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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Christian Mystery
GA 97

XXXI. Animal Soul and Human Individuality

16 March 1907, Leipzig

Today213See also lectures given in Berlin on 10 November 1910 (in GA 60—Engl, as The human spirit and animal spirit. The human soul and the animal soul. Typescript Z-55 at Rudolf Steiner House Library, London). we'll be considering the question as to whether other creatures have souls, as human beings do, and above all whether animals have some form of soul. Someone who tends to gloss over things may consider this a waste of time, but great people have also given thought to the matter in the past. Descartes, the philosopher who brought philosophy, which had died away in medieval times, alive again at the beginning of the 17th century raised the question. He did, of course, consider animals to be like machines, creatures one could not say had real souls but were reflex machines.214Descartes, Rene (1596–1650). Creator of the mechanistic view of the universe. According to Descartes, basic laws of mechanics govern the objects not only of physics and astronomy but also of physiology and psychology, the exception being 'thinking substance\ See his philosophical works. Anyone observing animal life and giving some thought to it will hardly be able to share his views. We merely have to consider the way some animals in the world around us do things, also making relationships among themselves that one would hardly think possible without a soul. The faithfulness of a dog is an example. It would be hard to think that there isn't something in that dog which is similar to what lives in a human being.

When we observe certain things animals do, can we say they do no involve higher mental activity? Consider a beaver's lodge, for instance. A human being would have to use considerable mental effort and skills to produce such a structure. Profound wisdom is evident in the way certain beams are placed exactly, at absolutely the proper angle, to meet the fall of the river and the given situation.

Look at ants! In every ant heap you see something that would be wise government among humans, actually going beyond anything present-day humanity knows. Ants are divided into three groups—workers, males and females. It can be shown that the workers are very clever, the females less clever and the males quite stupid. Everything in the heap is skilfully organized—the way they transport the things needed for their building and to breed their young, go on forays, and so on. If all such things call for soul activity in human state affairs, we cannot say animals lack soul. People have always thought it was enough to speak of instinct, but they never try to think what instinct really is.

We must now also consider the other side and not fail to realize that there is a fundamental difference between the things an animal achieves by its powers of soul and the things a human being achieves by them. A definite fact, which may serve us as an example. Travellers would often find that when they had lit a fire to ward off the cold and then went away, apes would come to warm themselves by the fire. No ape was ever seen to gather more wood to keep the fire going, however. It does not make this connection, and this is of eminent significance. It cannot add something new by using its own mental faculties, such as stoking a fire, and so on.

To understand the animal soul we must make this difference from the human soul our starting point. Another difference between the animal and the human soul is that you can write a biography of every human being but not of every animal. This is most important. If you consider your own interest in the different life forms, you will find that the interest you have in an individual human being is the same as for a whole group of animals of the same species. If you think of a lion, your feelings for the lion grandfather, father, son and grandson are exactly the same. Such an approach would seem absolutely frivolous if applied to human beings. Yes, the owner of a dog may say he can write a biography of his dog, but this means nothing. You can also write the biography of a steel nib or about differences in the life of a darning needle and a sewing needle. That is merely a transfer of ideas. Just as one whole animal species differs from another, so does a single human being differ from others. A common soul lives in the whole group of animals. Just as your ten fingers are part of your hands, so are all wolves part of the wolf group soul.

Now we also need to consider the human soul more closely. It was not as individual in earlier times as it is today. There was a point in human evolution when man was much closer to a group soul. A hundred years after Christ, Tacitus gave a description of individual German tribes in his Germania. All members of a group felt they belonged together, though there were, of course, differences, everything happening by degrees in human evolution. All who belonged to a group saw themselves to be the same. Markedly individual facial features are a sign that the individual soul is more removed from the group soul. You still see more or less the same facial features among savages. We have to remember the fact that marked facial features prove that the individual nature is influencing the bodily configuration. This will be increasingly the case as human beings continue to evolve. A time will come when national characteristics disappear completely. With a soul incarnating now in one nation, now in another, national differences will vanish, with everyone immediately always looking just like himself the more his individual nature has come through. In earlier times, when people still married within the tribe, its members would hold together like the fingers on a hand, with one avenging the dishonour done to another as though it had been done to him. This cohesion is gradually disappearing, and the greater the union, the more general the unity of human beings, the more individual will souls and characters be. So you do not get a mishmash but the more the differences fall away, the greater the individuality.

Where do human group souls differ from animal group souls? We have to go back a long way in evolution. In Lemurian times human beings did not yet have different bodies enveloping a spiritual core. The highest form of life was a kind of human-animal with physical body, ether body, astral body and the potential for an I, but not yet the I as such. They were able to receive the divine seed. The soul which now lives inside man had not yet left the keeping of the godhead and still lived in a soul spirit stratum. Think of a container holding a thousand water droplets that merge into one another, forming a single whole. Take a thousand small sponges, each able to absorb one drop, and put them in, so that each contains one drop. This makes them individual and independent. Now imagine that to begin with the soul did not came to dwell in every individual but that one soul was shared by many bodies, a group soul. At that time, the soul which today dwells in every individual dwelt in a whole tribe.

And here you have to accept a new idea. Such a group soul also does not die. The beautiful, significant aspect of death is something specific, something given to the individual human soul. When one unit which is part of a group soul dies, it is replaced immediately, just like the process when you cut off a polyp. And so the group soul, which does not come down on to die physical plan, is sentient of death as the loss of a part, and birth as a new one growing in its place. It does not have the special quality that comes with death. It is only when a sentient entity says: ‘It is I’ that death begins to intervene in individual life. Man gains a higher life by facing death. If death were not overcome, he could not go through death into a higher life.

On the astral plan we find the souls of animals that are linked by a thread to each individual in the group. To understand the origin of animal group souls you have to know what makes man the kind of physical being he is.

When the divine seeds came down, they found very different vessels to contain them. Some were specially developed to be fighters, others were similar, but more developed for work, for patience, and so on. The various bodies thus became different in their development and also in their external form. The lower animals of today insects and others, had branched off during an earlier stage in earth evolution and become something separate.

We'll now only consider animals from the fishes upwards. Mammals did not yet exist when the descent came into the waiting body which externally, not inwardly, was more or less at the level of a fish's body. The human being of that time had to move around half by swimming and half by floating, and had fin-like organs for that purpose. What happened to his body on earth happened because of the human soul that dwelt in it. It took long periods of evolution to transform it into the god-like body of today. Much came to a standstill along that long route. But because the earth continued to go through its transformation, coming to a standstill became bodily regression. Take two siblings, for an example. One changes at every stage of life, the other remains at childhood level. He will no longer look like a child when he's 60, however. That is how the fishes of today have regressed, looking different from the way they did before.

Humanity continued to evolve, configuring everything, finally also the mammalian body. All the time some would come to a standstill, human bodies grown decadent. If you really enter into it you will realize that all animals have aged at their juvenile stage, prematurely, assuming fixed forms which they should have gone beyond. They have crystallized, as it were, in the whole of their development.

Further evolution did, however, put man in a peculiar position where some of his qualities are concerned. He lost his certainty. Apes kept imprisoned will soon develop tuberculosis and other diseases. Animals do not tolerate the human way of life. They also have some degree of certainty where the choice of foods is concerned. A cow walking across a pasture knows exactly which herb is good for it. Man no longer has this. He needs uncertainty in order to determine his free choice. Present-day uncertainty is necessary so that certainty may be gained at a higher level. Man adapts to the higher level. Growing uncertain thus guarantees his independence. Certainty has remained where development has not gone so far that the I is at work in the individual entity. We should not be surprised at the wisdom we see in the animal world any more than at the wisdom of our own hand. An individual beaver is just the group soul's unskilled worker on the physical plan. The ant is at a very different level from the beaver and much further removed from us, for it separated off at a much earlier planetary existence of the earth. In taking just a single route it has gone further than man. For human beings, thinking, feeling and doing are firmly connected. If I see something I like, I reach out for it. The idea leads to the action. Without this firm connection people would be very unsure of themselves. Spiritual training tears will, idea and feeling apart, separating them completely. This will only come true for the whole of humanity at the Jupiter stage of earth evolution. But before he experiences this, the pupil meets the guardian of the threshold who gives him clarity concerning the whole of his life so far.

Some animal group souls went prematurely through this separation of soul functions into three. It is a fact that some parts in the brain of a spiritual pupil are differentiated like the ants in an ant heap. The ant did this prematurely and continues to be immature but clever like a child. The beaver group soul will have to catch up on things it has missed, the ant soul has thrown away its opportunity, going in a completely different direction. Animal souls are human souls that have grown one-sided. Oken said the tongue was a cuttlefish. This should not be taken literally, of course, but the creature in whom tongue properties came too much to the fore has remained stationary at that point. Paracelsus said the profound words: ‘Looking at nature, we see individual letters, together they create the word that is the human being.’ All the different qualities you find combined in man can be thought of as distributed among different bodies, each belonging to an animal group soul. Animals are human beings who have come to a standstill in developing their particular qualities. Man became inventive because he lost his certainty. The first element he learned to make serve him was fire. With this he climbed the first step towards civilization and became productive. He is an encyclopaedia of the different animal souls.

Another thing you must clearly understand is that when you go to the lower animals you will find that they are not able to give direct expression to pleasure and pain in sound. Insects produce noises, but those are boa noises. In occult science, clear stages are established between animals that sound and those that do not. But it is only in man that the inner sound becomes word, becomes speech. Even the more highly developed animals have only one-sidedly developed sounds. At a later time animal group souls, not individual animals, will become human beings, but their constitution will differ greatly from that of present-day humans.

Goethe was aware of this and put it most beautifully in his Metamorphosis of Animals,215See Goethean Science (GA la) (Rudolf Steiner's lectures on the first three chapters of the draft for a general introduction to comparative anatomy, with osteology as the starting point, 1796). Tr. W. Lindemann. Spring Valley: Mercury Press 1988. saying that they were like a human being separated into his individual parts. The whole animal world, he said, looked at us in the human form. And in looking at the whole of animal creation, the human being thus says: ‘All this brought together in one, that is you.’

Questions and answers

Will more of creation split off as human evolution continues?

Yes, and this is what theosophists call ‘going through the crisis’.216See Steiner R. Karmic Relationships of the Anthroposophical Movement (GA 237), lecture of 3 August 1924. Tr. G. Adams, D. Osmond. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1977. We are now in the 5th epoch; the 6th epoch will see a completely different race, noble and beautiful compared to the split-off decadent race of revoltingly ugly, bestial, sensual people who have many vices, arousing much greater revulsion than is possible with present-day humanity, because there will have been downward development. And you can see it clearly stated in the Book of Revelation, in what is called The Last Judgement. Anyone who is completely selfless may be ripe now for the 6th epoch. He may still incarnate a number of times, but only in order to help others. Some may find that the Last Judgement sounds harsh, but they do, after all, have the choice. Please do not misunderstand me. I mean not concerning reincarnation but concerning the 6th epoch.

Why do old people grow weak-minded, seeing that the soul remains unchanged?

The soul does not change. It never descends from the level it has reached, but its instrument has grown weak. It is like a great pianist who cannot play as well as before if the instrument is poor.

You will say the soul no longer knows its own level. Yes, for it cannot see itself for as long as it is in a physical body. There you altogether have only the reflection of the soul, the mirror reflection. When the mirror grows dim or breaks, it can no longer give a reflection. It is only the occult student who is truly able to perceive his soul.