With ghosts we arrive in the spirit-realm, in the realm of essences.
What haunts the universe, and has its occult, “incomprehensible” being there, is precisely the mysterious spook that we call highest essence. And to get to the bottom of this spook, to comprehend it, to discover reality in it (to prove “the existence of God”)—this task men set to themselves for thousands of years; with the horrible impossibility, the endless Danaid-labor, of transforming the spook into a non-spook, the unreal into something real, the spirit into an entire and corporeal person,—with this they tormented themselves to death. Behind the existing world they sought the “thing in itself,” the essence; behind the thing they sought the un-thing.
When one looks to the bottom of anything, i. e. searches out its essence, one often discovers something quite other than what it seems to be; honeyed speech and a lying heart, pompous words and beggarly thoughts, etc. By bringing the essence into prominence one degrades the hitherto misapprehended appearance to a bare semblance, a deception. The essence of the world, so attractive and splendid, is for him who looks to the bottom of it—emptiness; emptiness is == world’s essence (world’s doings). Now, he who is religious does not occupy himself with the deceitful semblance, with the empty appearances, but looks upon the essence, and in the essence has—the truth.
The essences which are deduced from some appearances are the evil essences, and conversely from others the good. The essence of human feeling, e. g., is love; the essence of human will is the good; that of one’s thinking, the true; etc.
What at first passed for existence, such as the world and its like, appears now as bare semblance, and the truly existent is much rather the essence, whose realm is filled with gods, spirits, demons, i. e. with good or bad essences. Only this inverted world, the world of essences, truly exists now. The human heart may be loveless, but its essence exists, God, “who is love”; human thought may wander in error, but its essence, truth, exists; “God is truth,”—etc.
To know and acknowledge essences alone and nothing but essences, that is religion; its realm is a realm of essences, spooks, and ghosts.
The longing to make the spook comprehensible, or to realize non-sense, has brought about a corporeal ghost, a ghost or spirit with a real body, an embodied ghost. How the strongest and most talented Christians have tortured themselves to get a conception of this ghostly apparition! But there always remained the contradiction of two natures, the divine and human, i. e. the ghostly and sensual; there remained the most wondrous spook, a thing that was not a thing. Never yet was a ghost more soul-torturing, and no shaman, who pricks himself to raving fury and nerve-lacerating cramps to conjure a ghost, can endure such soul-torment as Christians suffered from that most incomprehensible ghost.
But through Christ the truth of the matter had at the same time come to light, that the veritable spirit or ghost is—man. The corporeal or embodied spirit is just man; he himself is the ghastly being and at the same time the being’s appearance and existence. Henceforth man no longer, in typical cases, shudders at ghosts outside him, but at himself; he is terrified at himself. In the depth of his breast dwells the spirit of sin; even the faintest thought (and this is itself a spirit, you know) may be a devil, etc.—The ghost has put on a body, God has become man, but now man is himself the gruesome spook which he seeks to get back of, to exorcise, to fathom, to bring to reality and to speech; man is—spirit. What matter if the body wither, if only the spirit is saved? everything rests on the spirit, and the spirit’s or “soul’s” welfare becomes the exclusive goal. Man has become to himself a ghost, an uncanny spook, to which there is even assigned a distinct seat in the body (dispute over the seat of the soul, whether in the head, etc.).
You are not to me, and I am not to you, a higher essence. Nevertheless a higher essence may be hidden in each of us, and call forth a mutual reverence. To take at once the most general, Man lives in you and me. If I did not see Man in you, what occasion should I have to respect you? To be sure you are not Man and his true and adequate form, but only a mortal veil of his, from which he can withdraw without himself ceasing; but yet for the present this general and higher essence is housed in you, and you present before me (because an imperishable spirit has in you assumed a perishable body, so that really your form is only an “assumed” one) a spirit that appears, appears in you, without being bound to your body and to this particular mode of appearance,—therefore a spook. Hence I do not regard you as a higher essence, but only respect that higher essence which “walks” in you; I “respect Man in you.” The ancients did not observe anything of this sort in their slaves, and the higher essence “Man” found as yet little response. To make up for this, they saw in each other ghosts of another sort. The People is a higher essence than an individual, and, like Man or the Spirit of Man, a spirit haunting the individual,—the Spirit of the People. For this reason they revered this spirit, and only so far as he served this or else a spirit related to it (e. g. the Spirit of the Family, etc.) could the individual appear significant; only for the sake of the higher essence, the People, was consideration allowed to the “member of the people.” As you are hallowed to us by “Man” who haunts you, so at every time men have been hallowed by some higher essence or other, like People, Family, and such. Only for the sake of a higher essence has any one been honored from of old, only as a ghost has he been regarded in the light of a hallowed, i. e., protected and recognized person. If I cherish you because I hold you dear, because in you my heart finds nourishment, my need satisfaction, then it is not done for the sake of a higher essence whose hallowed body you are, not on account of my beholding in you a ghost, i. e. an appearing spirit, but from egoistic pleasure; you yourself with your essence are valuable to me, for your essence is not a higher one, is not higher and more general than you, is unique like you yourself, because it is you.
But it is not only man that, “haunts”; so does everything. The higher essence, the spirit, that walks in everything, is at the same time bound to nothing, and only—”appears” in it. Ghosts in every corner!
Here would be the place to pass the haunting spirits in review, if they were not to come before us again further on in order to vanish before egoism. Hence let only a few of them be particularized by way of example, in order to bring us at once to our attitude toward them.
Sacred above all, e. g., is the “holy Spirit,” sacred the truth, sacred are right, law, a good cause, majesty, marriage, the common good, order, the fatherland, etc.