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Souls of the Nations

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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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Souls of the Nations

Souls of Nations: Bibliography


The Folk-Souls lecture-course of 1910, fundamental though it is, contains only a small proportion of all that Rudolf Steiner gave, bearing upon this subject. Some of the earlier lectures relating to it have been mentioned in our Introduction. In later years, during and after the tragedy of the World-War, Dr. Steiner in innumerable lectures tried to show how we can find in Spiritual Science the foundation for an unbiased, spiritually minded judgment of the impending questions — including these, the widest social questions of mankind.

These later lectures amplify what is given in the ‘Folk-Souls’ cycle — the relation, for example, of the threefold soul to the civilization-epochs and to the Western nations of to-day, or again, the character of the Slavonic peoples and their connection with the future. I mention for example the lecture-cycle Thoughts for the Times (1914–15), especially the first five lectures. Given about the same time, there is the valuable single lecture (27th November, 1914), the English version of which has been published, entitled The Soul of the Nation. These lectures were given in Berlin. About the same period, at Dornach in Switzerland, where his pupils — members of 17 nations — were quietly continuing the building of the first Goetheanum, Dr. Steiner, in explaining the progression of motifs in the capitals and architrave, described again the characters and tasks of European nations. The building was to express in an artistic form the life and evolution of all mankind. In the original, if not yet in English, these lectures have now been published: Der Dornacher Bau als Wahrzeichen künstlerischer Entwicklungs-Impulse (five lectures, Dornach, October, 1914).

Upon the history and psychology of nations, the lectures given by Dr. Steiner at the time of the ‘Threefold Commonwealth’ movement are very rich in content; their value also lies in the fact that Dr. Steiner often treats the subject, if I may put it so, from a more worldly aspect. These lectures abound in symptomatic instances, taken from history, literature and daily life. Not without irony and humour, Dr. Steiner characterizes the more every-day thoughts and feelings of people and of peoples — about themselves, and one-another. These things which play their part in outward life are then revealed in their relation to the deeper aspects known to Spiritual Science. Of the great number of such lectures, I will again mention only a very few, e.g., those given at Dornach in November and December, 1918, Foundations in History and Evolution for true Social Judgment, and those immediately following: In Altered Times and Conditions, also The Fundamental Social Demand of our Age.

These later lectures, where they bear upon this theme, do not however only amplify what was laid down in the original lecture-cycle we have been studying. Dr. Steiner throughout his life continued his research in Spiritual Worlds; so too with regard to the spiritual essence of mankind, country and nation, quite new aspects, new spiritual discoveries came into his later teaching. Even if these had been implicit in his earlier work, it still makes all the difference when they are given explicitly.

The most important among these newer elements in Spiritual Science is the discovery of Threefold Man — the head- or nerves-and-senses system, the middle or rhythmic system, and the digestive and limb-system — published by Rudolf Steiner for the first time in 1917, in his Riddles of the Soul. He himself mentions in this book that he has been working at it for over thirty years and is only now in a position to bring it forward, in a form that will do justice both to the spiritual and natural-scientific aspects.

In terms of Threefold Man quite a new light is able to be thrown upon the diverse character of mankind in different regions of the Earth, — also in different nations. Here there comes in another Leitmotif of Dr. Steiner's later work, namely the differentiation — threefold once more — of ‘East, Middle and West,’ both within Europe and in the organism of the entire Earth (Asia, Europe and America). We mention for example the valuable single lecture, given at Stuttgart early in 1920: The Peoples of the Earth in the Light of Anthroposophy. (The English version is in ‘Anthroposophy’ Quarterly, Vol. III, 1928, No. 2.) Then above all there are the lectures Dr. Steiner gave at the ‘East and West’ Congress in Vienna, 1922, the English edition of which has just been published, entitled West and East: Contrasting Worlds. In a more esoteric aspect Dr. Steiner deals with East, Middle and West in his Dornach lectures of October, 1923, relating them in imaginative pictures to the great spiritual archetypes known from of old as Eagle, Lion and Bull. (Man as Symphony of the Creative Word, — the first three lectures.)

The configuration of the Earth — East, Middle and West — brings us again to another aspect, touched on but not elaborated in the ‘Folk-Souls’ lectures: namely the living body of the Earth itself, — how Hierarchies and Nature-Spirits fashion the countries, continents and islands, plains and mountain ranges and so on; and how the destinies and characters of peoples are connected with it. What Spiritual Science tells concerning this, amazing as it often is, appeals directly to our feeling of reality, and above all it has a healing influence as against the current point of view, which ascribes national character far too exclusively to physical heredity.

Upon this aspect, we may mention three invaluable lectures, which have not yet been published, though the original was duplicated some years ago for the use of students. Given at Dornach on the 9th, 14th and 15th November, 1914, they go into many details of the physical and elemental geography of Europe and the characters and tasks of nations inhabiting these regions. Another most essential lecture, ‘The Souls of the Nations and the Mystery of Golgotha,’ given in March, 1918, will be found in the lecture-cycle Anthroposophical Life-Gifts. Here Dr. Steiner describes the spiritual ‘spectrum’ of the Earth, the significance of the Holy Land, and — within Europe — how the Nation-Souls severally work in the elements of earth, water, air and fire.

Once more, then, for a fuller insight into the spiritual science of Nation-Souls and all the racial and other differentiations of mankind, the ‘Folk-Souls’ course of 1910 should be supplemented by some at least of these later lectures — or again others which we have not mentioned, for a quite different selection might have been made. We could not attempt anything like a complete bibliography; we could only indicate other important aspects which Dr. Steiner brought in from time to time, and mention some of the lectures where they will be found. Most if not all the lectures we have named are readily accessible to students, — in the majority of cases also in an English version.

It should also be mentioned that Rudolf Steiner's pupils have since produced a great variety of works bearing more or less directly, from the side of history and literature, mythology, ethnology and other sciences, upon this subject. A more complete bibliography would however take us far beyond the scope of this booklet. In the bookshops and libraries of the anthroposophical movement, students will find the help and guidance they require.

Last Modified: 03-Sep-2020
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