Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Earth As Being with Life, Soul, and Spirit
GA 181

Lecture I

30 March 1918, Berlin

Anyone who has rightly understood what was brought forward in recent lectures, describing how the human soul can determine its own relationship to the super-sensible worlds, and how it can work freely at this relationship, need not be disturbed because it is also true that man is dependent upon the universe, upon the entire environment. Human life really swings to and fro between these two things—the free establishment of a relationship to the super-sensible world, and the dependence on the environment, the entire universe—notably because man is bound between birth and death to a particular physical body. One part of this dependence upon the universe we shall consider in these days in a special connection—a connection that can be near to the human soul at the present time.

From much that you have made your own of spiritual science it will have become clear to you that our entire earth, which we as whole humanity inhabit, is a kind of great living being, and that we ourselves are included as members within this great living being. In various lectures I have spoken about particular living phenomena of this being, our earth. In the most manifold ways is the life of the earth expressed. In this way, among others: that certain relationships exist between particular regions of the earth and man, as dweller on the earth. Just as it is a truth, though a very superficial one, that humanity is a single whole, it is also a truth that the parts of humanity spread out over the regions of the earth are differentiated—not only through the many influences investigated by external science and geography, but through much more mysterious influences coming from particular regions of the earth’s surface. There do exist certain inner relationships, not lying entirely on that surface of things which is scientifically investigated, between man and the soil he inhabits, the part of the earth from which he springs. This can be best seen from the fact that such relationships develop—not in shorter, but in longer historic periods. This could be seen in the alteration undergone by European people who migrate to America and settle there. Of course the time since America was settled by Europeans is still so short that this appears at present only in indications—but it is strongly and definitely indicated. The outer form of European people changes, through life in America not at once, but in the course of generations. In the formation of arms and hands, for instance, and in the face, Europeans gradually come to resemble the old American Indians. But you should not picture this crudely, but in slight indications.

Such things in a broad way call our attention to the connections between the mighty organism of the earth and its separate members, its particular inhabitants. We know that man as he lives on the earth is connected with super-sensible beings, with the beings of the higher Hierarchies. We know that what is called the ‘nation-soul’ is not the empty abstraction of which materialistic people speak, but a kind of Archangel-being. We need only read the Christiania cycle on the Folk-Souls and we shall find that the nation-soul is a real being, in which a man is as it were imbedded. Altogether, man is continually connected with the higher and lower beings of the Hierarchies. Today, and in the following days, we shall consider this connection from one particular point of view—as is always necessary with such things.

It is necessary to be clear that for the spiritual-scientific observer of the world what is called in a materialistic sense ‘matter’ does not exist; this too is resolved into spirit, if it is observed in a really thorough-going way. I have often used a comparison to make clear how these things are. Take water; when it freezes, it is ice, and looks quite different. Ice is ice, water is water; but ice is also water, only in a different form. It is much the same with what is called ‘matter’; it is spirit in another form, spirit that has passed into another form as water does in ice. When we speak in spiritual science of material processes, we are looking at something spiritual then too. Active spirit is everywhere. That active spirit comes to expression in material processes as well belongs to one particular form in which spirit becomes manifest. But it is active spirit everywhere. When we are considering more material phenomena, we are still describing ways in which the spirit works, where these appear in some realm as external processes, more or less materially.

In man there are continually material processes going on, which are really spiritual processes. Man eats. He takes up into his own organism substances from the external world. Solid materials, which are transformed into liquids, are taken into the human organism and thereby altered. Man’s organism consists indeed of all possible substances, which he takes from outside; but he does not only take them into himself, as he does so they go through a certain process. His own warmth is conditioned by the warmth he receives and by the processes through which the substances he consumes pass. We breathe, and thereby take in oxygen; but not only this, for since we are involved by the process of breathing with what happens in the external world, in the atmosphere, we participate too in the rhythm of the outer world. (I have even once expressed this in figures.) Thus with the rhythmic processes which go on in our own organism we stand in a definite relationship with the environment. Through these processes, which are such that external processes of nature play into our being and work on in it, it comes about that the influences become effective, which are exercised on individual men for instance by the nation-spirit. We do not only breathe in oxygen. Something spiritual lives in the breathing of oxygen, and in it the nation-spirit. We do not only eat; substances are transformed in us, and this material process is also a spiritual one. As we take in and transform substances, the nation-spirit can live in this process. The life of the nation-spirit with us is not merely something abstract, but is expressed in our daily activity and the life of our organism. The material processes are at the same time an expression of the ways in which spirit works. The nation-spirit has to make this detour, entering us through breathing, nourishment and so on.

The particular nation-spirits, which have been described in The Mission of the Folk-Souls and differentiated from other points of view, work on men in different ways, which concern the processes I have just indicated. In this way the nations of the north acquire their particular character. This depends on the nation-spirits. If we try to observe by means of spiritual science along what paths the particular nation-spirits work, the following results, among others, are obtained.

Man breathes. Through this he stands in a continuous connection with the surrounding air; he breathes it in and breathes it out. And when in a particular case the nation-spirit, through the configuration of the earth and through the most varied relationships, chooses out the path of the breathing—and calls forth the special form and character of the nation in question through the breathing—then it can be said ‘the nation-spirit works through the air upon this nation’. This is actually the case, in an outstanding degree, with those peoples who at one time or another have inhabited the Italian peninsula. Upon the Italian peninsula the air is the medium for the effects of the nation-spirit upon men. It can be said: the air of Italy is the means through which the nation-spirit impresses his influence on the human beings who inhabit the Italian peninsula, to give that particular configuration, through which they are ‘the Italian people’ or were ‘the Roman people’ and so on. What are apparently material effects can be studied in their spiritual foundations, on the ways of spiritual science.

It can be asked: how is it with the other nation-spirits? What means are chosen by the nation-spirits, in order to bring to expression national characteristics, if we look at other regions of the earth? Among the peoples who have inhabited presently France, or who inhabit it today, the nation-spirit takes a path through the fluid element, through all that does not only enter our bodies as fluid, but works as fluid within them. Through the nature of what comes into contact with, and works upon, the human organism, the nation-spirit vibrates and hovers, determining in this way the national character in question. This is the case among the peoples who have inhibited present-day France or inhabit it today.

However, we do not grasp the matter fully, if we look at this relationship of man to his environment only from one side; to do so would produce a very one-sided picture. You must remember what I have often said; man is twofold, the head and the rest of the organism have their distinct activities. The influence which I have just described, upon the Italian and French peoples, works only upon the remainder of the organism, outside the head; and from the head there proceeds another influence. Only through the co-operation of the influence from the head, and that from the rest of the organism, there arises what is expressed in the national character in its completeness. The influence from the head is neutralised, so to speak, by the influence from the rest of the organism. Thus what the inhabitant of Italy breathes in through the air—what through the breathing gives a special character to the rest of the organism, outside the head—with this, for him, there works from the head the configuration of the nervous system of the head, in its spiritual differentiation, in so far as man is ‘nerve-man of the head’.—In France this is different. What lives in the organism as rhythm is a particular rhythm for the organism as a whole, and a special one for the head; the head has its own rhythm. While in Italy it is the nerve activity of the head which works together with the influence of the air upon man, in France it is the rhythmic movement of the head, the vibration of rhythm in the head, which works together with the influence of the fluid element in the organism. Thus the national character is built up—through the particular way in which the activity of the individual, in the head, joins forces with what is effected by the nation-spirit, working from the environment.

As the nation-spirit of Italy through the air, that of France through the watery element, so the nation-spirit of Britain goes through all that is earthy, above all through salt and its compounds in the organism. What is solid is the chief thing. While the fluid element is at work in the French national character, we have in Britain the effects of the solidifying, salting element, passing through everything which comes into the organism through air and nourishment. This produces the special character of the British people. But here too something works from the head neutralising what comes from the environment. Just as there is rhythm both in the rest of the organism and in the head, so too there is digestion, metabolism, both in the rest of the organism and in the head. The way in which the head performs its metabolism, the particular character of this exchange of substances, joins forces with the salting element in the organism, and this brings about the British national character. As the nation-soul works through the salting element, there comes to meet it, from the head, the head’s peculiar metabolism. You will be able to study all the special traits of a national character, if you take into consideration these particular metamorphoses in the way in which the nation-souls work.

With America it is different again; there a sub-earthly element is at work. While with Britain we have to do with the earthy, the salty, in the American national character a sub-earthly element has its effect, something vibrating under the earth; this has there an especial influence upon the organism. The nation-spirit brings about the national character of the American people by working upwards through the sub-earthly magnetic and electric currents. And again, something comes from the head to meet this influence, to neutralise the effect of the sub-earthly magnetic and electric currents; there rays out to meet it, real human Will. That is the peculiarity of the American national character. While with the British national character we must say: it depends essentially upon the earthy element, in so far as man takes this into his organism, which then enters into mutual relationship with the metabolism of the head—in the same way, the will that comes to expression in this people, among the Americans, works with what comes up from the sub-earthly, shaping thus the American national character.

If we observe the East, which will gradually arise out of chaos [March 1918 (Tr.)] and shine out in its own true form—there one encounters something peculiar. As the nation-spirit works through the air for the Italian character, for the French people through the water, for the Englishman through the earthy element and for the American from the sub-earthly, so for the Russian, the Slav element, the nation-spirit works through light. In the vibrating light the nation-spirit significant in the East is in fact at work. When at last what will grow in the future in the East has freed itself from its embryonic wrappings, it will become evident that the nation-spirit in the East works quite differently from the nation-spirit in the West. Though I must say ‘the nation-spirit works through the light’—the curious thing is that he does not work directly through the light vibrating to-wards us; he works through the light shining down into the ground, and reflected back by it. It is this light arising back from the earth which is used by the nation-spirit with the Russian, in order to work upon him. But this does not work on the organism in general, but upon the head itself, on the mood of thought, on the way in which mental pictures and impressions are formed, and so on. The way in which the nation-spirit works is here just the opposite of that in the West, where he works from the rest of the organism, and something encounters him from the head. In the East he works through the light. The light that streams back from the ground is medium for the nation-spirit, and this works principally upon the head. And what here works back, comes from the rest of the organism, particularly from the organism of the heart. It comes in the opposite direction, towards the head, and alters the influence which comes from there. (Today it is still in chaos, in embryonic wrappings.) It is the rhythm of the breathing, which beats up towards the head, and neutralises what comes from the nation-spirit on the detour through light.

What comes out in this way, in the East that is nearest to us, is present in a still greater degree when we go further eastwards. That is the special quality of the Asiatic East; that the nation-spirit partly still works through the light taken up by the ground and thrown back by it, working on the head. Or the nation-spirit works as well through something that is no longer light, that is indeed not visible at all; the harmony of the spheres, which vibrates through everything, and which for a spiritual humanity of the Asiatic East is equivalent to the effect of a nation-spirit—when the nation-spirit works directly through the harmony of the spheres, which however is reflected by the earth and works upon the head. Against this there works the rhythm of the breath; in this lies the mystery of the fact that the seekers for the spirit in the East have always sought through a special training of the breathing their connection with the spirit. If you study Yoga, you will see that it claims to develop the breathing in a special way. This depends upon the fact that the individual as a member of humanity—not as separate individual—seeks to find spirituality through the nation-spirit; he seeks it in the way which is really founded in his national character. Thus the further we go to the East, the more we find this. Naturally it could be shown how something of this sort is expressed in fine variations of such nationally characteristic effects, and also in distortions of these effects, deviations from them, in which entire peoples and races share, when there are disharmonies, for example, in the accord between the effect of the head and the effect of the rest of the organism ...

How is it with the peoples of Middle Europe? We are speaking more of geographical relationships, and are not considering ‘Middle Europe’ from a social or political point of view. A central Europe is meant to which France and Italy do not belong. It is the peculiarity of the nation-soul being that is at work in Middle Europe that its effects come—as I have described for other regions that these come through air, water, what is of the nature of salt, and so on—immediately through warmth. The nation-spirit chooses in Middle Europe the path through warmth. Now this is not entirely fixed, but can have individual variations. There can be human beings in Middle Europe among whom this effect of the nation-spirit can be different; sometimes upon the rest of the organism, sometimes upon the head. And according to whether the warmth comes directly from the air outside, or through food or through the breathing. This is all a medium for the nation-spirit. What comes to meet this influence is again warmth. Thus in Middle Europe warmth as an external influence is a medium for the nation-spirit, and what comes to meet it is again individual warmth, coming from within. What works in the organism as warmth, through the nation-spirit, is encountered by the head’s own warmth. If the nation-spirit’s warmth works through the head, the warmth of the rest of the organism streams to meet it. Warmth works towards warmth—and works especially in such a way that it depends mainly upon the greater or slighter activity of the senses, the capacity of perception. A man of livelier spirit, who looks at the things around him lovingly, develops more warmth of his own; a man who is hasty and superficial, who does not feel much when he perceives, but passes everything by, develops less warmth of his own. This life with the environment, when a human being has a heart, or an open eye, for what is around him—this is what comes to meet the warmth which works through the nation-spirit, so that warmth encounters warmth. That is the peculiarity of the way in which the nation-spirit works in Middle Europe, and much in the character of its people depends on this. For warmth is so intimately related to warmth. The other ways of working are not so closely related. Will is not in the same way related to electricity, the salt-process is not so closely related to the metabolism of the head, or the other influences which have been described. Warmth produces the European character which is also expressed in the capacity to be absorbed into all sorts of things. (This is not a matter of value judgments—anyone can regard it as he likes, as virtue or fault.) Warmth meeting warmth; this produces malleability, plasticity, which can find its way into everything, including other national characters. If we study history, it shows how the particular German tribes have been absorbed in other peoples, have adopted another element.

From what has been said today the great contrast between the Asiatic East and America becomes most evident. Light, and even what lies beyond light in the ethereal, is what the nation-spirit uses in the East to approach man, although this light shines back from the earth; while in the West it is the sub-earthly element. This can lead us deeply into the organic and psychic life of the earth-organism in its association with man.