Gold for Soul and Light for Spirit 

Gold for Soul and Light for Spirit 

An Alchemical Conversation 

David Tresemer, PhD 

First published Spring 2015 


The great writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) spent much of his time attending to the requirements of his government position (he was privy council to the duke, and planned highways, silver mines, university buildings) and making necessary decisions for his large family household. On the side, he wrote scripts for plays, including the legend of Dr. Faust, which he revised right up to his death. Goethe also wrote The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily in the style of fairy tale, allegory, and fantasy. At one point in the story, the mystical snake, having spoken with the bronze king and the silver king, meets the gold king. The gold king asks the snake, “What is more precious than gold?” A king by his nature likely considers himself at a peak of social development, and this one has passed beyond the stages of bronze and silver. Gold! One must hold it in its 24-karat pure state to understand its great value, the highest regal function of the mineral kingdom. In the great tradition of dragons and plutocrats, one can feel satisfied with such a treasure. To be a king made of gold must bring with it a sense of fulfillment, radiating warmth, preciousness, and value.  

Yet the gold king asks, “What is more precious than gold?” It might have been a mocking question, but unfolding events show that this king asks in sincerity, implying that a characteristic of gold, once achieved rather than merely yearned for, is a kind of humility. 

The snake (whom we will find at the end of the tale to be the messenger of the most powerful spirit realms) does not hesitate to answer “Light!” this answer implies that beyond the pinnacle of corporeality (in the mineral kingdom, gold, and in the social realm, kingship) one can seek, and perhaps become, pure light. A verse from Rudolf Steiner begins, “In purest outpoured light shimmers the divinity of the world.” Before manifestation of anything in this world comes the shimmering of divinity through light. We can recall the auras and halos depicted by great painters, and our own experiences of radiance from some of the things in the world. One becomes aware of the mystery of light, its action sometimes as wave and sometimes as particle; and its intelligence—how it seems to know when the investigator is observing. Light sets the standard for the ultimate in velocity, the key relationship between matter and energy (in E=mc2, c is the velocity of light), as well as the goal of spiritual practice. Light is the carrier of blessing. We are blessed by light. From the snake we learn that light is more important than gold and kingship. 

In this tale, we have the shortest answer for what is soul and what is spirit: gold for soul and light for spirit. Gold tells the tale of the “I” working with the soul’s help in realms of densest matter. One begins with mineral substance, and must refine that substance. All metals are hidden in rock and must be teased out with water and fire. The alchemist struggles to refine further and further, to find the metals in the slag, and to elevate those metals to gold, both psychic and physical, symbol and shining metal—the treasure refined from the struggles of the soul. 

Light summarizes the work of spirit. It reaches into our world of senses, yet beckons toward the inner light of inspiration and intuition. The accomplishment of the soul as gold requires a light that dips into our world, and blesses us, revealing the shine of the gold. In the Waldorf school curriculum for the eighth grade, the teacher warms a piece of gold in flame to the point that it glows. The quality of that glow can never be forgotten. 

I feel satisfied with the snake’s answer, pointing from soul to spirit. But the gold king surprises me by inquiring further, “And what is more precious than light?” The snake immediately replies, “Conversation!” The king does not ask again, because he has found the final answer. 

In this brief and potent exchange, there is a trajectory from the common people to the king; from the mineral earth to its highest refinement in gold as the height of the soul; from king and gold to light as emblem of spirit; and finally to the exchange in speech, gesture, and feeling between two human beings. This trajectory gathers all that came before as a foundation for what comes next. The final includes the former. The most comprehensive is exchange, “I” firing “I,” engendering the marriage of Anthropos and Sophia and Christos. This is the basis of anthroposophic psychology: whole-soul conversation. 

David Tresemer, PhD, teaches in the certificate program in Anthroposophic Counseling Psychology ( He has recently edited a book of contributions to this new field, entitled The Counselor… As If Soul and Spirit Matter.