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Man's Position in the Cosmic Whole, the Platonic World-Year

Lecture by Dr. Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, January 28th 1917
GA 174

(as published in Anthroposophic News Sheet 8th of January 1940 No. 1-2)

Lecture 11 of 12 in the volume: Historically, The Karma of Untruthfulness, Part 2 of 2 (to see the on-line version of this lecture series, click here). Published in German as: Zeitgeschichte Betrachtungen. Das Karma der Unwahrhaftigkeit. Zweiter Teil. Kosmische und menschliche Geschichte. Presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

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Lecture by Rudolf Steiner, delivered at
Dornach on the 28th of January, 1917.

From stenographic notes, unrevised by the lecturer.

To-day I shall endeavour to speak of more general things, perhaps in the form of aphoristic considerations, and on Tuesday I shall describe the significance of our anthroposophical spiritual science for the present time, and for the evolution of humanity. On that occasion, I would also like to speak of something which is indeed worthy of our consideration, for, on the one hand, it will be a kind of retrospection of our activity and, on the other hand, it will be a description of certain things which may be important for the whole way of judging our spiritual-scientific movement and of the way in which we stand within it. I think that at the present moment it is necessary to consider such things more closely and to give them our best attention.

I shall begin to-day with the description of some of the things which enable us to feel, as it were, our position in the universe. The human being of the materialistic age really feels himself, as it were, abandoned and lonely in the midst of the universe. You see, if we cut off a finger, or a hand, or if we amputate a leg of a human being, or if we take away from him something which is connected with his physical, bodily being, he will feel that the single part belongs to the whole body. In earlier times of human evolution, the human beings had different kinds of feelings. Not only did they feel that the hand, the arm or the leg formed part of their being, but they also felt that they themselves formed part of a whole. In regard to these earlier times, one could speak of a group-ego in an entirely different way than we do now; the families and tribes felt, throughout many generations, that they were a unity, a whole. We have often explained these things. But in these earlier times of human evolution still other feelings existed in regard to external physical life: the human beings felt, as it were, that they were standing within the whole universe, that they had been formed from out the whole universe. Just as we now feel that the finger or the hand are parts of our whole organism, so the human beings of a remote past felt: The sun is up there, in the sky; it travels along its course; that which constitutes the sun, is not entirely disconnected with us; we are a portion of that space through which the sun travels. And we are a portion of the universe which the moon brings into a certain rhythm. In short, the universe was experienced as a great organism and the human beings felt that they formed part of it, just as the finger now feels that it forms part of the body. The fact that this feeling and sensation has more or less been lost, is connected to a great extent with the gradual rise of materialism. At the present time, modern science in particular scorns to attribute any special value to the fact that we are standing within the cosmos. Science looks upon the human being, such as he presents himself as an individual corporality, investigates his single parts anatomically and physiologically and describes the observations which have thus been made. Science no longer has the habit of considering the human being as a member of the whole organism of the universe, in so far as this may be perceived physically.

Human observation, and also scientific observation, must return to a manner of contemplation which once more incorporates the human being with the whole universe, with the cosmos. The human being must feel once more that he is standing within the whole cosmos. He will no longer be able to do this in the same way in which this has been done in the past; he must achieve this by enlarging the abstract science of the present time and by contemplating the individual human being with the aid of certain definite ideas and considerations; I shall indicate a few of these ideas, in order to show the direction of a future scientific manner of thinking, but this future scientific thought will, at the same time, be far more human than our modern scientific thought, and this new manner of thinking must arise if we are to find once more our consciousness within the cosmic whole.

You know that the so-called vernal point, that is to say, the point where the sun rises in the spring, cannot always be found at the same place, but that it advances. It advances along that circle which we designate as the Zodiac. We know that this vernal point is designated. — and has always been designated for a long time, ever since humanity is able to think — by indicating that place in the Zodiac which coincides with the vernal point. In the 8th century before the Mystery of Golgotha, until about the 15th century after the Mystery of Golgotha, the sun could be seen rising in the spring in the sign of Aries, but not always at exactly the same place, for the vernal-point, the point where the sun rises, kept on advancing. Throughout the above-mentioned length, of time, it traveled through the sign of Aries. Since that time, the vernal point has advanced to the sign of Pisces. I must point out expressly that modern astronomy does not make its calculations upon the foundation of these signs, so that the calendars still indicate the vernal point in the sign of Aries, where it does not stand, in reality. Astronomy has maintained the accepted ideas of a former cycle of time and simply divides the whole Zodiac circle into twelve parts, completely ignoring the signs themselves and simply designating every twelfth part of the circle as a Zodiac sign; this subdivision will be maintained even though the vernal point advances. Our own calendar, instead, shows how matters really stand. But this is not so important, just now. The essential thing to bear in mind is that the vernal point advances along the whole Zodiac circle, so that the point where the sun rises is always a little further on. The vernal point must travel along the whole Zodiac and it will then return to its point of departure. The time required for this will be about 25,920 years. These 25,920 years are also designated as the so-called PLATONIC YEAR. Thus, the platonic year is a year of great duration. It embraces the time employed by the vernal point, by the point where the sun rises in the spring, to travel through the Zodiac. The time during which the sun's rising point has once more returned to its point of departure consequently embraces 25,920 years. The indications vary according to the various calculations, but just now the exact figures do not matter so much; the essential point to be borne in mind is the rhythm which these figures contain. It is possible to imagine that a great world-rhythm is contained in the fact that this movement, resulting from the explanations which I have just now given to you, always returns to its point of departure after 25,920 years.

Thus we may say: These 25,920 years are most important for the life of the sun, because during that period the sun's life passes through a unity, through a real unity, a complete whole. The next. 25,920 years are a repetition. Thus we obtain a rhythmic repetition of this unity, consisting of 25,920 years.

After having considered this great world-year, let us now consider something which is quite small and is intimately connected with our life between birth and death, that is to say, with our life, in so far as we are human beings of the physical cosmos. Let us consider this, to begin with. Undoubtedly, a respiration, consisting of one inspiration and of one expiration, is most important for our life within a physical body; our physical life is, after all, based upon the fact that the breath is drawn in and that it is sent out again. If our respiratory process were to be interrupted, we would not be able to live, physically. A respiration is indeed something very significant. Our breath brings us the air, which fills us with life, in the form in which it is able to do so; through our organism, we transform this air, so that it becomes a deathly air, which would kill us if we were to breathe it in again, in the condition in which it is immediately after we have breathed it out.

On the average, a human being breathes 18 times a minute. This may, of course, vary, for our breathing is different in our youth, and in old age, but if we take an average, we obtain as a normal figure for the respiration, 18 breaths a minute. We thus renew our life rhythmically 18 times a minute. Let us now see how often we do this in one day. In one hour this would be equal to 18 x 60 = 1080. In 24 hours: 1080 x 24 = 25,920, that is to say, 25,920 times.

You see, the way in which our life takes its course in one day, has a most peculiar rhythm,. If we take one respiration as a unity, as a life-unity, this is very significant for us, since our life is maintained by the rhythmical repetition of the respiration. One day gives us exactly the same number of respiratory rhythms, as the number of years which the sun employs in order to lead back its vernal point to its point of departure. That is to say: if we imagine that one respiration is one year in miniature, we pass through one platonic year in miniature, so that in one day we have a reproduction, a microcosmic reproduction, of one platonic year. This is extremely important, for it shows us that our respiratory process, that is to say, something which takes place within our human being, is subjected to the same rhythm — differing only in time — as the rhythm which, on a large scale, lies at the foundation of the rhythm of the sun's course.

It is important to place such a fact before our soul. For if we transform into a feeling what these explanations convey, this feeling will be of such a kind that it tells us: We are a reproduction of the macrocosm. It is not just a phrase, not only empty talk, if we say that man is an image of the macrocosm, for this can be proved in detail. This can also make you feel the sound foundation of all the laws which come from spiritual science, because they are all based upon this intimate knowledge of the inner connections, existing in the universe, but it is not always possible to set forth clearly every detail.

When considering such things, we should, of course, realise, above everything else, that the human being is in part torn out of the whole universe. Seen as a whole, he stands within the rhythm of the universe, but at the same time he is, in a certain way, free; he modifies certain things, so that there is not an EXACT harmony, in every case. But the possibility of human freedom lies in the very fact that a perfect harmony does not always exist. The harmony, however, which exists as a whole, contains the fact that man stands within the whole cosmos.

The observations which I have made just now, had to be made for a special reason, so that the things which I shall now tell you may not be misunderstood. After having considered the respiration, let us now consider a greater life-element, the next greatest life-element, namely, the alternating conditions of WAKING and SLEEPING. Our respiration may be looked upon as the smallest life-element. But let us now consider the alternating states of sleeping and waking. Indeed, in a certain way, we may consider the alternation of sleeping and waking in analogy with the breathing process.

You know that I have frequently described how the astral body and the ego are taken up by us when we awake, and how we let them out when we fall asleep; I have frequently described this as a respiration, as a breath which is drawn in and sent out again during the course of one day and of one night. We may even contemplate this in a far more materialistic sense. When we breathe, the air goes in and it goes out. The air is therefore drawn in and it is breathed out again, so that this process simply sets forth an oscillation of material substance: in and out, in and out. In an entirely similar way, we may see a rhythmical process in the alternating conditions of sleeping and waking. For when we take up in ourselves our ego and our astral body, upon awakening in the morning, our etheric body is pushed back ... it is pushed back from the head, more into the other members of our organism. And when we fall asleep once more, and send our astral body and ego out of our body, then we may find, for instance that the etheric body spreads out in our head, in the same way in which it also spreads out in the whole inferior part of our body. Thus we have an incessant rhythmic process. The etheric body is pushed down — and we wake up; it remains down there while we are awake. When we fall asleep, it is once more pushed up into the head. And so it goes up and down, up and down, in the course of 24 hours, just as our breath goes in and out, in and out. Thus, we have a movement of the etheric, taking place in the course of 24 hours. Of course, also here irregularities may be found in the human being, for his capacity of freedom, his degree of freedom, are based upon this; but, on the whole, the things which I have explained to you may be taken as valid.

Now we might say: Something, therefore, breathes within us, yet it is another kind of breathing, it is something which rises and falls ... it breathes within us in the course of one day, in the same way in which something breathes within us during the 18th part of a minute. Something breathes within us in the course of one day. Let us now see if that which breathes within us in the course of one day, if the rising and falling of our etheric body, which thus breathes within us, also sets forth something which resembles a circular movement, a return to a point of departure. In that case, we would have to investigate what 25,920 days really are. For 25,920 of these breaths, in which the etheric rises and falls, would have to correspond, in their rise and fall, to a reproduction of the platonic year. Just as one day corresponds to 25,920 respirations, so 25,920 days should also correspond to something in human life. How many years are 25, 920 days? Let us see.

Let us take the year with an average of 365¼ days, let us make a division and then we shall obtain as a result of the division

25,920 ÷ 365.25 = about 71

that is to say, about 71 years, which is the average duration of human life. Of course, the human being has his freedom and frequently he may grow much older. But you know that the patriarchal age is indicated as 70 years. Thus you have the duration of human life equal to 25,920 days, 25,920 of such great breaths! Once more, we obtain a cycle which reproduces microcosmically in a wonderful way the macrocosmic happenings. Thus we may say: If we live one day, we reproduce the platonic world-year with our 25,920 respirations; if we live 71 years, we again reproduce the platonic year with 25,920 great breaths, with the rising and falling pertaining to our waking up and our falling asleep.

We may now pass on from this to something which would lead us too far, if I would explain it in detail to-day; but I shall indicate what may be felt occultly.

We are enveloped by the air. The air supplies the possibility for our nearest life-element, which takes place in the rhythm of our respiration. We therefore obtain this rhythm from the air, which exists upon the earth. Who gives us the other rhythm? — The earth itself. For this rhythm is regulated through the fact that the earth turns round its own axis, if we wish to speak in the modern astronomic sense; it turns round its own axis during the change of day and night. Thus we may say: The air breathes within us when our breath goes in and out. Through the movement round its own axis, through the change of day and night, the earth breathes within us and causes us to wake up and to fall asleep, the earth breathes and pulses within us. In respect to the earth, the duration of our life may now be considered as one day of a living being, that draws its breath during the course of one day and of one night, not during the 18th part of a minute. For such a Being, 70 years would be equal to one day; in 70 years it would live through one of its days. And the changes of day and night, in the ordinary sense are the respiration of that Being.

You see, this enables us to feel that we are standing within a more encompassing life, which merely has a longer respiration; that is to say, a respiration which takes its course in 24 hours — and a longer day, namely, 70–71 years. We may thus experience ourselves within a living Being, whose pulse and breathing rhythms are much longer than ours. This shows you that it is absolutely justified to speak of the microcosm as an image of the macrocosm, for the reproductiveness can be demonstrated with figures. When we therefore say: The air breathes within us, it uses itself up whilst breathing within us, and the earthly element breathes within us, in so far as we belong to that greater life-Being, we might eventually throw up the question: Perhaps we are not only connected with the air on the earth, and with the whole earth and its rhythms of day and night, but also with the rise of the sun, with its return to the point of departure in the course of one platonic year? Perhaps we are in some way also connected with this?

These things are of greatest interest. But modern science passes them by, as if they did not exist at all, because such things are not taken into consideration by modern science. In a very tangible way, I have once come across the difference between modern science and that science which must arise one day. Perhaps I have already told you that in the autumn of 1889 I was summoned to collaborate in the Goethe and Schiller Archives at Weimar, for the preparation of Goethe's scientific writings, which I have then brought out for the larger Weimar edition of Goethe's works, the so-called “Sophia Edition.” My task was to study in the documents left by Goethe — everything connected with his anatomical, physiological, zoological, botanical, mineralogical, geological and also meteorological studies. Goethe made extraordinarily numerous observations on the weather, in the course of one year. He made observations on the weather particularly in connection with the heights of the barometer, and it is really surprising to see the great number of charts which Goethe drew up for meteorological purposes. Not many of these charts have been published, some of these have been reproduced in my edition, but very little of this material has been published. Just as fever curves are now registered, so Goethe registered the barometrical heights of one particular place, indeed, of several places, upon charts, by marking the barometrical heights on one particular day. He then observed them a few hours later, again a few hours later, and so forth. He did this for whole months, and thus endeavoured to discover the corresponding curves for various localities.

Modern science has not yet advanced very far in the handling of barometrical curves. Goethe studied these curves, for he saw in them almost an analogue of the pulse which is registered on fever charts; that is to say, he wished to trace a kind of pulse of the earth, its constant regular pulse, of course. What did Goethe really aim at? — He wished to prove that the oscillations of the barometrical heights in the course of one year are not so irregular as ordinary meteorology assumes them to be, but that they contain a certain regularity, which is merely modified by inferior time-conditions. Goethe wished to prove that the gravitation of the earth represents its respiration, in the course of one year; he wished to indicate the very thing which also comes to expression in the human respiration. That is what he wished to re-discover in the barometrical heights. In future, THESE kinds of scientific observations will arise, for the microcosmic and the macrocosmic processes will once more be investigated. Goethe drew up quite a number of charts, in order to study the pulse of the earth, its respiration, the breath of the earth which goes in and out, as he himself designated it.

Also in this connection you may therefore see that in Goethe we may find an endeavour to work in the direction of a science which will only arise in future. At the same time, we obtain a picture of the enormous diligence applied by Goethe; in order to reach the results which he actually did reach. In Goethe, we never discover mere statements, as is so frequently the case in other people. When others frequently speak of the pulse of the earth, they merely have in mind an image, a metaphor, and this is nothing but an aperçu for them. But when Goethe advances a statement, which he often recapitulates in three or four sentences ... for instance, when he says that the earth breathes in and out ... then he always draws up quite a number of tables and charts upon which he bases his statements, and there is always real experience behind them, whereas the majority of people say: “Real experience! This is but an echo, a fog!” Goethe in particular may show us that it is necessary to have something behind us whenever we advance a statement.

Also in this way, we may therefore reach the point of recognising that the earth itself breathes just as if it were a great living being.

Let us now try to see if it is possible to speak of a similar breathing process when we place ourselves within the whole platonic year of the sun. In that case, we would have 25,920 years. Let us now consider these 25,920 years as ONE year and investigate its relationship to one day. If we wish to consider the whole platonic year as one year and if we then wish to discover what would constitute one of its days, we would have to divide it by 365¼, and this would give us one day. If the whole represents one year and if we then divide it by 365¼, we obtain ONE day. Let us see what result we reach when we divide 25,920 years by 365¼. We obtain 71 years, which is the duration of a human life. In other words: the duration of a human life is equal to one day within the whole platonic year. In relation with the length of a human life, a whole platonic year may therefore be considered in such a way that we ourselves, as physical beings that pass through the length of our human life, are breathed out by that which is active within a whole platonic year, and in that case, 71 years, considered as ONE DAY, would correspond to one breath of that Being who passes through the platonic year.

Within the 18th part of a minute, we are therefore a life-member of the air; within one day, we are a life-member of the earth; within the duration of our life, we may consider ourselves in such a way that at the moment of our birth we are breathed out by that great Being for whom a platonic year is equivalent to one year; we are breathed out and breathed in again in one of its days. If we consider, our physical body, we have within this physical body which passes through its patriarchal age, one breath of that great Being, whose life is so long, that 25,920 years correspond to one year. Our patriarchal age (71 years) is in that case equivalent to one day of that Being. If we therefore think of a Being that lives together with our earth, alternating day and night in the course of 24 hours, this would represent one respiration for our etheric body; the true respiration of our astral body would be equivalent 1/18th part of a minute.

There you have an analogue for a very ancient statement. Consider the following fact: In ancient times, people imagined something which was designated as the days and nights of Brahma. There you have the analogue. Now imagine a spiritual Being, for whom our 71 years are equivalent to one breath of our air; in that case, we would be the breath of that Being. Through the fact that we are placed into the world, as tiny mites when we are born, we are breathed out by that Being who passes through the platonic year, as if it were one year, a Being who therefore measures its age in platonic years. That Being consequently breathes us out into the universe and when we die, it breathes us in again. We are thus breathed out and we are breathed in again.

Let us now return to the earth. It breathes us in and out in the course of one day. And let us now go to the air, which forms part of the earth. It breathes us in and out in 1/18th of a minute; yet the number 25,920 always constitutes a return to the point of departure. This shows us a regular rhythm; we feel that we are standing within the universe; we learn to know that human life, and one day of human life, are, for greater and more encompassing Beings, equivalent to one of the breaths which we ourselves draw in our own life. And if we take up this knowledge through our feeling; the old saying, according to which we repose in the bosom of the universe, acquires an extraordinary significance.

Such things undoubtedly lie in the direction of a scientific way of looking at things, and in order to make the right use of these figures, which are known to everybody and which may be found in every encyclopædia, we shall only require a. spiritual-scientific attitude. If these figures are once used in the right way and if their true value is recognised, a connection with spiritual science, with the anthroposophical spiritual science, will be found from out our ordinary science.

In a similar way, we shall find that everything, indeed everything, is ordered according to the laws of number and measure. The biblical words, that everything in the universe is ordered according to the laws of number and measure, will in that case acquire a deep meaning through human science.

Let us proceed. What is connected with our breathing, almost depends upon our breathing? It is our SPEECH. Indeed, from an organic standpoint, speech is connected with our breathing process. Speech does not only come from the same organ, but it is also connected with our breathing; that is to say, with what is contained in the rhythm of 1/18th of a minute. This is how we speak, and our fellow-men beside us speak in the same way. As far as the respiratory rhythm is concerned, the human beings in our environment speak in accordance with the air which is upon the earth and which envelops us.

We might now deduce from this that also the breathing rhythm which is connected with day and night must be related in a definite way to speech, to a spoken intercourse, but in this case with Beings who belong to the organism of the earth; they belong to the earth's organism in the same way in which the human beings belong to the air — a spoken intercourse with Beings of that particular kind.

The wisdom which has been transmitted to the human beings of a remote past by higher Beings, has not been transmitted to them in such a way that it was connected with the breathing rhythm of 1/18th of a minute, but it was connected with that breathing rhythm which has one day as its unity. In those ancient times, the human beings could not learn so quickly; they were obliged to wait, until words of such length had been spoken, corresponding to a breath which takes up 24 hours. This is how the ancient wisdom arose, and even to-day this fact lies at the foundation of things and may be recognised in various traditions. The ancient wisdom came from higher Beings, who are connected with the earth in the same way in which we are connected with the air, and these higher Beings approach the human beings. Those who are now working their way up to initiations, may still perceive something of this. For the things which are transmitted by the spiritual world approach us far more slowly than the things which are transmitted to us upon the wings of our ordinary air-processes.

For this reason, it is so important that those who strive after initiation should learn to feel within themselves the great significance of the transition stages of falling asleep and of waking up. When we fall asleep and when we wake up, in these transitions, we may feel more than anywhere else that spiritual Beings are mysteriously conferring with us; only at a later stage this passes over, to a certain extent, into our own control. If we wish to gain access to the world which is the dwelling place of the dead, we shall be following a good path also if we grow conscious of the fact that the dead speak with us most easily during the moments in which we fall asleep and in which we awake. It is more difficult for them to reach us when we fall asleep, for then, as a rule, we immediately pass over into an unconscious state, so that we do not hear what the dead wish to tell us. But when we wake up, and if we have reached the point of bearing in mind clearly the moment of waking up, this moment will be the best one for entering into communication with the dead — particularly the moment of waking up. We must try, however, to gain full control of the moment of waking up. To gain full control of the moment of waking up, means, in other words, that we should endeavour to wake up, without passing over immediately into the light of daytime. You will perhaps be acquainted with the special rule — you may call it a superstitious rule, if you like — according to which we should not look out of the window and into the light if we wish to bear in remembrance a dream, for if we look into the light we would easily forget our dream. This applies in particular to the fine observations which flow out to us from the spiritual world. We should endeavour, as it were, to wake up in the dark, but in a darkness which has been produced consciously, by avoiding to listen to noises and by avoiding to open the eyes. We should endeavour, consciously, yet without going out immediately into the life of daytime, to wake up, and this will best of all enable us to notice the communications which come to us from the spiritual world.

Now you might say: In that case, we would, receive very little in the form of communications during the course of our life. Just imagine how difficult it would be, if during the course of our life we only had the possibility of receiving as many communications as we normally receive in one day! This would suffice, but we cannot make the right use of it, for there is our childhood, etc. But the earth participates and (please bear this in mind) takes up these communications within its etheric body, and since these things remain inscribed in the ETHER OF THE EARTH they may be studied there. Other encompassing communications which are transmitted to us by the Beings whose life-element is the platonic year, may be studied in the ETHER OF THE SUN which fills the whole world; they may be studied in the way described in various parts of “KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS” and in other books.

You may therefore see that a band can be woven, which connects ordinary science and spiritual science. But of course, one who is not acquainted with spiritual science, will hardly be able to make the right use of the knowledge which ordinary science can supply. Those, however, who have a spiritual-scientific mentality, have not the slightest doubt when approaching these things, that the time will come when the ordinary external science and spiritual science will really be completely at one.

I have told you that I have only explained to you one. aspect of these things, namely, their rhythmical course, which is contained in the respiration. Now there are many things which could be demonstrated in figures, thus showing the harmony and correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm. Indeed, it is possible to acquire a deep feeling for this harmonious correspondence.

This kind of feeling was still transmitted in the Mysteries to the older disciples, up to the fifteenth century. Before that time, they were only able to take up anything in the form of science, when their teachers had tried to make them feel that they were standing in the midst of the universe. This, again, characterizes the materialistic age, that to-day we can acquire knowledge without being in any way prepared for this knowledge as far as our feelings are concerned. In the introduction to the first chapter of “CHRISTIANITY AS A MYSTICAL FACT,” have already drawn attention to this fact by indicating that in the Mysteries, certain feelings were first cultivated, before taking into consideration the acquisition of knowledge.

Particularly important is the feeling relating to the harmony between microcosm and macrocosm [See in this connection “MACROCOSM AND MICROCOSM” by Rudolf Steiner.], and if we once more wish to acquire real concepts in regard to things for which mere abstractions exist to-day, it will be important to cultivate that feeling.

What is a nation considered to be, in the present abstract, materialistic age? As a number of people who speak the same language. The materialistic age is, of course, unable to judge the true essence and being of a nation, seen as a definite individuality — a fact which we have frequently considered.

When we speak of the essence and being of a nation, we speak of a definite individuality, of a real individual Being. This is how WE speak of a nation's character. But, materialism merely sees in a nation a number of men who speak the same language. That is an abstract concept, which has nothing to do with the nation's real and concrete Being.

What results from the fact that we really do not refer to an abstract concept, but to an actual Being, when we speak of a nation, or of a nation's character? What results from this? — You will say: Theosophy enables us to study the human being: his physical body, his etheric body, his astral body, his ego — this is how we contemplate the human being; If a nation is also a real Being, also the Being of a nation might be studied in this way, and even for the Being of a nation we might assume the existence of certain parts and members. This is the argument which you may advance.

This can really be done! Also the other Beings, that exist besides the human being and that are just as real and concrete as man, are studied in genuine occultism. But the various members of these Beings should be sought elsewhere than in the case of man. For if a Folk-Soul had the same members as a human being, it would be a human being; but a Folk-Soul is not a human being, it is an entirely different kind of Being.

In the case of Folk-Souls, we must really study the individual Folk-Souls and then we shall have an idea of what they are really like. We cannot generalize, for this would lead us to abstractions. We cannot generalize, and for this reason, we can only speak, as it were, in the form of examples.

Let us, therefore, consider one particular Folk-Soul, the one which now governs, for instance, the Italian nation, in so far as a nation is governed in all its details by a Folk-Soul. Let us consider one particular Folk-Soul and ask: How can we speak of this particular Folk-Soul? [Compare: “THE MISSION OF THE INDIVIDUAL FOLK-SOULS IN CONNECTION WITH THE GERMANIC NORTHERN MYTHOLOGY] If we were to speak of it in the same way in which we speak of the human being, that he has, for instance, a physical body, we really mean, when speaking of man's physical body, that it contains certain alkaline substances, certain mineral substances, and that 5% of it is solid, whereas the rest is liquid and gaseous. All this constitutes man's physical body. When we speak of a Folk-Soul, for instance, of the Italian Folk-Soul, we cannot say that it has a human body, nevertheless it has something which, may be compared with a physical body. But its physical body does not contain alkaline substances, nor any solid parts; the physical body of the Italian Folk-Soul does not even contain any liquid parts (which does not exclude that other Folk-Souls may contain liquid parts); the Italian Folk-Soul has no liquid parts, but it begins with gaseous parts. It has no liquid parts, or other more solid parts, but the body of the Italian Folk-Soul is woven out of air, which is its DENSEST material substance; everything else in it is less compact.

Thus, when we say that the human being contains EARTHLY substance, we must say, in the case of the Italian Folk-Soul, that it contains, to begin with, AERIFORM substances. And where the human being has WATERY substances, there the Italian Folk-Soul has HEAT, WARMTH. The human being breathes AERIFORM substances in and out — the Italian Folk-Soul LIGHT. In the case of the Italian Folk-Soul, light corresponds to the air of human beings. Where man has heat or warmth, there the Italian Folk-Soul has TONES, namely, the MUSIC OF THE SPHERES.

Now you have more or less that which corresponds to the physical body, except that its ingredients are different. Instead of saying, as we do in the case of man: Solid substance, liquid substance, aeriform substance, warmth, we must say, in the case of the Italian Folk-Soul, if we take for granted something analogous to the physical body (for then, it is not in the same meaning of the word, a physical body): Air, Warmth, Light and Tone. — This shows you that when the Italian Folk-Soul really animates the human being to whom it belongs, it chooses the respiration as its channel, because its lowest and densest ingredient is the air. In fact in the Italian nation, the correspondence between the individual human being and the Folk-Soul takes place through the respiration. The Italian Folk-Soul communicates with man through the breath. This [is] an actual and real process. Of course, one breathes through entirely different means, but the influence of the Folk-Soul steals into the breathing process.

In the same way, we might depart from that which corresponds to the etheric body. In that case, we would have to begin with the life-ether and instead of the light-ether it would have that element which has been characterized in my “THEOSOPHY” as the “burning desires,” and to the tone-ether would correspond that element which has been described in “THEOSOPHY” as “mobile susceptibility,” etc. You may therefore find the ingredients in my “THEOSOPHY” but you must know how to apply them. And if you were to continue studying the nature of the correspondence which takes place between the Folk-Soul and the individual human being, if you were to continue by studying this upon the foundation of the things which I have now indicated, you would realise that this is connected with all the qualities which are contained in the character of a nation; We should study these things thoroughly and concretely.

These things can only be given in the form of examples. Let us now, for instance, say that we wish to study the Russian Folk-Soul. In the lowest member of the Russian Folk-Soul we would find nothing material, in the way in which solid, liquid, gaseous substances, or heat are material, but we would find that the lowest member of the Russian Folk-Soul, which it has in the same way in which the human being has his alkaline, solid substances, is the LIGHT ETHER, the ether of light. And we would also find that the Russian Folk-Soul has the TONE ETHER in the same way in which the human being has within him liquid substances, and it has the LIFE ETHER in the same way in which the human being has air; moreover, we would find in that part which corresponds to the physical body of the Russian Folk-Soul the BURNING DESIRES, which it has in the same way in which the human being has heat, or warmth.

We might then ask: How does the Russian Folk-Soul communicate. With individual Russians? — This takes place in such a way, that the light reverberates in a certain way from that which constitutes the earth. The light exercises certain influences upon the earth; it does not only reverberate, I might say, physically, but it reverberates in particular from the vegetation, from that which the soil bears upon it. The light does not influence the individual Russians in a direct way, but the influence of the light first penetrates into the earth; of course, not into the coarse, physical earth, but into the plants, into everything which grows and flourishes upon the earth. And all this reverberates. What thus reverberates, contains the medium through which the Russian Folk-Soul can communicate with the individual Russians. This explains the Russian’s connection with his land, which is far stronger in him than in others, the strong connection of the Russian with his soil, with everything that the earth brings forth. This is contained in the peculiar attitude of the Russian Folk-Soul. The “mobile-susceptibility” — and this is extremely important — is the first etheric ingredient of the Russian Folk-Soul; it-corresponds, to a certain extent, to the light, to what the light is for us human beings.

Thus you may reach a real Being, the true nature of a nation, and you may also reach the point of studying the question: “How does a spirit communicate with another spirit” ... one of the spirits being the Folk-Soul and the other one man. This communication takes place in the sub-consciousness. When the Italian breathes and maintains his life through breathing — in his consciousness he therefore has in mind something quite different, that is to say, he breathes in and out in order to maintain his life — when the Italian breathes, then the Folk-Soul whispers and talks to him in his sub-consciousness. He does not hear it, but his astral body perceives it and lives in these communications which are being exchanged below the threshold of his consciousness between the Folk-Soul and the individual human being.

What the Russian soil rays out, through the fact that the light of the sun-fertilizes it, contains the mystical runes, the whispering runes, through which the Russian Folk-Soul speaks with the individual Russian, while he walks over his land, or feels the life which rays out of the light. But again, do not think that these things should be taken materialistically. A Russian may be living in Switzerland, but the light which the earth throws back is also to be found in Switzerland. If you are Italian, you may hear your Folk-Soul whispering through your breathing; if you are Russian, you will find that even from the Swiss soil comes up what you are able to hear as a Russian. These things must not be taken materialistically. They are not chained to a particular place, although materialistically, and seeing that the human being is, in a certain way, in a materialistic frame of mind, he will obtain more from his-Folk-Soul when he lives in his own country. The Italian air, with its whole climate, naturally facilitates and furthers that manner of speaking which I have just now characterized. The Russian soil facilitates and furthers the other kind — but these things must not be considered materialistically, for a Russian can just as well be a Russian outside Russia, although the Russian soil particularly favours all that pertains to the Russian nature.

You will therefore see that, on the one hand, materialism is borne in mind, but, on the other hand, materialism is something relative and nothing absolute. For the light which is spread over the Russian soil is not only contained in the body of the Russian Folk-Soul, but there is light everywhere. A Russian Folk-Soul has the rank of an Archangel. (You know that I have frequently described this). An Archangel is not chained to a particular place; he is above the limits of space.

These kinds of thoughts, these kinds of concrete ideas, must lie at the foundation of our consideration's, if we wish to speak objectively of the connections between the individual human being and his nation. Consider the fact that modern mankind is far from having even an inkling of the concrete reality which is contained in the name which we give a nation! Nevertheless world-programmes are strewn out to-day, in which one continually toys with the names of nations! To what an extent all that which pullulates in the world is empty talk, may be clearly seen and judged through the fact that a nation is a real Being, and the Being of every nation is, after all, different. What is air for the Italian Folk-Soul, is light for the Russian Folk-Soul, and this, in its turn, calls for an entirely different way of communication between the Folk-Soul and the individual human being. Anthropology is a materialistic, external manner of contemplating things; it will be the task of Anthroposophy to reveal the truth, the real connections and true aspects. Since the human beings are now so far away from truth in their materialism, it is not surprising that people should talk in such an arbitrary and consequently untrue way of things, which to-day are even raised to the level of world-programmes!

On Tuesday we shall therefore speak of the character of our anthroposophic spiritual science. (See “THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE FOR THE PRESENT TIME,” published in Vol. 7, 1939, of the News Sheet.) In this connection I shall also deal with certain [things] pertaining to the present time, which can only be grasped from a spiritual-scientific standpoint. For the sufferings which humanity must now bear, is connected to a great extent with the fact that people do not wish to have a clear insight into the things which they say, that they send out furious words into the world, which are far away from every knowledge of the real connections. This may be clearly evident if we take hold, for instance, of a book, such as the pamphlet which has recently been published in Switzerland, entitled “Conditions de la Paix de l'Allemagne,” by an author who has chosen the name of “Hungaricus.” With the aid of a spiritual-scientific attitude, it will suffice to glance through this pamphlet, in order to detect all the deficiencies of the present, distorted way of thinking of materialism. For this reason, I also wish to say a few word's next Tuesday on this pamphlet, but only from a methodical aspect, only in regard to its way of thinking, because this publication, “Les Conditions de la Paix de l’Allemagne” by Hungaricus so clearly characterizes the distorted way of thinking of materialism.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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