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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: Seventh Lecture


With this lecture Dr. Steiner leads us all at once into the very heart of the spiritual history of Europe and of our own time — the fifth post-Atlantean epoch or what led up to this in the preceding ages. What he here tells of the different nation-souls, Time-Spirits and other Beings — of their advancements, their resignations and so on — is not a little intricate. In one way we may feel this natural, for he is dealing with times and places in the midst of which we are — which we must therefore see in greater detail. Moreover with the growing individualization and Ego-development of mankind between the fourth and fifth civilization-epochs, there cannot but be many differentiations. Manifold streams of spiritual impulse will be running side by side, now merging, now dividing, as a great river-bed may do in fertile plains; now again steeped in the common atmosphere of a more lasting impulse.

Even in the original report, often the student will desire to re-read a single sentence, an all-important phrase, revising first impressions, trying to ‘get’ the exact shade of meaning. That Dr. Steiner, as he himself says, was speaking carefully, even refraining from putting certain things more explicitly, this too affects the style. Goodwill was necessary for an unbiased hearing then; active goodwill for an enlightened reading now. ...

The difficulties, I need hardly say, are not lessened for those readers who depend on a translation. The English version of this course is, as translations go, a careful and conscientious piece of work for which we must be very thankful. I imagine it to have been most difficult in this particular lecture. Where, so to speak, a knot is left untied, the translator can hardly help either tightening it, or, in translation, changing the thoughtful balanced openness of the original into something vague if not confused, which leaves the reader ‘neither here nor there.’ In this dilemma — the more so as from German into English he is translating westward and in the West we do not like unfinished forms — he will often choose the first alternative, tighten the knot and make the sense more binding, maybe in a way it was not meant to be.

The same applies when one is trying to summarize or to bring out the salient points. Let me now say at once that I shall do this boldly, for I prefer to help the reader towards some definite understanding, which he himself will then correct or amplify from the full text, rather than leave him under the impression that it is all too difficult for a clear mental grasp. This means however that more than ever before we shall rely on the summary being used as an aid, not as a substitute for study. It may well be that other more competent students will not quite agree with my interpretation or emphasis.

The Spiritual Beings, Dr. Steiner says at the beginning of the lecture, rise in their evolution to higher ranks among the Hierarchies. This also happens — indeed, as he has said elsewhere, it happens quite essentially — about the middle of a cosmic epoch. It is in the middle of the cosmic epochs (Saturn, Sun, Moon, etc.) rather than in the intervening ‘pralaya’ that the spiritual Beings advance from stage to stage, though the advancement may not be fully in evidence till the next epoch is drawing near.

So then it comes about that in our own, post-Atlantean times one after another of the Archangels has advanced and they are still advancing to the rank of Time-Spirits or Archai. Indeed it seems, from Dr. Steiner's words, that the ruling Spirits of the Age in the successive culture-epochs are generally thus promoted from among the Archangeloi. Even more striking is the communication that in some instances these Beings, at the close of an epoch, in some respects rise to be Spirits of Form. They become at least ‘candidates’ for this, or Spirits of Form in the initial stages. This is not made as a general statement; yet several instances are given, of which presently.

It may help us understand this surprising quickness if we remember that with the coming of the Christ-Impulse human earthly life itself becomes a creative power in the Universe. We may recall Rudolf Steiner's explanation of this passage from the Gospel: ‘For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.’ In Greek, the word ‘authority’ is Exousia; that is the name of a Hierarchy — Power, or ‘Spirit of Form.’ Now all that is received into the stream of Christ will presently partake in this elemental power. Therefore the Beings who at first work only in the soul and spirit of mankind — the guides of nations, the fashioners of earthly Times and historic cultures — begin to be the Formers of a future World. That which is done out of the ‘Spirit of Personality’ becomes world-creative. (‘Spirit of Form’ is the lowest among the hierarchical ranks to which the attribute ‘creative’ in the cosmic sense applies. Time-Spirits rising to be World-creators means then that in a certain sense they do attain this rank. [The greatest light is thrown on this in a lecture Dr. Steiner gave on the 20th December, 1918, ‘The New Revelation of the Spirit.’ It is contained in the lecture-cycle entitled: The Fundamental Social Demand of our Age (Cycle LII).])

This remarkable advancement of Archangeloi, says Dr. Steiner, has especially to do with all that happened in late Atlantis and in the early transition to post-Atlantean time, leading on from the old principle of race to that of nation and culture-epoch. The distribution of races, described in the last lecture, took place in very early Atlantean time. In late Atlantis and for some time after, there was a second great migration; it was the one guided by Manu when he took his little band far eastward into central Asia. For this was only the main focus of a far wider, deeply guided movement. The nuclei of future peoples were left behind at different points of Asia, Africa and Europe. Archangels became their guiding Spirits, so that this second movement in the wise colonizing of the Earth had in a way especially to do with the Archangel hierarchy. Now some of these Archangels were nearer than others to the next higher rank in evolution. This also has to do with the naming of the culture-epochs. The epochs, broadly speaking, bear the names of those peoples whose Archangels became the leading Time-Spirits.

First among these was the ancient Indian Archangel. He became the Archai, the Time-Spirit of the first post-Atlantean epoch. Risen thereafter to some extent into the rank of a Spirit of Form, “having fulfilled His mission He was promoted,” says Dr. Steiner, “to lead the entire evolution of post-Atlantean humanity.”

In the second epoch the Persian Archangel became the Time-Spirit from whom the original Zarathustra received his inspirations.

In the Egypto-Chaldean time, it was the Archangel of the Egyptian people who became the ruling Time-Spirit. Both of the last-named Spirits, the Persian and the Egyptian, then evolved to some extent into the order of Spirits of Form — Spirits of Form in their inception.

Side by side with the Egyptian Time-Spirit (and the Chaldean Archangel) there was however also another leading Spirit in the third post-Atlantean epoch. Jehovah derived His chosen people, the children of Israel, from the Semitic race. The unique connection of this race with Jehovah was mentioned in its more cosmic aspect in the preceding lecture. To guide this chosen people — as it were, Jehovah's viceroy — there was a kind of Archangel who in a very direct and constant way received His inspiration. This Archangel “afterwards grew to be Himself a Time-Spirit.” Indeed from the importance of His working, side by side with the Egyptian Time-Spirit, Dr. Steiner even calls Him “a Time-Spirit who in some sense appears in the mission of a Nation-Spirit” (page 83).

There was therefore something unique and special about the little Hebrew people. Here Dr. Steiner gives a very clear and helpful explanation, of how it lay and still lies in the mission of the Semitic race to represent the One (monotheism in religion, monism in philosophy, the power of synthetic thought), whereas all other peoples and religions tend to see the aspect of the Many (polytheism, or in philosophy pluralism, monadology, [Monadology: the doctrine that the World consists of a multitude of single beings or ‘Monads’; in contrast, therefore, to Monism, the doctrine of one all-prevailing principle or being.] — imaginative thinking). Both of these aspects are necessary; in the history of mankind they have to balance one-another.

We now turn more to Europe. During the first three epochs the peoples of this Continent were still being led by their Archangels. Not till the fourth post-Atlantean epoch was one of the European Archangels — to wit, the Archangel of ancient Greece — lifted into the rank of a Time-Spirit. The Greek Archangel became the Time-Spirit of the Greco-Latin epoch, whose influence extended far and wide, with the Hellenic culture, through Asia, Africa and Europe.

Now Dr. Steiner comes to speak of two great deeds of resignation on the part of Beings of the Hierarchies. The Greek Archangel, having fulfilled His mission as a Time-Spirit, might also, like the Time-Spirits of the three preceding epochs, have advanced in evolution towards the hierarchy of the Spirits of Form. But He foregoes this possibility and remains as a Time-Spirit, an Archai-being, to take on a special task, namely to be the guiding and intuiting Spirit in the expansion of exoteric Christianity. In this capacity the Greek Time-Spirit worked on thenceforth through the successive times, as we shall see. His deed of resignation took place about the time of Christ's coming to Earth, which explains why ancient Greece fell away so soon after the founding of Christianity.

The second instance of this kind concerns the Celtic nation-spirit, who in olden time, and even at the time of the founding of Christianity, worked in the peoples not only of Western Europe but of a far larger area, extending into Southern Germany, the Alpine countries and Hungary and also far into the North-East of Europe. The Celtic nation as such afterwards died away, fragments of it being absorbed into other, newer nations. It died because its Archangel, who could have risen to be a Time-Spirit, resigned this possibility and resolved to work on as an Archangel, serving the different Time-Spirits, the inspirer to this day of the great stream of esoteric Christianity — the mysteries of the Holy Grail and then of Rosicrucianism. Esoteric Christianity was thus enabled to work on, a continuous and living stream, under so many different times and conditions to this day, guarded by the Archangel of the ancient Celts who made this great sacrifice. “The Time-Spirits may work as they will; this esoteric Christianity will remain a living source, able to be renewed and metamorphosed ever and again under the influence of different epochs.”

Proceeding now with his account of European times and peoples, Dr. Steiner warns his hearers once again how difficult it is to tell these things without embarrassment — not to arouse prejudiced feelings, jealous emotions.

The Germanic peoples of Europe, originally led by one Archangel-being, presently differentiated. Manifold Archangels became their leaders; so many individualized nations grew out of them. From among these Archangels one was to be the leading Time-Spirit of our own fifth post-Atlantean epoch. For a long time, as an Archangel He had been prepared for this mission by the Christian Time-Spirit (or Christ-Time-Spirit, Christus-Zeitgeist, as Dr. Steiner also names the Spirit who had been the nation-soul of ancient Greece), and by the Archangel of the ancient Romans who in later Roman times had also risen to be a kind of Time-Spirit. Yet it was only from the 12th and, in a fuller sense, from the 16th and 17th centuries onward that He gradually rose to be among the leading Time-Spirits, successor to those of the preceding epochs. [The actual date of the beginning of the fifth epoch is the year 1413 A.D. Its end, if we assign to it the normal period of 2160 years, would be about 3600 A.D. Only about a quarter of it has elapsed till now.]

Rudolf Steiner, leading up to this, seems to be touching on a deep and rather intimate secret of European culture. He says it was not easy for a new Time-Spirit to be developed from among these European folk-spirits, because they were so free, so manifold and varied. The peoples of Europe had to be individualized, mingled and from their mingling individualized, time and again. “Whereas in Asia and Africa the Archangels had long ago advanced to be Time-Spirits, Europe was still led by the Archangels themselves. The peoples, guided by their several folk-souls, let the Time-Spirits be; they were quite given up to the impulses of the folk-spirits.” Thus there were many folk-spirits, “filled with a spirit of liberty,” going their several ways. Archangels came and went as former peoples passed away and new nations arose out of the mingled fragments — the French, for instance, out of Celts and Franks and Latins. These manifold Archangels were however, increasingly as time went on, under the uniting influence of the Christian Time-Spirit — derived, once more, from ancient Greece. They served the Christ-Time-Spirit.

This European picture leads us on from pre-Christian times into the Middle Ages. Coming now into our own, fifth post-Atlantean age, we have to take account in a peculiar way of three Time-Spirits; once Dr. Steiner even speaks of a trifolium — a ‘trefoil’. For the Time-Spirit proper of this epoch, of whose preparation we spoke just now, assisted as He was upon the one hand by the Christian Time-Spirit, was on the other hand obliged to enter into ‘a kind of compromise’ with the Time-Spirit of ancient Egypt — a Being who already works to some extent, as we have heard, with the rank and power of a Spirit of Form.

Dr. Steiner suggests, if he does not actually say, that this infusion of impulses from ancient Egypt — to which the present Time-Spirit must to some extent submit — has much to do with the materialistic tendency of our time. To get a fuller picture we should read The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind (1911 lectures given at Copenhagen, issued in book-form by Dr. Steiner himself, as mentioned in our introduction). It is indeed in the normal course of things, and was already mentioned in the first lecture, that the Time-Spirits of the pre-Christian epochs should afterwards return; the third in the fifth, the second in the sixth, the first in the seventh. Therefore the Time-Spirits were alternatively called, ‘Spirits of Cyclic Periods.’ That there is also spiritual conflict here, at least in our own time, is evident; the progressive forces, those united with the Christ-impulse, must wrestle their way through and become strong in doing so. To the working together of several Spirits Dr. Steiner attributes the manifold cleavages, divisions and cross-currents of our time. The different nation-souls incline more to the one or to the other impulse; so are the nations diversely inclined, more towards materialism or idealism. It remains true that the essential task of the fifth epoch itself is towards the Spiritual.

The end of the lecture turns our thoughts more northward, to the Scandinavian peoples in whose country the course was being held. Here for the first time Dr. Steiner speaks of the Northern mythology as indicated in the title. Long, long ago, he says, “in the time before the Celtic Archangel had established a new centre in the ‘High Castle of the Grail’” there was a spiritual centre, not actually on the Earth but hovering above the Earth and in a certain district of the heart of Europe — about the region of Detmold and Paderborn in Westphalia is the place indicated. Legend tells of ‘Asgard,’ home of the Northern Gods, having been at this place on Earth. Out of this centre of spiritual inspiration the different Archangels of Europe, the Scandinavian among them, were sent upon their several missions. (The ‘Castle of the Grail,’ successor to this ancient holy place as the great centre of inspiration, was farther to the West. “In the West of Europe,” says Dr. Steiner, “was the mysterious centre, accessible to those initiated in such secrets,” where inspiration flowed from Him who had been the Archangel of the Celts, who by His sacrifice had grown to be the great inspirer of esoteric Christianity.)

The Scandinavian Archangel took with Him impulses which are preserved in a very pure and childlike form in Norse mythology. This Archangel also has the potentiality to become a Time-Spirit, an Archai. Yet to this end He must outgrow the overshadowing influence of the Time-Spirit of exoteric Christianity — derived from ancient Greece — who in a certain sense has been His educator. The native impulses of the Northern being must be developed in a maturer form. Here Dr. Steiner speaks of the Northern in comparison and contrast to the Greek mythology. In its peculiar structure, he avers, “there is no other mythology on Earth which gives a deeper or a clearer picture of cosmic evolution than does this Northern mythology. ... Thus the Germanic mythology, from the whole way it was developed out of the native powers of the Archangel, is in its pictures deeply akin to the theosophical conception, such as it shall grow to be, in course of time, for all mankind.”

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