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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: Second Lecture


It may be a help towards the understanding of the last lecture and also the beginning of this one, if we call to mind what has been given in other lectures, concerning the ‘physical body,’ ‘etheric body,’ etc. of the Hierarchies — especially those nearest to Man: Angels, Archangels and Archai. Honestly, one is bound to ask: What is meant by the ‘physical body’ of an Angel, for example, or of an Archangel or Archai-being? Rudolf Steiner answers this question — and the answer leads up to one of the most beautiful of his conceptions — in the seventh lecture of the cycle, Spiritual Hierarchies (1909). Near the beginning of this lecture, the reader will find diagrams consisting of seven interlacing or partly interlacing circles. The accompanying text, down to the Biblical quotation, ‘He maketh the winds His messengers and His ministers a flame of fire,’ is the passage to which I refer. We are shown how we can recognize the ‘physical-body-principle’ of these higher Beings in the water-, air- and fire-elements in the Universe — in Nature all around us.

In the beginning of this second lecture of the ‘Folk-Souls’ course, Dr. Steiner tells of the spiritual auras of different countries and landscapes — something which everyone may feel, and which Initiate perception recognizes as an expression of the etheric working of the Archangel, folk-spirit of the people inhabiting the country. This aura will change sometimes very quickly with the migration of peoples or other historic changes affecting the destinies of nations. Nature, therefore, herself takes part in some way in the life of peoples; Nature is subtly different according to the soul of the people inhabiting the given land.

An essential point is that the Archangels cannot work down into purely physical conditions, such as the configuration of mountain-ranges and the like; these are the work of higher, more potent Beings. Therefore we have the wanderings of people, guided by their Archangels to seek the ‘promised land’ they need, and — which is also an important thing to note — the coming and going of the Archangels themselves, their incarnation and excarnation, so to speak. For an Archangel is not at all times working as the folk-spirit of a nation upon Earth. There are times when the Archangel withdraws into another state of consciousness (then the nation He belonged to passes away from earthly history); after an intervening time He may return again, to ensoul another nation in a new historic epoch.

Dr. Steiner now tells of how this ether-aura of the nation-spirit works in its turn into the individual's etheric body, making that subtle thing which we describe as national temperament. “Think of the ether-body of the human being” he says in conclusion (pp. 18–19 in the English version) “and picture it quite realistically: the ether-body of the human being, embedded in the ether-body of the nation as a whole. Think too of how the latter is reflected in the temperamental qualities of the nation — the mingling of temperaments in the many individuals concerned. Therein you have the secret of how the folk-spirit or nation-spirit reveals His character within a given people.”

A very interesting statement is that the ether-aura of the nation only affects the sanguine, choleric and phlegmatic temperaments in individual man — not the fourth, the melancholic. Remembering how the four temperaments are related to the Elements of air, fire, water and earth respectively, we may come back to this where in a later course of lectures [Anthroposophical Life-Gifts, — see the bibliography.] Dr. Steiner tells of how the nation-souls work in the several elements, in different nations of Europe.

The lecture now (page 19) passes on to a quite different aspect of the subject and plunges rapidly into a theme which from now onward plays a predominant part in the whole Cycle. It is the theme of spiritual Beings who have remained behind.

Dr. Steiner begins by pointing out that there are characteristics of a nation obviously more robust and tangible than ‘temperament.’ The most evident is language. The spiritual Beings who are responsible for this must therefore be of greater power than the Archangels or normal folk-spirits, who only work in a subtle and intimate way into the psychological and etheric aura of a people. Language is something more physical and has to do with physical organs — larynx, etc. — in the formation of which there will no doubt be delicate differences according to the language spoken. We have therefore to look for Beings who in some way are working on a level with the nation-souls, yet with superior creative power. Hereat we are reminded of the sequence of the Hierarchies and of how the Beings advance from stage to stage in successive cosmic epochs. Upward from Man we have the following:

Spirits of Form

Archai or Spirits of Personality




We remember now that the Archangels, two epochs ago, i.e. in the old Sun-evolution, were at their ‘human stage’ — the stage of Man. Yet a like thing applies to the higher Spirits also. Those who are Spirits of Form to-day were also — in evolutionary rank — two stages farther back in the old Sun epoch. That is to say, they were at the Archangel stage in consciousness and power. In normal evolution, they would advance to the Archai-stage by the old Moon epoch, to become Spirits of Form — according to their name — in the present, Earth epoch.

Now it is possible for Beings to remain behind — not, Dr. Steiner warns us, out of lassitude or opposition, but as a deed of sacrifice for which we must be deeply thankful. And in effect, we are here introduced to two other ranks of Beings, who, if they had evolved in the normal way, would have been Spirits of Form to-day. We find them therefore, like the normal Spirits of Form, at the Archangel stage of development on the ancient Sun. One of these ranks of Beings remained behind twice over — from Sun to Moon and then again from Moon to Earth. Spirits of Form therefore according to what they might have been, actually they are at the Archangel stage to this day. These are the ‘abnormal Archangels,’ responsible for the languages of nations, — Beings who work in the same sphere as the normal nation-spirits, and yet to some extent with the degree of creative power pertaining to Spirits of Form, which is the rank they could have reached, but for their sacrifice in evolution. The Spirits of Form, we shall remember, the Exusiai or Elohim, are the creators of our physical body as it is on Earth; not in its first beginnings (that was the work of the Thrones on ancient Saturn), but of this body inasmuch as in its present form — the upright carriage for example, the over-arching brow and so on — it is the foundation for the conscious ‘I’ of man on Earth. Into this forming of the human body the abnormal Archangels — Spirits of Form who ‘might have been’ — also work, helping to form the larynx and other organs of speech according to the different nations. “Clairvoyant consciousness,” says Rudolf Steiner, “discerns mysterious Beings in addition to the Archangel-beings whom we described before: Beings in one way akin to the Archangels, yet in another way utterly different from them, notably inasmuch as they are able to apply far greater forces than can these nation-spirits ...”

Another kind of Beings is then described. Archangels once again in stage of evolution on the ancient Sun, they did indeed advance to the rank of Archai on old Moon; thenceforth, however, they too remained behind. Instead of working as Spirits of Form to-day, which is what they should have done in the normal course, they work as abnormal Archai-beings beside the normal Archai, who are the true ‘Spirits of the Times,’ as we saw in the last lecture.

It is most interesting how Dr. Steiner characterizes the working of these Beings. In the first place, we shall remember that the Time-Spirit (Archai) works throughout all the nations in an historic epoch, inspiring — or rather ‘intuiting’ as Dr. Steiner calls it — what is the common experience of all humanity during the Time in question. Now of our inner life it is the life of Thought, above all, which we experience in common with mankind. Feeling, like language — to which in origin it is so nearly akin — is differentiated according to clime and clan, nation and continent. Will is the individual and private force of every one. It is in Thought-life therefore that we shall look to find the Intuitions — or the ‘intuitings,’ to use the more active word — of the Time-Spirits. But these intuitings, kindling in human personalities the characteristic and creative thoughts of a civilization-epoch, can be of two different kinds: the one more gentle and more subtle leaving the human being in a way more free; the other stronger and more forceful, proceeding more out of the inner configuration of the bodily thought-organ, especially the brain. Once more, it is the abnormal or ‘backward’ Spirits — abnormal Time-Spirits or Archai, Spirits of Form who might have been — who work in this latter way. They are responsible for certain forces, which, working from within the body, tend even physically to give the thinking of an age a certain character and thought-form, — just as the languages of nations are a physical reality. It is not, of course, suggested that these dominant thought-forms exercise absolute compulsion. They work more strongly in some men than in others; more strongly too, as it appears, in certain nations.

What then of the normal Archai or Spirits of Personality — the true Time-Spirits, as Dr. Steiner expressly calls them? In what way do they ‘intuit’ human thought? What Dr. Steiner says at this point is of far-reaching importance, and if we understand it well it may give us the key to many a characteristic feature in the true and free spiritual guidance of the present Time, which is contained in the whole method of Anthroposophy.

It is in fact by outer circumstances — the incidence, if I may use this word, and the co-incidence of things (often apparently and yet not really fortuitous) in the world around us — that the normal Time-Spirits in their more gentle, not so forceful way give men the impulse, as it were the start, the ‘cue,’ for the creative thoughts of the age. So were the pioneers, inventors and discoverers often put on to the track of their great deeds by their attentiveness to some apparently trifling circumstance in the outer world. The spark is kindled as between the inner life of man and the world around him! Hundreds of examples might be given, says Dr. Steiner. The story of Watt and the steaming kettle comes to our mind; Dr. Steiner instances Galileo and the swinging lamp in the Cathedral, or again the children playing with pieces of glass, leading to the discovery of the telescope.

In different peoples, we are told, these different Spirits — normal and abnormal Archangels, normal and abnormal Archai; in all, therefore, no less than four distinct ranks of Beings — work in conjunction or in contrast to one another, in diverse ways. No wonder therefore if historians, sociologists, philosophers, seeing only what appears in the world of Maya and being more impressed with the external outcome now of the one, now of the other kind of spiritual influence, will give so many apparently conflicting definitions of what a ‘nation’ is.

One very beautiful example is given of how a special harmony was brought about, in the first post-Atlantean epoch, between the normal Archangel of the Indian people, the abnormal Time-Spirit — intuitor of certain inner tendencies of thought — who was working in that epoch, and the abnormal Archangel to whom the ancient Indians owed their language. To this peculiar concert of spiritual Beings Dr. Steiner attributes the unique blending of the old Indian temperament and mood of soul with the holy Sanscrit tongue, and with the spiritual philosophy in which the Time-Spirit of the first epoch found expression. This harmony, he says, lasted until historic times and is still evident in the far later, still extant documents of Indian tradition.

*  *  *

It may be well before proceeding, to say a word or two more on the great theme, Beings who have remained behind in evolution, which has been introduced in this second lecture. The difficulties students find in this Leitmotif of Spiritual Science are of two kinds: one superficial and one profound. The former is easily disposed of; it simply lies in the fact that as there are so many ranks of Beings — the nine Hierarchies — and so many epochs of evolution, in each of which members of any one of these may have remained behind, the possible multiplication of Beings would seem to be very great. This sometimes needlessly alarms the student. Spiritual Science does not put forward endless systems; individual instances alone are introduced, and these are always related to real life and livingly described, out of immediate spiritual investigation. All that is needful is to have a certain care, to avoid mental confusion. One possible source of confusion lies in the fact that such Beings may be named on either of two principles, i.e. according to the rank which would have been their due had they evolved in the normal course, or else according to the rank at which — having remained behind — they actually are. Dr. Steiner does not always adhere to the same principle. In the present lecture, speaking of ‘abnormal Archangels and Archai,’ he has obviously used the latter method; he names the Beings according to the rank which is actually theirs. In the next lecture on the other hand, speaking of ‘abnormal Spirits of Movement’ — Beings who would have been Spirits of Movement but have remained behind and are still acting as Spirits of Form — he adopts most frequently, though not exclusively, the former method: calls them, that is to say, ‘abnormal Spirits of Movement.’ Context will always make it clear what is intended, and it suffices to have drawn attention, to this slight difficulty.

These are but technicalities of understanding; the inner difficulty is of a very different measure, indeed it goes down to the deepest roots of spiritual teaching. Rudolf Steiner often pointed out that in this science of the normally evolved and backward Beings we have again the essence of the old Zoroastrian teaching. The very contrast of ‘Light and Darkness’ is indeed brought about by this dramatic interplay of Times. Beings of a more ancient Time working on side by side with those of normal Time bring about Darkness over against the Light, nay, even evil over against the good. Evil indeed is none other than a former good transposed — out of true Time. Behind the contrast of Light and Darkness, Ormuzd and Ahriman, is ‘Zeruane Akarene,’ the undivided, self-consuming Time. Thus Dr. Steiner, in Christ and the Spiritual World (lecture 4) calls the whole of the old Zoroastrian world-conception — that of the second post Atlantean epoch — ‘Chronology’: the spiritual science of Time and of Times!

The more one knows of Dr. Steiner's own teaching, the more one realizes how deeply it is identified with this conception of Light and Darkness, of Time, and of the ultimate reconciliation, the overcoming of Evil. Looking towards the past, it relates as we have seen to the ancient holy teaching of Zarathustra, who prophesied the coming of the Christ, ‘Light of the World’ who came into the Darkness. Looking towards the future, it emerges in the Christian counterpart of Zoroastrianism: true Manicheism, which will come to fruition only in a future epoch and for which the Rose-Cross teaching is preparing.

Because this theme of the ‘backward’ Beings plays so great a part in the ‘Folk-Souls’ lectures, students may like to be referred to certain other passages in which Dr. Steiner — about the same period of his teaching — tried to explain this greatest mystery of evolution. Such passages occur for instance in the following:

St. Matthew (Sept. 1910), beginning of the second lecture.

Spiritual Beings (Helsingfors, April 1912, Cycle XXI), end of the sixth lecture.

Most eloquent of all, however, is the fifth lecture of the Genesis cycle, August 1910, given therefore very shortly after the Folk-Souls course. The whole of this lecture is upon the theme of Light and Darkness and would most beneficially be read in this connection.

It may also be helpful if we here refer to a far later work of our teacher, where he was writing again explicitly on the differentiation of mankind into races and nations and its attendant difficulties. The most immediate expression of Darkness within our ken is, after all, the material world itself. Matter is nothing but Darkness condensed and realized, Darkness made lasting as it were, even as Light on the other hand is the shining forth, the glory of the Spirit. [See Rudolf Steiner's lectures of December, 1920, in Part II of the recently published volume, entitled Colour.] The material world itself is therefore an expression of the fact that Beings have remained behind in Time. (The above-mentioned lecture on Genesis, speaking of Saturn and Sun evolutions, makes this fairly clear; the Helsingfors lectures even more so.) This truth, the understanding of which will have an immense effect on the whole future of Natural Science, has a particular bearing also on our present subject. Influences, differentiations and the like, which would otherwise have remained purely spiritual, are — by the Beings remaining behind in evolution-driven more deeply down into _ the material world than ‘should’ have been the case. Now this refers above all to human nature, and in particular to the differentiations of race and nation. The source of these is always cosmic — in the spiritual world, the world of stars. Had it not been for the Beings ‘out of Time’ — more especially, the Luciferic and Ahrimanic Beings — these differentiations would have lived and worked in mankind purely in soul and spirit (in the ‘I’ and astral body). Actually, they were driven more deeply down into the physical and etheric bodies — that is to say, relatively speaking, into the realm of Darkness, there to become a source of more lasting diversities, even of misunderstandings and conflicts. Therefore the differentiations of race and nation as we know them are quite inseparable from this reality of backward Beings; and there is deep reason why this subject plays so great a part in our lecture-cycle. Had it not been for the backward Archangels, ‘Babel,’ the multitude of languages on Earth, would not have been. All mankind would have spoken — though in a more spiritual way — the original, universal language of mankind, which the Luke Jesus-child spoke from His birth, who was indeed conceived under the Holy Spirit — i.e. the uniting Spirit of all mankind.

At the beginning of 1925, in that last winter when Dr. Steiner wrote to us week by week from his sick-bed, a series of three letters appeared in the Weekly News, Anthroposophical Movement. [Vol. II, Nos. 3, 4 and 5.] The first is entitled: ‘What is revealed when we look back into repeated Earth-lives?’; the second and third: ‘What is revealed when we look back into repeated Lives between Death and Re-birth?’ The three belong together. (They are reprinted in a different translation, as numbers XVI to XVIII in the volume The Michael Mystery.

Now in the third of these letters Dr. Steiner speaks of a very early, though not the earliest period of human earthly evolution (late Lemuria, early Atlantis). Man then already existed, it is true, ‘with individuality of being, but he was not yet loosed from the thinking and willing and being of the Divine-spiritual World.’ Now in this period he came especially within the care of the Archangels. He was united still with the Divine-spiritual world, yet not so deeply but that the Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences could now have access to him. The Archangels worked especially into his etheric body, wherein, as we know, by its very nature, the Universe of Stars is somehow reproduced and reflected, even as the forces of the Earth are in the physical. In the etheric body, therefore, celestial differentiations — according to the starry forces working more on one or other region of the Earth — came to expression. But as an outcome of the Luciferic and Ahrimanic powers, these differentiations were driven deeper down than should have been and were thus made more permanent and more material.

“All that the different Hierarchies, from the Seraphim down to the Archangels, had brought about in Man, was driven deeper down into the physical and etheric body than could have happened without the Luciferic and Ahrimanic influence. Without this influence, the working of the Hierarchies would have remained more in the astral body and the Ego. What came about as a result was no longer the more spiritual grouping of mankind over the Earth which the Archangels had intended. Pressed down into the physical, the spiritual forces are transformed into their opposite. Instead of the more spiritual differentiation, that into races and nations came about.

“But for the Luciferic and Ahrimanic influence, men upon Earth would see themselves and one another differentiated by the Heavens above them. The different groups would live and be to one another like beings gladly, willingly, in love, giving to one-another and in turn receiving. In races and nations the heavy weight of Earth is made manifest through man's body; in this more spiritual grouping there would have been made manifest a picture, a reflected image of the Divine-spiritual World.”

This letter, then, contains the deepest key to our whole subject.

Now we must bear in mind two things. One is, that the ‘remaining behind’ of Beings — and, what is in some way related to this, the intervention of Lucifer and Ahriman — was after all within the wise intention of the Divine evolutionary plan. Therefore, as Dr. Steiner often told, to compensate for this the Divine World sent Christ to Earth to help man rise again. This brings us to the other thing which we must bear in mind. Christ comes to us from the world of our normal evolution — from the realm of pure Light and not of Darkness. Christ is not out of Time; He brings to us the true, the healing life of Time. He is the Light who comes into the Darkness to lead it back again into the Light. Therefore, if it be true that the backward Beings — even the fallen Beings — are ultimately beneficial to our evolution, it is also true on the other hand that the Christ-impulse brings to us once again the full Power of the Beings of our normal evolution, whereby we may transmute all other influences into a good direction. We shall therefore find that for the healing and progress of mankind in the immediate future Dr. Steiner turns, not to those forces which would continue to draw us more deeply into matter, into the physical world, but on the contrary to what would lift us out of the narrow bondage of matter and renew those purely spiritual forces in the formation of mankind which have been lost awhile and must be found again. This applies also to what pertains to the underlying spiritual forces of race, nation, language and the like. Why, for example, did Dr. Steiner emphasize, during and after the War (in contrast to Woodrow Wilsonism) that the insisting on national language-groups as a foundation for re-creating communities was a. backward, not a forward step?

In this lecture too, the second of the ‘Folk-Souls’ course, Christ's intimate relation with the Beings of normal evolution is emphasized (page. 21 of our edition): “The Beings who give us language are of great power, for they are properly Spirits of Form. They work upon the Earth because in fact they have remained on Earth, whereas their colleagues (i.e. the normal Spirits of Form) work in the ‘I’ — work from the Sun into the cosmic spaces. Before the coming of Christ Jesus men worshipped the Jahve or Jehovah being; thereafter they worshipped the Being of Christ, even as the One who came from universal spaces. As to the Spirits of language we must say, man cherishes precisely that which has remained on Earth. ...”

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