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Souls of the Nations

Souls of Nations: Fourth Lecture


This lecture enters very deeply into the theme we dwelt on in the last chapter but one — namely that through the abnormal Spirits man and the cosmic forces that create him were driven down more deeply into the physical-material world than would otherwise have happened. Moreover it is indicated very clearly that the time has now come when in the further course of evolution — with respect to race especially — we must begin to liberate ourselves again from this dependence on the physical. The lecture is unusually rich in content and is indeed in some respects the key to the entire course.

We have to understand the races of mankind, says Dr. Steiner at the beginning, for it is out of these that the nations and folk-communities arise. Now we recall how mankind is created by the working of all the Hierarchies. And we remember in this connection the seven-year periods of human life. To summarize: —

  1. In old Saturn the Thrones created the physical body of Man.

    The first seven-year period of our life is devoted mainly to the physical body's development.

  2. In old Sun the Spirits of Wisdom created our etheric body.

    In the second seven-year period of our life the etheric body — ‘born,’ as we know, at the age of 7 — is especially developed.

  3. In old Moon the Spirits of Movement created our astral body.

    The third seven-year period of our life (14–21) is especially the time of development of the astral body.

  4. In the present Earth-epoch the Spirits of Form gave birth to the human ‘I.’

    And it is in the middle period of life (not only seven years this time, but 3 times 7, from about 21 to 42) that the ‘I,’ in the three soul-members, comes into its own.

We may conclude from this that the main interest of the Spirits of Form — begetters of our inmost ‘I’ or Ego — centres upon this middle period of human life. The first three septads are really a kind of recapitulation of what was undergone on Saturn, Sun and Moon. Properly speaking therefore, in the first seven years of his life man should again have the consciousness pertaining to the physical body only, that is the old Saturn or trance-consciousness — the degree of consciousness of the mineral kingdom. In the second seven years he should have the sleep-consciousness of a plant-like being; in the third, the dream-like consciousness of old Moon evolution. Not till the age of 20 or 21 would he awaken to Ego-consciousness. Thus Dr. Steiner leads us up to this all-important piece of knowledge: the fact that it is otherwise — that man begins to express the consciousness of ‘I’ long, long before he comes to the ‘age of discretion’ — is due to the intervention of the abnormal Spirits, and above all to those described at the end of the last lecture, who would have been Spirits of Movement in the normal course but are actually Spirits of Form and as such create the different races.

The lecture-cycles of Rudolf Steiner abound with these communications as to what man — his form, his life, his consciousness and modes of cognition — would have been, but for the ‘Fall.’ Vastly important as they are for true Self-knowledge, we must of course beware of taking them in a too crude or fragmentary way. We cannot, for example, imagine little children of one to seven in their present form going about in trance-consciousness! In effect, man would not have been down on the physical Earth at all until his 21st year, if things had taken their ‘normal’ course. In a kind of cosmic embryo-life, in the surrounding spiritual spheres of Earth, he would have spent the first three seven-year periods, recapitulating the Saturn, Sun and Moon creations of his three bodies. Then — at the age of 21, according to our present notions — he would have been born on to the Earth straightway equipped with full and true I-consciousness. That it is not so, is due once more to the ‘backward’ Spirits.

The knowledge of these occult facts cannot but be of deep significance for all the task of human education in childhood and youth, and it will be of special interest to turn here to the work of one of Dr. Steiner's most mature pupils, who has but lately been taken from us. In a series of articles in the Korrespondenz der Anthroposophischen Arbeitsgemeinschaft (Stuttgart) some years ago, Dr. Caroline von Heydebrand worked out this very point, bringing the Folk-Souls lectures into connection with Rudolf Steiner's educational methods, in which she, with her great love of childhood, had lived so intimately.

To compensate for coming on to Earth too soon, Dr. Steiner goes on to say, man also has to spend the last decades of his life in gradual decline and disintegration so far as his bodily nature is concerned. In effect, his life is roughly divided into three thirds, and it is only in the middle third — 20 to 40, or 21 to 42 — that he belongs in the fullest sense, as to the outwardly given conditions of his existence, to the normal Spirits. He would, had this not been the case, have come on to the Earth at about 20 and have left it again at about 41. Childhood and youth, old age and decline, would have been replaced by more spiritual forms of being.

But the middle period itself — indeed, man's whole existence — has in this way been rendered more material than it would have been. He has been made more earth-bound. This knowledge now will help us understand how races came to be, and also why they are so obstinate a heritage.

We have already seen that starry, planetary forces work on different portions of the Earth's surface, and men are subject to them. This would have been so (see the 1925 letter already quoted) even in the normal course, but the influences would then have been more spiritual; they would not have been permanently branded — driven down, as Dr. Steiner puts it, into the heaviness of Earth.

This was what happened: — In the very distant time already mentioned — latest Lemuria, early Atlantis — when the human form was as yet far more pliable than it is to-day, races began to be formed according to the influences working in different regions of the Earth which men inhabited, or into which they migrated from time to time. The racial types, thus formed originally under cosmic geographical influences, then became fixed and transmitted by heredity. Since the age of puberty, when man grows capable of reproduction, is within the first third of life — the period when the abnormal Spirits, as we saw, are still predominant — we can well understand that racial differentiation, itself the work of the abnormal Spirits, should be hereditary. After the early Atlantean time heredity itself, not the locality of birth, became the dominant factor. Dr. Steiner turns aside to criticise the popular theosophical way of using the word ‘race’ for all the rounds and epochs. Race, in the proper meaning of the term, was only of significance from Lemuria onward, and its significance grows less again in post-Atlantean time.

Now Dr. Steiner enters more in detail into the cosmic, spiritual geography of the Earth. The Earth, no mere indifferent ball of matter, is in its diverse regions diversely receptive to cosmic influences. Of great importance therefore were the wanderings and habitations of men precisely in that time — during Atlantis — when the great races were formed. Dr. Steiner (page 49 in our edition) draws a line, shaped roughly like a horseshoe opening westward, connecting three or four important points, foci of cosmic influence in the configuration of our planet. These centres, as he indicates, are still existent, though we are no longer subject to them in the same intense degree. The first is in the interior of Africa; there work the forces which influence the human being most of all in early childhood. The race there formed impresses characteristics of early childhood upon the human being for his entire life. It is the black, the Ethiopian or Negro race.

From thence the line goes eastward and bends northward to a second centre in the interior of Asia. Here work the influences which impress the human being with characteristics of later youth or adolescence; broadly speaking, the brown and yellow races of our time are the outcome.

Then the line, going northward still, turns back again in a westerly direction, till as we cross from Asia into Europe a third essential point is reached. Here work the forces forming the human being in his mature or adult life. The European racial type is the outcome.

Still farther West another region is indicated, though not included in the diagram. It is in America, where the forces of old age — the last third of life — work in the forming of the races. The dying-out of the American Indians is due to an inner necessity, not only to their persecution by Europeans. Here Dr. Steiner introduces the great occult truth: races go westward to die, eastward to seek rejuvenating forces. Those of the old Atlanteans who became most subject to the dying or ageing forces were the ones who migrated westward, the forefathers of the Red Indians.

We shall return to the actual forming of races in the sixth lecture, where it is gone into in greater detail. Here Dr. Steiner leads us on to another most important aspect. What happened in Lemuria-Atlantis in the creation of races, more in the physical body, was destined to be repeated on a higher level — in the forming of civilizations, coming more into the sphere of man's own activity and freedom in post-Atlantean times. In modern Spiritual Science it is pointed out that as against the seven races of Atlantis we should rather speak of seven civilization-epochs, not races, in post-Atlantis. Race still lives on for a long time, it is true, but is no longer the dominant and progressive factor.

Now for this new beginning, this renewal on a higher level, it was first necessary for a fresh migration eastward to take place. Such in effect was the rejuvenation of mankind after Atlantis, when Manu led his chosen people far away eastward into central Asia, to found the post-Atlantean epochs. Then — in a sequence of civilizations this time — the westward evolution was repeated: first India, then Persia, then Egypt and Chaldea, Greece and Rome, the present European epoch — ever westward. And with the westward course two things go hand in hand: the gradual ageing of civilizations, the lessening of childlike, youthful productivity on the one hand (witness the contrast of ancient Greece and the more westward Rome); and on the other hand the narrowing of geographical area to smaller and smaller lands (Europe the smallest of the Continents!) until at last the most essential Western civilizations are founded on tiny peninsulas or even islands. Characteristic of Asia is the expansion of mankind over immense stretches of country. The westward journey is an ageing and a shrinking process.

Of ancient India — first of the post-Atlantean epochs — Dr. Steiner says that by coming again into the region where the humanity-creating forces had begun to work in old Lemurian time, they experienced a kind of childlikeness, a renewal of fresh youthful forces, though now more on the level of the soul.

The Persians felt — corresponding to a rather later time in life, the transition from youth to maturity — the interplay and contrast of the abnormal and the normal Spirits. This also led them to their dominant conception: the polarity of Light and Darkness, Ormuzd and Ahriman.

The European civilization, formed in that region of the Earth where the forces of maturity (time of the normal Spirits of Form) are mainly working, is thereby destined to lead on towards a certain liberation from the bonds of race. At the same time, the farther westward we go, the more we come into the realms of old age and death. Dr. Steiner warns his hearers once again: these truths can only be received in an objective spirit. He here brings in an illustration (page 53) which throws a flood of light on many things. Western humanity — precisely because it lives in the realm of ageing, rather hardening forces — has an inherent longing to receive something from the East. What it receives from the East, works with renewing, kindling and rejuvenating power. The individual soul, needless to say, is neither East, Middle nor West, but if you live in a western body you carry deep in your soul an inner longing for the East. [See also Rudolf Steiner's Lectures to Teachers in the chapter “After the Fourteenth Year.”] Now Dr. Steiner indicates how in the Theosophical Movement in its earlier phases, when it was largely English and American, spiritual substance was received from the East (through Mme. Blavatsky, herself an Eastern person — a teaching mainly Indian or at least Oriental in character). When on the other hand — through Rudolf Steiner himself, as we know — the same spiritual movement grew to significance more in the heart of Europe, i.e. between the East and West, it had to find its resources more within itself, within the soul- and spiritual life of these, mid-European regions. Read Rudolf Steiner's own Theosophy with this in view, written as it is quite in the spirit and manner of the great German thinkers and mystics. Contrast it with the best English expositions of Theosophy before his time. [It seems to me a pity that Dr. Steiner's occasional references to ‘Theosophy’ or ‘the Theosophical Movement’ in these lectures should have been rendered in translation ‘Anthroposophy,’ etc. The lectures were given in 1910 and Dr. Steiner spoke the words he spoke. In the original (issued as late as 1922) they have not been altered.]

The West looks eastward; the man of middle regions has to draw — to begin with, at any rate — out of the deep resources of his own soul-life. The one is as natural and right as the other is, nor does the one exclude the other; for, as the spiritual movement of the Michael-time is on its way and we ourselves upon this way, as individuals we become all-human — with many diverse leanings, each as his destiny may guide him. Therefore for Western people not only the mid-European, deeply delving, philosophic way — from which indeed we learn so much — is right, but also the receiving from the East. I have noticed this, to my joy, when Eastern lecturers have been among us.

Touching upon this fundamental theme, the ageing forces of the West and the rejuvenating of the East, we may be allowed to turn to the middle verse of our The Foundation Stone Meditation. In the human body the ageing forces are represented more by the nerves and bony system, and in a word by all that tends towards clear-cut and lasting form. The ever-youthful forces, on the other hand, are represented by the blood with all its warmth and fire. The same polarity may therefore be expressed in more poetic language as that of Form and Fire. The concepts Form and Fire are in fact applied to West and East in the middle verse of the meditation, which culminates in the saying: In Christo morimur.

“Spirits of Light!
May there be kindled from the East
The flame that is moulded by the West,
In Christ, Death becomes Life!”

That which is fired from the East is formed or moulded by the West. “Lasset vom Osten befeuern was durch den Westen sich formet” are the corresponding words in the original.

In Christo morimur is then the real answer of the Spirit to this occult truth which may seem tragic to us: that as the races and civilizations go westward they come into the realm of hardening and dying forces. Moreover this answer lives in the rhythmic realm of life where the true intercourse of soul as between East and West is brought about in humanity by the Christ-impulse.

Dr. Steiner brings the fourth lecture to a beautiful ending with the example of Plato — an individual man “who grew up in the lineage of Solon, belonged to the Ionian tribe, to the Greek nation and to the whole Caucasian race.” How had the different Hierarchies, the normal and abnormal Spirits from the Dynamis down to the Angels and Archangels to work together to achieve this!

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