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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: First Lecture


In this first lecture, after the introductory passage to which we have already referred, Dr. Steiner goes on to speak of the difficulty our age may experience in taking seriously the idea of real Beings who have no immediate manifestation on the physical plane. Such Beings, none the less, are the souls, or Spirits, of the nations. [Dr. Steiner does not confine himself to the use of the word ‘nation-soul’ (Volks-Seele, as in the title of the course), but also speaks synonymously of the ‘nation-spirit’ (Volksgeist).] As real as is the Spirit of a man — distinct from the ten fingers which this Spirit uses as his organs — equally real is for example the Spirit of the Swiss people, distinct from the so many million men and women inhabiting the mountain regions of the Alps and Jura.

It is significant that the example of the Swiss nation is taken first, so that we see a nation need not necessarily be characterized by what might appear the most obvious criterion: possession of a common language. This too would indicate that deeper insight is required, to know when a ‘nation’ really is a nation; so that the spiritual knowledge of the nation-souls is of importance even at this stage, for the realities of the physical world.

Now to lead up to some conception of such a purely spiritual Being as a nation-soul or folk-soul, we are guided along this line of thought: —

Man, as we know from elementary Theosophy, consists of physical body, etheric body, astral or sentient body and ‘I’ or Ego. Moreover from the ‘I,’ the inmost member of his being, he is destined in future ages to transmute the three other members. He will transmute, in the first place, his astral or sentient body into Manas or Spirit-Self; thereafter, at a still higher stage of his development, he will transmute his ether-body or life-body into Budhi or Life-Spirit; and at the highest stage — still working from within the ‘I’ — he will transmute what to-day appears to us as the lowest member, namely the physical body, into the highest and most perfect entity of all: Atma or Spirit-Man.

These transmutations of the three bodily members into the realization of the threefold Spirit will be the work of future epochs of World-evolution (Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan evolutions, as we are wont to call them). Man now is only just beginning with the first of the three transmutations — that of the astral body into Manas or Spirit-Self. Yet in the present, Earth-epoch of evolution there is already a foreshadowing, a kind of preparation for the three higher members on a less potent level, inasmuch as the ‘I’ works through the three bodily members, learns to control them and so develops out of them the threefold soul:

the Sentient Soul by transformation of the astral or sentient body, — therefore the Sentient Soul is a foreshadowing of Manas or Spirit-Self;

the Intellectual or Mind-Soul [‘Mind-Soul’ (Gemüts-Seele), alternative name for the Intellectual Soul, is translated in some passages of the English version ‘Soul of the Higher Feelings,’ a translation due either to a misunderstanding of the word Gemüt or to a rather too cold and narrow interpretation of our own word, mind. ‘Mind-Soul’ was Dr. Steiner's own rendering.] by transformation of the ether-body, — this therefore is a foreshadowing of Budhi or Life-Spirit;

lastly the Spiritual Soul (or Consciousness Soul) by the ‘I’ working right down into the physical body, — a faint foreshadowing of Âtma or Spirit Man.

It is perhaps helpful to note that in The Education of the Child Dr. Steiner distinguishes the development of the three fold soul and of the threefold Spirit in this way: whereas the latter will eventually have to be the fully individual achievement of each one of us, in the former work of transformation we are assisted by the whole human race, or more particularly by the civilization-epoch, the nation, or even the clan or family to which we belong. Thus we shall presently understand how certain epochs of civilization — or nations or communities within a given epoch — have the special task of developing one or other of the three soul-members. An individual incarnated in such a nation is quite naturally helped and educated in the development of sentient, intellectual or spiritual soul as the case may be; yet what is given to him thus, as it were by powers of universal destiny and the wise guidance of mankind, is also helping to prepare his Ego in some future time to achieve a corresponding spiritual transformation on a higher level, by his own strength and virtue.

This present stage in man's evolution — wherein he has the three bodily members and looks forward to the development of the three spiritual members in future epochs — follows, we are now reminded, on three former cosmic stages: ancient Saturn, when the physical body of man was first created; Sun, when the ether-body was created; and in the third place the old Moon, — the epoch of creation of the astral body. Moreover in these former cosmic stages other Beings, though not in bodies of flesh and bone, were undergoing the stage in consciousness (self-consciousness, — objective cognition) which man undergoes to-day. These other Beings were, in Christian esoteric terminology: —

the Angels, who underwent their human stage in old Moon and are therefore one stage beyond Man;

the Archangels, who underwent their human stage in old Sun and are therefore two stages beyond Man;

lastly the Archai (Principalities), the ‘First Beginnings’ or Spirits of Personality, who underwent their human stage already in old Saturn and are therefore three stages ahead of Man in evolution.

We are led on to the conception that these Beings, having passed through their human stage in former cosmic epochs, have now advanced to stages of development which Man will only reach in future epochs. They therefore, even now, are developing those higher spiritual members of their being which Man will only develop in Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan evolutions.

Angels (one stage ahead of Man) are now fulfilling their transmutation of astral body into Manas or Spirit-Self.

Archangels (two stages beyond Man) are engaged in transmuting their ‘ether-body’ or ‘life-body’ into Budhi or Life-Spirit.

Lastly the Archai or ‘First-Beginnings’ are to-day “working from the Earth's spiritual environment upon the transmutation of the Earth and in so doing undergoing the final phase, so to speak, in the transmutation of their physical body into ‘Spirit-Man’ or Atma.”

In effect these higher Beings, in the very act of working beneficially upon the Earth and mankind, are at the same time evolving the higher members of their own being. The Archai work into the physical body both of the Earth as a whole and of human beings — notably into all those things that constitute the physical character of a civilization-epoch, the typical arts and crafts or ways of using material things for spiritual ends — and in so doing they for their own evolution are developing Atma or Spirit-Man. Archangels work into our ether-bodies and in so doing are transforming their etheric body into Budhi. Likewise the Angels, who are engaged in perfecting Manas or Spirit-Self, work beneficially into our astral bodies.

This work of the spiritual Beings is however differentiated, and in a diverse way for each of the three ranks of Beings. The Archai are the guiding spirits of whole periods of Time, or civilization-epochs. They therefore are also called the Time-Spirits, or even (since they depart and return again to such work upon the Earth in certain periods) ‘Spirits of Cyclic Periods.’ Now in any such epoch there is one dominant character of civilization throughout the whole of civilized mankind. Thus in the main one such Archai-being works for the Earth as a whole during a given epoch. Yet within the mission of an epoch there must be many shades and colourings, many special tasks to fulfil. This is the mission of the different nations, and is inspired by the several Archangels. Archangels in effect are the souls of nations, and they work paramountly into the ether-bodies of the men and women belonging to their nations. National character and temperament is therefore mainly situated, not in the physical body as such, nor in the astral (the more personal, individual soul-body), but in the subtle intermediate member between these two: the etheric or life-body, the bearer of our life-forces.

Lastly the single human being, passing from incarnation to incarnation and therewithal from epoch to epoch, nation to nation in his own individual way of destiny, has his guiding and protecting Angel-being; and these Angels, as we can readily understand, are in their turn the mediators between the single human being, and the Archangel, of the folk to whom this soul belongs in a given life on Earth — who pours His deeper Inspirations into the ether-body.

This is an outline of what is given in the first lecture of the course. Yet for a fuller understanding of it Dr. Steiner introduces one other leading idea which we have not yet touched upon. It is to help us understand in a more real way what is meant by the working of the Archangels for example, into the ether-bodies of men, or by the statement that in so doing they are transmuting their own ‘ether-body’ into Life-Spirit, Budhi.

Dr. Steiner here draws our attention to a very real fact of our own future evolution, to which indeed he referred in other lectures even with regard to a less distant future. It is that the more we evolve into the future the more shall we acquire the faculty to direct our bodies from outside. Let us suppose that even now we were one day to become fully conscious in our sleep, when, as we know, with our astral body and Ego we are outside the physical and the etheric. Suppose that being conscious in this way we then began to direct and move our physical and etheric bodies from outside. This then would be an indication of a faculty we shall actually have attained in Jupiter and, even more, in Venus evolution. This in effect will go hand in hand with our development and perfection of the higher spiritual members, Manas and Budhi. We in our Spirit shall direct our bodies from outside. (Dr. Steiner here refers to the bird-kingdom, notably the birds of passage — entities which in connection with their group-soul have in a somewhat premature way, even on the Earth, forestalled what Man will only reach in future epochs.)

This faculty however belongs already now to the more highly developed Beings — the Archangels, the souls of nations. In this way we can understand how they work into the human beings of the nation belonging to them.

“Try to conceive the idea of Beings living and working as it were with their own ‘I’ or Ego in the spiritual atmosphere of our Earth, and with their fully developed Spirit-Self or Manas working on to our Earth, working into the human beings, transforming our ether- or life-body. Beings they are, who are themselves at the stage of transmuting their ether- or life-body into Budhi or Life-Spirit. If you imagine such Beings — at the ‘Archangel’ stage among the spiritual Hierarchies — you will then have a true idea of what are called the nation-spirits, the directing nation-spirits of the Earth ... They, in directing their own ether- or life-body, work also down into mankind and thus include mankind in the sphere of their activity ... If we can recognise the missions of these Beings — inspirers of the nations as they are — then we are able to say what a nation is. A nation is a group of human beings belonging in this way together, — inspired by one or other of the Archangeloi, of the Archangels. ...”

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