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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: Tenth Lecture


This all-important lecture might easily become as long in the guide to study as in the text, and as we do not wish it so, we will point out at once what seems essential. For it is here that we shall read of how specific times and peoples, — including some of the best-known nations of to-day, — are related to the different tasks and principles of human being, e.g. the evolution of the threefold soul: Sentient, Intellectual and Spiritual Soul. When Spiritual Science tells in this way of the immediate realities of our life — of nations and countries, the names, at least, of which are daily on our lips — it happens all too easily that the extended, carefully balanced statements of the occult teacher, context forgotten, are turned into mere formula in surface-memory. For the same reason that we received these explanations so very gratefully, we all too easily deprive them of their life and truth. Thus deadened, they become at last the very opposite of what they should be — mere skeletons of thought, bones of contention!

In studying this lecture above all, one will want to listen as one reads — to listen tenderly, noting exactly what is said and not said, and in what context the several statements occur, and how the whole is composed. This needs not cleverness or erudition but honesty of mind (desire to know what one knows, not resting in a mental fog) combined with reverence for the Initiate teacher. Nay more, one would even say, an inner sympathy with him; a reverence for the sphere out of which he spoke and a due weighing of the great difficulty of translating such truths at all out of the ‘choirs of the spheres of peace’ into our troubled world. We as disciples can lift our minds into the realm where these things ring true and where his words, brief as they often are, will be supplemented for us by the ever-present Spirit.

The subject is the history of European nation-souls, in the past, in present time and on into the future. In the next lecture this will lead up to the ‘Twilight of the Gods’ once more.

It was the task of Europe, both before and after Christ, to evolve and educate the ‘I’ in all its aspects, through all the members of the human being. All peoples and even fragments of peoples have contributions to make to this great task. The ‘I,’ says Dr. Steiner, had to be brought into ever new situations, and to this end the races and nations in Europe were mingled, separated, re-composed in the course of history in such diverse ways.

In olden time the Ego had been shown to Northern and Germanic man clairvoyantly, as we have seen, even before he had it in him in a subjective way. Therefore he felt with inner harmony and fitness the gradual emergence of individual Ego-experience out of the group-soul, in which, as Dr. Steiner reminds his hearers, Tacitus found the Germanic tribes immersed even a hundred years after Christ. This feeling found expression inasmuch as Thor, the giver of the ‘I,’ was wedded to Sif, Goddess of family and hearth and home. ‘Sif’ is related to the German Sippe meaning a family or clan. [We have no corresponding word in modern English, though the old English sib, ‘akin,’ still occurs in Spenser's Faery Queen. Strangely enough, gossip is the only word remaining to us of this root. Before it sank into its now corrupted meaning, it was godsib=God-akin, kindred-in-God, meaning ‘a sponsor in baptism,’ as we now say Godfather or Godmother.]

During this gradual awakening of the ‘I’ out of the group-soul-life of the Germanic tribes, the nation-spirit of the ancient Celts was their great educator. This was before the time when He took on His new mission as the inspirer of esoteric Christianity. It takes us back indeed into very olden times of the Druidic Mysteries. The Druid priests, says Rudolf Steiner, were in direct communication with high spiritual Beings; what they transmitted to the peoples was not their own, — it was instruction received from higher worlds. In later times, when more and more things had to be entrusted to the human Ego, these Mysteries withdrew as it were into more secret places. In outer history the Celtic element as such declined; the Celtic nation-spirit now assumed His other, esoteric Christian mission.

Proceeding to describe the transition from the Græco-Latin age to our own time, Dr. Steiner at this point inserts what has so often been set forth in anthroposophical teachings of History: the relation of the culture-epochs to the members of man's being. To summarize, it is as follows:

  1. Ancient Indian epoch — Etheric Body

  2. Persian epoch — Astral or Sentient Body

  3. Egypto-Chaldean epoch — Sentient Soul

  4. Græco-Roman epoch — Intellectual or Mind-Soul

  5. Our own epoch — Spiritual Soul

  6. Slavonic; Western Asia — Manas or Spirit-Self

This is of course a mere table; we have to fill it now with real content. We must enrich our conception of the nine members of man's being — the three soul-members for example, the etheric and the astral body. To learn that the ancient Persians perceived and knew through the forces of the astral body will not only tell us something about the Persian epoch; it will, precisely inasmuch as it does so, enlarge our idea of the astral body itself. We are in need of this. It is not enough to have defined the seven or the nine members of Man in one way or even in a few ways; to have in mind how they are introduced, for example, in the early chapters of Theosophy or Occult Science. These sevenfold and ninefold, or other systems wherein Number rules, are a Divine reality — inherent in the structure of the world. Not only man; all entities must somehow have these members. Even the Godhead — we may recall from the Helsingfors Spiritual Beings lectures — has the nine members in the Beings of the Hierarchies, from the Spirits of Form upward through the Cherubim and Seraphim to the highest Trinity.

Therefore we should be ready, with the most manifold characterizations ever more to enlarge our conception of the nine members of man's being, all and severally. It is a formula out of the Mysteries when their connection with the civilization-epochs (beginning with the etheric body and stopping short, for the moment, of the seventh epoch) is written down as in the foregoing table. It signifies that in the several epochs the forces of the corresponding members of man's being have especially to be developed, and that these members in their turn determine the kind of knowledge or perception man enjoys in such an epoch. We shall observe that the more bodily vehicles belong to the earlier epochs, which were less conscious; the members of the soul — tending ever more towards consciousness — to the three middle epochs; the Spirit-Self to the future. This means that in the earlier epochs what was developed in human civilization was still rather given to mankind by Divine-spiritual powers, for it is from them — from the past epochs of cosmic evolution when the human ‘I’ was not yet there — that we receive our bodies. Then, as the focus of development rises into the soul and spirit, human beings themselves have to bring forth the works of civilization more consciously. This becomes ever more so as we ascend through the soul-members, from the third to the fifth epoch. The Sentient Soul still receives sustenance from the surrounding world; the Intellectual Soul already less so; the Spiritual Soul most of all must find its own resource within itself. We should not think of the earlier epochs as more ‘bodily’ with the kind of feeling which we attach to the bodily world to-day. We should remember that in those earlier times the Divine-spiritual world endowed man through the body; the bodily world was experienced far more spiritually than would seem possible to man to-day. The ancient Persians and Egyptians, to some extent even the ancient Greeks, still received something spiritual along with their sense-impressions of the outer world. We should bear this in mind when for example it is said that the ancient Persian civilization developed out of the forces of the sentient body, or the Egyptian — the sentient soul.

Yet we should not conclude that in this sequence of civilizations man becomes more inward in the sense of withdrawing from the outer world. The very opposite is true. From being occupied more with the forces of his own being, with the creative powers that were placing him into existence, he turns increasingly towards the outer world, the planet Earth, the cosmic tasks that lie before him. Such is his tendency in the present epoch — that of the Spiritual Soul — more than it has ever been before. We therefore have to gain a rich and many-sided picture, to realize the truths of Spiritual Science which are summed up in the foregoing table. It will be helpful here to turn again to one of Rudolf Steiner's letters of the year 1925. It is the one entitled Gnosis and Anthroposophy [Anthroposophical Movement, Vol. II, No. 7.]; there we shall find a clear if concise characterization of the second, third, fourth and fifth epochs, — of what it signified for mankind to perceive and know through the forces of the sentient body and of the sentient, intellectual and spiritual soul in turn. This letter, incidentally, also throws light on the withdrawal of the Mysteries mentioned just now; the connection of esoteric Christianity with the Castle of the Grail.

Beginning now with ancient India, Dr. Steiner tells us that with their highly developed faculties of soul they were able to return again to the etheric body “and therein to develop those wondrously delicate forces the later reflection of which we can still see in the Vedas or in a still more refined form in the Vedanta philosophy.” They saw still with the forces of the etheric body.

To help us understand what this cognition through the etheric body means, we may recall that the more highly a man develops, the more deeply — into his bodily vehicles — this development will find expression. To reach the higher levels of clairvoyant wisdom, not only must the organs of cognition in the astral body be developed, but the outcome of such development must be impressed or stamped on the etheric body. The very vehicle of Life becomes the vehicle of Wisdom, — as indeed the Life-body was from the beginning a creation of the Spirits of Wisdom. Wisdom upon this level is not abstract knowledge but sustenance — the bread of life from Heaven.

The Persians could no longer go so far; their organ of perception was the sentient body or astral body. For the Egyptians and Chaldeans it was the Sentient Soul; for the Greeks and Romans — especially the Greeks — the Intellectual or Mind-Soul. Now we remember that the three souls are in themselves a kind of psychic counterpart of the three bodies, namely:

the sentient soul, of the astral body;
the intellectual soul, of the etheric body;
the spiritual soul, of the physical.

(This is the relationship suggested in the diagram on page 120.)

The ancient Greek form of cognition, by means of the Intellectual Soul, was therefore once again related to the etheric body, though more indirectly, — less vividly than with the ancient Indians. The Greeks experienced a memory of spiritual worlds and beings, as was said in the last lecture. In the mind-soul, the Ego uses the etheric body's forces in forming memories. Here man is living a comparatively inward life; he tends to form even his outer experience so that it harmonizes with his inner life, — a tendency wherein the Greeks excelled.

With the approach of the Spiritual Soul however — the fifth epoch — the later peoples had to turn ever more outward, developing the forces of the Ego upon the physical plane. It was important for the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples that in the time when they first had to do this they still retained some of the old clairvoyant vision into spiritual worlds; thus they were able “to carry primeval spiritual experiences, which were still vital in their souls, into the very arrangements they were now to make upon the physical plane.” Not so the Romans. In them the Ego had to find its place quite suddenly and as it were unaided, out in the physical world. Therefore they came to be the founders of civil law and jurisprudence, to regulate and dignify the immediate relation of human ‘I’ to human ‘I’ in earthly life.

The Western peoples — those whose civilizations grew out of the Roman and Medieval and led on into the beginning of modern time — were in some way gifted by one or other of the three forces of the soul. We should distinguish the human ‘I’ purely as such and the three members of the soul — Sentient Soul, Mind-Soul and Spiritual Soul — which are in one way also cosmic powers, given to the human being. They are not only achievements of the human ‘I’ as it expands and grows; they are also gifts — gifts of Divine-spiritual Beings. We may compare them to those gifts in Fairy-Tales which become tests even as one receives them. Bestowed though they have been, they must be won; won though they are by our right hand, they are the gracious gifts of Gods to men. A higher chivalry here rules. This is also the reason why the three soul-members appear in the Mystery Plays in the distinct characters of Philia, Astrid and Luna — spiritual figures, Dr. Steiner told us, which are also not to be taken as mere allegories.

Thus to the peoples of the Italian and Pyrenean peninsulas the Sentient Soul was given; to those of France, the Intellectual or Mind-Soul; and to Great Britain the Spiritual Soul: each for development with the inner forces of the ‘I,’ as it were for blending with the ‘I.’ The development of the three soul-members by these nations is of course different and on a different level from what was spoken of before, when we connected whole civilization-epochs — the third, fourth and fifth respectively — with these three members of the soul. Nevertheless, for the nations endowed with the Sentient Soul — the Italians and Spaniards — it means that they are recapitulating, in a more Ego-filled way and in the finer aspects of culture, much that was characteristic of the Egypto-Chaldean epoch. So too the French culture of modern times has been in some respects a recapitulation on a different level of the Greek and Latin. The British on the other hand is no recapitulation. It is the fifth epoch itself — the very epoch in which we are living — which must develop forces of the Spiritual Soul; none of the preceding epochs did this.

The theme we are here touching on is one which Dr. Steiner subsequently developed in many other lectures, some of which are mentioned in our Bibliography. We shall not want to rest exclusively on the few brief characterizations given in this lecture.

As to the Spiritual Soul and its relation to England, Rudolf Steiner in this lecture lays especial emphasis on the more outward tasks of this Soul. The founding of constitutional rights and parliamentary forms of government, the world-wide achievements of this country, reveal the union of the Spiritual Soul with the human Ego in its more outward orientation.

The people of Mid-Europe are next mentioned, i.e. especially the Germans. Dr. Steiner — speaking as he is in Scandinavia, far in the North, — refers to them as ‘Southern Germanic peoples’ (page 123). In them, as in the Scandinavians, the memories of old clairvoyant insight into the spiritual world were somehow nearer than in the Western nations; they had more inwardness of nature. “It was their task to develop what is needed to prepare the Spiritual Soul more inwardly, imbuing it with spiritual substance of the old clairvoyance, transplanted now on to the physical plane.” In effect the most highly developed philosophies of Middle Europe, Dr. Steiner goes on to explain, Hegel and Fichte for example, are a kind of sublimation — a renewal, in the early stages of the Spiritual Soul, — of the clairvoyant insight and experience of the old Norse and Germanic peoples. There is in Fichte, strong-willed philosopher of the Ich bin, the gift of Thor, transmuted.

In later lectures Dr. Steiner nearly always characterized the development of the human ‘I’ as such — finding its balance between the three soul-members, each and all, as the essential mission of the German people. Here in this lecture he assigns to them especially the Spiritual Soul's development, in its more inward, spiritual aspect.

The middle paragraphs of page 123 in our edition will be rather difficult to understand unless we bear in mind that the Græco-Latin and the preceding epoch, that of the Sentient Soul, concerned not only the peoples who were then in the forefront of civilization and whose names these epochs bear (the Greeks and Romans, the Chaldeans and Egyptians), but younger peoples also, who were preparing for their later missions. Dr. Steiner is evidently referring to what the Germanic peoples underwent during these earlier epochs. The word premature on the 12th line from below is a downright mistake in translation [vorzeitlich with vorzeitig, — words of quite different meaning.]; as such, it is happily exceptional in this edition. The opening sentences of the paragraph should read, — translated somewhat freely: — “The Græco-Latin age had to develop the Intellectual or Mind-Soul; and yet not only so. It also had to include a very wonderful development, still working in from pre-historic times and imbued with clairvoyant insight. All this was then poured into the Spiritual Souls of the mid-European, Scandinavian and Germanic peoples.”

In the next passage Dr. Steiner speaks of China. While the old Indian spiritual development through the ether-body represented a very definite advance upon Atlantis, the age-old Chinese culture — “developing another side of the etheric body's consciousness” — stood for a kind of static continuation of Atlantean wisdom. Hence India and China represent a great polarity in post-Atlantean time. In the Great Wall of China it was as though they had wanted to renew or to replace the protecting and encircling stream — Oceanus of Greek tradition — which flowed around the Atlantean isle and of which our present Gulf-stream is a relic; there is a valuable indication here (page 125) of its erstwhile locality.

Now turning to the future — the coming, sixth post-Atlantean age and its preparation — Rudolf Steiner speaks of “the peoples of Western Asia and their outposts in Eastern Europe, the Slavonic peoples.” Speaking of ‘outposts’ whose task is of a preparatory nature, he seems to have in mind also the Western Slavs. For the rest, when looking toward the sixth epoch, he dwells especially upon the Russians. This epoch will begin to develop Manas, the Spirit-Self. Manas pours in from higher spiritual worlds; the Spiritual Soul must be uplifted as a vessel to receive it. Hence the receptive, even devotional character of the Slavonic peoples, preparing for a future civilization-epoch which will be deeply receptive in character. We are reminded of the unlimited devotion with which Russians, for example, absorb what comes to them from Western European culture, — yet rather passing over the details and looking forward as if to something greater.

We shall be greatly helped in this passage if we may turn for a moment to quite another lecture-course, that on St. Matthew, given a few months later. Read the first half of the eleventh lecture in this course, where Dr. Steiner explains the terms ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Son of the Living God’ in relation to the Spiritual Soul and Spirit-Self. There you will have, in a most beautiful form, the inner feeling of what is here referred to: the Spiritual Soul lifted up as a kind of open flower of the soul's life and being, to receive what pours into it from a Divine and spiritual world.

The Spiritual Soul is many-sided, and that is partly what makes the understanding of our age so difficult, yet so enthralling. On the one hand it is the Ego achieving mastery over the physical body and as it does so coming into the closest touch with the outer physical world — to the point of materialism, Yet it is also the Ego rising above personal feelings and self-interested thoughts, to the perception of pure truth and goodness. It is the soul receptive to the intuitions from a purely spiritual world, just as the Sentient Soul is the soul receptive to impressions from the outer world. Why has the Spiritual Soul this dual aspect? Is it perhaps the ultimate and hard reality of the material world which now impels the human Ego to find itself, awake in its inmost depths, — to seek its real substance in the Spirit? Why in our epoch does the culmination of materialism coincide with the beginnings of man's future spiritual pathway?

Towards the end of the lecture Dr. Steiner illustrates the future potentialities of the Russian soul by reference to the Christian philosophy of Solovioff (1853–1900). Solovioff, he says, has of all those who do not actually stand upon the ground of Spiritual Science the most advanced conception of the Christ. He understands Jesus Christ in His dual nature, human and Divine, and yet again the union of both. So too will man be dual when ‘the Son of Man’ in him receives ‘the Son of the living God’ — the Spiritual Soul the Spirit-Self. Most wonderfully, Dr. Steiner characterizes Solovioff's conception of the Christian social state, utterly different from the Divine State of St. Augustine which was but the Roman State with Christ put in the centre of it. In Solovioff's Christian State, Christ is the living substance, — a living spiritual entity permeating all the social life and social institutions.

Yet is all this only the seed, the germinal beginning of a future evolution. Accordingly, says Dr. Steiner, “the mind and feeling of this people, to whom is given the seed of the sixth culture-epoch, had from the very beginning to be not only educated but nursed and nurtured” by the Christian Time-Spirit — meaning again the Being who had been the Time-Spirit of ancient Greece. We shall remember how deeply Russian history has been connected with exoteric Christianity in its more Greek (Byzantine or Eastern) aspect.

In another passage the ‘mythology’ of the Slavonic peoples is spoken of; it is not, properly speaking, a mythology with individual deities like those we are familiar with in Western Europe. Yet on the other hand it develops something analogous to the theosophical or anthroposophical conception of successive planes or worlds and their relations to one-another. Five interpenetrating worlds are mentioned. It is a beautiful passage and one would like to hear it expounded by someone well-versed in the Slavonic lore.

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