Zones of the Spirit: A Book of Thoughts

Zones of the Spirit: A Book of Thoughts

August Strindberg
August Strindberg

Author: Strindberg, August, 1849-1912
Swedish literature
Zones of the Spirit: A Book of Thoughts











The Knickerbocker press



Seldom has a man gone through such profound religious changes as this Swede, who died last May. The demonic element in him, which spurred him on restlessly, made him scale heaven and fathom hell, gave him glimpses of bliss and damnation. He bore the Cain’s mark on his brow: “A fugitive and a wanderer shalt thou be.”
He was fundamentally religious, for everyone who searches after God is so,—a commonplace truth certainly, but one which needs to be constantly reiterated. And Strindberg’s search was more painful, exact, and persevering than that of most people. He was never content with superficial formulas, but pressed to the heart of the matter, and followed each winding of the labyrinthine problem with endless patience. Too often the Divinity which he thought he had discovered turned out a delusion, to be scornfully rejected the moment afterwards. Until he found the God, whom he worshipped to the end of his days, and whose existence he resolutely maintained against deniers.

As a child he had been brought up in devout belief in God, in submission to the injustice of life, and in faith in a better hereafter. He regarded God as a Father, to Whom he made known his little wants and anxieties. But a youth with hard experiences followed his childhood. The struggle for daily bread began, and his heavenly Father seemed to fail him. He appeared to regard unmoved, from some Olympian height, the desperate struggles of humanity below. Then the defiant element which slumbered in Strindberg wrathfully awoke, and he gradually developed into a free-thinker. It fared with him as it often does with young and independent characters who think. Beginning with dissent from this and that ecclesiastical dogma, his criticism embraced an ever-widening range, and became keener and more unsparing. At last every barrier of respect and reverence fell, the defiant spirit of youth broke like a flood over all religious dogmas, swept them away, and did not stop short of criticising God Himself.
Meanwhile his daily life, with its hard experiences, went on. Books written from every conceivable point of view came into his hands. Greedy for knowledge as he was, he read them all. Those of the free-thinkers supported his freshly aroused incredulity, which as yet needed support. His study of philosophical and scientific works made a clean sweep of what relics of faith remained. Anxiety about his daily bread, attacks from all sides, the alienation of his friends, all contributed towards making the free-thinker into an atheist. How can there be a God when the world is so full of ugliness, of deceit, of dishonour, of vulgarity? This question was bound to be raised at last. About this time he wrote the New Kingdom, full of sharp criticisms of society and Christianity.
As an atheist Strindberg made various attempts to come to terms with the existing state of things. But being a genius out of harmony with his contemporaries, and always longing for some vaster, fairer future, this was impossible for him. When he found that he came to no goal, a perpetual unrest tortured him. His earlier autobiographic writings appeared, marked by a strong misanthropy, and composed with an obscure consciousness of the curse: “A fugitive and a wanderer shalt thou be.”
At last his consciousness becomes clear and defined. He recognises that he is a lost soul in hell already, though outwardly on earth. This was the most extraordinary period in Strindberg’s life. He lived in the Quartier Latin in Paris, in a barely furnished room, with retorts and chemical apparatus, like a second Faust at the end of the nineteenth century. By experiments he discovered the presence of carbon in sulphur, and considered that by doing so he “had solved a great problem, upset the ruling systems of chemistry, and gained for himself the only immortality allowed to mortals.” He came to the conclusion that the reason why he had gradually become an atheist was that “the Unknown Powers had left the world so long without a sign of themselves.” The discovery made him thankful, and he lamented that he had no one to thank. From that time the belief in “unknown powers” grew stronger and stronger in him. It seems to have been the result of an almost complete, long, and painful solitude.
At this time his brain worked more feverishly, and his nerves were more sensitive than usual. At last he reached the (for an atheist) astounding conclusion: “When I think over my lot, I recognise that invisible Hand which disciplines and chastens me, without my knowing its purpose. Must I be humbled in order to be lifted up, lowered in order to be raised? The thought continually recurs to me, ‘Providence is planning something with thee, and this is the beginning of thy education.'”[1]
Soon after this he gave up his chemical experiments and took up alchemy, with a conviction, almost pathetic in its intensity, that he would succeed in making gold. Although his dramas had already been performed in Paris, a success which had fallen to the lot of no other Swedish dramatist, he forgot all his successes as an author, and devoted himself solely to this new pursuit, to meet again with disappointment.
On March 29, 1897, he began the study of Swedenborg, the Northern Seer. A feeling of home-sickness after heaven laid hold of him, and he began to believe that he was being prepared for a higher existence. “I despise the earth,” he writes, “this unclean world, these men and their works. I seem to myself a righteous man, like Job, whom the Eternal is putting to the test, and whom the purgatorial fires of this world will soon make worthy of a speedy deliverance.”
More and more he seemed to approach Catholicism. One day he, the former socialist and atheist, bought a rosary. “It is pretty,” he said, “and the evil spirits fear the cross.” At the same time, it must be confessed that this transition to the Christian point of view did not subdue his egotism and independence of character. “It is my duty,” he said, “to fight for the maintenance of my ego against all influences which a sect or party, from love of proselytising, might bring to bear upon it. The conscience, which the grace of my Divine protector has given me, tells me that.” And then comes a sentence full of joy and sorrow alike, which seems to obliterate his whole past. “Born with a home-sick longing after heaven, as a child I wept over the squalor of existence and felt myself strange and homeless among men. From childhood upwards I have looked for God and found the Devil.” He becomes actually humble, and recognises that God, on account of his pride, his conceit, his ὕβρις, had sent him for a time to hell. “Happy is he whom God punishes.”
The return to Christ is complete. All his faith, all his hope now rest solely on the Crucified, whom he had once demoniacally hated.
He now devoted himself entirely to the study of Swedenborg. He felt that in some way the life of this strange man had foreshadowed his own. Just as Swedenborg (1688-1772) had passed from the profession of a mathematician to that of a theologian, a mystic, and finally a ghost-seer and theosoph, so Strindberg passed from the worldly calling of a romance-writer to that of a preacher of Christian patience and reconciliation. He had occasional relapses into his old perverse moods, but the attacks of the rebellious spirit were weaker and weaker. He told a friend who asked his opinion regarding the theosophical concept of Karma, that it was impossible for him to belong to a party which denied a personal God, “Who alone could satisfy his religious needs.” In a life so full of intellectual activity as his had been, Strindberg had amassed an enormous amount of miscellaneous knowledge. When he was nearly sixty he began to collect and arrange all his experiences and investigations from the point of view he had then attained. Thus was composed his last important work, Das Blau Buch, a book of amazing copiousness and originality. Regarding it, the Norwegian author Nils Kjaer writes in the periodical Verdens Gang: “More comprehensive than any modern collection of aphorisms, chaotic as the Koran, wrathful as Isaiah, as full of occult things as the Bible, more entertaining than any romance, keener-edged than most pamphlets, mystical as the Cabbala, subtle as the scholastic theology, sincere as Rousseau’s confession, stamped with the impress of incomparable originality, every sentence shining like luminous letters in the darkness—such is this book in which the remarkable writer makes a final reckoning with his time and proclaims his faith, as pugnaciously as though he were a descendant of the hero of Lutzen.” The book, in truth, forms a world apart, from which all lying, hypocrisy, and conventional contentment is banished; in it is heard the stormy laughter of a genius who has freed himself from the fetters of earth, the proclamation of the creed of a strange Christian who interprets and reveres Christ in his own fashion, the challenge of an original and creative mind which believes in its own continuance, the expression of the yearning of a lonely soul to place itself in harmonious relations with the universe.
An especially interesting feature of the Blau Buch is the expression of Strindberg’s views regarding the great poets, artists, and thinkers of the past and present. He speaks of Wagner and Nietzsche, the two antipodes; of Horace, who, after many wanderings, recognised the hand of God; of Shakespeare, who had lived through the experience of every character he created; of Goethe, regarding whom he remarks, with evident satisfaction, “In old age, when he grew wise, he became a mystic, i.e. he recognised that there are things in heaven and earth of which the Philistines never dream.” Of Maeterlinck, he says, “He knows how to caricature his own fairest creations”; and accuses Oscar Wilde of want of originality. Regarding Hegel, he notes with pleasure that at the end of his life he returned to Christianity. With deep satisfaction he writes, “Hegel, after having gone very roundabout ways, died in 1831, of cholera, as a simple, believing Christian, putting aside all philosophy and praying penitential psalms.” In Rousseau he recognises a kindred spirit, in so far as the Frenchman, like himself, hated all that was unnatural. “One can agree with Rousseau when he says, ‘All that comes from the Creator’s hand is perfect, but when it falls into the hands of man it is spoilt.'”
The Blau Buch marks the summit of Strindberg’s chequered sixty years’ pilgrimage. Beneath him lies the varicoloured landscape of his past life, now lit up with gleams of sunshine, now draped in dark mists, now drowned in storms of rain. But Strindberg, the poet and thinker, has escaped from both dark and bright days alike; he stands peacefully on the summit, above the trivialities, the cares, and bitternesses of life, a free man. He is like Prometheus, fettered to the rock for having bestowed on men the gift of fire, but liberated after he has learnt his lesson. In his calm is something resembling the dignity of Goethe’s old age. As the latter sat on the Kickelhahn, looking down on Thuringia, and saw the panorama of his life pass before him, so Strindberg takes a retrospect in his Blau Buch. It is the canticle of his life, a hymn of thankfulness for the recovered faith in which he has found peace. At its conclusion he thus sums up:
“Rousseau’s early doctrine regarding the curse of mere learning should be repondered.”
“A new Descartes should arise and teach the men to doubt the untruths of the sciences.”
“Another Kant should write a new Critique of Pure Reason and re-establish the doctrine of the Categorical Imperative, which, however, is already to be found in the Ten Commandments and the Gospels.”
“A prophet should be born to teach men the simple meaning of life in a few words. It has already been so well summed up: ‘Fear God, and keep His commandments,’ or ‘Pray and work.'”
“All the errors and mistakes which we have made should serve to instil into us a lively hatred of evil, and to impart a fresh impulse to good; these we can take with us to the other side, where they will bloom and bear fruit. That is the true meaning of life, at which the obstinate and impenitent cavil, in order to save themselves trouble.”
“Pray, but work; suffer, but hope; keeping both the earth and the stars in view. Do not try and settle permanently, for it is a place of pilgrimage; not a home, but a halting-place. Seek the truth, for it is to be found, but only in one place, with the One who Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

[1] Strindberg’s Inferno.


The Thirteenth Axiom
The Rustic Intelligence of the “Beans”
The Hoopoo, or An Unusual Occurrence
Bad Digestion
The Song of the Sawyers
Al Mansur in the Gymnasium
The Nightingale in the Vineyard
The Miracle of the Corn-crakes
Phantasms which are Real
Crex, Crex!
The Electric Battery and the Earth Circuit
Improper and Unanswerable Questions
Superstition and Non-Superstition
Through Faith to Knowledge
The Enchanted Room
Concerning Correspondences
The Green Island
Swedenborg’s Hell
Preliminary Knowledge Necessary
Perverse Science
Truth in Error
Eternal Punishment
A World of Delusion
The Conversion of the Cheerful Pagan, Horace
Cheerful Paganism and its Doctrine of Hell
Faith the Chief Thing
Paying for Others
The Lice-King
The Art of Life
The Mitigation of Destiny
The Good and the Evil
Modesty and the Sense of Justice
Human Fate
Dark Rays
Blind and Deaf
The Disrobing Chamber
The Character Mask
Youth and Folly
When I was Young and Stupid
Constant Illusions
The Merits of the Multiplication-Table
Under the Prince of this World
The Idea of Hell
Somnambulism and Clairvoyance in Everyday Life
Practical Measures against Enemies
The Goddess of Reason
Stars Seen by Daylight
The Right to Remorse
A Religious Theatre
Through Constraint to Freedom
The Praise of Folly
The Inevitable
The Poet’s Sacrifice
The Function of the Philistines
The Return of Christ
Good Words
Severe and not Severe
Yeast and Bread
The Man of Development
Sins of Thought
Sins of Will
The Study of Mankind
Friend Zero
Affable Men
Cringing before the Beast
Ecclesia Triumphans
Logic in Neurasthenia
My Caricature
The Inexplicable
Old-time Religion
The Seduced become Seducers
Large-hearted Christianity
Reconnection with the Aërial Wire
The Art of Conversion
The Superman
To be a Christian is not to be a Pietist
Strength and Value of Words
The Black Illuminati
Fury-worship as a Penal Hallucination
Amerigo or Columbus
A Circumnavigator of the Globe
The Poet’s Children
Faithful in Little Things
The Unpracticalness of Husk-eating
A Youthful Dream for Seven Shillings
Envy Nobody!
The Galley-slaves of Ambition
Hard to Disentangle
The Art of Settling Accounts
Growing Old Gracefully
The Eight Wild Beasts
Deaf and Blind
Children are Wonder-Children
Men-resembling Men
Christ is Risen
“Life Woven of the Same Stuff as our Dreams”
The Gospel of the Pagans
Punished by the Imagination
Bankruptcy of Philosophy
A Whole Life in an Hour
The After-Odour
Peaches and Turnips
The Web of Lies
A Suffering God
The Atonement
When Nations Go Mad
The Poison of Lies
Murderous Lies
Innocent Guilt
The Charm of Old Age
The Ring-System
Lust, Hate, and Fear, or the Religion of the Heathen
“Whom the Gods Wish to Destroy”
The Slavery of the Prophet
Absurd Problems
The Crooked Rib
White Slavery
Inextricable Confusion
Mirage Pictures
Trifle not with Love
A “Taking” Religion
The Sixth Sense
Exteriorisation of Sensibility
Telepathic Perception
Morse Telepathy
Nisus Formativus, or Unconscious Sculpture
The Reactionary Type
The Hate of Parasites
A Letter from the Dead
A Letter from Hell
An Unconscious Medium
The Revenant
The Meeting in the Convent
The Difficult Art of Lying
Religion and Scientific Intuition
The Freed Thinker
Primus inter pares
Heathen Imaginations
Thought Bound by Law
Credo quia (et-si) absurdum
The Fear of Heaven
The Goat-god Pan and the Fear of the Pan-pipe
Their Gospel
The Deposition of the Apes
The Secret of the Cross
Examination and Summer Holidays
Veering and Tacking
Attraction and Repulsion
The Double
Paw or Hand
The Thousand-Years’ Night of the Apes
The Favourite
Scientific Villainies
Necrobiosis, i.e. Death and Resurrection
Secret Judgment
Hammurabi’s Inspired Laws Received from the Sun-God
Strauss’s Life of Christ
Christianity and Radicalism
Where are We?
Hegel’s Christianity
“Men of God’s Hand”
Painting Things Black
The Thorn in the Flesh
Despair and Grace
The Last Act
Consequences of Learning
Rousseau Again
Materialised Apparitions
The Art of Dying
Can Philosophy Bring any Blessing to Mankind?
Goethe on the Bible
“Now we Can Fly Too! Hurrah”
The Fall and Original Sin
The Gospel
Religious Heathen
The Pleasure-Garden
The Happiness of Love
Our Best Feelings
The Power of Love
The Box on the Ear
Saul, afterwards Called Paul
A Scene from Hell
The Jewel-Casket or his Better Half
The Mummy-Coffin
In the Attic
The Sculptor
On the Threshold at Five Years of Age
Goethe on Christianity and Science
Summa Summarum

Zones of the Spirit


(Prefixed to the Third Swedish Edition)

I had read how Goethe had once intended to write a Breviarium Universale, a book of edification for the adherents of all religions. In my Historical Miniatures I have attempted to trace God’s ways in the history of the world; I included Christianity in my survey by commencing with Israel, but perhaps I made the mistake of ranging other religions by the side of Christianity, while they ought to have stood below it.
A year passed. I felt myself constrained by inward impulses to write a fairly unsectarian breviary; a word of wisdom for each day in the year. For that purpose I collected the sacred books of all religions, in order to extract from them “sayings” on which to write. But the books did not open themselves to me! The Vedas and Zend-Avesta were sealed, and did not yield a single saying; only the Koran gave one, but that was a lion! (page 45). Then I determined to alter my design. I formed the plan of writing apothegms of simply worldly wisdom regarding men, and of calling the book He

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