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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Destiny of Individuals and of Nations
GA 157

1. The Destiny of Individuals and of Nations

1 September 1914, Berlin

Dear friends, my heart is deeply moved now that I am able to be with you for a while in these serious times and talk to you. Our first thoughts, however, shall be for our dear friends who have often been here with us and have now been called to the front where such an intense battle is raging over the destiny of individuals and of nations. Let us stand for a moment and remember our friends loyally and in love at this hour, letting our thoughts go out to them, thoughts filled with strength, to let them gain in strength out there at the front.

Spirits of your souls, guardian guides,
On your wings let there be borne
The prayer of love from our souls
To those whom you guard here on earth.
Thus, united with your might,
A ray of help our prayer shall be
For the souls it seeks out there in love.

Let us call out to our friends that the Christ, of whom we have spoken so often, is with them in the field, ruling over them where the destinies of individuals and of nations are now being decided and giving them strength.

Dear friends, you know that the original intention had been for the building that is to be a watchtower for the life of the spirit in our present age—that is how we envisaged it—to be completed by the month of August this year.1See Rudolf Steiner, Der Baugedanke des Goetheanum (GA 290). In English as The Architectural Conception of the Goetheanum Rudolf Steiner Press (London) and Anthroposophic Press (New York) 1938. Karma decreed otherwise and we had to accept this karma with composure. For a time we had thought that, in these days in particular, words might be spoken in this building of that certainty of victory in the spiritual life of which we have become more and more convinced, thanks to spiritual science. But the building at Dornach stands, or at the time stood, uncompleted. The encompassing structures are there. The columns that are to bear the domes representing the cosmic spheres of the spirit are in position and joined up with the symbols of the canopy of heaven. The rest of the building still has to be completed.

In July a certain stage had been reached where I was able to feel that something I had aimed for would indeed be achieved: that this building was also to demonstrate how form and design can provide for really good hearing, a truly acoustic space. Hope then arose that this would come about, for when I spoke words at certain points to check how the whole enclosing structure would treat the sounds, the result gave us hope that the aim may be achieved and that the right sounds would be heard in the right places. It is our hope that the words consecrated to our school of thought may thus resound in that space.

The first sounds heard by our friends working at Dornach were echoes of the firing that went on in the immediate vicinity. Sounds of the first acts of war, part of the momentous events that have entered into our lives. Our building looks down on the field in Upper Alsace that lies on the other side of the border. Not only were the signals to be heard of the momentous events now taking place, but from a number of points on the building it was also possible to see the flashes of cannon-fire in Upper Alsace. The events happening there first of all announced themselves as an echo in our area. Meeting to discuss things in the midst of our work, the thought lived in our hearts that out of the dire events that have come into our lives the soil may be created for peace, where blessings may arise and come to flower for the development of mankind.

An event like the one we are now experiencing, dear friends, sometimes speaks to an individual person in symbols. Some of you may already have the first volume of my book, The Riddles of Philosophy. In this the intention was to show how mankind progressed in the search for the great universal riddles, to show how thought progressed in the hearts of men and of nations. The second volume has not yet come out as you know. It is, however, set up in print as far as sheet 13. On the last pages printed on this sheet the philosophy of Boutroux and Bergson is discussed, and then Preuss. So the last part printed before the present events began considers Preuss, the solitary in the evolution of German philosophy and science, who, I feel, had a much more profound grasp of what Bergson was after. This thinker, Preuss, was tremendously powerful in presenting the scientific view on the life of the spirit. Sheet 13 thus brought together the thoughts that have arisen in Western Europe and those that arose in the heart of Europe. The printed material stops in mid-sentence, symbolically splitting apart, as it were, the intellectual life of peoples between whom the great struggle has now started on the physical plane, a struggle that concerns us so deeply. During the first days of August I often had to look at the blank pages of the sheet that remained unprinted, for this, too, seemed to my mind a peculiar symbol.

Dear friends, this is not a time when secondary issues in the life of man are decided. Events may have come upon us quickly, but they are profound in their effect and have arisen from a necessity no less than the one out of which the destiny of Europe evolved in the past—from the great, hard struggles that came with the Barbarian invasions. What the protagonist of spiritual science needs in these times is confidence in the victory and unconquerable nature of spiritual life and a firm faith that the spirits who are guiding world events will resolve the issues in a way truly in the interest of mankind.

Anyone needing consolation today, because people grown close in spiritual science are now under fire on opposite sides, may look for such comfort in the words that are spoken for us in the Bhagavad Gita. These refer to past times in human evolution, to the point where an originally primitive form of human life gave way to another form in which those who had earlier lived as brothers among brothers and sisters among sisters were united according to the spiritual laws familiar to us. A transition had occurred to another kind of life for mankind, a widening out of life. And within that new order people knowing themselves to be brothers were at that time, too, facing one another in battle. Yet the spirit that is always there in the evolution of mankind does find the right words to pour confidence and faith and certainty into the souls that find themselves on opposite sides.

Today we are once again living in a time where people have come together from many different parts of the world through the spiritual movement we have made our own, and because of the feelings they have experienced, because of something that deeply unites them from the very depths of soul, they have come to call one another brothers and sisters. And once again they have to stand on opposite sides. The karma of mankind demands this. But, dear friends, whatever we have taken into our hearts and into our souls of this spiritual movement of ours must have given us the certainty that the spirit moving everywhere in the evolution of mankind will strengthen us in these stormy days and fill us with confidence. This means that we may have faith in our hearts that events will take the right course within world karma—that there has to be strife, that blood and more blood has to be shed, in order to achieve what he who guides the destinies of the world wants to achieve for mankind on this earth. It will again be the blood of sacrifice, the sacred blood of sacrifice. And those we love who are going to shed this blood of sacrifice shall be powerful helpers for mankind in the realms of the spirit, for the best and most sublime of goals. For there are many ways in which the cosmic spirits speak to us men. They speak to us in the way familiar to us when among ourselves, in the words taken from our spiritual studies and our understanding of the spirit. They also speak to us, however, through the grim signals and the thunder of war. Many a soul may feel instant regret that the cosmic guidance of man also needs to use this language, yet souls taken hold of by the spirit must be able to reflect that such language is necessary in the karma of the world. To understand the true meaning of this language in the individual case will be the task of later times. Then men will be able to look back and see what benefit it has brought them that their ancestors made a sacrifice of their bodies so that the transfigured soul would rise swiftly from the sacrifice brought in the field of war up into the realms of the spirit for the good of mankind. With this spark in our hearts of being deeply touched by the spirit, we can with new strength enter into all the cares, all the deep sorrows and troubles, and also into all the hopes, all the confidence, presented and revealed to our eyes by events of such great moment as we are experiencing at present.

Dear friends, on 26 July, following a lecture concerning the business of our building project, I was able to speak to our friends gathered there certain words that referred to the grave events that lay ahead.2See Rudolf Steiner, Wege zu einem neuen Baustil (GA 286). In English as Ways to a New Style in Architecture. Anthroposophical Publishing Co., London, and Anthroposophic Press (New York) 1927. Among those present on 26 July were friends who are now already at the front in the midst of those momentous events. Standing beside the building project at Dornach, a building that is to become a watchtower of the spirit, I was on that occasion able to call up in the hearts of our friends the words: May everything we have gained in our spiritual movement and through our spiritual outlook enable every single one of us, in what lies ahead, to stand in the place where destiny puts us in the world, full of strength and confidence.

There has been evidence that our spiritual movement is able to give strength, real strength, even in the times we live in now and in the solemn events that have come to us. And perhaps it is also part of the forging of such strength that those who hear the bullets whistle past out there, who have to live in the roar and thunder of war, can be aware of our thoughts being with them in steadfast love, nurturing in our hearts the thoughts that will help and strengthen them, and be aware also of the fellowship among us. What state would our movement be in if it were unable to remain strong in heart and soul at a time when such strength of heart and soul is severely tested in this world. Let us hope that the strength we ourselves have gained will at all times provide a firm bond between us and our dear friends out yonder. And let us hope that this strength will be such that it counts for something in the world of the spirit, that the spirit we sought to take into ourselves can count for something in the working of the world. Let us hope that the love we know to be part of our spiritual endeavour may prove particularly strong out there in the physical world where our friends have to make a holy sacrifice.

Dear friends, we shall see many things happen still in consequence of what is now beginning. We have on many occasions spoken of strength and composure—let us hope that these can now be achieved in our souls. We are not speaking of an easy-going composure, looking on events in an uninvolved way, but of an active composure, looking for ways and means—and in steadfastly looking for them in the spirit also finding them—to do the right thing in the right place.

Many times I had to ask myself this August if it was right to keep our friends at their building work in Dornach and whether the one or other of them should not be doing more important work elsewhere at this time. Yet it appears that it is a good thing, that it is connected with certain forces the spirit needs in these times that the building work does not stop. Work therefore continues steadfastly, even in these hard times. The building work shall actively continue in the thought that it is indeed to be a token of rightful understanding of the great deeds that are done in our day, a token of understanding that the power of the spirit also needs to be present in everything that is happening in our day. And we cherish the thought that all our friends who are continuing their allotted tasks at Dornach, because it appears to be their karma, will also be able to fill their place in everything important that arises out of the deeply stirring events in the midst of which we stand, each at his post, where his karma has placed him. Let us try, dear friends, and do everything that may emerge out of what the day presents to our souls, what the day leads us to observe, as our duty at the present time. Let us try and do our duty in every case, a duty we have to consider as one of selfless love for humanity, the duty to be prepared for sacrifice in a time when so many sacrifices have to be asked of man. Let us take part in the rite of sacrifice for the development of man—whichever way karma appears to mete it out to us—according to our strength. Let us help wherever we are able to help. Let us look for opportunities where we may be allowed to help, and let us hold on to the conviction to which we have attained—that the help offered by human beings, service given in love, provides the spirit with an effective tool.

When our friends in Dornach also wanted to know something about giving aid in an external way, about first-aid dressings, a number of lessons were arranged within the building, in case one of us was called upon one day by his karma to make use of such knowledge.3Rudolf Steiner had given a first aid course in Dornach from 13 to 16 August 1914. I also felt particularly concerned to speak to our friends the words that arise from spiritual insight, words arising in a soul as it gives loving aid, to allow practical spiritual love to pass from the hand applying the bandage, from the body of the helper—in a spiritual way—to the person who is receiving help. First of all I spoke of the healing powers present in the human organization as such, of the way the blood flowing from the wound also contains the living principle that has a healing effect on the wound. And then it was said that it is good if the heart is filled with the following words when healing is given to those in need of our aid:

Welling blood,
Work in your welling,
Restless muscle,
Stir germs of growth,
Tenderest care
From warmth of heart,
Be breath of healing.

I believe I can say that a soul filled with such intent will be able to lend healing powers to a hand reaching out to give help. And surely after all that has passed through our souls over the years we must carry the conviction that, being filled with the Christ spirit in our day, we shall be given the power to intervene in the right way wherever destiny demands, wherever destiny puts us. There will be many occasions in days to come when we shall be able to find out if we rightly have the Christ within us, the Christ who acts from our own hearts into the hearts of others, who will unite the suffering person, the person in pain, with ourselves to form a living unity. How often has it been said that as human souls advance into spiritual worlds they also grow able to join their own feelings to the pain that lives in another. And indeed, the one or the other of us will often be put in a position where the events of our time are causing pain. We shall then be able to see if we are strong enough to unite in the right kind of feeling with the pain of the other, if the pain living in the soul of the other can become pain felt in ourselves.

The potential is there for mankind to gradually reach a point where the pain living in another does not spare us, but lives on in us. It is for this purpose that the blood flowed on Golgotha. This is also why at this very time we are endeavouring to strengthen the attitude of heart and mind I have described. This may be achieved with words like the following, spoken as though entirely to oneself and as often as possible when our thoughts are full of the gravity of the present situation, and in the first place addressing the other person. The words are:
Whilst pain is felt by you alone And not by me.

Christ goes unrecognized
To do his work within the world.
For the spirit cannot grow strong
If it has power only to feel
The suffering your own body undergoes.

My friends, these are the days when every soul that has learned to look into the spiritual world needs to send imploring thoughts to the spirits it believes to be its guardians. These spirits may be asked to show us the right way into our age. And we shall know in our hearts what is right, shall be conscious of the right power in our souls, as we turn to the spirit that is to guide us through our incarnations on earth to what will be truly right for ourselves. You may ask how we are able to know that we are addressing the right spirit. We shall be able to be aware of this if we approach this spirit in a way that is in accord with the true Christ impulse.

For the spirit that guides us towards what is right—and we can be quite certain of this, dear friends—is allied with Christ, is in dialogue with Christ. This spirit is holding such a dialogue with the Christ in the spiritual world now—so that out of the purpose for which battles are fought and blood is shed the right thing may come for the good of mankind. It is in the spirit of Christ that we turn to the spirit who we hope will protect us. Then it will be the right spirit.

The nature of a spirit is, in the language of spiritual science, referred to as the ‘age’ of this spirit. The word is used in this way in the formula you will be hearing next. The term ‘age’ is more or less synonymous with the ‘nature’ of the spirit, for we have come to distinguish spirits on the basis of their age. We speak of Luciferic and Ahrimanic spirits in exactly this way, knowing that they are now at an age when it is not right for them to develop something that during the right epoch would be the proper thing for the evolving world. This is why we speak of the age of a spirit when we mean its essential nature. The formula is as follows:

Spirit of my space on earth,
Reveal the light of thine age
To the Christ-endowed soul,
That striving it may find
In harmony of spheres of peace
Thee ringing with praise and power
Of mind of man all given up to Christ.

We must try and let the things that have been able to take root in our souls as we worked to attain to the spirit come to fruition, let them come to such fruition that we can hope to be able to face our trials. Let us try and affirm the belief that love is the soul of our efforts to reach the spirit, at a time when love is so much needed—Love and again Love.

That, my friends, is what I so much wanted to speak to you about tonight. May the love that we have invoked so often take firm root in us. May we find a way of keeping faith with each other in these difficult times and keeping faith with all that is sacred and good in mankind. I promise you, my friends, to keep this in my heart and again and again to unite my thoughts with yours in the times that lie ahead. May it be granted—after the symbols we have experienced and which I spoke of initially this evening, when the sounds of war echoed through our building at Dornach and the fires of war were reflected in it—may it be granted that sooner or later it will be possible to speak the Word in this building, of confidence that the spirit shall win the victory, shall be unconquered, aware that the building from its eminence will then look down on a human race that has gone through severe trials and the bitter strife of this day to win from them something that is right, that is good, and is beautiful and true within human evolution. Let us hope that the days of strife may be such that in the days of peace to come it will be possible to look back with contentment on the sacrifices these times have demanded.

It is my hope that the words I have attempted to speak to you this evening may touch your hearts with the same depth from which I believe they have arisen. I hope they will mean something to you in times when many of us have so much to bear. It is my hope that they will also be to you what now fills with noble enthusiasm and the courage to fight all the hearts that are filled with noble enthusiasm and the courage to fight so that the spirits who know what is right shall feel content with what they see in those hearts. Let this be in our hearts and minds and we shall be able to do the right thing in the right place. The spiritual work we have tried to achieve for so many years now shall, and no doubt will, lend us the strength we need.

So it is goodbye, dear friends, with this in our minds and with these feelings arising in our hearts.