to a spiritual event in Rudolf Steiner’s own biography, then it seems to point to around the years 1879-1882, when Steiner attended the Technical College in Vienna, just before starting his editorial work on the natural-scientific writings of Goethe.

Here three later autobiographical accounts of Steiner immediately spring to mind, and all similarly relate to initiation and esoteric experiences:


1). Rudolf Steiner’s Rosicrucian mystery dramas of 1910-1913, which artistically depict a small group of people pursuing the path of initiation. In these mystery dramas we also find a small otherworldly cottage – belonging to the couple Felix and Felicia Balde. The latter – like Marina – just happens to be a teller of enigmatic fairy-tales. All the characters in these Rosicrucian plays are dramatic metamorphoses of historical people personally known to Steiner on the one hand, as well as transformations of the figures in Goethe’s 1795 Fairy-Tale on the other. The character of Felix Balde is based among others on the real-life Austrian herb-gatherer Felix Koguski – a man Steiner met around 1879/1880, while Felicia Balde is likewise inspired by a number of direct personal acquaintances of Steiner, and both are metamorphoses of The Old Man with the Lamp and his Wife respectively from Goethe’s Fairy-Tale.[9]

2). Rudolf Steiner’s long autobiographical lecture of 4 February 1913. There he directly evokes his “occult schooling” around the years 1879-1882, after meeting the herb-gatherer Felix, in connection with the works of the philosopher Fichte, and Goethe’s Faust and natural-scientific writings.[10] And like the 1884 fairy-tale “The Ring”, this 1913 autobiographical lecture is likewise narrated in the unusual impersonal style of the third person.

3). The Course of My Life – Steiner’s autobiography, published in the years 1923-1925. The first chapters tell of Steiner’s early spiritual experiences. One episode in particular relates to the herb-gatherer Felix, and it too refers to the years 1879-1882. Just like the two figures in the 1884 fairy-tale discussing and walking in the “Schottengasse” in Vienna, here we find Steiner again walking along another street in Vienna, the “Alleegasse”, discussing spiritual topics with a person whom he calls an “Initiate”. As we saw, this same Felix was the model for one of the main characters in Steiner’s Rosicrucian mystery dramas.[11]   


These four accounts – the 1884 fairy-tale and the other three texts and autobiographical lecture mentioned above – seem to be deeply intertwined with Rudolf Steiner’s own initiation and destiny. Just as with Goethe’s Rosicrucian poem The Mysteries and Rosicrucian text the Fairy-Tale, Steiner’s own early fairy-tale “The Ring” has countless echoes to many different religions and mystery streams, including the Greek, Roman, Jewish, Buddhist and esoteric Christian traditions. All these presentations immanently and explicitly point to the years 1879-1882 as of great significance for the young Steiner’s spiritual awakening. In Goethe’s Fairy-Tale, the most important mysteries are the “open” ones. Similarly, Rudolf Steiner’s published autobiographical fairy tale “The Ring” of 1884 presents innumerable open secrets or mysteries.                   


David W. Wood is a university researcher in the history of philosophy. Some of his other translations and writings can be found here:


[1] The full title of Steiner’s fairy tale in German is: “Der Ring: Ein Sommermärchen von Rudolf Steiner. Aus des Verfassers Leben mitgetheilt v. Marina.” I would like to thank Professor Dr. Walter Kugler, Dr. David Marc Hoffmann, Dr. Martina Maria Sam, and the Rudolf Steiner Archiv in Dornach, Switzerland, for their kind help, including providing me with transcriptions of the original German text and a photographic scan of the original 1884 Carlsburger Wochenschrift. I am also grateful to Frank Thomas Smith for his feedback and offer to publish this translation and afterword in the SouthernCrossReview.    

[2] It was rediscovered by Lars Engelberger. A copy of the original 1884 Carlsburger Wochenschrift can be found in the National Széchényi Library in Budapest, Hungary. A brief online report of the rediscovery can be found here: http://rs150onair.blogspot.be.

[3] The full name of the publication organ is: Carlsburger Wochenschrift: Organ für Unterhaltung, volkswirtschaftliche und kommunale Interessen. It was edited by August Behal, and published by Volz and Körner. The Carlsburger Wochenschrift began publication in 1881 and ceased three years later in 1884. Steiner’s text appeared in two instalments in the issues of 10 and 17 August 1884. 

[4] These appear to be the two brief essays: “Über das Verhältnis Thomas Seebecks zu Goethes Farbenlehre” and “Hundert Jahre Zurück: Zur Farbenlehre”, updated and published by Steiner in the Chronik des Wiener Goethe-Vereins, which was edited by Schröer, in the years 1886 and 1887 (cf. reprints in GA 30, pp. 477-479).    

[5] See: Karl Julius Schröer, “The Natural Scientific Writings of Goethe” (1884). English translation here:


[6] Reprinted in GA 30, pp. 227-232.   

[7] Reprinted in GA 30, pp. 232-237.   

[8] See J.W. von Goethe to Prince August von Gotha, (21) December 1795, Sophien (–Weimarer) Ausgabe, IV, vol. 10, pp. 351-352.

[9] For further details, see my essay, “Frau Balde and the Library” in the magazine New View (London), Winter 2011, pp. 58-70.

[10] See R. Steiner, Self-Education. Autobiographical Reflections 1861-1893. A Lecture by Rudolf Steiner (Mercury Press).

[11] Rudolf Steiner, Mein Lebensgang, Dornach, 2011 (GA 28, p. 60).