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Souls of the Nations

Souls of Nations: Ninth Lecture

NINTH LECTURE

At the beginning of this lecture Dr. Steiner answers a possible objection, a genuine difficulty that might occur to thoughtful minds. Directed as it was to the development of thought and conscious knowledge, the spiritual education of mankind, especially the most advanced peoples, after Atlantis surely involved ipso facto the awakening of the human Ego. How then can it be said that the ancient Indian culture attained so high a level along these lines without Ego-awakening?

Answer is given in philosophic form. Cognition of the Ego differs from all other kinds of cognition. The Ego knowing any other object — tree or stone or other human being — the knower and the known are different entities. But when the Ego knows itself, the knower and the known are one. Subject and object of cognition are the same.

For conscious and objective knowledge, the Ego as a subject, as the knower, must of course be there, and active — the more highly so, the higher is the form of knowledge. But this need not imply that the Ego is also there as an object of knowledge — that it beholds itself as an objective Being. Finely developed though it is, it may in this respect still be serenely unconscious of itself, and so indeed it was in the old Indians. Not so the ancient European peoples. Comparatively undeveloped, still with the old clairvoyance, they saw the ‘I’ objectively. “Amidst all other things in their clairvoyant field of vision they saw the ‘I,’ a being among beings. ... In an imaginative picture they saw the dawning light of their own Ego, — even before they felt the Ego-impulse very inwardly.” (Page 106.)

Hence too the tendency, so evident in their mythology, to feel the human Ego closely, intimately in relation to the higher Beings — Angels and Archangels. With these beginnings, European humanity was fore-ordained to experience and work out the human Ego's relation to the surrounding Universe, to other Egos, to the world of Gods and spiritual Beings.

Among these latter are also Lucifer and Ahriman. In the Germanic mythology, says Dr. Steiner, there is a greater tendency to understand how the human Ego must find its way between two adversaries, than in the spiritual teachings of other peoples. The Old Testament for example, the Semitic tradition generally, is in the main only aware of Lucifer — the ‘serpent.’ Only from esoteric teachings did the Gospel writers also know of Satan — Ahriman. The Indians again, during a certain period at least, — intent on a more inner path of the soul's development, — look up to the Divine beings whom they name the ‘Devas,’ while they eschew, under the name of ‘Asuras,’ beings of darkness prevailing in the outer world. (Lucifer is the antagonist along the inner, Ahriman along the outer path.) The Persians on the other hand have to look more outward. They feel a danger in the inward path, and where the Luciferic powers are lurking, they do not let themselves become aware even of the good powers who are also there, Hence the root ‘deva’ in the Persian language is applied to an evil kind of being. Where they feel strong however, in wrestling with the outer world, they face Ahriman the dark antagonist, and as against the evil Asuras of Indian tradition they see the good Asuras, beings of light, — Ahura Mazdao. In etymology, Ahura is the same word as Asura.

Turning again to the Germanic myths, we have the figure of Loki with his threefold offspring: the Midgard snake, the Fenris wolf, and Hel. And then again we have blind Hödur, who with the mistletoe given by Loki slays the gentle, light-filled Baldur.

Loki is Lucifer, who brought selfishness into man's astral body. Yet because this, which led man down into the possibility of evil, also endowed him with free choice, with power to rise to liberty of spirit, therefore the Norsemen also felt Lucifer in the aspect of a benefactor — bringer of selfhood, independence, freedom. “They felt the Luciferic element even in the power who in these Norse and Germanic regions partook in the creation of the races, in that he gave to man his outward form and colour, — made him an independent, active being in the world.” (This, we presume, is again a reference to Lodur — see the preceding lecture — though Dr. Steiner does not here repeat the name.)

Now we remember out of Occult Science that it was Lucifer who approached man first — in old Lemuria — and thereby opened out the way for Ahriman to follow him in Atlantean time. Lucifer's influence works more within the human self; Ahriman on the other hand mars man's relation to the outer world, involving him in error, darkness and deception. Falsehood with regard to outer things — even deliberate falsehood or lying, — inasmuch as it has to do not with the inner life alone but with the inner in relation to the outer, takes root in a vehicle more outward than the astral, namely the etheric body. So then the Luciferic influence begets a threefold consequence: selfish desires in the astral body, falsehood and lying in the etheric, and, as the necessary Karma of all this, sickness and death in the physical. This is the occult meaning of Loki's threefold offspring, and Dr. Steiner gives this correspondence:

Astral body — selfishness — the Midgard snake
Ether body — falsehood — the Fenris wolf
Physical body — sickness and death — Hel

Speaking of sickness and death — the Karma of the Luciferic influence — Dr. Steiner refers again to the lectures he was giving a few weeks previously, Manifestations of Karma, where this whole subject is treated more fully. In an aside, the logical fallacy of concluding that the same outward appearance — death in the human being or in the animal or plant — must therefore be assignable to the same cause, is stigmatized by an example.

The darkening of the light of truth appears to the old Norsemen under the image of the wolf. The Fenris wolf is, then, an Ahrimanic figure, coming in consequence of Lucifer. The Fenris wolf in pursuit of the Sun and overtaking it at an eclipse, says Dr. Steiner, is in the astral world more true, less subject to superstition, than is the current, purely physical explanation of the eclipses. What the clairvoyant sees are real Beings; no mere allegories.

The death of Baldur is the next theme we come to. When the old dream-like clairvoyance still lived on, men alternated between a consciousness turned to the outer material world and a dream-consciousness in which they looked into the spiritual world. The seeing Baldur stood for this latter, more blissful state; blind Hödur, again a more Ahrimanic figure, for the former. In the slaying of Baldur they experienced the tragical extinction of the erstwhile clairvoyance. Lucifer-Loki with the mistletoe gave dark Hödur his opportunity; so the myth truly represents how it is Lucifer who brings man into the realm of Ahrimanic powers.

Towards the end of the lecture Dr. Steiner touches on a most important theme: the different feeling towards Christianity of the Germanic and Northern peoples as against those of the Mediterranean regions and Asia Minor. When the Christ-impulse came to Earth and for some time after, clairvoyant experience still lived on among the Northern peoples. The death of Baldur was not a mere memory for them; it was a present experience. Not so the Eastern and more Southern peoples. In the far Eastern tradition, for example, Kali Yuga, the dark age, had already lasted for 3,000 years. The old clairvoyance — the golden age of the past — was a far-off memory.

Therefore the Northern and Germanic peoples could not receive the comfort of Christianity quite in the same way as could the people, for example, of Asia Minor. To those who had long lost the perception of higher worlds, the words of John the Baptist signified indeed: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! The Divine Being has come down on to the physical plane, so that the children of men “who can only perceive on the physical plane, may also be allowed to rise to a consciousness of God.” Such was for them the Gospel message. Through Christ who appeared in Palestine, in whom God is, “you too will be able to find your connection with the Divine, even though you cannot lift yourselves above the physical plane.”

The Northern peoples, once again, could not receive this comfort quite in the same way. To them the loss of sight, the death of Baldur, was a too immediate reality. They could not rest content in this way. But there arose in them a far-reaching thought: the darkening of spiritual sight, the limitation to the outer physical plane, can only be an intermediate time, an interval of training and probation for mankind. If he goes through it well, the spiritual world will at long last be given back to man.

The Initiates, the leaders of their esoteric School, had indeed taught these ancient Norsemen that it was so. Moreover in the future, when they saw the spiritual world again, they should find it changed. Lucifer who had temporarily overcome the Gods of man's true progress would in his turn have been overcome. This is the vision of Ragnarök, the twilight of the Gods; Dr. Steiner will return to it in the last lecture and show more fully its relation to the Christ-impulse.

Man in the intervening time shall feel himself a faithful son of Odin; so in the future will it be given him to fight the good fight at the side of Widar — Odin's avenger. This, Rudolf Steiner tells us, had been the esoteric teaching Northern man received, preparing him for the Christ-impulse. “The role of Odin's avenger in the Twilight of the Gods, ... when we understand it, we shall perceive the wonderful connection between the inmost talents of the Germanic and Scandinavian humanity and what we too are seeing in our time: the vision of the future.” Herewith the lecture closes.

Very significantly in this passage, Dr. Steiner speaks of a difference in the way of receiving the Christ-impulse as between the Northern, Germanic peoples — those, in effect, who were preparing for the fifth post-Atlantean epoch — and the more Southern or near-Eastern peoples, the bearers of the fourth epoch.

It happens that in one of his last letters (March, 1925) Rudolf Steiner dwelt again on this same theme, and, though he speaks in rather different language, the inner connection is so evident that it will surely be helpful to take the two passages together.

The letter is entitled: Historic Cataclysms at the Dawn of the Spiritual Soul [Anthroposophical Movement, Vol. II, No. 14.] and leads up among other things to the great conflict between Arian and Athanasian Christianity. The former had more influence among the Gothic and Germanic tribes; the latter — since the Council of Nicæa — became predominant through the official, Græco-Roman church.

Dr. Steiner in this letter speaks in terms of the soul-members — the Intellectual and the Spiritual Soul. The Greeks and Romans, with all their genius for developing the Intellectual Soul, had felt an access of strength and human independence as they did so. In early Christian centuries however, with the first dawning of the Spiritual Soul for which they had not the same native talent, they felt rather a decline of their own inner force. The teaching of Christianity, which in a way calls for the forces of the Spiritual Soul, came to them rather as a thing vouchsafed by spiritual worlds outside them; they did not feel so much that they “could grow together with it by their own faculties of knowledge.” Theirs was the Athanasian mood of soul.

The Northern peoples on the other hand, peoples destined above all for the next epoch, that of the Spiritual Soul, felt a glad access of inner strength when with the Christian beginnings the forces of the Spiritual Soul were dawning. These forces of the soul were more their own, — united with their humanity. Hence Christianity itself was felt by them more strongly “coming to life in their own soul, not given from outside.” They tended rather to the Arian than to the Athanasian outlook.

It was the latter creed, as we well know, which became dominant in outer history. The feeling of the Northern peoples — the Christ-impulse more deeply united with the soul's inmost powers of cognition — had to wait until the Spiritual Soul should ripen.

The time has come; its harbinger is Spiritual Science. The sense of impotence in the soul's powers of cognition for higher things, which hung over the Middle Ages and was inherited by the agnostic scientists of more recent time, will be transcended by those in whom a braver Christian faith, springing anew from deeply human sources, will declare: the path is open for mankind towards knowledge of the higher worlds!

This thought may be a fitting prelude to the next lecture, which deals more fully with the present — age of the Spiritual Soul — and with the tasks of different peoples in this age. Dr. Steiner in this letter seems to hint at a peculiarly deep connection of the Spiritual Soul with the Christ-impulse, almost as though the very coming of Christianity had to bring with it the first dawning of the Spiritual Soul itself. We may think of this: Christ was the bringer of the pure ‘I Am’ into mankind. Now of the three soul-members, it is in the Spiritual Soul that the true Ego comes into its own most fully. A very wonderful passage in the St. Matthew cycle, to which we presently refer, may also help us understand this.




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