The Mission of Folk-Souls
In these lectures, which were given at Christiania in June 1910, I ventured to give a sketch of the psychology of the development of peoples. The lectures are based upon the principles of anthroposophical spiritual science laid down in my books Theosophy, An Outline Of Occult Science, The Riddle of Man, Riddles of the Soul, etc. I was able to build upon this foundation because my hearers were acquainted with the scientific views set forth in my works. In addition to this outer reason for the choice of the point of view there is, however, an inner one: the ordinary scientific study of anthropology, ethnology or even history cannot provide a sufficient foundation for a true psychology of the various folk-characters. With the knowledge provided by this science we cannot penetrate any further, just as by means of anatomy and physiology we cannot arrive at the knowledge of the inner psychic life of man. If we wish to learn the inward life of an individual being we must pass from the body to the soul, and if we desire to gain real knowledge of the characters of the various peoples we must penetrate to the soul and spirit in them. This soul and spirit is, however, not a mere co-operation of the several human souls in that people, but it is one that is higher than these. Modern science is not accustomed to study this higher soul and spirit; before its forum it is paradoxical to speak of Folk-souls as real beings, in the same way as we speak of the real thought, feeling and will of individual human beings. It is also paradoxical before this forum to connect the development of peoples on the earth with the forces of the heavenly bodies in space. But the matter is no longer paradoxical or strange when we remember that no-one tries to find the forces which make the needle of a magnet lie in the direction North-South in the needle itself. He ascribes it to the action of the magnetism of the earth. He seeks in the cosmos the reason for the direction of the needle. May we not therefore seek in the cosmos the reason for the development of folk-characters, for the migrations of peoples, etc., outside those peoples themselves? Apart from the anthroposophical view, for which higher spiritual beings are a reality, something else comes into consideration in our studies. In these lectures a higher spiritual reality is placed at the foundation of the development of the peoples, and the forces that give this development a certain direction are sought in this reality. Then we descend to the facts manifested in the life of the peoples and it is seen that these facts are thereby explained. The conditions in the life of the various peoples can thus be clearly understood, as well as their mutual relations, whereas without this foundation there is no true knowledge on this subject. One must seek a foundation for the psychology of peoples in a spiritual reality or renounce such a psychology altogether.
I have not shrunk from using for the higher spiritual beings the names customary in the early centuries of Christianity. An Oriental would choose different names. And although the application of these names may now be considered not very ‘scientific’ it seems to me better not to be afraid of using them; first of all we thus accommodate ourselves to the fundamentally Christian character of our western civilization, and again we shall be more readily understood than if entirely new names were chosen or if designations were taken from the Orient whose real meaning could only be fully comprehended by one who is at home in that civilization. It seems to me that one who wishes to penetrate into these spiritual connections, if he does not reject the matter as such, will not take offence at names like Angel, Archangel, Throne, etc., any more than he does in physical science at designations like positive and negative electricity, magnetism, polarized light, etc.
If the contents of these lectures are considered in connection with the painful trials of civilized humanity at the present time it will be found that what was then said throws a great deal of light upon what is now taking place. Were I to give these lectures now it could well be thought that the present state of affairs in the world demanded such studies. Thus for example on page three of the first lecture you will read, ‘It is especially important’ — that just in our times one should speak quite impartially on what we call the Mission of Individual Folk-souls — ‘because the fate of humanity in the near future will bring men together much more than has hitherto been the case, to fulfill a common mission for humanity.’ But the individuals belonging to the several peoples will only be able to bring their free, concrete contributions to this joint mission, if they have, first of all, an understanding of the folk to which they belong, an understanding of what we might call “the Self-knowledge of the Folk.” Presumably the time has now come when the fate of humanity itself teaches the truth of this view.
Perhaps this subject of the ‘Folk-souls’ is exactly one which shows how spiritual observation of the really super-sensible part of existence provides at the same time the really practical view of life which throws light upon the various questions of life. This cannot be done by a view of life which in the study of the nature and development of peoples only uses concepts applicable to the things of natural science. This mechanical physical science has done great service in producing the mechanical physical chemical means of culture; as an agent for the spiritual life of humanity we require a science which deals with the spiritual. Our age demands such a science.
Berlin, 8th February, 1918