Steiner Online Library Spiritual Science for Human Evolution

The Mission of the Individual Folk Souls
GA 121


In these lectures, which were given in Christiania (Oslo) in June 1910, I ventured to give a sketch of the psychology of the development of peoples. The lectures are based upon the teachings of Anthroposophy which can be found in my books Theosophy, Occult Science — an Outline, Riddles of Man, Riddles of the Soul, 1Riddles of Man was not yet (1970) published in English. A translation of a section of Riddles of the Soul is published with the main title of The Case for Anthroposophy, with an Introduction by Owen Barfield. etc. I was able to build upon this foundation because my hearers were familiar with the scientific views which are presented in my publications. That is the external reason for the choice of my point of view; there is however a further reason, an inner reason. The orthodox study of anthropology, ethnology, or even history cannot provide an adequate framework for a true psychology of the various folk characters. Neither the information provided by orthodox science, nor the study of anatomy and physiology suffice for an understanding of the psychic life of man. If we wish to understand the inner life of an individual we must study the soul as well as the body, and if we desire to gain real insight into national characteristics we must explore the psychic and spiritual element underlying them. This psychic and spiritual element, however, reflects not merely the activity of individual human souls working in concert, but has its origin in a higher order. The higher spiritual element is a province in which modern science is a total stranger. Before the bar of science it is paradoxical to speak of Folk Souls as real entities in the sense that we speak of the reality of thinking, feeling and willing in individual human beings; and it is equally paradoxical to relate the evolution of peoples on Earth to the forces of the heavenly bodies in space. But the matter ceases to be paradoxical if we recall that one does not look for the forces which determine the north-south direction of a magnetic needle in the needle itself. One attributes the deflection of the needle to the effect of the Earth's magnetic field but looks to the Cosmos for the causes of this deflection. Shall we not therefore have to seek the reasons for the development of folk characters, folk migrations, etc. in the Cosmos outside the peoples themselves? Apart from the anthroposophical view which considers higher spiritual Beings to be a reality, a totally new element is introduced into these lectures which sees a higher spiritual reality behind the evolution of peoples and seeks the forces which direct this evolution in this spiritual reality. We then investigate the facts which are manifested in the life of the peoples and we find that these facts become intelligible on this basis. The conditions in the life of the various peoples, as well as their mutual relationships, can thus be clearly understood, whereas without this basis there can be no true understanding of this approach. Either one must seek a basis for the psychology of peoples in a spiritual reality or one must abandon such a psychology in toto.

I have not hesitated to use the traditional names of the early centuries of Christianity to describe the higher spiritual Beings. An Oriental would choose other names. Nevertheless, although the use of this terminology may be regarded as rather unscientific today, there seems to be no reason to fight shy of it. In the first place, we thereby acknowledge the essentially Christian character of our Western civilization, and secondly, if entirely new names were chosen, or if an oriental terminology were adopted whose real meaning could only be fully comprehended by one who is spiritually at home in that civilization, we should be in danger of misapprehension. It seems to me that whoever wishes to investigate these spiritual relationships, assuming he does not reject our whole approach, will not object to names such as Angels, Archangels, Thrones, etc. any more than physical science objects to terms such as positive and negative electricity, magnetism, polarized light, etc.

Whoever relates the content of my earlier lectures to the painful trials of mankind at the present time will find that what I then said throws a flood of light upon what is taking place now. (February 1918.) Were I to give these lectures now you could well imagine that in the light of the present world-situation these earlier investigations were a necessity. Thus for example on page 23 of the first lecture you will find the following passage: “ ... we have every reason, especially at the present time, to speak quite impartially about the mission of the individual Folk Souls. Just as it was justifiable to maintain complete silence about their mission hitherto, so it is in order today to begin to speak of this mission. This is particularly important because the destiny of mankind in the near future will bring men together in far greater measure than has hitherto been the case in order to fulfil a mission common to all mankind. But the members of the individual peoples will only be able to offer their proper, free and positive contributions if they have, above all, an understanding of their ethnic origin, an understanding for what we might call ‘the self-knowledge of the folk’. ” No doubt the time has now come when the fate of humanity itself demonstrates the truth of this view.

Perhaps it is precisely the theme of the “Folk Souls” which shows how spiritual investigation which penetrates into the super-sensible reality of existence provides at the same time a practical view of life which also throws light upon the most diverse problems of life.

This is not possible for a view of life which only uses such concepts as are valid in the sphere of natural science in order to describe the nature and development of peoples. This mechanistic-physical science has been highly successful in exploiting the mechanical, physical and chemical resources for the benefit of civilization; but in order to promote the spiritual life of mankind we need a science which is spiritually orientated. Such a science is the first demand of our age.

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"You can see from this, my dear friends, what mischief will be set on foot if the truths of Spiritual Science are withheld. For man will be exposed to the forces of evil, and he will only be protected from it by giving himself up to the spiritual life of the good. To withhold the spiritual life of goodness from men is to be no friend to humanity. Whoever does this, be he Freemason or Jesuit, is no friend to humanity. For it means handing men over to the forces of evil. And there may be a purpose in doing so. This purpose may be to confine goodness to a small circle, in order by the help of this goodness to dominate the helpless humanity who are thus led by evil into the follies of life."

—Rudolf Steiner,
Spiritual Science Notes On Goethe's Faust, Vol. II, No. 273-8.

Spiritual Exercises

Calendar of the Soul

In 1912 Rudolf Steiner offered a “calendar of the soul” with weekly verses that express how the changing seasons in both the outer natural world and our inner lives help humanity evolve. Download and read the verses in four translations with commentary by Eloise Krivosheia of the Los Angeles Branch of the Anthroposophical Society.


2022-2023 Calendar Dates